Sam Comfort and Anarchy Apiary queens

So far, so good from Anarchy Apiaries

Sam Comfort and Anarchy Apiary queens

 

The temperatures these past couple of weeks have given those of us in Ohio an opportunity to check on the bees and to feed sugar candy or honey to those colonies running low on stores. I’ve made a wonderful discovery, Reader: By my calculations (which might be off by a smidgen because my record keeping isn’t perfect), every single hive in which I introduced a queen from Anarchy Apiaries is still living. What a joy to open a hive in which a colony is quietly working toward spring.

Colonies with genetics from my own queens…queens that I started from local surviving stock…are still flying as well. Though I’m not ready to produce quantities of queens, Sam Comfort is. So, if your hive died this winter, I suggest you consider replacing your queens mid summer with those from Anarchy Apiaries.

 

Don’t Tell the Bees It’s Still February

The weather this week is unbelievably mild. I don’t know what to make of the non-winter we’ve had. It’s probably the end of the world, but it sure feels good.

I fed all the hives under my care yesterday, and they were all beautifully active. However, the colonies with the most enthusiasm live in the Foster’s yard. Interestingly, these hives limped along more than others last season…before winter, we beefed them up by combining a number of our weakest hives, and now they’re going gangbusters and hauling in pollen by the bucketful.

Both Simon and I were astounded to see them so active. When I first spotted them, I thought they were gonna swarm right away. Perhaps I should give them more room soon. I’m sure this weather is messing with our usual timing.

(I love the sound of all the leaves crunching. Odd that you never hear that stuff until the video is uploaded and then it’s deafening.)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LLZEsnbYIMI&list=UUeiIt_hbhDt0bO52Xl3a91w&index=1&feature=plcp

 

The Metal-Chair Projects Keeping Me Sane

Reader, a team of experts stands behind every reclaimed and transformed metal lawn chair. I want to introduce you to them as I go along.

It has rained incessantly for over a week. During one dry period on Sunday, I painted all the parts of the previously sanded and prepped green metal lawn chairs I introduced you to last week. Of course, at the conclusion of the painting session, it began to sprinkle, and I had to move the entire operation into the garage where I hung parts of chairs from every reachable ceiling joist. The rain stopped the painting, and I decided not to add another coat to the thinly coated places. No, I decided…it’s finished.

Now, one of the two chairs is a gorgeous Ford Red. I painted it with Valspar’s Tractor and Implement Hi Gloss Spray Paint so it would withstand the elements as if it were a tough tractor at work on a farm. That stuff is 2 or 3 times the cost of Rust-Oleum, but I think it’s worth it. And it’s gorgeous.

Chair #1 is now all reassembled with sweet new hardware and sitting in a corner in my kitchen (I’m not yet ready to give it over to the rain). I sit in it. It fits me. I’m short, and I’m not comfortable in most chairs, and this one is perfect. I like the feel of it. I would show you a picture, Reader, but for some reason my iPhone transforms the gorgeous Ford Red into something that resembles Fluorescent Tomato, and I don’t want you to get the wrong impression. I want you to love it as much as I do when you see it. So, we’ll wait for a sunny day. 

I’ll take this opportunity to begin introducing you to the people who make these transformations possible.

First, someone has to agree to sell me her chair. I spotted this busted beauty in a crumpled heap in this woman’s backyard. She didn’t initially want to sell it to me, but she said she couldn’t fix the broken base where the metal had snapped at the bend, she doesn’t “have a man” to fix it for her. As she talked, she decided she could use the money. In this picture, she’s holding the chair upright. It can’t stand on its own until the two parts of its rocker are welded back together.

(What does all of this have to do with bees, you ask? These projects keep this beekeeper sane and productive when the bees aren’t flying.)

 

Preparing the Hives for Winter

Reader, I thought you might like to see how I plan to winterize my hives. I’m probably a week or two late with these preparations—it’s already getting chilly, and I want to give the bees time to propolize the shim so cold air doesn’t come blowing in, but there’s the plan:

This is the top hive box (it’s a medium-depth, 8-frame hive body):

Hive box

I built shims from scrap lumber to fit atop each hive. The shims are 2″ tall which allows me an extra 2″ on top of the hive in which I can place dry sugar. I’ll spread newspaper on top of the frames. Then, I’ll pour dry sugar (to which I’ll spray water so it lumps together…the bees don’t love the little granulations). If the bees eat through their stores and the sugar, I’ll add cakes of bee candy in the spring, and the 2″ gives me ample room for that. Also, the two extra inches on top of the hive isn’t difficult for the bees to heat.

Top hive body with 2" shim

Next goes the lid. On the bottom of this migratory cover (you can buy these 8-frame, reversible, migratory covers from Rossman Apiaries), I glued thin shims I find at the hardware store (I go through a LOT of these cedar shim slivers. I use them for everything!)…this lifts the lid ever so slightly and gives the bees their upper entrance. An upper entrance helps moisture escape from the hive in the winter…which reduces condensation on the lid…condensation that then drips drips drips on the cluster of bees and freezes them. Got it?

Top hive body with shim and upper entrance

I found packages of Styrofoam sheets in the insulation aisle of Home Depot, and I cut the sheets to fit the lids. Yes, I hate to contribute more Styrofoam to the world. But the bees want a bit of top insulation (so long as there’s also a way for them to release the moisture that results). These do the job and are weather resistant. I intend to use them for years and years. Forgive me.

Top hive body with shim, upper entrance, and Styrofoam

And, finally, the rock that keeps it all in place. You gotta love the rock: It resolutely stands there in every weather and does its quiet job.

Top hive body, shim, upper entrance, Styrofoam, rock

 

The Sweetest Sound

It’s March, but it’s still cold. Too cold to open the hive boxes and check on the bees. But I sort of did it anyway. I did it because on Sunday I discovered that my friend Jim lost his second hive. All dead. And then yesterday I discovered that my friend and bee mentor Chris lost all five of his hives this year. So, I braced myself for what I thought was the inevitable and lifted the lid of my Amazon girls.

I didn’t have to do much…I simply lifted the lid…and when I began to lift the inner cover, I heard them—loud buzzing. I put my ear right to the inner cover, and—sure enough—they’re still alive in there. I closed them back up as quickly as I could and practically danced my way back into the house.

On Saturday, we’re supposed to have temperatures in the 50s. Which means I’ll get to open the boxes and feed the bees. Hang on girls.

Christy's Bees Are Dead, Too

Christy’s bees died, too.

A few weeks ago, we talked about how worried we’ve been about our bees, and on the only nice day last week, Christy opened her hive to find a ball of dead bees. She had only the one hive—she got about 90 pounds of honey from it last summer. This would have been their third year. She had concerns because there were no signs that the bees were cleaning the hive…no dead bees piling up outside the entrance of the boxes. You just get this feeling in your gut that things aren’t right.

So, she’s not sure what happened to kill them all. But she has a PhD in one of the sciences…biology, maybe?…and she’s very very scientific about this stuff, so she and Max-the-bee-mentor are gonna do a little autopsy to figure it out. I asked her to include me.

I’m betting that they simply starved. All that rain we had last summer really set the bees back. They don’t forage in the rain. And if they don’t store enough food, they die. That’s my guess, anyway, because so many of us lost colonies this winter. And we’re all walking around with long faces, though we light up at the thought of our new bees arriving in April. We’re all trying it again.

Hi!

Even with the one hive of bees dead, I’m so so eager to get started with this stuff again. I’ve now got a basement brimming with pretty brood boxes, supers, bottom boards, inner covers, outer covers, feeders…and there’s nothing I can do with any of it until spring…meaning March or April. Okay…I need to settle down a bit because it’s only January.

But it’s the end of January. Which means it’s almost February. Which means my one sweet Amazon queen will begin laying her eggs. Which means there will then be new bees. Which means the possibility of swarming. YIPPEE.

I mean, really, it was quite affirming to see those girls so busy in that box yesterday. It warmed my heart. I want a yard and a garden full of them.

I like the guy in this video. He’s one of those hearty Minnesotans (if you’ve never been to Minnesota, trust me…GO!). I like the way his bee yard looks. I like the way he’s set up his hives (mine aren’t set up this way, but I might do it in the future). I like his attitude. Maybe I’ll go to Minnesota to meet him.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cOVkbQGAJ6E

One Dead Hive

It’s confirmed: We have one dead hive. Dead bees everywhere. But there weren’t as many as I would have thought…I just don’t think this colony was ever very robust.

The temperature today is in the high 40s or low 50s, but it’s been raining all the danged day. So Deb and I headed out in the rain to open the hives anyway because later in the week the temperatures will drop back into the 20s, and it’s hazardous to the bees to open their home in that kind of cold. They don’t love getting visited on a rainy day, either, but it seemed the smartest choice. After digging around in that quiet, dead hive, it was such a happy happy sight to lift the lid of the swarm-hive box and see and hear thousand of bees buzzing. I felt great relief.

Then we placed a piece of parchment paper on top of the frames (and on top the bees that were hanging out there…I hope we didn’t kill any of them!); on the parchment paper we poured about 1/2 pound of granulate sugar for them to munch on in the next weeks. We quickly closed things up before we got everyone all riled, and I hauled all the hive parts belonging to the dead back into the basement where I’ll clean it all up before starting again in the spring.

Help Is on the Way, Girls

Don’t bug me. I’m down in the basement constructing and nailing and painting new hive boxes, new top feeders, and new screened bottom boards.

There’s a possibility that temperatures will be above 50 degrees on Sunday, and if that happens, I’ve got to open the hive boxes and get those girls some food. Which means I’ve got to go buy a lot of sugar.

(Deb said this morning that it could be very depressing to open a hive box and find all the bees dead. She said maybe we should do it together. Wasn’t that sweet?)