I’m Back After a 5 Year Hiatus!

Yard #1

As the title says…………I’m back after 5 very fast and busy years!

The bad news………The chickens are long gone and so is the dog. They all had wonderful lives filled with lots of pampering and care. Those 3 chickens and their most excellent protector made lasting memories which, to this day, come up often in conversation with family and friends. Those were good days indeed!

The good news……….I fell in love with honey bees back in 2015 and I haven’t looked back. I started out with two colonies that Spring and promised my wife that there would be no more. I broke that promise over FIFTY times and now keep my bees at 3 separate yards in Toronto.

Yard #2

I know to many, it may not seem like an ideal place to raise bees, but that notion is furthest from the truth. Cities, like Toronto, have banned pesticide use on lawns and there are enormous green spaces with lots and lots of wild flowers and tons and tons of bee friendly trees which all make for PLENTY of delicious honey and very healthy bees.

Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for our rural landscapes where monocrop culture and pesticide use are still heavily employed but that’s a story for another day.

Yard #3

As many of you know, the honey bee has had a rough ride for the last few decades and many hives do not survive winter. Here, in Ontario, average winter losses in the last 5 years range from 27%-45%. Thankfully, I can’t say the same and my over-winter losses are near or at zero each year. I’m proud of this accomplishment and have been teaching and speaking about how I tend my bees for the last few years.

Prior to Covid, those engagements were always in person, but now they are all virtual. But, there’s always a silver lining in those storm clouds and Covid has provided an opportunity for me to teach sustainable beekeeping to many people who could not geographically attend a workshop face to face.

I’ll be launching some dates for some virtual workshops in the coming days and I encourage you to have a peak if you’ve ever thought about becoming a beekeeper. I promise you’ll have a blast!

Beloved Wife Saves The Day On The Farm!

You have to know my wife to fully understand the total contradictions in her personality.  This is an extremely kind and generous woman who is the mortar that keeps are home together.  She has the wonderful ability to multi task throughout her day and continuously  orchestrate the needs and demands of our family; all the while placing her needs at the bottom of the list.  I consider myself to be a very fortunate man to have this wonderful individual in my life.   But………..as I previously said…………….there are some contradictions…………………………………..  A few posts back was one of those examples when Marty, our cat, decided to eat a honeybee that unfortunately got into our house.  Click here if you missed that posts.  But…….this week…….well…..just keep reading.

As I was saying………………though incredibly strong most times, this is an individual who feels totally justified to wake me from a deep sleep in order to let me know that I must annihilate a “creepy-crawly” bug that is in our kitchen sink.  And…… as for the occasional small brown snake who is basking in the sun far away from our cottage…………….My wife’s solution is to run back into the cottage, lock all the doors and windows in our weekend retreat, and let the entire community on our quiet lake know by her scream that she has, once again, located another ferocious flesh eating 12 inch brown snake.   Though I have unsuccessfully tried to reassure my Wife that a small brown snake has no real interest in “attacking” her, especially after…………… she has locked the front door…….I seldom meet with success.

So……..last Friday afternoon, my wife was busy doing what she does in order to keep our home running smoothly.  All of a sudden, she hears a screech from the deck where Swiffer is basking in the sun.  (According to my wife….”It wasn’t a screech…..you had to have heard this…..It was like something you have never heard before”.)

She runs through the house to find Swiffer being “attacked” by, what she thinks, is a squirrel.  She immediately acquires the punting ability of an NFL athlete and launches the “squirrel” off the deck.  The “squirrel” quickly circles back around, quickly climbs back up the four stairs and attacks again for round #2.  My wife, in her 4 foot 11 inch frame, goes into Ninja mode, picks up a garden hoe and immediately moves into some martial arts moves that Miyagi from The Karate Kid would have been most proud of………..She manages to, once again, win another round and scoops up Swiffer and runs with the chicken towards the end zone and safely deposit her into the chicken coop.  All the while……..that damn “squirrel” is fast on her trail.  After successfully locking up the chicken, she once again goes into “Daniel-san” mode and launches  another assault on the “squirrel”.  This time…………..the “squirrel”…….backs off.

Then……….my wife sees an opening in the other team’s defensive line, fakes a right turn and runs back to the deck…..into the house…….and…………..locks all the doors and windows.

She immediately calls me at work and lets me know about the “squirrel”.  I unsuccessfully try to calm her down and inform her that the behavior of the “squirrel” is not characteristic of this generally timid rodent.  After a brief description of the assailant, I determine that it may……..possibly………….be a …………..weasel and send her a picture of one for recognition.  She calls back in an instant and informs me that ………“Ohhhhh Myyyyyyyyyyyy God……….. IT IS A WEASEL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

Arriving home later that afternoon, I did see the weasel in the backyard and…………….. I am not proud to say,……… I do not possess the Karate-Kid skills of my Beloved Wife.  Maybe I just need the proper gear like the pink bath robe and fuzzy kitty slippers in order to become the successful weasel Ninja that she has become.

In the mean time…………..Swiffer remains in “lock-up” and has no interest in coming down from the coop, though she is physically unharmed.  Beloved Wife……………well….she had a couple of glasses of Chardonnay that night and has begun to move out from the “red-zone” by watching our Blue Jays defeat the Yankees in a four game series.  And…..as for me………I think I’ll dust off The Karate Kid dvd, maybe try on those fuzzy kitty slippers and hope that Miyagi can teach this City Boy a few of his moves.

………….”Wax on, right hand. Wax off, left hand. Wax on, wax off. Breathe in through nose, out the mouth. Wax on, wax off. Don’t forget to breathe, very important. “

Beloved Wife's Kung-Fu Grip!

Beloved Wife’s Kung-Fu Grip!

A Sure Sign That Autumn Is On The Way

Man Oh Man!……..It’s been too darn warm for me.  I know……I know……….you’re gonna’ remind me about last Winter and that I should embrace this incredibly hot and humid weather because it’s gonna’ get cold again in the next few months.  But,………..I’m OK with the cold.  In fact I prefer it to hot.  I’d rather be wearing a warm flannel shirt and blue jeans than shorts and a T-shirt.  I’d also take an evening with the dry heat from my wood stove rather than the cooler air conditioned environment that I feel “trapped” in at the moment.   And…..I think the honey bees are thinking the same.

The last few nights, those bees have been finding it way too hot to snuggle up and cluster in the hive.  Instead,  there have been a lot of bees just hanging out on the “porch” trying to cool down.

Bearding Up

Bearding Up

But, ……..Autumn is on the way and the promise of flannel shirts, comforting bowls of hearty soups, and crisp juicy apples are just around the corner.  This, my friends, is the season that I look forward to the most.  And…..how do I know it’s coming?????? Well……..my Autumn Joy (Hylotelephium telephium ) is just starting to open up and my bees are having a blast!007 - Copy024 - Copy - Copy

How Quickly It Can All Go South

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It’s hard to believe……..well…..maybe not too hard to believe.

Let me start again.

It’s not hard to believe that this tiny little honey bee…..yep…….the exact one in the photo……..could COMPLETELY turn our home upside down. For those of you who want to play along, the key words in the previous sentence are honey bee and home.  Yep…you guessed it!  Somehow……someway…..this particular honey bee got into our home last night and caused quite the kerfuffle.  Well…I have to be honest….I actually let her in……… by mistake.  It was dark outside, somehow she never made it back to her hive and she became attracted to the light inside our home. I thought I shooed her away from the sliding glass door, but……….. I guess……. I didn’t.

Well, ……….I knew I didn’t when I saw the cat (it’s kinda’ in between a kitten and a cat) go from a dead sleep on the couch to a stealth predator in 1.6 seconds.  All of a sudden, there’s a bee swirling around in a lampshade and our cat  (Marty) pouncing on the lamp shade.  Dutiful Son, no longer transfixed by whatever he was viewing on his laptop, spouts off that the cat’s gonna’ get stung.  Before I could grab the cat, the honey bee exited the lamp shade, headed over to the bright computer screen and ………..WHAMMOO.  Marty successfully captured the honey bee in his…………..mouth.  Before I knew it, the cat let out a blood-curdling meoooooooooowwwww, shook his head from side to the side, and opened his mouth.  Out flew the honey bee and that’s……………………………..when it all went south.

“He’s stung….He’s stung!” cried Dutiful Son.

“Who’s stung?” shrieked Beloved Wife.

“The cat!” yelled Dutiful Son.

“My cat?????????????” cried Beloved Wife.

Now…………you have to know my wife to understand her affection towards this cat.  She’s not one of those “crazy cat ladies”, but she does register somewhere in the general vicinity.  Needless to say, she loves this cat.  I mean…REALLY LOVES HIM! I hear her talkin’ to him throughout the day, pampering him with treats and toys and generally……….just doting on  him when he’s not sleeping those other 22 hours in a day.  It kinda’ reminds me of the way she was when are kids were small.

“Oh my God……..Oh my God…..what do we do???????????????????  she cried.

And…..before you knew it……Dutiful Son was tapping on that damn lap top keyboard………..pushing the panic meter towards the “red zone”.

“Dad………you gotta’ check his tongue. You gotta’ check if the stinger is in there.   You gotta’ see if his tongue is swelled and turning blue”.

” I’m not stikkin’ my fingers in there! I said.  Look at him.  Look at those eyes and those turned back ears.  Can’t you see how cheesed  he is right now?”

“Oh my God……….Oh my God!  Can he breath? Can he breath? screamed Beloved Wife.  “Who knows CPR?  Is the side of his face getting bigger?  Oh my God…I think it is getting bigger!”………………..

And before you knew it……….everything was COMPLETELY out of control.

As it turned out…..calmer heads did prevail and I successfully managed to push the panic meter back from the red zone. Marty’s face didn’t get any bigger and he resumed his usual Marty self in a short period of time.  All in all…the night ended on a positive note.  Marty learned that a honey bee may not be the wisest choice for a late night snack.  Dutiful son hopefully learnt that his helpful information really just helped his mom reach a new “personal best” in the panic department and I………..well I didn’t have to try and perform CPR on a cat.

Hopefully, tomorrow night we’ll return to our “norm” and Marty will be curled up on the couch between Beloved Wife and myself as we watch the Blue Jays try to win another baseball game!  And hopefully, just hopefully,…..every honey bee will decide to find their way back to the hive!

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Unwanted Hitchhikers In My Hives

Varroa Mites

It’s hard to believe, but these tiny bugs  are one of the leading causes to the honey bee’s demise.  They are about the size of a pin head, are named Varroa Destructor and…….I’ve got ’em in my hives.  These little buggers attach themselves to a honey bee, weaken the bee as they suck their blood and pass on various viruses as a parting gift to the bee.  If not controlled, the mites will eventually take down the entire colony.

The varroa mite was nowhere to be found in North America before the 1980s.  Though it was firmly entrenched in Europe and Asia, bee keepers in North America had no issues with this parasite before this time.  According to the old-timers, “pre-varroa” was a great time to be a beekeeper on our continent.  Nobody knew what Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) was and the honey bee and the beekeeper generally flew under everybody’s radar.

Fast forward 30 years later and we’re in a totally different boat.  Harsh chemicals have failed to be the answer to the demise of varroa as these parasites continue to wreak havoc for most beekeepers.  So……what’s a beekeeper suppose to do?

Option #1: Do nothing and hope that the bees figure out how to over-run these parasites. This hasn’t proven to be too effective for most backyard beekeepers, though certain people in the industry claim that they now have varroa resistant bees.

Option #2: Treat the hives with harsh miticide chemicals to kill the varroa.  This also hasn’t proven to be that effective  since the mite has learned to become resistant to these insecticides.  Not to mention that the residue from a lot of these chemicals is now being found to contaminate the comb that bees use to store honey and raise new bees.

Option #3: Develop an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) system which involves adopting “safer” strategies in order to keep varroa numbers at a level that will not allow them to destroy a colony over time.  Examples of this include:

A) Using screened bottom boards which do not allow a fallen mite to re-enter a colony.

B) Culling drone brood (male bees).  This “intelligent” parasite has figured out that it can breed and suck on the bee’s bodily fluid for an extra 3 days in capped male brood rather than the female brood.  As a result, the female mite favors mating and raising new mites in the comb where male bees develop.  By opening this comb and removing the drone brood, the beekeeper also removes a lot of mites who, in turn, would mate and increase their numbers within the hive.

Culling Drone Brood

Culling Drone Brood

C) Using natural treatments like formic and oxalic acids at designated times in the year.  Formic acid is naturally found in many foods including apples, strawberries, raspberries and……….. honey.  Oxalic acid can be found in spinach, Swiss chard, beet tops and parsley.  In high concentrations, they are poisonous to humans.  This is why we do not eat rhubarb leaves.  Fortunately, these acids are also lethal to varroa mites and, when used in the right application, can really knock down the mite numbers in a hive.  Best of all, these acids have been certified as “safe” chemicals that allow the organic beekeeper to continue to consume and sell a safe edible honey.

 

As Michael Corleone said “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer”.   Varroa mites are not leaving anytime soon.  In fact, they are probably here to stay. Hence, I’ll do what I can to help my bees maintain the upper hand on this incredibly destructive pest.  It’s the least I can do to help this incredible insect!022

One Swelled Headed Chicken and Me!

 

043   044  “Well Swif………..we finally made it to the big leagues.  Remember  back in late winter when I wrote the articleGround Your Flighty Flock’ and you volunteered to have your flight feathers trimmed for the occasion.  Well……..You and I are now the July/August FEATURE in Chickens Magazine. I’m pretty darn proud and I can tell that you are really stoked by the way you’re struttin’ around the backyard. I told you that  the “trim” would be worth it. 

What’s that??????????………..Hold all your calls?????? You want to schedule a pedicure at two after a light lunch with a couple of friends????????????   And…. you want more cracked corn before bedtime????????? Read the contract Swif.  Read the contract!  Now……get your butt back to work.  The egg count has been a little light these days in the hen-house”.

Chickens Magazine is a great read and I urge you to pick up the latest issue if you haven’t already.  It is chock-full or useful information for the backyard chicken enthusiast. You can find Chickens at your local checkout or via subscription.

http://www.hobbyfarms.com/chickens-magazine/

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Honey Street

 

034 - CopyWell…….as the picture shows…..the honey bees are here and I am stoked!  Stoked like the memories of my childhood on Christmas morning when we waited for our parents to finally say we could come down stairs to see what Santa brought.  It’s nice to feel that kind of excitement again.

I picked up my 2 colonies last weekend from a beekeeper I met a few years back.    With nuc boxes secured and thousands of passengers in tow, we all headed down a country road to begin a new chapter in life.  As we worked our way home, with windows down and a great “chill” cd on play; my mind drifted back to a favorite Van Morrison song titled  Pagan Streams “….and we could dream, and keep bees and live on Honey Street”.  I remember first hearing that song all the way back in 1991 and thinking that keeping honey bees would be really cool.  I’m glad that day has arrived.

One Big Brother and a whole lot of sisters.

One Big Brother and a whole lot of sisters.

 

Drunken Cherries In Vodka

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Washington cherries are now in your favorite grocery store and a sure sign that summer is on the way.  Why not think about putting a few of these jars away for the Christmas and New Years celebrations.  It will be here before you know it!    CLICK HERE for an easy and great tasting recipe.

Enjoy responsibly!

Regards,

CB

An Apology To Swiffer

006“Ok Swiffer……..I’m gonna’ do the right thing,…….take the higher road………and say……………I’m sorry!  I’m sorry for all the times I cursed your name, for all the times that I  labeled you as the trouble making hen in my small flock of three……………but most of all……..I’m sorry for making fun of those  Ping -Pong ball size eggs that you laid for almost 3 years. 

But…come on….you got to cut me a bit of slack……..It’s not like you were the picture of innocence.  Wasn’t it you who would start squawking the ‘egg-song’ at 5am on those summer mornings?   Wasn’t it you who splattered that soft shell egg all over endearing daughter’s leg as we drove back from the cottage in a van packed to the gills? 

Damn straight it was you!  And……as for those Ping-Pong size eggs that looked more like they came from a quail than a chicken……………. I say…………. THANK YOU!  As it stands, you’re my only girl who continues to lay after 3 years of age.  I don’t even care that you now take some pretty long breaks between your streaks.  It’s just nice to go into the coop from time to time and find one of those Ping-Pong size eggs sitting all by itself in the nest box.  Way to go girl.  You’ve now been given the role as the designated hitter at City Boy Hens………..Congratulations!

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