Monday, April 3, 2017

Helpers In The Hives

Time for the first hive inspections of 2017. One has already swarmed so I know at least one made it through winter strong. Now it's time to find out how the rest fared. There was a lot to see with strong buildup already happening, mold caused by standing ground water, and finding queen cells to determine who swarmed. The moldy hive didn't let the damp conditions interfere, and spent much of their time building extra comb in the top. Even the swarm had built 3-4 frames in a week. These girls are hard workers!

It was much more than a typical afternoon of communing with the bees. We had free labor visitors interested in learning about bees, and using that knowledge to mange their own hives. Hannah and Erica worked through several hives checking, cleaning, looking for queens, and listening to me ramble about bees. They even picked up my train of thought when I'd be talking, venture off to something else (SQUIRREL!), then come back around like I hadn't been down a rabbit trail for a few minutes.

The bees will be lucky to have them as their keepers! Hannah is 15, but handled herself like a seasoned beekeeper. She dove right in working the hives thoroughly while respecting the girls and not harming them. Mom was right there to assist the budding beekeeper, and both were exceptionally brave for their first time in a hive. I was impressed how calm they were. I remember how nervous and shaky I was my first time working with bees. Ok, I was terrified! Oh the poor girls I squished my first few tries.

During much of this my usual helper napped quietly in a chair near the hives. He did do a good job documenting our labors in between naps and occasionally directing our activities. That last part went about as well as the time he opened a hive without proper gear. I even made him stop and witness as I said "here it is, the beekeeper is putting her bee boot down, watch, here it goes, it's down, and that's what we're doing!"

I'm excited for Hannah and Erica to join me again. There's a lot that'll start happening as spring warms up and the honey flow starts. Plus there's the benefit of six hands to squish hive beetles. Bee activity is fascinating to watch and sharing it makes the rewards even sweeter!

Monday, January 30, 2017

Winter Bee Activity

It's winter in Virginia. That would typically mean cold temps, wind, and all around avoidance of outdoors. This year has been warmer, wetter, and has allowed for bees to venture outside the hive for several days. I can't get home from work in time to see that, but Lynn does an amazing job of sending me videos when he can!

January pollen collection

Meanwhile I've found bee activities, other than hive inspections, to engage in. First on the list is mead making! I began dropping hints in September, giving specific details in October, and ordered the kit for Santa in November. Oh was under the tree Christmas morning!

After lunch and family fun I set out on my first mead making adventure. Much like my other first time experiences this had mediocre results. Anytime I reduce a recipe it goes awry if I don't write it down. It's okay, because I know myself well, and compensate. That means NO I didn't write it down, realized my error 90% of the way through, then crossed my fingers and hoped what I did to fix it worked. It didn't. I know, shocking! I also know that if I take notes after failures I tend to not repeat them. I did take notes and embarked on more mead making. It's a hobby that stresses me, and has yet to provide a sense of accomplishment. I'll know more in a month.

Since I have no mead goodness to show you I'll share my feeding experience. January temps are well above average. The girls can fly every couple days. They all had a full deep of honey going into the winter, but I'm worried about one that feels light so I made a spacer to hold fondant. The process was similar to the top bar frame but for a Langstroth it fits between the deep and inner cover.

Assembled and ready for fondant

After creating a small spacer to sit flush on the top box I lined it with hardware mesh to hold the fondant. I used the same fondant recipe as my top bar frame, it's from the book The Thinking Beekeeper. I poured it out in baking pans then transferred it over.

Fondant placed on the screen and ready to be placed on the hive

I added some pollen substitute to one end and quickly set it on the light hive during a warm day. Not quick enough though. They flew out to attack to make it clear they didn't like the mid-winter disturbance. Maybe they'll change their mind about my intentions when they aren't starving to death when winter finally sticks around. I'm not sure how they managed to go through so much honey compared to the other hives, but hopefully this will hold them over until spring.