Busy As Bees

Sorry. I couldn’t resist.

Once you own a beehive, you soon get a clear understanding of the etymology of that phrase, and it’s the only one appropriate for the progress our bees have made.

We’ve checked on our girls twice since you last heard from me, and they have been very busy indeed.

One thing we’ve learned is they seem to like the security of having queen cups ready to go. Too bad the sight of them has the opposite effect on me. (As I’ve already mentioned I’m not quite ready to handle a swarm.)

Here’s a couple of pictures so you can see what I mean. If you’re not a beekeeper, look closely at the frame, and you’ll see a couple of oddly shaped cells. Two of them (one on far right middle of the photo and one almost covered with bees at the bottom) are shaped a bit like a piece of Kix cereal. These were not so worrisome because they were small and uncapped. It’s the bigger one, shaped like a peanut, at the bottom of the frame that was a concern. IMG_2233

I handled the longer cell the only way I could think of: I scraped it off (out of sight, out of mind?). We also added a second deep box as planned. (Bees swarm when they feel crowded, but if their hive is too big, they can’t protect it from raiding wasps, yellow jackets or honey bees, so the timing on this is important.)

We saw our Bee Guru during the week, and that’s where we learned that some hives like the security of having a queen cup or two ready. (I didn’t actually mention the longer cell, because I wasn’t 100% sure that’s what it was. Or maybe I just didn’t want to admit that’s what it was.)

Thankfully, there was no sign of swarming before our next check. (And we would have noticed. The Engineer and I are very protective of our bees.)

Also during the week, we attended a session on using the Apiary Diagnostic Kit we got from the Ohio State Beekeepers Association. This organization got a grant to provide these kits (worth over $80!) free of charge to new beekeepers. The goal (per their website) is increasing “beekeeper confidence in hive management by providing tools to help monitor and diagnose changes in the hive before they reach a critical stage and the hive dies.” If you’re a new beekeeper (starting in 2016 or 2017), click the link to get one. Experienced beekeepers can order kits for $49.99 (plus shipping), which is still a deal.

No, this is not a commercial for this project. I just think it’s great that the OSBA made it happen. And the educational sessions about using the kit, which are being offered around the state, make the program even better.

But back to the hive. Varroa Mites and Small Hive Beetles are creatures whose sole existence seems dedicated to wreaking havoc on honey bees and reproducing so their offspring can do the same.

And when I say wreak havoc, I mean it literally. If unchecked, these pests can (directly  or indirectly) cause the demise of a hive (or hives).

Since we don’t want that to happen to our hive, we were grateful for the opportunity to learn more about protecting them. And after attending the OSBA class, we felt prepared to try out some of the tools they’d provided to help us do just that.

This is the time of year to get a base count of the Varroa, so we decided to do a sugar roll (also called a sugar shake). Check out this video from Hudson Valley Bee Supply to see a demonstration.*

Seriously. Watch the video. Even if you don’t keep bees, you’ll find it fascinating.

You can do a similar test using alcohol. It’s more accurate, but it kills that 1/2 cup of bees (about 300). We don’t like killing bees, so we used sugar.

We also inserted both the “Beetle Blaster” and the “Beetle Jail.” These are variations on a theme — both shallow trays baited with cider vinegar inserted between frames. The Jail uses cooking oil to trap the beetles, and the Blaster is designed so they can get in, but not out.

Before closing  the hive, we put strips of microfiber in its dark corners to try to catch even more beetles. (The next day, we found one of the strips at the entrance to the hive where the bees had evidently dragged it. Clearly, one or more took a dislike to the cloth and wanted it gone.)

As you might guess, this hive check took longer than previous checks. Not only did we have two boxes to check, sugar to roll, Jail, Blaster, and microfiber to insert, The Engineer had surgery on his dominant hand on Thursday and was somewhat hindered in using it.

So we were especially grateful to one of our classmates who agreed to come over to help/learn/participate.

The difference from last week was amazing. Our bees are amazing. We couldn’t believe how hard they’ve been working. The queen, whom our classmate spotted first, must be an egg-laying machine! There were loads of eggs, plenty of larvae, lots of capped brood, some lovely glistening nectar and yellow pollen, and some capped honey.

Oh, there were also a couple of queen cups too (as you can see).

IMG_2244

We were so proud! I wish I’d taken more pictures, but we were so busy admiring the results of their labor, I just forgot.

The sugar roll resulted in us finding one mite, and we spotted (and killed, of course) another one on the top of a frame. However, I re-read the directions after we came back inside, and we may not have shaken the jar long enough, resulting in a number that skews low. And with all that beautiful capped brood, well, you just know those mites are going to be after our growing larvae.

Once we feel confident the hive is full strength, we may try the drone comb to try to offset some of that issue.

Quick explanation for those who aren’t beekeepers: Drones are male bees. There aren’t as many drones as workers because they don’t do much for the hive, but their growing cycle is longer and coincides better with the mites’. So mites really like drones. The type of egg — worker or drone — the queen lays is based on the size of the comb the workers draw. If the workers feel the hive can support drones, they draw (make) drone comb, the queen lays drones, and the mites are happy. You can force the issue by inserting a special kind of foundation, with drone-size cells started on it. The workers then draw drone comb, the queen lays drones, and the beekeeper takes the foundation out before [that’s really important] the drones hatch and set any mites free into the hive. The beekeeper then uses a special tool called a capping scratcher to open the cells and count the mites. And also kill them. In this way, the drone comb serves as both a diagnostic tool and a treatment measure against drones.

Okay, so maybe that explanation wasn’t so quick. At least you get it now, right?
Your reward for being so patient is one more picture of the girls. 🙂 IMG_2245

Our next visit will be a simple check — having a look for the queen, seeing if the bees are still doing well and when they might be ready for a honey super, and looking in our Jail, Blaster, and microfiber for dead(!) beetles.

*After doing a bit of research, I have one correction to the information provided by the film: Domino Powdered Sugar is no longer cornstarch free. We used a powdered sugar that has cornstarch for our first roll; I purchased Heinen’s brand for the next time. It’s organic and uses tapioca starch instead, which seems like it might be a bit better for the bees.

Everything I Need to Know I Learned at Oshkosh

This post comes to you under the “anything else that strikes my fancy” part of my blog mission.

Every year, we go to Oshkosh with a group of friends called the Metro Warbirds, and over the years, I’ve learned a few things.

  1. You have to be able to take a joke.
  2. Sometimes, you need to fly with your flaps down.
  3. When using the porta-potty, leave your phone in the tent, wear shoes, and don’t look down.
  4. The difference between a good air mattress and a bad air mattress can be as small as a pinhole.
  5. If you want a cold one, you have to go deep.
  6. Never underestimate the importance of sunscreen.
  7. Or bug spray.
  8. Or a hat.
  9. To fit in, pitch in.
  10. The most beautiful angels are blue.
  11. Glow sticks aren’t just for kids.
  12. A diamond formation has nothing to do with jewelry or geology.
  13. The clock of life is wound but once. Make every minute count.
  14. Life is good. Except when you’re sharing a cold drink with friends under the wing of an airplane. Then, it’s great.

Feel free to comment with what you’ve learned at Oshkosh. For inspiration, here’s a picture of an evening at camp.

IMG_1064

Photo Credit: The Engineer

Drone Cells and Queen Cells = Two Different Things

I know that. Still, I  hyperventilated for a moment when we saw these on the bottom of a hive frame during our first hive check. IMG_2210The cells on the bottom of the frame above are drone cells, bigger because the drones take longer to mature than worker bees. Queen cells are larger still, but also frequently on the bottom of the frame (except when they’re supercedure cells, which could be anywhere, but that’s probably more than you want to know right now).

I felt a little stupid for confusing queen cells and drone cells until I checked for online images of both and found this blog post.  It’s written by  a beekeeper in Ontario and helpfully titled “The Difference Between Drone and Queen Cells.” Turns out she had the same reaction when she first saw drone cells in her hive.  There are also lots of pictures of queen cells, something I hope to not see in our hive this year. We’re not ready to split the hive to avoid a swarm, which is basically a beekeeper’s only option if the bees start producing queen cells and s/he doesn’t want to lose half of the hive.

The rest of the hive check went smoothly. We managed to spot the queen (thanks to our Bee Guru’s having marked her), recognized a few drones, and the workers were busy as, well, bees. They were eating well, taking lots of sugar water and still munching on the pollen patties. (They’ve slowed a bit during the week, which makes sense since they seem to be bringing in truckloads of the real stuff.) And we didn’t see any beetles.

Although our girls were hard at work, they weren’t yet ready for a second box of frames, having not gotten beyond the middle frames in their current box. IMG_2211On Monday, we plan to attend a session on hive diagnostics, which will teach us more about what we should be doing on our weekly visits — mostly checking for pests using a variety of tests. After that, our hive checks will be more involved.

Stay tuned for the thrilling details!

 

Ants vs. Bees (and Beekeepers)

My husband (henceforth referred to as The Engineer) discovered the ants the day before our bees arrived. The little black pests had decided our hive stand was the perfect place to raise the next generation and set up housekeeping, complete with eggs. The Engineer, acting in his usual rational manner, quickly cleared them off.

Unfortunately, the little buggers (pun intended) didn’t move on to other real estate. On Wednesday, they were back, marching determinedly up the hive stand legs, carrying eggs and depositing them somewhere inside our bees’ new home.

Panic ensued!

Oh, the ants or the bees were calm enough — it was me who was panicking. What kind of bee owners let ants take over their hive? In the first week, the first day even? And how on earth do you get rid of ants in a beehive? I’m pretty sure they didn’t cover this scenario in class.

Yes, I know, as a retired librarian, I should have gone old-school, found the answer in a book or magazine, but sod it — our bees’ very lives could be at stake! I typed “how to get rid of ants in a beehive” into my favorite search engine, and while I can’t vouch for the authority of the sources, the conclusion was cinnamon.

FullSizeRender-14The favorite apple pie spice, popular tea ingredient, and beloved toast topper is apparently an ant anathema (an ant-athema?). Cinnamon is in almost everyone’s spice cabinet, and mine yielded both ground and stick. IMG_2192We sprinkled the ground cinnamon on and around the legs of the hive.

The ants turned back!

For good measure, we propped the sticks under the hive in the hope of  discouraging further incursions.

Maybe the scent messes with the ants’ trail.
Perhaps they prefer cardamom. Or curry powder.
I don’t really care.
The ants are gone, at least for now, and that’s what matters.

Fortunately, the Bees Seem to Know What They’re Doing

We got our nuc (nucleus hive) last Tuesday evening, and it was a bit like the day we brought Darling Daughter home from the hospital, though not nearly so scary or life-changing. For one thing, bees don’t require diapers or middle-of-the-night feedings, and we had spent fourteen hours of class time learning about the Apis Mellifera (honey bee) — a lot more training than with the aforementioned daughter (worrisome, if you think about it, so try not to).

In both cases, we felt woefully unprepared but excited about our new endeavor.

We picked the bees up about 8:30 pm and drove them home. Following the instructions of our “bee guru” (aka the woman who raised the nuc), we carried the hive to its stand and gave the bees a few minutes to collect themselves before we removed the wire netting over the hole of the inner cover. After another short wait,  we pulled the tape off the hive’s front openings.

I had suited up in full haz-mat gear for the occasion, but the bees were surprisingly calm, so we continued to the next step, setting up their sugar-water feeder. We put an empty hive box around it, with bricks on the cover to discourage the raccoons from investigating. They visit our yard regularly, and we know from experience with a too easily accessible bird feeder that they’d steal an outside feeder.

After watching the girls for a few minutes, we left them in peace and went inside. (I refer to the bees as “girls” because worker bees, i.e. the ones who do all the work, are female. The male bees, or drones, do nothing but mate with queens.)

The next morning, I gave the girls some pollen patties. These, along with the sugar-water, will supplement their diets until the hive is strong enough to completely provide for its own needs.  IMG_2188

Then I stood and watched. Despite having been moved twenty miles to a different environment, they appeared unfazed, going about their daily tasks and completely ignoring me.

Observing them is like meditation. There’s something calming about the fact that they know what to do and just get on with it.

I’d post a video so you could see what I mean, but unfortunately, I’m too cheap to pay $8.25 a month for a premium WordPress plan.

Guess you’ll have to make do with the pictures below of our girls coming back from foraging, weighed down with pollen. And if you know me personally, feel free to ask to visit so you can see for yourself.

FullSizeRender-15

FullSizeRender-16

 

Why I Love My Veil and Gloves

That is, of course, my beekeeping veil and gloves.

I love them. Hat too, and jacket — I love them all. And I don’t care if experienced beekeepers laugh when they see me suited up like I’m working a hazmat task force.

BeeKool-Ventilated-Beekeeper-Full-Suit-Round-Veil-for-Beekeeping-Protection-from-Bees-2XL-0

BeeKool Suit photo from beekeepclub.com.  And, for the record? We only got the jacket and veil, not the suit. (We’re no wusses.) On the other hand, I don’t believe I’ll ever check a hive in flip-flops.

The Engineer and I finally had occasion to don our new get-ups when we attended our beekeeping club’s monthly meeting. It convened in the bee yard (hat and veil required) where we watched a hive splitting demonstration.

This is just what it sounds like: the beekeeper takes one hive and divides it into two. Usually this is done to prevent swarming (which the bees do when they feel crowded), but may also be done to get more hives, to requeen, or to get more production. The keeper in this case demonstrated what’s called a walkaway split.

A walkaway split means you take a frame of eggs, two frames of emerging brood, frames of pollen and honey for them to eat, and make sure you have enough bees to care for the developing brood. You put on the lid, and walk away, leaving the bees to raise a new queen from the eggs.

Yep. They can actually do that. The difference between a queen and a worker bee is what they are fed as they develop. Pretty cool, eh?

Alternatively, you can introduce a new queen, at a cost of around $35.

The beekeeper doing the demo made two splits, one of each, and plans to watch the hives to discern if the purchased queen’s hive earns her keep by producing more honey.

You see, it takes about three weeks to raise a queen, which theoretically means the purchased queen’s hive should be three weeks ahead.

Do those three weeks translate to more honey?

I guess we’ll see.

But back to my veil and gloves (and jacket and hat). Wearing them made me feel comfortable enough to get close enough to really observe the bees, and to take pictures like this.

Opening the hive and taking out a frame of bees.

An open foam hive, with several frames removed, and its lid.

The hive in the foam box has an interesting story, beginning with city workers felling a tree that proved to have a hive inside. They took the tree to the bee club’s bee yard, but by the time someone got there to move the bees, they were gone. It was only later the beekeeper realized he had a hive in what had previously been an empty box. The bees had moved themselves.

IMG_2018

Here’s the rearview of a pretty girl who was sitting on my husband’s shoulder.

IMG_2017

And here she is, showing us her best side.

And that, dear friends, is why I love my veil and gloves.

Everything But the Bees

On Friday, we drove to Blue Sky Bee Supply to buy The Engineer a bee jacket and veil.

Then, on Sunday, we took down a dead tree, a preventive measure to prevent it falling on our hive during some future storm.

I also did battle with a wild rose that was taking over that area of our property.  The rose won — I have scratches to prove it — though I retaliated by hacking it to the ground.

The wild rose (also know as multi-flora rose, rambler rose, or Japanese rose) has a self-preservation instinct strong enough that the Ohio Weedguide calls it a “noxious weed.” The plant earns this distinction partly due to its prolific seed production (up to 500,000 per bush per year) and partly because one bush can cover a patch more than thirty-three feet in diameter.

Also, did I mention the thorns? Wickedly sharp and plentiful, they seize any piece of clothing or skin that happens to brush against a cane, and refuse to let go.

And yet, the scent of this plant is beguiling, sweeter than any hybrid on earth, so I can’t bring myself to kill it, even if I could manage that near-impossible feat.

rose

Photo from Ohio Weedguide

I predict our bees will be sipping its nectar within the year.

With tree and rose bush down (or at least in temporarily restrained), we were able to place the paving stones for our hive stand, mulch the area, and (finally!) place our stand outside.

Here it is. FullSizeRender-13

All we need is the bees, which brings me to the point of this post. (You did know there’d be a point eventually, right?)

When people learn we are going to keep bees, they inevitably ask one question: “Where do you get them?”

I can’t answer without mention a fact I found astounding: Honey bees are not native to the U.S., although there are many native bees, which also pollinate. If you’re not squeamish about insects, check out this Popular Science article. It includes lots photos and a link to the U.S. Geological Survey’s great database for even more bee photos.

So, all honey bees came from somewhere else. Later, I’ll write a post about the different kinds, but for now, let’s talk about where you can get them.

Probably the most common way of populating a hive is to buy a package of bees. A package is basically a box of three pounds of bees (about 10,000 insects) and an unrelated, unmated queen. This can be shipped or picked up depending on where you purchase. For example, Draper Super Bee Apiary uses either UPS or Priority Mail. (This is not an endorsement. I just found them online and know nothing about them.)

In our area, many people purchase their package from Queen Right Colonies, a local bee supply store. Queen Right orders their packages from California, bringing in two semis full of bees each spring.

Since a package queen is unrelated to the bees she’s shipped with, a beekeeper must make sure she’s accepted before introducing her to her hive. Otherwise, the other bees will kill her. Since she’s unmated, there is a lag time involved for her to mate and produce eggs, as well as the amount of time it takes to raise the eggs into worker bees. (Drones generally come only after the hive has enough bees to get the work done.)

queen

Here’s a queen from a package, safe in her little cage until she’s accepted. Photo from Donce.Lofthouse.com‘s photo essayy on hiving packaged bees.

This lag time can be useful for new beekeepers, allowing them time to get comfortable with their hive before they have new bees. But if the new queen doesn’t take, she’ll have to be replaced, starting the introduction process all over.

A second option is a nucleus hive or nuc. This is like a starter hive, usually including three or five frames with a mated queen and brood (eggs, larvae, and pupae). Having a proven queen and brood can provide a head start on developing a strong hive. On the downside, nucs cost a bit more, and you have to trust the person you’re buying from since nucleus hives tend to come from individuals or smaller beekeeping businesses. If you buy from the wrong person, you could end up buying someone else’s problems (pests, diseases).

nuc-270x250

Cardboard nuc box. Photo from Southern Oregon Beekeepers Association

A third way to acquire bees is to buy someone’s hive(s). Rarely available and ditto on the idea of buying someone else’s problems.

Lastly, some people get bees by swarming. This can be done using a swarm trap, hoping to attract swarming bees, or by placing your name on a swarm list for people to call when bees swarm on their property. While I’m not sure we’ll ever be ready to acquire bees this way, it looks interesting. That many bees can seem a bit scary, but I read somewhere swarming bees are at their most gentle because they have no hive to defend. Sometimes, they’ll just walk right into the box.  Click through to see it happen.

Did we make the right choice? Only time — and our bees — will tell.

Links
Queen Right Colonies’ summary of pros and cons of the four methods of getting bees.

Map showing where wild bees are disappearing via Bee Culture magazine’s “Catch the Buzz” newsletter.

Another swarm marching into a hive via YouTube.