Monday, March 23, 2009

Spring Thaw

On Saturday, I went into the hive for the first time this year. After getting all suited up and getting the smoker going, I removed the hive lid. The honey super was the top box because I did not have a chance to remove it prior to the cold weather coming in suddenly last fall.

Looking in, I saw nothing had been touched. Removing it, I could see a couple dead bees on the queen extractor. This metal grate prevent the queen from entering the honey super and laying eggs. Under the queen extractor in the next box, the first frame was not full sized, is called a drone frame. It is designed to leave space for the bees to create their own deeper cell cone for laying eggs for drone bees. The entire bottom of the frame had been build out with uniform honey cone (shallow cells) rather than the deeper drone cells. I guess the girls did not get the memo on what the purpose of the frame was. I See now why a number of bee keepers do not bother with drone frames. This frame also had a good amount of honey on it. The heft of the honey laden frame was quite satisfying hold.

As I continued moving through the hive, I found more frames with honey. I found a few dead bees. Probably 30 total around the hive. I also found several swarm cells. these cells protrude from the frame and hang down. This shape give plenty of room for a new queen to grow. So it would see that at some point in mid August the girls just picked up and moved out.

It was actually quite creepy just how vacant the hive was. So many bees simply gone. The thoroughness of the departure is startling.

What can a guy do? I brought the one frame of honey inside an made toast with what else, but fresh honey. I also called Beez Needz and ordered another package of bees and a marked queen. The marked queen will be easier for me to find when I am doing future inspection of the hive.

I did enjoy being able to look inside the hive without the bees stressing me out. It may actually be a very therapeutic experience to have had.

So on April 15th, Tax Day, I pickup my new shipment, and start the process again. Net cost $120, net gain 2 slices of toast with fresh honey!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Winter eyes...

In the fall, the bees seal up cracks in the hive to reduce drafts. There remains an opening a the top and bottom of the hive so air can flow through. The weather in Seattle has recently brought us many inches of snow which covers the entrance of the hive.

This morning I went out with a stick and scrapped the snow from the entrance. I also listened for the girls and thought a heard a faint buzzing. I wish I had a stethoscope to listen better. I so look forward to visiting the hive in the spring.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Extending the hive...

The bees use two boxes of ten frames each to store honey, water, pollen, nectar, propolis, and larvae. Yesterday I ventured out to the hive in order to add the second box of ten frames. This will give the bees enough space to store enough supplies to last through next winter.

Entering the hive was much like before. Preparing the smoker. Still a bit tricky getting the right combination of materials in there to smoke for a long time. Approaching the hive from the rear with a couple puffs of smoke under the outer cover, a few more into the inner cover. Removing the inner cover I put a few puffs downward into the frames.

The bees seem quite unconcerned that I am there, and rather uninterested in me. I removed a few frames to see how they are progressing. As you can see from this image the cells on this frame are filled almost completely.

To take this picture I walked with the frame over to where Rhonda was standing. While we were moving the frame around to take different pictures, I noticed a sudden shift in the audible tone and behaviour of the bees. An increasing number began to fly off the frame and buzz around me. There was a distinct difference on the sound the bees made flying around my head, like a more angry and panicked beating of their wings. At least is seemed that way. I quickly returned to the hive and used a little smoke to calm them back down.

After replacing the frames, stacking the second box with the 10 frames onto the first box, I closed the hive to let them begin to explore the new space.

I then removed the sliding board from beneath the bottom screen. This board collects everything that the bees drop. Examining the board, it contains mostly bits if wax and clumps of pollen. It is also used to collect and count the number of mites that fall off of the bees. Rhonda and I look for some time, but did not find any mites. We did see a little black beetle sort of critter. There were also a couple clumps of dead bees in there. This surprised me since there is not way for them to get there from inside of the hive. So they must have gotten confused and entered from outside.

Next time I enter the hive, I will do a more thorough inspection of each frame and estimate how much of it is used for each purpose. I will also check the bottom board more frequently to see if I can spot any mites.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Free Roaming Honeycomb

Today was a good day to check inside the hive. I had not been in there since hiving the bees, and I need to remove the queen cage, check to make sure the queen was laying eggs, and place the 10 frame into the hive in the space that the queens cage had been suspended.

To go inside of the hive one must have nerves of steel, or at least in my case a head to ankle beekeeper suit and a willingness to experience a massive amount of adrenaline. First task was to ready the smoker. The smoker creates smoke to make the bees easier to work with.

Why does smoke calm the bees? The bees are fooled into thinking that their home in a tree of a forest that is on fire. The best hope for survival of the hive is to keep everything cool. So, they begin fanning their wings very quickly to create a breeze and cool things down. During this time, they are not worried about much else.

I prepped my smoker by placing a wad of paper and some twigs into it. The ideal fuel is one that burns for some time and makes smoke. I opted to use pine twigs and pine cones. This seemed to work pretty well. The cones lit easily and made plenty of smoke. The smoker has a bellows that also acts as a handle. Pumping the bellows shoots a puff of smoke out of the nozzle.

As I opened the hive I also removed the top feeder as the bees are now able to feed themselves by foraging for flowers. Below that feeder is a board called the inside cover. I put a couple puffs of smoke at the hold in the top cover and waited for a moment for the girls to get the signal. I then pried the inside cover up slightly and puffed some smoke into the opening. I opened the cover and set it onto the outside cover such that it only contacted in a couple points to avoid hurting the bees.

A couple more puffs into the exposed frames, and I removed the queen cage. Since her cage created a gap between two of the frames, the bees decided this would be a good place to create some free roaming honeycomb. As amazing as their work is, the feral comb must be removed in order for the hive to be maintainable.

I pulled out the frame with feral comb on it and bracing it against the front of the hive, scraped it away. It was difficult to destroy such amazing work. I was also a little nerve racking having the clump with many bees on it drop the the ground.

I little more smoke for their nerves and mine.

I examined the frame to locate cells with larvae in them. These are my indicator that the queen is there and laying eggs. It is amazing holding one of these frames covered with bees on both sides.

The frames are designed to encourage the bees to create flat comb. The space between the frames limits their motion and tends to keep them from creating additional layers.

I pushed the frames together and inserted the 10th frame for the first time.

In a couple weeks I will check the hive again and if 7 of the 10 frames have a good covering of comb I will add the second box with another 10 frames.

I brushed off all the bees on the comb now laying on the ground, keeping them near the hive entrance.

The whole process took probably 20 minutes, and my danger needle was pegged the entire time. The sound of 6000 bees fanning their wings furiously is impressive. After a quick check from Rhonda to ensure none of the girls were riding into the house on me, I went inside and laid down, to wind down and recover.

Below is a scan of the largest comb piece. (Our scanner is an Epson, not a Honeywell ;-)

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Busy as a Bee

The days have been warmer lately, and the ladies are getting busy. The front of the hive has 100+ bees flying around getting familiar with their home. This helps them later identify it when they are returning with a full load of food and supplies.

Each worker bee lives for about 45 days, except for the queen who can live 5 years. During their short lives they perform in a number of roles. Starting with care of the nursery and larva when the worker is still young and relatively sterile because she has never left the hive. A worker might check on a single larvae 1600 times in a day.

I went outside today and sat about 15 feet away on a towel and watched. They were not interested in me at all, I guess the infatuation is not reciprocal. Some bees would come out and start hovering around the entrance moving in progressively larger circles. They are imprinting the hive into their memory so they can find it more easily. Then as they move progressively further away, they are searching for flowers and water.

Other bees would simply exit the hive and dart off into one direction or another. They had a half-dozen or so routes they would follow to different flower sources. When traveling a route, they fly very fast and straight. This is quite different from the wandering circles. I counted an average of 10 bees a minute traveling outbound on a single path. They were outbound. Following them lead me to a tree completely covered with white flowers in my neighbors yard. The path from the hive to the tree is, quite literally, a beeline.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Chilling out

I checked the ladies this morning to ensure they had enough sugar syrup. They all look rather cute all huddled in by the food space. Several dozen are on the outside of the feeder mesh and they seem energetic yet huddled into a small hole leading to the mesh.

Of the final bees that were remaining in the delivery cage the first evening a fist size group of them never made it into the entrance and have died. It is probably 50 or so, and a bit sad.

In the past 4 days we have had many variations between rain, sleep, snow, and hail. The temperature has been around 38 degrees all day. We look forward to warmer days.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Hello Ladies!

I picked up 21 pounds of bees today. When I got there, the place was quite literally buzzing. Stacks of bees 4 feet high in 3 and 4 pound boxes not to mention the dozens of rouge runaways flying about here and there.

I called Jordan to let him know I was on my way so he could meet me at the house. When I got home I got everything into position and got into my bee suit. Jordan showed up in just a hooded jacket. I hope to someday have that level of comfort.

I placed 5 of the frames into the box leaving a space between the 4th and 5th to hang the little cage that holds the queen. Jordan also suggested that I prepare the feeder jars in order to minimize the time between opening the bees and having food for them to eat.

Before opening the bees, we sprayed them with sugar syrup to make them feel a little content. Hey that works for me too.

Jordan gave me instructions on extracting the feeding can from the cage and removing the queen cage. I was very glad to have Jordan's help here. First, the cage is humming and heavy. I have this big suit on and gloves. and once the can was out of the box, everything was covered with bees. There was a lot going on!

Jordan removed the queen cage while I set the box and can down trying to not hurt any bees. It turns out in keeping bees, one inevitably squished bees. I still have to come to terms with this. I just don't like to hurt things.

The queen cage is shipped with a cork in it. Jordan removed the cork and inserted a marshmallow. (No many of you who know Jordan probably did not know what he always carries marshmallows in his pocket! ;-) Actually the marshmallow is provided by the bee place for this purpose. It blocks the queens introduction to the hive until the other bees have become acquainted with her and the hive. They eat their way out in a couple days. I may have dreams tonight of eating my way out of a marshmallow cage.

Next I turned the box upside down and shook it over the box into the space where the remaining 4 frames will go. Now, there is something wrong feeling about shaking a container of bees to get them to come out. The bees were really docile and seemed quite uninterested in us. I was still quite happy to be inside of my suit and gloves. And was super happy to have Jordan there as my danger meter was pegged and adrenaline was pumping.

I slowly placed the remaining frames, nudging aside ones that were in the way. Placed an inner cover with a hole for the top feeder, and placed the top feeder in place with 3 jars of syrup and the feeding can from the shipping cage. The shipping box I placed by the opening to the hive so the remaining girls can find their way into the hive easily.

Jordan had to head home to hive his bees and get Alyssa's 3 cages of bees to her. I stood for a while just watching them get acquainted to their new home. They will not defecate while in the hive or in transit, so after a day or two of being couped up they tend to fly about some and do their business. One even landed on my veil and squirted me right on the cheek. It stunk a little, but not a big deal.

Rhonda was all around taking pictures with a zoom and not giving the bees much thought. Here I was trembling in my shoes and she was just brushing bees out of her hair. It was really interesting looking at them up close. They have little heart shaped faces and fuzzy bodies. This one landed on my arm and was grooming itself in much the same way as a cat would.

You can see more pictures in Rhonda's SmugMug gallery.

Thanks Jordan for your help and support!