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.