Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Hive Check 8/1/17

So I decided not to split my hive at the Source. After consulting several books, a couple of long-term beekeepers, and soul-searching, I decided I'd just try to harvest some honey and keep them less cramped. Of course, as soon as I get ready to go, we get some rain. Which is lovely, it makes things a little cooler when I do start, but...

In any event, I went out around 3:45pm. It had just rained a little, was a little overcast, and probably around 80-degrees. The bees seemed happy and lazy, but not overly angry. I noticed that they have started using the crack in the hive as a secondary entrance; I may want to consider getting some mesh and covering that so they only have the one entrance.

I smoked them a little and opened the hive. They were quite content, no aggression or sounding at all grumpy. I started in and was surprised to see they haven't expanded very much. They still had 18 full bars and one half-bar that was just starting to be filled. Most bars are still a combination of brood and honey and pollen, in a pretty good ratio, and with evidence of the queen with several stages of brood development. Only one of the bars was all honey, and it was in the middle -- I wonder if the second entrance makes them want to preserve their honey more towards the middle of the hive? Curious.

In any event, I decided to clean up the hive a little, by scraping some of the comb off the walls. I put that in a bowl to harvest the honey from. I also cut off a strip of a bar that was nearly ready to start cross-combing, and it was mostly honey, so I put it in the bowl to harvest. Unfortunately, when I was examining the full bar with the honey, it started to break off from the bar a little. I tried to get as many bees off as possible and then let it drop into the bowl.

It's so sad. There were several honey-drowning bees and a few of them crushed. Once I buckled the hive back up, I picked up pieces of the comb and brushed off as many bees as I could. I realized that a good couple dozen were going to drown and there was nothing to be done, so I picked them out of the honey. One of them looked larger than the others, and I worried it was the queen! I really don't know, because it was smooshed and elongated because of it, so I'll just have to keep watch the next time I'm in the hive.

I wish I was better at this, and it's little consolation that I have a little bit of honey to process.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Lots of Business Buzzing

SR Hive Check, 7/21
I missed the opportunity to post about a brief hive check I did at Sunflower River on Friday morning, July 21. I went out around 10am. They had a lot of shade at that time, and the hive was pretty busy. I was mostly checking on their progress building in the second brood box. There was still evidence of a queen, and they were busily building more comb, already mostly filling all but the two side frames. I didn't go further in, hoping to just leave them do what they'll do, and next week (probably on August 1) I will see about adding a honey super, just for giggles, and really check out how they're doing.

Ironwood Farms
In addition, Chris finally got back to me about checking on the hives at Ironwood Farm in the South Valley of Albuquerque. I went out there this morning and got a tour. His one hive that remains is descended from the same swarm he caught a dozen years ago! His hives are "messy" in that he's a master of sustainability, and they are made from lots of spare parts, and it made me think that beekeeping can be even more natural than I'm already doing! Anyway, Chris' beekeeper abandoned him a couple of months ago, and it took that much time to get me out there to take a look.

Unfortunately, checking on his hive, I found them to be incredibly cramped and every frame is full! When I opened it up, these cranky bees flew out and swarmed me. I was safe inside my suit, but they covered my veil and made it hard to see, so I decided that his hive was beyond my growing skills. So I chatted with Chris and decided that I would look for local beekeepers willing to come out and likely assist him with a split.

He may have me back once things calm down again, but that was an interesting and harrying experience.

Source Hive Split!
Also, stay tuned! This Thursday, July 27, I will acquire another queen and split my own hive here at home. I'm excited!...And a little bit scared.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Hives Check 7/3/17

Source Hive
Whew, is it hot out there. I went out around 3:45pm to look in on the ladies. It's hot, somewhere in the 90's, with just a gentle breeze. They were plentiful and a little grumpy, once I got into the hive. Loud buzzing. Turns out they have 17 bars of comb! and one more that they are almost completely done making.

The hive, I think, is kind of messy. I probably should have been in there more often. That's on me. I have burr comb on over half the bars, though thankfully none are cross-combing. The queen is a prolific little monarch. I only took a casual glance because they were a little angry (I think because of the heat, and I felt like a five-thumbed troll trying to get into the hive) so I did not see the queen. However, there is larvae, eggs, capped brood, and 18 bars of full comb. I have very little doubt that she isn't there.

In any event, they are getting far too big for their britches. I don't see any swarm cells, though I didn't look too hard. I think it's time to make a split. I haven't done that before, and I'm a little nervous about it. I have an extra hive, I just need a stand and a lid (and a queen, most likely). I will read up on it again and work on that the rest of this week.

SR Hive
We showed up at Sunflower River at 5:30 and soon moved out to the hives. The farm had two new interns who were curious to see the hives, so they followed us, along with Tristan's five year old son Gawain who was finally brave enough to come see the hive. It was still warm out, but the trees in the area gave us a dispersed shade that was actually quite pleasant.

Tristan reported that he's found that the bees have emptied the feeder every five days, and that tells me that they are growing enough that they are relying more on their own reserves. We'll continue to feed them for a while, but only once per week.

Our goal was just to see how the hive was doing with their additional box and just see how prolific they are. After having such a rough start, I wasn't so interested in looking through the whole hive. We just got into the top box and investigated how much they had done since the last time we were there. They had expanded to making 8 frames of comb (though one was barely started and two of them were half-frames, though they were using it). Larvae and capped brood and honey were in them in a good pattern. I saw the queen on one of those frames, so obviously she's doing her work and they are starting to expand.

We let them alone and closed up the hive, leaving them to it.

Overall, a pretty good day!

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

SR Hive Check 6/20/17

Despite it being extremely hot out at 100-degrees, I wanted to check in on the bees because we couldn't find the queen last time, and I was going to be out of town for a while. So Tristan and I wandered to the back-40 at around 6:00pm and looked in on them. It was getting a little overcast at that point. Well, the shade back there must have been working because, while it was still warm, it wasn't intolerable and the bees weren't bearding.

Because we wanted to work fast and just get things done so we could get back into our boxers instead of wearing long pants, Tristan and I forewent the smoker and just opened up the hive. They were actually pretty tame until the last few minutes.

The top box they have actually done a bit more expanding, but haven't really been filling the comb. And it was strange -- I'll probably get onto the NMBKS list and ask about it -- because the comb was empty, but the sides were a brownish color. I was wondering if they were just starting to fill it with pollen, but I was mostly concerned about disease or something.

In any event, the bottom box was full! They have used all the available space and almost every frame was full of comb that was being utilized. I mean, the end-frames were half-full with comb and underutilized, but I expected that.

First of all, we found the queen! We also found evidence that she's going; capped brood, less drones, lots of larvae. I think they've finally hit their stride! We made sure she was inside the box and moved on, looking at the rest of their frames.

We also saw lots of honey. They have one full frame of honey, and lots of honey at the top of their other brood frames.

In order to encourage them to expand, we took two of the full frames of brood and put them into the center of the top brooder box and added empty frames at the ends of the bottom box. I'm hoping that encourages them to move up and find that they can expand even more, so that later this summer we can start placing honey supers.

In any event, a successful trip to the hives! They're happy and industrious, and they are doing well!

Monday, June 12, 2017

SR Hive Check 6/11/17

I finally made it back out to Sunflower River on Sunday evening, June 11. I met up with Tristan around 6pm and we went out back to look at the hive. The sky was clear and the wind calm, thankfully, and the temperature was somewhere in the 80's.

Tristan checking out the bees!
Our smoker went out after the first couple of puffs, but the bees were all relatively docile and we continued without it. It was Tristan's first time actually getting into the hive, so he did a lot of the work, the both of us alternating looking at the frames.

We found that the second box that we added a few weeks back was still mostly empty. A skeleton crew of bees were working on building some comb in a couple of the center frames, but mostly it was empty of anything. This is probably because for so long the boxes had a large gap and they had a dry feeder for about a week, which probably stressed them out.

Look at that beautiful frame!
However, the bottom box was more or less full. The middle 8 frames were absolutely full, with two full frames of mostly nectar/honey, and the rest full of mostly capped brood.

And that was the problem. We were unable to find the queen, but we saw lots of capped brood...and not a lot of larvae. It makes me think that maybe they have lost their queen. What I am going to do is see where they are in two weeks, look for the queen again, and then decide what we'll do. I'd much prefer to find her, but if there's significant evidence that she is dead, we'll either get another one or encourage them to make some. There were no supercedure cells on any of the frames, so they don't seem to be too concerned about it just yet, so I feel comfortable waiting to see.

We decided to keep feeding them through the summer, as the hive is still small and they have been stressed. So Tristan is upping the number of times he will go out and check the feeder.

Mostly they were busy bees, happy and docile bees, so I'm glad to see the corrections to their hive have (hopefully) calmed them and they are under less stress.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Hive Checks 6/6/17

It's been a couple weeks since I've been in the hives, and I was a little afraid of what I'd find. I've become a little remiss in my checking the hives, and part of that, I realize, is fear. Not really fear of the bees, but of messing it up, not knowing what to do. When I realize that, it's easy to get through, but it keeps me dragging my feet.

Source Hive
Today was a little overcast, but it's my only day this week I can check the hives. It's hot out, finally, after a cool and rainy May. It's also quite muggy, today, for the desert, and that is displeasing. I went out at around 2pm and opened the hive. I actually got the smoker going and kept it lit for a while! I may become a firebug yet. Luckily, the wind didn't start to blow until I was closing up, but there's quite a bit of gust out there, now.

standard brood and honey pattern on most of
the bars
I was amazed at how much they've grown! In two weeks, they have expanded to 13 full bars of comb, and two that are half-made! And all except one of the latter are being mostly used. They are gathering nectar like crazy!

The queen is still at it -- she's fat and happy -- and they are certainly busy. I scraped quite a bit of wax off the sides, and I see that they are bulging out on the ends. I am not entirely sure what to do about that, but where I could, I reversed the bars. I put one empty bar in the middle, giving a bit more room so hopefully they might correct course. I'll research in Les Crowder's book later on for other solutions.

I removed that last can of syrup I put inside to feed them -- it was drained dry -- and the wooden props for it. After examining all the bars, I see lots of honey, so I'll just let them go with what they've collected and see how they fare. Maybe it will slow them down a bit; I haven't seen any swarm cells, but they've taken over just over half of the hive, so I may have to do a split soon!

I made sure to take a couple pictures, as I haven't been doing that. Things are looking good, and you can tell from how much they're working!

SR Hive...Didn't Happen
When I got to Sunflower River at around 5pm, Tristan and I got ready and went out to the find that the neighbors accidentally overflowed their field and the entire back property was flooded. Great for the plants and bees...not so much for the beekeepers. So I will go on Sunday morning and take a look, instead.

However, while I was at the farm, another neighboring farmer and friend of Sunflower River. He has a farm nearby and has had a swarm he caught twelve years ago. He's been following my bee adventure on Facebook, and asked if I was interested in working on his hives. I told him I'd think about it, but I already knew I'd say yes. So it looks like I'll be getting a few more hives to check this season!

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Hive Check 5/22/17

Kat and I checked on the Sunflower River hive yesterday. It was a good day: warm and full of blooming things. It was off and on blustery, so it wasn't perfect, but that's okay. I think it was around 1:30 in the afternoon when we got into the hive.

My main task with today was getting the brood box I added two weeks ago swapped out with the newly routered box, and to see how they were doing. I noticed that the bees were particularly grumpy, and that was probably for two reasons: they had a huge gap in their hive that was probably letting cold and robbers in, and they were out of sugar water. So we're not caring well enough for those bees!

Kat went back to make sugar water while I got into the hive. The smoker -- which I had Kat light this time, because she's better with fire-making -- went out after one puff into the entrance. So I did this without smoke, which I don't think would have mattered, because they were pissed off already.

I checked on the various frames, finding the queen relatively quickly and making sure she was put back when I did. She's still there, but the progress from last hive check to this hive check is almost stunted. I didn't notice any growth, and I wonder how long they've been without food. We'll probably have to feed them throughout the summer at this rate, and I'm happy to do that to help them get established.

One thing of note is that I pulled one frame out and the wind gusted just at that moment, scattering the bees off of it (I'm SO glad I found the queen early and put her back) and onto me! They all fell on my shoes and I realized I hadn't tucked in the legs of my jeans. Sure enough, a bee crawled up my pants leg and I got my first sting of the season on my calf. It was my first bee sting since I was, like, 9 years old, so I was interested to find out how the sting would go. It hurt for five minutes while the venom was being pumped in (I was too in the middle of tasks to go reaching down there and scraping the thing out). But after that it was done: no swelling, no pain after the initial few minutes, just a red dot where the stinger was in my skin. I did stop breathing, but...just kidding. So it was good to get a sense of how I react to bee stings.

Anyway, I swapped out the brood box and put the hive back together. We gave them a full bottle of sugar water, and we stepped away. I'll look at them all again next week just to see how they're doing again, and get on a better schedule.