Beneficial Weeds

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A new look at weeds
A weed is a weed is a weed. Except when it is a useful tool around the Farm. We look at weeds differently now that we are living in the country and striving to be more sustainable.

Weeds as food
Certain weeds with attractive flowers are visited by bees collecting nectar. They also collect the pollen. Some people will tell you the honey made from classic allergen weeds such as ragweed and goldenrod helps reduce allergy symptoms. We have sold some honey to individuals using it specifically for this purpose. (Disclaimer: we are not purporting that our honey is an allergy treatment.) There was a time that we would have tried to eradicate all ragweed and goldenrod, Queen Anne’s lace and others to allow for more purposeful plants. Now we encourage these to be part of the landscape.

The same is true for some of the invasive shrubs. We do work to keep these under control but the wild olive, wild cherry and false honeysuckle are also beneficial to the bees.

Plants as decoys
We have learned through experience and observation that Japanese beetles prefer some weeds, e.g. pigweed to the vegetable plants. We reduce the weed level in the garden but do not eliminate entirely. This balance helps both the garden and the gardener. Chemicals are not needed to control Japanese beetles when they have a weed to eat.

40,000 Angry Bees

Ever wonder what it’s like to have 40,000 stinger equipped insects upset with you?

Visitors to the Farm have many questions about the honeybees. One of the first is usually “Do you have one of those suits?” The answer is “yes”. We both have a full suit that has an integrated hat and veil. Wrists and ankles are sealed with elastic, long gloves fit securely over the sleeves and also have elastic closures, so there are no entrances for the bees. It feels very secure which is important when 40,000 bees are determined to defend their happy home against the human intruders.

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Our interest in keeping honeybees is two-fold. The products from the hive, such as honey and wax are very important, but so is their pollination capacity. The fruit trees and berries, garden plants and flowers are producing better than ever this year. We give the bees credit. Unfortunately the honeybee population is declining due to a variety of environmental factors including increasing use of pesticides. That alone should cause a cloud of bees to be after the humans with stingers at the ready.

The apiary on Five Feline Farm started with two colonies in 2012. One of these colonies swarmed late in the year and did not have the numbers to maintain through the winter. The relatively mild winter was also hard on bees. They required more pollen and honey stores then broke their winter cluster early. Even feeding winter patties was not enough for the weaker hive so the spring found us down to one colony. We have heard of experienced beekeepers losing 50-75% of their colonies. Since we are new at beekeeping this was oddly encouraging news. It was not our fault.

The remaining hive is very strong with good numbers of bees. Even though we added a super for honey production, this hive showed signs of crowding and an imminent swarm. Clusters of bees were hanging on the outside of the hive in increasing numbers so we determined it was time for a split. Moving a selection of frames with brood, honey and pollen into another box gives the existing colony more space interrupting the swarm impulse. The bees on the removed frames start a new colony and raise up a new queen. This approach is called a “poor man’s split”.

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This is where the irritation for the bees started. Poor man or poor woman, the bees do not take kindly to the disruption of their habitat. Bees poured out of the hive targeting our heads slamming into our hats and veils. Hundreds of bees crawled over us and on the ground looking for an opening to exact their revenge. The secure suits protected us and no stingers found a mark this time.

40,000 angry bees settled back into their homes returning to their work making honey.

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Would you feel safe from the bees in a protective suit?

All the Buzz

Last week we attended Bee School sponsored by the Crossroads Beekeepers out of Effingham. There were several displays and vendors in addition to an excellent workshop format. We attended the section on Managing the Established Hive and found out we are doing many things right. We got some good ideas about things to do in the future. Kudos to Crossroads Beekeepers for an informative day.

Both of our hives are doing quite well. The clusters are in the top box of the hive. We added winter patties ordered through Dadant and a spacer that gives the bees room to feed on these patties.

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We continue to study how to improve the products from the hives. Potential exists for more honey, cut comb and establishing more hives.

As Spring approaches there will be more activity on the Farm. Early garden plant starts continue to thrive in the basement grow station. The greenhouse window has been repaired. An addtional martin house has been assembled. We are ready for spring and the chance to be outside more.

Leave a comment about your preparations for Spring.