Growing a Bee Garden

This year will be our 4th year to trying to keep bees. We had great success with our first hive, but after we pulled some honey the second year, those bees swarmed and moved to another location somewhere. We were never able to find them.

The next purchase of bees arrived the day before a surprise snow storm resulting in the bees dying from the cold. When new bees are received there are not enough of them to keep the hive warm. Heat comes from a high number of bees huddling together. The timing of the storm could not have been worse.

The most recent purchase of bees seemed to go well. They seemed happy and healthy with a quickly increased population and a lot of good honey comb. We supplemented their honey with sugar water over the winter along with bee keeper pollen patties that you can buy retail.

Just as spring was breaking we found the bees had died. We have no idea what happened. For all we know it was cold weather again, or it’s possible a neighbor in the vicinity could have sprayed a chemical? We are heart broken!

I can’t preach enough about the use of chemicals in yards. Insecticides and fertilizers can kill bees. Even ones touted as organic. Some of the mild organic mite and lice control powders that are used on chickens are deadly to honey bees. If you can do without, please do not use anything to control pests. Mother Nature usually fixes itself in the long run.

I’ll step off my soap box now.

We are getting new bees in June and are preparing. This time they will be at home INSIDE the garden in the corner. Since we have lost our fear of handling bees, we are not afraid to have them there. If anything it will be better for pollination. We will also be putting wind block around the corner the hives will be sitting in to hopefully make the space more hospitable.

Today we will be spreading seed recommended for pollinators, hopefully resulting in a nice bed of native and wild flowers. It will also be good for butterflies and hummingbird.

Wish us luck!

Empty Hives

It was a weekly feeding of the bees during winter.  The first year is always the hardest while they are building their honey combs from scratch. The fondant we fed seemed to be working and the hives seemed fine……until today.

We knew there was an issue when there was still food left from our last visit. We didn’t want to fully open the hives to investigate because of the cold temperature outside. There were dead bees on the outside ledge but not a lot. We waited until a warm day to pull open the hives.

Unfortunately our worst fears were founded. The bees were gone and the hives were being raided by another swarm of honey bees who took all the food and honey to where ever they came from.

Unlike previous years where we lost a single hive due to cold or swarming, we lost ALL 3 hives all at once, in a single week.

We were baffled! What had happened?!  All 3 at once is a very suspicious situation. Did a neighbor spray a pesticide or herbicide? Did it really get cold enough over the winter to kill off all the honey bees? The bees purchased locally are usually born and bred in warmer states. Our dry, windy and variable climate is not very hospitable. Temperatures occasionally swing up to 60 degrees in a single day! From freezing to 80 degrees within 24 hours.  40 mile an hour winds, hail and snow storms in May are fairly common.

So what’s next? Since all the bees purchased in our state aren’t truly local, we set up swarm traps with scents that lure honey bees in hopes that local bees who have hardened up to our climate will move in.  

A lot of money has been invested in our bees and hives over the last 4 years and we have only been able to draw honey twice.  We will try to catch a swarm and wait until next spring to determine if we will potentially buy any again.

Please consider this when you are getting ready to use any chemicals.  Honey bees are dying at an alarming rate in our state and they are needed to pollinate and grow our vegetables! What may seem like a light weight harmless spray to kill weeds, spiders or other insects may eradicate colonies of bees within a day! Please help us save our bees.

Flowering Fruit Trees and the Bees

Timing is everything. Within a week after we set up the new beehives the bees were given the treat of an abundance of large apple blossoms on 3 apple trees and a double load of pear blossoms too! the fragrance is amazing!

We finally managed to avoid the late spring snow storm that happens often here. The fruit trees that lost all their blossoms to a storm last year built up enough energy for an incredible bounty this year!

What a great way to start off the new bees! Hopefully this impressive display makes them feel there is no reason to  swarm and find another home like a couple of our previous hives. We really need the bees for pollination.

Enjoy seeing the bees pollinate apple blossoms on the farm YouTube Channel:

Final Hive Swarms

Not too long after we collected the honey from the hive we had a small cold snap. A big drop in temperature and a little snow. We didn’t think much of it but when the snow melted and it warmed up we saw bees starting to swarm and fight over the hummingbird feeder. They were knocking each other off the feeder trying to get to the sugar water. It then dawned on us that the bees were stressed out thinking winter had arrived and they may be short some honey to sustain themselves over the winter even though they had plenty of stores left.

A couple days later the whole colony swarmed and left the hive. The queen apparently felt they were not prepared for winter so they left to find a better place. This left us with no more bees. It was too late to get any more this year. This means no honey for another 2 years. Very disappointing. It seems like bees are just so hard to keep in the high plains dessert. All we can do is wait until next year to buy more hives and catch some swarms to start all over again.

You can watch the fight on the farm’s YouTube Channel:


Basil Both Fresh and Dry

There is nothing more beautiful in the garden than fresh basil. We grew two 50 foot rows of it this year. They withstand the hottest and driest of days and need very little care to get them to grow. In order to keep the basil sweet and tender you need to stop it from flowering by constantly trimming it back. This promotes a lot of new tender growth and results in bushy plants. We don’t just sell a small stem of a few basil leaves, we sell a section of the plant that when left in a glass of water in the fridge will last a long time.

Just like most of the other items we grew, there was also too much basil. We couldn’t keep up with the trimming so finally let it bloom. It soon became covered with butterflies and our bees were in heaven! The aroma was incredible.

After considering what to do with the abundance of basil I decided to give drying a try. Everything I tried was adequate at best but the most unlikely process proved to be the best. Following a careful recipe using a microwave had amazing results. The leaves stayed green even after 6 months and the aroma and taste were far superior than what you buy in the store. I may come up with a way to sell this to our customers in the future.

Rather than growing the basil from seed next year I decided to winter over a few plants and create new plants from cuttings. Will also plant less since we had such excess.

First Honey Drawn from Bee Hives 2017

It’s finally here! The day of our first honey draw!

Unlike other bee keepers we purchased Flow Hives for our bees. They are a new technology from Australia. The hive allows the honey to be drawn from the hive without opening the boxes and pulling out the honey comb. The honey super, which is the top box you see here, has plastic honey comb that collapses on a turn of a key allowing the honey to flow through the spouts and into 2 quart jars, untouched by human hands.

This hive has a large colony of bees we’ve had for a year and a half. They have 2 boxes of honey. One is the honey super and the other is the box below which they will use in the winter for their own food. Plus they should be able to fill another box before winter hits.

It didn’t take long to get the flow spouts flowing. We filled 67 jars and sold them all in a couple weeks. You can see the honey is very dark in color. We were surprised at the strong flavor. Sort of floral from the wildflowers and a little piney. We aren’t sure how else to describe it. It was so strong we were a little worried if the product was sellable. After sitting for a few hours the most pungent flavors subsided and the flavor was amazing. We received so much positive feedback, even from people who had done honey before.

Honey looks to be one of our best sellers at this point and we plan to buy a number of new hives next year since this is the only hive that survived our climate. We hope to be even more successful next year.

You can watch the honey draw on the farm YouTube Channel:




Hive Freeze

Unfortunately we ended up with a late freeze this spring a week after we installed the nucs .The storm killed just about all the bees in weaker new hive. The other new hive, although in better shape, took a big hit. We did an inspection on our existing hive that had survived a winter already and it stood up to the late freeze with no issue. We combined the remains of the two weak hives and hoped for the best.

After the empty hive was cleaned out we decided the existing hive was so strong that we would split the hive. We took a few frames from the strong hive and moved them into the empty hive. One frame included queen cells so they could hatch their own queen. It seems to have been successful but only time will tell. The bigger concern is if the newly combined second hive we bought this year will survive. Only time will tell.

Watch as we inspect our first hive in the spring to see how they did over the winter. It’s on our YouTube Channel:

New Hives Arrive

Last year we purchased 2 hives and 2 nukes. Nucs are boxes that contain 5 frames full of bees with a queen, a little honey and brood to jump start a new hive. Everything seemed to be going well as one colony was thriving, creating and filling comb rapidly, but the other seemed lack luster. As winter was getting closer we did an inspection but couldn’t find a queen in the weaker colony.  We tried to re-queen it but after the next inspection it was obvious she did not take   The frames were being built with odd patterns and random fills. Yellow jackets and ants were raiding their hive. There wasn’t enough food to make it through the winter. We decided to save the bees that were left by breaking open the hive and joining them with the other colony. The thriving colony scavenged the left overs from the open hive and were well prepared for winter. Come spring, the hive looked fantastic!

This spring we purchased 2 more hives and 2 more nucs. One nuc was thick with bees and had a lot built on their frames. The other had healthy bees and a clean looking frame set but not nearly as many bees. The installation went well.

Watch as we install the new hives on our YouTube Channel:

9 weeks in the hives


Bees in the new FlowHive frames

It’s been 9 weeks since we moved the bees from the nucs to the main hives and we are seeing mixed progress. One hive is progressing well while the other, despite regular feeding and checks, is struggling.

The strong hive has been growing and is now at 2 deeps. They were filling out the second box last week so we added a 3rd box loaded with Flow frames.  Some people have had trouble with their bees taking to the plastic Flow frames so we painted them with melted beeswax before installing them. Glad we did as they have already started working on the frames getting them ready for honey.

As a first year hive we will not likely take any this season but it’s good to know they are progressing so well.

The second hive however is still struggling.  We have continued to feed and inspect with no clear evidence as to what is going on.  We are seeing brood and stores but it just does not seem to be progressing. After some discussion with another beekeeper we decided that it is most likely a mite problem so we treated today and will wait to see how it goes. It’s late in the season and the colony is small so it may or may not make it. You never know though – bees can be resilient so while there is still activity we will hold out hope for this hive.


More Spring Snow!

Snow and Deer

More snow! How long is this going to last? It’s supposed to continue for another few days. The apple blossoms are partially open. Let’s hope they don’t all freeze. If you look close, you can see the deer laying underneath the lilac bushes.

The growing season is rapidly shrinking. Less time means less harvest. We could regain time if the weather cooperates the rest of the season. Here is crossing fingers.

The cold weather transplants are getting too big for the trays. I may have to plant when it gets above freezing, using a row cover to protect them.

Over grown transplants

This is also effecting the building of the run and preparing the beehives for the bees coming in two weeks!
We will be so happy when the weather warms again, but then it will be a race to get things done!