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Life in the Bee Yard – February 2019

The Bee Yard

We checked candy boards.  Some were completely empty.  Most were about half finished.  It all depends on the size of the hive, how much honey they had stored, and how cold the weather was.  We did not make a lot of extra boards this year.  Time just ran out on us.  We are hoping that Spring will get here earlier then later and we can start feeding sugar syrup.  We had starting to feed pollen.  The longer days kick start the queen into making more bees.  They start early to make sure the new bees are mature enough to fly and gather honey or pollen when the weather turns warm. 

A couple of hives were already building comb on the candy boards.  It is a little early but a sign of new bees.  A bee’s wax production matures around 14 days.  In those hives the queen started production very early and there are a lot of new bees to make wax. 

We have lost 9 more hives so far this year.  We will need to order 15 packages to keep with the same number of hives as last year.  The prices are out and everyone is selling packages.  We will keep an eye on things and update our order if needed before arrival.

We were pooped on a lot when we were checking bees.  These bee jackets were clean before we started.  Yuck!


Keeping Score

At the height of the beekeeping season in 2018, we had 59 hives total.  We lost 9 hives before winter, mostly due to queen issues.  Now after we checked, we found we lost 6 more hives.

We switched out 11 boards, and boosted some hives with chunks of candy board that fell off another board.  We had just enough boards for this round.  We may have to make some more, or make soft fondant sugar if it’s still too cold to feed liquid syrup.

February Chores

The bee packages usually come at the end of March.  We have to make sure the hives with dead outs are cleaned up.  Double check that our equipment is clean and in good working condition.  Make sure everything is set up and ready to go.

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Life in the Bee Yard – January 2019


Happy New Year!
Happy Birthday to Beekeeper Marty!

The Bee Yard

There is not much going on with the bees right now.  They are all nestled away in their hives, wrapped up, and eating their honey or candy board.   Good thing for us.  We have had cold weather, snow, icy rain, warm weather (Yes, 50° is considered warm now) – Just your typical Chicago January.



January Chores

Since there is no need to run out to the bee yards, I have been working on products to sell at the upcoming craft shows this year – bottling honey, soap, lotion, candy, honey straws.  We have 3 shows in March alone! 

Kane County Flea Market, Kane County Fair Grounds, St. Charles, IL – March 2 & 3
Carl Sandburg High School, Orland Park, IL – March 9 & 10
College of DuPage Craft Show, PE Building, Glen Ellyn, IL – March 23 & 24

For our other events – Check out our Calendar of Events – https://www.twobeekeepers.com/events/

Also on the agenda is to make the woodenware we need for the upcoming year.  Marty has put together about 300 new frames for the brood boxes.  We have old frames, poorly drawn out frames, and frames packed with bad or old pollen that need to be removed from the hive.

This is the month to order packages.  We have an idea of how many packages we want to order, but we are in a holding pattern.  The package price has not been released yet.  The price goes up every year.  We receive our packages from California after almond season and the season was horrible this year.  The bees had a hard time and their numbers did not build up as well as other years.  They are not sure how many packages they are able to create.  Beekeeping is getting harder every year.

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Mite Treatment Update for Winter 2018

First of all, we would like to apologize for the lack up updates in 2017.  The last update was on varroa mite treatments and although we had other articles planned, we were unable get them written due to a hectic schedule and the resulting exhaustion.  So, it seems only fitting to pick things back up in 2018 where we left off – with a varroa mite summary of our efforts from last year

Our goals were outlined previously but I will summarize them very briefly right now.  Spring, summer and fall testing and treatments as needed.  Spring treatments included oxalic acid vaporization of the new packages and spring mite treatments with oxalic acid dribble. Summer treatment was oxalic acid dribble followed up with Mite Away Quick Strips when mite tests showed that it was required.  Fall treatment was done with Mite Away Quick Strips and Apivar if mite counts were too high.

As indicated by Jerry Hayes and Randy Oliver in their many articles on mite control, we try to have no more than 3 mites per 100 bees.  One mite or no mites would be lovely but rarely possible!  So, we set our goal to be under 3 mites per 100.

When we purchased new replacement bees for our dead outs, we vaporized all of them.  I have heard from many sources that beekeepers believe that mites are only on bees that are inside a hive.  It is thought that package bees do not come with mites.  This is ABSOLUTELY NOT TRUE!!!!  Packages can come with mites, hive beetles, etc!!!  When we installed our new packages, we made sure that we hade a clean West Trap beneath the screened bottom boards.  This is used to catch the falling mites so we can get a count.  After the bees were settled, but before brood was in the advanced larval stages we vaporized our new packages.  Low and behold we had mites dropping off.  And not just two or three.  We are talking about as many as a few dozen.  This is enough mites to “seed” a hive to have huge problems by late summer or very early fall.

Varroa Easy Check PictureDuring the summer we tested with our Varroa Easy Check.  This is a tool that EVERY beekeeper should own.  Testing was done monthly from July through the end of the season.  When we found more than three mites per hundred we would dribble with oxalic acid solution. If this did not fix things we would treat with mite away quick strips.  Our findings showed that dribble is a poor method of mite treatment as it more of a flash treatment that only has an effect on a few phoretic mites.  Mites in the cells and under the capping, which are the vast majority of the mite population in a colony, are unaffected by the treatment.

After the summer honey flow, we saw mite levels rise rather rapidly.  Meaning our test results were showing doubling or tripling of the mite levels instead of a small increase.  This is typical to what researches have found as well so we were disappointed but understood what was happening. We found that dribbling with oxalic acid did nothing to stop this increase so we resorted to mite away quick strips and even Apivar to stop the build up of the mites.

After reviewing our records, we lost no hives to the mites in the fall as opposed to 10-20% like last year due to our test and treat methods.  We did loose one to a failed queen that we were not able to correct properly during the late summer or early fall.  At the time of this writing, our winter losses stand at four hives to mites, queen failures, or a combination of both.  We tested the dead bees that were left in between frames and boxes on dead outs and found high levels of mites amongst the dead bees.  This should be a recommended procedure to determine colony death cause!!!  With these hives dead, our total losses for the year stand at 5 out of 52 or approximately 10%. Mites In Mite Checker

Of course, we do have some that are a little on the weak side and they could fail.  As always, with beekeeping this is a distinct possibility.  Mite levels could still be high and cold weather can take its toll.  A report on this will have to follow at a later date.

Are we happy with our treatment plan? OF COURSE!  We have not lost this few bees at this point in the winter in a long time.  I am also happy to report that other larger beekeepers that followed similar treatment plans had similar or even better results.  Unfortunately, beekeepers that never treated or treated too late are suffering staggering losses.  Anywhere from 50% to 100%.  This is proof that doing nothing does not work, no matter what beekeeping religion you practice.  So, in short, we will be testing and treating as often, if not more often, again in 2018.

This we want to try in 2018: Formic Pro.  It has a longer shelf life than its predecessor Mite Away Quick Strips which is a huge bonus.  Based on the results from people who used Formic Pro in 2017, it looks like it may be a little gentler because it has a longer treatment time with a slower release than Mite Away.  We will see how it works out for us.

We noticed that areas where beekeepers manage bees in a Laissez Faire manner, there were more mites and many more mite problems despite rigorous treatments.  Systemic treatments were necessary to keep the mite population down to a manageable level.  This should not have been required, but was required because other beekeepers do not practice good animal husbandry.  When one is in charge of livestock they are taking care of the animals from birth until death.  Not treating not only hurts the livestock that is owned but in this case, causes great detriment to neighboring livestock and the few feral colonies that are left.  Part of being a good neighbor is having good husbandry practices.  We all need to be good neighbors!

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Mites are a Never Ending Problem

Did you battle varroa mites this year?  How well did you do?  Did you win or lose?

Our 2016 varroa management strategy was simple.  We were going to treat, treat, and treat some more. Here was our treatment plan.

  1. Treat in the Spring.
    1. Treat all new packages with one oxalic acid vaporization after being hived but before brood was laid.
    2. Treat all over wintered hives before they build up to far with oxalic acid vaporization three times 7-9 days apart.
  2. Treat in the late Summer (after honey harvest)
    1. Treat all hives with oxalic acid vaporization three times 7-9 days apart.
  3. Treat if necessary in the Fall.
    1. Treat again with oxalic acid vaporization, apiguard, or apivar depending on the weather.
    2. Treat with oxalic acid dribble if necessary.

We completed part one of the plan and we were in the clear. We did not see any queen problems caused by vaporization.  We did have some slow queens and some that the bees did not like. They raised new ones and those hives went on to build up nicely (eventually). Most hives produced honey.  Some that had queen issues did not produce much if missed their main flow.  But by June, overall, our hives were stronger than ever.  They were producing a good honey crop for us and appeared very healthy.  We even had a visit from our local inspectors to see how we were doing and they found no problems and no mites when they tested.

When we completed part two in September we had harvested our main honey crop.  A little bit of goldenrod honey was being made on our western bee yard.  An exhausting summer was completed.  We had just completed 6 mite treatments for the year.  Maybe we were ahead of the curve.

Reports started coming in about neighbors having very high mite counts.  And not just a little high. They were astronomically high.  Bee inspectors had diagnosed parasitic mite syndrome on entire apiaries not far from ours.  All of those bees were going to be lost.  At this point we were very worried about our bees and we decided to do some mite testing of our own.  The samples we took were on the lower side (comparatively) in some of our bee yards.  But in yards close to other problem sites the mite counts were extremely high.  There were so many mites in the bottom of the test cup that we could not count them all.

This is a bad situation. It is highly likely that our previously treated hives became mite infested by neighboring colonies with high counts.  These mites were probably vectoring diseases and our hives were probably going to die.  So what do do?

Part of animal husbandry is taking proper care of the creatures that you are entrusted with – from life until death.  Because of our duty, we decided to treat our bees even if they were eventually going to die.  It was imperative that we do so right away.  Even if they die or abscond it was important that we do not let any more mites out into the environment.  These mites would endanger other neighboring colonies and these would become a victim like we were.  This is being a good neighbor to our neighbors and our neighbor’s bees.

So an emergency trip to Dadant was made and treatment products were purchased.  Spacer boards and Apiguard (Thymol) was purchased for as many colonies as we could get product for.  Everything else would get ApiVar (Amitraz).  The treatments would be supplemented with oxalic acid dribble every 7-9 days.

By the end of the season we had treated 9 or 10 times depending on how you calculate it.  This is a lot of work to just try to save our bees from someone else’s lack of animal husbandry.  It is also a lot of work to do when you are just going to lose a high percentage of the colonies anyway.

And lose colonies we did.  All of the colonies that were near other high mite count apiaries ended up with high mite counts and mite related diseases.  They all failed.  These yards experienced 80% losses or more.

Overall our losses are at 50%.  These types of losses do not make any kind of beekeeping operation sustainable.  If a dairy operation lost half of its calves each year or half of its heifers it would be a disaster.  The only reason why 50% losses for beekeeping is not taken notice by many is that the bees can be more resilient than the beekeeper under certain circumstances.

Lately, the majority of the beekeepers are failing their bees by not testing and treating for mites in a timely manner.  This is a failure of the mission of animal husbandry.  According to a recent article in Bee Culture Magazine, commercial beekeepers treat anywhere from 6-10 times or more a year.  In contrast most small beekeepers do very little or nothing at all. (Kim Flottum Bee Culture Jan 2017)

The more articles that we read about varroa mites, the more they mention varroa bombs and describe the problems we are having.   (Jerry Hayes, Randy Oliver American Bee Journal Vol. 157 No.1; Toni Burnham Bee Culture Jan 2017; Randy Oliver Vol. 156 No 12; Randy Oliver Vol. 156 No 11).  We have been experiencing this for the last few seasons.  Despite our treatments bees get reinfected and end up dying.

One lesson should be learned from all of this. No one beekeeper can keep bees alone or solve his or her mite problems by themself.  Bees are social insects.  Beekeepers need to be social and work together to fight the problem before all the gains we are making in beekeeping in our home towns are lost.  Be a good beekeeper. Be a good neighbor.

We will be feeding pollen patties next week and starting to clean out dead outs.  Hopefully the losses will not get any worse.  By the time the replacement bees arrive, we need to have our mite management plan ready.  Have you figured out your plan for 2017?

 

 

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Two Queens in One Hive

Most beekeeping books and beekeepers will always agree that there is always one active queen in a hive.  There should never be two.  Even so, it sometimes does happen.

The hive that this picture was taken from was a big
one.  It over wintered very well and it built up extremely early.  The queen was a prolific layer.  The bees managed to produced a box of ross rounds, a box of comb honey and filled two honey supers.  After the honey was removed for the season we tested and treated for mites because, as is true with all large colonies, there were mites present and even signs of deformed wing virus.

There was a possible risk candidate for throwing a swarm since the hive was congested.  The queen also did not stop laying eggs.  Since nectar flow in this area virtually stops after July we were feeding, but it did not help much.  The hive most likely built some swarm cells in between our more detailed inspections.

When we finally did a detailed inspection there was evidence of many swarm cells and it appeared that there were many queens released.  At least one left with a swarm.  One daugher appeared to stay behind with mom.

Mite levels were high before treatment.  Treatment started before the swarm occurred.  After the mite treatment we found very low mite counts.  There were plenty of eggs being laid, but not really enough workers.  This late in the season it would be fair to predict failure.  Only time will tell if this hive will survive. Did the prolific queen cause the hive to swarm? Did the mite treatment, Thymol with oxalic dribble every seven days, cause the hive to swarm?  Did the high mite load cause the swarm?  We may never know.  We only have a few clews and the bees are not talking.

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Oxalic Acid for Mite Control

This year we have started using oxalic acid in the spring instead of MAQS or mite away quick strips. Both oxalic acid and formic acid are present in honey and are organic acids so they are considered natural or organic miticide treatments.  Even so, they are quite harsh to work with.

Formic acid has a very strong smell.  It seems to be more potent than vinegar and more irritating.  It is very effective and tests by the MAQS manufacturer say that it will kill mites under cappings.  This is important.  Even so, we have found it to be hard on the bees and especially the queens.  It is hard to prove if they become physically damaged by my the miticide or if the prolonged exposure to the smelly acid causes the bees to think that her queen pheromone is not present, and deduce that she is failing or not actually alive anymore despite the fact that she is present.  Based on discussions we have had with other beekeepers this seems to be a problem that can happen, but it is not always a regular occurrence.   Weather and age of the queen probably play into this quite a bit as well.  We have also heard that formic acid is not as good as it used to be at killing mites.  These issues and reports are pushing us to try something new.

Oxalic acid has been used in Europe and Canada for many years.  There are two methods of application – vaporization and dribble.  Most beekeepers and scientists that study its effectiveness claim that it kills 90% or more of the mites present on the bees when the treatment is applied.  Even so it does not kill the mites under the cappings.  To do this, vaporization is commonly used to kill the mites within the open cells during periods of low or no brood rearing.  Otherwise the dribble method can be used for easy and quick application.  Randy Oliver has been studying oxalic acid recently and he does prefer the dribble method.

We applied oxalic acid to all of our colonies this spring.  The packages were vaporized with a few days of being installed in their hives.  We also treated all of our overwintered colonies three times approximately eight days apart to kill mites on the bees and in the cells that were open at the time.  Mite testing showed that at the beginning of June, our hives were mite free.  The test we used was the alcohol was test.  A sample of bees are taken, placed in the washing cup or device, rinsed with an alcohol solution, and then the mites that come off the bees are counted.  All of the samples came up zero mites!!!

We will be trying the three treatment vaporization method later in the season to see how it performs in the fall as well.

 

 

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Wax Moth and Mice Problems

A mouse nest in a five frame Nuc box.

Wax moths and mice are common pests for bees and beekeepers.  We have had more experience dealing with them lately for some reason.  Here are some of our experiences with these two pesky pests.

Mice enjoy building nests in the depths of boxes, especially when they are stored away.  Sometimes they can get away with living at the bottom of a hive while the bees keep themselves warm and eat honey, pollen patties, and candy boards at the top of the hive.  To prevent mice infestation we always put on a mouse guard or entrance reducer that eliminate the chance of having mice enter our equipment that is out in the field.  In fact, we typically use this device year round because limiting the opening helps the hive defend against hive beetles as well.

Mouse poop and chewed up comb. All of this smelt very bad.

To prevent mice from getting into stored boxes we always store them on flat surfaces and make sure that they are fully covered.  This prevents the mice from entering and damaging the boxes and frames.

When mice get into unguarded boxes they not only make a home for themselves, but they defecate all over everything.  If there are frames of drawn comb, they will chew on the frames and eat the foundation and its contents.  This destroys the work of the beekeeper and the bees.  Urine soaked frames and boxes are virtually unusable by bees and beekeepers.

All of our honey supers are kept in our garage in the off season.  Besides honey supers we do keep some drawn comb deeps that we store for future use from time to time.  Also we have a few boxes of used frames that are waiting to have their wax melted by our wax melter and the frames cleaned and reused.

Wax moth damaged comb.

All of these things seem to draw a wax moth in.  Especially in our garage.  the drawn comb seems to be especially tantalizing to the wax moths.  Despite the fact that we use moth repellant on our supers the moths tend to find us..  It must be the old comb that we like to melt down in our wax melter that draws them in.  In the future we will be storing less of this comb.

Wax moths can only reproduce inside a bee hive, and the only way they can get on the wax comb is because the hive is weak or the beekeeper let the bees get to the precious wax.

The Lesser Wax Moth. (Achroia grisella) Top and front view.

This year we took over the management of the honey bees at a local vegetable farm.  We started by cleaning up the equipment, which was left virtually unprotected by the previous beekeeper.  This left us with less than half of the equipment in usable condition.  Wax moths and mice damage was very severe.  The pictures you see are from this experience.  Hopefully protecting comb and equipment will be everyone’s priority.

If our cleanup and management efforts are successful, the good news is that we think this new location will produce decent amounts of honey for us and the landlord.  Hopefully things will go as planned!!!

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Traps and Trays

Ever since we started beekeeping we have been using the West Trap in conjunction with the bottom board.  Over the years we have learned that it is very easy to see what is going on in the hive just by pulling the tray out.  We use the west trap to monitor hive activity when we need more clues as to how a colony is doing.  We clean them our regularly and keep them in all year long.  Most of the time just as a tray with no oil or liquid in them.

For instance, if you see a lot of fine chewed up brown or light brown cappings, you know that brood has hatched.  Remember, when the young bees chew out of their cells, the cappings just fall the floor of the hive. If you have a screened bottom board alone, it is not possible to see what is happening without a tray to catch the evidence.

How about white cappings?  This would mean that the bees are eating stored honey.  Unlike brood, which has a dark capping, honey typically has a white capping on it.  If this is observed, it is usually time to get a closer look.  It could mean robbing or, if outside of the normal nectar flow, that the bees do not have enough to eat and are eating stored resources.  Seeing sugar crystals may indicate this as well, since honey can crystalize and the bees will not be able to eat the crystals.  They simply clean them out of the cells.

If you varroa mites are observed then it may be time to see how infested the colony is.  Treating may also be in order.  How about if a hive beetle is seen hiding down there.  Beatles will be chased down into the trays by the bees and will stay there until they find a way up again.  Remember, the West Trap is actually a beetle trap.  When beetles are seen down there it is definitely time to put the “kill” agent in the trap.

To trap and kill hive beetles we use mineral oil.  It is an agricultural product that can be purchased by the gallon at most farm supply stores.  Some beekeepers use vegetable oil.  Either will work, but we prefer the synthetic oil that will not ferment on its own.  We add a tablespoon or so of cider vinegar as an attractant.  Hive beetles cannot resist the smell and enter the trap willingly only to drown in the oil.

If hive beetles are seen on frames the West Trap may not be enough.  We then turn to beetle blasters or some other trap that sits in between the frames.   These are filled the same way with mineral oil and cider vinegar.  Care must be taken so as not to spill them on the bees or on the frames.

How about during and after a mite treatment?  These trays are very useful when assessing mite drop.  How else would we know if a mite treatment has worked or not?  After the treatment period seeing dead mites on the tray would indicate that the treatment worked.

Since we use the screened bottom board we always have a west trap in the tray slot.  It allows us to see what our bees are doing, monitor and control pests, and help gauge treatment efficacy. Remember, it is not just trash down in that tray. It is vital beekeeping information!!!

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Queen Acceptance, Weather, and Food

This year it has rained at least once every week since spring started.  Most weeks it has been raining twice a week at a minimum.  Now summer is supposed to have taken over and it is still raining way too much. This is not only disconcerting for the beekeeper but it is very disconcerting for the bees.  Worse yet, we are starting to see the problems that this has caused and the errors of our ways.

As most beekeepers do, we purchased packaged bees and new equipment for replacing our dead outs and expanding our operation.  We hived the packages and began feeding sugar syrup and pollen patties.  Once the nectar flow was starting, or scheduled to start, we removed the feed from the hives and added honey supers. The rain kept coming every week.

When we checked on them the bees never seemed truly happy. And we noticed that the new packages queens had a poorer acceptance rate than we are used to seeing.  We gauge this on the number of queen cells produced by colonies started as packages.  Nearly all were building at least one queen cell.  Some had multiples.  This despite the fact they had a queen that was laying eggs and apparently operating normally.  Usually this behavior is only seen in a few new package colonies and usually if they do it at first, the behavior goes away as the season goes on and the nectar flow starts.  We made a few nice nucleus colonies with these cells, but after a while it becomes very disheartening to keep destroying large swarm and supercedure cells.

Then during our inspections, we started seeing problems with mites.  But the problems are much more advanced that we have seen before.  Normally at this time of the year we would only see one or two mites occasionally if at all, especially on a brand new hive, but this time we are seeing many more.  We can actually see mites on some of the bees in the new hives that were packages just a few weeks before.  If you can see the mites on bees, just imagine how many there are on the rest of the bees and how many there are living beneath the cappings.  We removed drone brood to find hordes of mites.  This was very alarming.

To prevent problems down the road we decided to be proactive and we reached for our weapon of choice, mite away quick strips or MAQS. We saw some mites drop, but not as much as we expected.  At this point we were hopeful that the mites in the cells had died.

The treatment seemed to exasperate the problems that we were seeing with queen acceptance and absconding.  Now where there were just a few cells we saw six. Where there were six we saw a dozen. We tried re-queening a few with new queens from our supplier, but the same thing happened all over again.  So we decided to let nature take its course.  Most of our new package hives swarmed because of all the cells that they kept producing. Others completely absconded by the end of the season.

After it was all over we realized that their lack of food caused by the inability to forage, the mite treatments, and our inability to realize that we needed to feed the bees during the time of stress, all contributed to the problems that we were having.  The problem ended in a honey crop failure for us.  Lots of rain did not produce lots of usable nectar for our little bee friends.  Hopefully the goldenrod flow will be good this fall. We will try to get some this year, despite the fact that we have not had good luck chasing this elusive honey before.

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More Equipment

This is a big year for us – we are expanding!!!  This year we will nearly double the number of colonies that we are managing.  This means that we need more equipment.  Boxes and frames and foundation galore!  For us this meant another trip to Dadant to get the supplies.  It sure seems like these trips are becoming more common!

This last trip to Dadant punctuates the need for a proper vehicle that is fit for beekeeping.  Cars and minivans are nice, but they just cannot compare when it comes to transporting beekeeping equipment!  On the return trip from Dadant it became apparent that we had maxed out the abilities of the minivan that we borrowed.  The suspension was bottomed on the frame for most of the way home.

Our normal beekeeping vehicle is an old Buick.  It is on its last leg.  Its back seat is stained with propolis and is sticky with honey from placing boxes on the seats. Its floor covered in Honey Bee Healthy, Pro Health and sugar syrup from transporting feeder buckets. The trunk smells like a bee smoker. It has served us well, but we have definitely outgrown it.

Assembling 200 frames in the living room may be cozy, but it has its downfalls as well. Annoying the neighbors with pounding or nailing, cleaning up glue, and storage all become major issues. After a few years of beekeeping it has become apparent that if one is to stay a beekeeper, it is necessary to have a workshop to do this type of work in.

For the time being, our friend John has a workshop that we can use to build some of our equipment and even make some custom pieces like our candy boards and our custom inner covers. He has a great table saw that will stop the blade if you touch it with a finger.  It is nice to know that the saw will lessen the chance of losing a valuable finger!  His chop saw and air compressor come in handy too.  We know what we will need when we want to equip our own shop.

So in the future, we will need at least one truck and a workshop to build and paint equipment in.  Not to mention a place where we can extract all that sweet yummy honey!