Tag Archives: Spring

Thoughts from a Bee Keeper

The Time is Now to Prepare for this Delicious Hobby
Thoughts from a Bee Keeper

By: Jim Servi

“Bees are disappearing!” Numerous reports, studies, and newspaper headlines have been declaring in recent years to the shock and dismay of many. It doesn’t take an expert to know what catastrophic effects that could have on our agricultural industries and the native plants and flowers that bees pollinate. Luckily, the number of hobby bee keepers is on the rise and it’s relatively easy to get started. “I really enjoy bee keeping,” explained second-year bee keeper Kevin Staus. “I am a curious person and always looking for new, challenging hobbies. Some form of farming always intrigued me and currently this is the only farming that fits my budget and time schedule.”

To get started, the first thing is to learn as much as you can. Numerous books and articles can point you in the correct direction, as can joining a local beekeeping association, but nothing beats tagging along with a bee keeper. Chances are there is someone in your county more than willing to share their expertise. Spring is the best time to start your operation, allowing your bees plenty of time to build a durable hive, which means the best time to start planning is now. Location is an important consideration. Fortunately, with abundant agriculture here in Wisconsin and most farmers more than willing to let you locate a hive on their property, a couple calls or knocks is all it should take. There are also numerous urban beekeeping programs for those living in cities. “The most surprising thing I learned is how docile the bees can be if you handle then slowly and gently,” Staus said, explaining how getting stung is rare. “The only time I have been stung or when they have tried to sting me is when I rushed things and basically deserved it.”

“If you decide that this is really what you want to do, find a local reputable bee supplier,” Staus recommended. “This will ensure that the bees you get are from a quality source.” One hive and bees, generally a queen with a swarm of worker bees, will cost approximately $200-$400 to get started. Your local supplier can also help you with any local ordinances and state reporting requirements, along with the essential equipment. A bee suit, gloves, smoker, and smoker fuel are the minimum tools required and costs roughly $160, although you may need fencing with an electric fencer if you are in bear country.

Once your hive is established, it’s important to keep your bees healthy. Initially, bees require feed syrup in the spring and fall when there are no natural food supplies available. Monitoring occurs throughout the summer. Although rare, you may need to treat for mites, other parasites, or diseases. Late summer and early fall are a bee keeper’s favorite time of year. This is when they can reap their reward and harvest the honey. However, there is a note of caution on harvesting honey the first year. “My bee supplier always told me not to count on any honey from a brand-new hive as the bees need to make all the wax comb which takes a great amount of energy. The bees will reuse the comb year after year so once it is made, they can spend their energy on honey production,” Staus said. “This actually was true for me. My first year I did not get any honey for my consumption but was able to collect in the second year.” The last thing any bee keeper wants to do is harm their hive, plus waiting an extra year from honey only makes the taste buds grow fonder. Finally, after honey harvest, it’s important to winterize the hive properly to help the bees survive the unpredictable Wisconsin winters. With your bees tucked in for the winter, you can then call yourself a bee keeper.

To read the latest copy of On Wisconsin Outdoors, please visit  the On Wisconsin Outdoors website.

First Published in On Wisconsin Outdoors on January 1, 2018.

On Wisconsin Outdoors: Snow Scraping Buck

Just a Coincidence or a New Tactic?
Snow Scraping Buck on Opening Day

By: Jim Servi

Every fall, big bucks visit scrapes throughout my hunting area, but almost always at night. Daytime visits most likely consist of a quick scent check and then on to the next, without triggering the trail camera. There is one exception. Immediately after a snowfall, bucks tend to visit scrapes during the day. Thinking it was just a coincidence, I didn’t make the connection until the 2016 Gun Deer Season.

Walking into my stand on Opening Day, a light snow covered the ground. Fresh wolf tracks, made just hours before, sent a shiver through my body. After climbing into the sanctuary of my tree stand, darkness was just beginning to give way to the morning light. Gusts of wind were already forecasting the high winds to come. This stand is a special place for me and I generally only hunt it this one time of year. Like many young hunters, I went through my share of struggles in my early years, missing bucks that still haunt my memories. This stand was different though. Hunting it since 2009, I didn’t see a lot of deer, but the ones I did were often bucks, and my aim was always true.

Light now filled the entire woods and I found familiarity in the landscape. A gradual, downward slope leading to a thick swamp was my facing view, mostly hardwoods, but sprinkled with hemlocks. On the sugar maple ridge behind me, I saw a flash. Two does had come out of the swamp and disappeared. Suddenly, three more does appeared in front of me, uneasy from the wind. They lingered. I had already seen more does this morning, than the previous two years hunting this location. Trying to stir something up, I hit my grunt call. Suddenly, there was another deer at the base of my tree. A little nub buck was trying to figure out where that noise came from. All morning they came and went, but no bucks. Finally, in the early afternoon, they departed and so did I. My wife’s delicious Opening Day chili was waiting.

Warm and full, I made my way back out to the stand, taking a different approach, making sure to stay clear of the bedding area to the south. That unknowingly turned out to be a good decision. Settled back in, the wind was still swirling, but the deer activity had slowed. It was now mid-afternoon. Suddenly, I heard a noise behind me. I slowly turned. Cleaning the snow out of a scrape, all I could see of the buck was his long tines protruding into the hemlock branches above. I got ready, hoping he would continue towards me. Satisfied that his scrape was refreshed, he stepped out from behind the tree, a perfect shot.

Rushing to the spot, I could see it was a good hit. A short tracking job and there he was. The largest buck I had ever seen hunting was now the largest buck I had ever harvested.

Always curious, I backtracked his tracks in the snow. The scrape near me was the last of a half dozen scrapes he cleared out that afternoon, leading back to his bed in the area I avoid, just south of my stand. Little things matter when you are hunting and the route to my stand made all the difference that day. What about the snow? Was it just a coincidence that it had snowed the night before, covering the scrape? Or had he come to clear them out because of the snow? Days later, there was another hot scrape cleared out during the middle of the day after another snowfall. Trail cam pictures from past years confirmed the same. Maybe it was a coincidence, or maybe there was something to it. Either way, I know where I’ll be sitting after the first fresh snow this year.

To read the latest copy of On Wisconsin Outdoors, please visit  the On Wisconsin Outdoors website.

First Published in On Wisconsin Outdoors on November 1, 2017.

On Wisconsin Outdoors: Maple Syrup

Maple Syrup is a Delicious Spring Time Hobby
Celebrate the End of Winter with a Tasty Treat
By: Jim Servi

As the days get longer and the temperature begins to push above freezing, an amazing (and delicious!) process is taking place throughout the maple forests of Wisconsin. This time of change means maple syrup season has arrived. More and more people are starting maple syrup operations right in their own backyard as a great springtime hobby.

It’s relatively easy to get started, but timing is everything. Although the first tapping of the year varies a little, it is generally around the middle of March. Maple trees run the best when the nights drop below freezing and the days are above freezing. This causes the tree to become pressurized and the sap begins moving from the roots up the tree. As the temperature drops, the reverse happens and suction is created. When you tap the tree with a small hole, and insert a spout, you are taking advantage of this natural process. The sap will begin to drip. You can then use buckets, bags, or plastic tubing to capture the maple sap.

After you collect your maple sap, you filter the sap, and begin cooking. Amazingly, it takes approximately 40 gallons of sap to make a gallon of maple syrup, depending on the sugar content. A good old-fashioned cooking pan is the easiest way to get started. These pans can be found at any maple syrup specialty store or by shopping Craigslist for a used option in maple syrup country. Many operations have evolved into using reverse osmosis systems, evaporators, and other modern technology, but all that is truly needed for delicious maple syrup is an open flame.

Your maple syrup is ready when it reaches 219 degrees. although you should take it off a little bit earlier. Evaporation will continue at a fast pace as you filter in one more time. Hydrometers, which measures the percent of sugar by density, also work well and are among the special tools you can buy to test when the syrup is ready. Once it’s filtered and cooled just a bit, you’re ready for the best part – tasting! Try it warm from the pan over cold vanilla ice cream for a delicious treat. Sealed properly in a glass jar, maple syrup will last for years.

If you’re not ready to start your own operation, you’re in luck, because there are locations throughout the state to learn more about, and taste, this unique process. After visiting many maple syrup operations over the years, I’ve also learned that you can stop by nearly any sugar shack in the spring. Most are more than willing to show their setup and are always happy to have the company. Just drive down a country road until you see steam pouring out of a side-building or a pan set up in the yard, and you’ve found your place. Of course, you always have an open-ended invitation to visit our maple syrup operation as well.

For those that don’t like stopping by random strangers, there is a better option. MacKenzie Center, near Poynette, offers a fun-filled day of maple syrup festivities on April 1, 2017 from 8:00 am to 2:00 pm. First, they discuss the progression of making maple syrup from the Native Americans to modern day. They have a horse-drawn wagon ride and other activities as well. Best of all, you get to try fresh maple syrup during their pancake breakfast. Our little red country school house, Maple Grove Elementary School, has their annual First Tapping pancake breakfast at the end of March. Many other communities have something similar. From the Sugarin’ Off Pancake Breakfast every Sunday in March at the River Bend Nature Center in Racine to the Maple Sugarin’ Open House in Newburg, and the Taylor County Lions Maple Fest in Medford, there are opportunities to see, learn, and taste for yourself in every corner of Wisconsin. But be careful, it gets in your blood. Taste too much maple syrup and before long you’ll have a new springtime hobby.

To read the latest copy of On Wisconsin Outdoors, please visit  the On Wisconsin Outdoors website.

Product 6-Pack: Products to enjoy our winter wonderland

Last year, I was lucky enough to get my first official column – the Product 6-Pack for On Wisconsin Outdoors magazine. Each issue, I get a chance to research, discuss, and sometimes (and best of all) try out different seasonal products. Some are new products, others are tried and true products. The bad thing is that I want them all!

Now, I need your help. This week I’m preparing the March/April edition and could use any ideas that you have for great products. Tried a new product that you really liked? Or have one waiting that you’re excited to use? Then, let me know and I’ll promote it in the upcoming Product 6-Pack column. My focus will likely be turkey hunting, spring fishing, and getting ready for camping and exploring. If your product doesn’t work out for that timeframe, please send it anyways and I’ll save it for a future issue.

To read the Product 6-Pack column from the most recent January/February issue, please click here:

Jan/Feb 2017 – Product 6-Pack: Products to enjoy our winter wonderland

For the previous November/December issue, please click here:

Nov/Dec 2016 – Product 6-Pack: All Wisconsin products for your outdoor adventures

Remember to pre-order Forever Changed today and join the 30 supporters that have already ordered. It’s simple, just send an email to me at jimservi10@gmail.com. To those that have already pre-ordered, thanks for your support!