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.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

A swarm in July, not worth a fly?


Brad the clown mentor called yesterday, and told me he got a swarm call. So I loaded up the kids, and drove the 45 minutes to Oil City. Sure enough, there was a swarm up in a cedar tree. Right beside the cedar, stands a maple, with an opening in the bark, down near the ground, with bees coming and going as well, perfect for a trap-out next spring. We're assuming the swarm came from the maple. At any rate, the guy that called us told us the bees have been in the tree for years, despite several efforts on his parts to chemically eradicate them. So we're looking at great genetics, and a locally raised hive, giving the swarm excellent chances. Plus, it was a pretty big cluster.


The swarm was up about 10-15 feet, near the end of a branch. Brad brought a 5 foot folding ladder, having been told it was about 8 feet up. We couldn't reach with his ladder, but luckily, we were able to lean a long extension ladder against the homeowners's truck, and, with Brad holding the bottom, I climbed up, grabbed the limb, and lopped it off. I'd guess that the cluster was about 4 or 5 pounds, about double the size of a package. Then I climbed down, and we shook the bees into the box... sorta....

The bees fell down into the box, just fine, with a good number taking flight. It was pretty amazing to see. I turned to Brad and said, "Not bad, almost looks like we've done this before." The homeowner looked at me with a nervous look on his face and said, "You have, haven't you?!?!" NOPE!!!

Now for the "sorta".... while we were watching, we looked up and saw, right where I cut the branch off, a small cluster of bees gathering. As the minutes ticked by, the cluster got bigger, while the number inside the box got smaller, until, finally, all the bees were out of the box and back in the tree. The cluster looked about twice the size as when we started, though.

OK, time for plan B.... We tossed the box up on Brad's folding ladder, and strapped it to the tree. It's got drawn comb, some honey, and lemongrass oil (a swarm attractant) in it. The bees were definitely showing interest, and we're hoping they will like it enough to move in. We'll check back later in the week to see.

In hindsight, we could have done a few things differently. Next time, we're going to put an excluder under the bottom box, and cover it immediately with a second excluder, as soon as we shake them in, thus keeping the queen in the box. We've also discussed smoking them, though that always seems to make bees take flight, in my experience. We also discussed spraying them with sugar water, much like a new package. Oh well, live and learn, trial and error, whatever you wanna call it.

All in all, the homeowner seemed happy we were even willing to come out. He didn't want to kill the bees, but he didn't want them in his yard, especially right by the driveway. He was astonished by how unconcerned we were with getting stung. He was even more shocked by how brave our kids were, especially when Madeline let a bee crawl onto her hand so she could show people how gentle they are. He is a little more apprehensive, and was more than willing to let us handle the bee duties. Hopefully, we can successfully get the swarm off his property, and in the spring, we can go back and set up a trap-out for the remaining bees.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

It's been a while....

It's been a few weeks since I've last posted. Thanks for the kick in the pants reminder, Grams. It's just been a busy couple weeks. I have been checking on the bees, pretty regularly, but with 4th of July, work, summer vacation, and house projects, I just haven't gotten to the blog.

First things first: the hive. The hive is doing pretty well. I added the first super a few weeks ago. The bees are hard at work drawing it out. The top deep has a couple frames full of capped honey on the sides. These are going to be left for the bees, to help them make it through the winter. The queen is laying great, and the population is still climbing. It's amazing seeing the amount of bees and how hard they work. I'm seeing bees in my own yard (nearly a mile away from my hive) with increasing frequency, and I don't remember ever seeing one in the past.

Second thing: The Colony. The Colony is still there. I've had to make a few changes. Those girls are pretty smart. They figured out how to get back in the plastic escape cone I had on the screen, so my trapout was set back a little. I consulted with a few experienced beekeepers with trapout experience, and they suggested I make a cone out of screening or hardware cloth. I made that change the next day, and they've been stuck on the outside ever since. It seemed like the population in the tree was steadily declining for a couple weeks. Then, I noticed this last week that there was a HUGE increase in the number of bees INSIDE the hive. At first I freaked out a little, then remembered there were still bees that were hatching inside. I probably saw new bees that were just hatching out. I didn't see any bees going back in anywhere, so I'm pretty sure it's still working. Patience is key with these things.

I opened up the Colony's hivebox, and was pleased to see that the box was packed with bees. I added a second box with foundation above the first box, in order to give them more room. The Colony is pretty stinking big, so I may have to add a third before I get them all out. Moving this thing could turn out to be quite a chore by the time they all move in, draw comb, lay brood, and store all the honey they rob out.

I'm hoping in the next 3 or 4 weeks to get the trapout finished up. I think, depending on how much honey they are able to pull from the hive when I let them rob it out, that I may hold a few frames of capped honey for them, in case they need a little extra to help them over-winter.

I'll try to be a little more diligent about posting from here on out. If I don't, feel free to remind me. Till next time....

Friday, June 18, 2010

Day One of "The Colony" trap-out

I've mentioned a few times a colony of feral bees that I'm going to try to get out of a tree. Well, today was the day. I had all my supplies, including a screen with an escape cone, a loaded staple gun, a hive box (complete with frames, bottom board, and top cover, all strapped snugly together for safe transportation), and one frame of eggs, uncapped larvae, and some honey and nectar at the top.

The Colony (capitalized to emphasize it's large numbers) is situated in the bottom 3 feet of a beautiful Catalpa tree, in a downtown park. It is tucked snugly into a split in the trunk. I can see why the tree would be so inviting. It has a large canopy of thick, heart-shaped leaves, and blooms with huge bunches of beautiful white flowers, for well more than a month so far. The bees really don't need to travel far at all to find nectar and pollen. Plus, it's situated in the downtown area, which has plenty of residential gardens, a river, and the Dow Gardens (a large botanical center), all within a mile of their cozy little home. Unfortunately, people have complained about the bees, convinced they are going to get stung. I've spent quite a bit of time around this colony already, and they barely seem to notice me, even when I'm snapping flash photography in their home.

So, this evening, I loaded up all my supplies and drove over to the park. I pulled on my veil, and hung my jacket nearby, just in case. Then I smoked the entrance, just a little, to distract the bees. I then started to staple the screen on the entrance, and suddenly, the bees were not distracted. They immediately started to buzz angrily all around me (I think it was the CLACK of the staple gun). I retreated a few feet, till they felt I was far enough away, and pulled on my jacket and gloves.

Then, it was back at it. I stapled the edges of the screen onto the bark of the tree. Much to my surprise, the bees were still able to squeeze around the srceen by following the contours of the bark. No amount of stapling was going to do. I quickly ran to the nearby Ace Hardware, and bought some expanding insulation foam (something everyone I've consulted suggested I have on hand anyway), and raced back. In the 5 short minutes I was gone, the bees had completely coated the outside of the screen. I sprayed the foam around the edge of the screening, creating a (hopefully) impassable barrier. Then I pushed the hive box, complete with one frame of brood and eggs, up as close to the screen trap as it would go.

Now, the theory is this: the bees will leave the hive to go forage, and will not be able to get back in (thanks to the escape cone). They'll immediately look for a new home. Luckily, I've placed a nice, clean, dry home right outside their door, and it's even got a starter family inside, just waiting for someone to tend to them. The pheremones released by the uncapped brood will tempt the bees in. Then, they will stay to care for the new eggs. Now, since they are in a hive with no queen, they should immediately set to feeding one (or more) of the new eggs a diet of Royal Jelly, which will cause her (or them) to develop in to queen cell(s). The first to hatch will destroy the others, and will be accepted as the new queen. Then, after a few weeks, she should mate and start laying, and, voila'! instant family.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of places this can go wrong. Since the hive is right smack in the downtown area, it could be vandalized, damaged, disturbed, or poisoned. Animals could make a meal of the bees in my box, as there may not be enough to protect the box. The bees may decide they don't like the home I've given them, or may not make any queen cells. Maybe, everything will go spot on, but, then when I open the tree back up to let them steal the honey stores, they may move back in, against my will.

All in all, I've been a beekeeper for about two months. This is the first trap-out I've attempted. I'm still convinced a cut-out would work better, but I just can't justify destroying such a beautiful tree. Besides, even if I knew what I was doing, it still might just fall apart. Only time will tell.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Hive set-up

This post, I'm going to explain how I have my hive set up, what I'm doing for expansion, and what I plan to change in the future.

I'm running with typical Langstroth 10-frame hives, but spaced for 9 frames. The reason being: giving the bees that little bit of extra room encourages them to draw the comb out a little further, which, in turn, makes it easier to uncap when harvesting season comes up. Inside the hive, I'm using grooved bottom board, wedge top bar frames, with standard crimped-wire foundation. Basically, the only reason for this is because it seemed easiest. Next year, and with my supers, I plan to just use bare frames. This gives the bees the opportunity to draw the comb out with cell-size that's more natural.

Let me back up a little. Typical foundation comes in a sheet, which is pressed with ahexagon-shaped pattern. This makes the bees draw out their cells at the same size as the pattern on the foundation. Unfortunately, the cell size is the size required for worker bees. This discourages the larger cells that drones are raised in. Drones, while not productive, are certainly important to the well-being of the hive. Also, foundation is basically made from recycled beeswax, and often contains high levels of pesticides and other ickies. If you let them draw their own comb, without foundation, they build cells based on the needs of the hive, not on the desires of the beekeeper. An added bonus is that they also become less prone to mites. Theoretically, this is because the bees make the cells the right size, and they can hear the mites bumping against the sides of the cells, which are now crowded with an appropriately sized bee. The nurse bees can then find the right cell, open it up, and toss out the undeveloped larvae, and the offending mite.

As for supers, I'm using medium deeps. The only real reasoning is that I got them cheap when I bought some other woodenware. They will hold a little more honey, which I see as a good thing. I'm in good shape, and should have no problem handling the weight. Maybe when I get old, I'll switch to shallow supers, and just add more, but not yet.

Underneath all this, I'm using a solid bottom board. After doing a lot of reading, I've decided to replace it with a screened bottom board, which I intend to replace during my next inspection. This is to help with mite counts, and also to help minimize the mites. With a screened bottom board, when a mite is pulled from a bee's back, it falls to the ground, and can't crawl back up to the bees. With a solid bottom board, they just hang out on the ground until a bee walks by, and they hop on, and right back into the hive.

In the future, the only real changes I plan on making is to go with all foundationless frames, and maybe eventually go to smaller boxes. Otherwise, I plan on maintaining the status quo, at least until I see something better.

I've recently been asked what sort of pest/ disease management practices I intend to use. As this is a fairly in-depth topic, I'll save that for a later date. As a preview, though, let's just say, I don't intend to. Till next time, click on the post title to check out a cool new site I was told about, it's pretty cool. Thanks for the link, Missy.

Friday, June 4, 2010

This week's hive inspection.

Today was the only day I was available that the weather looked fairly decent, so I cracked open my hive. Angie and Tate came over to watch and help, and Maddie was there. About two or three frames in, Maddie yelped, grabbed her ankle, and started screaming that she had been stung. Instead of stopping and letting us help her, she ran like her hair was on fire, all around the yard. Oh well, next time, she'll wear long pants, I guess. Sarah went in and took care of her, while Angie, Tate, and I finished up.

As far as the inspection goes, there was nothing spectacular at first, a few queen cells I had to remove, and a couple little pieces of burr comb near the edges. Otherwise, she's laying well, lots of capped brood, and I saw a few chewing out of their cells. I had one frame that was just about completely eggs and uncapped larvae, so that one will be producing pretty soon.

When I was on frame #8, it started raining just a little. I just kinda glanced at frame #9, then got ready to close up. Just as I was putting the frames in their places, we found the queen. This is the first time I've seen her since I've placed the queen cage. She was big!!! And a beautiful gold color, with almost no black on her.

Maddie was fine by the time we finished our inspection, and was playing with Tate by the time I finished cleaning up. She says she's done with the bees for the day, but she's not ready to get rid of them.

Housekeeping things we did today:

- installed 2nd hive body
- cleaned and refilled hive top feeder
- re-leveled the hive (the ground settled a little, and it was sloping to the right side.

Later, I'll go into how I have my hive set up, and what I did to get the 2nd hive body on. We've also decided to start checking the box every two weeks instead of every week. No sense in setting them back weekly, if it's not really needed.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The swarms are comin'!! The swarms are comin'!!

The last few days have been pretty damn interesting, and the weeks ahead hold the promise of much more to come. For the last month or so, I've had a full hive setup sitting outside my garage (bottom board, two deeps, two supers, mostly empty frames, top cover, etc), waiting for some free time so I could clean them out. Over the last week, I've noticed a couple honey bees checking out the digs, but they always left. Yesterday, I see a bit more activity during the day. I don't think much of it.

At about 8 pm, I get home, and hear my cell beeping its protest at having missed a call. When I check my voicemail, I have a message about a swarm on someone's porch. By the time I called her back, the swarm had already taken up residence.... in the mortar of her block porch!! Luckily for her, her father is a retired hobby beekeeper, and is taking care of her.

At the same time I'm on the phone with her, I got a text from my clown-mentor (as he's taken to calling himself), Brad, saying he's got a ton of bees in his garage. He put one of his spare hive bodies (he's got enough to supply every beekeeper in the state, just about!!) outside his garage. I called him back and went out an checked on my hive. There must have been about 20 bees flying around it. Over the next hour, we talk back and forth, watching our respective hives. Mind you, it's pretty late, and both our established hives had already bedded down for the night. The wild bees, though, were showing no signs of slowing down. We both assume that we're looking at the early stages of a swarm moving in. Then, as it got too dark to see, the bees finally left.

This morning, I go out to check at about 7, and there was already about 10-15 bees zipping around my hive. I checked in throughout the day, and saw more and more. Mid-morning, Brad called: someone sighted a swarm in a nearby park, and wants us to get it. I started grabbing up my stuff to run over. Meanwhile Brad ran over to check on the swarm. Alas, it was gone before we could get there. So, I continued on with my day. While I was out, I decided to pick up some Lemongrass oil, as it is supposed to help attract swarms. I put a few drops on the landing board. About 20 minutes later, the bee count jumped from about 10-15 to easily 40-50! And they looked like they were going in and cleaning out the frames that still had some drawn comb! The bees were super agitated coming in and out of the hive, and seemed to not notice me at all. They kept running into one another in an almost violent way, and then they would shake their abdomens violently side to side, before going back to their tasks.

Brad called me while I was in the middle of this, and told me his mother called. A nuc box he placed in her yard was being checked out by bees, with behavior similar to my group. Later, he looked outside his garage, and the hive body he placed outside was literally crawling with bees!!! He took a few pics and sent them to me. The one at the beginning of this post is one of them. He sent a few, but this is hands-down the best of them. I'm hoping that I'll get to see the same thing at my hivebox in the next few days!!!

As far as my established colony goes, I'll be doing an inspection tomorrow. I'll post again then if there are any interesting developments.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Feral Colony update.

I just went out to check out The Colony (I've decided that's now it's official name) Brad and I are going to remove. It's 11:25 pm, so they are bedded down for the night, and I knew it would be a good time to go check them out.

Today was a warm day, and it's still about 75 degrees. With flashlight in hand, and no protective gear (not sure what a bulletproof vest is gonna do against a bee), I got right down in fron of it. The bees were huddled at the entrance, fanning like crazy. The sweet honey fragrance was amazing!!! I slowly moved away, and standing as far as six feet away, I could still smell the wax and honey scent.

I think a few of the guard bees took exception to my light, because after a few minutes, one of them shot out of the hive and attacked the lens. when I turned my light away, she turned and took a loopy course back home, no doubt waiting to see if I would test her patience a second time.

Brad placed a box with several lempty frames, two honey filled frames, and two brood frames in front of the hive, hoping to convince them of taking up a new residence. So far, though, they haven't seemed interested in the least. I think we're just going to have to get a little more aggressive to get them out. I'm thinking a chainsaw, a bee vac, lots of smoke, a lot of time and patience, and a few empty boxes... we'll see.

Thursday, May 20, 2010


Did my weekly inspection today. The bees were active, and a bunch were coming and going while I was getting ready. When I smoked the hive, they seemed to get very agitated, more so than normal. Initially, I was concerned, because they still haven't drawn out any comb in the first two frames I checked. Frame number three had about 3/4 of the comb drawn out, with pollen and nectar in them. The fourth was pretty well covered with bees, capped brood, and some larvae. Unfortunately, I wasn't seeing any eggs. The same story on the rest of the frames. When I got to the end, I went back, and decided to knock some of the bees off. When I did, they got pretty ticked, and the noise bumped up throughout the hive. Then I looked a little closer, and found several rows of eggs... Whew...

I checked the next frame, knocking bees off first. Then I saw it... not one, not two, but three different baby bees chewing their way out of their capped cells!!!The miracle of life!!! I was so excited, I was practically shaking!!! I got this picture of one of them... the one right in the center, with just her head visible. After that, I figured I'd best let the bees get back to life as normal, so I put the frames back where they belonged, and closed up shop. All in all an exciting day.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

What am I thinking?!?!

So, here I am, less than a month into my life as a beekeeper, and I'm seriously contemplating removing a colony of feral bees from a tree.... and it's a big one, too!!! This could be very very bad!!

Monday, May 17, 2010

buying woodenware

When you get started, you have a couple options for equipment. There are countless types of hives, including the top-bar, the Warre, traditional skeps, and many more. I'll focus just on the common box hive with frames, AKA the Langstroth hive, because, quite frankly, I don't have any experience with any of the others.

The Langstroth hive was developed and marketed by Rev. Lorenzo Langstroth back in the mid 19th century. He was looking for a design that was conducive to honey harvesting, that would not destroy the comb inside the hive. Prior to his invention, the only option was to let the bees build their comb unguided, then cut out the comb, and basically, smash the honey out of the comb. Therefore, the bees would have to completely rebuild the comb before they could start making honey again.

The good reverend came up with the idea for a box with removeable frames, where the bees would make their comb. Then, the keeper could remove the frame, cut the caps, and remove the honey. When they are done, the drawn out comb is still intact (except for the caps, which the bees would have replaced anyway). The frames are returned to the hive, where they are cleaned out by the bees, and are ready to fill again.

Now, when one decides to keep bees, they need to plan and prepare well before spring. The potenial keeper needs to order bees, gather all the woodenware (the hive and all it's parts), and all the tools. With Langstroth hives, this can add up pretty quick. You can purchase new equipment from businesses that specialize in beekeeping supplies, such as Dadant, Brushy Mountain Bee Farms, Mann Lake, and many more. Ambitious beekeepers can try to make their own boxes, though the frames are difficult and somewhat expensive to make, because of the special equipment needed, but are actually pretty cheap to buy. Another option is to find someone that is getting out of the hobby, which can save you quite a bit of money.

Most companies offer a full set-up (two hive bodies, two supers, associated frames , foundation, a smoker, a veil, maybe a pair of gloves,and a few extras), designed for beginners. You can get them completely unassembled (it's really very easy to put the parts together, with any small amount of technical ability, and tools; nothing more than a hammer, needle nose pliers, carpenters glue, and maybe a flathead screwdriver) and put it together yourself over a weekend; or you can get them fully assembled. Typically, these will run between $150 to more than $300.

Buying new almost guarantees that your hive will start off healthy. You don't have to worry about prior colonies that may have had foulbrood, wax moths, or any of the other bee specific issues. You can guarantee the wood is in good shape, and the foundation is clean. However, you start with a bit of a financial investment. Plus, if you are assembling the hive yourself, you have to make sure it is done correctly.

I started off by getting a good amount of used equipment. A gentleman about 20 minutes from me advertised hives for sale. When I showed up at his house, he told me he had been a beekeeper during high school, getting involved through FFA around 50+ years earlier, and had just gotten away from it. He also mentioned that he had an extractor and smoker, and would sell me the whole she-bang. I got two full hives (minus one bottom board), a veil, a smoker, and a three frame extractor, (mind you, the veil, smoker, and extractor are all useable antiques, which is an added bonus, for history/ antique nuts like myself) and about 10 entrance feeders for $135, all in pretty darn good condition.

Now, with used woodenware, you run the risk of starting off with diseases. Some can only be killed by burning the insides, or by using chemicals (which is something I am trying to avoid). Also, the wood may be rotted, cracked, or otherwise damaged. I strongly recommend you NOT buy sight unseen. Inspect the woodenware thoroughly, and don't be afraid to pass if something looks damaged. Don't, however, pass on items just because they are dirty. Remember, you can clean them, or you can let the bees do it. They are fastidious about their homes!

When I bought my woodenware, I knew they had been sitting for literally decades. I removed all the old foundation, and scraped all the old wax and propolis off the frames and from the inside the boxes. I repainted the boxes, covers ,and bottom boards, and replaced all the foundation with new. I also had to replace a few frames. I also bought a new veil, a suit for my daughter, Maddie, and a few other items that I needed (hive tool, a hive stand, and stuff like that), so I kinda took both approaches.

Thanks for taking the time to check out my blog. Please feel free to post your ideas and tips about aquiring woodenware. Also, feel free to post general comments, questions you have, or ideas for future posts. Thanks again, Dan.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Starting out, and my first two inspections

So, here I am, week 3 of life as a beekeeper. So far so good. I think I'll start off by talking about getting set up, then I'll move into the inspections.

My buddy, Brad, is a veteran beekeeper, with a solid one year of experience. Somehow, I let this guy (who, unfortunately, lost his first hive over the winter, and has managed to be stung a couple dozen times already this year) be my mentor... talk about the blind leading the blind. Since then, I've managed to wrangle up not one, not two, but three full hive set-ups, all from different places. I'm only using one of the hives so far, but will probably expand next spring.

Back in February, I ordered my bees from Klein and Sons in St Charles, MI (about 40 minutes from my house). Then, toward the end of April, I got the call... My girls were ready to meet me.

I was pretty apprehensive about putting them into their hive. I talked with Brad, read a couple books, and consulted several websites. The prevailing wisdom was to soak them with sugar water, and I even heard about some people that dunk the whole cage briefly into a vat of the stuff. I opted out of that idea, but did spray them copiously.... maybe too much. When I dumped them out, only two two or three took flight, and the rest sat in a lump on top of the frames, and on the floor of the hive. I got them in without killing too many. I dropped the queen cage twice, and then realized I forgot to take out the cork.... oh well, live and learn....

One week later, I opened up the hive. I removed a big chunk of burr comb and checked the queen cage. She was out, and on further inspection, was laying eggs. I had a couple frames with about 1/2-3/4 of the foundation drawn out with comb. Not gonna lie, I was pretty apprehensive about getting stung. I made it through, though.

The next week (last week) it was cold and rainy pretty much every day. So, I opted for not inspecting at all. However, my hivetop feeder was empty, and had several dead bees and a few ants in there, so I had to slide that out to clean it. I saw a bunch of activity as I slid the inner cover in place of the feeder and vice versa.

Today, it was warm, dry, and calm, so, I got in and did a good inspection. As I pulled the wall frame out, I was a little discouraged because there was very little drawn out comb. #2 frame was the same, and I was starting to worry. Then, when I pulled #3, I saw, on the outside of #4, there was a bunch of capped cells. #4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 were all just about completely filled with capped brood, with a crescent of capped honey above them! Beautiful!! The random uncapped cells also had eggs or larvae in them!! My girl is doing a pretty good job!!! #9 was a little bare, unfortunately. But, I'm not worried, cause the others are packed pretty well. I think next week, I'll be putting the second hive body on.

Also, I want to thank Angie and her son, Nathaniel, who came to watch. Nathaniel started nervous, but soon, was right up at the hive, checking them out!

Thanks for checking out my blog, and feel free to comment. I'll answer questions if I can, or point you in the right direction if I can't. And if you have ideas for posts, let me know. Maybe I'll post on your ideas...