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In June north east Iowa was deluged in rain. Our area had over fourteen inches in a few days. Keith noticed one of the cherry trees was covered in bees. Last year we planted more cherry and apple trees where the hives are located. One of the smaller trees had a swarm clinging to the trunk. It's possible that the bees started feeling claustrophobic with all the rain or the nectar flow might have come to an abrupt end causing the bees to swarm.

A swarm in May is worth a load of hay, a swarm in June is worth a silver spoon, but a swarm in July ain't worth a fly. - Old New England beekeeper's saying

The method for capturing a swarm is to place a tarp on the ground then hit the object the bees are swarming on.  If they're on  the branch of a tree you cut it off and shake the bees off over the hive you're relocating them to. In this case the bees were covering the entire trunk of the small tree. There wasn't a branch to cut. The entire tree would have had to be cut down. To hit the tree hard enough to knock the bees loose would have damaged both the bees and the tree. I didn't think either one could have withstood the impact.

Our solution was to cover a fake tree trunk in sugar water to attract the swarm. Once the bees moved onto it we'd place them  into the waiting hive. Unfortunately, this wasn't a viable solution. The bees weren't attracted to the sugar water and shaking the tree didn't dislodge enough of the bees anyway. By the time we came up with another solution the swarm flew off.  I don't know the reason for their swarming behavior but I failed to recognize the signs and didn't capture them. I waited too long to make a decision.  In the end I lost the bees and the birds ate all the cherries anyway. We missed our opportunity. In hindsight I should have hit the tree, dislodged the bees.  Sacrificing some to save the swarm. The tree could probably have withstood the blow, if not it could have been replaced.

It's a mistake I won't make again.



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On Friday, April 19 we picked up the package of bees we'd ordered. It included 3000 bees and one queen in a separate cage. It was cold with occasional snow flurries interspersed with rain, much too cold to install the bees. Saturday was spent installing bees. The weather was warmer, mid 50's, and sunny. For the past few months I've read books, magazine articles, watched DVD's and learned about bee keeping. In preparation, we tried a dry run to make sure we were prepared.  By far the most comprehensive, easy to follow, step by step guide, was in Beekeeping For Dummies .

The night before we picked up the bees we made sugar water and added Honey B Healthy. This will be their feed until all the frames of foundation are drawn into comb and there's evidence that they're taking in nectar.

The queen cage was placed in between the center frames with a mini marshmallow plugging the cage opening. In a few days she'll eat it and escape. By that time the other bees will recognize her pheromones and accept her as their queen. If she hasn't escaped the cage within a few days we'll release her into the hive.

After the bees and frames were sprayed with sugar water Keith began shaking the box of bees into the hive. There were still a few stragglers clinging to the screen box so we placed it outside the hive, eventually the majority of the stragglers moved inside. The entrance reducer was put into place to help to control the temperature and prevent robber bees from entering the hive (no worries of robber bees yet, it's too cold).

The installation was a success, no one got stung and the bees were content.  Watching them come and go from the hive has been fascinating. Hopefully the weather will break and nectar and pollen will be plentiful soon.







dark_honey_bee_hembergerSave the Bees!

I had an epiphany. There are so many things I want to learn about and experience so what am I waiting for? One of them is bee keeping. For years I've been fascinated by bees. I've studied them, researched apiary science, and formed ideas and opinions on how to best care for them. This information hasn't been put to the test yet. Next week my first package of bees, 3000 of them plus one mid-west bred dark queen will be shipped to the farm. Dark queens are said to be calmer and more resistant to disease. The hive's are built, soon to be painted when it stops raining.

One hive seems reasonable to start with, but by late June we'll have a couple more ready in case of a swarm. There's never been an agricultural challenge that I haven't embraced with confidence until now. Caring for chickens, hogs, cattle, sheep, and goats hasn't intimidated me but bees are far more complicated. They're fragile in the ecosystem, susceptible to toxins, mites, and environmental issues; plus, they sting. My goal isn't to harvest honey, I'll let the bees keep it for the first two seasons. It's the perfect food for them. Many bee keepers harvest the honey and then feed sugar syrup or corn syrup to the hive throughout the winter. To me it seems logical that the bees convert nectar and pollen into honey, the perfect food for the hive. They should benefit from their labor by living off of it. Good nutrition for the hive might improve disease resistance and strengthen the hive enough to overcome veroa mites, colony collapse disorder (CCD), nosema, and a myriad of other threats.

In the '1990's French researchers were alarmed by the disappearance of billions of bees. Their study targeted a link between colony collapse disorder (CCD) and the neonicotinoid insecticide, Imidacloprid created by Bayer. Neonicotinoids are chemically related to nicotine which works as a nerve agent destroying the central nervous system of insects. It's used in treating soils, seeds, vegetables, fruits, berry and nut crops.  They are the most widely used insecticide in the world. Since 2008 seed treatments using neonicotinoids have been banned in France, Germany, and Italy.



One of the biggest threats to honey bee health is neonicotinoid's used to treat seeds. Lawn and garden products are full of this pesticide. PLEASE read labels carefully.  Buy organic if possible or environmental friendly, less harmful items. If you're buying seed make sure it's untreated. Below is a list of product names indicating they contain neonicotinoids. Print and take it with you to the garden center. Let's save the bees!

Don't buy products with these ingredients; clothianidin, acetamiprid, dinotefuran, nitenpyram, thiacloprid, thiamethoxam, these are all neonicotinoids.
Ingredient lists may include these brand names;  Actara, Platinum, Helix, Cruiser, Adage, Meridian, Centric, Flagship, Poncho, Titan, Clutch, Belay, Arena, Confidor, Merit, Admire, Ledgend, Pravado, Encore, Goucho, Premise, Assail, Intruder, Adjust and Calypso



Last week's storm had me breathing a sigh of relief. I'm hopeful that the summer drought pattern is being replaced with soaking fall rains. The few summer storms we've had haven't brought significant accumulation. Unfortunately though, along with the rain came hail. I couldn't sleep because I was waiting for the skylights to shatter. They didn't. I was also unnecessarily concerned for our calves. They can fend for themselves but I still think about them. The pigs are always fine. They go into their pasture huts or hoop building as do the sheep. The shed provides plenty of protection for them.

The cool crisp nights are a certain sign that fall's on its way.  Another sign that fall is coming is the incessant sound of crickets. During last week's storm when the hail stopped, the cricket, whose been hiding in our room all week, started chirping. Apparently he was listening to the storm too. After searching for him unsuccessfully I've determined that crickets can throw their voices across the room. Certain that I'd located him, he began singing from somewhere far off. Counting their chirps gives an accurate reading of the temperature, but I was less interested in counting cricket chirps and more interested in counting sheep. The cricket wanted to be heard. This went on throughout the night but this morning our goofy kitten came bounding out of the closet batting at a cricket. It looks like tonight will be peaceful again.

Last week the pasture was full of wild geese.  This year they've started traveling earlier than I ever remember. Their flyovers have been steadily increasing with the shortening days. Our dogs know better than to bother the wild geese. Instead they watch them from the safety of the hilltop where a wire fence clearly divides the boundary. The corn harvest is also underway starting earlier as well. The Asian Beetles (I refuse to call them ladybugs) are clustered into every corner, covering each window pane.  Vacuuming them up seems to make even more of them magically appear. They're sneaky, smelly little bugs and even the chickens avoid them. There aren't too many insects that the chickens avoid.

Racing against the weather to get our hay put up wasn't an issue this year. Instead, finding hay at a reasonable price was. Our neighbor with CRP grass saved us again. He's been wonderful to us since we moved to this farm. With permission from Farm Service Agency we were able to rent a portion of his field. It's been mowed, baled, and it's ready for winter feeding. We won't be culling cows. Our herd is safe thanks to the help of our family and our friend. The cattle coats are thickening, the horses also have a light layer of winter growth, and the starlings have gathered earlier and are swarming in the treetops. Great masses of them fly in group formation and throw acorns out of the trees. The pigs are quite happy with this arrangement. Several trees have shed their leaves already, not because of fall, but because of the drought.
Lastly, the farmers market comes to a close this Saturday. It's a bitter sweet ending to another season. We love the markets, the crowds, and our customers. Saturday mornings are never quite the same. They feel empty. When spring returns we are eager to get back to the business of the summer.  As this market season ends we humbly thank you for your patronage and wish you all the best.

Warmest wishes,
Glenda and Keith

Food For Thought:
Only a few will learn from other people's mistakes; most of us have to be the other people.

Back To School Humor

Rick, having served his time with the Marine Corps, took a new job as a high school teacher, but just before the school year started, he injured his back.

He was required to wear a plaster cast around the upper part of his body. Fortunately, the cast fit under his shirt and wasn't noticeable. On the first day of class, he found himself assigned to the toughest kids in the school.

The punks, having heard the new teacher was a former Marine, were leery of him and decided to see how tough he really was. They started acting rowdy and opened all the windows so their new teacher's papers blew off his desk.

The strong breeze also made his tie flap so he picked up a stapler and promptly stapled his tie to his chest.

There was dead silence in his classroom and absolutely no trouble from his students for the rest of the year.

     Seize the Bees!

The Illinois Department of Agriculture
seized privately owned bees from naturalist Terrence Ingram who has been raising them for  58 years. Ingram was actively researching   Roundup's effects on bees. Prairie Advocate News reports that before a court hearing on the matter or issuance of a search warrant the bees were seized. Read the story here


A couple of years ago, when I was writing a weekly column for the local paper, I was given an old calendar. Each month featured a quotation or concept. This is the page from July 1958. It's from the KVP company in Kalamazoo, Michigan.  Dwight D.Eisenhower was the president. The KVP company manufactured food protection paper and food wrapping papers.



Saving Bees

Bee Keepers in Warsaw dumped thousands of dead bees on the steps of the Poland Ministry of Agriculture in protest against genetically modified crops and pesticides. Specifically targeting Monsanto’s MON810 GM corn variety.  This variety was approved by the European Union in 1998. GMWatch says that this variety has been linked to millions of acres of pesticide resistant super weeds in the United States. The Polish Parliament had adopted a law in 2006 prohibiting the production, use, and importation of GM animal feed. However, implementation of the law doesn't begin until 2013.


Plant diversity is a boost to the health of bee colonies. Pollinating multi-plant species improves nutrition and plant diversity provides a variety of beneficial bacteria and probiotics. This is critical in fending off diseases like Colony Collapse disorder.

Bee loss is attributed to the use of Neonicotinoids, a new class of chemicals, to control insects. Neonicotinoids are used to treat seeds before planting and most field crops in Iowa have had this seed treatment. It's extremely toxic to bees; a single kernel of corn with a 1250 rate of neonicotinoid treatment contains enough active ingredient to kill over 80,000 honey bees.

Other contributing factors to their decline include; Varroa mites, pathogens, habitat loss, pesticides, and possibly GM crops (the studies are still being conducted).

Field entomologist specialist's with Perdue University, Christian Krupke and Iowa State entomologist, Erin Hodgson have taken a closer look at how the bees might be interacting with the neonicotinoids. Read the study here

On a related note...

Victory in Europe...BASF is leaving Europe. The company hasn’t found European’s to be GMO friendly. Instead the company will concentrate on plant biotechnology activities in North and South America. BASF Plant Science headquarters will move from Germany to Raleigh, North Carolina. Dr. Stefan Marcinowski, member of the Board of Executive Directors of BASF, responsible for plant biotechnology stated, “We are convinced that plant biotechnology is a key technology for the 21st century. However, there is still a lack of acceptance for this technology in many parts of Europe - from the majority of consumers, farmers, and politicians. Therefore, it does not make business sense to continue investing in products exclusively for cultivation in this market.”

Congratulations, and kudos to the consumers, farmers and politicians of Europe, Way to go!

Meanwhile, Americans are increasingly concerned about genetically modified (GMO) foods. 1 million Americans have signed the “Just Label It” campaign’s petition demanding that the FDA require GM food labeling. The Mellman Group released a new poll showing that 90 percent of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents alike are in favor of labeling. The fact that these groups all agree on any issue is significant. When was the last time they agreed on anything?  I think a pig just flew past my window. Yep, this could be the day that pigs fly.