Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Hive in Winter

The bees are clustered in their hive,
quietly humming and maintaining a warm inside temperature,
living off their honey reserves.

I hope.

The opening of the hive is at its smallest setting.

We'll know in the spring
how they fared through the winter.

Are they under attack by virus or parasite?
Are they getting adequate ventilation?
How's the honey holding out?

I hope things are going well in there.

We've put in an order for a nuc...
five frames of bees to start a second hive
in April.

But now, we wait.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Storing the Honey Comb

I'm packing up the shallow supers, the boxes that the bees used to store their honey. The comb is clean and empty, the honey is in jars, and the comb will wait for another summer of honey production. To keep the comb free of pests, it spent a few days in the chest freezer to kill any current buggy inhabitants. Then I put the supers in a stack on top of some newspaper, and at the top of the frames put a plate on which I spooned some "Para-Moth" crystals. Moth balls to keep the wax moths away. I'll also store the unused deep and its frames of comb in the same fashion. More important for the black comb of the deep, because wax moths particularly like dark comb that has been used for raising brood.

For my own record keeping...the bottom super in the pile has all drawn out comb. The second box up has drawn out comb on most of the frames, but two frames with new foundation.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Examining Rachel's Bottom Box

In order to reduce the hive from three deeps to two, we took the least utilized frames out. Since we had slacked for over a month, the bees had moved up in the hive and the entire bottom box was mostly empty, making frame selection quite easy. We just took the whole freakin' box.
You can see some honey at the top of the frame above. It has been capped for winter storage with white wax. Pretty much all the honey in the bottom box is pictured here. You can also tell that this is a new frame, added this year. The comb is still lovely cream color. As time goes by and bajillions of little bee feet tromp over the comb, it gradually turns black.
Much of what was in the bottom box looked like the frame above. Sort of a "lite bright" image of yellows and oranges and browns against a black background. The material stored here is pollen. Bees collect from one type of flower at a time and store the pollen from that type flower in the same cell. So...different color pollen comes from different flowers. Pollen is the bee's protein, an important part of their food source. One can't live off honey alone. Pollen is vital for the production of brood.

Finally, a little burr comb (comb not hanging neatly on the frame) that demonstrates how very dark the comb can get. Or illustrates what a very white woman I am. Or both.
We froze the frames in our chest freezer for a few days. Freezing kills moths, mites and other problem critters. We've decided to put the box of frames on the back porch for the bees to raid...and to allow them to recoup some of their honey and pollen.
We'll freeze it all again once they've emptied it.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Feeding the Bees

Since we took so much of the bee's winter food (honey), and since there was a drought this summer, we've been feeding the bees to ensure they have provisions for the cool of the year. Our feeder is a thick board with a mason jar lid-sized hole. We've been heating water and combining two parts sugar to one part water and putting this syrup in the mason jar.
The bees get their syrup through the tiny nail holes in the lid. This week we're skipping the sugar syrup and just returning some of their own honey to the hive. I wouldn't give them store bought honey since it comes (according to the jar) from three countries and goodness only knows how many different hives.

But we still have plenty of their own honey. Here I'm just draining the honey from a pint jar into the larger jar I'm using as a feeder. The peanut butter is part of my own winter reserve.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Getting Down to Winter Size

You may remember that we combined the two hives a while back because one hive had gone queenless and had a laying worker bee. That hive was down to a bunch of useless drones hanging out and eating honey.

When we combined the two hives using the newspaper method, we ended up with a hive three deep boxes tall. A whole lot of hive. We were supposed to go out a week or two later and reduce it back down to two boxes, which we did not do.

With winter coming, we felt a need today to get it in gear and correct the situation. So...went out and took off the feeder, took off the top deep and the middle deeps and put them to one side. So far, so good. The top deeps were heavy, so they presumably were full of honey and brood. They also appeared chock full of bees. Since we didn't start pulling frames out, those two boxes were full of mellow, somewhat happy bees.

Then we went into the bottom box and started yanking out frames, which produced the cloud of angry bees I'm coming to know and love. After figuring out that the frames in the bottom box were basically empty of useful bee stuff, we just moved the whole bottom section. We put down a new bottom board and then put the top two deeps back.

We put the bottom deep on the top, used some "bee quick" that we use in honey collection to push the cranky bees down into the hive, and took the now empty box back off to store.

I took it into the basement to freeze the frames. Upon inspection, the frames from the bottom deep had some pollen, a tiny amount of honey, and no brood. They were basically light, airy and empty.

So...the hive is down to two deeps for winter. Yippee skippee. Will continue to feed the bees.

Here's an odd thing I've learned. After ticking off the bees, four or five bees will continue to buzz around your head as you walk away from the hive. I've found that walking into my garage leaves them behind. For some reason, they won't come in the garage. (They will come into the kitchen if I go right into the house.)

Today I went in the side door of the garage and then out the front door. The bees were still hanging out near the side door waiting for me.

Friday, October 3, 2008

No Mowing Today

I went out to mow the back yard on this sunny fall day, but soon quit, as the back yard is covered with blooming clover, and the clover is covered with happy bees and other pollinators.

Reducing the Entrance

This morning the temperature was 38 degrees Fahrenheit when I woke up. The bees were not stirring, but were huddled inside their warm hive. A few nights ago we added an entrance reducer. This both helps keep the hive warm and gives the dropping population less to guard. We put the opening at the top. If some bees should die there in the entrance, you don't want them to block the door.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Feeding and More Honey

Beekeeping journal for Saturday, 8/30/08.

Got wind through the beekeeping grapevine that due to this summer's severe drought, it is a good idea to start the fall feeding early. We heated some water and mixed it, one part water to two parts sugar, and allowed it to cool. Put it in a large mason jar and poked some small nail holes in the metal lid.

Took it out to our hive, where we had topped the hive with a flat board with a mason jar top-sized hole and inverted the jar, drippy side down. It looks like it won't drip until they go up to seek the sugar water to put it in their comb for storage.

Then put an empty hive body box around the mason jar and put the hive's telescoping lid on top.

We'll put up some pictures of the feeder later...were in a bit of a rush when we added it to the hive yesterday.

In other news, went over to coworker Pamela's house in the afternoon and helped her harvest a shallow of honey. Much fun. We ended up bringing more bees in the house than during previous harvests, but it was easy enough to catch them one by one and escort them back outside.

I'm becoming quite the honey collecting pro. The main requirement for harvesting honey is to not mind getting a little sticky.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Today's Progress

We took a whack at the leaning tower of bees today. The girls had completely cleaned out the honey comb from our latest harvest, so we took that box off the top.

The second box from the top was the shallow from our first honey harvest. It had some uncapped nectar here and there and two frames of capped honey. We put the two capped frames in the freezer, and moved the rest of the super to the party porch for the bees to clean out.

So...we're down to three deeps. We want to consolidate the deeps into two for winter, which will take some figuring out. We explored the top two boxes today....they both have some capped honey and some nectar and some empty spaces.

We're working on a game plan to get the best of the frames from these two top deeps into one deep and to put the rest in storage.

Today we just angered the bees, doing our explorations with a cloud of really unhappy bees buzzing around our heads. One bee followed me all over the yard as I put things away. I finally lost her when I stepped into the garage for a minute.

ABK had one bee still sitting on her back when she returned to the house. This little buzzy lady was escorted back outside.

Still no stings, which seems miraculous on days like today.

I fear that we are making mistakes left and right, but we learn more each day.

Today's note to self: we didn't use the fume board to get all the bees out of the top two supers before we put them on the back porch. There weren't that many bees, and our first thought was that they could just fly back to the hive and take the residual honey with them.

It was only in later reflection that I realized these particular girls had probably never left the hive. Younger bees work the inside of the hive....older bees forage. If these are younger bees, they may not find their way home.

We'll be more careful when we take a deep off in a few days.

We'll start feeding soon. I'll probably give them back some of the last honey we harvested, and feed them sugar water throughout the winter. The drought has been hard on the local bees, as well as most everything else.

It takes extra care with the smoker when all the grass is crunchy and brown. Don't want to set it on the ground and start a fire.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Flying Solo

After slinging out the honey, it was time to return the super to the hive. The bees will clean out any residual honey, and we will remove the super again in a few days to put it in storage for the winter. The brave assistant bee keeper decided this return was a one woman job, so she suited up, fired up the smoker, loaded the wheelbarrow and headed out.

ABK reports the bees had figured out that we'd robbed them, and some flew angrily at her when she lifted the cover. But all was well. Still no stings.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

August 12....a darker shade of honey

The harvest was easy peasie this helps to know what you are doing. We pulled off a full shallow super, carted it back to the house in the wheelbarrow and slung it out in the extractor with no difficulty.
Definitely darker in shade, but still oh so sweet. The bees are on to us though. At one point the assistant beekeeper told me to look at the windows of the "honey house." There were at least 20 cranky bees bouncing off the screens. They lost interest after I closed the glass windows, but for a while I thought we were going to have to abandon using the back door to come in and out.

Isn't that pretty? Will show bottles soon. We've let the honey filter and settle. Will probably bottle it tomorrow.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Late Summer Spiders

The assistant beekeeper (ABK) has told me for years that late summer in western NC brings huge spiders. She calls them "late summer spiders." This beauty is living amongst the tomatoes in our garden. I nearly stuck my face (nose to spider) right in the web today while pursuing giant red tomatoes for lunch.
When they are not on my face (and preferably not in my house), I do love spiders and other bugs. They are interesting, diverse, beautiful, and so frequently quite useful. My late summer friend is protecting my 'maters from invaders, and me from mosquitoes.
I know folks come here (blogwise) looking for bees, but the amateur Swammerdam just loves the bugs in general. Updates soon on bees...they have been minding their own business for weeks now with no interference from their keepers. We've kept a basin of water near the hive for these hot, thirsty days. And in return, our garden has produced and produced and produced with the help of our cheerful pollinators. The neighbor's crab apple tree, which I never even noticed before, is jam smack covered in fruit.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Other People's Bees

Now that I have fallen for honey bees, I find myself observing other people's hives as I drive along the road. Yesterday I found some hidden hives while hiking around Hawksdene out in the western mountains.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Cleaning Crew

So, one might ask, how do you clean up all that sticky equipment after extracting your honey?
Simple. You just put it outside and let the girls find it. They'll get every minute drop of honey and take it back to the hive for their own use. I did learn the hard way that it is best to turn the buckets on their sides. We had a small number of fatalities when the first few bees got stuck in the honey. Since turning, though, most of the bees have been able to come, get their honey and go back home with no problem.
Another tip...beware the honey-guarding-bee. One of the bees chased me back into the house when I took this second picture, buzzing indignantly next to my ear through the yard, through the mud porch, into the kitchen. I was alone in the hallway and returned to find the bee grooming herself on the kitchen floor. Popped a tupperware over her and put a sheet of paper under her and escorted her back outside where she belonged.
Another couple days and the extractor and bottling bucket will be clean as a whistle and ready to store until the next harvest later in the summer.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

17 Pints

So the math teacher took pi times radius squared and multiplied by the height of the honey in the bottling bucket, which gave her cubic inches and then she googled to figure out how many cubic inches were in a pint....her estimate was 16 pints. I did the math the redneck way, put the honey in the jars and then counted the jars. I got 17 pints, but we filled to the neck of the bottle, not to the lid, so there may have been some variance. Either way, that's a whole bunch o' honey.

The Leaning Tower of Bees

On Sunday when we were taking the shallow super of honey from Rachel, we also dismantled the Sylvia hive and put her bottom deep on top of Rachel's two deeps, separated by a piece of newspaper with some small slits in it. Once they eat through the newspaper, the plan is that they will smell right to each other and not have to have a small war. The shallow super pictured on top had some honey started, but was not capped, so we left it there for them to finish. We also added the shallow super we extracted back to the very top of the hive (not currently pictured) for them to finish cleaning the honey out of the cells and hopefully start over again with the upcoming sourwood honey bloom. By late fall we hope to figure out how to get the hive back down to two deeps.

All that is left of the Sylvia hive is her bottom board with a few homeless and unhappy bees. Many of these bees came home after the hive had left. We decided to leave them to their own resources, as they were likely to be most cranky and likely to sting us. The top deep off of Sylvia is going into storage for the time being. The little bit of nectar stored in the bottom of a few frames was left out in another part of the yard, where bees are busily taking it out and back to their hive. When they've cleaned out those frames, we'll store them, too.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

8 Shallow Frames of HONEY

Robbed the hive with very little problem. The fume board and the Fischer's Bee Quick emptied the bees out of the supers in only a couple minutes. The only effort was using the hive tool to pry the supers apart where the bees had industriously glued them together....and the heavy lifting. Wheelbarrow helped there. Had one super (pictured above) with capped honey on 8 out of 9 frames. Left the 9th frame intact and extracted the other 8.
Isn't that beautiful? The white is the beeswax capping they put over the honey when it is dehydrated to honey goodness.

We just sawed the cappings off with what is basically a very sharp bread knife. Went back over the low spots the knife didn't get with a cappings scratcher...something that looks like a metal version of a hair pick from the 70's. Sort of.

Put two frames at a time in the simple plastic extractor...

Turned the handle and spun it around....

And voila! The comb was empty and the honey was in the bottom of the extractor bucket.

Then opened the gate and let the honey flow through the filters into the bottling bucket.

You can see white comb remnants there in the filter. There are actually three filters on the bucket top.

If you look at the bottling bucket, you can tell that it is almost half full....just from 8 shallow frames. Tonight we let it settle, then tomorrow we put the honey into jars. Which reminds me...time to go to store for some jars!!
Update later on combining the hives...I think that went well, too.