Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas Bees

Only a couple days ago the bees were out and about for a "warmer weather than usual" flight. Today they are clustered in their hives, shivering and eating honey, staying warm together.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Creamed Honey

Had an interesting accidental discovery this fall. A friend had a beehive that died. She took her honey frames from that hive and put them in the freezer for over a year. Then we offered to process her honey (with the help of a class of students learning about beekeeping). Gave her most of the honey back, but kept the cappings honey, which is pictured above.

The honey was a bit of a mess, as the comb was brittle after freezing, and the honey was not warm enough to process easily. It was thick, very dark honey from the start.

The honey did not stay liquid, but instead solidified into an almost jelly-like consistency. Great for spreading on bread. Tastes like honey, but a different consistency. We used a spoon today to move the creamed honey from the bottling bucket to these mason jars.

Creamed honey is a product in which the honey has been carefully manipulated (usually) to produce very fine crystalization. We just lucked into it. Creamed honey is usually almost white, but since this was incredibly dark honey at the start, ours is this pretty golden color.

A fun, spreadible accident in honey processing.

More on creamed honey.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Moving Bees and Chickens

How hard can it be to move a hive a few feet across the yard?

Harder than one might think. If you move bees more than three miles, you can put them wherever you want. If you move them less than three miles, you can't move them more than a few feet a day, or they can't find their hive again.

As we move into some new projects in the yard, it has become necessary to move the hive. In order to move their heavy selves a few feet a day, the bees have been relocated to a cart so that they can inch their way from location A to location B.

Patience and equipment.

Oddly, chickens are also a pain to move. Past experience has shown that if we carry the little coop from the yard to the garden, the chickens will dance along merrily behind us, go in the coop and eat a snack, and then at bedtime return to the original location and circle in increasing panic because they can't find their bed.

Having had to catch the chickens after past moves, the people have gotten smarter. Someone needed to. We now move the coop and then throw snacks in there close to bedtime. When the chickens go after the snack, we slam the door shut before they can wander off in search of the "lost" coop.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Arts and Crafts Fesival at the Arboretum

We ran an exhibit last weekend at the Arts and Crafts Festival at the Arboretum. The observation hive, above, was the huge hit and crowd pleaser. Folks of all ages peered through the glass trying to find the queen bee.

The lattice poster display was awesome but dangerous. When the wind picked up later in the afternoon on Saturday, it turned into a human scale fly-swatter. No one was squished, but we had a close call.
I'm also a fan of fake beekeeper man. Except when you have to move him. He is a heavy dude. He's next to the Buncombe County Bee Club's small honey extractor.

It was fun to run the booth. There were lots of questions, again from folks of all ages. I think we converted another couple innocent people into future beekeepers.

Monday, August 30, 2010

The August Honey Harvest

We took the super off the hive on the right (the previously weaker hive, also known as the combined several times hive) on 8/7, and spun out four frames of honey with our young apprentice beekeepers.

Harvesting is a great time for friends to come and play.

Even more fun can be had on bottling day (8/8), when you can pull out some jars from previous harvests and have taste tests of the varied vintages.

Yesterday we (the original two beekeepers) took the supers off the left hive (the stronger hive at the beginning of the summer...also known as the hive we started from a nuc in 2009), and also harvested four frames of honey from that hive.

We've left both hives with two deeps and one super full of honey and nectar. There are a couple supers on the party porch with varied stages of uncapped nectar that the bees are cleaning out prior to storage for the winter in the garage.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Sticky Board Test

We just attended the short course at the Eastern Apicultural Society Conference in Boone, NC. We came home with several plans of of which was to test our bees regularly for varroa mites. The sticky board test is one of the easier methods, especially with our hive design.

I gooped a bunch of petroleum jelly on a sticky board, and then we stuck the boards in the bottom of the hives for 24 hours.

This ended up being a five person project as good friends were visiting. After 24 hours we all peered together at the boards and counted the tiny mites. You can see them with the naked eye, but it is easier with a magnifying glass. The good news...both hives had a low enough count that no treatment is needed right now. We plan to do a monthly check.

The bad news...I'm starting to find small hive beetles in the hives, one here and there. When I took the sticky board off the smaller hive, there were three beetles on the board skuttling around. Time to research small hive beetles.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Exploring the Bottom Deep

We wanted to check back in on the tall hive (formerly our stronger hive, now our weaker hive on the left....the hive that was started in spring '09 from a nuc). We had looked in the supers and in the top deep, but were wondering if the bottom deep was empty, as sometimes happens as the bees move up.

Having found brood and the queen in the top deep last week, we had no idea what was going in down below.

Today we took off the supers and covered them with a towel to keep them calm and prevent robbing. Then we took off the top deep and put it off to another side, also with a towel.

The bees were a little pissy because it was thundering and about to rain, but no one got stung.

We found frames of honey and pollen in the bottom deep. We decided to switch out the deeps so the brood was below and the honey was up top. Not sure if that was called for or not, but it seemed a good idea at the time.

The frame pictured up top is from the bottom deep. You can see honey, some of it capped and both workers and drones, back in the hive to avoid bad weather.

The safety reminder of the day...always make sure your jacket and hood are completely zipped. I had a girl walking around on my zipper heads trying to find her way in today. Had I left even a small gap, she would have gone straight for my throat. Eep.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Reversals of Fate and Biodiversity

The hive that was booming in the spring is now limping along, with fewer bees dancing outside and spotty brood pattern within. No more of the beautiful "peanut butter smear" of brood and frames simply covered with bees. ABK believes this hive swarmed, despite our efforts in helping them feel less crowded.
The picture below is kind of fun because you can see several caps in process as they tuck in the larva for them to go through their pupal stage.

Regardless, they do have brood, and they do have a queen. ABK spotted her in the top deep as we were poking around.
Meanwhile, in the ubercombined hive that was mostly dead in spring, things are going swimmingly. Lots of bees doing lots of work.
We noted that the bees in this hive are highly varied in appearance. We think that the queen who finally took over mated with a diversity of drones. You can see some bees on the cover, below, that are our more traditional golden bee, but some that are longer and almost solid black.

We'll continue to monitor the progress. Soon we'll harvest any excess honey and get the hives reduced down for winter.
Current debate and research goes to whether to take the bottom deep out entirely or to just switch the places of the deeps if there are no brood and stores in the bottom deep. Time to get the books out.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

In the Jar

Another pretty crop of bee juice, bottled and waiting to bring joy to the lucky few. This time we used all larger bottles. If we harvest in August, which is looking hopeful, we'll probably fill a lot of little bottles for wider sample distribution.

The honey bear is cute. Perhaps next time I'll order bears for greater honey kitsch.

I also put lots of wax cappings in the chest freezer. Got enough for some candles and chapstick.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Checking and Robbing the Hives

Here is the Assistant Beekeeper pulling a frame out of the super on the little hive to see if they had any capped honey. They have drawn out honey comb in this super and filled it with nectar, but so far very few caps. Still, we're just pleased and proud to see them flourishing. After we process honey from the other hive, we're going to give them one of the supers so they have room to expand. We'll also pop in a queen excluder so they don't put any brood in the supers.

We then proceeded to the super duper tall hive. We checked the four supers, rearranged a bit and popped a fume board on the top (pictured below) to get the bees out of two supers of capped honey.

The bottom super had capped honey with brood along the bottom of the frames. We left that for them, and put a queen excluder on top of that super. We moved the very top super on top of the excluder, since it was full of nectar but not capped honey.

The two middle supers were chock full of capped honey, so they were moved to the top, emptied mostly of bees and popped in the wheelbarrow for transport to the house. The lovely towels prevent us picking up hitchhikers on the way.

So the tall hive now consists of two deeps, one shallow super with honey and a little brood, a queen excluder and one shallow super filled with nectar. The Assistant Bee Keeper is hollering at me to get moving so we can process some honey. More on that later!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Much Ado about Robbing

We left the hive on the sidewalk overnight, and this morning there were bees flying in and out. By the sunny part of the day there were a good twenty or more bees coming in and out of the entrance. We got all optimistic about the belief that we were hosting a swarm, but figured we needed to pop that top deep box off and put a feeder on top.

So we took off the top box...peeked in the bottom box...and there were maybe ten bees sitting on frames hanging out.

We have a new theory. One bee flew into the garage, found the old deep and frames sitting there and found a little something left in a few of the cells on the frames that she thought was worth collecting. She went back to the hive, recruited some of her sisters with a little dance and brought them back to the garage.

Just then, ABK and teenagers came to get in the car. ABK moved the hive outside and the bees continued to rob those small portions of whatever was still in the hive. (We had left it out on the open air porch for a month or more for the bees to clean out prior to storage.)

So...robbing, not swarming.

We went ahead and moved the hive out to the middle of the yard, where they can rob it to their little hearts' delight....and where, if they feel a need to swarm this week, they can move in. But probably not.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Hello, What?

Imagine my surprise when I come home, bags of groceries in hand, only to discover a hive on the sidewalk leading up to the back door of the house. What what?

Not just a hive, but a hive with bees going in and out.


I was home for lunch, and this was definitely not here then. It is my hive...I recognize the paint.

So I'm still standing there, groceries in hand, when the Assistant BeeKeeper returns from her voyage to return the visiting loaner teenagers to their parents. It turns out that when they went to get in the car the garage door had been up a while, and there were BEES everywhere in the garage. They were mostly concentrated on the unused hive box that was just sitting in the corner, minding its own business.

ABK grabbed the hive, plopped it on the sidewalk on a bottom board, threw on a cover and hit the road.

So...we peeked in just now when we put on an inner cover, and there doesn't seem to be a whole swarm in there. We think these are mostly scouts, and that the swarm is hanging out in a nearby tree somewhere.

Now we wait and see. If they move in, then we start slowly moving the hive a few feet at a time to a more optimal location.

ABK points out that it was Memorial Day weekend or thereabouts last year when we caught a swarm next door.

This reminds me of when our friend Greg, a professional beekeeper, used to keep an empty hive on the back of his truck in case he needed it in a hurry to catch a swarm. One day he went out to his truck and saw bees going in and out of the hive. He peeked under the cover and a swarm had moved in without his assistance, right there in the bed of his truck. They were completely moved in and setting up housekeeping.

You just never know. The girls are very resourceful.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

May 22 check on honey supers

Took a peek inside the supers we added to each hive. In the little hive (pictured above and below) the bees are beginning to draw out beautiful white comb on two or three of the frames. This hive has been looking good lately, with happy afternoon dances of bees around the hive.
In the enormously tall hive, we peeked in the top two supers. The newest frames on top are a similar story...the bees are just beginning to draw out comb. In the super just below, the frames are all full of nectar and the top cells are capped on each frame.

In other news, got a call from my cousins Rhonda and Kathy, and Rhonda's husband Steve this morning. They described a swarm of bees hanging on a low branch behind my aunt's old house. I advised them to find a local beekeeper...and wished they lived close by, so that I could capture that low hanging swarm myself.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Adding Supers

We made a field trip to Saluda, NC today to buy some more shallow frames and foundation. Peeked in the big mama hive and found they were busily filling the shallow box I added last week with nectar, so popped yet another super on top. This one had five frames with wax already drawn out and four frames of foundation (flat pieces of wax upon which the bees will build honey comb). I put the foundation frames in the middle in the hopes that they will start their work from the inside out.

A peek in the little hive showed a lot of bees and some beautiful new white wax in the top deep. Encouraged by their obvious progress, we popped a shallow super with ten frames of just foundation on top of them. If I'd anticipated this, I would have given them the drawn out comb, but as it was, I had to jog to the garage to get the super to top them off.

It is great to see both the blooms on the trees and the obvious signs of the bees working.

Using Bees to Keep Elephants Out of Your Garden

This news just in:

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

A Quick Peek

You would be so proud, really. I went into both hives today and inspected all the frames in the top box of each ALL BY MYSELF. No ABK (Assistant Bee Keeper) to do all the work and talk me through it. I was cool as a cucumber, and oddly, so were the bees. (Lucy and Ethel, the chickens, did not help. They just showed up for the photo session afterwards.)

In the ubercombined hive the bees had eaten through all the newspaper between deeps as if it had never been there, except to make that nice decorative skirting on the outside. There was a little bit of honey and some capped brood on several frames. I saw no uncapped brood, but hoped there was some down below. The brood, which took up about a quarter of several central frames, appeared to be mostly worker brood.

Since it takes 21 days for worker brood to develop, this brood could have been eggs or young larva when we transferred the deep from the other hive.

The far right two frames in that top deep still had just foundation, but there were bees who looked like they were all set up and prepped to draw it out. I'm hopeful about this little hive. I was curious about the bottom deep, but not set for heavy lifting and bee ticking off today.

In super happy hive, I peeked in the top shallow super (there were two deeps and two shallows when I started). The top shallow was absolutely full of lovely uncapped nectar, soon to be honey. So I popped another shallow on top, full of drawn out honey comb, ready to fill.

Next order of business is to buy some more shallow frames to allow continuing expansion. I've already got some shallow hive boxes and five frames of drawn out comb, but would need at least four more frames to add another shallow to the hive.

I used the frame grips so I could keep the smoker or hive tool in one hand while I held a frame with the other. Worked just fine.

I'm feeling ready for my practical (hands on) test for the certified bee keeper exam on June 5. I passed the written, so full steam ahead!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Teaching the Fourth Grade

Today I had the privilege to teach all the fourth graders at Marlow Elementary about beekeeping. We met in their auditorium and I took an empty hive, my smoker, hive tool and jacket with hood. I also had a power point with lots of pictures from the Backyard Swammerdam blog.

When they saw the first picture of a frame covered in bees, they said, "Whoa!"

They asked great questions. A lot of our conversation focused on the difference between bees and wasps, and the fact that it kills a honey bee to sting you (because the stinger and the back part of the bee tears off).

I showed them pictures of the things bees keep in their hive...pollen, babies (brood) and honey. We talked about how you harvest the honey, and how I've made chapstick from the wax. I also showed them pictures of the swarm we caught and told the story of pulling the swarm of bees out of the tree.

All in all, I think a good time was had by all.

Glenn C. Marlowe Elementary School

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Happy Clouds of Bees

When the sun shines brightly on the hive in the afternoon, dozens of bees swirl around in what looks like a happy dance. Probably orientation flights, as bees learn their way around the hive. Possibly even just a short bathroom flight outside. Regardless, it makes a hive look happy and healthy to have a lot of bees swirling around.

The little hive has some swirling, too, just fewer bees. Could it be that they are on their way to health and wholeness?

Saturday, April 17, 2010

In Which I Finally Get Stung

After messing with the bees three weeks in a row, the bees are fed up. We ripped the big hive apart again...they also were probably perturbed by the strong breeze and the fact that they are bringing in a lot of nectar.

We did some poking around, the Assistant Bee Keeper (ABK) got a sting on the finger and a sting on the wrist. I got a hot poker to the left ankle. It hurt like fire for a few minutes and then just stopped.

ABK took a Benedryl. I applied a poultice (a wet paper towel with a pile of meat tenderizer, tied to my ankle with a bandana). Orally I took a smashed Oreo cookie covered with melty Cookies and Cream ice cream. Not medicine, but hey, I feel better.

Oh, and I think I've mentioned before how much I like a big glass of iced tea after working with the bees.

So, for the record, what we did today:

Reversed the big hive. Top deep to the bottom, bottom deep to the top of that. Put the super that had been rotated down on top of the deeps. Didn't look in it, because it was full of bees and we'd been stung by that point. Capped it off with another super full of drawn comb that we brought out from storage.

We took off the middle deep that we had added a couple weeks ago and added it to the little hive with a sheet of newspaper in between, as if we were combining. Why? Well, at that point we wanted to bring the big hive back down to two deeps, we were stung and not feeling like shaking off a bunch of ticked off bees, if the small hive survives they will be needing more space, and we thought, why not?

So...the plan now is to LEAVE THEM ALONE for the next two weeks.

After that we'll see. But they are in some basic good order, we think, for the moment.

I'm really wanting to try top bar hives...I'm starting to feel bad about all the messing with the girls. It would be nice to be able to inspect them without all the smoke and disruption.

More on that later.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

What Are You Doing? No Idea.

Still making this whole beekeeping thing up as we go along.

The plan, and we did we have one, was to dig through the big hive to see how much brood we had. If we had enough uncapped brood we intended to either work on a split or take a couple frames over to the Patheticus hive.

We found the bottom deep full of capped brood. The middle box, which we added last week, had some pollen and nectar, and the bees were drawing out the frames that just had foundation. The top deep, oddly, had capped brood with some uncapped brood around the edges. The queen appears to be laying her more recent babies up top.

A little bewildered, we decided just to reassemble and take a couple frames of brood with younger uncapped brood on it from the top box. We did this, replacing the frames we stole with some drawn out but unused frames we had in storage.

The new, empty frames went beside the hive wall.

We next went into the sad little hive. The top box had a whole lot of nothing in it, so we shook off bees and took it to the porch for bees to clean out. The bottom box had several frames of honey, a frame with capped brood (from last week's donation, we presume). We took out two frames that had a lot of drone brood and replaced it with the worker and uncapped brood from the other hive.

Then, as we were reassembling and closing up, I had a bad thought. The hive we were working had ten frames. We were adding frames from a hive that had nine frames per box. Blast! What if we crunched up the bee space with oversized comb?? (Yet another reason you should never put nine frame dividers in a hive body.)

We went to the porch where we happened to have a hive body with nine frame dividers, COMPLETELY dismantled the hive and put nine frames in a the new deep body, taking out a frame that had a small amount of honey.

Here's the thing. As we were putting the cover back on the little hive, we found a queen bee in the cover!! What the heck? She plopped down on the inner cover and scurried into the hive, but we both saw her.


She could have been our good functional queen from the other hive. If so, she would have had to stow away on the frame even after we tried to shake all the bees off. The bees in the bad hive could be balling her up and murdering her even as we speak.

Or they could accept her and the big hive could make a new queen for themselves.

More likely, she was already in that little mess of a hive. She could be shooting blanks and laying only unfertilized eggs, either because she she is a dud or because she never did the whole mating flight thing, or because she hadn't yet got her groove on.

I just don't know.

Nothing was what I expected today. what?

Pray the weather is good next week to go in and mess with them again.

We need to get the strong hive worked down to two hive bodies with honey supers.

We need to monitor the progress of the weak hive and possibly add more brood? They'll need at least a shallow in a week or so for honey storage.

I just don't know. For now I'll drink ice tea and take a shower.

Oh, and assistant bee keeper got her second sting, again on the leg, but this time by a bee outside the pants leg. So far it doesn't seem like as bad a sting.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Boom and Bust--April 3 hive check--BOOM hive

The left hive is as healthy as the Droneville hive is pathetic. There have been great clouds of worker bees bringing in nectar and pollen. Our concern with this hive is that they will get too crowded and swarm.
Sure enough, we had a hive full of bees, brood and honey. We had left the hive with a honey super on top. It still had lots of honey (it was HEAVY) and it had some capped brood in the middle of it. We rotated this super down to the bottom of the hive after checking it carefully to make sure we didn't trap the queen down at the bottom, since queens don't like to walk across honey.
The picture above, shows what capped brood SHOULD look like...beautiful coverage, smooth tops!!

We found the queen, although she quickly ducked out of sight. The very top picture in this post is me trying to catch her in a picture right as she scurried away.

There were no swarm cells, but the bees were indeed all packed in with no place to go. There was very little open brood, which we think was a result of running out of open cells in which to lay eggs. We added a deep, and put a three frames of drawn out but empty comb in the middle of the main brood box, and then put two of the frames of brood in the new empty deep, and one frame of brood in the Droneville hive (see Bust post, below).

This will give them room to expand, and should slow down any inclination to swarm for a while. In the long run, we still plan to split this hive. Probably next week, when we hope to have lots of uncapped brood. At the very least, we'll keep transferring brood over to the Droneville hive for a while to see if we can get their act together.

We reversed the hive bodies, from bottom to top we have the shallow super, the main hive body with brood, the new hive body with mostly empty frames and some frames with just foundation, the deep that had been on the bottom that now has pollen and nectar.

One last note....I was much, much, much more comfortable working the bees than I have been in the past. Practice makes perfect. We inspected almost every frame in both hives.

Kept the smoker going, too.


Boom and Bust--April 3 hive check--Bust hive

We'll start with the bust: the hive on the right, which is the sum of our two original hives combined the first year, and then the swarm hive that we combined with the combined hive last year. Following me so far?

It has been looking puny, with not a lot of worker bee action. Today we went in and found what is pictured above and below. The picture above shows a whole frame of drone brood. Drones, you remember, are male bees that do nothing but eat honey and pick up chicks. They don't keep the hive running. To find a whole frame of drone brood is total badness. Either the worker bees are laying eggs, or there is a really, really bad queen. I vote for laying workers.

The picture below shows a spotty brood pattern from the same hive, with the caps being built up into the characteristic bullet shaped dome of drone brood. We've got no workers being born in this hive, and no fertilized eggs for them to make a new queen.

So, we reversed the hive bodies and went on the to then next hive while we worked on a strategy. The top box had the drone brood, the bottom had pollen and nectar. We went ahead and flipped them, which might have made more sense with healthy hive, but what the heck. On the bright side, Droneville had several frames of capped honey, so they've got something to eat for a while.

After checking the other hive (BOOM!), we came in the house, did some research and had lunch. We found that one of the recommended suggestions for getting a laying worker to produce a queen is to start putting a frame of uncapped brood in their hive every week. We didn't have a lot of uncapped brood (see report on other hive), but we did give them a frame of mostly capped worker brood. It had a few uncapped cells. We figure this will at least give them some more workers. We also took out a frame full of drone cells that we will freeze, since the world just doesn't need that many drones. Then we plan to put a frame of uncapped brood in once a week until they start making a queen cell or until we give up and try something else.

The general idea is that the bees will pick up the pheromones from the uncapped brood and get their act together.


Saturday, February 20, 2010

February Peek

An unusual day in Asheville area beekeeping. Warm enough for the bees to fly about, but with snow still on the ground. It has been a strange winter. We've had snow on the ground every day since December 18, 2009.
The sun has finally come out after a long cold spell. The bees seemed estatic to come out and buzz around a bit. We decided to peek in the top of both hives and check to see how things looked.
The hive next to the garden fence (the one with snow in the background) is the hive we started from a nuc last spring. When we looked in, there was a nice cluster of bees (pictured above) on the top honey super. From what I could see without lifting any frames, they still have plenty of honey for the moment in this top super. Plus, this hive smelled wax and honey. One of my favorite things about keeping bees is the smell of a healthy hive.

The second hive is our ultra-combined hive. In 2008 we combined our original two hives, and then last year we combined again with the swarm hive we caught in 2009. There are far fewer bees flying out around the entrance, so I was surprised when I popped the top to find a good sized gathering of bees, pictured immediately above. We're feeding this hive bottles of honey from our own bees through the mason jar feeder. We'll do that until our honey runs out and then feed them with sugar water. It looks like they just might make it.