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.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Goddess Save the Queen! (Hive Check 5/18/17)

It was a little over two weeks since my hive checks. The weather has been strange here in Albuquerque for May. Lots of rain, and lots of cold. Blustery is normal, but the rain and thundershowers were not!

Today around noon I went out to check on my top-bar hive at The Source, mostly looking for that elusive queen. It's nice out, not too hot, but a little windy. I needed to do it, since it'd been 16 days since my last check, so I just dove in.

Things are going great! The bees have expanded to make nine combs total! The one on the end is half-complete, but they've already started putting pollen in it. All except for the one on the end, which is almost all nectar, they have a strange pattern of a little honey at the top (some of it capped) and smatterings of worker brood and drone brood and pollen. Not a great pattern, but it's not super alarming. There's no cross combing, and they are all making perfectly straight comb, so I haven't had to do any repairs or turning around of the bar. I see a lot of black pollen, which is awesome, but I have seen no sign of disease or mites. They're so kind to me!

Most importantly, I found the queen! Finally! She was on the next-to-last bar, so I put her back immediately. Before I closed up, I saw her wandering toward the front again, probably to get away from me. She's nice and fat with eggs, so that really makes me happy.

I placed two empty bars between two of the most productive brood comb, to make them feel like they had room. I'll check them next week and see how they're doing with them. There were no supercedure cells, so I am not fearing them swarming. A good hive check all around!

I replaced the empty feeder, which probably won't last the two weeks, so I'll check on how their honey is doing next time I'm in there and put more in.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Hive Checks May 2 & 3

May 2: Source Hive Check
A little after 3pm, I went out to check on my top-bar hive. It was a mild but sunny day, and the hive was in the shade. It was warm out and pleasant.

My goals today was to replace their feeder with more food, to take care of the comb they were using on the bottom board, and to look for the queen (just generally taking a look at how they're doing).

Replacing the can of syrup was the easy part. I then started going through the combs until I could get my tool into the hive to remove the comb on the bottom. As suggested by one of the instructors in my certificate program, I should just put the comb in the back of the hive and let them take everything out of it before I remove it. Scraping it up was also easy and I placed it back there without trouble, finding pollen and nectar inside. Unfortunately, some of the nectar splattered on the bottom board as I moved it, but I saw bees cleaning that up.

As far as the queen, I couldn't find her with a visual inspection. The bees were busy, having made about 9 bars of comb, with one completely empty and one of them only about half completed. I saw more drone brood than I thought I should, and some capped worker brood, so I think that they must have a queen, but the amounts of worker brood was smaller than I would have liked.

The pollen, though, is beautiful, with tons of color. They have quite a bit of nectar, too.

As I was closing everything up, I realized I need to build a better lid. The one I have simply is too tight to adequately get it on the hive without making a bunch of racket, which the bees don't like. I'll be setting up a day to make hives soon, so I'll make a new one then.

May 3: SR Hive Check

Kat Heatherington thinks these are "action
shots." I think she needs to understand what
"action" means.
Kat and I wandered back to the hive at about 7pm. It was a nice, warm day that was going to quickly become night, so I wanted to work fast. They had lots of sun this late, the shade being more of an afternoon thing, I'm finding.

Kat Heatherington likes
their cute faces. She thinks
they look like cats. I'm sure
they're offended by that.
My goals for opening the hive was to just see how they were doing, look for the queen, and see what they need. Kat's goals was to get a decent picture of a honeybee, which she obviously did.

I opened the hive and found that they were going gangbusters! All but two of the frames was mostly built with comb (so there were 8 frames). Where the old queen cage still was, they had done some cross-combing, but it was very little and easy to remove. The very first frame I pulled out, I came face to face with a very lovely queen, so I put her back in. Seeing lots of brood, and very little drone brood, I decided it was time to add another brood box.

I sent Kat scurrying away for more frames while I looked over the rest of the hive. No problems, and everyone seems happy. All the brood looked good, and I could see them in all phases of growth...it was really cool to see that in my own hive! There was lots of pollen, a good amount of nectar, and I couldn't find evidence of disease.

Once Kat was back, we added another brood box on top, putting a couple bars with some brood in it and filling out the rest of the space with more frames...

...And found out the box doesn't really fit. So add another thing to the list of things I need to make. I will definitely be making more boxes soon.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

April 26 Source Hive Check

I was going to check on my top-bar in the backyard yesterday, but it was so rainy and windy I decided to let them be. It's a nice, not too hot, but sunny day. I went out at 11:15am and there was gentle sun on the hive and lots of activity at the entrance.

My agenda for today was is to check on the feeder, make sure the queen made it out of the cage and see if I can detect her, and take a general look.

Feeder: They were still feeding from it, and from the weight check, it felt about half-full. I'm using the syrup that came with them in the package, but I think on my next check (in a week) I will simply remove it and put regular sugar water inside.

I discussed the feeding with a local beekeeper, Jessie Brown, who has had 10 years experience, and she said that it would be best to keep feeding them through the summer, so I will do that. Most sources say that once they start making honey, you should leave them alone, but Jessie said that you can't predict the weather and you don't want to stress them as they are making all their resources for the hive.

Queen: Scooting the bars back until I reached where they were building, I found the queen cage. A quick look showed that it was empty, so the queen must have gotten out. I looked for her quickly, but didn't see her, and will make that my primary goal for next week.

Comb: The bees are going gangbusters making comb! They have about 8 bars they are working on, and at least three of them are full comb now, though I stopped after the first four bars. I think that next week I will look at all of them, looking for evidence of the queen and brood, and see how far along they are. If they have that much comb, I may want to space some of it out, especially if I find that they are doing well with brood.

Unfortunately, possibly where there was some residual wax on the bottom, they have built a layer of comb on the bottom board. I know I don't want it there, but it's the only one that they have put anything in: nectar and what appeared to be pollen! On the one hand, I don't want to take their nascent resources. On the other, it's uncapped nectar, so trying to scrape it up and attach it to a bar is probably a bad idea, as all of the nectar will just run out. So I'm going to check with some folks to see what they think I should do.

My next check will be on Tuesday, May 2.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

April 18 Hive Check

I checked on the hives today to release the queen into the hive. I am totally unsure if I did this right, but I went ahead. I will be honest...I was so nervous checking on the bees! Part of it is wanting them to be alright, part of it is me wanting to do things right. I'm sure I'll get used to it, but I'm still running on a bit of adrenaline.

Source Hive
At the Source hive, which is my top-bar in my backyard, the bees were in slight shade at noon and coming and going from the entrance. I gently smoked the entrance, took off the cover, and started moving bars down so that I could get to the entrance bars. They are already starting to make beautiful looking comb! It was quite a sight with them all festooning and working away.

I got to the queen's cage, but they had started building comb AROUND it. Plus, bees were swarming all over her and it was hard to carry once I DID release her. I swept some bees off, though that seemed to make them all mad and the hive got agitated. I was working fast and tried to get the cork out. Unfortunately, it fell in. Not wanting to risk having the queen immediately fly out, I placed the cage on the bottom of the hive. I wanted to put a marshmallow in its place, as recommended, but it wouldn't fit immediately and I decided I didn't want something bad to happen. It was adrenaline talking, I'm sure.

Anyway, it has been five days in the hive with her, and they seemed pretty content the last few days of me watching the hive, so I am hoping that they don't kill her. I sealed up the hive so that they could have their space to continue what they do and I will go back out in a a few days, maybe a week, to check on how things are going and look for the queen.

SR Hive
Tristan wanted to join me this time to work on the Langstroth Hive at Sunflower River. We gathered everything and headed out to the hive. They seemed content to do their own thing, so we got the smoker going and went to look for the queen cage. She was still well, the cage covered in bees. The hive was busy laying down comb and it was beautiful.

This time, I was able to get the cork out of the queen cage and Tristan had a marshmallow ready and stuffed it into the hole. We replaced the frame and the queen cage, and then closed everything up. We refilled the feeder with sugar water and moved the hive slightly, as the box was too far back and the bees were using it as an additional entrance.

Tristan and I discussed making a new cover for the hive, as this one fell apart as we were putting it back on. And we also need to shave the entrance reducer down so that it can be used with this hive.

Everything looked good, and I will come back in a week to see how they're doing, look for the queen (or evidence of her) and remove the queen cage.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Bees Are Here!

I'll be posting a couple of updates in quick succession, the first about the bees themselves, and the second about my garden. This weekend was abuzz with activity! (Oh yes, I went there.)

We spent all of Friday preparing my backyard into what Kat calls my "urban micro farm." Mostly this was work on planting and drip systems, but kindly, Kat's intern Michael helped put together the last of the cleats on my top bar frames to make it easier to direct where the bees should build comb.

Terra walking out of
the cooler amidst
the swarm
our two 3# packages
of bees! their faces
were so cute poking
out the holes!
Once we had things well underway, however, the time to go pick up the bees was nigh. Kat drove myself, Charey and Michael to Hay's Honey and Apple Farm in Bosque Farms to pick up the two packages of bees from Craig! It was quite an experience wandering into the cooler with Craig, the bees buzzing around. Such a wonderful sound, and I love have honeybees landing on my body and crawling around.

When we had the packages, we left for Sunflower River as a first stop on putting bees in their hives. I was quite nervous. This was my first time handling a package of bees, and I was so intent on getting it right. I read and re-read the class booklet from last year's Certified Beekeeper course on putting packages in a Langstroth Hive, and then I took a deep breath and just did it. We put the bees in the shade while we collected all the things, placing the hive on the back of the property while Jenny, one of the Sunflower River stewards, made the 1:4 part sugar-water mixture to feed them. We started the smoker -- well, Kat started the smoker, as I'm not good at fire-building. I probably will be soon, though. Then we put some honey on the frame cleats, I suited up, and we went to work.

shaking bees into the hive
The book was wrong. Or, at least, it didn't go as planned. I kept telling myself that it was just a guide and the bees would do what was best for them with the queen inside and a feeder around. Still, it was a frustrating first attempt. As instructed in the book, I bounced the package downward onto my hands a few times to get the bees to the bottom of the package. Unfortunately, the package was too small and all it did was piss them off. Next, I had to get enough bees out to get to the queen, whom I had to place while the bees were zooming around, rather than placing her first. To watch that process, which is kind of cool, Kat got a video here. Unfortunately, she stopped filming because a really angry bee stung her right on top of her head. The next time I looked up, the three of them were all the way across the field.

battle royale at the beeyard! The Beekeeper versus Skeletor!
Once I had the bees out and the queen placed, I put the hive back together. Which was the biggest fail, as we had forgotten the hive cover. I shouted back to them to go get it and Kat said, "You didn't have us make one." That stopped me dead and I fretted. Fortunately, the old one, which had broken on one side, was in the compost. So they went back to get it and repair it quickly while I stayed there. With angry bees pelting themselves off my veil. It took a good fifteen minutes for them to fix it and I slowly placed it on top, and then Michael came back and we had a major battle! Actually, it just looks like that from the picture...he was very helpful in handing me things as we were getting things done. Then it was time to place the feeder -- no problem -- and the entrance reducer...crap.

The entrance reducer wasn't long enough, and too thick, to be functional. After some fretting, and accidentally killing a couple of bees, we went back and got some fabric and stuffed it gently into the entrance in order to make it smaller and more defensible. On Tuesday I would return and Tristan, another SR steward and the one who wants to learn how to keep the bees, will figure out another more permanent solution.

Dispirited but holding it together, we packed everything up and left to come back to my house, the Source. Michael stayed, and so it was just Kat, Charey and I. Part of our adventure continued on an uneven path when we exited the freeway and the bee package in the back of the truck tipped. We pulled over and I went into the back to find the feeder can had come out and bees were starting to come out into the cab. I quickly righted it and replaced the can, accidentally crushing a few of the girls along the way. Shoring it up, we continued the last couple miles to home and I took them -- and the swarm of a hundred bees we had in the back seat following me -- into a spot of shade.

replacing the bars...
and being aware of
the crack in the wall
behind the hive
Thankfully, things went better after that. I decided not to shake the girls anymore and just get them out into the top-bar hive and grab the queen, and then put everything back together. It went quickly and well, these ladies quite content to just do their thing and explore their new home. I shook the bees out into the back of the hive (video here), lodged the queen cage between a couple bars at the entrance, placed feeding can on a couple sticks in the back, and then started replacing the bars. I was very careful and didn't kill any more bees, working slowly and carefully. They were all very happy and inquisitive, and we watched for a while until they started using the entrance, and then we left them alone.
they found the entrance!

This called for a milkshake, which we promptly went to the 66 Diner for, before collapsing into a hot tub on the farm after 12 hours of work and adrenaline.

I checked both hives, from a short distance, Saturday morning. The SR bees were going just fine, a lot calmer, and were doing orienting flights. They needed more sugar water, which Tristan did that evening. At my house, the Source hive was happy and doing the same, and I soon felt much better. I will see them on Tuesday afternoon to check on the queen and place a marshmallow on the cage for her to slowly release into her new hive!

Sunday, April 9, 2017

While I'm Waiting...

Yesterday, I sat through a Varroa mite class -- the facts about them, their prevalence in New Mexico, and how to test and treat for them -- and it got me a little scared. I don't want my bees to die! So this morning I ordered some Mite-Away, just to hit them with a hopefully less-impactful mite reduction program for when they first arrive. That said, I'm very interested in more organic cures. Les Crowder (top-bar master who lives here in New Mexico) apparently uses creosote in his smoke. Next time I'm on a road trip, I'll gather some and try it. Also, there's a recipe for rhubarb strips that the bees chew up to get out of their way, and that also are poisonous to mites. (Blog post on that here.) So I'll be trying these later, but I'm scared enough to jump to chemicals since I wasn't nearly as ready as I thought for the thought of my bees having bugs of their own!

In any event, I'm feeling a little underprepared. I'm probably not. Hell, the bees are going to do the work of surviving, and all I am is an occasional disruption in their lives. But still, I'm getting as prepared as possible. To that end, while I'm waiting for my bees to arrive (April 14!) I have been working on getting hives ready.

I lost a picture of the bottom-board that Rev created for the hive at Sunflower River, but I do have the boxes with frames that Kat, Tristan and I put together for their Langstroth.

I also went out to inspect the top-bar hive here at the Source, with my trusty assistant Orlando scoping things out for me. He says it needs more rope, but he says that about everything. I have started preparing these frames with cleats, so that the bees have a good start on building comb.

We're also in the process of getting my yard's garden ready. I'm going to have an herb garden, some rows of veggies and some fruit trees, but the most exciting thing is my pollinator garden! To that end, Kat has been helping me figure out a drip system, which will also fill a couple of bowls of water for the bees throughout the day. I'll post more pics of that when it doesn't look like someone took shovels to my yard. Because we have.

I know it's not much, but that's all I have for now. I guess, like me, you'll just have to wait. And wait. Patiently, of course.