Beemused: A Blog

Day 19: Woohoo!

28th May 2007

Day 19: Woohoo!

We opened up the hives this evening and pulled a central frame from each.

And in all 3 hives, that frame was almost entirely full of capped brood- which, in non-beekeeper-jargon, means worker bees in a pupa form. And that means that we have 3 good and solid queens, who are laying lots of eggs, and our worker bees are doing a fine job of raising them to pupas stage!

I took pictures of each frame, and I’ll try to get them processed and posted tomorrow. While we didn’t see these when we were in the hives, in the pictures we can see healthy larvae as well as the capped brood.

I am very excited and relieved! I’m so pleased our girls are doing well, and I’m looking forward to seeing what has been going on next weekend, when we’ll go into the hives again.

This time we were pretty much only looking for brood. Since we found it in all 3 hives on the first frame we pulled, we didn’t mess with them more. Next time we shall see how they’re doing in terms of drawing comb and making stores in other frames, since we may want to add another hive body and frames at that point, to give them more room to store honey and pollen for over-wintering.

I’ll add that the girls were totally mellow with this. I got buzzed maybe twice- nothing serious- and the hives were not alarmed or getting defensive or anything. J was in full haz-mat regalia, but it did not seem to be necessary; the girls were totally benign.

But- capped brood! Woohoo! We are truly beekeepers with explicitly viable hives! :D

-Amanda

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27th May 2007

Day 16

We did not do much with the girls today. We do need to check for brood in the next day or so- but I’m thinking that given the cold weather, delaying a day or 2 will make it more likely that we’ll recognize brood if brood we have. So if the weather cooperates, we’ll check out the hives tomorrow; else, Tuesday.

At one point this afternoon Mary was very agitated. There were lots of bees randomly buzzing about, and no identifiable cause. An hour later, though, they’d calmed back down, so I’m hoping all is well.

In the breaks in my studio work today I was researching top bar hives. Interesting stuff! The basic concept is that in such hives, the bees decide what size of cells they need, and where they need ‘em, while still maintaining a reasonable level of accessibility. I am thinking that if we do a 4th hive next year, a top bar would be the way to go as an experiment.

I made more syrup today, which we’ll feed tomorrow. J got stung twice yesterday morning; he was feeding the girls, and Eliz. and Susan were mellow about it but Mary was stroppy- plus, he wasn’t wearing a veil or anything. He is not allergic, fortunately. I am wondering if the difference is that we squished a few of Mary’s denizens the first time we refilled her feeder, and thus the alarm pheromones are on the feeder itself… We may want to bring it inside and scrub it.

On a more positive note, we’re seeing honeybees around the neighborhood, and even in our own yard (apart from right next to the hives). Such a trip! And J has seen them returning to the hive with pollen pantaloons in lots of colors, so they’re foraging for pollen, anyway. :)

-Amanda

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26th May 2007

No longer a bee-sting virgin

It was a gorgeous day here, aside from being stung by our bees for the first time (the hazards of feeding the bees without donning protective gear).

–Justin

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21st May 2007

Day 10: Looking for Brood

This evening we went into all 3 hives and looked for brood… and did not find it. But we’re optimistic anyway.

Now, I know that eggs are very hard to see on light-colored foundation, even for experienced beekeepers. And the cold weather this weekend probably slowed the girls down.

Still- it was a bit discouraging not to see any signs that the queens were alive and well and laying. Not really unexpected, but discouraging nonetheless. We’ll check things out again next weekend, and hope to see more direct proof of viable queens then.

Meanwhile- we are guardedly optimistic. For one thing, I think it is highly unlikely that we have managed to kill all 3 queens, so the fact that all 3 hives are looking very similar is promising. The girls in each hive seem to be very focused on one or 2 frames, which indicates that there is a queen (even though we didn’t spot her). Also: all 3 hives were very mellow about our messing; hives without a queen are reputed to be far touchier and more irritable. Susan was a bit stroppier than Mary and Eliz., but not even close to aggressive; despite our pulling of frames and examining them, we hardly got buzzed at all, and the hives were not even close to an angry buzzing sound. And we didn’t smoke any of them though I did spray sugar syrup rather generously.

Checking for broodChecking for brood
This is one of the frames we saw today when we were checking for brood. We did not find brood per se; on the other hand, I know that it is very hard to see eggs on a light-colored foundation, and the cold weather this weekend probably slowed things down. Here you can see a lot of comb the girls have drawn out and filled- mostly with sugar syrup, and the darker cells are filled with pollen or pollen-substitute. At least 2 of the frames in each hive were far more populated than this one, so even though we’ve seen no direct proof of a viable queen thus far, we are optimistic. And the girls are very mellow even when messed with- thank goodness!

-Amanda

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20th May 2007

Day 9

Due to weather weirdness, it doesn’t look like we’ll be opening the hives to check for brood today. Sigh. We really do need to get to it tomorrow if at all possible, though! I want to make sure everything’s going well- although from the outside, it sure looks promising.

Today was a bit warmer than it’s been, and a lot less rainy, and the girls were out in force. Much coming and going on all 3 hives! Susan and Mary have been swigging down the syrup, too, both having gone through close to a quart today! Eliz. is a bit more moderate, though the level’s dropped a lot. This is not really a surprise; for the past couple of days the levels dropped hardly at all, and the bees weren’t stirring out of the hives, so I expect they were eating their stores- and now that it’s warmer, they’re exploring and/or foraging, and replenishing the stores with syrup as well.

We’re going to leave the entrance reducers in for a couple more days, since it’s still supposed to be getting pretty cold at night. This probably adds to the buzzing around we’re seeing, since there’s a bit of a traffic jam due to the smaller entrances!

I’ve joined a list for organic beekeeping on Yahoo, and it’s been interesting reading. I don’t think we’re going to be as hard-core organic as they recommend, but I’m hoping to learn more about organic ways of dealing with issues as an alternative to chemical ones- even if I don’t adopt them myself, or not consistently.

J found an article on colony collapse disorder that was blaming, among (many) other things, non-round hives. Now, the rectangular hives we’re using are based on a design that is, if I recall correctly, roughly 100 years old- AND was brilliant because it both catered to the preferences of the bees AND made it more possible to maintain the hive without damaging it (something not possible with the traditional skeps, for instance). So, I really doubt that’s much of a factor. Based on nothing but instincts and/or common sense, my guess is that it has to do with various stresses- from insecticides, from other pollutants, and from living a life unnatural for bees (like in the itinerant hives- bees do not wish to be tourists). These stress the hive and the bees, and make them more susceptible to the diseases, mites, and the like that they might otherwise be able to handle. Just my guess, though- gods know I’m no expert! I’m aspiring to educated layperson on the technical aspects.

-Amanda

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19th May 2007

Day 8

Not really much to report today. I did see a few bees from each hive heading out on runs today- a nice change, since the rainy cold weather has kept the girls hivebound for the past few days. I miss seeing them!

Susan was, as has been typical, the most active. It’s hard to keep in mind that her current characteristics have absolutely nothing at all to do with her eventual character! Right now all the bees that are doing anything much are the ones from the package, which have no relationship at all, genetically, to Susan’s queen. We won’t have any idea of Susan’s- or Elizabeth’s or Mary’s- true character and qualities for another 3-5 weeks! That’s how long it takes for the eggs their queens lay to mature into bees, and start to be active outside the hive. (3 weeks to hatch, and 3 weeks as nurse bees that mostly stay in the hive and care for the queen and the brood; after that, they start to head out and forage etc.)

Tomorrow, weather permitting, we will open Eliz. and Mary at any rate and see if we can see eggs, or larvae, or capped brood (probably not this soon- that’s the pupa stage), or the queen. This will give us reassurance that everything is well, or, perhaps, a heads-up that it’s not- in which case we can start to think about how to manage it.

I hope that there will be pictures, but it’ll depend on the weather, and how pissed off this messing makes the girls. :)

-Amanda

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18th May 2007

Pictures: Removing the Queen Cages

In these we opened the hives and removed the queen cages- my post about that was made on Tuesday. Pictures are below the cut. Read the rest of this entry »

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16th May 2007

Day 5: The Rescue of the Queen

This morning J peeked under Susan’s outer cover, into the empty-but-for-queen-cage second hive body. And it the queen cage was still crawling with bees, which told us both that Susan’s workers really like her queen a lot, and that it was likely that Susan’s queen was still in the cage. The candy plug was gone, and we had seen no obvious reason why she’s still be in the cage, and the workers clearly wanted her out and into the hive and laying… but in the cage she was.

We decided that is was remotely possible that a dead bee had gotten wedged in where the candy had been, so she couldn’t get out. This seemed unlikely, since there were definitely more bees in the cage than there had been- it was stuffed, sort of like a clown car- but a queen is a bit bigger than a worker, diameter-wise, so it was possible. Therefore the best thing to do was to peel off the mesh over the top of the cage, allowing everyone to get out easily. We figured that when the screen was gone, she’d head down into her attractive new digs.

So J bravely donned the veil and went in to rescue Susan’s queen. Let me just say that bees are ungrateful wretches, and despite the fact that he was rescuing her from Durance Vile, Susan’s girls were pissed off that anyone was messing with their queen. No stinging, but lots of buzzing around and banging off his veil. Fortunately, cutting through the screen was quick and he replaced everything in very little time.

About 3 hours later, I just peeked into Susan myself, and the queen cage is now empty but for a couple of workers, and there is lots of activity in the hive that I can see through the hole in the inner cover. So, I believe success was achieved!

I could not see any signs that anything was blocking her egress, by the way. So I send email to J letting him know that all seems well, and speculating that maybe Susan’s queen is just really, really dumb, even for a bee.

So he emailed me back: “As long as she’s a good lay(er), who cares if she’s dumb? (did I just say that???)”

*snort* I did warn him I would be posting that comment!

The girls have, all told, gone through over 24 pounds of syrup now, and have eaten at least a third of the pollen patties we put in each hive. The latter is a really good sign, since I believe the pollen patties are mostly used to feed brood. :)

-Amanda

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15th May 2007

Day 4: Checking and Removing the Queen Cages

And now we start to head into some of the exciting hive maintenance!

Today’s task: open each hive, remove the queen cage, make sure there’s no queen in it, reposition the frames, and add the 10th frame to each box. While it’s not a lot of messing around in the hive- assuming all goes well- it is some; plus, the girls are now thinking of the hive as home and are less than enthusiastic about having it messed with.
Read the rest of this entry »

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14th May 2007

Day 3, again

Our hive locations are not really great.

They get enough shade to- at least when it gets pretty cool at night- slow the girls down for a couple of hours on both ends of the day.

They are, however, ideally situated from the point of view of not freaking out neighbors, and I think they’ll be placed well in the winter; much of the shade is from deciduous trees, so they’ll get more sun then.

Hey: I’m a mom. I fret. :P

ETA: cosmicirony posted an exciting bee experience yesterday, if you didn’t see it. Let’s just say that a bee ended up where one really, REALLY would rather not have a bee. It is a good thing the Italian bees are very mellow indeed.

-Amanda

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