Tuesday, May 26, 2009

I Have Quail Eggs!

About six and a half weeks ago I purchased 15 Coturnix quail. They were the cutest things as chicks; they had the coloring of a chipmunk and the chirp of a baby chicken. In just a few short weeks they began to feather in and try to fly. I wish I had video-even my wife thought that was cute! Shortly there after I was able to color sex them based on the plumage of their breast. Males have olive coloring and females have speckled coloring. I was pleased to find that my ration was 9 females to 6 males.

Today after I got home from work I glanced in their cage to find two eggs! I reached in to grab the eggs to find that their shells were strong and durable. I brought them inside and placed them on a paper towel with a quarter in between for comparison. I find the coloration of the eggs particularly interesting and beautiful. The neat thing about quail eggs is that their coloration will change. It's possible to get solid colored eggs also. From what I have been told, I can expect the size of the eggs to increase to roughly 2/3 the size of a large chicken egg.

I plan to fry these eggs up within the next few days, however, I am holding out for more so I won't have to share two eggs with my sons and wife...I want to taste them, at least!

Because the males and females are related, I will be unable to breed the males to the females. One of the next few weekends will bring the chore of turning the males into table fare. In early fall I plan on purchasing quail eggs from another breeder to hatch out and begin to perpetuate a flock. As I do so, I will blog more about the adventures of raising quail for food.

More Pollen and Comb Production

On Memorial Day, May 25, 2009 I suited up and lit the smoker to open the hive to check on my bees. I wanted to check on their sugar supply and see how comb production was coming. I began by smoking the outside of the hive and blowing smoke into the entrances. I then lifted the cover and began removing top bars about a third of the way in until I came across the first bar with comb on it. To state it in a cliche, my bees are simply the bee's knees! They are doing a great job of building comb. I have approximately 6 bars of comb building in progress. It is certainly a beautiful site. The best part about their comb production is that it is all natural! Natural material and natural size leads most experts to conclude that this combination gives the bees the best chance to resisting varroa mites. I'm certainly excited about what is to come. Below are two pictures of their production.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Comb Production and Pollen

Follow up after introduction:

A few days after I introduced the bees to the hive I went back out in full regalia, and smoker in hand, to inspect the progress of the queen's escape from her cage and to remove the bee cage from the hive. I wish I had brought my camera, but honestly I was more concerned with working the hive for the first time and ensuring that I didn't get stung. To my surprise the bees were quite calm and apparently oblivious to my presence. I do, however, expect this to change once the honey flow begins.

The quick progress of the bees with their comb production in such a small amount of time was simply amazing, and I couldn't help but to feel proud. If it had not been for my needless nervousness I think I would have shouted "them's my bees!" ;-) On two of the top bars the bees are off to a nice start producing the comb, and with the flowers and crops beginning the prime blooming time, comb is certainly in high demand.

The Bees are bringing pollen! I had the day off from work today and while trying to get some chores done around the yard I ventured back to the hive to check on the bees from a distance. I was well please to see a bee with pollen packed into the sacks of her legs. The more I watched the entrance of the hive the more bees I saw with pollen on their legs. This pollen will primarily be used to feed the bee larvae that the queen has laid. This is certainly good news as it tells me the hive is progressing well. I took a picture of one of the bees entering the hive with her leg sacks stuffed with pollen. Hopefully you can make it out in the picture.

I plan to open the hive soon for another inspection and I will be sure to have my camera in hand to capture images of comb, brood, and bees.

Life and liberty,


Saturday, May 9, 2009

Introducing The Bees to The Hive

Last night after getting off work I began a two hour drive to the Village Tavern in Waldo, Ohio to pick up my bees. Yes, the Apiarist I purchased the bees from also owns a bar. I pre-ordered the bees from George Taylor of Waldo Ohio Apiaries. Thanks to my friend Milo for telling me about him. I look forward to doing more business with George in the future.

After I got the bees home last night I put them on my work bench in the garage where they would spend the night. In the morning I had to finish the hive and finish clearing the area where the hive will hopefully spend many years sitting as a home to honey bees. Our property sits on flat old farmland and we are void of many mature trees, however, at the far corner of our property line sits a few old cherry trees and some tall mature bushes. I decided that this would be the ideal place for the bees; the cherry trees should provide some of the earliest blossoms and pollen, and their spanning branches should provide excellent shade throughout the hottest days of summer. After I leveled out the ground I placed two columns of concrete construction blocks to be my support for the top bar hive(tbh).

Once I had the hive ready to go I began to introduce the bees to their new home. In order to do this I sprayed the bee cage down with sugar syrup. This helps to calm the bees, gives them something to eat, and dampens their wings to reduce their ability to fly. After spraying down the cage I bumped the cage against the ground to get the bees to fall to the bottom. I then began to pry open the lid in order to reveal the queen's cage. Once the lid is open I discovered a metal tab that I bent up and pulled out her cage. You'll notice there are other bees with her in the cage, sometimes this done to provide the queen with extra warmth. There is a cork in the queen's cage that must be removed and then replaced with either candy or a midget marshmallow; I went with the marshmallow for mine.

With the cage removed and the hole plugged with the marshmallow, I chose to suspend the queens cage to a top bar using some wire. I suspect that if I were to examine the hive right now the other bees would again be balled around the queen's cage. Once I had her suspended I replaced the bar in the hive. The queen will eat her way out of the cage within the next few days and begin laying eggs in the brood comb soon.

After placing the queen in the hive it was time for the other bees to move into their new home. We had some windy conditions today with gusts up to 20 plus miles per hour. Because of this I decided to use an indirect method of introduction. Instead of shaking the bees in I decided to just place the cage in the hive and allow them to escape from the exit in the hole left by the queen's cage. You can see in the picture that they already started to find their way out. After this I began to replace all the top bars and I put the lid back on. I will observe the hive from a distance tomorrow and will wait a few days before I open the lid to check on the queen's progress. Next time I open the lid I will remove the cage and the queen's cage, if possible. I look forward to working with these bees for the remainder of the year and hope that I have luck with honey production.

Why Keep Bees and Why the Top Bar Hive?

My Grandpa Metcalf kept bees for some time when he was still living. He passed on when I was quite young, but some of the memories I have of him are of his bee hives and eating his comb honey. I would have to attribute my desire to keep bees to him for sparking my interest in the honey makers, although I never got serious about keeping bees until recently.

So, why keep bees? The reasons are wide and varied, however, the number one reason to keep bees in my opinion is for their pollination ability. Although there are other pollinators in the insect world, bees are by far the best! I love to garden and grow my own food so bees just seem like a natural addition to my property. Another reason I began keeping bees is because of the declining population, not only in bees but in bee keepers. I feel it is very important that we do our best to perpetuate the bee and bee keeper population.

When I got serious about keeping bees I began to research cost. In doing so I came across the Top Bar Hive(tbh). The more I read about the tbh the more I like the idea of keeping bees in one. The benefits were numerous; among them are:
  • You build the hive from scratch. This leaves you with a less expensive product. I built my top bar hive for less than $30.00 using the "Value Wood" section at Menards.
  • No special equipment required such as an extractor that runs several hundred dollars.
  • Instead of frames with foundation, a tbh uses top bars that bees build their own comb on. Many believe that because bees build their own comb, and to the correct dimensions, this reduces the likely hood of verroa mite infestation which foundation or pre made comb can be susceptible to. The result is a healthier bee!
  • A tbh is more natural. Again, because of the natural comb size, the bees don't require medication to prevent mites, etc.
Some traditional bee keepers believe the tbh will yield less honey, but those who keep in both tbh and Langstroth hives dispute this claim. Because I couldn't find anything else negative about the tbh, I decided to build one and begin keeping bees in it. Building it was a lot of fun and certainly rewarding. My only regret is that I don't have pictures of the process.