Sunday, August 30, 2009

Hello, I'm Mark. And I admit it, I'm addicted to beekeeping!

So today was a lazy day around my house. The word motivated was not in my vocabulary. I was going to mow my yard, but I got lazy and decided to go to the tanning salon instead. Then it was dinner with my folks and shopping for some clothes for vacation. This coming Friday, I am leaving for the beach for nine glorious days, that's right...nine glorious days...and I need to get a few things done before I leave for the sun and surf.

I figured that it was time to add some syrup to the hive today. I was in the hive on Wednesday and filled the feeder then, but since they're averaging an intake of over a quart of syrup a day (they're drawing comb in the second chamber) I have to fill it a couple of times a week. And as you can see from the pictures, the hive was abuzz with activity. I could actually hear it the closer I got, the girls flying in and out, crawling up the front of the hive and taking off. And even though I took the top of the hive off to get to the feeder, and got close enough to make pictures, not one single bee gave me a second glance. Over the last few weeks they have hit a pollen and nectar gold mine, so between foraging and making comb, they've had enough to keep them busy.

But even though I know they're way smarter than some people think, over the last week, I've found myself worrying about what they'll do while I'm gone. Oh I know they'll be okay, they can defend themselves if someone or something tries to mess with the hive, and that's not a real concern since I live in a nice neighborhood with great neighbors. But I guess that since I can see them all day from my kitchen window, and since I'm down around the hive several times a week, it will just really seem odd not being around them or knowing what they're doing. I'll fill the hive up with syrup before I leave town, but I'm thinking that they'll run out around Tuesday or Wednesday, so they'll have to depend on their instincts to get them by for a few days. If I had someone that I could ask to come feed them, I would, but since I don't -- it looks like they're on their own. I am sure they'll be just fine, but I still worry about my girls when I'm not around. The only real outside threat they've faced so far was a nasty storm with high winds that blew through a few weeks ago, but with the new hive stand and the heavy paving stone on the top to weigh it down, I think they'll be okay. 

I can really tell that I've really become addicted to this activity called beekeeping. Sure its a hobby, but the fascination with their life cycle and maintaining the colony and the problem solving aspects when they come about is really addicting...least to me. I don't have to explain this to my fellow beeks (common name for beekeepers) -- that's evident with the many others that have set up their own blogs to record their experiences with bees. 

I certainly don't want to rush my vacation. I plan to enjoy every single minute of the sand, the ocean, the sun -- and of course, no work. But I bet that when I get home and finish unloading my SUV, the first thing I'll do is check on my hive to see how the girls are doing. Gee, I wonder if they'll miss me? 

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Do the Honey Bee!

Honestly, this is better than the dance they do on the Haagen Dazs "Help the Honey Bee" website. It has a true message and it has rhythm too! Thanks to Cliff at the Beekeeping for Beeginners blog for sharing! 

By the way, this video was produced by Haagen Dazs too. It just seems to be much better than the one featured on the Help the Honey Bees website, least to me anyway! Okay...altogether now! 

New blog design!

So it poured rain here today. A slow, steady rain that came at a perfect time because we're in the beginning signs of a drought. I was stuck inside today, the bees were stuck inside today -- so it was just a good time to do something I've wanted to do for awhile -- update my blog design to something with a beekeeping theme.

I found something with a yellow and black bee design (that matches the colors of my Italian girls) and changed around the links and information bar on the right side of the page to remove some of the clutter.

So take a gander of my work that rose from my intense boredom -- and I hope you like it!


PS - My comments link is working again. Feel free to fire away with those comments!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Eviction order lifted! The queen stays in my hive!

What a day this has been! I started out early this morning because I had so much to do. First of all, I wanted to catch the queen from my hive and take her with me to Busy Bee Apiaries in Carrboro. As you know from my previous posts, she's been a little fickle lately in laying eggs...and she stumped quite a few people who really know bees well including the state aviary inspector -- and Betsy, one of the bee experts at Busy Bee. So the plan was to catch her and take her back, but if I couldn't find her before I left, I would still get a new queen from Busy Bee and then give my present queen the big pinch. If anything, I wanted to save her so Betsy could hive her and watch her behavior. Honestly I just didn't feel right about pinching my task was to find her before I made the hour trip to the east.

I went into the hive with the optimistic attitude that I would easily find her this morning. After all, the last two trips in the hive I found her, and I figured today would be just as easy. What a joke! I get into the hive and started with the frames in the top chamber -- she was nowhere to be found. I get down into the bottom chamber -- she's nowhere to be found there either. So her majesty was hiding from me this time...of all times that I wanted to find her (and save her from the horrors of the hive tool)..but she was in hiding. Talk about becoming frustrated. I think I said a few curse words in my head.

But them the most amazing thing happened. While I was in the bottom chamber, I shook bees from some of the center frames to see what they were doing in the cells -- and there they were! White, glistening, and healthy looking larvae! Not one larvae just here and there...but they were everywhere. The honey at the top of the frame was cresent shaped, but all of the cells under that had larvae! Then I found another frame in the top chamber with larvae too -- the pattern wasn't as tight, but they were alive and growing.

I ran for the house to call Betsy at Busy Bee. After all, she was out in the bee yard and catching my new queen and I didn't want her to go to the trouble of getting one since I had good news. Well, I was too late, she had already caught a queen for me. But being the super nice person she is, Betsy laughed and told me that she was glad things are working out on my end and that maybe my queen just went on a holiday. I apologized for putting her to the trouble of catching another queen and she said it wasn't a problem, she would find her a good home. I really like Betsy and everyone at Busy Bee. They're truly a class act in the beekeeping business. Honestly, if you need a queen or supplies -- they're the ones to call. You can find the link to them on the right side of my blog...and please tell them that Mark highly recommends them!

So that's the story. The eviction order has been lifted...and her majesty gets to stay. I have no clue why she stopped laying, and have no clue why now, all of a sudden, she's back to normal. I blame some of it on my eyes...I've had to start wearing reading glasses in the last year. But even the aviary inspector didn't find eggs or larvae either -- so who the heck knows what was going on with her? I find it hard to believe she can fool more than one person.

My neighbor watched me work the hive this morning and she offered this explanation as to the on-and-off laying queen: "Mark...she's a woman! What do you expect?" -- and she laughed. She's a woman...and a really great she can get away with saying that.

So here we go again. It looks like things are back to normal. I added a gallon of sugar syrup and closed up shop for another week. We'll see what she does now. Hopefully she is going to keep chugging along and doing what she does best. And if she doesn't, I'm calling in a bee psychologist! Does Dr. Phil make house calls?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

GOOD NEWS and some BAD NEWS...

THE GOOD NEWS: So the good news is...I installed my hive back to its original location today without a hitch. Even though it was mostly overcast, I decided to go ahead and get it done since the threat of thunderstorms loomed in the forecast. Like I did when I moved it a few feet ahead to install my new custom made hive stand, I decided to move it piece by piece, and while I had everything apart, do an inspection. A few puffs of smoke is all it took, and that was at the entrance. I didn't even have to use any when I took the top cover off, and surprisingly, I wasn't swarmed by inquisitive bees wanting to know who was invading the premises. I moved the top super first and off to the side, then put the lower brood box in its new location. And while I had the boxes apart, I did my inspection of the top chamber first since that's where the queen laid eggs last week (she laid none in the bottom chamber at all last week).

So after I finished inspecting both boxes, I put it all back together again, then I put a piece of corrugated cardboard in front of the entrance to act as a landing board -- that's to keep the girls from falling through the cracks of the heavy mesh screen on top of the stand. A friend of mine owns a sign shop, and he gave me about ten sheets of the corrugated board that were considered mistakes and couldn't be used. Then I put the bamboo reed back over the entrance so the girls would re-orient themselves, but honestly, I don't think it was necessary. As soon as I got the hive back together and put the hive-top feeder back on, they were flying in and out like crazy, and I noticed that quite a few were buzzing all in front of the hive. Maybe they were re-orientating themselves -- or maybe just irritated by something blocking the front door. Either way, all is back to normal as far as location is concerned and all the moving around is over for now.

THE BAD NEWS! Unfortunately, it looks like something is wrong with my queen still. This afternoon I found one frame out of twenty frames that contained with eggs. That's it, one frame of newly laid eggs -- and no more. Although she has plenty of places to lay, especially in the bottom chamber, she's laid one frame of eggs in the top chamber, on both sides of the frame, and that's it. And what's really odd, I couldn't even find the eggs from last week's inspection with Don Hopkins, the state's chief apiary inspector. Its like she lays eggs and then they just disappear. And I didn't find one larvae or capped cell in the entire hive -- none at all. I found about six drone cells but nothing else. And they're bringing in pollen, there was plenty of nectar there, and they're making honey like crazy -- but that's it.

So I called Betsy at Busy Bee Apiaries in Carrboro, North Carolina, and we put our heads together -- and we're both perplexed by it all. She told me that the colony will sometimes eat the eggs when they have no other food coming in, but with the syrup I'm feeding and the pollen they're bringing in, that shouldn't be a problem. But it looks like something is causing her to be sporatic and not doing very well, so I made the decision to replace her. I ordered a new queen and I get her Wednesday morning -- so as soon as I get back home, I'll introduce her to the hive.

The old queen? Well, I may not have to "pinch" her after all. Betsy told me that if I could find her, please bring her and some attendants to the apiary on Wednesday..and she wants to hive her and see what she's doing. I told Besty that if I can find her before I leave on Wednesday, I'll certainly do just that. But if time escapes me, it looks like she'll have to go to that great apiary in the sky, but I plan to try to find her and take her with me. I really don't want to do anything to her, to have to put her down...I'd much rather her spend out her days as an observation queen and to possibly help the experts figure out what is going on with her. Who knows...maybe she has something that could be named "Mark's Syndrome" -- and my queen will go down in the history books!

More on what happens after my Wednesday escapade to Carrboro!

Until next time friends, BEE viligent!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

I installed my custom made two hive stand. Take a look!

So I mentioned earlier that I was having a custom made two hive metal stand made. And here it is. I took the dimensions to a local welding shop here in town, Amos Welding and Machine Shop, and asked Wesley Amos what he could do for me. I told him I needed something wide enough for two hives, 4-feet wide by 2-1/2 feet deep, and the legs 24 inches long. And to help with debris, mites and ventilation, I asked him to include heavy duty screen for the top. Well, in about 15-minutes, Wes had it all figured out, and I really liked his design. Instead of four legs, he decided to go with six to give extra strength in the middle. On Tuesday, when I ordered it, he said it would be the end of the week and it would be ready. On Wednesday morning at 8:45, he called and said "come and get it" and so I did. I was very impressed with the design and the craftsmanship and know that this will last for many years.
To install my new two hive stand, I would have to move the colony I have now which was sitting on a concrete pedestal I created. That would be no problem but I was concerned about confusing my girls who were returning back and found the hive moved. When Don Hopkins, the state apiary inspector was here this past week, I asked if he thought it would be a problem, and he said no. His advice was to move the hive a few feet forward and that way, when foragers return, they would find the hive missing, but still be close enough to drift to the new location once they see it. So I moved it five-feet forward of the old location, and things went extremely well. The girls were well behaved and I used about four puffs of smoke from the beginning to the end of the move. While I was digging the holes for the legs of the stand, I had a few foragers buzz around me, but I watched them do just as Don said they would do..they flew around me and then eventually found the temporary location. By dark, I only saw a few bees flying where the hive was before.
After I moved the hive to its temporary location, I decided to put something over the entrance so they would have to re-orient themselves to the short move. So I used a couple of bamboo reeds with some foliage at the top to cover the entrance. Wihin a few minutes, they were all over the bamboo, crawling up the front of the hive, and then taking very short flying manuevers and returning. The bees that returned to the original location would fly around, then fly back to the temporary spot, so I knew they were getting it. You can see the hive top feeder on the ground. I will refill it tomorrow with sugar syrup so they can get back to building comb in the top chamber.
Next to my bee colony, I think this is my pride and joy. My new two hive metal stand with a fresh coat of paint. Under it, I planted some kind of creeping Japanese ground cover (the name escapes me) to control weeds. And to make sure it doesn't sink in the ground, I put Quikrete (fast acting concrete) in the holes I dug out for the legs. At the far end, closest to my smoker, the legs stick up 14-inches out of the ground, and almost 21-inches at the end closest to the camera. And it is perfectly level, front and back and side to side. After allowing the Quikrete to cure overnight, I'll put the hive back in the original location at around lunchtime tomorrow.

So there you have it, my brand new metal bee hive stand. Since I'm thinking about next spring already, I'll have a place ready for my second colony of bees. And just think, if I grow tired of beekeeping, I can always use the metal stand as a huge barbecue grill -- large enough for a whole side of beef! Ya'll come!

When I put the colony back tomorrow, I plan to do an inspection to see if my queen is back to laying and maintaining her duties. If not, I'll order a new queen from Busy Bee this week and requeen and get things going before I leave on vacation in September. But I hope she's back to normal..and I'm sure the girls will be glad to get back to their original location -- and with a new and improved hive stand to boot!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

They mystery of the non-laying queen who is laying again! ARGH!

Leave it to me to baffle the expert!

As I mentioned in my previous post, I was completely baffled by my two month old queen who all of a sudden stopped laying eggs. When I say stopped, I mean completely stopped. As I said before, I went in the hive for two days (this past Friday and Saturday) -- and I found no eggs or larvae anywhere. It was like no queen existed even though I found her on my second visit and she looked perfectly fine. I figured it may be something internal -- or maybe, just maybe -- she needed some Prozac. Even though the hive was queenright, something definitely wasn't right.

So to make a long story short, I requested the state apiary inspector to come check my hive and see if anything out of the ordinary was going on -- and today he made the trip to meet my girls and to "counsel" my queen if necessary.

Don Hopkins is the state's chief apiary inspector for the state of North Carolina. Luckily for me, he made it to my house today. He lives and works out of nearby Alamance County, so he didn't have to travel too far to get here. Three words about Don Hopkins: SUPER NICE GUY! I was very impressed with him and his vast knowledge of beekeeping and bee disorders, and as soon as he got out of his truck and shook my hand, I knew I was in excellent hands. And I was even more impressed that he fired up his own smoker and wore a screened beekeeper's helmet hat -- but no veil, no gloves...that was it. Me? I was suited up to the max! But Don's gentleness was obvious because he didn't get nary a headbutt or sting, and used a total of four puffs of smoke for the entire inspection. It was amazing! I would have gotten some pictures but the batteries in my camera gave out and I was out of luck. Oh well, next time.

Don said that overall things looked fine. The girls were extremely well behaved during the whole investigation. They were bringing in lots of pollen, that was obvious by the numerous filled cells all throughout the hive, and they hit a gold mine somewhere...that was evident by the well filled sacs on the legs of several workers who made it back while we were inspecting. They're making comb on the empty frames in both deep boxes and that's because I'm still feeding them sugar syrup. And they've made quite a bit of honey in both the top and bottom brood boxes. So overall, the colony is doing just what it is supposed to and everything looked okay inside. Very few dead bees were on the ground in front of the hive too, Don said those may have been those that died from defending the hive or died when I was in the hive over the weekend.

Now...on to the perplexing problem with the queen who went on strike this past week! I guess you could call it the $25,000 question. When I found her on Saturday, she was in the bottom brood box -- scurrying along like crazy and looking fine. Today, she was in the top box and on a frame that was partially drawn with comb that was about the width of my hand. She was still moving around over the frame at a pretty good pace.

And guess what? Her majesty had laid eggs in all of the cells! No pun intended, but I had egg on my face because she filled all the that comb with all these tiny white eggs -- which honestly caused me some embarassment. But I felt better when Don said it was obvious that she had stopped laying, in his years of experience he could see that she wasn't up to snuff with doing her royal duty. But the question is...why? What made her stop? And what made her return to laying eggs in the last 24-hours. By the way, we found no eggs in the bottom brood box, just what she laid in the top box in the last day. A perplexing situation indeed.

We put out heads together, me being the extreme novice and Don being the seasoned expert -- and we didn't come up with a definitive answer. We both had more questions than answers. Could it have been when I moved the frames from one hive box to another and something upset her balance? Could it have been when I sprayed vinegar around the hive to kill the weeds? Could it have been the powdered sugar dusting to control varroa mites? Could it be the heat and humidity? Could some of the foragers have brought something into the hive? Could it be parasites? Could it be this and could it be that? As I said, we had more questions than answers. Yes, friends...leave it to me to stump the expert.

By the time an hour passed, we had theories -- but nothing we could put our fingers on as the exact cause. We closed up shop and decided to wait her out and see what she does.

As of now, she has one week. On Don's advice, I'll check back in a week and if she is back to normal, then we'll proceed with everyday life at the hive like nothing ever happened. But if she is being spotty or shuts down again, it looks like it may be time for a new queen. I am keeping my fingers crossed that she will move on down in the original brood box and go back to being her old self...even though she's not old...she's ruled this colony for just over two months. But if not, then I'll make the trip to Busy Bee Apiaries in Carrboro to get a new monarch to rule over this hive. Cross your fingers for her. She needs it...and fast.

Until then, I'm checking the colony for varroa mites too. I put some corrugated plastic that's covered in Vaseline under the screened bottom board, and I'll check back in three days to do a mite count. From there I should have an idea of how to treat the girls this fall if they even need a mite treatment.

So that's the story. I'm still perplexed by this situation. And if I can stump the state's apiary inspector, then it is a dilly of a dilemma! But hopefully all is well behind the four walls of the hive and I'll open it up next week and find brood everywhere. One can hope. Right?

By the way, my two hive stand, made from heavy steel and being fabricated right here in town should be ready on Friday. I'll be able to put another hive in my yard next spring, next to the one I have now, and I think its going to be really nice. More on that later.

Until next time, just BEE yourself!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


So it looks like my queen is on strike. Yes, that's right, on strike. While the rest of her children are working like...well, looks like she has shut down production.

On Friday, I decided to swap out hive-top feeders. I have two feeders, and I wanted to put a clean one on top of the hive since I had dead fire ants in the old one and they were glued by the sugar syrup to the bottom. And while I was in there, I decided to see how things are going in the hive, an inspection since installing the second deep brood box a week ago. So I fired up the smoker and went to work.

The girls were already drawing comb in the second brood box, and what they had made so far was filled with clear nectar. So after picking out a few frames, I took the top box off and got down into the lower brood box and started from the end. The end frame, or the wall frame, was new -- I swapped that one and another from the new top deep hive which had no drawn comb. I did that so the girls would have something already drawn to work with in the top box and maybe work a little faster upstairs.

In the bottom deep body, as I went frame by frame, I found honey near the tops of the frames, some nectar in other cells, pollen, and something that perplexed me. I found clean cells, lots of open and clean cells, but no eggs. I looked and looked, went through the frames carefully, but still saw no eggs. I had no clue what was going on, but I looked carefully and was even wearing my reading glasses, but still no little white eggs. And no queen either, she was nowhere to be found. I was interested in finding her, but the more I manipulated the frames, the testier the girls got, so I closed up and said I would try to figure something out.

I had a hard time sleeping on Friday night. I just knew something was amiss, and that the queen was possibly dead -- but just what was wrong, I didn't know. So I decided to go back into the hive and see if I could check for eggs again and look for the queen to see if she was there. I must have missed some things.

So Saturday afternoon, I fired up the smoker again and took the top deep completely off because I had decided to just concentrate on the lower box. So I started with the wall frame, no eggs. Second frame, comb with nectar and some honey, no eggs. Third, fourth and fifth frames, I found comb, some honey and nectar -- but no eggs at all.

But as I pulled the sixth frame out and was looking at all of the clean cells, BINGO, I saw her, the queen! The little green dot on her majesty's back was showing as she scurried across the frame, then under it, and then on the back side of it. I watched her carefully. She looked fine. Wings were fine, she was moving fast so her legs must be okay too. She had no visible signs of injury, at least from the outside. So I figured that it must be something internal. Did she become infertile for some reason? Did the foragers bring something like a poison into the hive to cause her to shut down? Or is it...dare I say it...something going on in her head? I guess the possibilities are endless and I'm no bee expert.

After posting the delimma on the Bee Source forums, I got all sorts of theories from beekeepers as to the situation. No one really had a definitive answer, but several said that I need a new queen as soon as possible. And I agreed, if she's shutting down in mid-August, the colony will die out before winter, and I'll have to restart the whole process in the spring. After babying this colony along since June, that's the last thing I want to happen. I just hope that they won't swarm anytime soon. I know that the queen shuts down before they swarm, but for the life of me, I don't know why they would swarm now. But what I hope and what they do are two different things.

I called Jack Tapp, the owner of Busy Bee Apiaries in Carrboro (and a super nice guy) and I asked him if I needed a new queen. After describing what was happening, he told me to hold off on requeening -- and to call the state's apiary inspection service to have an inspector drop by. Jack told me the inspector would do a thorough inspection, possibly diagnose any problems, and check for varroa mites too while he was there.

So then I made the call and spoke to Donald Hopkins, the inspection supervisor for North Carolina Apiary Services -- a division of the state's agriculture and consumer division -- and he's coming up on Wednesday to inspect my hive. He was really nice on the phone and said he will be glad to check it all out. That will be a huge help to me since I don't have the luxury of a "mentor" in my beekeeping, its just me and my books and what I learn from the Internet and advice from others. I'm thankful he can make the trip here to see what is going on in this hive.

Other than her majesty going on strike, everything else looked great. Unfortunately, a few girls got in the way of me putting frames back in place and...I guess you could say...flew off to that great hive in the sky. As careful as I try to be, sometimes there are casualties where the girls got in the way. Before I closed up the hive, mortician bees were already taking the bodies and throwing them out of the front of the hive. They do like to keep a clean and tidy house.

I'll keep you posted on what happens with the inspection. Wish us all luck! And thanks to everyone that's emailed me or posted on my blog. You ROCK!

BEE good everybody!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Red devils looking for a free snack! And they found it..

So things around the hive have been rather slow lately. Not much to tell really. The girls seem to be doing rather well, busy flying in and out all day long and enjoying the sunflowers I planted behind them. And with the crepe myrtles being in full bloom here, they have have lots to keep them busy. I'm glad its a popular tree here in the south.

The screened bottom board I added a few weeks ago was a big help with the ventilation issue. The bearding has almost completely stopped, and I think the second brood box was a big help too. They now have more room to work with and won't be so darn crowded.

I did mow around the hive yesterday and since it has been ungodly hot and humid here (the high temperature yesterday was 97 and the humidity was really high) and I figured they would be a little testy. Nope. Even with the push lawnmower all around the hive, and me riding the lawn tractor up and down in front, they didn't give me a second glance...unlike a few weeks ago when a few of them followed me and the lawnmower all the way to the house.

We did have a really nasty storm brew up here yesterday afternoon, and just to make sure that the "honey bee condo" (stacked three high) didn't blow over, I put a cinder block on top of the landscaping paver that was already there. Some of the trees were blowing sideways because of the intense wind, and around the corner, a pretty big portion of a tree broke off in front of an office building. But we all survived. I'm going to leave the cinderblock on since the weather service says we can expect strong thunderstorms for the next few days.

While I was replenishing the sugar syrup yesterday, I did notice that some fire ants found their way into the hive-top feeder, especially when I found one crawling up my arm. Not many ants, maybe ten or so, but enough for me to be concerned that I may be fighting an invasion. While fire ants are pretty common to North Carolina, I haven't seen too many of them in my yard...that is until now. I have a feeling that they're getting in through the top of the hive. To aid in hive-top ventilation I have some popcicle sticks glued to the inner cover, so I think they're sneaking in through the tiny space between the box and the cover. I knocked off as many of them as I could and this weekend, when I do an inspection, I'll sprinkle come cinnamon around the top of the inner cover and around the edges of the feeder. I did that before with the tiny black ants that found my hive and the bees didn't seem to mind it at all.

I also put out some Terro outdoor ant baits. To make sure my curious bees wouldn't get into it, I put it under the hive stand and to the back...where I believe the ants are entering the hive. And the good thing about the ant baits, the hole is small enough that the ants can get in, but the bees can't. The package indicates that the ants are attracted to it, take the liquid bait back to the nest, and that kills them. We'll see if it works. I'd much rather try this than some of the other remedies that I read about, including using Sevin dust -- things that would kill the ants -- and could possibly kill my colony if they got into it and took it back to the nest. If you've never been bitten by a fire ant, they're horrible and relentless. I've got my fingers crossed that this will work out. Wish me luck.

This weekend, I'm also planning to spray around my hive with a homemade weed killer formula -- kills the weeds but won't harm the bees. All natural, all of the ingredients come from the food pantry. More on that later!

Thanks for reading and a big thanks to those who post comments on my blog. I truly appreciate it. You guys (and that includes you gals too) ROCK!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Added a second deep super and made an inspection!

Here's an update since my last hive inspection and upgrade this past Saturday. As you remember from earlier, it was this past Saturday that I added a screened bottom board to create more of an air flow and help with ventilation. My bees were bearding something awful, and afraid that they may abscond, I decided to get some air going in there with a screened bottom board.

Well today, after giving them three days to calm down after tearing the hive down and putting it together again (and agitating them something fierce), I decided to make more room for my girls by adding a second deep super to give them some room. And let me add, as I look up to the heavens, today's addition and inspection went off without a hitch.

Here's my observations and my actions. Check this out.


Bees were relatively docile and easy to work unlike Saturday. Did become a little testy when moving frames for inspection, but a little more smoke calmed them down. No stings.

8 1/2 frames in the brood box are full of capped brood and honey. Capped brood is thick in pattern. Most of the honey was at the tops of the frames.

Queen is alive and well. Didn't see her, but I found fresh eggs in most of the empty cells. Also found larvae in various stages of development.

All of the powdered sugar that was at the top of the frames from Saturday's sugar shake was gone, completely cleaned off.

Screened bottom board looks as if it is working. Since Saturday, less "hanging out" or bearding -- even though the heat and humidity is worse than last week.


Added a second deep super for the brood chamber.

Took two full frames from the lower deep and put it in the top deep. One was full of honey on one side, then capped brood and larvae on the other side. The other had more capped brood on one side and a mix of brood and honey on the other. Nurse bees and workers moved with frames.

Manipulated the frames in the lower deep, added two empty frames from the top deep. Placed them as the second frame in the lower deep (outer frames had more honey and no brood). Left all brood frames as they were in the lower deep.

Replaced sugar syrup. Colony has used two gallons in three days. Refilled hive-top feeder to give them something to draw comb with.

Then I closed up shop for the day. Now I will wait until Friday to mow around the hive, and I'll probably add some more syrup if they're out.

Okay ladies and gents, there you go! That's how it went today. Things are looking good and now I can take a breath and relax some. It looks like they're doing just what they're supposed to be doing, and now they have ten more frames to build up and keep them busy for awhile instead of hanging out with nothing to do.

Bee cool!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Lesson learned: How to 'tick off' a hive of bees!

Those of you who follow my adventures will know that I've been keeping a more watchful eye over my bees lately. That's because they've been "bearding" quite a bit. On Thursday night it was the most I've seen yet, the entire front of the brood box was completely covered, and the entrance was clogged up with bees. Although I know it is natural for them to beard, I've also read that after awhile, if it continues to stay hot and humid in the hive, they could very likely abscond to escape the heat, and maybe I should work on more ventilation.

I decided that to help in ventilation, and to aid in varroa mite control, my best bet was to get a screened bottom board. So with the Chatham, Virginia, branch of Dadant & Sons being just 45 minutes away, I made the trip on Friday morning and picked up two of the heavy duty plastic bottom boards, one for my hive now and another for next spring when I do a split. When I got home, I attached some one inch plank risers on the new bottom board (so more air will circulate under it) and decided to install it on Saturday afternoon.

So the time comes for me to install the new screened bottom board, and while I was at it, do a powdered sugar dusting for the mites. While I haven't seen any yet, I figured now would be a good time to do it since I have the new bottom, and knock out two things at once. So this afternoon, when I figured most would be out in the field, I go about smoking them and planning my course of action.

You've heard that saying that if something can go will? Let me attest, my friends, I am the prime example of that saying today. It wasn't pretty, and pardon me for saying it, pretty damn scary.

First of all, things were fine when I opened the hive. But when I tried to lift the brood box off the wooden bottom board, and believe me, it was heavy -- it wouldn't come apart, not even with my hive tool. It was like it was glued tight. So here I stand, holding a brood box full of bees, who are a little irritated by now, wondering what to do next. So I sat the whole thing on the ground and quickly put the new screened bottom board on the pedestal that holds my hive. I decided that I would have to transfer all of the frames to another deep box, the one I usually put over the hive-top feeder, so I put it together quickly, and decided that I would add the frames to the new set-up. Plus it would allow me to do an inspection while I was at it.

Here's where it gets a little scary. I took each frame out, one by one, and transferred it directly to the new deep super. Things looked good, some of the frames were totally heavy with capped honey, one side of a frame was totally white, while others had capped brood. I didn't see larvae, to be honest, I didn't look -- I was trying to get it all over with as quickly as I could because it was obvious I was irritating them...the buzzing was getting into a somewhat loud frenzied sound by this time.

I finally finished the transfer of all ten frames, taking care not to squish anyone if I could help it, but the inside walls of the deep (the one attached to the wooden bottom board) was covered with bees. Making sure I didn't see the queen, I decided the best course would be to shake them out.

BIG MISTAKE! While shaking them, I misjudged and hit the top of the hive -- and all hell broke loose. It was like something you would see out of a bad horror movie. The buzzing was at a frenzied pace and loud, bees were flying everywhere, and they were head butting me so hard, they were bouncing off the top of my hat and veil.

Truthfully, I panicked. Finally gathering my wits, I told myself to just walk away and let them settle down, plus it would give me time to calm down too. So after a few minutes of everybody calming down, I went back to work, and they were still irritated, but nothing like moments before.

Figuring that they were totally ticked with me, I decided to go ahead and do the powdered sugar dusting anyway to get it over with...and not wait for a couple of weeks and irritate them again. So I did it, using a flour sifter, and coated the top of the frames, then brushed the excess sugar down into the hive and off the frames. And after doing that, I decided to put the hive-top feeder back on, added syrup, closed it all up and got my tools.

I wish I'd had my camera. The funniest part of the whole operation was seeing this flurry of white honey bees flying all in front of the hive. They looked like little ghosts. and I thought, maybe they'll busy themselves grooming each other and forget about that man in the white overalls with the smoker. Least I hope so.

Today was a learning experience. I am totally amazed that I didn't get stung. And I have to admit, it was the most scared I've been since working my bees. Usually I am really calm and enjoy myself, but today was a day that I really hope to never repeat as long as I keep bees. I do hear old time beekeeps say "you'll make mistakes..everyone does" and all of that. But even though I know we all make mistakes, I somehow feel in my head that I screwed up today, I rushed though working my girls, and I'm afraid that more events like today will make them unmanageable. That's the last thing I want...for them to become unruly and for me to be afraid of them and avoid them.

I won't go back in the hive for another couple of weeks except to feed them, and even then, I just have to open the top of the hive. Maybe they'll have forgotten this day by them. Least I hope anyway. I want to.

Not only beer on the White House lawn. How about a bee hive too?

In case you've been in a cave, the major news talk this past week has been about the President having beers on the White House with a police officer and a college professor who had a conflict with one another. I mean on all the stations, television and radio, and in all the newspapers too. These three men sat down on the lawn and had beers and a lot of talk about conflict. Of course, the media went nuts and made all sorts of pictures in the yard at the White House.

But I didn't see this picture until tonight. While I was doing some research on building bee hive stands, I happened to come across this photo of the White House bee hive from fellow beekeeper Mistress Beek. That's right, ladies and gents...the very hobby that we all adore has made it all the way to the big white house at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue! And all started by a fairly new beekeeper too! And based on the picture, those are some busy bees working at the nation's capitol! If you study the picture carefully, you can see two brood boxes and three honey supers. Busy girls indeed!

U.S. News and Word Report reports that the hive was installed in March of this year.

It says: "Charlie Brandts, a White House carpenter for 25 years, is now the First Beekeeper. He got the ball rolling when he told some of the East Wing staff about his hobby. "I was thinking about how cool it would be to bring bees to the White House," Brandts says. Word made it to chef Sam Kass, who asked Brandts if he could make White House honey to use in Obama family recipes. On Tuesday, Brandts brought in one of his hives and put it near the garden.

While he's been in beekeeping for only three years, Brandts sounds like a longtime pro. "I'm trying to promote beekeeping," he tells Whispers. He started raising bees for the same reason the first lady dug her garden: "I wanted to eat healthier," he says. That meant shifting from sugar to honey. "But it kind of gets expensive," he says, "and I thought it can't be too hard to put together a few hives in my yard" in nearby Fairland, Md.

While the hive has been welcomed by the first family, Brandts concedes that some workers had to be convinced that honeybees are largely harmless. (Ironically, it was some of the security staff who worried about getting stung.) As with many people with access to hives, the first family might get hooked on bees, and Brandts hopes to bring more hives in. "And if they don't like them, we can always take them out."

Just think. The President could have an ice cold beer (or maybe some mead) while sitting on the White House lawn and watch the bees work their magic!