Old Barn Roof Rehab

I’m a lover of old barns. I love to photograph them and before I found my way into photography, I painted watercolors and oils of old barns that used to hang on walls around my bachelorette pad a decade ago.

When my family found our current home, one of the things that I instantly fell in love with was the amazing old barn. It sits in the view of the kitchen window. So when I stand in the kitchen, I see the barn with the morning sun rising from behind it. I see it with the evening light draping it. It is there with golden leaves gathering around it in the fall and snow enveloping it in the winter. That window overlooking the barn is an ever-changing, always amazing (to me) picture in our house.

The barn is structurally sound. It has amazing “bones”. It used to house horses and tractors. It used to be the hub of a busy 85 acre fruit farm. Today, it looks worn. It shows signs of age. The roof was just beginning to sag a little. When a barn roof goes bad, it happens quickly and usually ends up bringing the entire structure down. Letting this barn fall apart was not an option. So, the roof had to be repaired.

Here it is before construction:

We hired a people we knew would do amazing work protecting our barn. Here are the construction photos:

The lightening rods were removed and replaced. I was very excited to see them up close and surprised they are actually a light lavender colored hand-blown glass.

Here is the new “picture” I looked at last night:

Of course now that it’s re-roofed, I want to finish the sides. I think as a temporary fix, we will start with a fresh coat of paint. (All trim will be painted white with red walls of course).

If anyone is looking for very skilled and super nice construction artisans, please let me know. I will gladly get you in touch with them.

Bees — A Constant Battle for Sanity

Prior to officially becoming a “beekeeper”, I read books. Lots of books. Big books. Small books. Even “Beekeeping for Dummies”. Since becoming a “beekeeper”, I have had at least seven seasoned beekeepers tell me, “Bees do not read books,” meaning they are very unpredictable. That’s a shame since there are lots of things they should probably be doing if they would just read the books and follow the guidelines. It would make my life a lot easier and I would be able to help their lives be easier as well.

Going back a few weeks…

I did a pre-vacation check-up on my top bar hive. It was beautiful. There were bees. They were happy. They were building beautiful comb. They were building fast and furious. Life was good.

I added a couple of empty bars for them to fill up, totaling 10 bars in the hive. Then I left them alone for a few weeks to build and feed their larvae and bee happy.

Likewise, the Langstroth hive was doing better. After I added some of their honey and brood to a second, empty super (box) to encourage them to move up, I thought things would be ok. There were lots of bees.

There were frames full of honey.

I think it’s cool when they chain together by holding onto each other’s legs to keep their hive together.

In watching them, I noticed lots of things. Like, this bee fight. I’m not sure what was going on, but one bee was definitely roughing up another bee.

I had queens accounted for in both hives.

I made several bags of sugar water as a precautionary measure and headed south. Meanwhile, back at the apiary… a band of bandito raccoons settled in and ate up all of the sugar water, tore up the flowering plants I had just planted and made a mess out of the place. It reminded me of the next morning after the party in the movie “16 Candles” (Don’t laugh, it’s a great movie).

Fast forward to now….

We checked my Langstroth hive.

My seven-year-old suited up and came along too.

He soon grew worried and took refuge under the bench.

One of the frames in the newly added super (box) was getting filled up with honey and the replaced frame in the brood area was filling up with capped brood just as they were supposed to be.

The bottom super was again filled to the point of crowding.

There were lots of strange things. Lots of drones. Several drone cells. Some burr comb and some empty queen cells.

There were also some very interesting things, like bees hatching from their cells.

The bees had put the writing on the wall for me. They were toying with leaving. So, following all that I had read, I added frames into the brood area (baby raising box) and put some of the babies in the second, empty super (box) to show them that there was plenty of room for them to add on to their happy family and no need to run away.

I am hopeful they accept my offer of a new addition to their hive. I am wishing it to be so.

The great news is that we did see the queen and her eggs. So, no one has left yet.

Over to the top bar hive, otherwise known as the “hippy hive.” We removed the top and the newest added bar to find a row of bees peeking out at us, in their line of defense.

The bees were mellow and harmonious. The frames I had added weeks earlier all had comb on them. Even the furthest one had a small bit of comb being built.

They were building like crazy.

I did not locate the queen, but did see plenty of eggs and larvae.

Happy times! Until………
People working on rehabilitating my barn noticed a cloud of bees circling near the hives. It was about four feet in diameter. Of course, no one noticed which direction it went. I am very worried that they decided to leave. Maybe the barn construction was too loud and drove them away. Looking into the hives, there still seem to be a lot of bees. So, it could have been that they were just hot and needed some fresh air? Hopefully.

As a precautionary measure, I popped open the top bar hive and made notches in three cells with eggs hoping to encourage the nurse bees to construct some queen cells just in case the queen did leave in a swarm. With any luck, they will create a new queen. With the best of luck, the queen didn’t leave and all is well.

A little bit of honey leaked out and I tasted it… Amazing. Better than anything I have purchased at the store. So, fingers are crossed that all is well. Now I must wait. and wait. and wait to see what happens.

Fuzzballs

We picked up a little something today.

Actually, a couple of little somethings.

They’re fuzzy and tiny and very curious.

I’m making them into ferocious killers, I swear it!

Until then, my kids are slightly in love with their sweetness.

The Girls in the World

I now likely have tens of thousands of bees (hopefully) living in my two beehives.

I see them everywhere I look. In the yard. At the school. Even flying about the nearby greenhouse.

They are working hard, these fuzzy, striped little girls and I think I have found a few thousand new models for my floral pictures.

Four boys and a Girl

I had such a great time photographing this wonderful, polite family! The last time I worked with them, they were four. Now they are five.

They are four handsome guys.

And one totally gorgeous lady.

We had an amazing sun-soaked evening for our photos.

I have two boys of my own and know how much energy they have. So, when I say these boys were well-behaved, I mean it! They were great!

They followed directions and smiled just perfectly as we worked quickly through the park…

…even the little guy.

I really think this family is wonderful and am glad to have been able to document this point in their lives.

Thanks for working with me! Please find the rest of your album here.

People in White

Today I had the privilege of hanging out with a group of beekeepers at the Kalamazoo Bee Club Field Day.

It was a great opportunity to see…

…what a healthy beehive looks like.

I got to see firsthand how happy bees act compared with unhappy bees.

I learned to more easily tell the difference between drone cells, larvae, eggs, honey cells, and queen cells.

I learned what the different cells mean in relation to the overall health of the hive.

My family came along–including my little boys. They learned quite a lot as they processed what they saw and deciphered it into their levels of understanding.

My poor hubby has gone from being drug into another one of my endeavors to happily wearing a beekeeper suit and knowing quite a bit about bees himself.

I learned how to take a healthy frame of eggs/larvae and groove the bottoms of three cells to encourage the bees to produce a new queen if the hive is not “queen right”. – And if you want to know what the heck that means, I can explain that now too.

I have read a wealth of books on beekeeping. Some of them were very helpful, but nothing compares to being around other beekeepers and seeing things with your own eyes.

Even my boys were mostly riveted by the event (as much as they could be within the limits of their attention spans).

Some day, I hope to have enough knowledge that I can provide direction to new beekeepers. Until then, I’m glad that I live in an area that has such an amazing group of pioneers in the art of beekeeping who are willing to share their knowledge with me. I highly recommend participating in the Kalamazoo Bee Club to anyone considering getting into beekeeping.

The Bees After My Mess

A couple of weeks ago, I did a two-week check-up on the top bar hive and saw that the girls were building their comb in the wrong direction–across multiple bars rather than along the bars–otherwise known as cross-comb. After consulting others, I detached the comb and attempted to re-attach it the correct direction…

Two days after that mess, I checked in the observation window and saw……… one solitary bee. That’s right. One bee. I think he must have been goofing off when the others were plotting their escape. I took the roof off the hive and noticed they had gorged on all of their honey and absconded. They left. Took off. Vanished. I hope they found a nice hollow log somewhere to live. I don’t “Bee-grudge” them (sorry I had to do it).

Meanwhile, I had an empty top bar hive. I did loads of researched and spoke with everyone under the sun who knew anything about top bar hives. I formulated a new approach and ordered “Small Cell Bees.” Or, 4.9mm bees. The concept behind these bees as I understand it is that they are the size bees used to be before people started intervening and growing them larger (sort of like the new engineered strawberries you find in the grocery that are the size of a golf ball). They are touted as being more disease resistant. Because of their size, things like varroa mites aren’t as much of a threat to the bees as they are to their larger counterparts, the 5.2 mm bees like the ones that absconded and the ones currently living in my Langstroth hive.

Ok. So, I found these smaller bees in Tennessee and ordered them. The were sent in the mail. They were briefly lost in the mail. They arrived five days later barely alive. I was in a state of panic because it seemed my top bar hive was destined to be empty.

I installed them in the top bar hive following the advice of three beekeepers whom I had been conferring with about the absconding cross-combing previous bees. I turned the hive so the bars were facing north/south. I attached a few strips of small cell foundation the correct way to the bars. I made sure the queen cage was pointing exactly north/south and directly below the middle bar. I put pollen patties inside and sugar water near by. These little bees would have everything they needed except an instruction manual for how to build honeycomb in a top bar hive.

Fingers crossed… Three days later, the initial check took place.

I opened the cover and pulled out a bar.

It looked promising.

Then the middle bars were easily removed. A good sign.

The comb was right!

It was white and perfectly formed and lined up correctly! I was doing the happy dance all over the place.

(I love how the bees in that last picture have formed a bee chain… they are all holding on to each other’s feet and dangling off the bottom of the comb. It’s sort of funny. They’re holding on to each other like their lives depend on it. But, they can fly).

I guess the moral of this story is not to underestimate the power of small bees. Now let’s hope they continue building and being happy in their cool little house.