Tuesday, July 22, 2014

July 22: Caps!

July 22, 2014:

I went out today to prop up the hive lid in preparation for a few hot dry days, and I pulled a few frames while I was there.

What I found was a few caps!  The bees are starting to put caps on the honey in the top super, which means it has started to ripen.  I didn't open up the lower super--I'll wait another week or so for that--but this sure made me happy.

And--aren't they just gorgeous?


This is a fascinating video of what's called "balling" a queen bee--killing her, but clustering around her and vibrating, giving off enough heat to do her in.  She has lived out her useful life, and the hive starts to see her as an intruder, since she has stopped producing the important pheromones that signal her status as their queen.

I'm not at the level of beekeeping where I'd be willing to pick up this mass of bees with my bare hand.  Maybe some day.

(Thanks, Marcia!)


The sunflowers are starting to bloom on the land around the hive!

New York Times on Colony Collapse Disorder

Biologist Mark Winston wrote an excellent column for the New York Times on July 14 about the complicated problem that is colony collapse disorder.  The following sticks out for me as maybe the best, most succinct summation of the disorder that I've read thus far:
Honeybee collapse has been particularly vexing because there is no one cause, but rather a thousand little cuts. The main elements include the compounding impact of pesticides applied to fields, as well as pesticides applied directly into hives to control mites; fungal, bacterial and viral pests and diseases; nutritional deficiencies caused by vast acreages of single-crop fields that lack diverse flowering plants; and, in the United States, commercial beekeeping itself, which disrupts colonies by moving most bees around the country multiple times each year to pollinate crops.
Winston's point, overall, is that the environmental problems we've created, and that we must face in the decades to come, can be seen in a microcosm of the hive.  We don't face just one problem--mites, say, or pesticides--we face a multitude, and they are compounded in their interactions.  Helping the bees may provide a sort of map for our own struggles--and will certainly help solve one of our looming problems in the meantime.


Sad-Eyed Lady of the Hive

from Rebecca Stimpson:

by Danielle Rose, at Legacy Ink

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

July 15: Super-Dooper

July 15, 2014: The hive got bigger today!  We added another super!

After much consideration, I decided to "bottom super"--so, in the photo above, the top chamber is the already-full-but-not-yet-capped honey super, and the second down is the new, empty super.  Then a queen excluder, then the two hive body deeps, which are full of bees and brood and pollen and honey.

I sprayed the new foundation with 2:1 (water:sugar) sugar syrup.  That seemed to help with the first super I put on, to encourage the bees to go through the queen excluder and start working on drawing out the foundation.  I assume that it will work again, along with the strong attraction of the honey sitting up there in the top super.

Our field is full of flowers, too!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Too many opinions

source: http://www.riskshoney.com/

One wonderful thing about beekeeping in 2014 is that there are literally hundreds of blogs and associations and fora and (good, old-fashioned) books discussing bees and how to keep them.  Lots of advice out there.

But almost every step of the way there are conflicting opinions about the particulars.  What kind of hive should you use--Langstroth, or Warre, or Top Bar?  Should you get your bees in a nuc, or in a box?  Should you feed them?  How long should you feed them?  Should you use smoke when working the hive?  When should you put on your second hive box?  When you put on a honey super, should you use a queen excluder?  I've had to contend with differing opinions about all these things.

Now I'm deciding when and how to put on the second honey super.

One reputable site (http://basicbeekeeping.blogspot.com/) says "A good practice is to over super (placing several honey supers on a hive) in late spring and early summer and to under super (limit the number of honey supers used) during late summer and early fall...when 6-8 frames in the existing box on the hive has been drawn out (the bees have added wax, built comb and are using the comb) then add the next honey super."

Another site (http://www.gobeekeeping.com/) says "A good working guide for adding supers is to examine a honey super on the hive to see if the bees are filling it with nectar.  If 3/4 of the cells are being filled with nectar it is time to add a super."

So far so good: both sites seem to be saying that I should indeed add another super, and SOON: maybe even tomorrow.  Now come the differing methods.  I could "top super" which would mean simply putting a new super on top of the one I have going, or "bottom super" which means--you guessed it--putting the new one underneath. Which is best?  basicbeekeeping writes:
This is a matter of opinion. Some bottom super because they feel the bees will have to walk through the new super to reach the one they were working. And while passing through the new one they will stop and pull out the wax. Others, like me, want a honey barrier and so we will use our first full honey super to serve as a honey barrier. By honey barrier I am referring to the limitations placed on the queen because she will not lay eggs in a cell which has honey in it. The queen is only looking for empty cells to lay eggs. When she reaches stored honey on the outer edges of the brood nest area, she will return to the area of opened cells.
basicbeekeeping is really interested in not using a queen excluder, because he thinks it's hard to get the workers to go up into the supers when the screen is in place.  My clever ladies had no trouble with that, though, and have drawn out and filled nearly 10 frames of the first super.  So maybe I should top super, with the queen excluder still on?

Not so fast: there are other reasons to bottom super.  According to gobeekeeping, many beekeepers argue that
bees will move up into the empty new super faster because the honey in the upper supers draw them into the new honey super.  When adding new foundation to a hive you have helped the bees by putting this new super with foundation in the warmest place fore wax builders to work -- just above the brood chamber.  Adding new foundation above all the supers as in top supering will result in comb not being completely drawn out.
I'll figure it out.  My bees seem bound and determined to just keep on working, regardless of what I do, anyway.  I think I got really lucky with this queen and her workers.  Or, more likely, I was really lucky that I went with my mentor's decision to get bees from Singing Cedars Apiary.

And beyond all this craziness, and the worry that attends it, there's a great thing about beekeepers: their general attitude seems to be "heck, try it."  They have a lot of respect for their bees, and though they worry endlessly they also seem to believe that the bees will find their way even if we do stupid things.

There's a lot of art in this science.

July 14: A Quick Check

July 14, 2014:

It's been 5 days since my last hive check, and I wanted to see if any of the honey in the super had been capped yet.  I also wanted to encourage my son (Sam, 11) to get over a little gitchiness about the bees, so I cajoled him into suiting up with me by telling him he could manage the smoker.  Alas, I didn't get any pictures of him in full gear--but he was an excellent helper and was very gentle and calm with the smoker.  He did vacate the hive yard to a distance of 20 feet or so once I got the top off, but that's ok: he came back to look at a few cool things (like honey, and propolis).

Here's what I found:

The honey is still uncapped.  But that's ok.  There's a lot more of it, and the foundation is drawn on pretty much every square inch of the frames, and full up with nectar.  I did a bit of research on how long it takes bees to cap honey, and it turns out this is extremely variable.  Once a bee fills a cell, the nectar may be visited by another bee that will move it or eat it or even cap it prior to still another bee uncapping it.  Once the colony decides to make stores, it can take between one and five days of fanning air across the comb to continue the evaporation process that turns nectar into honey--and if the weather has been damp as it has been here (thunderstorms almost every day!), it can take even longer.  The water content has to be below about 18% before the bees will cap it.  (source: http://www.nzbees.net/forum/threads/how-long-do-bees-take-to-cap-honey.867/)

So I just have to be patient, I guess.  They're working, and from what everyone tells me, it's an astonishingly successful hive.

I got some nice bee photos, both of the busy outside of the hive (it's hot today, and humid: they're cooling off and cooling the hive) and of some individual bees.  They're so pretty, my bees.

Beautiful Bee Shirt

The caption on this photo, sent to me by my cousin Marcia, reads "Here is a photo by Holly Wilmeth from the exhibit of Sara Mapelli Tink, an AMAZING woman. She is wearing over 12,000 bees. The queen bee is on a necklace on her chest, and all the other bees are gathering around her body slowly in the span of a couple of hours creating a blouse/shield."

I have no ambitions for doing this, but I think it's very very cool.

We Beekeepers are Serious

James points to the copy on the label: "We Beekeepers are serious about the True Quality."

Indeed we are.  A note on bee pollen, though: it's sold as a supplement with big promises as to its effectiveness in treating a number of conditions.  Among them: PMS, hay fever, mouth sores, rheumatism, radiation sickness, weight loss, brain hemorrhage, constipation, colitis, eczema, and diaper rash, among others.  As with many dietary supplements, there is no reliable scientific evidence that bee pollen has any effect in any of these cases.  More study is probably necessary--but don't believe everything you read.

No Bees, No...

(thanks, Jan Demers)

Thursday, July 10, 2014

July 9: Full Hive Inspection

Full frame of capped honey from the hive body

Yesterday we opened up the hive and went through the whole thing, top to bottom, taking out every frame, taking photos, and cleaning off burr comb.  The colony is in great shape!  Lots and lots of honey stored in the deeps, and the super almost all full of nectar.  Looking through the photos later, I took a sort of inventory.

In the super:
3 full frames fully drawn comb full of uncapped nectar
3 full frames fully drawn comb partly full of uncapped nectar
3 1/2 frames mostly drawn comb, partly full of uncapped nectar
1/2 frame mostly undrawn, with traces of nectar in what is drawn

full frame of uncapped nectar from the super

That's a lot, especially considering I just put the super on 2 weeks ago.  The ladies are working hard.

In the hive bodies:
4 frames fully capped honey (see the photo at the top: it's so beautiful.)
8 frames mostly capped honey
1 frame mostly uncapped nectar
7 frames about 1/2 or more full of brood and surrounded with honey and pollen

A frame with brood and a little pollen and capped honey.
They may be transitioning this frame to honey stores.
A frame mostly full of capped brood
A frame mostly full of pollen, with a little capped honey
Once they're done capping all that honey/nectar, this means that conservatively they'll have 14 frames worth of honey stored in the hive itself.  Each frame of honey weighs about 6 pounds, which means they'll have--midsummer--about 84 pounds of honey.  They'll probably add more stores as the summer progresses toward winter.  They only need about 60 pounds to make it through the winter, which means the honey in the super is free for me to harvest.

The only thing that worries me a little is that I didn't see too much pollen.  Only the larvae eat the pollen, though--or, more exactly, the nurse bees eat the pollen, then regurgitate it for the larvae to eat.  As the population of the hive levels out and declines toward fall and winter, they need less pollen.  I'll keep an eye on this, though.

Overall I'm overjoyed with what I saw yesterday.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Hundred Acre Wood

"Christopher Robin!" he said in a loud whisper.


"I think the bees suspect something!"

"What sort of thing?"

"I don't know. But something tells me that they're suspicious!"

"Perhaps they think that you're after their honey?"

"It may be that. You never can tell with bees."

Beekeeper Sherlock

Seems Ian McKellen is currently filming the role of the elderly Sherlock Holmes; what could be better?  Well, I'll tell you: in "His Last Bow" Doyle describes the ageing Holmes as retiring to the countryside and becoming a beekeeper and the author of a book about queen exclusion:
“Exactly, Watson. Here is the fruit of my leisured ease, the magnum opus of my latter years.” He picked up the volume from the table and read out the whole title, “‘Practical Handbook of Bee Culture, with some Observations upon the Segregation of the Queen.’ Alone I did it. Behold the fruit of pensive nights and laborious days, when I watched the little working gangs as once I watched the criminal world of London.”

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Oh no! A bee!

from Jon Bravard:

Look Out, Jimmy!

via Johnny the Horse

Bees and water

When we had our new plot of land ploughed up, we discovered a fairly big rock in the middle of everything.  It's about 12"x12"x8", maybe.  No big deal, but our son, Sam, promptly marched his grandmother out there and together they dug it up, hoisted it onto a saucer-style sled, and dragged it into the yard where it has sat for 3 months.  At first I was grumpy about this, since it's not particularly lovely.  But after the bees arrived, I started to notice them sitting on the rock and gathering in small groups at the edge of the rainwater that collects in the saucer.  This is now their water source, and unlovely or not, it's staying--at least until I find a more attractive basin.

Bees collect water and bring it back to the hive, not just for hydration but for use in building comb and in keeping the hive cool on hot days.  My friend Julien just sent this fascinating short article about how they do this.

cartoon by Victoria Roberts

Monday, July 7, 2014

rude cute bee

From my bee-girl daughter, Abby:

(credit tumblr user spicyroll)


"When a bee reaches an obstruction (such as a wall), it will always travel to the right and follow that obstruction till it can go no further. It will never go left."

Since I'm left-leaning to the point of falling over, I find this hard to stomach.  But I guess metaphors don't always pan out.

July 2: Quick Check of the Super

July 2, 2014:

Today I went out to do a quick check of the honey super, to see how far they've gotten.  There were massive thunderstorms predicted, and I wanted to go out and take out the stick I had put under the cover to prop it up and provide ventilation in the hot hot days.

While I was there I pulled out a few frames from the honey super--and yay! They're starting to lay in the honey! None of the honey cells are capped yet, but there's a lot of honey stored already.

One thing, though: the bees really really don't like being disturbed on a cloudy blustery day. They were mad for a long time after I was there, even though I hardly opened the hive at all. Silly bees.  I went out 1/2 hour later to work in the garden, and even then there were a couple of guard bees that chased me inside.

Beautiful Bee from my cousin

From Marcia Eddy-Hamilton:

Such a pretty bee!

Also from Marcia (I think it looks like a strawberry!):

Causes of Bee Decline

from Suzanne Stimpson:

According to the Washington Post, "the honeybee population in the United States is now less than half of what it was at the end of World War II. Driven largely by industrial farming practices, that decline was well underway when, in 2006, commercial beekeepers began finding many of their hives suddenly abandoned. Colony collapse appears to be linked to a variety of factors that work in concert to weaken bees."

The USDA has now announced $8 million in incentives to farmers and ranchers in 5 states who establish new habitats for bees.  Progress, I hope.

More here.

June 26: Adding a Honey Super

Since our last full hive inspection a couple of days ago was so successful, I've decided to add our first honey super.  It's clear the bees need to get busy!  I went out today and put on a queen excluder (the use of these is controversial, but most beekeeping sites seem to think that it's a good idea for first-time beekeepers to go ahead and use one) and the first honey super.  I also took off the hive-top feeder: there are flowers galore blooming everywhere, and I think there's a strong enough nectar flow at the moment to support their efforts.  I want the honey to come from flowers, anyway, not sugar water.

Presidential Task Force

From my mother, Nancy Eddy:

President Obama has signed a memorandum setting up a task force to investigate the cause of pollinator loss:  "During the close of National Pollinator Week, the White House issued a Presidential Memorandum on pollinator health to the heads of federal agencies requiring action to “reverse pollinator losses and help restore populations to healthy levels.” The President is directing agencies to establish a Pollinator Health Task Force, and to develop a National Pollinator Health Strategy, including a Pollinator Research Action Plan."

More here.

June 22: Full Hive Inspection

Back home to the bees! Ken and I opened up the hive this morning and went through the whole thing--pulled out all the frames checking for honey and pollen and brood. They're doing GREAT: they've filled up the second hive box I put on a week before I left for Greece. It may be time to put on a honey super and start them collecting MY honey.

Oh, and today we tasted their honey for the first time.  Bees build comb wherever they can--not just on the frames and foundation--and it's usually a good idea to clean it up before the hive gets so clogged up it's unworkable for the beekeeper.  We broke off a few pieces of extra comb (called "burr comb"), and one or two had a few cells of honey in them, which we took inside to try. So clear and clean and sweet. Perfect. I'm so proud of them (even if they are really pissed off at me right now).

More Beautiful Bees

From Jon Bravard:

More beautiful photos of bees!

More here.

Airports and Bees

From Barney Dannelke:

Beekeepers in Seattle are using the SEA-TAC airport as an aviary, and in the process breeding extra-hardy bees, in the hopes of combatting colony-collapse disorder.

I love that photo, by the way.  It looks like a painting.

More here.

tiny sculptures

From James A. Wu:

Tiny tiny sculptures carved in the wax of crayons and the lead of pencils.  An alphabet and tiny animals!

Here's a bee:

More here.

Beehive Tomb

In Greece I visited the Beehive tomb of Agamemnon (along with many many other beautiful and moving sites).  The beehive tomb is remarkable, though, and we were lucky to be there at a time of day when it was not overrun with tourists.

There are beehives all over in Greece--honey is a significant agricultural product for Greece--but I was especially happy to see a hive on the side of the beehive tomb (you can also just barely see it on the hill to the left of the entrance in the first picture up above).

June 7: The electric fence

June 7, 2014:

I'm about to leave for a trip to Greece with my mother, and I've been told that bears have been sighted in the neighborhood.  Last year a black bear got into my mentor's hives and caused horrible damage.  I'm a bit paranoid about this, enough so that I decided to invest in a solar-powered battery and electric fence.  With the invaluable and tireless help of my husband Ken and our 11-year-old son Sam, the whole fence was erected in a day.  But what an enormous amount of work.  The bees were mostly very patient with all of this, even the banging-in of posts.

Bee-Inspired Phrases

From Jan Demers:

Some etymology of a few bee-inspired phrases.  I especially like "making a bee-line":  "A bee-line is a straight one between two points; making a bee-line typically means to zoom straight toward a place that one needs or desires—like a bathroom or cocktail bar—ignoring everything else along the way. The Oxford English Dictionary links this phrase to the focused line a bee is “supposed instinctively to take in returning to its hive.”

Other phrases here.

Bees are Beautiful

from Bron Skinner:

Photographs of simply gorgeous bees:

More here.

Aunt Bee

"Thanks, Aunt Bee!"

(Thanks, James A. Wu!)