~ Grassy Roads Farm Life ~
The last couple of weeks have been crazy, mostly in good ways, and the craziness seems to be ramping up. However, I’ve also had to make some hard decisions and am still trying to make some other hard decisions. Below are summaries of some of what has been going on in my life lately.
My apiary is exploding! A week and a half ago, I did my next round of hive inspections and my May mite counts. All my mite counts were phenomenal – I couldn’t ask for better, so I was super excited about that. However, I went from 5 hives to 10 hives because almost every hive was building queen cells and getting ready to swarm. To keep them from swarming, I split each hive into two or three hives depending on the number of swarm cells I found and how well I liked the genetics of the mother queen. Splitting the hive creates an artificial swarm scenario and (hopefully) tricks the bees into thinking that they have already swarmed. This way you get two (or more) colonies instead of having half the colony fly away carrying in their honey stomachs a good chunk of the honey you hoped to harvest.
As I was splitting the hives, I made sure to give everyone either empty combs to fill with nectar or extra frames that they could use to make new combs which they could then fill with nectar. We still had a good number of tulip poplar and blackberry flowers around, so I knew the spring nectar flow was still going and thus the hives would need the extra space provided by the empty combs or frames. However, based on what I was seeing and what the bees had done since the last inspection, I thought the nectar flow was probably drawing to a close. Boy, was I wrong!
I try to keep an extra empty box on top of all my hives. It allows me to easily put food in the hives if I need to and it gives the bees extra room to hangout if they need it. Most beekeepers don’t do this because the bees can use the empty box to draw lots of weird, wonky comb and basically just make an utter mess that is impossible to inspect. Plus, if they attach the comb to the underside of the lid, then the whole thing can collapse and cause even more problems when you unknowingly lift the lid.
My experience has been that they only draw comb in the empty box if they run out of room in the main hive. If they have plenty of room in the main hive, then my bees typically don’t draw comb in the empty box. For me, the potential mess in the upper box is worth the little extra insurance that (hopefully) will buy me enough time to notice they are out of room and correct things before the hive swarms. But it also means I always have to be very careful when I lift the lid if there’s a good nectar flow going. On Monday, I was very happy that I had that little bit of extra insurance. A quick peak in the upper boxes showed that almost every hive has apparently run out of space because they are drawing comb in the empty upper boxes. I typically try to do hive inspections every two weeks, but will be getting into them a little earlier than planned over the next couple of days.
If the bees continue to bring in nectar like they have over the past week and a half, then this year’s honey harvest may be pretty good. IF I can stay ahead of them and keep them from swarming. Our tulip poplars and blackberries are still blooming, but are obviously on their way out. Fleabane, the little white daisy-looking flowers with lots of extra petals that you see in all the fields, is currently in full bloom. Also, the autumn olive has started blooming over the last few days. Autumn olive is one of the many invasive species that we’re trying to get rid of on the farm, but in the meantime it does provide extra nectar for the bees. Our common milkweed is also starting to produce big buds and will likely be blooming within the next several weeks. And that’s just what I’ve noticed on our farm. I’m guessing the persimmon is probably going too but their flowers are all too small and high up for me to see. Not to mention, bees will forage over a 3-5 mile radius (usually 2-3 miles) so it’s possible that they are gathering additional nectar from species that aren’t even on our farm.
With everything that is blooming or getting ready to bloom, there’s still time for the bees to gather and store quite a bit of nectar, especially if we keep getting a little rain every day or two. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that despite the later than normal cold weather, they’ll still be able to store lots of nectar before everything gets hot and dries up this summer. How much nectar they store in April, May, and early June is directly related to how much honey I’m able to harvest in July. I’ll be honest, I’m hoping for a good honey harvest this year because I’m almost out of the 2019 honey I set aside for our use and I’m completely out of the 2019 honey I had for sale.
Busy Bee Nursery
The native plants that I’m growing in the nursery are doing phenomenal. I can’t believe how fast they are growing. If you, or someone you know, is interested in good quality, native plants, that have not been sprayed with any kind of pesticide, then please let me know. I have approximately 50 different species available.
I’m currently selling my plants through pre-paid, contact free drop-offs (see below for details) in Bowling Green and Glasgow. My next drop-offs are coming up on June 2 and 3. I’m happy to answer any questions you might have about the plants and what might work best in your situation before you put in your order.
When I pick the plants for your order, I pick the plants that I would chose for myself based on anything you might have told me about your site or what you are looking for from the plants. If I’m debating between two different individuals, for example a taller more tree-shaped buttonbush or a shorter bushier buttonbush, then I’ll contact you and ask which you want. Or if I find that a hungry caterpillar or rabbit has made a snack out of all the plants of one of the species you wanted then I will contact you and see what you want to do. Basically, I try to do exactly what I would want someone to do for me if they were choosing the plants I was going to buy.
I’ve had a few people ask about coming out to the nursery to pick their own plants. I’ve done that occasionally in previous years, but I’m not currently having anyone out to the farm. However, I am looking into the possibility of having at least one open house sometime later this summer depending on how things go with the virus and if I can solve a couple of other logistical problems. (Like a creek that keeps washing out our driveway and making it difficult to cross without dragging the bottom of your car.) At this point, I’m not making any promises or commitments on an open house other than to say “maybe” and “I’m thinking about it.”
The ducks are continuing to lay. Since I haven’t been at the farmer’s market, my egg sales have gone down tremendously, but the ducks are still eating the same amount of food. I’m thinking about reducing my flock size. I’ll still keep some of my ducks and have some eggs to sell, but I may not have as many. I’m still trying to decide exactly what I want to do and how large of a flock I really want / need. I have some difficult decisions ahead of me with the ducks. In the meantime, let me know if you are interested in duck eggs. My next drop-offs are coming up on June 2 (Bowling Green) and 3 (Glasgow).
Speaking of difficult decisions, I have decided to step away from the farmers market for the rest of the year. This was a very difficult decision for me because I really like my current market, but in the end I had to base my decision purely on the numbers. Most of my market sales come in April, May, and June and my sales are way down this year because I haven’t been at the market since early March. Unfortunately, the market’s income is also way down because they haven’t had as many vendors and they’ve had to ask their current vendors to start paying a higher set up fee each week until things go back to some semblance of normal. I understand their point and I don’t hold it against them, but I simply can’t afford the higher fees. My only chance for trying to stay in business is to step away from the market for the rest of the year and then re-evaluate the situation next year when things will hopefully be better for everyone.
Pre-paid, Contact-free Drop-offs
Approximately once every other week, I am doing pre-paid, contact-free deliveries of native plants, duck eggs, honey, etc. in Bowling Green and Glasgow. If I can get enough orders for one location, I’m also willing to consider doing drop-offs in other cities (Beaver Dam, Owensboro, Hopkinsville, etc.) although I may have to charge a delivery fee for those drop-offs. It that’s something you might be interested in, please let me know.
My next drop-offs will be June 2 (Bowling Green) and June 3 (Glasgow). Here is a list of the items I will have available. I’ll also be posting the link on my Facebook page on Wednesday. Any help you can give me in spreading the word about these drop-offs is greatly appreciated because, I’ll be honest, not being at the farmers market hurts and like many other small business owners, I don’t know what’s going to happen at the end of all this. But I do know that what we, as a society, are doing is what needs to be done to protect everyone and so, like many others, I am making the necessary sacrifices.
This is how the drop-offs work:
- Several days to a week before the drop-off date, I will post a list of the plants and other items I currently have available on my website and Facebook page.
- You’ll review the list, then let me know what you want, whether you want to pick up in Glasgow or Bowling Green, and a good time to call you for payment info. If you have questions about the plants or other items, you can always email me and I’ll be happy to answer them.
- I’ll make sure I still have everything that you want. Orders are filled on a first-come-first-served basis and some items may be in limited supply.
- I’ll call you at the appropriate time and get your payment information. (E-mail is not a secure method of sending sensitive information like credit card numbers.)
- We’ll meet at the appropriate time and location.
- I’ll have all your items set out when you arrive and will have backed away an appropriate distance.
- We can wave, give air hugs, chat for a second, etc. as you pick up your items.
- We wish each other well and go our separate ways so that everyone can stay safe and healthy.
I gave my first two virtual presentations a couple of weeks ago. I really enjoyed it and thought they went well. One of the presentations ended up having an hour and fifteen minutes worth of questions and discussion AFTER the hour-long presentation! The facts that 1) no one has to worry about getting home afterwards and 2) you don’t have to make sure you are out of the building at any particular time are definite advantages to virtual presentations because that means everyone can stay and chat for as long as they like.
Once I get the bees straightened back out again, I plan to begin actively reaching out to groups to let them know that I am available for virtual presentations. Another great advantage to virtual presentations is that they are much cheaper – I can do them for a much lower fee because I don’t have to include travel time, mileage, lodging, etc. If you are part of a group that might be interested in having me give a presentation, then please contact me and we can talk about the options and logistics.
Shannon Trimboli is a beekeeper, farmer, wildlife biologist, and author. She owns Grassy Roads Farm and Busy Bee Nursery & Consulting. Busy Bee Nursery & Consulting specializes in plants and habitat consulting services for honey bees, native pollinators, and wildlife conservation. In 2018, her first book, Plants Honey Bees Use in the Ohio and Tennessee Valleys, was published. Shannon also writes a weekly blog called Kentucky Pollinators and Backyard Wildlife. The blog features profiles of pollinators and wildlife, tips for attracting pollinators and wildlife, highlights of different plants for pollinators and wildlife, and life on the farm and nursery. You can sign up to have her blog emailed to you.