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...