Saturday, December 17, 2016

Settling In For An Uneasy Winter

It's the time of year where I tuck the girls in for their winter down time. That means one last inspection of each hive to make sure everything looks okay and there's enough food for the winter. Putting in bottom boards, assuring adequate ventilation by propping up the cover, and adding insulation around the top bar. I don't insulate the Langstroth hives.

During the last inspection I noticed two hives had bees that appeared to have deformed wing virus. I was surprised because I had tested for varroa and had low mite counts in all the hives. I treated both immediately. Well, as immediate as you can when your internet order hasn't shipped after a week, and the somewhat "local" shop isn't open on weekends. Fortunately October weather was warmer than usual so Mite Away Quick Strips could be used that late in the season.

Young bee with deformed wings.

Mite Away seemed to work well. A month after treatment all seemed active, had new brood taking orientation flights, and were no longer showing signs of DWV. I'll only know if was too late once I see how they fair over the winter.

Only the top bar seems light on stores so I've made a frame to feed fondant. With each building project I set out with the best of intentions. I pore over plans and evaluate materials like a fine furniture builder. By completion I'm more like a first grader gluing together popsicle sticks. This finished product is somewhere in between. It's a good fit for the hive, holds a lot of fondant, and may last several years if treated well. One of those times where if others didn't know the original plan they wouldn't know it was messed up!

The assembled frame ready for fondant.

After assembly I prepared a fondant recipe and spread it in the frame. I turned a baking sheet over, covered it with wax paper, and laid the frame on it to provide a flush surface for filling. This was my first experience making fondant for bees. My only suggestion is don't over whip. I did and it hardened fast. Nothing that a bread knife couldn't trim!

Finished frame with hardware mesh stapled in place to prevent the fondant from falling out.

I feel somewhat lost now that the cold weather is here. Time to focus on other projects in the off months. Purchase new boxes and frames during black Friday sales, plan to assemble them when the weather is too cold for any outdoor fun, and prep for Santa's deliveries that are bee related. Plus there's the chance to use my beeswax and honey to make "stuff."

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Top Bar Cross Combing And A Better Experience Repairing

You may remember my previous post about my experience with broken top bar combs and repair using string to tie the comb up for the bees to reattach. It was successful even if somewhat difficult and tedious for one person. So when I found cross combing after a growth spurt I scoured the internet for other options.

Thank goodness for people that share information! I found The Garden Academy's instructions about rescue frames here Talk about a great idea!

There were four bars that had been cross combed together on one end. A couple inches of curve at the end that moved over to the next bar. Plus another bar with double comb attached. When trying to remove one bar two other would either move with it or comb would break off of two in chunks.

Comb built to the side of the bar, and breaking off where 
it attached to the bar next to it.

I had to improvise based on the hardware mesh I could find locally, and used 1/2"x1/2". For the hooks that slid in I cut out the last row of cross wire so it would be 1" long to insert into the comb.

Since most know patience isn't one of my virtues, there was a slight modification of the above referenced rescue frames. Mainly I didn't score the edges of my bars. Not only because of lack of time/patience/tools, I also planned to not leave the metal pieces in the hive. The result was a slight gap between bars. Not wanting other critters to use that as an entrance I sealed it up with duct tape. Ripping duct tape in beekeeping gloves........don't do it if you don't have too. The up side was anything that did try to enter was stuck to the tape. I won't embarrass myself by sharing a picture of what it looked like after it was taped shut.

A few bars in place after attaching the mesh.

Fast forward two weeks and I have SUCCESS. Beautiful straight comb attached firmly to bars. I removed most of the wire. One was still in progress and another was too embedded to remove without additional tools. I returned for both the following week. You can see in the first picture how some wax came out with the wire. The second picture is a new bar with straight comb that was started after the rescue frames were used.

Removing the wire after a few weeks. Some wax and honey came with it but the girls made repairs quickly.

Straight comb built on the middle of the bar!

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Dog Days and Honey Bees

The weather continues its stray from the norm with the dog days of summer arriving early and lasting most of July. August offered a break from the heat with fluctuating temps. The girls worked hard through it. They were on the front porch fanning air into the hives during the day then even more piled out to beard during the evening. During the hot weather I learned top bars slow down comb building when it's really hot. They're picking back up as the nights get cooler.

In addition to the bees we have several fur babies around our house. Two dogs and two cats. Daisy and Jasmine are our dogs. The past couple months they've taken an interest in beekeeping. Specifically walking to the hives with me twice a day. They wait patiently watching me do my work then head back when I'm done. Well, patiently if it's 5 minutes or less. They're off to play if it's longer than that.

Are you done yet?

Jasmine's interest isn't new when it comes to anything that flies. For years it's been her personal mission to eradicate any bees from our back yard by chasing and eating them. Fortunately bees are fast and she's large and black so they often see her coming. She's also a master at sampling food from nature. She's equal opportunity when it come to snacking on grass, veggie plants in the garden, trying to pull peaches off trees, or the apparently delicious rose of Sharon bushes. We have to be careful what's planted inside the fence and googling "can dogs eat _______?" sometimes happens more than I like. Post honey clean up was no exception.

I put all the supers in the basement for propolis to harden and began scraping it off before storage. Don't try removing propolis when it's warm. Big gooey mess! Propolis is something like bee glue. They use it throughout the hive to seal cracks, prevent movement of frames, build jails for pests, and much more. Scraping was easy once it hardened and I had a nice sized pile when Daisy wanted a potty break. When we came back in Jasmine was smiling and half the propolis was gone. Fortunately Dr. Google revealed to us that many bee products that are good for humans are also good for dogs. Google "can dogs eat propolis" for an interesting read how propolis, honey and venom therapy benefits pups.

Next year I look forward to collecting propolis in addition to honey. Jasmine's snack led me to reading that reminded me honey bees aren't a one product wonder.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

And The Award Goes To

I installed a package in the top bar April 26th. I picked up the package after work, wheeled the top bar down to the site (literally wheeled the entire hive balanced on top of the wagon), and set about getting the bees ready for their new home.

First I had to level the hive to ensure bees didn't build comb at the wrong angle. The flowers in the picture below hide the tacky mix of wood pieces and brick I used to reach plumb. Next I inserted a follower board that included a built in feeder that we made. Lastly the queen cage was attached to a bar via staple, and the bees poured into the empty hive.

Top bar hive. There are entrances on both sides at opposite ends.
The new package only has access to one until they expand.
I enjoy working in the top bar. It's easy to check syrup levels and the bees are significantly calmer than our Langstroth hives. Even when I have my big oops moments they are calmer, and I typically don't need a smoker for an inspection. There was a small amount of cross combing and it was easy to remedy since the hive was just getting started. Except for one bar that they built slightly wide, but the comb was four sided. Pretty much two rows of narrower comb hanging from one bar. At first it looked like they were going to pull the two together so I let them be. After a month they've expanded the comb instead of combining it. Here's where I made the BIG oops, my biggest yet. I made the mistake of turning the bar over. It folded open like a book and both pieces landed on the ground. Thank you, thank you, it's an honor to once again receive the Worst Beekeeper Ever award! 

The two pieces that fell apart.
Expletives were uttered. I doubt bees can blush, but they probably wanted to. I stood there debating between several fixes while trying not to cry. There was enough brood in the comb that I had to place it back in the hive. If it had been honey I would have kept it out. It's still early and the hive is building fast with little syrup use. For the first week I propped it against the end of the hive and used sticks to keep space between the two pieces and the end wall. My thought was the brood would emerge and any pollen and honey would be moved to other comb. The queen was on one of the broken pieces. I found her on the ground while scooping up the bees to place them back in the hive. Was she hurt? Did I do something to damage her? No way of knowing without waiting for time to pass.

Inspection a week later was disappointing because they were building the two pieces together and upward to attach to a bar. Definitely Italian honey bees with an appreciation for the leaning Tower of Pisa. On to the next fix. I separated the two combs and used cloth loops to "hang" the comb from bars. This way the bees could reattach the comb to the bar and chew up the cloth to dispose it. One of the pieces had three queen cells. Two were capped. I couldn't see into the third. I checked the remainder of the hive and didn't see the queen, but she could have been on the wall. I know I'd hide after her last experience with me. There are eggs, and they appear 2-3 days old. I added two more empty bars and based on this detailed document I think they're supercedure cells and not swarming: Now I wait again.

Another week has flown by and I anxiously headed to the hives. It's Father's Day! So of course I talked my dad into joining me. I'd say after having to suit up, and sweat like crazy in tyvek, he wasn't as happy as I was when done. I'm happy because the girls have reattached both broken combs to bars, chewed away the cloth so I could remove it, begun building on two new bars, I saw eggs, and I found the queen! They definitely didn't swarm. I feel awful I must have hurt the last one which definitely isn't why I decided to keep bees. 

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Nature Is Not My Friend

Unseasonable weather started in February. Days were mild like spring, and I welcomed them because the bees were able to take cleansing flights. By March Mother Nature appeared to be quite confused. It rained and rained like April had arrived. The rain brought warm temps and the weather forecast showed no signs of things cooling off. Near the end of the month I took advantage of the warm temps and reversed the boxes on the hive. Two weeks later below average temps moved in and I had to wait an extra week to reverse the boxes back. Darn you Weather Channel! Of course the bees were unhappy with their current box positions and swarmed.

The bad luck when a hive swarms is a smaller honey production, if any, and half the bees just left the hive. The good luck is I decided to walk near the hive when this happened. Imagine it's a beautiful Sunday afternoon. It's late in the day and the sun is shining. It's the day after Lynn and I completed a Spartan Race with our buddy Michelle. I'm lurching about the house in my pajamas while my muscles protest each step. I consider some outside time may make me feel better. I convinced Lynn it was a good idea and out the door we went, me still in my pajamas. Yes I meander around outdoors in my pajamas more frequently then you might imagine. Thankfully I live in the country, and was not walking down a city sidewalk in polka dot fleece. When nearing the hive I saw the swarm a couple feet off the ground and 20ft from their old home. The swarm is hanging from a branch all the way to the ground.

We are Spartans!

Now I'm a frantic woman running around the yard in polka dot fleece, and non-matching green polka dot rain boots. I do hope neighbors don't drive by at moments like that. Oh it hurts to run, but I have to run because the bees are actively searching for their new home and they won't be staying around more than a couple hours. Not knowing how long they've been there I rushed to get pieces for a new hive together and in place. It's a mix of what do I do, where did I put that, throwing items at Lynn, and lots of repeating oh crap.

Equipment gathered - check
More appropriately clothed for bee collection - check
Lynn loaded like a Sherpa - check
Forgot stuff anyway - check
I have no idea what to do when I get back to the swarm - check

After placing the branch in the hive.

I cut the branch the swarm landed on and placed it in their new hive with a couple frames inside. I shook most of the bees off the branch, and brushed the remainder in. After the branch was out I put in the remaining frames. The hive was on the ground, and the bees on the ground started marching inside. After the marching was over we placed the hive on a stand in the same area. All of that sounds like I got my wits about me and the process went smoothly. That is misleading. There was a lot of asking what should I do now while constantly and loudly reminding Lynn to get back he might get stung. He likes to remind me he was wearing a full bee suit. I just reassure him it was because I love him so much and worry since he's allergic! This was the first swarm we'd seen in person or caught. It was exciting. Next time will go smoother, and we hope we get to do this again.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Origin Of The Wagon

As my first beekeeping summer ended I tested for varroa using the powdered sugar test. Fall wound down with the bees feeding on 2:1 syrup. There was one treatment of Fumagillin added to the syrup. Periodically I also included lemongrass and spearmint in the syrup for tracheal mites. The bees liked the addition and it made the hive smell wonderful. I found the recipe here: Usually I add oils in the same proportion as the recipe to whichever ratio of sugar water I've made, 1:1 or 2:1. They had plenty of honey for winter. A full deep body!

After reading everything Google had to offer I didn't include a candy board, left the screened bottom open, and didn't wrap the hive. Now to read bee books, order packages in January, and build new hives bodies and frames. Plus spend time wondering if everything is okay inside the hive. Rushing home any days the temp is near 55 degrees to look for activity. Worry if everything is okay in the hive. Read about expensive electronic devices that monitor winter hives and worry more. Not the ideal hobby for a worrier.

Sandwiched in the middle was Christmas. Not only did I get the perfect gift that I needed, it resulted in the brand name for my honey. A gift from my honey named my honey! For five months I trekked to the hive loaded with bags, boxes, and hive parts. A beekeeping pack mule avoiding snakes and walking through way too many spider webs. Now I have a red wagon, with big tires, and plenty of room for tools, parts, propane torch, and smoker.

Retail representation. This is not my official red wagon.
Mine may or may not have streamers and flames painted on it!

Yes a propane torch with easy light trigger. Talk about lighting a smoker! The wagon gets everything thing to the hive safely and organized. Pulling it back up to the house is a workout, and I now follow the less is more theory when packing to head down.

The final cold months I built and painted hives. Assembled frames and experimented with a battery charger to find just the right but easy way to embed wire in foundation. This video is what I followed without the small attachment to hook to the frame wire. Basically me wielding a charger clamp in each hand and touching to the frame wires on the outside of the frame. Some sparks are normal. This was way faster than an embedding tool alone. I squealed and jumped for several frames until I was used to the sparks.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Today's Musings On What Not To Do

Summer was in full swing. We suited up and headed to the hives frequently. Refilling sugar water, checking on activity, sitting on our cinder blocks and watching bees go by, and whatever other reason took us in that direction. The bees aren't aggressive and pay us little attention. We've been in other hives that were calm.

Visiting a bee yard and inspecting the top bar hive.

We've been lulled into a false sense of coexistence. We've been stung a few times. It happens. Lynn was stung in the picture above. I was stung in the forehead sitting 20 feet from the hive. Lynn flies back and forth past the hives on the lawnmower with the girls only getting a little agitated. Then you do something you really shouldn't.

A friend visits to see the bees. She's curious about the bees and wants to do an inspection with me. Did I mention it's mid-summer? They're building and collecting at a fast pace and I'm not comfortable moving the boxes yet. Time to move the second deep to look in the bottom one. It's really full and heavy. I'm scared I'll drop it. Lynn wants to help. We argue briefly that he needs to put on a veil. Finally he concedes. We then heatedly discuss his clothing choice. He doesn't listen this time. We both have different recollections of the clothing discussion. But it's my blog! Did I mention he's wearing shorts and a t-shirt? He lifts the box and bees swarm out like a cloud of flies from Ihmotep's mouth in The Mummy.

Next Lynn begins his own dance of the bees. I keep yelling don't drop it. He gets mad thinking I'm worried about hurting the bees. I'm really worried more will swarm out of it after him. He places the box on the ground and dances away. Kind of like his own River Dance mixed with a stork mating display. Slapping at his legs and arms. Jumping with each new sting. He's spinning, slapping, jumping, and waving his arms all while yelling obscenities. Yes we're giggling as we watch him dance around the yard. In total he was stung 8 times. A blessing given his attire.

The fun didn't stop there. To the house for Benadryl and stinger removal. He comes back and appears okay. We finish up in the hive. I put it back together, say goodnight to our friend, and prepare to go to bed. That's when we notice his reaction to the stings. There's red spreading over his body. After a brief consultation with Dr. Google I called 911. The nice lady on the phone says he needs to remain seated and not do anything to raise his heart rate. Lynn isn't listening. He's impersonating a whack a mole. Jump up, sit down, jump up, move somewhere else, sit down, repeat. Oh the number of times I said/yelled/growled "sit down, stop walking, stop getting up, sit down!" The rescue squad arrived and he sat still. They suggested we visit the ER in our own vehicle. The reaction began subsiding on the way so we turned around.

This experience lead to testing which showed allergy to most bees. Now there are shots, full suit worn anywhere near hives, me mowing near the hives, and an epi-pen for outdoor adventures in case a bee is encountered anywhere in life.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Bringing Home The New Bees And Beetles

For years I read about bees, wondered what it'd be like to be a beekeeper, and more recently heard all the bad stories about pesticides killing honey bees. So in I jumped to help nature. It was too late to order a package so I purchased a five frame nuc and a whole hive from two different local beekeepers.

The nuc, short for nucleus, includes frames of brood, honey and a queen. We brought it home, installed it in its new hive, began feeding sugar water to help with comb building, and watched. Lots of watching! A few days later we picked up the full hive. More watching and the hand wringing began. They seem weaker than the nucleus, they aren't as active, and against the sellers instructions I went in the hive the first week instead of waiting three. Holy hive beetle they're everywhere! 

For those unfamiliar with the small hive beetle count your blessings. These little scourge of Satan spread like wildfire. Not only were they weakening the new hive they had spread to my other one. I began using GardStar under the hives to prevent the beetle larva from making it to adulthood. I also used cockroach traps, containing fipronil, that the beetles were attracted to. The infested hive included an oil tray at the bottom and traps throughout. Beetles hid under the traps when the lid came off. That allowed me to crush the evil little bug. Otherwise neither option proved very effective. Ultimately that hive failed and the seller replaced according to his guarantee.

Small hive beetle larvae on left side of comb midway from the top.
Frame from failed hive.
Being a newbee I thought I had messed up. I was a failed beekeeper. So we packed up the new hive and drove away. This time I would eradicate the beetle if it came back. I would redeem myself. Instead the new hive was full of beetles too. Lots of beetles and some wax moths. That concluded my few month short course in hive beetles as I learned his apiary offered prime conditions for beetles to thrive. They love hives that get a lot of shade. The second hive failed too. The beetles and months overwhelmed it. Someone with a larger apiary could share frames between hives to lessen the effect, but I didn't have that option. I slowly watched the hive decline until most of the bees relocated.

Once I was back to one hive, that wasn't overrun, the beetles were easier to control. I continued GardStar application along with roach traps. When inspecting the hive I got great enjoyment squashing every beetle that dare show itself. The hive did a bit of the work too since it was stronger. The bees chased the beetles and cornered them. The bees then took turns not letting the beetles out. Lastly I used one Checkmite+ strip cut into pieces and stapled to cardboard. It was placed on top of the inner cover. The beetles would hide in the cardboard grooves to escape the bees and would be exposed to the pesticide in the strip. That provided the largest decline in beetles.

The treatments I used are from a resource provided by the University of Arkansas. This was an amazing resource I found online that worked wonderfully.

Monday, May 30, 2016

The Non-Perfect Beekeeper

Here I am coming up on my one year beekeeping anniversary. This is a hobby that constantly occupies my brain. Planning, scheduling, what ifs, and sharing information about the amazing honey bee. Constantly seeking out knowledge, working hard to ensure the bees are safe, and a healthy amount of worry that everything is okay in my hives. Afterall they are thousands of bees, dependent on each other, that I'm trying to support. One poor decision could endanger the entire hive. Maybe not the best hobby choice for a worrier!

The lesson I've learned over and over is.....if it can go wrong it will, if it can break it will, or if the least possible scenario can come to fruition it will! I'll make mistakes, I'll learn from them, and I'll work fast to correct them.

The other lesson I learn each time I check the hives, watch activity outside the hives, or read about bees is this is an amazing learning opportunity that will provide knowledge for decades!

I'm late combining my hobby with a blog, so I'll spend the next couple weeks catching up with what's happened since I got my first bees June 20, 2015. Then a celebration of my first year as a beekeeper.

I'll mention I'm an accountant, and as such I enjoy numbers. I'm terrible with grammar. This blog is to share the information I've gathered, provide a few good laughs at some of the craziness I've experienced and caused, and to have fun. Grammar police do not point out my lack of appropriate punctuation and poor wording. I will train my bees to not pollinate your plants if you do. If you are a repeat offender there will be no honey for you!