Beemused: A Blog

I wonder what’s gotten into the girls?

26th June 2007

I wonder what’s gotten into the girls?

I’ve been feeding the girls most mornings (see the various posts about what piggies these bees are), so perhaps I’ve become a bit complacent.  These are stinging venomous insects, after all!  This morning it was hot so I wore shorts, although I had the presence of mind to wear a light gray long sleeve shirt over my T-shirt for the feeding.  As always when feeding I was wearing the hat and veil, so I felt pretty confident.  I’ve usually had groups of bees walking on my hands while feeding; I’m careful not to crush them while taking the feeder out, filling it, and especially while putting it back into the hive.

This morning, however, Elizabeth was ready to attack from the get-go.   I could hear the tone of the bees go from humming to buzzing, increasing volume and gaining a hostile edge.  Perhaps I hurried and hurt a bee, but I think they started to sting even before I started to put the feeder back in.  Now, I didn’t really want to continue getting stung, but I was on a mission to feed these girls, so I carried on and finished the job on Elizabeth before retreating.  I had an angry bee trying to get into the veil, I brushed her aside as I took off the hat, but she came right back and got caught in my hair.  Fortunately I got her out before being stung on the head, and I ducked into the studio.

I put on the full bee suit (What Amanda calls my “HazMat” look) and headed back out to feed the other two hives.  Susan was OK, although I sure moved quickly to complete the task!  Mary, unfortunately, was upset, and I was stung on the hand while putting the feeder into the hive.  I haven’t been wearing gloves, because they are much more clumsy and likely to crush a bee by mistake.

As I getting ready to shower, I heard a bee buzzing inside my shirt!    I struggled to get the shirt off while at the same time trying to squash the angry bee before she nailed me.  I didn’t succeed.

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26th June 2007

They Are Not Amused

The girls were in a foul, foul mood this morning. When Justin went to put more syrup in Elizabeth’s feeder, pissed-off bees came zipping out of the hive, and several managed to sting him. Ouch! So he decked himself out in the full suit to feed Susan and Mary, and to tip the top covers of the hives a bit to improve their ventilation. Susan was apparently OK with these things, but one of Mary’s girls stung him on the finger as a parting gesture.

We’re not sure why they were so cranky this morning. Our two guesses: it’s hot and humid, and didn’t cool off much last night, and such weather is known to make bees unpleasant. (Bees like it in the 70s, and fairly dry, and with a nice breeze. Bees all want to live in San Fransisco, apparently.) It is also quite possible that a skunk was bothering them last night. I’m rather inclined to think that had something to do with it, just because of Liz’s hair-trigger defensiveness.

Now, they are pretty well equipped to fight off a skunk. The hive stands are about 18 inches tall, which means a skunk would need to expose its sensitive belly to stick a paw in the hive- and then the guard bees can sting it there. That’s one reason for the stands. But still- while the skunk would be driven away, that would not happen before the girls got pretty upset.

So, we’ve decided to leave the hives alone for the next few days. We’re in the big summer nectar flow, so they don’t desperately need feeding– and we want to give them a chance to forget about any possible skunk (or beekeeper!) attack, plus the weather is going to continue hot and humid for a few more days.

Hopefully, by the weekend everything will have settled down and cooled off some (figuratively and literally). I’m thinking that there is some frame-swapping we could do in the hives to help them build up- but not if they’re ridiculously irritable!

-Amanda

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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

22nd June 2007

Pictures! Our Third Hive Inspection

We have honey! Not much, but some. Also, the girls are working hard to build up their newly expanded quarters. Pictures etc. are under the cut…

Read the rest of this entry

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21st June 2007

An Interesting Video Clip

Here’s a video clip about a beekeeper in New Jersey- it’s a bit longer than the usual YouTube sort of thing, but quite interesting. Thank you, gandryyne!

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20th June 2007

The girls are piggies!

I have just made another batch of syrup. I’ve been making a batch almost every day, usually 10 or 12 pounds each time (that’s half sugar and half water). And still, the girls are swigging it down, even though they also appear to be foraging reliably.

At this point we’ve gone through 100 pounds of sugar since getting the girls, and almost all of that has entered bee-bellies and not ours. And we’re again almost out of sugar. J’s been buying it in 25-pound bags; I think this time I’ll ask him to get 2 of them. (a 25-lb bag costs a bit over $11, so it’s not hugely expensive- especially compared to the hive bodies themselves and similar things- which is a relief.)

Piggies, I say!

The books say that the piggies girls will stop taking syrup when there’s plenty of nectar flow. I am beginning to wonder if that is true, or if the convenience of “breakfast in bed”, as it were, makes up for the lack of quality of said breakfast compared to proper nectar.

I’m not sure if we can tell the difference between capped honey and capped syrup. I also don’t think they separate them out in the storage cells.

Mary has been very active today- not foraging (Elizabeth’s still kicking the other girls’ asses with that) but in sort of random buzzing about the hive. It’s very similar to the way they acted when they were first installed- which makes me think she’s had a fair amount of brood hatched recently, and the young workers are taking some orienting flights before they start foraging. The timing checks out for that- it’s about 5.5 weeks since we installed the packages, so the oldest of our queens’ workers are roughly 2 weeks old. On average, they work in the hive for 3 weeks, then forage for another 3. (The life of a worker bee is hard and short, I’m afraid.)

-Amanda

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19th June 2007

The girls do not like refills

This morning I filled the feeders, since all 3 were empty (again!).  The jug I use to carry the syrup doesn’t hold enough to fill all 3, so on previous occasions the last hive got shortchanged  a bit.  This time I tried an alternative approach - I filled all 3 halfway, refilled the jug, then went back to each hive to “top up”.

 Clearly a mistake!  The girls did not appreciate being interrupted while guzzling syrup, and I was buzzed by more irritated bees than I have before, even when taking frames from the hive for inspection.  I won’t be using this technique again…

 -Justin

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17th June 2007

Inspection

We have honey. :) At least 2 of the hives have created comb between the hive bodies, so when we opened up the hives, we saw the honey. It’s golden, as compared to the stored syrup which is clear.

All the hives seem to be doing well, but Elizabeth is the frontrunner. I’ve seen it while observing her exterior: she’s sending out 2-5 times as many foraging bees in the afternoon as Mary and Susan combined; the latter 2 are really active in the mornings, but tend to slack in the afternoons, while Elizabeth stays active.

So! I think we need to order our queen excluders soonish (along with various other things we have found we need), because I think we will be able to put a honey super on Eliz. before the fall nectar flow. This means we may get a wee bit of honey for our own use, without compromising the hive’s ability to survive the winter.

Mary and Susan are doing fine, but are not nearly as  productive as Eliz. This is rather gratifying, since given her location (more shade than the others), she was at somewhat of a disadvantage initially.

Eliz.’s bees are definitely darker than Mary’s and Susan’s. There’s clearly another strain involved in her heritage- which is great from my point of view! Mary and Susan’s bees are all still the classic black-and-gold Italian coloring, while Eliz.’s are still stripey, but the whole is darker.

I noticed that I was a lot more nervous about dealing with the girls than  I was last time we inspected the hives. I think all the delays made it harder for me. Still, I took pictures and added pollen substitute to the hives bare-handed, and with more comfort as we progressed. In terms of dealing with my bug Issues, I think it would be helpful to mess with the girls every 10 days or so… although from their perspective, the less messing, the better!

-Amanda

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17th June 2007

Third Inspection - we have honey!

Today we finally had time and luck with the weather, so we were able to inspect the hives once again.  This was the first time we’d looked inside since we put the 2nd hive bodies on, and we were uncertain what we’d find.  Would the girls have started drawing comb in the 2nd tier? Or would they stay focussed on filling out the 1st?  Would they say “hi neighbor, come on in and see how we’ve decorated the place!”, or would they come boiling out of the opened hive shouting “Invader! Attack!!”

As it happened, the girls were busy expanding into the 2nd tier.  The basic pattern is centered on the middle frames, and the upper level appears to be all syrup stores so far.  I didn’t see any sign of brood in the 2nd tier on any of the hives.  Lots of syrup cells, and a fair amount of pollen stashed away.   While looking at the 2nd tier on Susan, we decided to take a look at what was happening with the 1st tier.  Drawn comb has been spread closer to the outer frames, although none of the hives had any comb on the outermost frame.   So they have decided to grow the hive upwards before filling outwards 100%.   We put pollen substitute on all three hives’ 2nd tiers, to encourage brood on the 2nd level.

 One bonus: as a result of looking under the 2nd tier, we saw that Susan was producing honey!  The girls had built comb to fill the gap between levels 1 and 2, and that comb was pulled apart by removing the 2nd tier.  The girls were busy sucking up the honey that was thus exposed.  Yes!  Honey!

We resisted the temptation to filch a bit of the honey to taste (this time!).  I think next time we’re in the hives, though, we’ll bring along a spoon to steal a sample.  And we’ll be placing an order for the queen excluder so we can put a honey super on in time for the nectar flow.  I love honey, and it would be so totally cool to have a bit from our own hives!

–Justin

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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