I have the distinct pleasure to serve at Salem4youth, a faith-based residential ministry that works with young men and their families. In 2012 I started a beekeeping program at Salem for any of the boys that were interested. It was purely optional, not required. Over the years I have had the privilege to introduce basic beekeeping skills to many boys. They are amazed at how, after they don the bee suit, they can get up close and personal with these amazing creatures. Occasionally I come across one of the boys who is really engaged in helping me. This year is one of those times and it does this old beekeeper’s heart good! The student is full of great questions and eager to learn. He understands the basics and tends to be a “sponge” as we work the bees. Due to the time he came to The Ranch he should be on campus from Spring through harvest this year. He is one of those individuals that you think may take up the hobby when he leaves here so it is really worth the effort to pour into him. Our beekeeping program is 6 years old this year and this student is going to be a real asset as we continue to tend and build the program!
As a beekeeper in Illinois when winter approaches you do all you can to help ensure the survival of your bees. When that first really bitter cold snap comes you start to hold your breath for months. On those occasional “warm” days that we may get between December and March we head to our hives and look and listen for any signs of life. If it is warm enough, generally upper 40s to 50s and sunny, we will quickly pop the top and do an assessment. Is there evidence of activity? Are there bees working on the sugar blocks you left there in the Fall? Are bees coming and going through the entrance reducer at the hive entrance? These are the things you look for, pray for. These times of transition from Fall to Winter and then Winter to Spring are the times that “try beekeepers souls!”
As a keeper of bees you grow attached to your hives and the “gals” within them. You work to do all you can to help assure that you will see them in the Spring. There is a kind of relationship and respect that you develop through working with them. They are amazing creatures on so many levels. Never a dull moment! You are always learning!
It’s February 25th and we’ve had quite a severe winter but today it was in the upper 40s! So out to check on my gals. As I head out to check on the hives I am literally praying. Praying that I will see life and be assured that they are doing okay. I pop the top and…
…my prayers were answered!
When I have free time on a Saturday I like to visit the Old House Society in Bloomington, IL. They have a shop where they sell items reclaimed from old homes and buildings they tear down. Since they are also a not-for-profit they accept donations of various items. A totally fun place to visit!
I had been looking for a fruit press online to use to squeeze any excess honey from our wax cappings after we harvest our honey in the fall. Well, this past Saturday I paid a visit to my favorite shop and guess what was sitting outside the door? Yep, a vintage fruit press! I know the folks, Laura and Israel, who run the shop and asked what they wanted for press. Israel said “You’ll have to ask Laura.” Just then Laura walked up and said “what are planning on using it for?” When I told her that I was looking for one to press my wax cappings for my hives and for the hives at Salem4youth (Where I serve as beekeeper and Director of Development – www.salem4youth.com) she said “if you are using it for your beekeeping efforts it’s yours!” They have been SO kind and supportive of the Salem4youth ministry’s efforts to help young men. She also commented about how much she loved the Salem honey but was out!
I did some research related to the press. It was made in Philadelphia at the turn of the century. It is cast iron and weighs 50 lbs. It needed to be cleaned up and oiled a bit but it works beautifully! So excited to use it on our beekeeping efforts! Stay tuned! I will post pics this fall!
Oh, BTW, Laura is no longer “out of honey!”
As with many beekeepers my ears perk up when the discussion turns to how to help overwinter our bees. Living in Central, IL with the somewhat erratic winters we have had lately the task tends to be even more of a challenge. This year for instance we had actual temperatures of -18 degrees F and then a couple of weeks later it was 50+ degrees F. These temperature swings confuse us as humans let alone the “gals” in the hives.
Preparing the hives for winter can sometimes “try men’s souls.” From making sure the honey stores are sufficient, to proper ventilation of the hive top so as to prevent condensation inside are just a couple of the many tasks to consider and implement. That is assuming that you treated for that nemesis Varroa, prior to your final winter hive prep.
So when I got a warm enough day at the end of January to do a quick peek into my hive and I see busy bees working on the sugar patties I provided them to supplement their stores and observe the cleansing flights coming and going it is reason to rejoice and be encouraged! As a beekeeper I truly care about my bees and want to do all I can to help them overwinter into the warm and flower filled spring and summer. So when I can take a photo like the one with this post I am encouraged! I hope, when it is warm enough, you too are rejoicing in what you see when you do the occasional winter check up. Stay at it!
As a beekeeper I can never learn enough about the keeping of these amazing creatures. I am always learning about the craft of keeping bees and most, if not all, of that comes through spending time with other beekeepers and sharing experiences. I had the privilege yesterday, while vacationing in Ireland, to meet one of the nicest, most innovative and smartest beekeepers I have ever met. His name is Olly Nolan and he keeps bees about a half hour outside of Dublin. Currently he is managing 42 hives. Olly’s dream and desire is to become the largest beekeeper in Ireland. After spending time with him I am convinced that he will achieve that dream.
When I knew I was coming to Ireland I worked on reaching out to various beekeeping groups/organizations in Ireland and it was through this effort that I came across Olly. He was kind enough to host me for a visit to his farm. Recently his Heather Honey received GOLD from the “Blas Na HEireann Irish Food Awards” based in Dublin, and was also named “Best Food Producer in Dublin” for his Heather honey! We talked bees and beekeeping for over an hour. I brought him a couple of Muth jars of my honey as a gift and he returned the favor with a jar of his Heather Honey. I also bought a few more jars of some of his other varieties.
This was my first ever trip to Ireland and, Lord willing, perhaps I can come back again some day. If I do I will once again swing by Olly’s Farm and spend time with my new friend talking bees. It is amazing the friendships that can be made through the love of these amazing creatures. If the Lord allows me to come back to visit Olly one day I am convinced I will be spending that time with Ireland’s largest beekeeper!
(photo: Olly Nolan holding the gift of two Muth jars of my honey from the States)
Watched a couple episodes of this new documentary on Netflix called Rotten. The initial episode talks about how China has sought to undermine/destroy the honey market in the US through “watering down” the honey with various syrups, etc. As a beekeeper it makes me upset to see how this happens. It is no wonder why so many of my honey customers cannot believe how great my honey tastes since it is real and raw! So many have never had real honey. Haven’t watched the other episodes yet but the one on honey was spot on and sobering! Buy real, raw American honey! You will never regret it!
No matter how long you keep bees when checking your hives you never lose your excitement when you locate the queen. She is the life blood of a successful hive and seeing her and the results of her efforts, lots of capped brood, is always an encouragement! This photo was taken in the summer of 2017 in one of my hives and she was a “laying machine.” Now that we are in the brittle cold winter she has all but shut down laying and her workers are doing all they can to keep her warm and survive. Making sure there is enough food and keeping the interior of the hive dry is key to overwintering.
On November 17, 2016 about 50 folks attended a “Pollinator Workshop” on the Salem4youth Ranch in Flanagan, IL. Salem was chosen by Bayer as one of four organizations from across the US to receive this honor. In addition to sponsoring the event, Bayer donated enough wildflower seed to sow 5 acres on Salem’s 50 acre campus. Currently Salem has 7 hives and is looking to continue to enhance pollinator forage going forward. Salem is surrounded by row crops so forage is lacking. This effort is designed to provide not only Salem’s bees with additional forage but also provide an “oasis” for the local and migratory pollinator population. Salem4youth is one of Bayer’s “Feed A Bee Partners” in the ongoing effort to provide solid forage for our pollinator population.
Well it’s mid winter. Although I miss seeing our bees working the flowers in the warm breeze and being able to photograph them, now is the time for me to work for them. I have been working toward providing the best forage opportunities for them when they emerge from the hive in a few months. Now is the time to research and obtain wildflower seeds to sow in early spring. I have found a real openness by a variety of seed suppliers and Ag related companies to help provide solid forage options. The photo below is an example of the generosity of multiple seed suppliers through gifts of wildflower seeds. We sowed about an acre and a half last spring (2015) and we are planning on adding another 2 acres this year.