Thursday, August 25, 2011

Chicken Coop Tour

I am excited to post that we will be included in the Denver Botanic Garden's tour of chicken coops this year! We had a visit from a lovely woman from the Botanic Gardens who looked over the coop and chickens and garden, agreed we could be part of the tour and I am overjoyed!
We love our red hens and also love to spread the word about backyard chickens and how they fit into the natural cycle of gardening, from compost to bug patrol. Their eggs are yummy too!
You can find out more about the tour at:

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Two sweet boys

  The boys have really loved gardening, but I can't say that they eat any more vegetables.  They are still so picky! They helped plant seeds and seedlings, and will weed and harvest (who wouldn't want to harvest, that's the most fun!)

Monday, July 11, 2011

Homesteading in Denver, chickens and bees and more

Although we live in an Urban setting with a very small yard, it is home to one large crab apple, 2 columnar apples, one dwarf pear one dwarf peach on dwarf tart cherry, several types of currents, both raspberries and blackberries and strawberries, and new this year, 2 types of elderberry and a garden huckleberry. It is also home to 2 grape vines.
I don't want to forget the volunteer Chokecherry that has come up between our the north side of out garage and the neighbors fence. I tried to dig it up for replanting but I couldn't. It's impossible to get to let alone dig out.
I am hopping to can at least twice as much jam as we did last year.


Sunday, May 22, 2011

Homesteading in Denver

Although we live in an Urban setting with a very small yard, it is home to one large crab apple, 2 columnar apples, one dwarf pear one dwarf peach on dwarf tart cherry, several types of currents, both raspberries and blackberries and strawberries, and new this year, 2 types of elderberry and a garden huckleberry. It is also home to 3 dead grape plants that again did not seem to survive the winter.
I don't want to forget the volunteer Chokecherry that has come up between our the north side of out garage and the neighbors fence. I tried to dig it up for replanting but I couldn't. It's impossible to get to let alone dig out.
I am hopping to can at least twice as much jam as we did last year.

Bee Diary May 22nd

After what seemed like weeks of unseasonably cold weather, we finally had a warm sunny day! Temps in the high 60's, partly cloudy.
After a 12 hour shift yesterday, I allowed myself some decadence. While the kids played fort made a cardboard box, I took my coffee out in the back yard and sat by the hive and watched. I'm not sure if is the hypnotic thrum of the hive, but I can't seem to tear myself away. I don't think I have ever sat so still for so long in all my 48 years.
I watched for almost an hour and was very pleased with all the work they seem to be doing. The comb is expending and a steady stream of workers landed on the entrance board, their pollen baskets ready to burst with yellow and orange and white pollen.
Later in the afternoon however, while working in the garden, I noticed some frenetic activity in the front of the hive. I am afraid of the dreaded "robbing" I have read so much about. I went and sat by the hive again to observe. While there was a definite increase in activity, I didn't notice anything sinister about the bees. All were buzzing about facing the hive (a good sign) and I didn't notice any fighting or dead bees around. (Another good sign). But then I noticed something amiss. To this point my bees have been either adorable fuzzy yellowish brown bees that seem very teddy bear-like, or yellow with black stripes at the very end of their backs. Now I was noticing some bigger bees that were much darker, not fuzzy and did not look like my bees at all. I first thought they were drones, but I didn't think they had the larger eyes drones have, although they didn't stay still long enough for me to really tell.
Then I remembered that the queen has mated with several different drones (therefore is carrying different genetic material) and her offspring may not all look alike. I think these were new worker bees (or three week old bees) out for their first orientation flight. I couldn't find much out about it though.
In the meantime I am frantically trying to finish my backyard garden and plant as many bee loving, food producing plants (and native if possible).
Photos tomorrow.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Bee Diary May 21st

Saturday May 21st, no Armageddon, but we sure are having crappy weather. Let me qualify that. I actually love cool rainy days, but ever since I got my little hive I have been keenly aware of every temperature fluctuation, flower blossom and rain drop we've had. Any boy, have we had some rain drops. It has been in the 40's and raining for days. The heavy rains stop bees from flying and also knocks all the blooms off the few remaining trees that had blooms. I had to work 12 hours today and made a decision to feed them and have given them honey in a bowl with twigs in the back of the hive, organic cane sugar spritzed with water on an envelope through the front entrance and a 2:1 sugar water in a baggie in the back of the hive. When I got home from work I checked and they had eaten every last drop!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Week one of newly hived bees

A whole week has gone by and despite unseasonably cold weather and my ineptitude, the girls are still alive. Cold, but alive. After bungling the hiving last Saturday, we had only 2 really warms days in which they were very active. The rest of the time temps here in Denver have been in the 40-'s to 50's a and bees have remained in a cluster with only a few coming and going.
I have fretted constantly over how and what and when to feed them. The idea behind the top bar is to interfere as little as possible and to avoid harvesting their honey, but allowing them to keep their honey for use during the winter months. You avoid putting anything in the hive that bees wouldn't eat naturally.
That seems pretty straight forward, right? Bees eat honey, so I would feed honey. Unpasteurized local honey.
But the more I read the more confusing it became. Feeding honey can result in other bee colonies "robbing" your bees. Robbing is where other bees come into the hive and steel the honey, this results in your bees having to defend their hive, sometimes fighting to the death.
It sounds pretty grim to me. Also, according to one source, feeding honey can transmit disease in some circumstances.
Confused, I sought advice from 2 different sources and received two very different answers . The first person, an advocate of organic beekeeping stated that the bees would be able to forage despite the cooler weather and would not need to be fed, and if I did choose to feed, I should feed only a small amount of honey in the back of the hive.
The second source stated I should be feeding 5 lbs of syrup to the bees daily. I began to do frantic internet searches and got as many answers as I did searches. Dry sugar, fondant, (a candy you make from cooking sugar and water and letting it harden) sugar water, and even, believe it or not, high fructose corn syrup. Bushfarms, one of my favorite sources of organic beekeeping recommends dry sugar if emergency feeding.
Then there is the question of how to feed? It is not as easy to feed in the top bar hive. When the temperatures are low the bees will not leave their cluster to go to the bottom of the hive to eat. Apparently their instinct is to move up in the hive. If they have drawn comb already then they can eat their stored honey, but these poor bees have no stores. If you give them syrup and the temps drop, the condensation can kill the bees. Also, you can but syrup in upside jars, or in feeders or in baggies with pinholes poked in them, because if it drips too fast, they will drown.
These poor bees came all the way from sunny California, and I was feeling less like a guardian and more like an executioner.
I am trying to remember that bees have survived thousands of years in all sorts of conditions. Now I have fed honey in the back of the hive, dry sugar sprayed with water slipped in through the entrance of the hive, right below their cluster and , and syrup fed in baggies. So far the bees have taken all this food.
Today, because it was too cold to open the hive, and because I was certain of their eminent demise from starvation, I poured cane sugar (never use beet or molasses) on a piece of scrap paper and spritzed it with water and because I thought it was too cold for robbing, I mixed in tad bit of honey. I then moved the the twigs I have to block or reduce the entrance, and slid the paper into the front entrance, just under the cluster. The bees at the bottom of the cluster began to drop down immediately and eat it. I think they may have been passing it back up the hive. Within 15 minutes there was a lot of activity in the front to the hive. I began to worry that by putting in some honey I attracted other bees and robbing had occurred. I reduced the entrance using twigs so that just one or two bees could fit. This allows the guard bees to protect the entrance more easily and is important to a weak hive.
Supposedly if there is robbing going on you can see your guard bees fighting the bees. I have not seen what I thought was guards and I don't think I have seen fighting either. I am hoping my colony is not so weakened they are unable to fight at all.
Tomorrow should be the end of this cold spell and temps in the mid 70's are predicted for later in the week. I pray they can hold out another day. I will feel so much better when they start building comb and have their own honey stored.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Arrival of the bees

The date was set, April 23rd the bees were to arrive in Denver from California. I looked forward to the date with a mixture of excitement and dread. I began to have nightmares that one of children would be attacked and stung to death by swarms of angry bees, or that I would do something wrong and kill the whole swarm, I fretted that I was unable to get local bees, and that these tender California bees would perish in our cold climate, (I'm still worried sick about that one) or worse yet I worried I would be too terrified to work with the bees. I must admit, although I love nature and and can spend hours observing insects, I am not exactly OK with things crawling on me or buzzing around my head possibly getting stuck in my hair. Bees? Me? What was I thinking?
The day dawned cold and rainy and my anxiety mounted. I had prepared my top bar hive, chose out permanent location, and lovingly waxed each individual bar so the girls would know where to start building there comb. I had made sure the hive was level (important apparently for them to build straight sturdy comb that wont break off the top bar when manipulated) and I had my bee suit and veil and gloves. I had already made the decision to do this whole bee thing as natural as possible so I opted against a smoker.
The boys (and I include David in that too) were bursting with exciting that we were getting out own bees. Fin my oldest had read Beekeeping for Dummies and was spouting facts about bees like an encyclopedia and asking me questions like would we use a Queen excluder. Queen excluder? I guess I hadn't been as thorough in my reading.
Finally at 2:00 I drove to To Bee or Not to Bee and as expected found my package of lovely Carniolan bees awaiting me. What I hadn't expected was that many of the bees were outside of package. I watched as experienced beekeepers picked up their packages seeming unaware that bees were buzzing around their heads.
Now true, I hadn't taken a class, but I had watched many Youtube videos about hiving bees (hiving is the process of getting the package of bees into their new home) and I hadn't noticed that some of the bees would be outside the box. This required me to carry my new humming package 100 yards to my car while bees crawled over my hands and buzzed near my face. Thankfully I was able to suppress the urge to drop the box and run away flailing and screaming.
Bees that are in a swarm may look menacing but are actually at their most docile. They do not have honey or a brood to protect and are not apt to sting. I did relaxation breathing and drove the bees home.
It is amazing that any of the 12,000 or so bees lived through the experience of hiving. None of it went as planned.

The queen, who is isolated from the rest of the hive in her own little box, (that's her in the second photo) usually has a cork plug on the underside of the box that you remove, and inside should be a small candy plug the bees will eat over the next few days to release the queen. When my brave husband David, glove less and hands covered in bees, removed the cork there was no candy and we quickly tried to wedge the cork back in.
That would not have been a problem but because of the cold weather we did not shake the bees into the hive but left them in their package hoping they would surround the box that held the queen as they warmed up. The problem was the queen was not snuggles in her box ready to lure the hive around her with her hormone, she had been released, and one thing lead to another, the bees got cold and wet and sluggish, but eventually we got queen and bees back into the hive and by this time the bees did not seem to follow readily, so my son Fin and I knelt on the ground and painstakingly helped them along.
Monday remained cold and but by Tuesday it warmed up and the bees took their orientation flights.!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Bee Guardian

After years of thinking about it, I finally took the plunge and bought a beautiful handmade top bar beehive from a wonderful company called The are out of Boulder Co and promote beekeeping to improve the plight of the bee and to help increase feral bee populations in a time when bees are in dire need of help. I encourage everyone to check out their website. Their video is amazing too and will have you wanting to purchase your own hive.

I have been unable to take advantage of any of the numerous beekeeping classes offered in the Denver area because of my weekend work schedule, so I began researching and reading about beekeeping in my usual one-track, obsessive way.
I found Beekeeping for Dummies, Stories Guide to Beekeeping and even Natural Beekeeping: Organic Approaches to Modern Apiculture all were informative, but I think the best source for me was The Barefoot Beekeeper by P J Chandler.
He also has a great site, and there are other good sources on organic beekeeping such as, and of course
Silence of the Bees is also well worth watching.

What all these books videos and sites have in common is NOT the desire to obtain honey at all costs to the bees, but the desire to raise bees in a natural organic fashion that causes less stress to the hive and will hopefully help them survive without the use of chemicals.
When it came to making the decision about which type of hive to choose, it was not difficult. A little background...
Conventional Langstroth hives have been around since the mid 1800's and were produced in order to optimize honey production. Today these hives are used around the world, in both commercial and hobbyist apiaries. They utilize a rectangular box with preformed comb that the bees must utilize to make their own comb.
Bees make comb for 2 purposes.
1) to raise their "brood". The queen lays hundreds of eggs a day in the combs.
2) to store honey.

The Langstroth beekeeper thus can manipulate the size of the comb as well as manipulating the percentages of drone cells he or she wants to hive to bear.
In the spring with the budding of pollinating flowers and trees, bees collect nectar and pollen and then create honey. This honey is used to raise the young bees, but is also stored in hives and dried by the bees to be used as food to help them survive the cold winter. It's thermal mass also helps keep bees warm during the winter. That is how wild bees survive northern winters. It is estimated that bees need 40-60 lbs of honey to get them through the winter, more or less depending on temperature ect.
Commercial beekeepers as well as many hobbyists will harvest that honey and feed the bees sugar syrup. This is NOT something I could ever be comfortable with.
The top bar hive is constructed to allow the bees to make their own comb along wooden bars laying atop a box. This allows for a more natural method,
and since there is less disruption of the hive during routine inspections, you do not need to "smoke" the bees.
Smoking is a method used to subdue bees. Perhaps you have seen images of a beekeeper donning a white suit and veil with a small metal smoker in his hand. Scientists believe that smoking the bees causes them to gorge on honey believing a fire is imminent and that they need to flee. They are not interested in stinging since they are panicked and there alert signals may be missed due to the smoke. S0me organic beekeepers feel this is not necessary and that it causes undo stress to the hive.
I hope that the more information people have about these amazing creatures, the more likely they will be to want to help them.