Tuesday, October 27, 2009

New entrance reducer works like a charm!

Sorry for the less that stellar picture, but I made it with my cell phone. Its rainy and gloomy so I decided to head out and see what was going on around the hive.

As you can see, I have a new homemade entrance reducer in place. I made it over the weekend. Luckily for me, I have a duplicate hive set-up in my garage, so it was easy to measure and make the wooden reducer that would fit my hive. As I mentioned before, since I'm using the new Dadant heavy-duty plastic screened bottom board, a standard reducer is worthless -- too long and to thin to work. So I made my own and its working great it seems.

I'll share manufacturing details later, but for now I can take satisfaction in knowing that unwelcome visitors will have a hard time getting inside this hive. And none too soon either...I found the girls dragging a wasp out the day I put the temporary reducer on. Then this past Sunday, when I put the new one on, the guards were fighting a honey bee at the entrance. It wasn't a member of this colony either...she was extremely dark colored (my bees are a bright Italian orange)...and they were giving her a hard time, dragging her out and letting her go, then doing fly-by knock downs when she would land on the front of the hive. So it looks like it is working as it should. 

More later! 

Saturday, October 17, 2009

I didn't excel at wood shop...and it shows!

Fall. According to the calendar, it arrived weeks ago. Even though the season is officially here, the daytime highs have still hovered in the 70s with the lows at night getting into the lower 50s - maybe down to 48 and then stop.

That was until today. Fall arrived here like a lion, complete with cold temperatures and blustery winds. Actually it got up to 50 on my home thermometer...but the constant barrage of heavy winds made it seem much colder...almost like winter. And for the next week, forecasters say the temperatures at night are expected to reach 35 to 38 degrees.

As most of you know, I've been concerned about winterizing my hive. A few weeks ago I put a mouse guard on...but then I took it off because I'm sure that the metal bar with the small holes was causing an air flow issue on warmer days. Plus I worried that if the bottom board got cluttered up with trash, like dead bees, that the colony could die from being trapped inside. Even though I know it is a necessity and serves a purpose, I am just not too crazy about the mouse guard. But as the season progresses, I'm sure I'll probably put it back on, just not right now. And I don't want my girls getting too cold from the cold winds whipping through the entrance and the bottom of the hive. 

Now before I go any further, let me say that I'm not a carpenter. Truthfully, I hated wood shop in school. I barely made the required wooden key, one to hang your car keys on. But I made it so I could pass the class and to this day it hangs in my parent's kitchen (my Mom acted as if it was the greatest thing ever). I picked up enough skills in the class that if the need arises, I can create something. It may not be great, but hey, I can make it. And today was one of those days. I needed an entrance reducer to keep the wind out, and the ones I got from Dadant would not work. So with the few tools I possess, I got cracking in making a homemade entrance reducer, Mark-style!

If I had kept the old fashioned wooden bottom board, I could still use the usual Dadant reducer -- but with the new plastic screened board they sell, it will not work at all. They're too long in width and too narrow to cover the entrance (with gaps top and bottom). Sure I could trim the excess off, no problem there, but I can't fatten them up. They're worthless to me now. I sent Dadant an email and explained to them that their old fashioned reducers don't work now. Who knows what they'll do, maybe just ignore it. 

Remembering I had some old political campaign stakes in my garage, I took them out and decided that they would work perfectly. So I got the current measurements of my hive entrance and went to work. It would be a little tough to trim it to fit inside the entrance with a hand saw, so it would have to sit outside the entrance -- but that's okay, at least it would block the cold wind.

So with my hand saw, I cut it to the width of the hive entrance which worked out fine. But then the question came up inside my head...how would they get in and out, Mark? No problem! I took my drill and a wood bit and cut a hole at the bottom, then trimmed the round part out...making an upside down U-shape for the girls to come in and out. Oh, and to keep it from tipping forward and falling off -- I came up with the dandy idea of placing two popcicle sticks under it and slightly forward, so I stapled them to the stake, thus keeping it upright!

So now was the time to test my homemade reducer. And not a minute too soon either, as I got to the hive, there was a fight underway -- the girls were dragging out a wasp that tried to sneak into the front entrance. 

Okay, a drum roll please? TA-DA! Well, it fit okay, all except that I trimmed the width slightly short, leaving a slight gap. You guessed it, the girls were going in and out of the sides! It was a true Charlie Brown moment..I felt like a total block head. But after a few minutes, they started going in and out of the hole in the middle, although they were still using the gaps on the sides too. Oh well, at least the cold, blustery fall winds will not penetrate the front of the hive and chill the nest, not now anyway. 

I plan to tweak this idea some, and I have a cousin who is a cabinet maker with tons of tools, so I'm going to see if he can work on an entrance reducer for me. Until that time, I think my girls will stay toasty warm at night, and be able to get in and out and maintain housekeeping in the daytime. So even though it wasn't perfect, it was still a success.

You know...that mouse guard might not be such a bad idea after all.

Until next time, BEE warm!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Re-thinking my thinking - or - changing my mind is an easy thing to do..

Anyone who knows me pretty well will tell you that I tend to re-think things I do. I guess its because I always want to do the right thing and not have negative consequences. But sometimes, no matter how hard I try, things happen anyway, so I re-think and then change my mind. And beekeeping is no exception. Freud would probably have a field day with me!

Several weeks ago I installed my mouse guard. I figured that with cooler weather here, now is the time to keep Ms. Mouse out of my hive, after all, she'll be looking for a place to nest for the winter, and a bee hive would be an ideal spot. All of the newsletters and information I read said fall is the time to those guards on, so being a newbie beekeeper, I followed the advice. But now I'm thinking I acted a little prematurely.

On Sunday, I go down to put some new syrup in the hive-top feeder and I saw that my bees were clogging up the holes in the mouse guard. They were in a clump on the front, something that I observed for the last couple of days which concerned me somewhat.

The first thing I noticed was that condensation had gathered on the inside of the outer cover. When I took the cover off, water dripped down into the feeder and the inner cover was somewhat damp too. So from my science days in school, I knew that the cool air outside...combined with the heat inside the hive...had caused the dampness above the feeder...and that probably came from a lack of air circulation. 

Even though I have a screened bottom board...I feel like the mouse guard, which restricts mice from entering the hive...is probably restricting the air flow as well, and that's not good. I also noticed the other day that some mold had grown on the inside of the shallow super that covers the hive-top feeder. That comes from air restriction too.  

The temperatures here have hit the 70s by day and the 50s at night. The lowest nighttime temperature so far is 48. I find it ironic that a mouse, no matter how bold she may be, is going to chance it and invade a hive full of bees. Maybe when it stays cold day and night, yeah maybe, but with the days still being warm and the nights cool, I don't think she's going to take the chance of being stung to death. 

So anyway, I filled the feeder with more syrup and I removed the mouse guard for now. I am sure I'll put it back on pretty soon. And when I put it back on, to improve air flow inside the hive, I'll use the inner cover that has the popcicle stick risers. It makes a slight vent at the top of the hive and keep the air flow going through the winter. Supposedly it stops condensation from forming and dripping water on the bees through the winter.

My Mama always said it was okay to change my mind if the cause is right. And in this case, I think it was the right thing to do. I'll let you know when I put it back on and I may try to post some pictures of my inner cover with the popcicle stick risers so you can get an idea how it works.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Inspection in a word: FRENZIED!

Thursday was the perfect day for an inspection here. It was sunny, the temperature was 71 degrees, and no wind. It seemed more like spring than fall, and I figured I would do an inspection and a powdered sugar dusting in case any new varroa mites have sprung up. So I suited up, lit the smoker, and went down to the hive. Things were just fine while I dismantled the hive components; I took off the hive top feeder, then lugged the honey chamber off, and got down into the brood chamber to see what is happening there. And here is what I found.

Pardon the slightly off-center angle of the picture above, but as you can see, and like I've said before, this colony is booming. If I didn't know that fall was coming and that a lot of them will die out before winter, I would swear this hive is a candidate for swarming. Is seemed that most of them were packed in the brood nest (above) and not all that many in the honey chamber. And shortly after I snapped this picture, there were so many on the tops of the frames, I would have to smoke them to run them down into the box. Believe me, after what I started out with, I'm not complaining at all. Just my observation that a lot of bees inhabit this hive.
It had been awhile since I'd done a full-fledged inspection, and it was obvious the girls had been busy in both chambers, but they were making their fair share of burr comb too. When I pulled the honey box off, I pulled apart some of the comb that was full of honey attacked to the bottoms of the frames -- and of course the dripping honey went all across the top bars. So I had to scrape it off and into a bucket, then I had to scrape it off the bottoms of the frames in the top chamber which is packed with honey. There you see the majority of it in the bottom of the bucket (which I use for yard work). You can see the bees at the bottom that just didn't want to give it up.

Here is where it gets interesting. As I said before, I decided to do a powdered sugar dusting to catch any mites, so after I scraped off all the burr comb, I started my task with the honey chamber. I put the powdered sugar in the sifter and dusted it, and it was like someone sounded an air raid siren. They went ballistic! Ahhh, but the best is yet to come -- I had to do the brood chamber next -- and I just knew it was going to be one wild ride. And I didn't disappoint myself -- it was! Look carefully at the picture (to the left of the hive body) and you'll see a bee butting my camera. See her?

After I smoked them down into the brood chamber, I powdered them as well. And while I was doing it, the roar of the buzzing was quite loud and it looked like I was in the middle of a swarm. Some flying around were white, some their natural yellow -- and all were totally irritated. The head butting was turned up a couple of notches..and I looked down to see my overall pants all dotted with bees. They were on my gloves, on my smoker, inside my tool box -- everywhere I looked, there they were. Although I've never received a sting wound on my skin from this colony whatsoever, I found one on my glove and spinning around -- she stung my glove and her stinger was still partially inside her and lodged in my glove so I pulled her off and scraped the stinger out of the leather. They were not happy.

Although I wasn't scared (actually I was fascinated) -- I decided that this was the time to close up shop. I put the hive back together again in the midst of this cyclone of bees, and as soon as I got it together, they started hanging to the front of the hive. As you can see if you click on the picture, they're all on the front of the hive, covering the front of the screened hive stand, and a few clumps were on the ground in front of the stand. Some were returning foragers with pollen on their legs, probably wondering just what the heck was going on, but I think its safe to say that 95% were the ones that just got a dusting.

Take a look at this one. Yeah, that's a lot of ticked off bees. I know why they're so many there -- as soon as the sugar dusting began they took to the air and were now returning. They were hanging everywhere, but the ones that really bothered me were the ones that hung onto the underside of the hive stand and the ones that clumped on the ground. What scared me, and I know it probably didn't happen, but it scared me nonetheless -- was that maybe the queen was under that mass. Could she have dropped off during my inspection? Did she flee when the sugar dusting started? But then I thought it out and realized that I never examine my frames over the grass, I always hold the frames over the hive bodies in case she drops, so chances are her lying in the front of the hive and in the grass seemed really remote.

Take a look at the girls festooning under the hive stand. I watched the bees on the front of the hive slowly make their way back into the hive through the hole in the mouse guard, but then I noticed this clump under the stand. As you can see, it almost looks like a tiny swarm of bees that you might find under the eve of a house or something. While I was being dive-bombed by other bees flying around, these bees didn't do anything other than hang on to each other and wait it out. I guess they were waiting their turn to get back into the hive...in a less crowded space.

Meanwhile, three bees followed me inside my house. I was able to get one of them back outside, but the other two I had to eliminate...which bothered me a lot. One reason I eliminated it is because of my significant other, who is just fine as long as the bees are outside. And the other is because I have a 13-year-old Dachshund who is almost totally blind -- so I just couldn't take a chance of him getting stung. Oh, and that didn't include the ones that flew around the back door for awhile -- almost like, "You invaded our space, so now its your turn, buddy!" 

In the end it took a couple of hours...but the majority finally made their way back into the hive. By nightfall, only a few guard bees were on the entrance going back and forth. And then today, things seemed pretty normal, a lot of flying around in the front of the hive and crawling up the front, but otherwise it seemed fine.

Truthfully, I don't know if my experience yesterday is normal or not. Since I don't have the luxury of a mentor, I don't have anyone to readily ask...so I have to depend on asking other beekeepers online for their advice. I can say that I've never seen my bees become this aggressive before...it was even worse than the time I accidentally banged the hive during an inspection. And I realize they're protecting their honey store and usually become a little testy in the fall -- so maybe it isn't that unusual after all. So maybe my first-time experience just seemed a little more ominous than it really was.

ADDENDUM: A few other beekeepers on the BeeSource.com forum tell me that they're running into the very same situation when doing their inspections now. It seems to be that "its our honey and our home...leave us alone" mentality (right word?) that the bees have this time of year. It usually disappears in the spring. So it may not be that unusual after all.

Comments and ideas, good or bad, I'll readily accept. Anyone have a simular experience? Please share your thoughts.

I'll BEE anxious to hear from you all!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Yes, Virginia! There is a Santa Claus...and bears in Rockingham County!

This story is from this morning's News & Record (Greensboro, NC). It is about a mama bear and her three cubs (pictured to the left...yes, that's some of them) that scampered up a tree over the weekend in Madison, which is in the western section of my county. Reason they were there? Oh...I don't know...could it be...HONEY? Read on. By the way, I'm glad that I'm a city beekeeper!


The family of bears likely came looking for honey but instead found themselves up a tree, held hostage by neighbors near Old Wagon Trail.

The first sightings of the bear and three cubs came about dusk Sunday, and by Monday morning, they had an audience.

But by 1 p.m., the bears had enough of the show and decided to bid their temporary refuge goodbye.

“I guess they decided to take a chance and run,” said Josh Brim, who lives on Old Wagon Trail.

The Rockingham County Sheriff’s Office said it began receiving calls about the bears Sunday evening. Sheriff’s office spokesman Dean Venable said deputies, animal control and wildlife officers took a look at the bears but hoped they would come down on their own.

When the bears didn’t, the officers returned Monday to see what could be done to coax them.

“It’s not uncommon to see a bear in some of our rural areas,” Venable said. “We’ve lost a lot of our timberland, and they’re coming in to hunt food.”

The area where the bears were found is rural, located off U.S. 311. Old Wagon Trail is a gravel road with just a few homes.

The bears climbed up trees on the property of DeWitt and Darlene Brown. The couple thinks mama bear may have smelled honey for her cubs.

DeWitt Brown raises bees and said bears will “tear your hives all to pieces.”

Darlene Brown thinks the bears’ quest for food was derailed by the barking of her dogs, a black lab and a collie.

The dogs’ lot is next to the trees where the bears sought refuge. Had it not been for them, Darlene Brown guesses, the bears would have had a field day with her husband’s hives.

The sheriff’s office reported seeing a mom and two cubs, but the Browns and Brim said a third cub was in a second tree.

In the end, Sheriff Sam Page said it only took giving the bears a little space — and quiet — to get them to descend the trees.

The barking dogs were moved, and someone operating machinery nearby was told to turn it off, he said. Onlookers were kept back as much as possible.

DeWitt Brown said he’s not worried about the mom and cubs coming after his honey again.

“She’s had so much excitement,” he said. “I think she’s gone from here.”

Saturday, October 3, 2009

New Bees 101: How to Manuever a Mouse Guard!

So imagine that you leave home, you go to work...and when you get back, someone had put a wall up...and you had to crawl through a hole to get inside your house! Well it happened here today. No, not my own house, but at my bee hive. As I mentioned a few posts back, with fall here now, I figured it was time to install the mouse guard on the front of the hive. I really don't think that a sneaky mouse would invade this hive because it sits off the ground pretty high, but since there is a bunch of bamboo and weeds near the creek, I'm not going to take any chances. So today was installation day, plus I decided to do a brief inspection while I was at it.

First though, the mouse guard. I had already fitted it to the hive a few weeks ago, so all I had to do was to put it in place and then tack it up. I used a large thumbtack instead of a screw. I would have used a screw, but I didn't want to make holes in the wood, plus I'm sure the last thing they would appreciate is some odd vibrating of their house. You should have seen (or felt) the ones returning who banged into me while I was squatting down in front of the hive. With the hive beind white, and my overalls and veil being white, I don't think they saw me in their flight path. But I hurriedly got out of their way so they could get back to coming and going.

As you can see, the girls are rather curious as to what is going on. Like all my other pictures, click on them for a better view, and pay particular attention to the holes...especially on the far right. Notice how they seem to be checking each other out. I'm not sure if they're guard bees, but they're definitely checking out the situation. Even though I'm near the hive, just off to the side with my camera, they acted like they could care less about me and seemed more interested in what this new thing is that's blocking the front door. 

It didn't take long before a crowd gathered. There were lots of incoming bees during this time, and I'm sure they were totally confused about the whole situation. It sort of reminded me of a busy airport, where planes are flying into the airport, but because so many people are waiting to disembark ahead of you...you just have to wait it out. I wondered what the guard bees inside the hive were thinking about all these things popping through those holes. Did they realize they were their own sisters? Or did they have to change the method of how they inspect each bee upon arrival back to the hive? I wonder.

Now take a look at all the bees flying all around, some are hanging on the front, and some are crowding into the holes in the mouse guard. It kind of reminds me of the day after Thanksgiving...you know, people out in the dark at 5:00am trying to get in Walmart to be the very first to buy something. You know how it is, as soon as the doors open, they go pouring in? That's what this reminded me of! But I'm happy to report that these smart girls figured it all out and within an hour and everything was happily back to normal. It was so normal that I mowed around the hive, pulled weeds, gave my crepe myrtles and plants around the hive a fall feeding, and everything was just groovy. I think they have it all figured out now.

The hive inspection was very brief because it was cool...but here's what I saw. Plenty of the incoming bees were loaded down with pollen, I mean sacs stuffed full. I think they're bringing in goldenrod pollen from some nearby fields, and I mean bringing in a lot...so that means no pollen supplement for now. The honey store in the top chamber was so heavy I could barely lift it...it must weigh over 50 pounds easily. The bottom chamber, or brood box, was jam packed with bees! Not only that, but in the six frames I checked, capped brood was everywhere. I didn't see the queen...but since there is evidence that she's in residence, I stopped the inspection and reassembled everything -- plus I added two gallons of new syrup. Things looked really good. My only complaint was that the propolis inside the hive was like glue! It was hard to manipulate the frames...basically because it seemed like they were stuck to the rack in the hive. Even my hive tool didn't help much! I have tried to keep excess propolis and burr comb out of my hive...but I'll have to work harder at it next season. if I ever invent a glue...I'm naming it propolis! 

I plan to feed them for a little while longer, basically because there are two frames that are not drawn yet, but they're working on it. I may feed until the first heavy freeze or they stop taking the syrup -- whichever comes first. If the winter this year is as mild as winters past, I think they'll do just fine with the store they already have. I have my fingers crossed anyway!

Until next time, my friends...bee sweet!