Hunny-Bunny Happenin’s June, 2014
It’s been several weeks since last I wrote largely because spring is a very busy period down here at the ol’ homestead. Between seed planting, transplanting, prepping the gardens; cleaning the hen house, rabbitry, and compost; setting up the beehives, getting new bees, and averting May – June honeybee swarms, setting on honey supers; and other seasonal chores spring is the busiest season of the entire year, followed closely by fall.
Essentially, the seedlings planted in the greenhouse in March were ready for transplanting to the gardens. Additionally, all the plants wintered over in the green house are now back in the gardens and planters, with the exception of the flowers for the deck as it needs to be painted before I put up the window boxes and chairs. This week I mulched the garden with some of the old salt hay and purchased and placed additional salt hay in the main garden. So far this spring the weather has been cooperating nicely here in New England in that it is very seasonable with warm, not hot days, and cool nights. Together with the rains about every three or four days it is getting the gardens off to an ideal start. Some of the long range forecasts for this 2014 summer are predicting an unusually dry hot summer. With this excellent start and the addition of three to four inches of salt hay mulch I anticipate excellent production this season with very little weed competition.
In the rabbitry I’ve bred two of my does, (for a second time, as the first was unsuccessful). I anticipate the kindling of the new kits in about two weeks. When this happens I will now have the foundation of my own strain of Florida White Rabbits. I can then process the remaining rabbits for the freezer.
In the apiary not only did I get a jump on the season by purchasing honeybees from Mann Lake Bee Supply’s new Wilkes-Barre facility, I also had the potential for swarming from the new hives. While I averted one swarm by adding an additional brood super to the hive at just the right time, the other escaped my notice and swarmed over this past Sunday, (the Sunday after the Ascension). For those who have never witnessed a swarm, it is an exceptional sight to behold. The honeybees, with little advance notice, suddenly erupt from the hive en mass and form a cloud of bees up to 20,000 strong. Within a few minutes the entire swarm settles on a convenient location waiting the reporting of the scouts of an ideal spot for a permanent new colony. Generally speaking, the swarm settles within 100 yards of the original hive at a height of between 8 and 20 feet. This is the time that the observant beekeeper must hustle to prepare everything to capture his straying charges. If he is fortunate, the bees will settle on a low branch or fencepost where he simply shakes them into newly prepared hives. If he is not lucky they may settle higher in the branches or the side of a house out of convenient reach of ordinary equipment. In this case ladders, poles, and capture buckets must come into play involving more preparation time with the risk that a precocious scout may have come back to alert the swarm to a prospective permanent location. In which case, the entire swarm may fade into the wild blue yonder, never to be seen again by the hapless beekeeper.
In my current case, I was lucky to see the swarm as it emerged and temporarily settled in my orchard at about the 8 foot level. My main problem was that the swarm settled on a main branch which was not easily shaken to dislodge the festooning honeybees; so two ladders were set up with the awaiting new hive straddled between. I then used a broom to gently sweep the new colony loose and they fell neatly into the awaiting super or hive box. As long as the queen is in the first clump of bees she will seek the dark recesses of the box and all others will follow. In the first sweep I managed to capture the queen along with the majority of bees. The others were flying about either settling back on the branch where the queen’s scent still lingered or they settled in the new hive, that is, their new home. I left the ladder scaffolding in place overnight but, for the most part, by night fall the remaining worker bees had followed the others into the hive. The next day I moved the new hive to the St. Joseph herb garden where they seem completely satisfied. The only thing remaining to do is to check on them in about 6 days to see if the queen is laying eggs as she ought. Meantime, I’ve increased my apiary to six hives altogether.
So as of the beginning of March I had one hive winter over, giving them a head start. With the purchase of three additional 3# packages, I had four. I then did what is called a walk-away split by taking brood frames of various stages of egg and larva development, and hundreds of “nurse” bees all from my various colonies. I allowed them to then select the proper egg and begin preparation for making a new queen. This brought me to five hives and finally with this recent swarm I now have six hives. Additionally, the honey supers, that is, the boxes (4) destined to become my honey are filling up with nectar; so it looks like I will be getting a spring honey flow for the first time ever. Some say this flow is the sweetest, but that remains to be seen.
So with swarm season winding down and most of my plants in place in the gardens, (except repetitious plantings, of radishes, carrots, etc.) the livin’ will be easy. All I expect now is a constant harvest of fruits, veggies, honey, and some lapin, that is rabbit meat. Yeah boy, I’m in high cotton now! As the song goes: summer’s here, and the livin’ is easy; it doesn’t get any better than this! Oh Yeah!
Richard of Danbury, D.S.G.