Bee Corral

alex, bee wrangler

It would appear another weekend has slipped by into the past. Much was accomplished this weekend. Saturday was cold and overcast, but we were out in the yard, none the less. The goal for the weekend was to get the Bee Corral built. It is less (and not intended to) keep the bees in place, but more to keep the hounds out of where the bees are to be. Located on the north side of our shed; morning sun, late-morning sun, and sun the rest of the day — the bees should like the location.

The spot has been neglected since putting up the shed three years ago; the dogs use it as a dumping ground during the winter, and I have used it to store rocks and bricks. The Canadian bull thistle found it quite agreeable, too. I did manage to pull most of it out; the those suckers have huge tap-roots!

On Saturday, we got posts in the ground and two section of fencing installed. It was cold out, but as long as I kept moving, I was warm in just a long sleeve t-shirt (the shirt was courtesy of UMD’s 2010 Tech Fest held on Friday). By mid-afternoon, it started to rain. We cleaned up the tools from the yard, and headed inside.

Sunday turned out to be a gorgeous day. A bit on the cool side, with a breeze, it was great to be outside. Melissa was not feeling well, so, I soloed it with the exception of a bit of help with the concrete for the corner post. With a run to Menards for more lumber, gate hinges, and leg screws for attaching the corral/fence panels to the shed and corner post.

In addition to getting the anti-hound corral built, I cleaned out the grapevine beds of all the straw which had been used for keeping away the cold on the vines during the winter. With the beds cleaned out, I edged the dead grass (cutting my hand on a hidden piece of wire), and finally, I re-fenced the vine area. The hounds had destroyed the hog-wire fencing during the winter. The heavy snow received over Christmas, followed by the rain made for the perfect substrate for hounds to run on. The fencing stuck up out of the snowpack just high enough for them to trample.

While I had the huge mess of straw in the yard, I cleaned out the gooseberry patch. The gooseberry bushes appear to have little tiny buds on them.

And then…there were Hive Frames

April 10, is quickly approaching. It is the day we head to Stillwater, MN to pick up the bees. Until then, we have been busily preparing things. On Friday, there were two large boxes of stuff sitting on the front porch. It was the unassembled frames, wax-coated foundations, two new bee suits/jackets, a new smoker, and several other miscellaneous things. It looked like we would be assembling frames over the weekend.

Saturday was a bust for accomplishing anything bee or garden related. We headed down to the Twin Cities for a Basset Rescue event planning meeting; we arrived home late Saturday evening.

Sunday, as luck would have it, was a gorgeous day. Sun, a bit breezy, with a high in the upper 50s (teens for you metric folks). The sun is now high enough in the sky to give one a small bit of warmth; something those of us in the colder climes sorely miss during December, January and into February.

We set to work early afternoon. The dogs were out in the yard with us; they are fantastic solar collectors or rugs, but poor craftsmen and labors on account of a lack of thumbs. The wife helped, instead. I should actually say she took control of the situation. Once she got the hang of knocking the wedge off the top rail, lining up the rail, applying glue, tapping the stiles in place, applying glue to the bottom rail, and moving onto the next…I could barely keep up with the pneumatic brad nailer.

Somewhere in the middle of all of the assemblage, Melissa found time to whip together a delicious Thai dinner. After dinner, and then after a slice of apple pie, we finished up the frame assembly. Eighty frames; thirty-two brood-sized frames, and forty-eight honey-super frames were assembled in the day.

Next, will be finishing the preparation work on the hive site. This will involve clearing some rocks, leveling a slight slope, and then building a small platform or deck for the hives. Fencing will also need to be constructed to keep the nosey scent-hounds (bassets) out of the area. The weather predictions are pointing to a less than warm week; with a bit of hope (maybe some change, too?), the weekend will be nice enough to accomplish all the remaining tasks.

Visions of Hops & Hives Danced Through my Head


Last year, about this time of year, I was busy planting various kinds of hops – in pots – in the kitchen. Mid-spring, I transplanted all of it out into various areas of the garden. The Fuggle, which originally showed signs of being sickly or weak, took off like a rocket. The Chinook was a 1/3 the length of the Fuggle and the Cascade never really made it beyond the four-feet-tall-mark.

At the end of the season, I harvested the fragrant hops cones, dried them, and now they await their eventual fate of being put into a batch of beer.

Presently, the snow, just these past few days, has completely melted away from where the hops rhizomes slumbered for the winter. I am hoping all went well for the little guys (yes, I am anthropomorphizing the hops). This evening, before the sun set, I looked out of my office’s window (my office at home, that is) and briefly envisioned it was mid-August, and there were lush hops cones forming on long vines on the east-side fence. Then I snapped to, and looked out onto the soggy, half-frozen, mud covered surroundings. Spring had better not get lost on its way here.

snowshoe apiaries range

I finished ordering the remaining gear for the hives. Frames, foundations, a couple new beesuits, and a laundry-list of other things. I will need to make my own hive-stands; BetterBee, Inc. is currently out of their 8-frame stands. I am sure I could probably find them some other place, but they should not be too difficult to make.

I was inspired by a recent article in the Minnesota Hobby Beekeepers Association about “The Honey Bees Forage Area in the Landscape,” by Dan Palmer. The article basically explains the normal range of the honey bee, how multi-tiered forage crops can affect range of the bees. For example, a mono-floral areas, like crop land will have plants of basically the same height. It can be simplified into thinking of it as being a two dimensional surface. In a more diverse area, the two dimensional analogy gives way to three dimensions. This will in turn increase the available forage area for the bees.

The article had a little graphic; a basic line drawing of a township division. The graphic had two circles; one representing a one mile radius and the other representing a two mile radius. As it turns out, bees will have a maximum range of two miles in any direction from their home. An affective range of one mile will be suffice if there are enough foraging plants (think three dimensions here).

Back to being inspired. I was inspired by the little graphic. I thought that I could expand upon the general idea through the use of some technology. Namely, Geographic Information Systems, or just GIS. Using freely available tools, QGIS, MapServer and freely available data from Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, I came up with my attempt at showing the range of my bees. It is a work in progress, and I might Tweet links to future attempts.

Thanks, but I have had Enough.

I have been sick for the better part of this week. One of those thrilling late-winter colds that sticks in your chest and clogs your ears. I could feel it creeping up on me on Monday of this week; I attempted to psych myself out of getting sick. It did not work.

Tuesday came with a wet cough and the annoyance of mouth-breathing. Wednesday was more of the same.

Tuesday and Thursday, of the current semester, I have an economics class. Because of being sick, I missed Tuesday and was considering missing Thursday, as well.

I am in the process of taking prerequisites for the MBA program at UofM Duluth. My undergraduate degree is in computer science with a minor in mathematics. This has nearly zero overlap with the prerequisites for the MBA program.

I did manage to drag myself into class; a hot cup of Earl Grey in hand, and I made it through the 75 minute lecture.

In the horticulture-apiculture arena, things are progressing according to plans (if you did not just read that with a James-Bond-villain-voice, please go back, and reread it with one, thanks). For Melissa’s birthday, I picked her up Adobe Creative Suite 4 – Design Premium. Using Illustrator, she put together our honey jar labels. The label to the right is the proof we received back from the printers. Being married to Melissa, I guess I am somewhat partial to her work, but setting that partiality aside, she did a damn fine job. A larger version can be found here. And before you say, “apiaries” – plural? It is future thinking. We will only have one collection of hives at one location this year, but hope to expand next year if all goes well.

A colleague/friend/co-worker and myself put in an order with Fedco Seeds of Waterville, ME. They are a seed coop and specialize in open pollenated seeds, non-GMO, as well as heirloom seeds. Here is a list of what we bought:

  • Royal Burgundy Bush Bean OG
  • Golden Rocky Bush Wax Bean OG
  • Blue Coco Pole Bean OG
  • Oregon Sugar Pod II Snow Pea
  • Cascadia Snap Pea
  • Cream of Saskatchewan Watermelon
  • Marketmore 76 Slicing Cucumber OG
  • Super Zagross Middle Eastern Slicing Cucumber
  • Spaghetti Winter Squash
  • Sweet Meat Winter Squash
  • Tonda di Parigi Carrot
  • Shin Kuroda 5" Carrot
  • Danvers Carrot OG
  • Detroit Dark Red Short Top Beet
  • Cherry Belle Radish
  • Hailstone Radish
  • Gold Ball Turnip
  • King Richard Leek OG
  • Forellenschluss Lettuce OG
  • Mesclun
  • Bright Lights Chard
  • Ruby Streaks OG
  • Piracicaba
  • Red Russian Kale OG
  • Rainbow Lacinato Kale OG
  • Black Prince Tomato OG
  • Elephant Head Amaranth OG
  • Chinese Lantern
  • Panorama Red Shades Bee Balm
  • Blue Flax

Prior to being made useless by this late-winter cold, I also planted stevia in a pot; it is on a window sill in the kitchen. In an unrelated stroke of genius, I noticed that on the underside of the paper cups used for coffee at the University, the cups are “compostable” – this made me think they would be really nice seed starters. Yesterday, I brought home a box of used cups. I will be planting various herbs and tomatoes.

Finally, the snow has been rapidly melting. There are patches of soggy grass poking through. If this extraordinarily nice weather continues to hold, I will be able to prep the site for the hives sooner than I had anticipated.