Archive | May 2014

I Hate To Say I Told You So

Today started out very nicely, with clear skies and summer temperatures. The yard is a sea of green and purple, and bugs are everywhere. We often have birds in the yard, and this year we’ve been graced with gold finches twice, which, despite being the state bird, we almost never see.

I peaked in on my girls today around 2 ish, and found 5 and a half frames of brood. Pollen was abundant and there was even capped honey, with plenty more ripening on the empty frames around the brood nest. The bees had created three supercedure cells but none of them were full. I squished them down and went about my business. I found the queen on the south side of the hive, where the eggs were freshest. There were a few on the east side of the brood nest, with 2 full frames of capped brood in the middle. This queen certainly is a runner. She scurried all over the frame when I picked her up, and the bees all seemed very flighty. I kind of expected that would be the case, given the different temperaments of the two packages when I had compared them side by side. I wanted these bees at my house so I could keep a closer eye on them. I expect they’ll be a bit of trouble this year.

With everything in order at my house, I decided to drive down to my aunts to see what her bees were doing. What had started out as a beautiful day quickly gave way to torrential rains, and I arrived at my aunts between showers. I waited a bit for the rain to clear and talked to my cousin about work and things. He’s been interested in what I’m doing and will come watch me if he’s home while I’m there. I told him today that because of the rain the girls weren’t going to be as friendly as normal, so I advised him to stay back. He thought he would be fine, and despite the fact that he quickly got a bee in his hair he stayed close by to watch what I was doing.

The package I installed felt nice and heavy. I lack the proper tool to get the combs apart, and because of the impending rain I decided not  to try to pull things apart. There was lots of new wax drawn out and pollen was coming in through the front door so I think everything is fine. They had eaten all of the fondant I fed them, so I’m glad I gave them some. I quickly closed them back up and moved to the hive that over wintered at my aunts. I’m amazed they’re still alive because of just how small the colony is. They had eaten some of the fondant but not all of it, and because their numbers were so low I decided it was best that I really made sure they had a queen. I quickly flipped the box upside down and cut the comb from the sides of the hive. I then carefully pulled up a top bar, which ripped clean off of the comb it had been attached to. The bees had braced all of the comb together so that I would’ve had to pull up three bars at once to look at anything. It didn’t matter though because brood was present in the cells that I had destroyed, so I got to see what I needed to. They were almost fully developed, so I felt bad that I had done that, but I needed to know if there was even a queen in there.

This seemed to make the hive very upset though, and a bee flew straight out of the entrance and stung my cousin on his eyelid. I had told him not to stand where he was, because the bees wouldn’t like him there, but he hadn’t listened. He was standing just a few feet away, almost directly in front of the hive. He ran off swearing, trying to get the bee off, but of course once you’ve been stung you can’t do much. I put the hive back together and told him to go take the stinger out while I looked for some plantain. He went to find a mirror and had the stinger out by the time I got inside. I did feel pretty sorry for him; I can’t imagine being stung on the eye is very pleasant. And of course he pinched the stinger to get it out, so all of the venom went right in. I guess I had forgotten to tell him to properly remove a stinger. He chewed the plantain up though, and spit the salve out on his eye. He felt better after a little bit, and I stuck around to make sure he didn’t have a serious reaction. He barely had any swelling at all, which was so bizarre to me. I swell up like a balloon immediately, and his face was practically unchanged! So unfair.

After a while I left him to tend his wounds with an icepack and some Benadryl. He thanked me for coming and was very nice about the whole thing. Hopefully next time he’ll listen to me and stand where I tell him to. I promised to bring a second suit so that he can get dressed up and actually see whats going on if he wants to.

Bumblebee Rescue

A few days ago my neighbors found that they had bumblebees in one of their favorite bird houses. Birds nest in it almost every year and my neighbors don’t always clean out the old nesting material (which is a good thing). Anyway, they found these adorable little creatures and within two days decided they had to go. My neighbors texted me at work to say that if I didn’t remove them for them they were going to kill them. I was immediately furious that they would even consider such a thing, especially when bumblebees are struggling so much. I told them not to kill them and that I would figure out how to move them when I got home. They texted back some time later to say that they had called a beekeeper who told them they should kill them if they didn’t want them. I’m highly suspicious that any beekeeper would say something like that, so my guess is that they called pest control.

Anyway, I came home and quickly researched how to move a bumblebee nest. Everything I found said that you simply just move them to the new location, which seems really weird to me. But that’s what I did. I waited until dusk, got dressed in my beekeeping suit, put some paper over the hole in the bird house, and moved them over to a post on a trellis we have. Everything I found online said that you should close up the hive entrance and then wait until mid day the next day to release them. Supposedly this lets them get “acclimated” to their new home? It seems weird to me but that’s what I’m doing.

Moving them made me feel really bad. I waited until it was almost dark out before I did it, but 5 bees were still out foraging and were distressed to find the entrance to their home blocked. At this time of year the hive population is very low, so 5 bumblebees could easily be half the foraging party. The bird house weighed a couple of pounds, which surprised me, and buzzed loudly whenever I moved it jarringly. I really hope they make it! I’ve wanted bumblebees to nest in my garden for years. I’ll post pictures of them coming and going as soon as I can!

 

This Years First Inspection

I knew I was going to be in my aunts neighborhood on Saturday so I made up enough fondant to feed both colonies. Technically I should be feeding them sugar water at this point of the year, but because I don’t have any way to be doing that, fondant will have to do. I opened the colony that overwintered first because they had such a small population last time. In all honesty I don’t know how they’ve made it so long. There are really only a few hundred bees left. The combs are glued to the walls and each other, so I can’t easily get in and see if they have brood or not. I’m fairly certain they do because bees were bringing in pollen while I was there, but its hard to say. I reduced the colony down from three boxes to two, and when I separated the boxes I was surprised to find a clump of bees that had died of cold during the winter. The boxes were all devoid of honey, and there were (dead) mites visible on the dead bees. My guess is that the cold got to them and that they didn’t starve, because of the fact that there are still bees living in the colony today.

I checked the package I installed last week next. There were thousands more bees in that colony and they had been happily drawing out new comb on some of the bars that were empty. They occupied both boxes, and pollen was coming in in large quantities. I’m excited! I put the fondant on top of both colonies to make sure that they got enough to eat. Its been raining off and on for the last week, so they haven’t gotten a real chance to go collect nectar.

I got home too late to open my bees, but it was nice out today so I took a look. I was over joyed to find two full frames of developing brood and eggs. They had eaten through all of the capped honey from last years bees, but they were doing their best to replace it. Nectar stores were ripening on the frames next to the brood nest, and copious amounts of pollen were stored near the developing larvae. I didn’t bother feeding these girls because of the boost they had from last years honey. There’s nectar ripening and this next week is supposed to be very warm. They’ll have plenty of opportunities to get some food.

I’m also very happy with the number of bumble bees in the yard this year. We seem to have at least three or four different kinds of them. Some have brown bodies, some have a large orange stripe on their backs. I haven’t seen many of the “traditional” black and yellow bumbles since the last time I saw that queen around, which makes me wonder if they ever found a home. I would really like to build a nest box for them, but I’m not sure where I could put it to keep them protected from the elements and out of the way. I’ll have to look into it more when I find the time!

Oh! I was also really surprised to find a drone in the colony at my house. Someone in the area has a healthy hive if drones are out and about already!

And Then There Were Three

Yesterday I got my bees! I drove out to Seattle with my mom and picked up two packages. The suppliers were even nice enough to supply you with marshmallows for releasing the queens!

I went home from there and immediately installed my bees. It had been warm and sunny while I was picking up the bees, but as I got started at my house the weather started to change. I had prepped some sugar water before I left the house, so when I got home all I had to do was spritz the bees and throw them in the hive. I quickly rearranged the frames so that the pollen and honey stores from last years bees were in the middle, and shook the bees in. While I was taking the cork out of the queen cage the queen actually managed to escape for a second. I was able to pinch her wings together and coerce her back in the cage. It was a very stressful couple of seconds, let me tell you. She was very energetic and ready to be started in the new hive, that’s for sure. She was an odd orangey gold color. Almost like the cheese color of Ruffles chips. Not very attractive, if you ask me. I expect good things from these bees this year. Since I had two packages to choose from, I set them out in front of me and asked them both if they would like to live with me. The box that seemed the most excited was the one that I picked. I think I’ll call this queen Terra the Tenacious. I’m hoping that her attempted escape is a sign that she’ll have a rapid buildup. That said, I’m sure she won’t stick around long if she does. In all honesty that’s ok though. I actually really like seeing bees swarm. There’s something calming about it.

Anyway, I sprayed the bees with sugar water several times while I worked, and no sooner had I closed up the box and walked away did the rain start sprinkling. Any bees outside the hive quickly found their way in, and I think losses were kept to a minimum. Here’s a picture of the new hive location!

 

 

Image

 

I decided to move it because where it was had clearly not been successful. The hive had been in probably the coldest spot in the yard, and it wasn’t very forgiving. I’m hoping this year will be easier on the bees since the hive is higher up in the garden and gets sun sooner in the morning. Once we get the green house done the hive will have a nice wind breaker too. 

After things were finished at my place I headed over to my aunts house. Weeks ago I went over there to check on her bees, and found that they were still alive. Soon after, my aunt checked on them and thought they were dead. And by ‘checked on’ I mean that she knocked on the side of the hive. Whenever I’m not sure if the girls are home I like to knock, as if to announce that I’m coming in. If they are home a bee or two will usually fly out and investigate, which means I don’t have to get all suited up just yet. My aunt checked in on them at the wrong time of day though, so no bees flew out to greet her and she thought they were dead. So while I was over there yesterday I peeked in the top to see if anyone was home. There was a small cluster of bees at the top of the hive, but there was pollen coming in, which I took as a good sign. I sprayed them with some sugar water and quickly closed them back up.

The fun part was installing the new bees. And my aunt has her hives right next to an intersection, and her fence is chicken wire, so I had many confused faces watching me as they slowed to a stop at the 4 way. One father and son even stopped right in the middle of things for a few minutes to watch me. I would’ve invited them to come watch up close, but they had stopped right in the middle of the street in a very inconvenient spot. I waved at them as soon as I noticed them, and the dad gave me a thumbs up, and the son smiled back at me.  When I turned around to move some spare boxes out of my way they drove off. A few minutes later a couple of teenage girls pulled up and they both looked completely baffled, haha.

The bees at my aunts house were much calmer than mine. I’m hoping there won’t be any trouble from them this year. Here’s a picture of their new setup.

Image

 

While its technically illegal to have hives this close to the property line, I’m hoping that because my aunt is planting hedges and vines to crawl up the fence, that rule won’t really apply. You’re supposed to have 6 ft tall fences around your property if you have bees, with the theory being that the bees will fly up over the fences and stay out of peoples hair. Its ridiculous if you ask me. That said, having hives right next to a 4 way stop without even a proper fence is a little risky. No one has complained yet though, and hopefully it stays that way!

So, I currently have 3 hives. And I’m going away to college in the fall. I’m so glad to have bees back in my yard though. My garden seemed so empty without them. I honestly don’t know how people can have a garden without bees in it. It’s so boring! My mom later said that she had no idea how much she had missed them as well. Once the bees were installed she said she realized that something really had been missing from our garden after all.