Sunday, February 27, 2011

Cold, Sad Days

So, I thought I'd update the blog, to let everyone know where we (the bees and I) stand for the year. Sort of a "State of the Hive" address.... well, the state of the hive is: Dead. Both hives died. I blame it entirely on my inexperience and lack of knowledge. I've said all along, I have no idea what I'm doing, and I'm just making it up as I go. I thought I'd just let them try to make it through the winter on their own. About a month ago, I decided to wrap them with tar paper, so the bees wouldn't have to work so hard to keep the hives warm. A few days after wrapping them, the weather was warm enough that I felt confident popping open the covers. The tree hive was dead, but the Yale hive was still kicking.

Earlier this week, I changed my mind about feeding, and was going to give them some candy boards. Today, I opened up the cover and there was no movement at all. Nothing but a bunch of dead bees.

When it warms up some, I'll pull the frames and start cleaning up the hives for spring. I guess I'll be ordering some new packages. Sarah and I were talking about trying Russians, as they are hardier bees.

One upside? I have plenty of good, drawn out frames for my 6 new packages to get them started. I figure start them with about six well drawn frames per hive, then the new queens can start laying right away, no need to wait for the workers to draw out comb. Either way, next year, I'll be doing things differently: wrapp9ing right after harvest, feeding starting right around New Year's, monitoring more closely, etc.

I think this may be the last entry before I get the new bees and start installing. Hopefully, this time, I'll get some video of the package installation for everyone to check out. Enjoy the rest of your winter, stay warm, and keep buzzing.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Wintertime, and the livin' ain't easy

12 degrees today, and there's snow on everything. Not much to do in a beekeeper's life, except to wait. Occasionally, I go out and sweep the snow from in front of the entrance reducers, and give the boxes a little thump, just to hear them buzz a little.

The extraction went better than I thought. I borrowed Clown Mentor's hot knife and strainer, making the job much easier. I'll walk you through it step by step, with all the lesson's learned.

First, you have to pull the supers off the hive. There are a couple ways to do this. 1) Entrance reducers: these are mechanical devices, like a cone or one way trap, that will let the bees out of the supers, but not let them back in.

2) Blowing or brushing them out: Using a leaf blower or a bee brush to physically remove the bees from the super. The bees don't really like this. When the bees don't like something, they tell you.... in a very non-ignoreable way.

3) Chemical sprays: There's a few different types, including some that aren't actually chemical (they stink like really concentrated almond oil). You spray them on a fume board (like a cloth covered outer cover) that has been sitting in the sun. The heated fumes encourage the bees to move down out of the supers. This is the method I tried. Not too effective on cool days, fyi.

Next, you have to un-cap the honey. I borrowed Brad's electric uncapping knife, and it worked great. Then, you put the frames in the extractor, and spin them out. The extractor drains into a food-safe bucket, after filtering through a two stage strainer, to catch any little bee parts or cappings.

Then, you pour the honey into smaller jars, bottles, or other containers. I used half-pint mason jars. I wound up with about 18 lbs of honey, which sounds like a lot, but, in reality, is not much at all. At first, I was concerned that I was doing something wrong, but from what I've heard, it was a tough year for everyone in my area. Hopefully, next year will be better.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Closing up shop.....

Well, the days are getting shorter, the nights are getting longer, and the temps here in mid-Michigan are slowly slipping away, fleeing south with the geese. The bees are all buttoned up, the surplus honey has been extracted, and there's nothing to do till spring time. I'm going to cover very briefly what I did before closing the honey house for the long, cold winter.

First things first, I need to catch up on old news. The Centennial hive has been moved from Midland to Bay County, and is beside the Yale hive. I opened it up and was unpleasantly surprised by how little they had produced, and how low their numbers were. I was, and continue to be sceptical about their chances.

A week or so later, I got a call about a downed tree that had a hive in it. I started a cut-out, but soon realized there was no comb in the tree. Alas, when the tree fell, it destroyed their comb, so they moved into a new gap. I pissed them off pretty bad when I ran a chain-saw into their new home! At any rate, I cut the hole wide open, and left an empty box with old wax-covered frames in it. They decided to move on in, and a few days later, I loaded it up and brought it to Bay County. We combined the two hives (Centennial and the cut-out) in the hopes that the two will be able to over-winter better. More on the cut-out and combine later.

So, when it came time to harvest, I got some Bee-Quick and made a fume board. The idea is that you spray the bee-quick on a warm fume board. The stuff stinks to high heaven, and the bees don't like it. SO I put the fume board on top of the honey supers, in place of the top cover. The bees should have cleared out of the supers after about 5 minutes. They didn't. So I had to brush, blow, flick, and shake them off. They don't like that much either. Long story short, I got two supers cleared out, and took them home to extract. More on that later, too. Don't worry, I have all winter.

After extraction, the hive is considerably smaller. Now, there are a couple different schools of thought on how to over-winter. There's the "Spray and Pray" group, that believes in medicating, inspecting, requeening, blah blah blah blahblahblah.... Then there's the "Do nothing, they've been doing this for millions of years" group. I fall into the latter. So, my over-wintering preps are to put an entrance reducer on the front, to help them keep the hive warm, and (maybe) wrapping the hive in insulation, if it gets really cold. Also, I tilted the cover slightly. This is because the bees will create condensation on the inside of the cover. The condensation will get very cold (nearly freezing) and if it drips on the cluster, the bees will freeze. By tilting it, the condensation will run to the wall and run down the outer wall, not dripping on the bees.

I've been asked if bees hibernate. The short answer is no. They don't even sleep... ever. However, they do become dormant, as a hive. The individuals will be busy, but the hive will not be doing anything other than eating occasionally and climate control. The drones are all kicked out to die off, or are killed in the process. They are only there for mating, drain resources, and can be easily replaced. The queen moves to the middle of the hive, close to the top. The workers cluster into a ball around her. They then (listen closely, this is cool) disconnect their wings from the muscles that move them, thereby letting the bees work their muscles and create body heat without creating a breeze! Pretty amazing, huh? The cluster will maintain a constant temperature of about 90 degrees farenheit, no matter how cold it gets outside the hive. When the temps dive, the bees just tighten up the cluster. When they come up a little, the cluster loosens up, letting more air move around them.

Sorry for the delay in getting this one out. I'll definitely be posting another soon, covering the extraction. I'll also try to get one in about the cut-out. Feel free to ask questions and make suggestions.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

OWWWCH!!! SONOFA *bleep* !!!!

OK, First things first: Brad, I officially got my first sting today, without a doubt. That crap hurt!!! The last one? Not a sting.... trust me...

Now, let's back up... I checked on the Yale hive today. They are doing quite well. I had a third super ready, just in case they were filling up the second one already. Not yet, still only a few frames filled. I pulled the supers to check in the brood box, to make sure Queen Jezebel was still working well. Sure enough, there's capped brood and larvae, so that's good enough for me. I went back to replacing the frames. On the last frame, about an inch from the box, the frame slipped. FYI, that pisses off bees. They launched their attack quick! I saw one land, and, in slow motion, I saw her arch her back and stick her barb into my forearm. I instantly knew I was hit.

My immediate reaction? Throw the hive tool, and jump up, then away from the hive... I got the stinger out, then smoked the sting site (to mask the alarm pheromone), and went back to work. Basically, I just put the rest of the hive back on and got away as fast as I could.

I managed to get a picture of a frame full of capped honey. Thankfully, Sarah didn't have the camera going when I got stung, or she'd post that one!!! I guess from now on, I'll be wearing gloves and a jacket, not just my veil. Till next time.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Moving right along....

I checked on the Centennial hive yesterday. It's doing very well. There are only maybe a dozen bees still in the tree. I'm hoping in the next week, I can open the tree up, and let the hive rob out all the honey. If not, hopefully they'll be able to build up their stores quickly, so they have enough to make it through the winter. I think they should be okay, I'd just like to give them a little extra, just to be safe.

I added the first super to the hive, as both brood boxes were pretty much full. The top brood box had one frame at each end almost completely full of uncured nectar, so they should be capped off pretty soon now. With the goldenrod and aster flowing, I'm hoping it doesn't take them too long to fill everything up. I don't think I'm going to get any surplus out of this one, but we'll see.

A point of comparison: Since adding supers to the Yale hive, I haven't really spent much time handling frames with just brood, as most of those have a decent amount of honey across the top. It's amazing how much heavier the honey-filled frames are, compared to the brood frames! I was thinking something was wrong with the hive, they felt so light! But I saw young larvae in different stages of development, and a bunch of capped brood, so everything is good.

I'll be inspecting the Yale hive in the next day or two. I'll make sure to post an update when I finish. I'm going to try to get a pic of a full frame of honey. Hopefully, it will be ready for super #3!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Tree hive update, 8/3/10

So, clown-mentor Brad and I checked out the tree hive. Things seem to be scooting along pretty well there. I thought it seemed like no bees were leaving through the escape cone for the last few days, so I took a peek inside. Alas, a spider had built a web across the opening. I cleared that out with a stick, hopefully the bees will keep it clean now. I'll be checking it pretty regularly from now on.

As far as the box goes, they've moved on up into the top deep, drawn out a good amount of it, and the queen has started laying in the top in the last few days, lots of new eggs, no larvae yet, at least not that I've seen. The workers have started storing and capping a little nectar in the tops of the drawn out frames, and we were treated to a couple chunks of burr comb with some fresh sweets. Honey doesn't get any fresher than that!!

We had an audience for a while. A city worker was cutting the grass in the park the tree is in. He watched from a distance, though. He wasn't interested in getting too close. When we were done, he told me about another hive of what he thinks are honeybees in a nearby park. Brad and I went and took a look, and he was right!!! Hopefully, it will over-winter, and in the spring, I'll trap that one out, too! I think Im going to have to rename my hives though, as house hive, tree hive, and tree hive are a little ambiguous. I'm thinking Yale, Centennial, and Revere hives, based on where they are located.

ps, I'll add some pictures later... not in the mood to deal with it right now...

Friday, July 30, 2010

Hive update, 07/30/2010

Not a whole lot to report today. Maddie and I have just finished our hive inspection. Things are progressing well. We have two supers on, the top one is drawn out, and mostly capped (about 4 or 5 fully capped frames, and probably half of the other two are full, just not capped). The bottom super was just put on last week, and the bees are starting to fill it already. LOTS of bees in the box. I actually had a hard time working in the top brood chamber, because it was so crowded. I'm tempted to just leave them to their own devices for the rest of the summer, and just check the supers. I'm afraid I may roll the queen, and either kill her or damage her enough that the bees decide to replace her. It's getting awful late in the season to try requeening.

The tree hive is coming along. I think in the next week or two, I may be able to open it up and let them clean out the tree... I just want to make sure the tree is empty of bees first. There was about 100-150 bees on the screen this last week when I checked (compared to literally several hundred when I started), so I'm thinking they should be just about moved out.....Gonna check the box early next week to see how it's coming along.

The swarm we took a couple weeks ago is doing excellent, according to Brad. He says they are drawing out comb like crazy, and the queen was laying within the first week. It looks like it may have been a good call to try catching that one. I don't think we'll bother with any others this year though, it's getting pretty late, and they won't have time to collect stores and grow their numbers before winter sets in.

Well, next week, I'll look into the tree hive, and I'll update everyone when I'm done.