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.