A Beeyard Deal

When I got home from work yesterday, I lit the smoker, changed my clothes, and headed out to the beeyard. (I say “beeyard,” but it’s not really a separate yard, it’s simply the space where I keep the bees at the edge of the wood behind our house. I just like to say “beeyard.”) I removed the bottom 10-frame deep box because it’s a ghost town in there. The bees had not yet moved into it. There were maybe a couple of cells of stored pollen in the entire box, no eggs, no other activity, so off it went.

Then, I placed an 8-frame medium box on top of my apiary’s last remaining 10-frame deep…the one that houses my awesomely surviving Amazons and their wonderfully gorgeous queen. I replaced the top cover, and that was that. No more disturbance.

Speaking of beeyards…I think I’ve lined up an 80-acre place within a 30-minute drive of my house where I can keep a lot of bees. My friend, Michael, who is building a home on a part of the acreage, has agreed to let me keep bees there; in exchange I’ll teach him what I know about beekeeping. I’ll give him his own hives to work. So, that’s totally cool, isn’t it? If I collect any swarms or if any of my future cut-out attempts succeed, those bees will go to Michael’s place.

Yesterday, too, I ordered veils, hive tools, a smoker, and a copy of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Beekeeping for each of my bee stewards. They don’t know about their bee-steward package yet, and I think they’ll like it.

I’m thinking of naming my future honey “Amazon Honey” and my own personal future queens “Amazon Queens.”  Perfect.

 

Queen of the Amazons

New Mexico, Here I Come

Yes, I’ve been absent for a few months. But the bees and I are both back to flying now.

Only the Amazon hive made it through the past winter. I love those Amazons. Funny, I call them the Amazons without even thinking about it.

The fact that the Amazons, the hive I captured from a swarm two years ago, is the only of my hives to have successfully overwintered two winters underscores my determination to raise my own queens from survivor stock. I think it’s unnatural to order my bees and queens from Georgia or California as I’ve been doing, and I’m not gonna do it any more.

If I plan to raise bees successfully, I’d better get down to raising my own queens from my own strong surviving stock. Yes, it’s a big step, but I’m 52-years old and smart, and who’s gonna take the big steps if not me?!

I tried to sign up for an Ohio State queen-rearing workshop this year, but that workshop, which is capped at 50 people, was already filled. So, I called the lady at the Ohio State Bee Lab to see how I could finagle my way into the workshop. I got a little bit outlandish on the phone as I created these wild and scheming ways of getting in. I cracked myself up with my ideas, but the lady was a sourpuss. You know the type—type-A rule follower. Well, I’d already decided to drive myself the 3 hours up there in May with my $75 registration fee in hand and in cash and see if they turned me down. They would have let me in. I can charm my way into anything.

However, the thought of being in that Ohio State workshop with those people (whom I find dull based on experience at bee school these past two years) led me to explore further. And through a wonderful and serendipitous chain of one thing leading to another, I found Zia Queenbees in Truchas, NM, where I am now one of 12 people registered for a 2-day queen-rearing workshop in the mountains along the road between Taos and Santa Fe.

And I am totally flipped out with delight about it.

(Queen of the Amazons is at 7 o’clock below)

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Queen of the Amazons

I Should've Worn a Hat

I went out to the beehives at 3:15 PM yesterday in order to film for you the young Amazon bees orienting. They were so active that I wanted you to see them, too, Reader. I got a brief video of them, but then a bee went in my  ear and freaked me out. I slapped and slapped to get it out.

Then I heard more bees. In my hair. By this time I was running through the yard slapping. And getting stung. (Yes, Reader, I am well aware that this slapping and freaking out doesn’t help the situation. I’m not stupid.) I picked up an old sweatshirt laying in the yard and began slapping my head with that. I got stung about 6 times—in my head and ear and neck.

Once the stinging stopped, I realized that all this slapping had flung my glasses off my face. Probably deep into the woods. Deb and I have searched and searched and we can’t find them. We even went out there at night to see if the beam from a flashlight would reflect off them. No.

I am now wearing very very old glasses. I look odd, and I can’t read.

But here’s your damn video. (Once again, I forgot to turn the camera sideways for the wider view. I don’t know why I can’t remember to do that. Sorry.)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i0l4G4gVlU0

We're Making Some Changes around Here

My weekly Sunday hive inspections yesterday revealed:

Amazons—No signs of the queen yet. I’m choosing to remain patient, though, because I think it’s a little too early to see signs of her post swarm. Amazons swarmed 16 days ago, and it should take about 22-25 days for the new queen to be born, orient, mate, and begin laying.

But I was surprised at how few stores the Amazons had in their hive. They need a queen, and soon.

Tomboys—Loads of new bees hang out and orient to this hive, but the inspection shows no sign of a queen…no eggs, no larva, etc. And there were supercedure queen cells on several of the frames. This really surprised me, but it’s becoming a common story in regards to packaged bees and their queens (another reason to begin using locally raised, hardy, disease-resistant queens. Or learn to harvest the queens raised by my own bees). These supercedure cells (they look a lot like peanut shells) are a sign that the colony either doesn’t have a living queen or they don’t have faith in the quality of the queen they have. They’re making plans for a new one. You gotta hand it to them. They don’t tolerate disfunction.

Girls of Summer—These girls haven’t required much attention at all. They’re the quietest of the three colonies, and though there are some new bees orienting, I thought I’d be disappointed in them. Not so. They are healthy, and the queen is laying in a great brood pattern.

I replaced three old frames in Girls of Summer because the bees are avoiding them…the frames I removed are three I inherited from Chris last year. I replaced them with three frames of fresh foundation, but I wasn’t thinking well when I did that. I need to go back in and replace those three new frames with foundationless frames…frames in which I’ll use popsicle sticks to guide the new comb building.

“Iddee” on Beemaster forum suggests I take one frame of brood and larvae from Girls of Summer (because their queen is a good-laying queen) and put it in Tomboys. After 7 days, he says, I should check for queen cells on that frame; if I find more than one, I’m to cut one out and put it into Amazons. He gave me directions for doing this procedure.

This, Reader, is the direction I’ve been waiting for. It’s time to start managing my bees. It may be the only way I can develop strong hives organically.

I’ll totally keep you posted. With pictures (sorry about no pictures. Yes, I take my camera out there, but it’s cumbersome. And I get so involved in things that I forget).

Amazons, Tomboys, Girls of Summer

Let's Go, Tomboys and Girls of Summer. This Year, It's up to You

Yesterday when I got home from work, I jumped into my long pants, my long-sleeved shirt, my socks, my boots, my gloves, my hat, my veil, fired up the smoker and visited the bees. I didn’t know if they’d still be pissy with me for my rude behavior the day before, but they were as hospitable as they could be.

The Amazons are no longer going gangbusters since half their colony hit the road in a swarm, but they’re slowly finishing the job of capping some frames of honey. I took one frame from them yesterday and harvested about 2 pounds of strained honey from it. I like the idea of catching the honey very very soon after it’s capped…I can’t think of anything any fresher than that.

Because I don’t think Amazons will be producing a lot of honey this year, I moved one of their supers to Tomboys and another of their supers to Girls of Summer. Those two hives are still bubbling over with energy and enthusiasm, and they fill every box I give them. And because it’s still so early in the season, I think they may make some honey for us this year. Of course, I said the same thing last year about Amazons, and they didn’t draw a single comb in the super I gave them last fall.

Amazons, Tomboys, Girls of Summer

I Don't Know If This Is Good or Bad

This is a video of either 1) the Amazon swarm robbing Tomboys and Girls of Summer, or 2) new bees doing their orientation flights. This is either a good thing or a bad thing, and I can’t tell the difference. Ignorance is making me nuts.

For some reason, I feel as if this is simply the sign of a healthy hive, but I’ve taken action as if it’s the sign of some strong bees taking advantage of two smaller, less established colonies. I think I’ve got enough experience and enough knowledge to begin practicing the “art” of beekeeping. At some point, you just have to go with a gut developed by information, instinct, and experience.

Okay, I’ll stick my neck out: I believe this is simply some vigorous orientation flights. There are no dead bees being hauled out of the hives which would indicate robbing. I’ll give it another day with the entrance reducer and with the ventilation holes plugged against intruders, but I’m opening the hives again soon so these vigorous girls can get to work and haul in the goods.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Po7CKaE_Gw

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

Good Bye, You Sorry-Ass Mouse

When we installed our two new colonies on Sunday, I watched several Amazon girls hauling grass and twigs and dead leaf material from their hive. Uh oh, I thought.

Today I dug into their hive to check their spring progress, and I discovered a dead mouse between the top and bottom boxes. I scraped his sorry ass off with my hive tool and flung him out into the woods.

Then I saw that he’d eaten away a huge hunk of beeswax foundation from two frames and had built his nest in there. There was more nest material on the bottom board.

I cleaned it all up, all the while apologizing to the Amazons for not installing a mouse guard at their entrance. Of course, those girls had already made mincemeat out of Mr Mouse; but I hate that they’d spent one ounce of energy or precious springtime worrying about him rather than on pollen collection and comb drawing and brood rearing.