Shepherds Run Farm

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Category: Bees

Weeds and Their Stranglehold

Weeds are Killing Me!

Let’s face it, as a beekeeper I struggle every year with what to apply to help keep weeds at bay. This is especially difficult since I do not want to use the commercially available weed killers. Last year I gave up completely and the farm looked like that Husqvarna commercial – “Taming the Wild”.

weed spray search results

Without those name-brand weed killers, what’s a girl to do?

This year I was bound and determined to find a way to deal with the ever-present “Wild” in my garden and around the farm, and so began my internet quest.  For the record, I did look at the weed torches available and decided that fire was probably NOT the right way to go for me. So I continued my search  and it didn’t take me long to find several recipes for homemade weed spray. Click HERE, HERE, and HERE for some options. All three offer some different information (although the recipes all contain vinegar) so check them out if you’ve got the time. The guy in the following video gives you a 9-minute tour of him killing weeds.


The gallon sprayer in my feature photo contains 1 gallon of white vinegar, about 1/4 cup Dawn Blue dish detergent, and about 1/2 cup of epsom salt. I did my spraying about 1 pm, it was day with about 80 degree temperatures and low humidity.  On a side note, Lowes Home Improvement apparently sells 64 oz. containers of cleaning vinegar for $1.79 (according to their website – it’s in the cleaning section) I paid $2.48 p/gal. at Walmart (better deal) for 5% acidity white vinegar. Click HERE for the difference between regular vinegar and cleaning vinegar.

weeds after being sprayed with vinegar

A little less than 24 hours after spraying.

A little less than 24 hours later. The solution worked very well on “grasses” and light-weight weeds. I sprayed the solution on some chocolate mint and it barely turned the edges of the leaves brown. I may have to spend a bit more time on plants like the mint – making sure I really cover them. Maybe adding some of the essential oils mentioned in the recipe links above might be the answer. I am not sure at this point. I will report back when I have a better idea what will work on the mint.

some weeds not affected by vinegar solution.

After 24 hours, works on some weeds, but not all.

The mint is in the top left edge of this garden, you would hardly know it received any solution. Maybe it will take a little longer for it to work on the mint but as you can see, the grass has started to die but there is still a lot of green around my butterfly and lilac bushes where the mint has invaded the space. Verdict: this homemade spray might be an acceptable garden weed killer to use in place of anything commercially available. I don’t mind spraying every week if I can avoid having to use the toxic chemicals.

What do you do to combat weeds in your garden if you don’t want to use the toxic chemicals? Please let me know your favorite recipe.

2016 Mother Hive Swarm-Part 2

Hive Swarm – Part Two.

In my previous post, I had related the story about how I had received a truck load of beekeeping equipment and that I was hoping my “Mother Hive” would swarm. Today as I was suiting up to do a few things with the new hives, I heard a really loud buzzing and my attention was drawn to one side of the garage. When I looked, I noticed a huge “tornado” of bees – I knew instantly that my large hive had swarmed. The only thing now was to wait to see if they went into one of the boxes they had been investigating over the past few days. And sure enough, they did. They went right in, they went directly from the main hive to one of the new ones I had set up only days before.

I should have grabbed the tri-pod when I went in to grab the camera, but hindsight is 20/20. Please forgive the shakiness, I was in a rush to capture this incredible “force” of nature. If you’ve never stood in the middle of a swarm of bees, it is an incredible rush. Thousands of bees flying, buzzing,

The whole process took a while as the swarm was actually very large, but they went in and got settled. Such a neat experience and I am grateful to have been outside and able to observe the swarm when it occurred.

2016 Mother Hive Swarm

Hive Swarm – Part One.

Earlier this spring I went into what I am calling the “Mother Hive”. Lots of queen cells so I figured she was going to swarm. Actually, I was hoping she would as I really did not want to do a split. The 20 thousand dollar question was whether or not I would be able to catch it if it did swarm.

Ford truck full of beekeeping equipment. Hoping for a swarm.

Thanks to Rick F. for a bounty of equipment.

This spring (May specifically) Maryland has had rain. Rain, endless rain, day after day rain; and it prevented me from getting down to Southern Maryland to pick up some used bee equipment from my friend. I had used up all of my supplies on the three new packages, and the swarm I caught at a neighbor’s place earlier in the month. Long story short, I was able to pick up a truck load of equipment to inject new life into my dwindling equipment supply. It took days to unload and sort through all of the stuff. Boxes and boxes of drawn comb, inner and outer covers, bottom boards, and even some in hive feeders. My friend is going from a 10-frame box to an 8-frame set up. None of this stuff was going to work for him anymore. My gain completely!

Swarm bait boxesSo after everything was sorted and cleaned, I had enough drawn comb to set up 4 separate hives as possible options just in case that Mother Hive decided to swarm. Since the bees were investigating the equipment while it was in the truck, I was hopeful that once I had set everything up, they would continue to be curious. It didn’t take long before I noticed they were definitely checking out all of the boxes, but two specifically – the top left, and the bottom right. All I could do was wait and see what would happen. And four days later in happened…click the bee for the rest of the story.




Bee Packages Arrive!

3 Packages Arrive Safe and Sound.

Last year I made the decision to expand my apiary. I started looking at places to purchase several packages of honey bees and I opted to make my purchase from Wolf Creek Bees. This decision was based upon price, and the genetic description of their bees . My long-time friend and beekeeper mentor, Rick F., and I call them “mutt bees”, but we have found that the “mutts” seem to fair better in our respective environments. His being Southern Maryland, and mine being northern Baltimore county.

Anyway, back to the bees…

I reached out to Wolf Creek and inquired about their 2016 ordering schedule. They very quickly responded that I should touch base with them in January. I logged a date in my planner and anxiously waited for January.  And like clockwork, I placed my order and it was confirmed – a shipment date of April 20th.  The ordering process was easy, the customer service was attentive, and now all I had to do was wait until April when I would receive the email containing the actual shipping information.

bee hive set up for packages of beesTo make ready for the bees, I cleared a section in the garden, purchased three condenser pads (thanks to a suggestion from my dear husband) from an online HVAC supplier and had some 4 x 6 treated posts cut into 24 inch lengths. The condenser pads are 30 x 30 x 2 and they are ideal for using as a base for the hives.  I will be switching all of my hives over to this system. The 4 x 6 posts provide a sturdy elevation, but will not be too high for me to remove a fourth deep (super) at some point. I only run deeps on my hives – even for honey storage and I don’t want them too high for me to pull a full super during harvest season.

Note: if you are expecting packages of bees, kindly notify your local postmaster. They appreciate the “heads up”, and some are even excited to talk about your hobby.

So the packages arrived on a rainy Saturday morning. packages on honey beesWith the rain I would not be able to install them in the hive so they were stored in the jeep, in the garage for the night. I painted the screen of the shipping packages with 1:1 sugar syrup and left them to settle after their long journey from Tennessee.

After things began to warm up the next morning, I began to get things ready for installation. There are several videos on Youtube that will give you step by step instructions on how to install a package of bees.

Find one that works for you. One note, I did not spray down my bees. It was a little chilly and rather breezy on the day I needed to do the installation. Use your best judgement, you definitely don’t want wet, cold, bees especially if the weather is not ideal. Also, I waited a full two weeks before going back into the hives to remove the queen cages.

honey bee queen cages from purchased packages

Freeing of the queen a success in all three packages!

All in all, a very interesting experience. It has furthered my knowledge and skills related to beekeeping. It did force me out of my comfort zone a bit since I had never done an install before. Great mentoring from my friend Rick kept me on track and gave me the confidence to venture into the arena of buying bee packages.

How was your first time buying and installing a package of bees?



Bees Succeed, Garden a Wash – 2015 Recap

It’s all about the Bees.

This summer has had it’s ups and downs. I’ve been so busy volunteering for All Shepherd Rescue that I have neglected so many things on the farm. The upside to that is the numerous foster dogs we have had this year have all been adopted. The downside is the garden was raided early on by deer, the weeds took over, and I just decided to “give up”. Much to my surprise the other day, I have some viable volunteer tomato plants, some basil, some rosemary, and some cilantro to harvest. Thankful for some fresh produce this year even if I did nothing to deserve it. I haven’t even done much with the bees other than observe their comings and goings. The number of canine lives that have been saved due to ASR’s rescue efforts makes it all worth it.

I’ve been meaning for weeks to get out to check the hive, it was either too hot to suit up (I actually have a honey bee allergy so I wear a ventilated full suit), too windy, or raining. On the days that were good days to get into the hive, I always had other things to do. Well, today was going to be the last low humidity day for the next week or so which translated to my last chance for a while to get in and see what was going on.

bees, beehive, honey, frame, honey harvest

Fully loaded – front and back.

So I suited up, fired up the smoker, and headed out for the hive. (The feature photo is from last year when I had just brought home two swarms that a fellow Keep had caught.) 2015’s colony  is a four-deep – also a Southern Maryland swarm – having lost the two new swarms to who knows what. Lots of propolis sealed the inner cover which once removed, a beautiful sight appeared. A hive teaming with bees, and two deeps full of honey – well over 200 pounds, not counting what might be in the two lower deeps. Doing a quick survey of the third deep, I observed a good 100 pounds and decided that taking eight frames from the fourth deep would still leave them plenty of food this winter.

local honey, bees, harvest

80# fresh, local honey.

I had been keeping four frames containing partially filled honey comb in my freezer since last fall, so I thawed and added them to the hive. The bees will clean them up and after I harvest this year’s honey, I will put four of the empty frames back into the hive for the fall flow. The empty drawn comb will be stored in the freezer to prevent wax-moths and be used when I add colonies in the spring. I’ve already been in touch with a couple reputable bee suppliers and fully expect to have to purchase packages of bees next year in order to expand the apiary. I would love to have a minimum of four colonies on a consistent basis.

Stay tuned for a follow up post detailing the extracting process and the total yield from today’s harvest.

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