Beemused: A Blog

We haz gotz hunny: harvesting the honey supers

30th September 2007

We haz gotz hunny: harvesting the honey supers

Ok, my apologies for the lolcat-speak.

Nonetheless, we do have honey! We successfully robbed the bees today. :)

We got one full super of capped honey, one super of dubiously ready honey, and most of another super of capped; with the latter, the girls were exceedingly pissed off as soon as we started smoking them, so we removed 8 frames and left the other 2, and the super and excluder, in place. (This was Mary. Liz was actually pretty mellow- she got pissed off and buzzed loudly, but wasn’t to the dive-bombing point. Susan was OK with us removing the super; it wasn’t like she’d spent much effort on doing anything in it! But Mary- the third hive we worked- was stroppy from the get-go. She may have noted that we were robbing the other ones, and so was quick to take offense.)

So. We still need to remove the other 2 frames and the super from Mary. We also need to check out the condition and levels of stores in the hive bodies of all 3 hives. Since the weather this week is supposed to be decent, I’m hoping we can do a hive a night- maybe starting with Mary on Tuesday.

Meanwhile: we plan on putting a frame or 2 a day of partially-ready honey outside, and let the girls rob them. They can use the stores, and if the honey isn’t capped, it’s not concentrated enough to keep for us, anyway. This will also empty some drawn comb cells of honey, and we’ll be able to use those frames to entice honey production next year.

Next year we’ll put the bee-o-paks on sooner, with a super with drawn comb above them, and we’ll use some of the excess beeswax we have to smear in the bee-o-pac cells; this ought to entice the girls into drawing comb and filling the bee-o-pacs. These are a pretty cool way to create and distribute comb honey… if we can get the girls to cooperate, of course!

Meanwhile, I’ve been browsing the Betterbee catalog. So much cool stuff! We need to make some decisions as to how many hives we want to run next year; if we want to have more, we may want to order bees… or we may just want to have enough equipment that we can split a hive or 2. Or some mix of these approaches… Also, we need to decide if an additional hive will be a top-bar or not; if so, we need to start building the equipment; if not, we need to have an ordering plan for conventional equipment. Betterbee has some 8-frame hives that look interesting, since full they’d be 20% lighter and thus easier for us to manage…

Also we need to make some decisions on whether we’re interested in extracted honey or not. If we want to do extracted, we need to plan for it, and plan on getting the necessary equipment. Now, Betterbee has an extractor that’s designed to work with top-bar hives (which are more fragile than ones built on plastic foundation), plus it’s a lot more compact than other extracting systems. I’m really tempted by this, for both reasons; I think it’d give us the option of doing extracted, without requiring as much preplanning. Plus- easier to store is good!

The most recent honey the girls have made is very dark and rich-looking. I think that’s the goldenrod they’ve been harvesting.

I did get some pictures today, between helping with the hives. I’ll try to get them, and previous pics, posted in the next few days.

On a personal note- I did enjoy working the bees today- until Mary started menacing me, anyway! I need a proper bee suit. (Unfortunately, no one seems to make bee suits for female-type persons; I am planning on getting a pullover-type jacket, and making or buying pull-on pants in white.) I can see that the longer I go between working with the girls, the more nervous I get about it. So this means that I need to do it more often, and not let the nervousness accumulate. I mean- Mary was definitely VERY pissed off today- it’s not like hearing the buzz of a pissed-off hive is subject to misinterpretation!- but still, she did dive-bomb Justin, and me to a lesser extent, but neither of us got stung. While they do make me nervous- objectively, they are all pretty mellow girls. I just need to work with them more.

While we tried to get all bees off the frames we robbed- a few did make it into the studio despite our efforts. Justin spent considerable effort coaxing them into his hands, then releasing them outside so they could return to their sisters. Awww. They really are cute little things. :)

-Amanda

24th June 2007

Bee Class: On Queens

This bee class at Warm Colors Apiary focused on queens. Dan shared lots of information with us, and I am more and more intrigued by queen-raising. A dangerous interest, since each queen needs a hive, and a few hives can rapidly become *ahem* rather more than a few if a beekeeper pursues such an interest! And we don’t really have a good place to install a bunch more hives…

I do think, though, that next year we can probably do 1 more hive here. And I am very eager to experiment with a top-bar hive. So- who knows?

High points: we saw several queens in their natural context. This does not make me any more confident that I would be able to spot her on a frame myself, but at least I can easily tell a drone from a worker, which capability was not universal. :) We got to see Dan marking a queen- he suggested getting the equipment and practicing on drones, which seems like a good idea to me! (Marking means putting a spot of paint on the queen’s thorax, which makes her a bit easier to spot in the hive.) We also learned about various methods to limit the queen to improve the ratio of foragers to in-hive workers, and to interrupt the mite breeding cycles. And ways to (try to) avoid swarming.

We also got to see a swarm live and in person! It was gathered at the top of a tall maple tree, and was pretty much a basket-ball sized lump of bees. Dan was planning on trying to collect it after our class- but it took off before that, right about at the time when I and a few more people were looking at it. All of a sudden it started to BUZZ (it had been quiet before), and then it took off. We watched it fly over a swamp and head into a wooded are in which the scouts had presumably found a nice hollow tree or something. Very cool!

And there was another swarm hanging around his beeyard while he was examining a hive and pointing stuff out to us. I got a bit overwhelmed by bugs at that point, what with so many bees doing random buzzing around our heads, plus the couple of horseflies that had decided I was a tasty treat. Generally I swat first, ask questions later- but I didn’t want to do that with so many bees around…

The second hive Dan opened was amazingly mellow, though. The girls basically ignored the fact that we were pulling frames, passing them around, capturing the queen and marking her, reformatting the hive- all of that. VERY mellow girls! Now, the downside was that they have a lot of Russian heritage, and were clearly planning to swarm in a few weeks. But they were lovely bees to work.

(OK- “lovely” in behavior. The Italians are still the prettiest bees around. Such bright gold they have! I wish beauty were the only consideration, because they are totally gorgeous. Nice, too!).0

So. I am still in rather a love/fear dichotomy with the girls. However, I am trending more towards the love, and less towards the panic.

Also: It seems that continuing to indulge their huge appetite for syrup makes sense at this point. They’re still drawing comb and setting up stores. We probably want to swap a few frames around next time we go into the hive, to encourage them to utilize all their space- but it sounds like they’re doing well, and we might be able to cut them off from the syrup in the fall, and maybe put some supers on them and get honey. Maybe. :)

-Amanda

16th June 2007

Quick update

And another day has passed in which we were not able to get into the hives. Argh! We were all set to do it this evening… and there was thunder and some rain at just the wrong time.

One problem for me with all these delays is that I’m getting more and more skittish about doing it, as our successful inspections head into the past. I hope we will be able to manage it tomorrow!

J says that there are a lot more bees on the feeders now than there were a week or so ago, so we clearly have hatched brood. He also noticed that many bees in Elizabeth are darker than they formerly were, so her queen may have some Russian heritage, or mated with such a drone. This would be a good thing, since our winters are cold enough that the extra hardiness of the Russians would be welcome.

Also, we have now acquired yellow jacket traps to protect our girls. These are baited with yellow-jacket pheromones, so they ought not to hold any charms for the bees. I am pleased we were able to find these, and thank LJ user dreamingcrow for the tip!

-Amanda

5th May 2007

More about Bees

Bees are very cute. Considering that they’re bugs… yet, even so, cute. They have anime-like big round eyes. They have adorable jointed antennae. The Italian ones are a lovely gold with black stripes (the Russians are more black-on-black). They do have more legs than a decent critter really needs, IMHO… but the back legs have their pollen baskets, so today a lot of bees were flying around with one or another color of pouffy pantaloons, just like my princess-cat and doggle except more colorful.

And they really are quite mellow, mostly. Dan would brush them away with his bare hands, and they’d just move along (that wasn’t when he got stung). They mostly just want to go about their bee-y lives.

And the package bee installation was so cool! With the first one- we watched it longer- he poured the bees from the traveling box into the hive- and I do mean “poured,” because they acted more like a viscous liquid than anything else- and they started exploring the hive that was their new home- and it probably wasn’t even 2 minutes later before a few started standing on the entrance or the top of the hive, raising their abdomens in the air, and signaling “Come on in! This ROCKS!” (otherwise known as the “come hither” pheromone). Sometimes one that was signaling would be approached by another, they’d “talk” (head to head, wiggling their antennae against the other one’s), then the new one would start signaling. Very nifty to watch!

I think this is going to be fun. :)

–Amanda

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2nd March 2007

Thoughts on bees

One of the things that’s attracted me to beekeeping, at least in theory (so far) is the essential alien-ness of bees. A bee is not an entity in the same way as a mammal is; it’s most sensible to look at the hive itself as the entity, and that’s very foreign to a mammalian POV.

I find that both fascinating and off-putting. The alien-ness of bugs is one of the things that drives my bug-phobia… but it’s also fascinating. Dan, the apiary guy, is convinced that “his” bees recognize him, and I think that’s possible. It’s also possible that we are pretty much invisible to the hive as entities ourselves (unless they mistake us for bears!), and thus we’re more the climate and the flowering of plants rather than someone with whom to relate. That’s icky, for me, with regards to carpenter ants- but intriguing when it comes to bees.

Bees do have some advantages over ants, though. Bees are furry (though the fur is apparently structurally more like feathers), and have big eyes- and we have evolved to find fur and big eyes quite appealing. Just think how cute kittens are! And it doesn’t hurt that there are good reasons to make common cause with bees, especially honeybees- while there’s really not much reason to try to develop a relationship with carpenter ants!

I am fascinated by the combination of xenophilia and xenophobia I’m feeling as I begin wading into beekeeping. I will say that i saw tons of slides of bees last night, without getting creepy crawly feelings- so I consider that a Good Sign! It’ll be a challenge, I know- especially since I still do get creeped out by many bugs! but I’m eager to proceed, both for my own development, and because I think it’s an important thing to do.

-Amanda

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5th February 2007

Bees, in context

Something I should establish up front: I am a very bad pagan indeed. Or maybe a very urban one, despite my suburban location.

While I am all about the nature in theory, I do not much like plants. I do not find them interesting. I don’t DISlike them; I like many of the things they provide as a benefit of our coexistence, and I wish them well… but there is very little I find as unenticing as gardening. It’s like housework, but outside, in the heat, with bugs. These are not, to my mind, virtues.

Now, pagans are supposed to like plants. We’re supposed to be all keen to encourage the green growing things that are the breath of Gaia, and again, I am… in theory. I just don’t want to be DOING it.

Combine that with my chosen profession- one that’s about as unjustifiable ecologically as is possible for a profession to be- and I am aware that I basically suck, in the sense of my chosen religion.

Which brings me to bees. And chickens.

See, while plants bore me, critters interest me. I like them, and I am generally reasonably good at getting in tune with them. I am intrigued by their different perspectives on life; living with cats has taught me a lot, and I’m learning even more from living with Sasha- what would it be like to have the history of a place as a rich tapestry to one’s nose? And when we walk, she’s always interested when she sees people… but is convinced that every walking or jogging human OUGHT to have a dog with them. It’s unnatural else. She’s as dog-centric as we are human-centric, and it really puts that in perspective.

So the prospect that I can do something positive for our species and for the earth in general, that does NOT involve boring work with plants, excites me. There are ways that raising even food animals can be done that benefit, rather than diminish, the quality of the soil- or so it seems. And while honeybees are exotics, so are most of our food crops, and our very lives depend on those crops, and therefore on bees. I like the idea that I can do something to step into the breach with this. Not a lot- but something, and something that’s at least potentially intriguing rather than pulling weeds! Plus, you know, the honey would be welcome, too- I’d love to do a batch of Northboro mead or mead-ale… but if keeping the hive healthy means that the honey ought not to be eaten, I’m OK with that.

I want to see how far I can move into thinking like a bee, and seeing the world from their perspective. Not far, I’m sure- but it’s still a stretch from the human, and one that fascinates me.

At least in theory! And theory is all well and good… but theory is what makes my buy seeds, and sometimes even plant them, and then, in the heat of July, lose interest in cherishing them.

So that’s why I’m taking the class. I want to know what I’m getting into. I will probably try it anyway- but I want to be prepared.

(I will also mention that such is one of the ways I push myself. The idea of driving 2.5 hours each way to attend a 3-hour class is rather off-putting- but now I’m stuck. Ditto the idea of actually handling bugs, since I am not at all entirely over my bug phobia. So it’s a stretch! Since we don’t’ have to actually handle bees till May, though, I need not worry about that part now!)

-Amanda

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