Good Entrance Reducers Make Good Neighbors

After trimming trees around the house for much of the afternoon, we were taking a little iced-tea break  on our deck. I began to see quite a bit of activity out in the bee yard…more than usual. It didn’t look like a swarm, but there were a lot of bees. You can see them when the sun lights them up against the dark background of the woods behind our house.

When I went to check on things, I found robbing occurring at Tomboys and Girls of Summer. There was bee frenzy going on out there. Amazons seemed far more calm. And the robbing bees were coming from the woods where I assume the swarm went to live on Saturday morning. It was pretty wild out there, and I’m kicking myself that I didn’t capture it on my camera (only a video would show the craziness and capture the impressive sound of this, though). I never think to grab my camera when I go out there. And if I do put my camera in my pocket, I forget it’s there.

Here’s what I assume is happening: I’m pretty sure the swarm with which we’ve just dealt was from Amazons because Amazons are so darn robust. And, more importantly, because we discovered a lot of queen cells in the hive when we inspected it on Saturday…a sure sign the hive is planning to swarm. So now the swarm has found a place to live, but they don’t have food stored up in their new place…they would know, however, that there’s honey near their old house. So they came back to rob their old neighbors, Tomboys and Girls of Summer…those two hives are newer and so have less strength and fewer guard bees to protect the hive. But they’ve stored up good honey already…honey the Amazon swarm clearly wants.

The robbers were not robbing Amazons nearly so much because those girls are their sisters…for real. And Amazons are a more established and stronger hive than the two new colonies and so can defend themselves better against intruders.

This morning I plan to put entrance reducers on Tomboys and Girls of Summer. I’ll also plug the holes I drilled in the brood-chamber boxes for a few days. Those holes are unnecessary openings, and plugging them will allow the guard bees to defend only one (reduced) opening.

I’m still bemoaning the loss of honey production from Amazons this year. The honey we collected on Saturday is so beautiful in their pretty jars. I’ve got them all lined up on the counter now, and they are amazingly gorgeous when the sun hits them.

Happy, Sad, Happy, Sad, Happy, Sad

I go from being happy to being sad about the Amazon swarm. Happy because some mighty fine and robust and healthy bees have propagated, and they live near me. Sad because half my Amazon hive is gone. Happy because half my Amazon hive remains. Sad because I just read in Bee Culture magazine that there could certainly be “afterswarms.” Happy that I’ve now learned a hell of a lot about swarm lures and can set up my lure box to hopefully attract any afterswarms. Sad that honey production is reduced in Amazons. Etc.

See how my mind works?

The article about swarming in Bee Culture sort of got me down. It documented how long it will take my new queen to emerge, learn the ropes, take her mating flight, lay eggs; then it documented how long it will take those larvae and pupae to develop into bees and get to work foraging. I already sort of knew all of this, but when someone lays the numbers out for you, and when those numbers now relate directly to your hive and your honey, your heart sinks. Grand total of at least 65 days. Shit. There goes the spring. Oh well, there’s not much to forage on around here in the summer time, so we might as well use that time to let the new queen do her good work.

On a happier note: upon yesterday’s inspection, Tomboys and Girls of Summer each look very robust. We saw larvae and capped honey and pollen, etc. in each brood box. It’s not entirely out of the question that we could harvest honey from those colonies even though it’s their first year…we’ve had great weather and lots of blooming stuff. They are each healthier than the hive we lost over the winter ever was.

I’m thinking of taking a frame or two of capped brood from Amazons and putting it in Tomboys and Girls of Summer to give them some extra workers. That may give them a boost and increase the likelihood of harvesting honey from those colonies this year.

Amazon Swarm, May 2010

And There Was The SWARM

We’d just settled down in the Adirondack chairs when I looked up into the tree. And there was something just not right about something up there…it looked odd. And then I saw it—the SWARM.

My Amazons had swarmed and the swarm was drooping from the lowest branch of a tall tall tree. Too high to reach by any ladder other than one belonging to the the fire department.

Oh my gosh, did I jump to action. I ran into the basement and yanked all the leftover equipment stored down there and I ran it all out and set it up under the swarm…then I jumped in the car and drove like a crazy person to the Natural Food Store to buy lemongrass oil because it’s said to be a swarm lure. We smeared lemongrass oil and honey all over the super and frames set beneath the swarm, and we hoped the girls would decide it looked like a great home.

To make a long story short…we set the bottle of lemongrass oil on the lure box; we took the stopper out of it; we put the stopper into it again; we moved the lemongrass oil inside the lure box; we moved it out again; we set the lure box up on a ladder; we tried to throw a long rope over the branch the swarm was attached to; we couldn’t reach it with the rope; we tied a wrench to the end of the rope as a weight to help us reach the branch and tried it several more times again; we succeeded only in throwing the wrench and rope into the garden; we spread a sheet beneath the swarm in case the swarm dropped from the tree—we did everything we knew to do, and then we undid it. We have no idea what we’re doing. How on earth can you seduce a swarm of bees?

I went out there in the night with a flashlight to check on them.

They were still there this morning.

I turned my back on them for 10 minutes and they disappeared. They now live in some unknown hollow tree trunk in the woods behind our house. Deb’s been out there searching for them.

I was so disappointed.

I guess the good news is that now we’ll have a new queen in the Amazon hive because the older queen should have left with half the bees. God speed, bees.

It helped that I later discovered two frames of capped honey ready for harvest…and we collected about 2 pounds of gorgeous, almost-clear honey from our Amazon girls.

Amazon Swarm, May 2010
Amazon Swarm, May 2010

Swarm Lure, May 2010
Amazon honey, May 2010

If I Keep Doing What I'm Doing, I'll Keep Getting What I'm Getting

Did I tell you I’ve decided to read “Linda’s Bees” blog from beginning to end. Every single entry for 4 or 5 years. And she posts a lot. Well, I skip those entries that contain pictures of flowers. Sure, I like flowers. But, frankly, I hate pictures of flowers. They bore me. Fortunately—and this is why I love her blog—Linda almost always writes about bees. And her photographs are extremely helpful. I’m inspired.

So, my parents arrive for a 5-day visit today, and I know they’re dying to participate in some way in the beekeeping. I’ll do hive inspections with them, and that can be quite thrilling if you’ve never been that close to that many working bees. But I think we’ll also try our hand at harvesting a few frames of honey. This will be my first honey harvest, and now that I’ve decided to go the “crush and strain” route, it should be quite manageable to do with the parents here.

(The Muth jars have arrived. Love them. Perfect for gifts to the neighbors. Good timing, too, because some of my neighbors have pools and hot tubs, and when it gets hot the bees head straight to water. Uh oh. I hope the bees love the skanky water in our birdbath more than they love my neighbors’ crystal-clear pools…I know the mosquitoes certainly prefer life over here.)

I’ve decided to grow in the less-is-more direction, so I’m planning to let the bees build their next comb without using foundation in the frames. I’m becoming convinced that using foundation which could have been exposed to the pesticides and chemicals some beekeepers use to control pests in the hives may be one reason bees and their queens are increasingly becoming weaker (oh, if only they were all as strong as my Amazon girls).

But what am I supposed to do with the 100 sheets of super-thin foundation I just ordered from Walter Kelly? Melt it for lip balm and hand lotion? Hell, I don’t know. I know that ever since Deb tried to walk right through the closed screen, our sliding door is sticking… it’s out of whack. Maybe I can rub some foundation on the little runners and see if I can’t smooth it up.

To melt that stuff, though, I’m going to need a cheap double boiler. I can’t tell you how I hate to shop.

They've Got What I Want

You know that feeling you get when you’re on to something? When your intuition tells you this is something really important? Well, I’ve got it.

I’ve been almost obsessed with reading Linda’s Bees. I’m determined to read the entire thing from beginning to end…over 700 entries at this point. This is Linda’s fourth year of keeping bees, and she’s got what I want…I can’t tell you how far she’s come in her four years from novice to Master Beekeeper. Frankly, I have little interest in being certified a Master Beekeeper, but I’d like the knowledge that comes with it.

Anyway, Linda has kept a wonderful blog devoted to her beekeeping experiences, and I’ve got to say that I’m learning more from her almost-daily log than I’ve learned in all books I’ve read. And Linda turned me on to Michael Bush, whose website has me a bit unnerved—I think his philosophy is spot on. I’m unnerved because I have a feeling I’ll be following his lead. Which means changing some things. But it also means going with my gut about beekeeping. I’ve got a good, sound gut, too.

Anyway, over at Not Alice, I post an occasional picture; but Linda posts photographs of all of her beekeeping experiences, and when it comes to this technical stuff, the photographs really help. For Not Alice, I simply use pictures from my iPhone, but the quality is comparatively poor (because I have an earlier version of the iPhone). So, I’ll have to consider taking my better digital camera with me out into the bee yard when I go.

All of this is to say, “Heads up.” I hope to make TwoHoneys a more vibrant place to visit.

Simplify

I’ve been doing a shitty job of keeping TwoHoneys updated. You’d think nothing is going on with the bees. But a lot is going on out there! And a lot is going on regarding my learning curve, Reader. It’s skyrocketing.

You know that we have one established hive; it’s the swarm hive we captured a year ago from my friend Chris and named Amazons. One other hive, a hive that originated from a package of bees we ordered, died over the winter.  This year, we installed two more packages of bees in their own hives, and those bees should do nothing but build comb and raise brood and store enough honey with which they’ll depend on to survive the winter. Those hives are named Tomboys and Girls of Summer.

The Ohio River Valley is in the thick of a honey flow, and I’ve installed three shallow supers on Amazons in which they are building beautiful comb and storing glorious-looking honey. This is the honey we’ll harvest and eat and give as gifts.

Harvesting honey, however, usually requires a honey extractor—which is an expensive piece of spinning equipment. And, as you know, I usually lean toward less equipment…I like to make and bake bread using only my hands and a cookie sheet. I’m leaning that way more and more with the bees.

So, I’ve been mulling over this extractor thing. Do I want to spend about $500 on a piece of equipment I will seldom use? Should I rent one? If I rent one, I’d have to plan when I want to extract honey, then I’ll have to drive a long way to get the extractor, and then I have to clean the thing and return it. I hate that idea. I could borrow an extractor from my friend Christy, but for some reason I hate to borrow stuff like that. And I’d still have to plan when I want to harvest, drive to get the extractor, clean it, return it, and think of some nice way to repay her, etc.

My parents are visiting us soon, and I know they are freaking excited to have some honey. And I want them to enjoy a little bit of it at the time of their visit without all the fuss of an extractor and without my having to spend a lot of time harvesting a big load of honey. It’s a bit too early to do a full-blown harvest. I want to take only a frame or two (or three or four) and get some honey from them and leave the rest alone. So, I’ve been reading and thinking.

Which brought me to a couple of quiet websites that briefly mention a honey-harvesting method called “crush and strain.” I thought, “WHAT?! I’m not about to crush all that honeycomb those bees have worked so damned hard to build because they’ll just have to do it all over again, and I’m not going to make them work their brains out for nothing.” Oh, Reader, I am sooo wrong about so many things. The more I learn, the more sense I get.

Thanks to this video over at Linda’s Bees, I have now decided to crush and strain all of our honey…some when the parents visit and the rest whenever the heck I’m ready.

No fancy, expensive, loud equipment for us. It doesn’t seem natural. I’m going rogue.

Muth Jar

Glass Jars under Consideration: Ball, Bormioli, Kerr, Leifheit, Muth

I refuse to even think about plastic bottles for TwoHoneys. If you like those little squeezy bears with the flip-top hats, get out. Go get your honey elsewhere. TwoHoneys will be bottled in glass jars ONLY.

Now that that’s settled, I have to find some jars that fill the bill. They have to be small…no more than 8 oz. We decided that nothing’s worse than a big jar of honey that gets thicker and thicker on the pantry shelf for months or years. It simply gets less and less appetizing (though honey literally never goes bad). So, it seems to me that honey would be more fun if it came in smaller portions; I think smaller containers make us not only treasure whatever’s in it, but we use it more quickly, too. That’s what I’m after.

I’m testing different kinds of glass jars right now. No no no…there’s no honey for you yet, Reader. But it’s coming. Oh, yes. It’s coming.