The Sting

In a little over a year of beekeeping, I’ve been stung four times, three times last year and once two days ago.

The first sting made my hand look like someone had blown air into a rubber glove. It hurt like hell, and throbbed and itched for several days before subsiding. I never saw the bee.

A few weeks later, I decided to have a look at the bee hives at our airport. Accustomed as I was to the laidback temperament of our hives, I was astonished when the airport hive’s guard bees came at me before I got within three feet of their hive. I backed off, but they actually followed me back to our hangar, a distance of over 50 feet (maybe way over – I’m no good at estimating distance). Despite waving my hat and jacket to disrupt their plans, I got stung in the back of my head – a sharp hot zap that eventually became a small knot.

Toward the end of last summer – probably during the nectar dearth, when bees are particularly defensive about their hard earned stores, one of ours got me near the eyebrow. Being stung near the eye (or anywhere on the face) is cause for alarm, but other than that hot, sharp pain, I had no reaction. No swelling, and I don’t even remember itching.

This photo shows the swelling and redness of my latest experience with venom – another time I never saw the insect.

It’s a just like the first one – crazy pain the minute it happened, followed by swelling, throbbing, and itching as the poison works its way down my arm.

Each time I’ve been stung, I immediately scraped the area to get the stinger out, so the difference can’t be from an imbedded stinger.

I’m beginning to think that stings #1 and #4 weren’t bees at all, but wasps.

You see, I’ve learned bee venom is different from wasp venom. And it turns out you can be allergic to either, but rarely both. (Go here for more info: http://archive.boston.com/business/articles/2010/05/17/how_do_bee_and_wasp_stings_differ/)

Also some wasp stings are more painful than a bee’s. We know this because a guy named Justin Schmidt subjected himself to a variety of stings and bites to create the Schmidt Pain Index (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2148089/The-10-painful-stings-planet-self-sacrificing-man-tried-150-different-varieties-science.html). Crazy, right?

Paper wasps (which I’ve seen in our traps) are right up there, above both yellow jackets and honey bees.

So maybe #1 and #4 were paper wasp stings. That would account for the different pain levels, and if I’m more sensitive (not allergic, but sensitive) to wasp venom, this would also account for the ballooning.

If my theory is correct, I got off easy both times because unlike honeybee workers, whose barbed stinger can only sting once (causing them to die), wasps and hornets can sting multiple times.

On a side note: queen honey bees stingers are not barbed, so they also can sting multiple times. And a drone honey bee has no stinger.

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Hot Day at the Hive

According to “Mother Earth News,” these young bees are orienting themselves to the entrance, a good sign the hive is healthy and queenright. Since we did a hive check on Friday and counted four frames filled with capped brood and many more partly full, this would seem to be true. And we only checked one of the deep boxes.

The robber screen is to help keep keep out potential hive raiders. Like the hateful Yellow Jackets we have in abundance. For more info on this behavior, go to https://www.motherearthnews.com/homesteading-and-livestock/at-the-hive-entrance-zbcz1408

My Unsolicited (and Opinionated) Advice on “How to Do Oshkosh”

So, you’re finally doing it. This year, you are going to be one of the 590,000 or so aviation enthusiasts at Airventure 2018.

Congratulations! Be warned, however, “doing Oshkosh” for the first time can be overwhelming. So, let me give you some advice. I’m good at giving it, and you’re going to need it.

  1. First of all, no one but EAA officials call the event “Airventure.” It’s “Oshkosh,” plain and simple. Yes, I know EAA’s first fly-in was in 1953 at Timmerman Field, and it moved to Rockford, IL in 1959 before settling in Oshkosh in 1970. I understand non-aviators associate Oshkosh with overalls. Doesn’t matter. To those who love planes, Oshkosh = Airventure, and vice versa. (This may not be fair to Oshkosh residents, but they do benefit to the tune of $110 million economic impact from a single (crazy) week.)
  2. Even if you make use of the trams, you will be walking. A lot. Wear comfortable shoes. I always pack my Keen sandals. As The Engineer said when I finally bought him a pair, “They feel like real shoes.” (Note: Although I mention specific brands and link to their sites, these are merely my favorites. I have no connection with any of these companies.)
  3. And speaking of trams — they get crowded, especially on the weekend, and often there’s someone who seems to think their packages or the airing out of their groin deserves space more than the attendees waiting for a ride. Don’t be that person. Smile and scoot over.
  4. I always wear my FitBit or other activity tracker. This enables to say to myself at the end of the day, “Wow! I walked 7 miles today. I deserve this ________.” I then fill in the blank with “beer,” “ice cream,” “new t-shirt,” or whatever else I’m trying to convince myself I need. At Oshkosh, you can rationalize almost anything if you try hard enough.
  5. Bring a water bottle and an easy means of carrying it, but try not to weigh yourself down with too much stuff. Things grow heavier toward the end of the day after you’ve walked miles in the sun. (See #2.) It’s a good idea to keep your electrolytes replenished, so I add Nuun tablets to my bottle.
  6. Wear sunscreen. There are very few trees. (This is #1 in my list of reasons why high-wing aircraft are better than low-wing [they provide shade], but that’s a blog post for another day.)
  7. In your daypack, you might pack a few snacks. Choose healthy ones that won’t melt, and you won’t be tempted to shell out megabucks at the snack bars. My favorite snack bars are made from nut butter, so not a good option. This year, I’m trying One bars. Low in sugar, high in protein, and the ingredients seem reasonably clean. Other options: beef jerky, dried fruit, nuts. And low sugar, high protein drinks might deserve a place in your cooler back at camp or your motel fridge. Iconic is my current favorite.
  8. You may also want to bring earplugs, especially if you’re camping. Plane noise starts early and goes late. Throw in an eye mask too so you can rest up for the next days walking.
  9. For heaven’s sake, wear a hat! (See #6.)
  10. Bring a chair. I love my Tommy Bahama beach chair. It has a head rest, drink holder, and a mini cooler and deep pocket on the back, as well as straps to carry it like a backpack — everything I need when settling in on the flight line to watch the show. Others prefer those camp chairs that fold into bags or stools that double as a cane/walking stick. Find one that works for you.
  11. We camp in a tent under the wing of a plane. If you’re doing the same, I recommend the best camp mattress you can afford. A few years ago, we splurged (and I do mean splurged) on a pair of Nemo Cosmo air mattresses and never looked back.
  12. I also recommend a PackTowel, rather than one from your bathroom. These towels wring nearly dry so you can pack them away almost immediately, an important feature if/when it rains during the week. Get the largest size you can find, and you can laugh at me cowering in the shower truck behind my tiny, ancient one. While we’re on the subject of showers, you’ll probably want some kind of small bag to carry your toiletries and clean/dirty clothing from the shower buildings/trucks.
  13. You’ll also need some kind of light, mostly for use in your tent at night. I take about three flashlights (solar-powered) because at least one goes missing in the tent on the first night. Last year, I added a couple of Luci lamps to our gear. They’re also solar-powered, and store flat until you need them. Get this, you blow them up like a beach ball when you’re ready to use them. Perfect for plane trips because they are so lightweight.
  14. While we’re talking lightweight items, one of the best purchases I ever made was my plastic mallet. I think I got it at K-Mart for under $20, and we’ve used it for years to put in (and pull out) tent pegs. Much better than the bowling pin one acquaintance used to bring every year for this purpose. (Not a joke.)
  15. Clothespins weight next to nothing and have a way of coming in very handy. Likewise, plastic bags and Ziplocs.
  16. Possibly my most important piece of advice has to do with planes, and it’s something that shouldn’t need saying. Unfortunately, it still does. Don’t touch another person’s plane unless you have their express permission!!! It’s okay to admire a plane, maybe even peek through the window at the avionics. It’s not okay to lean on, sit on, pull on, or press your greasy nose or fingers on someone else’s plane. Look, Oshkosh is all about planes, and we all find aircraft we’d like to inspect more closely. But it is possible to look without touching. If the owner is around, engage her or him in a conversation about the plane. Chances are they’d be happy to tell you more about it.
  17. Lastly, please don’t assume the pilot and/or owner of the plane is always a man. Women fly. Women own aircraft, and have done so from the start, yet women pilots still struggle for recognition. If you’re scoffing at my statement, perhaps you’d like to read the story of Elaine Danforth Harmon, a WWII military pilot, whose family had to fight to earn what should have been the right to inter Elaine’s ashes at Arlington. That was just two years ago.

So, have fun, don’t be a sexist, and share your tram seat. Don’t try to fit everything into one day, one week, or even one year. I know I haven’t touched the subject of what to see, where to go, or what you can learn. Frankly, that task is just too daunting even for someone as opinionated as me. 🙂

Feel free to add your own advice by commenting!

Shaken, Not Stirred: Performing A Sugar Shake/Roll

Check out what our queens have been up to!

This frame is from Buzzers’ Roost (the weaker, over-wintered hive). Look at all that lovely covered brood. These are two sides of one frame. Notice the glistening nectar on the left in the top photo? And can you spot the queen? We were happy to see she’s now laying in the deep box instead of the smaller medium one from the winter (also referred to as a super).IMG_0185
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Here’s a frame full of larvae and eggs.IMG_0187

And this one had pollen (near bottom), capped honey (bottom right), some capped brood, and larvae. If you can’t see the difference, here’s a great post from BackYardHive on identifying types of comb. You’ll notice they use different style hives, but the comb is the same. IMG_0188FreeBees also moved up into the deep box we put on last week. IMG_0192See the difference in the color of the bees? Buzzers’ Roost bees are still mainly Italian (offspring of the ill-fated Red Queen), and the FreeBees hive is Saskatraz. We’ll notice a shift in Buzzers’ Roost as the eggs and larvae from the Saskatraz queen emerge and take over.IMG_0193IMG_0192I think we counted about seven and a half frames full of brood in FreeBees. At about 7,000 cells per frame (3,500 a side), that’s a lot of bees! I keep thinking I must have mis-counted, and I didn’t write that figure down (too busy taking pictures and running the timer for the Varroa check).

Part of this week’s inspection was a sugar shake (also called a sugar roll) to check for Varroa. It was much easier this time, partly because we’d done it before, and partly because we used the University of Minnesota’s scooping method to measure out the 1/2 cup of bees (about 300) needed for the sample.

Basically, we measure out the bees, dump them in a jar with a mesh lid, measure in a couple of tablespoons of powdered sugar, roll or shake until they’re covered.IMG_0184After letting them set for several minutes, we shake the sugar onto a paper plate, wet it to make it melt, and count the Varroa.

Now, you’re wondering, “But what about the bees?”

Here’s the answer. IMG_0195-2When the sugar-covered, unhappy bees settle, we dump them back into the hive with an interesting story to tell their sisters. They immediately started fanning, (perhaps to spread the word), which you can see in the video below. (I’ve discovered that I seem to be able to upload videos to WordPress from my iPad, but not my computer of phone. Weird.) If you’re going to do a sugar shake/roll, here’s a pdf, also from the University of Minnesota’s Bee Lab. Please follow their precise directions, and not my description above!

Lastly, we replaced the pollen patty on Buzzers’ Roost and gave one to FreeBees. We’ve noticed Small Hive Beetles come around whenever we feed this way, so if you do it, be sure to put in a beetle trap or two, and check them regularly. The Buzzers’ Roost trap caught several SHB last week, and I took great delight in seeing them do the dead beetle float in the olive oil. IMG_0194-2Despite not finding any Varroa in our sugar shake, I know they are lurking in all that beautiful capped brood, especially in FreeBees. That hive now has enough bees, and we’ll do a Formic Pro treatment as soon as we get a spell of weather cool enough for the process. This week’s temperatures are predicted to be in the 90s, so perhaps the next week will be better.

We’ll also be keeping an eye on Buzzers’ and doing another sugar shake for both hives in early August, treating again as necessary.

Queenright Hives

Queenright: A term used to describe a hive or colony of bees that has a producing queen. (Definition from the Maine State Beekeepers’ Association’s “Beekeeping Glossary.”)

We checked our hives Friday, and both are (finally) queenright.

<Insert sigh of relief>

Buzzers’ Roost have accepted their new Saskatraz queen. She’s laying — there were eggs and larvae, as well as a fair amount of brood  — but the hive’s population is still low. Given the rough spring they’ve had, this is not surprising. Since they still have honey from winter, we put on a little pollen patty, closed up the hive and left them to it.

FreeBees appear to be thriving, with lots of capped brood, eggs and larvae, and foragers lugging in nectar and pollen from dawn to dusk. Because their population is growing so quickly, we gave them pollen also and put another box on Monday. We were planning to feed them sugar water, but realized we had excess honey in the freezer from Buzzers’ Roost — the hive’s winter bees proved to be very frugal — so instead, we put some of that and all the drawn comb we had in the new box. Drawing comb takes a lot of energy, so providing foundation that’s already drawn will make it easier for the hive to continue to grow.

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FreeBees keeping an eye on us as we check their hive.

At last, The Engineer and I can feel cautiously hopeful about our hives.

On a side note, I now see why many beekeepers recommend starting with two hives. With one, we had nothing to compare to and no resources when our hive ran into trouble. Having two hives means we can “borrow” honey or drawn comb, for example, even supplement a weaker hive with capped brood from the stronger hive if necessary.

Looking forward to next week, we will be doing a sugar shake, followed by an alcohol wash on both hives (to monitor for Varroa). With luck, the MAQS should have wiped out any of the nasty buggers in Buzzers’ Roost, but we’ll likely need to re-treat FreeBees. If you remember, we treated them with Oxalic Acid, which kills mites on the bees, but not under the capped brood. The hive’s population is now large enough to withstand that treatment, and we’ll  do it when we expect a spell of slightly cooler weather. IMG_0151-2
I’ll leave you with this shot of the FreeBees bridging (sometimes called “festooning,” which I love) when we separated their frames to inspect the hive. I’ve read several explanations of this behavior and have chosen to accept it as another mystery of the Apis Mellifera.

Bee-wildered by “The Bee Movie”

Last week, The Engineer and I finally watched “The Bee Movie,” mainly because several friends insisted we had to see it.

If you’re a fan of the flick, please close this window and walk away now.

For those who have chosen to continue reading, let me first say I understand the film is not a documentary meant to educate, but a children’s movie. But, I also know children’s learning is not confined to the classroom. With minds like sponges, they absorb information in whatever form it takes.

Let’s begin with what “The Bee Movie” got right.

Now, let’s look at what the movie got wrong.

“Pollen jocks”? Seriously? In a hive, drones do two things: Eat and fly to the drone congregation area (DCA) to try to mate with a queen. Oh, and die. I guess that’s actually three things.

If you have been reading my blog or know anything about bees, you already understand this.

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The blue arrow is pointing to a drone. He, unlike his half-sisters, does not work. He will never be a “pollen jock” or do any of the countless jobs offered to Barry B. Benson and his buddies. The smaller bees are workers. All female, they do every job in the hive.

So, why did Jerry Seinfeld write a film about “pollen jocks”? I can only assume he had a deep-seated need to be the voice of the lead character (Barry B.Benson), and thus decided to re-write nature.

Seriously, writing about male bees pollinating is like writing about bulls giving birth. A complete fallacy.

Meanwhile, the females in the movie get to spend all their time oohing and ahing over the “pollen jocks” or, in the case of Barry B. Benson’s mother, acting the role of a 50s housewife.

I know, I know, you’re probably saying, “Kym, it’s just a kid’s movie. What does it matter?”

It matters because the movie implies adventure is confined to the males of every species, including the insect world, which is untrue. It matters because, once again, little girls see boys having all the fun while the females in the movie are confined to the sidelines.

Okay, so I sound like a raging feminist. That’s okay. I am a feminist, and right now, I am raging.

But back to the movie — why couldn’t the lead role have been a (factually accurate) female worker bee having the same adventures Barry B. Benson did? There is no logical reason to reverse the facts.

I don’t expect an animated children’s movie to be completely accurate, but this movie could have easily been both factual and fun.

Instead, it left me angry, bee-wildered, and disappointed on behalf of our girls and all girls.

Update: FreeBees

We gave FreeBees a few days to settle into their new location before opening the hive to have a look. IMG_0133
It was lovely. Enlarge the photo to see nearly every open cell with either a perfectly positioned egg or larva. The queen has been doing her job because the hive has about three frames that look like this.

And here’s a closeup of that queen, who we are calling Ziska at the suggestion of my friend Kate. Ziska’s long, tapered body helps her position those eggs right in the middle where they belong. IMG_0136-2Initially, we planned to use Formic Pro strips for Varroa treatment, but the company rep at field day said a hive needs six frames of bees to do a full-strength treatment. FreeBees has about five.

That was an “Uh-oh” moment for me. Buzzers’ Roost is a small hive, maybe too small for the full MAQS treatment we gave it, which might explain the number of dead bees.

MAQS are similar to Formic Pro, but Formic Pro takes ten days at full strength. The half strength treatment takes twenty. You can’t feed the bees at any time during the treatment, so we chose to use Oxalic Acid (OA). The trade-off is OA only kills Varroa on the bees, not under the caps like the strips.

This means we’ll be keeping a close eye on our Varroa counts and will probably end up using the strips during the early fall/late summer once we know the bees have plenty of their own food.

Beekeeping, it seems, sometimes involves compromise.

With OA, you seal the hive before inserting the wand through the large opening of the entrance reducer. The foragers below were trying to figure out how to get back in the hive with the temporarily installed reducer. (Buzzers’ Roost, in the background, also has some entrance activity at its fully open entry.) IMG_0140The FreeBees foragers are more active than Buzzers’ Roost’s, out and about early each morning until late evening. It rained today, and I was astounded to see some returning and/or going out even in the rain. It was cloudy when we did the OA, but in the 3-1/2 minutes it took to do the treatment, we developed a traffic jam. IMG_0141
Below you can see the bees fanning, bums up, beating their wings to get ride of the scent after we removed the wand.IMG_0143
Later this week, we will add some food to this hive to help the girls as they build comb and raise babies. We’ll also have a peek at Buzzers’ Roost to see if they’ve accepted the queen and whether or not she’s laying if they have. They still had some honey, but we’ll check to see if they need fed as well.

Until then, Bee happy!

P.S. I’m not sure if I mentioned it before, but these are Saskatraz bees, just like our most recent queen in Buzzers’ Roost.

FreeBees!

On Saturday, 2 June, we attended the Lorain County Beekeepers Association Field Day, held in conjunction with Queen Right Colonies at the shop’s location in Spencer, Ohio, near an Amish community.

As we passed through the town center (which may or may not have a traffic light — I can’t remember), traffic came to a standstill. We realized it was because there were several buggies in front of us, and they were also heading to the Field Day.

We pulled in behind a buggy, and parked in knee-high grass.

It was a fun day, with several speakers, beekeeping talks around several hives of bees, and alpaca shearing. CC77EE85-510C-42F1-9E12-4C501512B4D0
In my previous post, I forgot to mention that Queen Right is also a bit of a menagerie, which includes several alpacas. The one above seemed to be saying “Get me out of here!” as she gets a cut and manicure. But temperatures last week soared into the upper 80s and 90s, so we can be sure the animals were a lot more comfortable afterwards.  And the two shearers handled the herd members gently and carefully.

More important to this post is the fact that there were raffles, and after an outlay of $20 on tickets, I won the best prize — a hive of bees.

Can you believe it? We’d just been talking about how we hoped to eventually be work up to two hives, and a few hours later, our wishes came true. How lucky is that?

Naming this new hive required much discussion (over a beer or two) before The Engineer came up with the perfect moniker.

Ladies and gentlemen, I’m pleased to announce Buzzers’ Roost’s new neighbor will be called … FreeBees!

Once More, Same as Before

We killed the Queen of Hearts on Monday.

We didn’t mean to do it, but we did.

She’d lost her red marking, so we decided if we found her, we’d mark her.

The procedure seemed simple enough, and we had all the right tools courtesy of our Ohio State Beekeepers Diagnostic Kit.

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Picture of Queen Marking Plunger from Queen Right Colonies online catalog

Basically, you catch the queen, gently move her to the end of the tube with the plunger, hold her still while marking her thorax, wait for the ink to dry, and release her back in her hive.

At least, that’s how it’s supposed to work.

In our case, we caught our queen, gently moved her to the end of the tube, held her, marked her, waited a few minutes, pulled out the plunger, and … she was dead.

Did I plunge too hard? Did The Engineer use too much paint? Perhaps it was a bit of both.

Either way, poor Queen of Hearts is gone, leaving only some fuzzy, golden bees as a legacy.

Once again, we called Queen Right Colonies, and lucked out. They had Olivarez Saskatraz queens in stock. And this would be a good place to mention how lucky we are to have a resource like QRC within driving distance. Owned and operated by the St.Clair family, this small shop is a treasure trove of all things bee, including package bees and queens. And anytime we’ve had any question about how to proceed, they are willing to explain exactly what we need to do. (Blue Sky Bee Supply employees have also been quite helpful.)

Anyway, I was able to pick up our queen before I went to work on Wednesday. Since we wouldn’t be able to put her in until that evening, I asked what I should do with her until then.

One of the always helpful St.Clair daughters answered with a question of her own: “You’re going to work?”

Me: “Yes.”

St.Clair daughter: “Put her in your purse. She’ll be fine.”

Me: “Really?”

St.Clair daughter: “I’ve taken them to the grocery store. She’ll be fine.”

And that, friends is how our new queen, Saski, and her attendants ended up spending a day tucked away in my purse in a locker at work.

Later that evening, we put her in the hive.

Today, we opened the hive just enough to see the candy in the queen cage had been eaten through.

Now, we wait for at least a week to give her a chance to be fully accepted by our hive. We’ll probably give her ten days, possibly more, to give her the best chance for a future with the rest of our girls.

Also, I don’t think we’ll try marking our own queen again.