Archive | August 2012

Hive Personality Comparison

I spent a couple of hours at my aunts today, working wonderfully next to the bees who were working the last of the oregano blooms and the lush dandelions. I even have a nice picture!

I’m rather sad about my headphones cord getting in the shot, but it’s a great picture none the less. There’s even a cute little damselfly in the bottom left corner.

This picture doesn’t really do the scene justice. It was much more serene in person. That’s Sam in the top right corner.

Anyway! While I was there I walked all through this dandelion patch, and all four of the dogs (my three and then my aunts dog) bowled through here, and it seemed like every other flower had a bee on it. There was absolutely no trouble. I had to dig out a large bed of iris, which has grass and oregano all through it, and the bees didn’t even seem to mind if I accidentally stepped on them while shoveling. I have yet to be bothered by a bee at my aunts house.

At my house however, you can’t go outside without being attacked. I stepped outside for less than a minute, just to walk around the garden, and hadn’t even made it halfway round before being angrily buzzed by a bee, who proceeded to chase me into the house and get stuck in my hair. I managed to fling it out before I got stung, and it hit the ground with enough force that it was stunned long enough for me to squish it. That said, I’m now stuck inside for another week or so, so the population can die down enough that I’ll be left alone.

So, I think my aunts hive will be my breeder stock from now on. I’m not sure which hive is the more aggressive at my house, but Tasha’s bees are more than likely. Which is a shame, because she makes such pretty drones.

I also found a lovely alternative to frames for Warre hives. They’re called half frames. You put a 90mm bar on each end of a top bar, and it creates a sturdy enough structure to handle. The bees (in theory) attach most of the comb to the walls of the hive nearest the top bar, so having this ‘half frame’ means they’re unable, but that you can handle them easier. It’s supposed to be the best of both worlds because it’s a small enough increase that it’s not taking up too much useable room and costing the bees energy for heat maintenance in the summer or winter. So I’ll be asking my cousin to modify the top bars he’s already made to become half frames. AND at the association meeting last night someone recommended I put wooden chamfer on the bottoms of the top bars to act as guides for the bees. Apparently they follow this guide more readily than they do the slit in the bar that I asked my cousin to put in all of them.

See here: Chamfer-Wood.jpg for an image.

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My First Beekeepers Meeting

It was surprisingly fun. I was honestly expecting it to be just a few of the same half dozen people who were all on a first name basis and knew each other really well/ had all been working together for years, so having a random new person would’ve been awkward. It was nothing like that. There were close to 50 people at todays meeting, the majority of whom didn’t know each other I would say. My mom went with me today, since I thought she would enjoy it as much as I would, and I was right. There was plenty of laughs all around, a fair few of them being bee jokes, which I quite enjoyed.

There was a guest speaker who had a PhD in entomology who asked us “why do people keep bees?” One member responded, “because they’re out of their minds!” much to everyone’s amusement. We talked about the various diseases of bees, though not in depth and everything I hear I pretty much already knew. The guest speaker talked about his field work, which involved the ‘waggle dance’ and how bees communicated. He emphasized that bees have the most developed communicative abilities of any species, second only to humans. He also showed us part of the field work he did, which involved moving a feeder around and placing it on different colors, to see how the bees would react to the change, and what they would do if the change became constant, i.e, if the feeder was gradually brought out earlier and earlier in the day. He put the feeder out at 5 pm for a few days, then gradually put the feeder out ten minutes sooner each day (this experiment lasted several weeks), and the bees recognized this and the pattern, and began showing up  ten minutes before he had put the feeder out the previous day. So if he put the feeder out at 5 one day, then 4:50 then 4:40 then 4:30, the bees recognized this and would show up at 4:20 the next day, so that they would arrive at the exact time he was putting the feeder out. He explained it a lot better though, (he is a teacher after all).

I don’t know that I learned much of anything, but it was fun. It did drag on a bit at the end. Two and a half hours is a little long for a beekeeping meeting. I did get introduced to a beekeeper who keeps bees in only Warre hives, and talked to him about what to do with my hives, as there’s wax connected to everything. He said I’ll have to tear everything down and make the bees start from scratch, next year of course. I was a little annoyed by this answer, even though you have to destroy the wax to harvest anyway, because if the bees don’t draw the wax out correctly from the start, you’re just sort of stuck until next year. I talked to B, the president of the club, who was surprised to see us there (he works with my mom, which is how I was originally connected to him), and he said he put two ‘brace’ bars on his top bars, so that the bees cant connect the wax to the walls. This is was I was planning to do anyway, so talking with someone who’s had success with it was nice.

I was also exposed to the master’s program, which is a 6 year process involving Apprenticeship, Journeyman(hood[?]), and eventually Mastery. Apprenticeship only requires $15 for a booklet and a test, and you can opt to just take the test if you feel confident enough, but a series of ten lessons are available. To become a Journeyman you have to have at least 3 years experience (which I will only be just completing this year), a field test at your local associations apiary, 30 “public service points” that are accumulated through volunteer work for your association, various presentations/demonstrations at various locations/events, or publications in newspapers or magazines, all of which relate to beekeeping, of course. You must also keep a journal for at least a year of your beekeeping experiences (oh look! I’m done!), “acquire information from beekeeping books and journals” which I’ve been doing on my own all summer, and a series of 10 exams must be completed which cover each section of the course. To become a master you have to have “six years of accumulated experience” and have completed “four research papers and one presentation”, as well as have an unspecified amount of “public service points”.

I’m interested in taking the test to become an official apprentice, if only to see how much I really know about beekeeping. Being a Journeyman sounds like too much work, and becoming a Master sounds about as difficult as getting a masters degree, which I don’t plan on doing. I’ll definitely email in about the apprenticeship though. The test is open book even, so pretty much anyone can be an apprentice. I might consider taking the lessons, just for fun.

Until next time!

Naming And A ‘Drone Frame’

I figured I should open White Hive one last time before harvesting, to make sure they’re doing ok and will survive the winter. They’ve slowly started drawing out the last three frames in the super, though I don’t expect those frames to be finished or capped by the end of the year at all. I will be getting 6 full frames at the very least though.

I checked a few frames in the top brood box, just to see how things were going. There were two large pockets of drone brood on one frame that I pulled up, so I destroyed those. There just wasn’t a reason to keep them this late in the year, even though there were some drones emerging, and 90% of the ones running around were the lovely brown-amber color this queen produces. Speaking of- well, I’ll get back to her in a minute. I moved into the lower box (and was staggered by the weight of the top brood box, which I would estimate at upwards of 70 lbs), because I wanted to make sure they had drawn out that frame I harvested a while ago. They had. It was fully drawn out and a solid sheet of capped drone cells. I was completely shocked. Because it was the entire frame I left it alone. I was not going to bother uncapping the whole thing. That said, this frame can now be my ‘drone frame’ which I can destroy each spring to help keep mite populations low. That said, I have yet to see a mite on any of the bees in any of my hives.

The bees were extremely agitated with me for being in the lower box, and a large cloud had surrounded me by this point. They had left me virtually alone during my glance into the super and the top brood box, but after pulling up the drone frame in the bottom box they became extremely unhappy and kept head butting my helmet. A hornet had also shown up to buzz the frames at this point, so I quickly restacked the boxes and walked away. I didn’t bother opening Trunchen Hive. I was followed up through the garden and around the yard, by at least a dozen bees. eventually, after a good deal of swatting with my brush and standing in a small patch of shade, I got the girls to leave me alone and rush inside. To my knowledge I wasn’t followed then, but a bee did show up to send my dogs running inside once I had de-robed and was outside again to write this post. We all headed inside just in time for my mom to get home. Which meant that she was also buzzed a few minutes later when she went to turn the grill on for dinner.

And now, back to the queen. Emma (author of http://missapismellifera.com) made the comment that the queen of White Hive sounded like a she-wolf. So I decided to do a bit of digging around through wolf-lore and find a name I liked. They were all slightly obnoxious, but I did find “Tasha”, which was characteristic and something I could stomach. It’s not the prettiest name, or the most regal, but it could easily be the name of the youngest sister in a royal family, who has a birthmark and is slightly quirky. Which is what the queen of White Hive is, lol. So, I’ve decided to name her Tasha.

That’s all I’ve got for now. Tomorrow night I’ll be going to my first beekeepers association meeting. I figured it was time I finally just went to one, since I am technically a registered member. I’ll let you know how it goes. The current president is B, the guy I bought my first colony of bees from when I began beekeeping.

Not Much To Report

A break in the heat, with enough light to see by, presented its self today. It’s supposed to get up to 85 today, but for now its overcast and only 66 degrees.

I opened White Hive and was surprised to see the queen on the only frame that the bees are starting to draw out in the super. The 6 frames on the edges of the super are almost fully capped (some cells have been extended to continue filling them) and three of the 4 empty frames are virtually untouched, despite being covered in bees. To ensure I didn’t loose the queen I smoked most of the bees down out of the super. I found the queen on a frame of emerging brood. The top brood box has at least 2 frames with 70% of them being capped honey. I only made it four or five frames in because the bees were extremely unhappy with me. They would appear calm and then suddenly a large group of them would launch themselves at my glove or my helmet. Even with a mesh screen around your face, having a dozen or so bees throw themselves at you isn’t fun. There was almost a constant *smack* on my helmet from bees slamming themselves against it. My gloves were stung a few times too.

I’m still not sure what I want to name this queen. White Hive has become very organized with her at its head. A large number of girls come out every evening to clean (washboard) the ‘front porch’ and the face of the hive. I might even have a picture of that for you!

It’s not the best quality, as my phone’s zoom is not the best, but my camera has ceased to work so this is the best I can do at the moment. Anyway, I like this shot because it shows the difference in apparent activity with the two hives. Trunchen Hive occasionally has a small group of girls outside to fan air in, but they never washboard. To almost be completely opposite, White Hive only ever has a few girls fanning air in, while the majority washboards.

This queen also makes golden-brown drones, and is a light golden brown herself. She has, what I call, a “mole” on her right side which I find to be a rather original characteristic. Her main color is a golden color, but she has a small brown smudge in the middle of her abdomen, just to the right, well before the rest of her abdomen tapers off in both size and darkness of color. And there’s also this “organized” defense of the hive to consider… I’m not sure, but I’ll definitely think of something. Suggestions would be fun!

I peeked (with effort) into Trunchen Hive. The bees have glued the cloth on the top box down so successfully that after I managed to pull it up some of the fibers from it stayed attached to the box. I wasn’t going to bother trying to get into the hive after this, especially since I knew the other two boxes were full and could see all I really needed to. The last two bars on the left side of the top box (when looking at the hive from the front) weren’t completely drawn out, but I suspect that they’ll fill in before the end of the year. I’m still rather concerned on how I’m supposed to get the bees to condense themselves into just two boxes… There was a large patch of capped brood visible in the top box, so I can’t just take it off at the end of the year. Warre’s book says absolutely nothing on HOW you’re supposed to condense the bees, only that you have to. *sigh*

Heat Wave

This week is forecasted to be our hottest week of the summer. I haven’t been able to open the bees at all because it’s been well into the 80s consistently, and the only time its cool enough to think about doing anything is after dark or before sunrise. The forecast for today and tomorrow is the low to mid 90s, and an “excessive heat warning” is in effect from noon today until 11 PM tomorrow. The next week will continue to be in the upper 70s to mid 80s.

My neighbors informed me yesterday that an alert has gone out about starving hummingbirds, which makes me wonder if there’s a dearth for the bees as well (though bees are constantly coming and going from both hives). We haven’t had rain in weeks, and things are starting to turn a bit brown. An azalea in our front yard has burnt leaves, and things that should be blooming right now have stopped. I watered the entire garden for half an hour last night (the first time its been watered in probably two weeks) and then again for 15 minutes this morning, before the sun was on it. I watered the lawn in front of the bees for 15 minutes too, if only to keep the ground cooler for a little longer today. We’re not big lawn people at our house, so our lawn is actually just a sea of yellow dust; what was once grass but has since been trampled to dust by the dogs.

Anyway, I just wanted to write this short post to document the weather. I’ve been watering the bees pretty much every day for the last couple weeks I think. Since I took that empty box off of the bottom of Trunchen Hive, a group of girls have dedicated themselves to fanning air into the hive. There’s a light ring on the front of the lowest box that shows where they like to stand, as there isn’t enough room for all of them on the small landing board. I’m guessing this ring is caused by the darkening of the rest of the box, which is unpainted and gets constant sun, and the shade from the bees bodies keeps that little area lighter? Or maybe its wax that is accidentally created while they’re fanning that falls off and sticks to the wood? I dunno, I’m just guessing here.

Rearranging Frames And Boxes

After a week of horribly hot weather, I was finally able to open the bees in a break in the heat today. Its supposed to be 83 today, but right now its only in the low 70’s.

White Hive has 6 frames fully capped in the super, and over 4 frames of honey in the top brood box. Most frames also have a large band of capped honey over the brood, which I’m not including in the 4 fully capped frames. I rearranged the frames so that there are 3 frames of honey on each side of the super, and 2 honey frames on each side of the brood nest. I think I left the frame of pollen on the edge of the brood nest though, since that’s where the bees seemed to want it. I saw the queen, but no fresh eggs. There were just under 5 frames of capped brood, with half a frame dedicated to drones. I cut down all of the drone cells on that frame, simply because I don’t want to deal with that many more drones in the hive. I saw no varroa mites on any of the drones, though most of their eyes were beginning to darken. I didn’t bother looking into the lower box, as the bees were getting a little agitated at this point. They stayed unusually calm throughout most of the inspection, and I didn’t have the usual dozen or so girls coming out to bother me.

I then moved on to Trunchen Hive, and decided I just needed to be brave and separate the boxes so I could at least attempt to peer down into each of them. After struggling to peel a heavily propolised bit of cloth off of the top box (the bees had begun putting propolis in between the bars even, so that very little air could escape), I was able to begin. The top box and the box beneath it were fully drawn out, so far as I could tell. The third box had two bars that had not been touched, on the far right side (when looking at the hive from the front), and the bar next to those was only partially drawn out. The final box, the box on the floor, was completely untouched, save for the propolis which had been used to glue the bars in place. I decided to do some rearranging, if only so the bees would fill at least three boxes. I took the empty box off of the stand and set it aside (not on top of the other three boxes). What had been the third box (originally the lower of the two boxes that made up the hive when it was started) was also set aside. The first and second boxes were put on the stand, and then the third box was put on top of that. I then shook whatever bees were still inside the fourth box onto the top bars of the 3rd (now top) box. I then put the cloth, the quilt, and the roof back on, and walked away with the empty box.

So, to clarify; Trunchen Hive’s boxes were originally in the order, from top to bottom, 1 2 3 4, but is now in the order 3 1 2, with 2 and 3 being the original two boxes that the hive was started with, and 1 being the box that housed the third swarm. Make a little better sense now?

This new arrangement also eliminated the gap in between boxes 2 and 3, which the bees had begun closing up with propolis. The amount of propolis being collected by Trunchen Hive is much greater than what’s being collected by White Hive. White Hive actually had no noticeable difference in the propolis around the hive.

Oh, the other thing I meant to mention was the number of bees that having been hanging out on the ‘front porch’ of White Hive. Every night in the last week several dozen girls have come out to washboard on the landing board, as well as the front of both of the brood boxes. Some have even begun spilling over onto the sides of the hive, as well as the cement hive stand itself. A small row of bees fans cool air into the hive, but everybody else washboards. Trunchen Hive doesn’t even send bees out to fan in cool air, but this may change now that theres one less box. With such an empty pocket of space in the top box though, there might not be a need for it.

With the increased heat, I’ve been hosing down the dogs, and the patio. Even with our patio cover, the cement heats up to an obnoxious level and warms the house quickly. I hose it down every so often to make sure it doesn’t get too hot. The bees love this, and come and drink the water off of the pavement. They also enjoy the leaky sprinkler system pipe at the side of the house. I also have hosed the hives down a few times, usually when I hose down the patio, to keep them cool and to deter the bees from coming to the house in large numbers. One or two bees drinking from the pavement is cute, but dozens is a nuisance and forces everyone inside.