Saturday, January 21, 2012

Snow Day

I'm happy to report that I am much more optimistic about the bees this morning than I was in my last post (two steps forward and one step back). I've confirmed that both colonies are still alive and despite the lost lid incident, appear to be doing okay.
Last week I attended a beginning beekeeping class put on by a veteran beekeeper in Missoula. The chance to talk to somebody who had lots of experience was really great. I left feeling good about what I needed to do and how to do it.
Since the last post I have added the wind break on the west side and reduced the entrance to the smallest size (about 1/2" x 3/8"). I also placed some small pieces of wood between the inner and outer lids, so that there is a gap for ventilation but not so much space that they are losing a lot of heat. Finally I placed slate rocks on the tops of hive to be sure I don't have another lid blow off.
 With that I felt good that I had prepared the bees for bad weather, and taken good precautions for proper ventilation. Some beekeepers like to wrap their hives or add insulated lids. The advice I learned in "Bee School" was that these actions will close up the hive too much and you will not have adequate airflow to prevent disease. The beekeeping instructor who has kept bees in Montana for 17 years and as many as 200 hives at a time, suggested only making certain the bees have plenty to eat, good air flow, and mostly leaving them be (pun intended!). Messing with the bees in the winter will cause them to burn more energy and consume more food when they don't need to. So after making sure they were still alive, fed and vented, the bees were all set for the long winter.  
Just in time it turns out, because not long after that it started snowing and didn't stop for days. The chickens, like the bees have plenty to eat and are more than happy to stay inside where it's warm and dry.
After lots of shoveling and a failed attempt at clearing the drive with a 4 wheeler, we had to call for help. Luckily a friendly neighbor with a backhoe was more than happy to come dig us out. Now I know what I want for Christmas next year! ;-) 
That's my kinda snow shovel!
Hope your are all doing well and having fun.
Until next time, thanks for stoping by.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Two steps forward and one step back

The week has been a little bumpy around here, just when things seemed to be going really well we've had some unfortunate set backs.
In the coop, our hens have been doing great. Since the winter has been mild thus far, they are super active and are getting lots of sunny winter afternoons foraging in the dormant garden. We are gathering a dozen eggs a day regularly and have developed a great group of friends and neighbors who gladly purchase or trade for our eggs every week. The egg money has been covering the cost of feed and things seemed to be just grand.
In the hives, things seemed to be going well also. Both of the colonies are still alive despite my lack of knowledge and the many opportunities to fail. The bees have been making use of the sugar I provided (blog post: mid-december part-2: emergency feeding) and and appear to be wintering well.
Then came the setbacks. We were hit with a nasty wind storm one night which blew the top off one of the bee hives. In hindsight, it's obvious that I should have had rocks on the lids, and I had also mentioned building a windbreak which had not gotten done. I was at work when Whit called to tell me the hive was open, so more than likely it was that way most of the night and all the morning. Bees cluster to keep the queen 92 degrees f. and death from exposure is very common in cold climates like ours. That's why experienced beekeepers never open their hives when it's below 50 f. (the temp when bees can no longer fly). That night it was in the teens and it was in the low 30's when I got home. The other major concern in the winter is moisture. High humidity in a hive is a bad thing and can lead to a bacterial disease called Nosema. When a hive gets Nosema the likely hood is the hive will die without an aggressive treatment with chemicals. So needless to say, the cold wet condition I found my hive in that day was very concerning. I rushed to put the lid back on, and fashioned a lamp in the hive for the afternoon to try and warm/dry things a bit. When I removed the lamp that evening, there were bees were moving about, but there were also many dead bodies scattered on the top of the frames. Since then I've seen bees moving about by peeking in the cracks but have not had a good day to look in and check on them. From what I've read, a shock like that is not always a death blow, but certainly didn't help anything. Of course now there are rocks on the lids and a straw bale wind break in place... learning is hard sometimes.  
As I was still kicking my self over the hive incident, Whit came home one afternoon and found a dead hen. One of our araucanas we called "Grousie" (because she looked like a ruffed grouse as a chick) was laying dead on the coop floor. We looked her over but could not find any marks or anything out of place at all. The coop and run had not been broken into and there was no blood. She looked for all the world like she was laying on the floor asleep. After a sad good bye, we started looking into why this could have happened. There are actually a number of ways a chicken can die unexpectedly from heart attack to calcium over douse. Since we believe little Grousie was a new layer and her vent appeared swollen, Whitney suspects an impaction of the oviduct, a birthing complication you could say. Chicken reproduction is really fascinating, check out this great blog: how hens makes eggs  if your interested. This is our best guess, but for now the death remains an un-solved mystery.
Grousie is the furthest rear hen in the above photo, we'll miss her around the coop.
We remain positive of course, speed bumps like these are all apart of the journey.
I hope my next post brings better news. Until next time.