Beemused: A Blog

Is Susan thinking of swarming?

28th July 2007

Is Susan thinking of swarming?

For several days I’ve noticed a gathering of bees around the entrance and extending up the side of the hive on Susan, in the late afternoon/early evening before sundown.  The books claim that it’s typical for swarming activity to occur around mid-day, so the timing is odd.  Moreover, Susan is the least built up colony, the least congested - so I’d think she was the least likely to swarm.  Finally, these are Italians, which are supposed to be less likely to swarm in the first place.

–Justin

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21st July 2007

The girls are making progress

We’ve just come in from examining the honey supers on all three hives, and all three are making good progress.  Mary even has capped honey cells!  Elizabeth is also doing very well, starting to store honey.  Susan is the straggler, so far she is still working on drawing out comb, although she is doing that quite well.

The frames were well glued down with propolis, and the covers were firmly  attached to the supers.  Since the covers are very precisely matched to the supers (the Dadant hive components are certainly well made!), it was actually a challenge to work my hive tool in between so I could pry the covers off.

After checking the three hives some of the girls were getting pretty testy, so we backed off and headed back into the house.  Unfortunately one of the girls managed to get into my jeans (!), despite full bee suit with elastic and velcro to make the ankles snug.  There’s no way to get a bee out (at least that I have found), so I was forced to crush her through the fabric.  This always makes me a bit sad.

 –Justin

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13th July 2007

Pictures! Our 4th Hive Inspection, and Adding the Honey Supers

These pictures are from 10 days and a week ago, covering our 4th hive inspection- in which we took a pretty thorough look at Mary’s top hive body (we’d planned to look at the lower one, too, but the bees were getting upset and the top body was full enough that we couldn’t easily lift it off. A full hive body can weigh 80 pounds!), and then the quick look at the hives we did a week ago when adding the honey supers.

We’d stopped feeding them syrup 10 days ago, at the last inspection; they clearly were thriving. When we supered the hives, we removed the feeders, too. Read the rest of this entry

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8th July 2007

Salon article!

There’s an article on beekeeping on Salon!

It’s a pretty good article, I think, and to me captures some of the charm of the girls. There are a few slight inaccuracies, but not bad. There is a bit of awe at the swarm-catching, which most beekeepers find generally both easy and fun; I haven’t done it yet, so won’t comment, but it does sound nifty.

The discussion of CCD (colony collapse disorder) made a lot of sense, and fits in with much of what I’ve been reading lately and what seems likely to me.

Anyway- good article! Recommended!

-Amanda

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7th July 2007

Hive update

We did a bit of hive work today. Not extensive, but I think it’ll meet the girls’ needs.

Basically, the plan was to take a quick look at the second hive bodies, add a queen excluder and a honey super, remove the plastic plate under the mesh bottom board, and remove the syrup feeders.

Mary- the hive we’d examined more thoroughly a week or so ago- was still doing great. She’s drawn comb on all the frames in the top hive body; there’s capped brood in several frames; and she’s very active and productive. So we added the queen excluder and the super and took out the feeder. (One doesn’t want to feed syrup while one is trying to collect honey- syrup does not make honey, even when processed by bees.)

Susan wasn’t doing as well. She’s worked on some of the frames in the second hive body, but not all of them, and hasn’t even finished the pollen patty we gave her when we added the second hive body. She seems to be doing well, though, and this is about what we were expecting at this point; Mary (and Liz) are overachievers. We added the excluder and the super anyway. I’m not sure if her queen has been laying in the top hive body, but we figured more room was better than less room.

I was a bit leery of Elizabeth, since Justin’s found them to be rather stroppy of late. They seem from their looks to have more Russian heritage than the other girls. But they were pretty mellow today- granted that we didn’t do much that would piss them off! We didn’t pull any frames, but from looking at the tops, she’s drawn comb and is filling all the frames in the top hive body. We don’t know if her queen is laying there, but the hive is clearly doing well so we weren’t inclined to mess. Especially since she stings. :) So we again added the excluder and super, and removed the feeder and the plastic insert that fits into the bottom board (which will help them cool the hive when it’s really hot, as is predicted for tomorrow etc.).

I got some pictures, and will be posting them soon.

It’s very exciting to think we may get actual honey this year! We may need to figure out what we need to add more supers; if they’re beign that productive, we want to take advantage (AND prevent swarming!).

-Amanda

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6th July 2007

Score!

One of the *ahem* advantages of beekeeping is that it gives the new beekeeper an almost infinite number of new intriguing gadgets and supplies to buy. Now, many of these are not precisely necessary… but they’re fun, and nifty, and at least potentially useful. And so we bought stuff.

From Betterbee we got: a queen marking kit, and a “screened front porch” for one of our hives. The first will help us to put a dot of paint on the top of a queen’s thorax, to make her easier to identify quickly (because queens are fast and wriggly and look quite a lot like worker bees to the inexperienced eye). It consists of: a queen capture cage, which is sort of like the kind of clip one uses to close potato chip bags, or maybe more like the clamping sort of hair control devices. Anyway, it’s a spring-loaded clip, with a gap in the bottom and barred sides that allow workers to escape but keep Her Highness in; a clear tube with a foam-padded plunger and a mesh top, for the actual marking, and a nontoxic paint pen. The idea is that one grabs the queen (and, inevitably, a few attendants) in the clip, shake the attendants out, decant the queen into the tube, and very gently press her against the mesh so her top is available for receiving a dot of paint. Many beekeepers color-code their queens as to year and/or strain, too, though we’ll just be doing it for visibility. We plan to practice on drones, because we can ID them easily, and if we accidentally squish one it’s not the tragedy it’d be to squish a queen.

The “front porch” is a doohickey that’s mostly designed to make moving hives easier, since one can quickly close off the hive’s entrances- but the mesh allows the girls to cool the hive effectively despite the reduced entrances. We don’t really need such a thing, but it’s pretty nifty.

From Dadant we got: me a new hat-and-veil combo, since I’m not thrilled with the one I had; and queen excluders, so we can keep the queens out of the honey supers we’ll be adding this weekend. Also 1-gallon in-hive feeders, whcih we want for the winter: they fit in the space a frame takes, and one fills them with syrup which gives the girls an additional food supply, and helps to even out the temps in the hives by acting as insulation. I’m not sure if we’ll be getting hive wraps or not, at this point.

We still need to get bee escapes- they’re doohickeys that fit in the hole in the hive’s inner cover, and allow bees to exit but not return to the supers. These are handy for hobby beekeepers who want to remove supers without unduly pissing off the girls, and who can afford to wait a day so almost all the bees will wend their ways out through this. We may also need more supers, since our hives seem to be quite productive thus far! I’m thinking we may want to experiment with the system in which the bees actually build comb and fill it with honey IN nifty plastic boxes which can then be easily sealed and given away or sold. A bit pricey for commercial keepers- but the convenience is appealing to us, and it’s not really all that expensive. Especially since we have NO desire to get into honey extracting equipment this year! Even a simple system tends to be in the $500 range, and the girls have not been exactly cheap to date. :) (Yes, I know there are more old-fashioned ways to extract that are cheaper but more work, and if we end up with enough honey to warrant it this year- which I still think is unlikely- I’ll probably give that a go. But I’m pretty sure that if we really want to extract honey, we’ll want to do it via at least basic equipment.)

-Amanda

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5th July 2007

Frames for supers prove challenging

We hadn’t really expected to need honey supers this year, but the girls have been busy and filled 2 hive bodies for each colony, so it was time to assemble the supers and frames.   We had ordered 3 supers with the original order from Dadant, and they went together as nicely as the hive bodies had previously.

The frames, however, proved to be trickier.  The wood frames themselves went together without a problem, but the thin foundation that was supposed to fit the shallow supers came up short.   Basically, the foundation was exactly the height of the frame, with no allowance for any foundation to fit into the grooves in the top and bottom of the frames.  I ended up inserting the foundation into the upper groove and nailing a wood strip along the top to hold it in place.  This leaves the foundation hanging loose, like a flag.  I am hoping the bees will draw out comb and stabilize this arrangement, but it is pretty obvious that I am doing something wrong.

 –Justin

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1st July 2007

Fourth Inspection - hive is full!

Today we inspected Mary, and discovered that the 2nd hive body frames are basically full.   Even the outermost frames were close to 100% filled with syrup, and the middle frame that we pulled had a mixture of honey, brood, and pollen.  So, feeding will stop and honey supers will go on as soon as I get them assembled and we get the queen excluders that I ordered last night (thinking I was ordering them well ahead of the fall nectar flow).

We had been telling ourselves that this year was all about establishing the colonies, and perhaps we’d get a honey harvest next year.  It looks like we were pessimistic!  Of course a lot of what is in the comb presently is syrup or a combination of syrup and nectar, so it remains to be seen how much pure nectar the girls are bringing home.

After the general feistiness of the hives while feeding, I was a bit nervous about opening a hive.   It turned out that the girls were pretty mellow, although Amanda received her first sting.  It wasn’t too bad, and I hope it will help her get over her anxiety - it’s one of those situations where the anticipation is worse than the actuality.

In any case, a pitcher of sangria is easing the pain!

 –Justin

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