Archive for 'Hilltop Honey'

May 15 – Hiving Packages

It has been a long time….

About two weeks ago, I spent some time out with the bees, at that time it became apparent that out of the 8 colonies I went into the winter with, only three were going to survive.  Why?  i think quite simply it was March.  We had great weather for the bees to begin to build colony strength early in the month and then we had a nasty cold spell that not only shut down the Maple Sugaring, it apparently killed several of my colonies. Needless to say, we are thankful that we placed an order for six packages at the start of the new year.

Yesterday, Larry and I drove the three hours to Greenwhich, NY where we picked up our bees and headed home.  The drive in and of itself is exhausting enough, but upon our return, we needed to install the packages and do some much needed Apiary management.

Of the three colonies that survived the winter, all were ready to be broken down, cleaned and “reduced”.  At this time of year, bee keepers pull frames of bee’s and brood out of the parent colonies and create smaller colonies called nucs, short for Nucleus colonies. This does a couple of things, it reduces the parasitic mite (Varroa) load in the colonies and reduces a colonies desire to swarm from being over crowded early in the year.  It also gives the beekeeper an extra colony or two.  I chose to only make one new colony, installing a new Russian queen with good Varroa resistance, decent honey production and overwintering ability genetics… only time will tell.

The other job this time of year is to hive those packages we brought back yesterday.  There are a couple of ways to do this, the traditional shake them all out of the box way, which last year was a complete disaster or, the let them come out of the box to the queen on their own method I read about this past winter…

Because last year was such a disaster with most of the packages drifting to the colonies at either end of the row, I decided to try a new method.  This new method involves a bit more set up, but works fantastically well.  First, you need two hive bodies (one full of frames and one empty), you also need one medium super also empty of frames. Follow the basic hiving package instructions to calm the bees: spray them with sugar water, keep them cool, tap them to the bottom of package before installing etc. To set up each colony, the empty hive body goes on the bottom and the hive body with frames will be placed on top of that with sugar water and pollen patties on top of the frames and the medium super closing it all in with of course the cover on top.

Before you put everything together though, install your queen between a couple of frames, open your package and shake a few bees on top of the cage.

Queen Cage placed

Next, tip the package with most of the remaining bees on its side and place in the empty hive body.

Bee Package in empty hive body

Put the hive body with frames and queen on top, then place the sugar water and pollen on the frames with the medium super around them.  Cover and wait 24 hours.  If all has gone as it should all the bees will be out of the package and will be on the frames. This time when you go out, all you are doing is removing the bottom hive body and placing the hive body with frames and now bees, directly onto the bottom board. Keep the food on the frames, cover again and wait several days to see if the queen is laying, add back that 10th frame etc. It is always neat to see what the inside of the package looks like, because often this little artificial swarm will begin to draw comb.

New Comb Inside Package

For new bee keepers who are a bit trepidatious this is as hands free and bees in your face free as it gets.  You will have to get used to them as you work your colonies, but this eliminates drifting and the bees seem to be quite calm and easy to work after this less violent  and confusing introduction to their new home.

Posted on 20 May '10 by Counselor, under Hilltop Honey. No Comments.

Changing Focus

Queen and attendants

Well, the 2010 sugaring season has ended. We had a bit of a flury there at the end to push us over 20 total gallons of syrup made for the year, but all in all we were a little disappointed. Every thing is cleaned up, put away and ready for next year.  It is time now to pay attention to the bees.  Before leaving the maple behind, we thought we would share some numbers with you…

For 2010 we:

  • Hauled 1005 Gallons of sap.
  • Averaged of 7.5  gallons per tap
  • Averaged of  about a pint of syrup per tap
  • Averaged of 42 gallons of sap per gallon of syrup
  • Boiled 960 gallons of sap (some of it fermented before we could get to it)
  • Made 23 Gallons of syrup
  • Cleaned 135 sap buckets, covers and taps

Over the last couple of years we have:

  • Hauled 4775 gallons of sap
  • Hauled 1200 pounds of syrup
  • Drilled 467 holes in trees
  • Boiled 4670 Gallons of sap
  • Produced nearly 108 gallons of syrup
  • Averaged 1.5% sugar in our sap
  • Averaged 43 gallons of sap per gallon of syrup

Posted on 12 April '10 by Counselor, under Hilltop Honey, Hilltop Maple. No Comments.

Be Careful What You Wish For

Click image for video

Back at the start of the sugaring season, we indicated that we would like to meet or surpass our previous season best, 28 gallons of syrup. This year, we have only boiled three times and have already made seven gallons. Not bad for our 120+ tap operation. So far this year the sap is running about 1.6% sugar which does help. However, things are changing here and that is making for a fun but stressful season.

Previously, we have hauled our sap to the sugar house by hand in 5gal. buckets. This was generally not a problem, but it could prove to be difficult at times.  This year, we are not able to do that as much and it is tough to both collect and watch the evaporator, so one person must collect and one oversee the boiling.  A ton of work for one of us and a ton of stress on the other.  That said, we are indeed having fun!  Monday night we boiled again after our rather messy Saturday and in three hours made just over two gallons of Medium Amber.  We decided that it was some of the best syrup we have ever made and promptly put most of it in storage. The past two days, we have focused on collecting, putting away close to two hundred gallons for us to boil over the next couple of days.  So, we think we will come close to our goal if the season holds.

Speaking of the season, it has been good, but not as good as it could be.  Maples need the cold, below freezing nights and warm days for the sap to move up in the trees.  They also need there to be little to no wind and for there to be plenty of moisture in the ground.  Though it may be hard to believe, after all the snow this winter, but around the base of the trees, where this moisture needs to be, it is quite dry.  Not to mention that it has also been rather windy of late, further reducing the potential total sap.

This is mother natures first harvest and a true sign that spring is on the horizon, so who really has the right to complain, especially if you are having fun and making money at the same time. Speaking of money, we settled on pricing for the 2010 crop:

  • $46 a gallon
  • $28 a 1/2 gallon
  • $16 a Quart

What is driving up the cost of syrup you ask? quite simply foreign demand. the far east is buying syrup in incredible quantities and paying incredible bulk prices. Bulk prices are hard to predict but after hearing people talk, we expect it to settle out at $3 a pound, a record price indeed.  This trend may not last forever though.  There are a record number of people who see nothing but $$$ when they talk about syrup. As a result local companies that build the worlds only sugaring equipment are seeing a record increase in the number of people starting to sugar.  Sugaring is not a cheap hobby, nor is it an easy one, and we think that only the die-hards will survive.  So while the price may level off in a couple of years, when these overwhelmed newbies decide that they have had enough, prices may go even higher.

For now, let us hope for good weather, some precipitation and a good low pressure system to settle over our little hilltop. Lots of long days and nights on our horizon, but we’ll keep you posted.

Posted on 11 March '10 by Counselor, under Hilltop Honey, Hilltop Maple. No Comments.

The Offending Solder Joint

The Offending Solder Joint

You may be asking yourself, what the heck am I looking at?  This is/was one big headache Wednesday evening and yesterday (March 6) Morning.  Essentially, what you see is a nice newly soldered joint where the flow from the back pan enters the front finishing pan. Wednesday night, we noticed that this joint was leaking, but pushed on, thinking that we would be able to make a “quick repair” before our next boil.  After several failed attempts to fix this ourselves, the quick repair turned out to involve an emergency trip to Swanton where we begged the kind folks at Leader Evaporator to make the repair for us. $16 later we were on our way repaired pan in tow.

Boiling

This small “issue” occurred when we were expecting to gather over 100 gallons of sap to go along with the 100 or so that was in the sugar house already.  We had anticipated a bit of a long day, but could have done without the stress that this created. Once fixed though, it really was a perfect day for making syrup.  The fire was running nice and hot, producing a great boil and quick evaporation.  The quicker you can get the sap processed the better your finished product will be.  Yesterday, we produced over 3 gallons of some of the best tasting syrup we have ever made. Prior to that, we had made a little over a gallon of fancy, we hope there is more of that to come.

Today, March 7, is predicted to be another great day for sugaring.  We will not have enough to boil today but the sap should really run.  After a brief check early this AM we already had buckets 1/4 full so we should be in it again today and boiling tomorrow evening. We’ll keep you all posted

Drawing Off

Posted on 7 March '10 by Counselor, under Hilltop Honey, Hilltop Maple. No Comments.

Snow on The Hilltop

Beehives in snow 2/24/2010

Well folks, the sugaring season is fast approaching.  Yesterday was spent plowing and shoveling the nearly two feet of snow that fell here is Fairfax.  They say we only got 11 inches.  They really need to put a weather station up on this here hill as the snow fell heavy all day long.  In all the years we have here this was the heaviest snow we have ever had. The flakes were like snowballs. Thankfully we did not tap, as we have seen buckets/taps pulled from the tree with from the weight of the sap in the bucket and the sow on the cover.

We are planning on tapping the trees this weekend and we are reasonable certain that we should begin to boil soon.  Two years ago, we had our best year, nearly 29 gallons of syrup.  This year, we hope to top that.

Sap Bucket - Click to see tapping video

As for the bees, of the nine total colonies we managed last year, seven appear to be alive and kicking at the moment.  We had a report from our farmer friend that, “the bees were helping themselves to the outdoors”, the other day and was this OK?  We need to dig the hives here at the house out of the snow, but at last check all seemed to be going well. Soon, we can open them up and really take stock of how well they are in fact doing, adding sugar water and pollen if necessary. For now though, we are content to “leave them bee”, and concentrate on the tapping, boiling etc.

Snow 2/24/2010

Posted on 25 February '10 by Counselor, under Hilltop Honey, Hilltop Maple. No Comments.