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9642 Randle Rd
Williamsport, OH, 43164

Honeyrun Farm produces pure raw, honey, handcrafted soap, and beeswax candles in Williamsport, Ohio

Blog

Cross your fingers and hope for the best

Jayne Barnes

-Posted by Isaac

What an awesome endeavor, this thing we call beekeeping!

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On all levels.

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As a hobby. As a business.  Keeping bees, in my unbiased opinion, really is the most awesome thing going.

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For me, it just keeps getting better and better. Like an aging wine. Or a deepening marriage. Better with time. I'm so happy to spend my days thinking about and working with bees. Does Jayne feel a touch of jealousy when I'm all starry eyed, gushing about my 30 million girlfriends? Perhaps. But I know she understands. Men have needs.

We're about a decade and a half into this awesomeness, and I can't help but think about the roller coaster ride. Good years and bad. There were years when almost all the hives pulled through the winter despite my ignorance, and other years when I thought we were on track, and we lost the majority of them. The things we learn...

Beekeeping holds its share of hard knocks. And as we go into this winter, I recently experienced another- perhaps the hardest and most common knock in the trade- varroa mites. I told you last week we'd rehash the mite topic and I'll bet the suspense has been killing you... what did he screw up now??

Well let me tell you-- I basically lost an entire yard, 16 hives, due to a stupid clerical error. 

My yard records are two pages on a clipboard sitting next to me in the truck.

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They contain information on 45 bee yards- what's been done, what needs done. And it changes with the season. I'll go through five of these over the course of the year. 

I'll spare you the details, but basically I recorded the Ramey yard summer mite treatment on the Downs yard line. Those 16 Downs hives didn't get treated in August. And the thing is, the bees made plenty of fall honey and looked perfectly healthy in October. All seemed fine and dandy until the inevitable crash which came in November. That's how I discovered my blunder- cleaning up dead-outs, then looking back at my records to see what the hell happened.

 So now that yard is down to four sickly hives struggling to make it through the next four months. It's sad. All due to a simple mistake. I know, I know, I should have been monitoring...

And I guess I'm telling you all this just to reiterate how real mite troubles can be. Even when you don't see it. Even in the spring and summer when it's barely noticeable.

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As long as you've got brood, you've got mites. Like it or not. You can go about your merry beekeeping way, but you just can't let your guard down. They're insidious and stealthy, a growing problem that you hardly recognize before it's too late.

Mites are real!

The link takes you to a blog post showing our summer mite treatment. Formic acid is what we use when the hives are full of brood. Summer is when it's important. In both honey production and winter survival, a good mite kill in July or August will pay dividends for months to come. Winter prep begins when you're wearing a t-shirt!

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Making it to the winter with healthy bees is hard enough. Making it through the winter takes some forethought and skill. Some beekeepers really work at it.

Others like to talk about how much they know.

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Whether you're a talker or a doer or both, the truth of your beekeeping prowess will shine through during the four long months of cold. In my humbling experience, it's best not to go bragging in early December.

Believe it or not, we're still worrying over mites. December is a perfect time to hit them where it hurts. The bees are basically broodless right now, so the mites have nowhere to hide. A little oxalic acid does the trick.

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This is an organic treatment that really cleans things up in case you're still carrying a mite load. They say oxalic vapor will knock down close to 100% of your phoretic mites.

The key word being phoretic. This means the mites that are not hidden underneath the capped brood.

And here we find at least one redeeming quality to our sucky Ohio winters- in December and January nearly all the mites are phoretic! With the right treatment at the right time you can really start with a clean slate as far as your mite problems are concerned.

It's quick and easy. And once you have right tools, it's cheap too. I just go through hinging the mouse guards out with my hive tool...

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...and blow the vapor right up into the winter cluster. It takes maybe ten seconds per hive. A mite remedy that ends up costing pennies per treatment. Harmless to the bees.

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It's even kind of fun. I'm in and out of a yard in ten minutes, and maybe I've even done some good. 

If not for the bees, for me- plenty of exercise. After the three inch rain we had a few weeks ago, I was still able to get out and do the first oxalic treatment.

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I just had to truck everything through the mud in a wheelbarrow. Let's hope it was worth it.

Some days are diamonds

Jayne Barnes

-Posted by Isaac

Somebody had a birthday day this week.

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Lately, Jayne has made such a big deal out of it. There's cake and ice cream and balloons and candles and lots of presents (all kid's toys, but I'm not complaining). A bunch of people come over and they all sing Happy Birthday

 I'm 42 for Christ's sake! What's the big deal? This year she even bought us tickets to a John Prine concert. What an awesome gift / date! But the thing is, and I tell her this every year, she'll never do better than the gift I got the day I turned 36.

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Bridger and I are not the only ones hauling in the gifts. This week I took most of the rent honey around. Every landowner who lets us put bees on their property gets a nice present this time of year. $90 of whatever they choose- honey, soap, candles, money... 

It fills the truck.

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I make quite a few rounds. We're up to 45 bee yards. Some days I go by the post office and I can double up on my Santa role. Cyber Monday was pretty awesome for Honeyrun Farm.

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While Jayne, Katie, Sara and Kristen work long hours fulfilling Christmas orders, my days have become more relaxed. This week I put winter spacers on the hives. Delivering the rent honey gave me the chance to hit just about all the yards. 

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Above you can see a spacer. It's about a three inch riser that sits between the top brood box and the lid. It's important for two reasons: ventilation and feeding. The hole lets the moisture escape during those cold winter months, and the space itself enables me to put pounds of winter feed on top if the bees are in need... usually in February or March.

It's a pretty quick job. Especially if you have good help.

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And the material comes cheap. In fact, I don't think I've had to build a single one. These are all just cut from old busted bee boxes.

We've got over 600 hives going into winter, and I needed another hundred spacers this week to get everybody done. One evening Jayne had something important to run off to, leaving me to watch the kids. That's all the time I needed, and I watched them from the far side of a table saw. An hour and a half later we had zero homework completed, zero piano practiced, zero baggy books read... but 120 spacers done!

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And what a week to get out and check the girls! With temps approaching 60 degrees, the bees were out and about. Some days are diamonds.

When it's warm it's easy to see the cluster size. I really felt happy after leaving most of the yards.

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Eden shows us what a winter hive should look like on a cold day:

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The bees should be clustered below several inches of honey, and if you put your ear close, you'll hear a soothing low rumble of life. A reassuring and joyful sound.

I'll leave you with a cliff hanger- one yard I went to was different. It was cold that day and on nearly every hive, when I listened close, there was dead silence. Next week we'll talk mites.