Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Easy come, easy GO! My first swarm catch hits the road!

When I went to bed on Sunday night, I figured Monday would be just like any other Monday...and that's really busy. And I wasn't disappointed in the least. But I got a great surprise around 9 o'clock Monday morning. That's when one of the guys that works in my office called the house to say that a public school in the county had a swarm of honey bees on a picnic table and wanted them gone and would I be interested in getting them. The answer was a resounding YES! 

I called the Rockingham County High School which is 8-miles from my house and in the county seat of Wentworth. The school's secretary told me they did in-fact have a swarm on the school grounds. She told me they were under a picnic table and they would like to give them away to a good home. She said one of the teachers heard me talk on my television show about being a beekeeper, so they immediately thought of me and wanted me to come get them. I told her it would take me a few minutes to get there, so I ran and loaded up an empty hive and a spray bottle of syrup and my veil and headed to the school. When I got there about a half hour later, I was met by a friend who is the school resource officer (a deputy sheriff assigned to guard the school). Jeff Strader, the deputy and one of my former co-workers at the Rockingham County Sheriff's Office, guided me to a courtyard just outside of the school cafeteria. And there they were...a big, golden blob of honeybees.

The colony had landed under the end of a picnic table. A teacher told me that they weren't there on Friday afternoon, so its obvious they found their new digs sometime over the weekend. They were very docile, there wasn't any flying around, they were tightly clumped and very still. I got very close to check them out and they never flinched with my bare face just inches from them. So I decided to put on my coveralls and veil and go to work to get them in the hive.

Here's a closer look at the wayward colony. As you can see, the cluster is a little smaller than a basketball. They were in a perfect spot, under the edge of the table at the end...a great place to put the empty hive. So I sprayed the colony really well with sugar syrup, then I picked up the edge of the table and let it drop. The cluster plopped right into the empty hive. By this time, one of the classes stopped what they were doing to come out and watch. Ron Wheeler's automotive technology class watched intently while I collected the stray colony. The students were quiet as church mice until I dropped the table -- then all you heard was "ohhhhhs" and "ahhhhhs" from the future auto mechanics. I felt a little uncomfortable at first, not for their safety but because I was catching my first swarm and now I had an audience watching my every move. But they were super and quiet and asked some really great questions later. They were a great audience. 

Here you see the bees as they were dropped into the hive. Once they fell, most stayed inside and some perched on the top of the frames and went to work fanning their pheremones into the air. And for the first time in two years of beekeeping, I got stung. It was my own fault, I squashed a bee with my bare hand that I didn't see. She was on my leg and when I put my hand over her, she got me on the edge of my hand. I scraped the stinger out with my hive tool. I also carry sting swabs in my tool box so I put one on the sting spot and it didn't hurt anymore. Those sting swabs are great.

I waited about 45 minutes for the stragglers to find their way back and then I put the top on the hive. Once I noticed some coming and going from the entrance, and since it was getting close to lunchtime when more students would be around, I decided to stuff my glove in the entrance, load my girls in the truck, and head for home. There were few bees still lingering around the table when I left, but to make sure no one would get stung, I helped Jeff put yellow caution tape around the picnic area to keep the kids out for the rest of the day.

I've read hundreds of accounts of catching swarms, and watched countless YouTube videos too. So feeling pretty confident that I did everything right, I got the bees to my house and put them in their place of honor next to my other bustling colony in the "lemon" hive. I put an entrance reducer on the front and then made some sugar syrup and put a hive top feeder on. I pictured them getting started on drawing comb and living like - well - queens. End of story. Right?

WRONG! After an hour of watching the occasional bee come and go -- all of a sudden, one bee, then tens of bees, then hundreds of bees and then thousainds of bees came boiling out of the hive. No, this wasn't an orientation flight buzz of bees...this was a swarm of bees. My honey bees, my very first swarm catch, the colony I had every intention of turning into a thriving metropolis...had other ideas and decided to hit the road yet again. And all I could do is stand by helplessly and watch them take to the sky. Honestly it broke my heart to watch them leave and to know that my hard work was pretty much all for nothing.

Just across the creek from my hive is where they landed. They were up about 20-feet off the ground and landed on the side of a pine tree entangled with vines and poison sumac. I watched them perched there for about a half-hour, then I went inside and made a few phone calls, and when I returned to check on them, they were gone. I saw a few bees flying around the spot where they landed, but for the most part, the colony had disappeared. I'm not sure if this pine tree has a hollow spot in it, and for all I know they could be deep inside it, but I don't think so. I just hope they like their new place...wherever that may be.

If I get another call tomorrow to come get an escaped colony of bees, I will do it in a heartbeat. Am I disappointed? Of course I'm disappointed, but I look at it as a two way learning experience. I learned how to catch a swarm, and the students at Rockingham County High School learned that saving the honeybees is extremely important. A school is a place of learning, and besides teaching the young people valuable lessons, I learned one on Monday too. It was an experience I wouldn't take anything for even though it didn't work out like I hoped.

On to other news, next week I'm getting another queen from Busy Bee Apiary...and I'm planning to split my current colony. I'm just hoping and I've got my fingers crossed that I'll have better luck with my split than I had with the swarm from the high school.

Thanks to the staff at Rockingham County High School for thinking of me when they found the swarm, and if another colony drops in anytime soon, please keep me in mind. My motto is; Have hive, will travel!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Has Mother Nature decided for me? Okay, beeks, I need your help!

Today (Sunday) was such a beautiful day that decided to get out and do a quick inspection. I've been keeping my fingers crossed that my colony would do well and thrive for the next few weeks, but not get the itch to swarm. But I've had a deep feeling that since this colony is a booming colony, their natural urge to swarm would kick in before I could make a manual split. They still have lots of room in both chambers, but I noticed that they're loading up the upper chamber with pollen and the queen was laying really well in the bottom brood box. Matter of fact, when I examined the top deep first, I could tell the queen had laid here and there, and I was feeling a little disappointed that she may be giving out by the spotty laying pattern. But when I got to the bottom brood chamber, she was laying like a champ and in a tight, consistent pattern on most of the frames. Capped brood was everywhere as well as larvae. 

But before I get too far ahead of myself, let me show you what else I found. Look closely at the photo and just above my website brand. I think that's a queen cell they're making in the upper deep. My photography isn't the best here as I was by myself, but if you could have seen this from my angle...the cell had a downward, protruding shape. And as you can see, there is a larvae inside and several nurse bees were busy attending to it. I didn't find any other possible queen cells, just this one, but I did find bunches of drone cells on several frames. And one of the drones was making a fierce racket while I was checking out the frames. Overall they were in a decent mood, a little testy, but I've seen worse.

Of course you can click on any of the pictures to get a better view. And while you're at it, take a look at this picture on the left. That's a little better view of what I believe is a queen cell. And you can see the bees checking on it. While my first instinct was to take my hive took and tear it off, I decided that might not be the wise thing to do. Beekeepers with a lot more experience than me say that it is never wise to rip the queen cells off because if the old queen has already left with a handful of her daughters or is dead or whatnot, then the hive could be queenless and doomed if you do that. So I decided to leave the cell alone and check it again in a few days to see if they finish the job and cap it and see it takes on the unmistakable appearance of a classic queen cell.

While it may be too late to keep this colony from swarming, I've decided that I may be able to buy some time by adding empty frames to keep them occupied for awhile. I added another deep with new frames (plastic foundation) so they can have a head start in case I do get to make a manual split. And if they do swarm on their own, at least I'll have some already drawn frames for when I find another swarm or get more bees. Oh, and I added the empty hive to the left of my current one. I've read that in quite a few instances, bees that swarm will go to nearby empty hives and settle in as opposed to traveling far away. So maybe if they decide to hit the road, they'll find that there's an empty house next door and ready for occupancy.

Okay, gang, I need your help!

Take a good look at the two pictures that shows the "suspicious" cell at the bottom of the frame. Does this look like a queen cell to you? And how would you handle this situation if you were me? Would you have cut the cell out? Or would you leave it alone?

I'm open for all ideas and suggestions. So lay it on me! All ideas welcome!

Updates from the busy, buzzing backyard!

Well I have to admit that although spring has sprung here, it has been relatively quiet around my house lately. My honey bees are busy enough; there is a flurry of activity outside of the hive every day although the tree pollens to gather is as close as their front entrance. The state department of environmental health reported the other day that this past week's pollen count was the highest here in seven years. While the bees have been enjoying the weather, I have to say that I haven't. Armed with Claritin to fight the burning eyes and sniffles, I trudge about my routine life while keeping my fingers crossed that my allergies will calm down soon enough. 

So the other day I decided to head over to the Virginia location of Dadant. As I've mentioned before, I'm lucky to be just under an hour from the Chatham, Virginia, Dadant warehouse, so if I need something, I can hop in my Xterra and pay them a visit. Plus I needed to return one of the plastic screened bottom boards I bought last year. It had never been used and was in storage all winter, but when I was putting together the components for my second hive, I noticed it was bowed. The hive body wouldn't set even on the bottom board, and because of the large gap in the back, the bees could easily slip out of the rear. So I called Mark Bennett, the manager of the Dadant office in Virginia, and he said he would gladly exchange it for me.

Before I go any further, let me say that although the postal code says Chatham, the Dadant warehouse is actually in a little community called Tightsqueeze, Virginia. No, I am not kidding, its called Tightsqueeze, and stop laughing. Whether its the hardware store, the shopping center or the golf shop, they all share the name of Tightsqueeze. While the name is funny, I have to admit its a beautiful little community that sits in the rolling hills of south-side Virginia. And its just miles north of Danville which was the last capital of the Confederacy just before the end of the American Civil War. Oh, and the reason its called Tightsqueeze? Supposedly it was because of the extremely narrow road between two stores on the path that connected Chatham and Danville many years ago. People would say that the road had a "tight squeeze" (meaning narrow) and it just stuck. And to this very day, people still call the area Tightsqueeze. By the way, even the locals snicker at the name...so don't feel bad. 

So I made the trip and Mark gladly exchanged my bottom board for a new one and I also bought a spare hive tool. And knowing that I blog and work in television broadcasting, Mark invited me to come up and make pictures and do interviews on "bee pick-up days" which happens twice this month at Dadant. On April 19th and 26th, Dadant gets shipments of bees for eager beekeepers who want to either broaden or replace their colonies. If I'm not mistaken, Mark said that each shipment will include 300 cages of bees that people have pre-ordered and already paid for, and they will make the trip to Tightsqueeze to pick up their new charges. But Mark warned me that bee pick-up days are madness, and he said it is hard to get close to the building for routine business. I definitely want to go up and make pictures and be a part of the thrill, but the problem is that both days fall on Monday, and that is the most hectic day in my work week. But if I have time to ride up with cameras, I'll do it. I have a feeling the air will be buzzing with lots of excitement that day! 

By the way, I have some upcoming posts that may interest some of you. One is about the ApiLife-Var, the all-natural remedy for varroa mites. I've done some reseach and you won't believe what I found. Not bad mind you, but I believe you could save yourself a lot of money by just running down to the health and beauty section at Walmart instead of ordering ApiLife which is expensive. And another post will be about the pending split of my current colony. My colony is doing well and it will be time to split soon, but I have to get a new queen to make it happen. I have one ordered from Busy Bee Apiary in Chapel Hill, but if that falls through, my friend Jared Watkins, who is helping a beekeeper with his queen rearing in nearby Winston Salem, has offered to get one for me if necessary.

More later! Until next time, enjoy your spring!

Monday, April 5, 2010

A visit with my buddy Jared and his Old Salem bee colonies!

This past Saturday, I had the chance to hang out with my buddy, Jared Watkins, at his house in Winston Salem. In case you've never been there, Winston Salem is the home of Old Salem, a beautifully restored Moravian community from the mid-late 1700s. One thing I've always remembered about the tours of Old Salem are the gift shops...complete with wonderful smelling old-time beeswax candles. If you're ever in North Carolina, check it out. Its a great place to visit.

Anyway, Jared blogs Jared's Adventure Into Beekeeping and he just got his first two hives over the last few weeks. Just like all of us, he is excited about his new bees and wanted me to come see them for myself. Jared has the hives on the deck behind his house and they seem to be adapting well there. These were walk-away splits from a nearby apiary...so they're already accustomed to the general area and the climate. I think Jared told me there are around 100 hives in this apiary and he got his bees from the two splits.

When we got to the deck, we were greeted by Jared's girls. As I mentioned, he has two hives there, and the ones in the picture to the right are very well tempered. I stood right in front of the deck in my street clothes - my face pressed between the spokes along the railing - and they acted like they could care less. Jared said that he uses little smoke with them because they're so gentle, and he did the same thing when I was there for the visit...hardly any smoke at all. Although he did smoke them under the lid, not a single one flew out in anger when we popped the top off. And it was obvious the colony was working and drawing comb and doing what they're supposed to be doing. This is one great colony. 

His newest colony is a bit of a different story. They're a little hot tempered and Jared had already warned me about them. We put our protective gear on in his basement, and as we went on the deck and Jared was lighting his smoker, one of the bees from this hive flew off the front and right at my face. Luckily I didn't get stung, and that's when I knew it was time to put my veil on. It was amazing to observe the dispositions of the two colonies. The first was just fine and made little noise. But the second one was ramped up and the buzzing had gotten pretty loud by the time we finished. You could tell they were tuned up and totally irritated by us being there. But Jared told me that this particular colony had issues at their old location, and I told him that maybe they just need some time to settle in and maybe their disposition will change. Maybe once the queen gets cranked up and as the natural cycle of the colony replaces itself, maybe it will get better. If not, it may be time to re-queen. 

Overall, Jared has a really great set-up and you can tell he really loves beekeeping. He spent the weekend planting all sorts of bee friendly plants around his house, and can name every single one of them without looking at the labels. His test to be a certified beekeeper is coming up and he's excited about that too. I think that Jared will be a great and conscientious beekeeper who will make a dent in the beekeeping world. And he is already involved in the Certified Naturally Grown (CNG) program too. That was the one day course that Jared, our friend Lynn (Walter Bee) and I attended. Jared is already registered as one of North Carolina's participating apiaries.

Thanks for the good time Jared. And good luck with your girls!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

The swarm hive boxes may have arrived in time. I found "scouts" at my office!

Talk about a slow day at work. I figured with it being a holiday weekend that it would be pretty slow, but little did I know it would be painfully slow. As many of you know, I do news and talk shows for our local television station, and on both talk segments I had tonight, the time just dragged on. My guess is that a lot of people headed out of town for the weekend. I can't say I blame them, with the weather being gorgeous for the last few days, the beach had to be even better.

So during my long break (ten minutes between segments) I decided to go into the courtyard behind our office building and just chill out for a few minutes. The courtyard is completely enclosed and can't be accessed from the street or by the public, just our station personnel and the gun shop owners next door. The courtyard sits under this small tower that sends our signal by microwave relay to a 500 foot tower and antenna which is about 12 miles away. This little courtyard is a great little place to relax for a few minutes and just unwind.

But while I was taking my break, I kept noticing some flying insect examining the cracks in the brick firewall that isolates the courtyard. It would fly up, then down, and all side by side along the cracks -- then it would disappear for a few minutes. But then all of a sudden, this insect was back and doing it all over again. Initially I thought it may have been a bumblebee or carpenter bee. But no, it was too small to be those, but it was too big to be a yellowjacket. So I got closer and waited for it to land, and it finally did. To my surprise, it was a honey bee!

I watched her for a few minutes to see what she was doing. And finally I decided that it had to be a "scout" bee. I watched her carefully as she went from hole to hole in the brick wall. Then I found her going in one particular hole so I marked it in the mortar line between bricks.

You can see where I made a purple X mark on the bricks with my felt tip pen. Just to the left of my X and in the crack (where I added a red arrow) is one of the holes she was scouting. She went into the hole, came back out, flew around some, then went back inside. I'm assuming she was checking the possible accommodations for comfort and to see it is would be suitable as a new home. I went back into the station for a few minutes and when I came back out to check, she was back again and flying all along the wall. I'm just guessing that if she really was scouting this wall, she wanted to make darn sure that she found just the right spot. After all, she is a female, and has the right to change her mind. Eh, ladies?

After I got off the air at 7 o'clock, I went home and got a bottom board, 10-frame deep hive box, and a cover. This is the same hive equipment that arrived just yesterday from Brushy Mountain, so it looks like it may have arrived in the nick of time. It looks like their timing was perfect.

I didn't have any "store bought" swarm lure, but I've read stories where old-timers swear by Lemon Pledge. So I took the hive box and sat it between the two holes that I saw the scout frequent, and I soaked a cotton cloth in Lemon Pledge and put it inside the hive. Supposedly the bees that swarm will be drawn to the smell of the lemon oil because its the same kind of scent emitted by a swarm...and they follow their noses. And this new hive also has the fresh smell of beeswax inside that coats the new Pierco frames. So between the two odors, maybe the bees will be attracted to it and decide to move in. I have my fingers crossed anyway.

Whether or not I'll catch a swarm, I don't know. For all I know, maybe this was just a rogue bee who was being nosey or just killing some time before heading home for the night. But my hope (better yet..a wish) is that someone's hive may have swarmed and they're looking for a new home. Maybe since it was so close to night they decided to stay put overnight and will move tomorrow or before the weekend is over...and maybe into the television station's courtyard and right into my hive set-up. I'm hoping that when I check it out on Saturday or Sunday, I'll have a really nice surprise waiting for me. 

I'll keep you posted on my adventure. And I hope the news is good! 

Friday, April 2, 2010

My new goodies arrived from Brushy Mountain Bee Farm!

So I went to eat lunch on Thursday and by the time I got home, I found two packages on my front porch. I was happy to see that my goodies arrived from Brushy Mountain Bee Farm which is located two hours from me in Moravian Falls, North Carolina. As I mentioned in a previous post, I wanted a spare hive in case I find a swarm somewhere, and now I have a fully complete set-up for when the moment arrives. As you can see, the only thing it needs is a fresh coat of paint -- and I've already picked out the color. Bright orange! The orange color like the breakfast drink, Tang. So between my lemon yellow hive, the upcoming lime green hive -- and the spare orange hive, I should have all the citrus colors in my apiary. It should look like a taste of Florida right here in North Carolina!

Thank goodness the pest eliminators I ordered arrived too including the ten pack of ApiLife-Var (for varroa mites) and the disposable Beetle Blasters. Brushy Mountain includes their own instructions with the ApiLife-Var, and when I opened the plastic package to read them, you can really smell the ingredients even though each one is sealed in heavy foil. Each wafer includes the active ingredients of Thymol, Eucalytol, Menthol and Camphor. It is all-natural, and the active ingredient is the Thymol..a more purified form of oil of thyme. You open one foil package (you cut the two wafers into eight pieces) and put it over the brood nest for 7 to 10 days for a total of three treatments (21 to 30 days). The only problem I've read about the pieces is that unless you staple them to the frames or enclose them in screen wire, the bees will try to carry it out as trash. So I plan to take an old window screen and enclose the wafers inside to they can't move it around. You also have to block the screened bottom board and reduce the entrance so the vapors will permeate the entire hive. I'm planning to put the AprLife-Var in the hive for the first treatment this Saturday. And I plan to post just what kind of reaction my colony has to it and what observations I see too. The Beetle Blasters are self explanatory, but in case you've never heard of them, you put mineral oil inside them and put them on top of the frames in the five. When the small hive beetles scurry through the hive, they try to take cover in the traps -- and they meet their demise by drowning in the oil. All I can say is, good riddance! Back to the ApiLife-Var, Brushy Mountain says that used correctly, it will kill 95% of the varroa mites in your hive and won't harm the bees.

Here is the new inner cover I ordered from Brushy Mountain called a Goble cover.  I like it much better than the ones I have from Dadant. This inner cover is a piece of 3/8" plywood which is glued and nailed into the outer rim. And as you can see, it has a hole in the front which acts as an upper entrance. Its a lot more solid than the Masonite inner covers from Dadant which buckle really easily from hive moisture (and I speak from experience). I plan to order two more of these inner covers this week for all my hives. I'll never go back to using the Masonite inner covers anymore. Plus you get a better deal with the Goble covers because they're cheaper in price than the Masonite ones.

I have no clue what kind of bush this is, but I know my bees love it! It sits in my neighbor's yard, just across her fence and directly behind my bee hive. I noticed a flurry of bees on it all afternoon. Not only was it popular with my honey bees, but it was full of bumblebees too and they all seemed to be getting along just fine. I went to get my camera and waited patiently to snap some pictures of them gathering goodies from the flowers but every time I would get poised, they would move around. Finally in frustration, I decided to snap a picture of the entire bush. But take a look at the top left of the picture (where I circled in yellow). There you can see a bee as she's flying away from the bush. Hey, it wasn't a picturesque as I hoped for, but I think you get the idea.

I didn't mention that I bought 20 Pierco one-piece frames for the brood nest of my new hive. I've read lot of good things about the one-piece frames, they seem to be the rave of commercial beeks, so I decided to give them a try myself. They're coated in beeswax, and as soon as I opened the box, you could really smell it. Let's hope they work.

Pictures coming of the new lime green hive which goes into service just as soon as I split my current hive!

Bee good, everybody!