Edge of winter 2017 – Time to try again

So this is my woodshop. Ain’t it cool?!

Sorry for the huge laps in blogs, I will try to do better and at least blog once a month, if not more often, from here on out.

When last I blogged, things were going bad but then they got worse. My father-in-law, Dale (who was my best friend) lost his battle with cancer. The cancer was discovered shortly after he had the heart stent put in. It was a long fight and my wife and I never left his side. It’s been 9 months since he died and we still miss him greatly.

I did eventually find a job working for a well-known casino back in 2/1/2016 (I won’t say the name due to corporate policies). After my first year I won rookie of the quarter, Team Leader of the Year, and got promoted to Regional Safety Compliance Officer. The pay is mediocre but I am home 6 days a week and I get all the pallets I want.

So that brings us to beekeeping:

As I mentioned in my last post, my big plan was to build hives from old pallets and to catch wild bees. So since December of 2016 I have been doing just that. It turned out to be far more work than I expected but I’m sticking to it. I’ve built 12 supers and 120 deep frames so far using nothing but scrap pallet wood.

Aside from the huge investment in time, there are two major problems with using pallets for hives:

1.       The wood is not standard width or length… or thickness! The last one being the worst part. I’ve overcome this issue by building my hives using the inside dimensions rather than the outside ones – since that is the part the bees use anyway.

2.       No matter how I dismantle the pallets I waste wood.

a.       If you cut the nails with a saws-all then the wood that still has nails embedded in it becomes unusable.

b.      If you pry the wood apart then, without fail, half of the boards break. Nonetheless, this seems to be the best method. After dismantling nearly 50 pallets, I am still working on reducing the amount of broken boards.

What about my bees:

As of last month I have 6 very strong hives. 2 are at the old farm and 4 are at the doctor’s place. (The Beast died last winter and it was a relief not to have to deal with those cantankerous little bastards anymore). The unusually warm winter has me biting at the bit to begin my splits but all prudent advice says I should wait until after Easter. So I am waiting. I have also purchased a VHS Italian Queen due to arrive at the first of April. My bees are strong but a little aggressive and I’m hoping the new queen will help to calm down future offspring.

Of course I had a setback:

Last year, I did three stupid things.

1.       I harvested too late. I usually harvest my honey around September 3rd. However, it was freaking hot! So I thought to myself, “Self” that’s me… I said, “Self, bees fly just fine when it’s 70 degrees out. Why don’t you wait until October and get the honey when it’s not so damned hot?” So I did – and that is when I found out why you harvest when it’s hot. The bees are fine at 70 degrees but the honey is thick and took forever to drip from the frames. 10 frames took a week to drip using my gravity flow extractor. Lesson 1: HARVEST IN THE HEAT!

2.       The second stupid thing I did was that I collected 2 supers of honey when I only have a 10 frame extractor. So the other super got robbed before I could get the honey out of the first one – and it happened FAST! Those neighborhood bees were like piranhas on a cow carcass. Lesson 2: Only harvest what you can handle.

3.       The last stupid thing I did was hurt my back and this changed everything!

In the book Beekeeping: Practical Advice for would be Smaller holders, by Andrew Davies, it says that there are two conditions that can prevent someone from beekeeping: Anaphylaxis and a bad back. I have the latter. So when I attempted to shake the bees from a full deep super, I reinjured my back. I realize everything about that sentence is wrong. Why am I gathering honey in deep supers? Why did I try to shake bees out? Why was I doing any of that with a bad back in the first place? For all those answers please reference the title of my blog series.

Just the same, it made me reconsider beekeeping altogether and, somewhere in that deep contemplation, I decided to focus on Queen rearing rather than honey production. So for the past six months I have been studying books, blogs, and videos. Hopefully before this month is out, I will try my hand at my first grafts. I am also using the rest of this year to split my hives, master my grafting technique, and practice producing queens on a schedule.

I’ve designed and built my first mini mating nuc using scrap material – I’ll give details and post a blueprint in upcoming blogs. I have also begun making queen cell cages at night while I watch TV – it only took two nights before I fumbled the soldering iron and branded my hand… I’ll also post that story as well as ways to prevent it from happening again.

Well this blog has gotten pretty long so I’ll end it here. See you soon.

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