Animals at the Inn

Stories and updates of our backyard farm animals. Our free-range chickens lay delicious eggs to feed hungry guests in the morning, and often parade around the grounds as if they own the place. Athena and Shadow are our two sheep who live in a pen in the grassy green field and love to be visited. Take a tour of our honeybee hives in warm weather and sample our very own honey. We provide protective gear, or you can watch from the comfort of our solarium.


busy beehive vermont inn 2014 sept
busy beehive vermont inn 2014 sept

Beekeeping at our Vermont Bed and Breakfast is SWEET!

I think beekeeping has got to be one of the coolest hobbies I could have ever discovered. (Did you know? We have three backyard beehives at our Vermont Bed and Breakfast.) Spending time outside, watching the truly awesome activity of the hive, and then there’s the whole honey harvest – it’s just incredible! Add to this great mix the concept that I’m actually doing something to help our environment?! Just doesn’t get much better!

Today’s high is inspired because today was the day that we removed the surplus honey from the hives. All three of our hives had died late this past winter (probably due to a sudden cold snap after the bees had dissembled from the cluster that had been keeping them warm). And then the replacement bees we ordered came late. Very late – mid-June. So while any beehives that had survived the winter had been working since April, and even other newly purchased bees (that were delivered on time) had been working since mid-May, our bees were nearly two months behind. I was grumpy and not so optimistic about the season they’d have. Fast forward to today.

Of our three backyard beehives, one has not prospered. Without knowing exactly why they were struggling, I just did my best to nurture them along, providing pollen and honey to give them energy and strength. Today, this hive proved strong. It is not populated enough to give me any honey, but with a little continued assistance from me, I think it will be strong enough to make it through the upcoming winter.

 

This post was written Sept 5, 2014, by Julie-Lynn Wood, innkeeper and beekeeper.

By contrast, the other two hives, despite their slow start, have been rocking it! If you’re not familiar with beekeeping, surely you at least know that bees make honey.   Bees make honey because they eat honey. And lots of it. A beehive needs about 80 pounds of honey to survive a Vermont winter. (Eighty pounds is 66 of those familiar little teddy bear squeeze jars of honey!) But bees are like hoarders, they just keep making more and more honey, even with they have enough for themselves. Enter the beekeeper. As summer winds down and Autumn rolls in, beekeepers check on their bees and remove any surplus honey. Sometimes, sadly, there isn’t any. But most years, the bees have made more than they need. This year, our bees made lots more. We’ve only done the first step of the honey harvest by removing the honey from the hive, and it isn’t until the next step of removing the honey from the honeycomb itself that we’ll know precisely how much honey we have. However, it seems that each hive, in addition to its own 80 pounds of honey, has made us 60 pounds of surplus honey. That means 120 pounds of honey for us! And that means … we’ll have SWEET Christmas presents this year!

Anyone who knows me learns quickly that I love beekeeping. Honey or honey. But that said, the honey sure does make it even better!

In just one week, on Saturday September 13, 2014, we’re co-hosting (with Goodman’s American Pie of Ludlow) our annual Vermont Golden Honey Festival here at the inn in Proctorsville. You should come by and check out the local, raw honey that’s for sale, as well as the SO MANY bee-themed products – honey apple pizza, beeswax lip balm, honeyed jellies and baked goods, beeswax furniture polish, headbands with bee fabric, honey wings and honey mustard, scarves with honey inspired colors and so much more. For more information, give us a call (802=226-7744) or check out our facebook page by clicking or by searching VT Golden Honey Festival. It’s going to be a ton of fun!

Witnessing A Honeybee Swarm (2013-July)

A swarm in May is worth a load of hay,

A swarm in June is worth a silver spoon,

A swarm in July ain’t worth a fly.

 

Simply put, a swarm is a beehive’s way of reproducing.  In the Spring, if the queen of a hive is strong and the population of bees plentiful, the queen will leave the hive with nearly two-thirds of the hive’s bees to find a new home, leaving the original hive to rear a new queen and continue on.  A honeybee swarm is an amazing sight to witness.  A strong hive may have 60,000 bees, so when the queen leaves with her followers, she’s in the air with nearly 45,000 bees.   An awesome vision, the bees fill the air like snowflakes in a blizzard.

 

So it was this that Michael noticed through our solarium window.  We have three beehives at our Vermont Bed and Breakfast and one of them is just outside our breakfast room.  This is the hive that had released its bees into the yard, completely consuming the front lawn – bees in the grass, bees climbing the hive boxes, bees in the air.   We watched for several minutes, waiting to see where the bees would land – because that’s what the poem up above is all about.  Ideally, the honeybee swarm will land in a place that we can catch them and relocate them to an empty hive box.  If it’s early enough in the season, say May or June, the bees will have plenty of time to draw out their honeycomb and fill it with enough honey to survive the inevitable winter season.  The earlier, the better, because a May swarm will not only make enough for its own stores, but honey for the beekeeper too!  But if it’s late in the season, the bees prospects for survival are just not as strong, so they’re not as valuable to a beekeeper.

 

Our own honeybee swarm was in the first couple days of July so I was feeling pretty optimistic about the bees being able to pull it together and make a go of it.  With this eagerness, we waited for the bees to settle.  A honeybee’s swarm schedule is pretty predictable.  The bees leave the hive in a flurry, then they settle on a nearby branch dispatching several bees to scout the area for a suitable new home.  This can take a few hours or a few days.  The swarm waits patiently in a cluster – well, a “cluster” is sort of an understatement.  The mass of bees crawling over one another and hanging off of one another is the size of a basketball with thousands of bees sprawling along the branch for several inches in every direction.  One of the coolest parts of seeing bees in this state is that the bees are super passive and very unlikely to notice a human’s presence, so we’re able to stand freely and watch the magic.

 

Unfortunately for us, these bees settled on a branch three stories high.   There was no prudent way to catch them, so we were forced to accept this a donation to nature.  The bees would find a new home, move into it and continue the tradition of bee-ness elsewhere. (In the photo — which was taken from 30 feet below –you can see the brown clump.   That’s the mass of 40,000 bees or so.  They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but sometimes a picture just doesn’t do justice.)

 

The bees remained on their branch for two overnights, through the torrential downpours that have so marked this Spring. And then on a sunny afternoon, after returning from errands, we found the branch bare.  The queen and her acolytes found a new space while the hive they left behind awaited the birth of their new queen.  Within days, their new queen would emerge and this ‘daughter hive’ would be complete once again.

 

Our Bed and Breakfast is located in the Okemo Valley of Vermont.  We have two sheep, nearly two dozen chickens (fresh eggs!), and three beehives.  Ask about getting a tour of a beehive.  You can don a beekeepers suit and veil — or watch through the windows from the comfort of our solarium.

-Julie-Lynn Wood, Innkeeper, Golden Stage Inn

Introducing the New Chickens (2012-12-7)

Welcome Little Chickens!

Did you know that if new chickens are to be added to a flock it should be done overnight?  If introduced during the day, they may fight ‘til their death.  But if merged while sleeping, the chickens will wake together peacefully, and accept one another as part of their group – as if they were together already.  (Such birdbrains!)

This is how we increased our flock recently at our Southern Vermont Bed and Breakfast.  After a summer of a declining chicken population (but an increasingly satisfied raccoon and fox population), we were down to four hens for our source of farm fresh eggs.  This is nothing short of a crisis for a country inn that is so committed to serving wholesome local foods at breakfast each morning!  And, as maybe you don’t know, it’s not real easy to find hens for sale in the fall.  If you don’t buy them as chicks in the spring, the options disappear quickly.  So when were alerted in October that a Massachusetts farm was selling pullets (that’s the hip word for ‘teenage hens’), our interest was piqued.  But it only got better from there.  My Mom and Dad (who still chuckle at my interest in backyard farm animals) went to the farm, bought us six pullets and delivered them to us at the bed and breakfast as birthday presents for me and Michael.  Thanks Mom and Dad!  We kept the six new pullets separate from the four mature hens for several weeks, until they were all similar in size.  Then late one night, we stealthily executed “Operation New Chickens” and placed the six young birds on the roosting bar next to the four hens.  Although some feathers were indeed ruffled, all ten birds shifted and wiggled just momentarily, and then drifted back to slumber.  The following days were relatively peaceful   …though it was interesting to watch the young hens earn their status as equals.  Expressions like ‘ruffling feathers’ and ‘hen pecking’ are fully explained in our backyard!  We now gather about eight eggs per day and we’re inviting you to Okemo Valley for a truly local breakfast.

Shayla the Sheep gets Sheared each Shpring! (2012-5-13)

“Shayla the Sheep gets Sheared in Shpring.”  So silly how much I love to say this!  But here we are in Spring 2012 and I’m given the opportunity to say it again.  “Shayla the sheep got sheared this Shpring!”  (Last year, it was even better because she got sheared on a Shaturday!)

It is only our second year at our Bed & Breakfast in southern Vermont, but we are already feeling the rhythm of some spring rituals.  The sheep is sheared .The koi pond is cleaned (four fish, two frogs, and one salamander are happy about this!).  The leaves are raked and the gardens are being tended to.  Even the pool cover has been removed.  (Not quite ready for swimming though!)  It is a beautiful time of year to embrace our new home in Proctorsville, VT.

Plight of the Honeybee (2011-11-30)

One might think a honeybee isn’t really an animal you’d get attached to….

There are approximately 60,000 bees per hive and a single bee in the summer lives only six weeks. So, it’s not like you’re building emotional bonds with each honeybee. But collectively, embracing the whole hive as one living organism, you do get attached. Or at least I do. I recall, with only slight embarrassment, the spring I got my first hive. I would worry about them when the nights got chilly. I would check their food supplies every few days. Like a new mom with her infant, I would lean down to the hive boxes, press my ear to the hive, and listen for the hum of life. I almost cried on a day they didn’t leave the hive, convinced they had died. (They hadn’t; they were just avoiding the cold.) Five years later, I remain attached to our hives, but I no longer fret over them. I have trust that nature will provide for them and they will do their thing, including living and dying, aided by me or not.

 

Of course, there are still some tasks that a beekeeper must do for their honeybee hive and one of them is to prepare the hive for the winter.

Since today promised 50 degrees, Michael and I decided that we would replace their screened bottom board with a solid wooden board (for warmth), check on their food stores (honeybees need 80 pounds of honey to get through the winter) and partially seal up the hive entrance (reducing drafts and keeping mice out). Before opening the first hive, we listened. Sadly, there was no hum. We opened the hives to find the bees dead in a cluster, where they had been working to keep the queen warm and protected. There was a white powdery mold in one of the hives, but this may have happened after their death and does not necessarily provide me with a clue as to why they died. There was honey in the hive – not enough to get through the winter, but I would have thought enough to keep them humming until now. And the honeybees were in the hive, which rules out Colony Collapse Disorder, as trendy and tempting of a diagnosis as that may be. So their cause of death remains Undetermined.

 

Regardless of how they died, they’re gone. Certainly, we’ll look on the bright side and use this opportunity to scrape out our hive boxes and replace some frames. Maybe we’ll even get a third hive in the spring, and we’ll probably relocate the hives for better viewing from the solarium. But until our new bees arrive in the spring, our yard just got a little lonely, a little more “November dreary.”  (Sigh.) I think I’ll go let the chickens out of their coop and watch them enjoy some free-range frolics while they fill the yard with life.