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.