Do Honeybees Hibernate?

One of the most frequently asked questions about Five Feline Farm is about the honeybees. This year has been a start over year. We presently have two thriving hives and are determined to keep these colonies alive if at all possible. Our goal is to avoid the tragedy we experienced last year in losing colonies and increase the number of colonies in the spring.

We did harvest a very small amount of honey this year from one colony. Although the bees did produce a fair amount of honey, we made the decision to prioritze the health of the bees and leave this additional honey for their winter food supply. This will increase their likelihood of making it through the forecasted harsh winter and is more important than any profit potential we might realize by removing more honey.

What do honeybees do in the winter?

This is a common question. People often assume that honeybees hibernate in the winter. The reality is that honeybees do not hibernate, they cluster.

When temperatures drop, the colony huddles together in a ball with the queen and her attendants in the middle. The bees on the outer edge form an insulating layer. The inner layers of bees vibrate their abdominal muscles to generate heat for warmth. Periodically, one of the inner bees will move to the outer layer and push her cold sister into the middle of the ball to allow her time to warm up.

The bees also pass food from one to the other and to the queen. The entire cluster moves throughout the hive over the winter to where the honey reserves are stored. It is important for the beekeeper to leave enough honey for the bees. Yes, we can and do supplement with dry granulated sugar as needed to ensure they have plenty to eat before the spring nectar flow begins.

If all goes as planned, our colonies will overwinter.

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Treating Honeybee Stings

Honeybee stings happen. Being prepared with a quick treatment will reduce pain, itch and swelling.

But I’m allergic to honeybees!

This is something we hear all the time. There is allergic and then there’s ALLERGIC. Be sure to know the difference in a localized allergic reaction and an allergy to bee venom that causes a systemic involvement of your airway.

An allergic reaction will cause localized swelling, warmth and itching around the sting. This will last 2 or 3 days and cause relatively minor discomfort. The amount of swelling will vary from person to person, but can be treated with home remedies. 

A systemic allergic reaction is quite a different matter. This type of full body involvement may cause a person’s airway to swell and impede the ability to breathe. Anyone who has this type of reaction to a bee sting must receive immediate medical treatment. Home remedies are not for you. You likely already carry an Epi-pen (a portable means of injecting epinephrine in an emergency) and for use immediately after a sting. This is a serious medical emergency and should be treated in an emergency room even after the use of an Epi-pen.

Sting Kit

Home Remedies

Here’s what we do for the occasional bee sting. 

First, don’t panic. This will alarm the other bees and you may end up being stung more than once. Walk away from the hive and remove the stinger. Your goal is to scrape the stinger out against the direction of the sting. When the bee leaves her stinger in you, there is a small bulb of venom at the end of the stinger. Place the edge of a credit card (in a pinch you could use the edge of your hive tool) between the venom bulb and the insertion point of the stinger. Scrape toward the bulb end of the stinger with a firm flick of the card. This should remove the stinger from your skin and stop the flow of venom. It is beneficial to do this as quickly as possible after being stung.

After removing the stinger, apply an ice pack to the affected area. This will help reduce swelling and offer immediate relief. We also add a smear of honey to the affected area. Honey has antiseptic properties and seems to reduce the itch. You can take an antihistamine such as Benadryl if necessary.  

Remember honeybees will rarely sting while foraging away from the hive. They are focused on gathering pollen and nectar with no concern about much else. Foraging bees are not in a position to defend the hive or the queen. Unless aggravated, squeezed or stepped on, they are not likely to sting.

For more information about avoiding stings in the first place, check out this blog post on the Mother Earth News website: How To Not Get Stung

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Bought the Farm, Now What?

Have you ever had a vision so big, you didn’t know what to think?

Have you ever had a dream so big it was nearly impossible to conceive? Something that you really wanted but others looked at you funny when you talked about it?

This is where we found ourselves in 2002. Looking for a piece of land we could call our own. A place to do as we wished, no covenants to drive the structure of our dwelling, no close neighbors watching every move.

Finally we found it. A neglected five acre and a half acre rectangle. The house had burned years before leaving a weed filled pit. The old garage housed ragged appliances, broken glass, mice and who knows what else. The land came complete with a leaning two seater outhouse.

But the barn sang a different song. Hand hewn beams pegged together. Leaning a bit and in poor repair, it held promise. Could this be rehabilitated? Converted into a home? We dreamed large. Until we found the dry-rot and termites. The barn salvage is a story for another time.

So there we stood. Looking at this wild property wondering with excitement what possessed us to have this vision. The first step was obvious. Get rid of the junk. So we cleaned and mowed and hauled and picked up trash.

In 2008, the time was right to begin building. A two story yellow farmhouse sprang up and we moved in. Now we had more time to devote to gardens and landscaping and food. The land has transformed under our stewardship.

Our vision has grown and evolved since those early days. We find ourselves part of the growing movement to know the provenance of our food. Expanding the gardens to produce not only food for ourselves but enough to start a business.

Now our goal is to keep improving, expanding and moving toward the vision of being as self-sufficient as possible. Our focus is on food. Wholesome natural food that doesn’t come with a long list of chemical ingredients.

The plan also includes honeybees. As the honeybee population has been threatened, we have joined the preservation effort. These valuable insects pollinate many garden plants thereby increasing yields. We harvest honey and use the wax by-product to create skin creams and lip balms. It is a symbiotic relationship that benefits both us and the bees.

Here on our blog and throughout the Five Feline Farm business, you will find us promoting good food and fine products. We share tips, pointers, recipes, ideas and the occasional fail. We also hope to encourage you, our followers and fans, to reach for your own vision whether it be food, honeybees or something entirely different.

You can find Five Feline Farm on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. If you haven’t picked up your copy of Wisdom of the Bees, you can get that free when you sign up for our email list.

Our Manifesto-Natural, Simple and Reclaimed

Here at the Farm we are about three things: natural, simple, and reclaimed. These tenets are the overarching guide for all our Farm endeavors. Most of these manifest in food. Growing, preserving, buying, selling, cooking, and of course eating food. But it’s also a lifestyle.

First an explanation of the name. Five Feline Farm is not a cat rescue. The name is an homage to the five charter cats who moved with us to the five and a half acres we call home. It is also a glimpse of our sense of humor. Who names a market farm Five Feline Farm only to explain ourselves over and over? Wait until you find out what we name our products.

I digress. 

Back to our focus on food.

Natural and Simple

Heirloom Tomatoes
Heirloom Tomatoes

So much of our food supply is heavily processed, loaded with ingredients that sound more like a chemistry lesson than a food label. I can only conjecture that the rise of these artificial ingredients is correlated to the rise of disease and lack of well-being in our society.

We strive to use whole ingredients wherever possible. Not only whole but a direct connection to the source. Our vegetables come from our farm or local (within 100 miles) sources. Sometimes this is difficult and exceptions must be made. We can’t grow coffee in Central Illinois but we certainly drink it.

In addition to the gardens, we are beekeepers. Our honeybee colonies provide enough honey for our own use, some to sell and wax for value added products. The more we learn about the benefits of honey, the bigger a proponent we become. Honey is an all natural, non-spoiling food that can also promote healing.

Sweet Honey
Bees At Work

You may call it recycling or repurposing. Whatever the nomenclature, it is a way of life. Even the farm we live on is reclaimed land. The property had been left to it’s own devices. Covered in wild  grape vines and multiflora rose. Smattered with old appliances, rusty fencing and dilapidated buildings. Think ancient outhouse, rodent infested outbuilding, termite and dry rot compromised barn.

In the midst of these horrors we found treasures.

Wild blackberry and raspberry brambles for food. A vacated basement transformed to a goldfish pond. Garden art from a rusty iron drill press. Barn wood graces the fireplace mantel in the house, logs form garden bed edging.

Acres of open land perfect for a house, gardens, orchard and apiary. Orchard Sign

Reclaiming happens in the kitchen too. No, we don’t forage in dumpsters, but we do make every effort not to waste. Leftovers are creatively combined into new dishes and branded “New Leavin’s”. If something can’t be used, into the compost piles it goes. Enriching the soil for next year’s crop.

As we reclaim the land, we reclaim ourselves.

There are outlets to try new things and expand our abilities. We often learn by trial and error. Like the hoop house dismantled by prairie winds rivaling a nor’easter.

Follow along as we share what we learn. You may decide to implement a few things for yourself.