Tuesday, August 30, 2016

August 29, 2016: MAQS


About a week ago, on Monday 8/22, I went into my hives and installed what beekeepers call MAQS--Mite-Away Quick Strips. These are one of the least invasive, least chemically-onerous ways of treating bees for mites. I hadn't seen a lot of mites on the drop trays, but it's better to treat in the late summer rather against the possibility of a huge infestation setting in during the fall.

As prescribed, I took out the strips yesterday and found tons of dead mites under my big hive, but very few under the smaller ones. Most of that may just be the difference in size (the big hive is currently 5 boxes tall, while the smaller ones are only 2). But it may also be that the new queens I got from my mentor for the smaller hives are of a more "hygienic" genetic strain. Some bees are just better about cleaning themselves and each other, and they rid the hive of mites more effectively because of that.  On the other hand, if they were better about cleaning, I'd be seeing more mites on the trays.  So who knows?

Either way, I'm happy with what I've found, and I'm really happy with these new queens: the culture of those hives has changed completely. We cracked open the hives yesterday and they barely noticed. They're sweet, now.

The plan for this fall is to open up the big hive, kill the queen (who produced those aggressive new queens), and divide the boxes of brood and honey between the two small hives, thus making two big strong healthy hives with young queens going into the winter.

Beekeeping! Never dull!

August 27, 2016: One of my bees at the pond

July 11, 2016: Replacing the Queens


So this afternoon my beekeeping mentor arrived with two new queens for me, one for the newly aggressive hive, and one for its sister hive that has been in the process of trying to produce its own queen. He raises queens as a hobby, and the more he can put them in hives around south Amherst, the more he can influence the genetic make-up of all our bees. Since my hives seem to have produced an aggressive, possibly Africanized strain, it's best to replace them.

We cracked open the hives, found the queen in one of them and killed her (ack!), and found all the queen cells in the other and scraped them out. Then we put a small 3x5" screen box in each of them, positioned over a patch of new and emerging brood. He had the beautiful, marked queens in two plastic ventilated cups: as I held one of them the worker bees started to coat my hand and the cup, crawling all over, attracted to her pheromones. We trapped the queens in the boxes, closed up the hives and Bob's yer uncle. We'll go back in a week or so and set them free, and with any luck the bees will be happy.

Sadly, it will take 4-6 weeks before the bees in that angry hive settle down.

Not my queen cage, but mine looked just like this.  This one is from http://www.riskshoney.com/2012/06/12/effective-queen-introduction/

July 8, 2016: Bees as Political Activists


I went out to do one final thing with the hive that was so angry the other day--a simple small thing that I couldn't do then because they were so pissed off. And I got stung again, twice. They were instantly enraged, and for the next few hours chased me around the yard when I was on the opposite side of the property.

And along came candidate-for-State-Rep and childhood friend Eric Nakajima, canvassing the neighborhood. My bees promptly chased him up the street and stung him on the back. I feel like my kids misbehaved in a deplorable way in public.

But Eric is a thoughtful and noble soul, and after catching his breath he said the bees were "so exciting!" and "so interesting!" which was the most gracious possible reaction.

Not to press a metaphor, but this hive is acting up because they've got a new young queen that is kind of...ill-tempered. I'll have to replace her with a new queen, and once I do that the hive will probably settle down and live more harmoniously. Eric would make a good queen bee: he is thoughtful, community-minded, gracious, and hardworking. The hive will work well with him as an elected leader.

If you live in my neck of the woods and you haven't made up your mind (there are a lot of good candidates out there), I hope you'll consider voting for Eric.

July 5, 2016: Queen Cells


Today I found multiple queen cells in the queenless hive!  But I also got stung, multiple times.  Ugh.  Still: hopeful.

June 19, 2016: Fall Honey vs. Spring Honey

June 19, 2016: First Honey of the Season

June 12, 2016: No Queen?!


One of my hives has no queen! OH NO!

Earlier this spring I made two "splits", or new hives, out of queen cells I found in my one winter-surviving hive. One of the splits has thrived, and is already growing and storing honey and pollen at a remarkable rate. The other one...looks weird.

I did some research and investigation, and determined that the hive has no queen: the queen cells I put in that box must not have hatched, or the queens weren't viable for whatever reason. This means that the workers in that box have begun to lay eggs themselves. There are a few ways to tell that this is what's up: the brood pattern is all scattershot, there are multiple eggs in brood cells, and there are eggs layed on top of pollen. Wacky.

In a way, this is very cool. The workers can only produce uninseminated eggs, which will become (male) drones. They can't produce (female) workers. But their instinct to lay and produce those drones constitutes a last-ditch effort to continue their genetic line: those drones would eventually fly out and mate with queens from other hives. Smart.

There are a few ways to deal with this, many of which don't work or which mean just junking this hive. I'm doing what feels quite experimental to me, but is actually a tried-and-true method. For 4 weeks, once a week, I'll move a frame of brood from one of my stronger hives over into this laying worker hive. The pheromones from the open brood suppress the instinct to lay, and after 2-3 weeks the workers should start trying to turn some of these brood cells into queen cells. Cross your fingers for me!

Here's what the weirdo laying worker brood frames look like:

May 25, 2016: Moving the Splits into Boxes


Two new hives started from splits. I saw the queen in one of them--a gorgeous big golden lady, she is.

May 3, 2016: Splits, part 2


Bee Update, part 2: Yesterday we went out and moved the frames with the queen cells out of the top box and into two nuc boxes, being careful to get a few queen cells into each box along with some frames of brood and pollen and honey. There were many many nurse bees on the brood frames, who went along for the ride and will help the new queens emerge.

A brutal fact: whichever queen hatches first from among the 3-4 queen cells in these boxes will systematically go through the rest of the cells and kill her competitors. If two queens are born simultaneously, they will fight to the death. QUEENS, am I right?

May 1, 2016: Making Splits


Bee Update: Yesterday I went out and went through the entire hive, top to bottom, and found (at the top) 2-3 frames with queen cells on them. This means the hive is getting ready to produce a new queen, and then swarm.

So today, we went out to start the process of splitting the hive. We knocked as many bees as we could off all the frames in the top box (to make sure the old queen was down in the bottom of the hive), then put a queen excluder--a thin plastic divider with holes big enough for the worker bees to get through, but too small for the queen--between the top box and the rest of the hive, and left them to their business. The nurse bees will climb back up through the excluder to those frames of brood where the queen cells are located, and after a few hours I'll go out and move those frames over to small nuc boxes, complete with nurse bees and brood and honey and pollen and queen cells.

After a few days the queens should start hatching, and I'll have at least one, maybe two new hives.

Stung twice, in the past two days. It'll be worth it, I hope.

April 19, 2016

Thinking about a bee tattoo for my 50th birthday.

April 9, 2016: Celebration


Guys my bees made it through the winter and that is HUGE

March 6, 2016: Tower of Buzz

March 1, 2016: autopsy


A week or so ago I discovered that one of my two hives had died, unexpectedly. I went out today with my beekeeping mentor to investigate, and made some very interesting discoveries.

First, there were very few bees in the dead hive--maybe, oh, 300-400 tops, all dead (which sounds like a lot, but there were probably 20,000 at least when I put this hive to bed in the early winter). There were some signs of diseases carried by mites in the carcasses. The hive was about 1/2 full of honey stores. In a little crawl space under the screened bottom of the hive we found a mouse, very happy and alive in his little nest.

The other hive, which was quite weak when I put them to bed, is now overflowing with a massive colony, and almost out of winter stores.

My beekeeper friend suspects, as do I, that the bees in the now-empty hive absconded, perhaps because mites had weakened them and they panicked, and/or because the mouse kept them in a constant state of agitation. It seems most of them just up and moved in with the other hive, adding to their number, assimilated by their Borg Queen. They either abandoned their own queen, or she took off with some of the colony for parts unknown (and probably died, this being winter in New England, albeit a sham winter at best).

With my friend's help and expertise, I've now "checkerboarded" the two hives together, adding the honey stores from the dead hive to the living one, and creating a giant 4-story monolith. They're very strong, even with some sign of mite diseases, and will most likely make it through til Spring.

Lesson: Bees are weird. No one really knows why they do what they do.

February 16, 2016: Hive Death


Some sad news. It's 50 degrees out, warm enough to open the hives and give the bees some fondant to help them through the cold days to come. But when I opened them up, one of the hives...is totally dead. Thousands and thousands of little dead bodies. Beekeeping is not for the faint of heart.

I'm sad. 

Also puzzled. This was the stronger of my two hives all summer and fall--the one that seemed destined to make it, if either of them did. I'll have to do an autopsy, but I can't face it today.

January 10, 2016: Fondant


I just went out to give the bees some fondant--sugar cake, to help supplement the honey stores they have for winter. Both hives look strong. Lots of bees, in tight clusters near the top of the hive, right where they're supposed to be.

December 4, 2015

December 4, 2015:  Since it's a relatively mild day here, and I'm feeling good, I decided to check on the bees. I was worried when I got out there: there are a bunch of dead bees on the front porches (the little landing pads in front of the entrances), and no one was buzzing my head. But then I put my ear up to the sides, and heard that low hum. I cracked the lids, and there they were, already in a loose ball, in each hive, buzzing and ignoring me. 

All is well.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Why do cats purr?

From the fantastic tumblr, "Incorrect Bee Facts"


I just found one of the mites from my beehive on my neck. If I don't make it through the winter, you'll all know why.

August 13, 2015: check-in

August 13, 2015: I'm having to let ken do the beekeeping today, since I can't risk getting stung. I'm directing from afar. He's doing an excellent job, but this is killing me.  The bees look good--nice brood pattern, plenty of honey.

July 16, 2015: check-in

7/16/15:  Went to visit the bees: the first honey supers are mostly full of honey, with a bit capped already. I added another super on each, and took out the queen excluders.

Honey supers

June 16, 2015:  I put honey supers on the two hives.

June 2, 2015: lip balm!

I made lip balm with the last of the beeswax from last year's bees.