Road Trip! Bees! A Hawk! A Sort-of Photo Essay

The Engineer and I took a road trip to Knoxville a few weeks ago. 4b3c8236-9e61-47f8-a155-d82ea0cbe65c

Joe Jackson was playing at the beautifully restored Bijou Theatre (see above) — a great excuse to head south. Plus, it was around my birthday, and we got to stop off and see Darling Daughter on the way.

And, by the way, if you’re not familiar with Joe Jackson’s music, you’re missing out. It was a wonderful show — good enough that we plan to see him again soon.

Knoxville was a delight. For once, we managed to go somewhere when they were having good weather — 50s to nearly 70 while we were there — and the city itself was charming.

Small enough to walk just about everywhere we wanted, with free trolleys available for visitors who’d rather ride.

The buildings were lovely too, lots of old brick with beautiful details. 4de44ffc-21f7-4b6e-a5d6-f6e6feb9edf1

img_0963As you can see, I have a thing for brick. img_0969There were parks too. 2d15b3d7-8710-44f9-96c7-881b39ae8c84And public art strewn about the city.
I was particularly taken with this sculpture.6a2ff689-ef7e-4b9f-bd3f-891eae3a2b45
Knoxville also had a nice little (free) art museum. img_0973img_0974
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I think the best part of the Art Museum was the Thorne Rooms, a series of miniature rooms created by Narcissa Niblack Thorne, exquisitely detailed down to the views out the windows. 4ae1fb0a-4319-4ecf-b8f7-a9e6002c7a49

While we’re on the subject of free (as in, trolleys and art museums), I must mention the free lunchtime concert held M-S at the Knoxville Visitor Center (with two hours free parking!) The “Blue Plate Special” is supported by several local businesses and features music in a variety of genres. img_0972
Of course, exploring a city’s food and drink is an important part of any trip. (Or maybe that’s just us?) Like my blueberry-grapefruit Mimosa from the Tupelo Honey Cafe.
We also ate at Stock and Barrel (where we split a delicious burger), Pete’s Coffee Shop and Restaurant (wonderful breakfast), and Jig and Reel (a Scottish restaurant where I indulged in a Steak and Ale pie, and we were able to buy some packets of Walker’s Crisps!)

I won’t detail the breweries except to say there were enough to keep The Engineer happy, one of which was deemed to have beer worthy enough of filling his growler. img_0968
Check out the sidewalk sign at Union Ave Books. Finding an indie bookstore made me as happy as my husband was with the breweries.

On the way home, we stopped at a Liquor Barn. Ohio is funny about alcohol laws, so seeing so much beer, wine, and liquor in one place was dizzying. Thanks to an excellent salesman, we ended up buying several(!) bottles of French wine to prepare our palates for our trip this summer.

If you ever get the chance, vist Knoxville. It’s great for a few days away and would also be a good stopover on a longer trip. The people were nice, the food and drink delicious, and the surroundings pleasant.

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And now … the bees.

You may, or may not, remember that last fall and the one before, we put sugar patties on top of the frames before winterizing the hive(s).

When it warmed up enough last winter and spring, we checked on Buzzers’ Roost (we didn’t yet have FreeBees), to find they hadn’t touched the stuff. When it was finally warm enough for a complete hive check, we discovered they still had honey.

This year, things are different.

Dave checked under the hood a few weeks ago (I had to work on the only warm day available). Here’s what he found.IMG_2594
Buzzers had eaten over 3/4 the sugar, and FreeBees slightly less.IMG_2593

As usual, we’re not sure what this means. Do they have more bees in the hive than last year, and therefore have consumed more honey? Are they less frugal? Did they get stuck near the tops of the hives because the weather changed too fast for them to form a bee ball near the honey?

No idea.

We’re just glad we provided a safety net of sugar patties.

Both hives have had bees taking cleansing flights whenever it warms up. We’ve seen them out on some surprisingly cold (but sunny) days. And they seem to like being able to, ahem, relieve their bowels under cover as you can see by the state of the hive lids. (La Hacienda de las Apis goes over the hives, and we remove it to feed and look under the lids.)img_2592

This past weekend, before we treated them with Oxalic Acid (OA), The Engineer cleaned out the bottoms of both hives. img_1031
Lots of dead bees from Buzzers’ Roost.img_1030
And even more from FreeBees. There were also many dead beetles in the FreeBees pile, which isn’t good and may have contributed somehow to the bigger death toll.

The good news is: there were no queens wasn’t among the dead.

The next day, we checked under the lids again. Both had eaten about half the sugar, so we filled up again, and gave them some Super DFM Honeybee probiotic to help them recover from the OA treatment. img_1032
The FreeBees hive (above) still seems to have more bees than Buzzers’ (below).img_1033

We’re feeling cautiously optimistic about them surviving winter, but we won’t know anything more until the pollen starts kicking in. Silver Maples will be out soon, and we’re crossing fingers we can keep them alive until the spring flow.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have one hive (or even two!) healthy enough to benefit from the early flow?

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The hawk.44f5ab86-0381-4a5e-af5d-abfe31837a90

He or she landed on our deck last weekend. No doubt s/he was eyeing the birdfeeder. This may explain the dearth of finches this year. Usually they sit at the feeders and gorge themselves, but we’ve seen very few.

Sorry about the fuzziness of the pictures. I took it with my phone through the window and didn’t want to scare away our hawk.

Initially we thought it was a Sharp-Shinned, but The Engineer did more research and discovered it was actually a Cooper’s Hawk. Turns out it’s mostly about size. Cooper’s Hawks are much bigger. Read more about them at Audubon.org.

 

 

 

New Year Update: The Bees

Since I became a beekeeper, many people have asked about what we do with the bees in winter, often mistakenly saying, “They hibernate, don’t they?”

As you can see from the above video (taken today when the temperatures were in the 50s), this isn’t true.

Bees remain active in the winter, forming a “bee ball” to keep warm when the temperature drops. When it’s warm, they take the opportunity for cleansing flights. (You can read more about this in my earlier post: https://thebyrdandthebees.wordpress.com/2018/01/13/bee-poop-a-winter-peek-under-the-hood/).

The bee ball is continually in motion as bees from the cold, outer edges are replaced by bees from the warm center, thus keeping all (or at least most) of the bees warm enough to survive.

However, if a hive is too small, there may not be enough bees to keep the temperature high enough for survival, and the bees will freeze to death.

Starvation is another danger, caused by the bees not producing or storing enough honey for winter, having a greedy beekeeper take too much honey, or because the bee ball is too far from the honey to be able to reach it.

Winter is always worrisome for beekeepers, but for now, both our hives appear alive and well.

Did you notice Buzzers’ Roost bees seem to prefer the top exit, while FreeBees like the bottom? Why? My guess is it reflects where most of the bees are in the hive, which likely means that’s where the bulk of their honey is.

How do they decide where to store their honey? No one knows but the bees, and they aren’t talking. Folk wisdom says bees tend to start lower in the hive and move up, but we all know bees don’t always follow the rules.

For more information, check out this post from “Keeping Backyard Bees”: https://www.keepingbackyardbees.com/what-do-bees-do-all-winter/

I Need a Little Christmas Now!

I’m failing at the “goodwill to men” part of Christmas. 

In fact, I’m failing Christmas full stop, and can’t raise the energy to care.

Usually our cards go out the day after Thanksgiving. This year, I’ve sent exactly two.

Forget decking the halls. The decorations are still packed in their boxes.

The Engineer and I did get them out of the loft, and bought our living tree, temporarily stationed in the garage where it makes me absurdly happy to see it every time I pull in.  This is some progress, I suppose.

But, this is the time of year I’m normally busy delivering plates of baked goods, and the oven has been stone-cold all month. 

By now, maybe you’re wondering how a Christmas-loving elf becomes a Scrooge, a Grinch, a fill-the-stockings-with-coal holiday drop-out.

Well, my mom fell on November 1. She went out with her cane, rather than her walker, and did a face-plant at the Verizon store. It’s a struggle for me to not to assign blame, so I will only say after she broke her forearm (both bones) in March, I have refused to take her anywhere without her walker.

This is because I noticed her doing what I call a dipsy-doodle — losing her balance briefly and recovering with a little side-step. She’s too heavy for me to pick up if she falls, so when she goes with me, she takes the walker.

She wasn’t with me. Furthermore, she’s an adult, certainly capable of making her own decisions, even if that choice results in a bruised face and broken (the orthopedic surgeon called it “crumbled”) elbow.

Do you know what happens when you are eighty-eight, live alone, with arthritis in your left shoulder and atrial fibrillation, and you break your right elbow (after breaking the same arm seven months earlier)?

They send you home from the emergency room with a note to see the orthopedic surgeon the following week.

Chance would be a fine thing. The earliest appointment available was November 26 — twenty-six days after the fall — although ultimately, she got in earlier due to a cancellation.

The ER report also recommended following up with her GP, but they always say that. As far as I know, no one told my brother the GP was the one who might help us coordinate care for our mother.

Here are some of the things Mom could not do unassisted:

  • Dress.
  • Feed herself anything that required cutting.
  • Use the bathroom.
  • Write anything.
  • Walk, even with a walker (it takes two hands to steer).
  • Shower.
  • Put in her hearing aids.
  • Clean her false teeth.
  • Feed her cat.
  • Clean the cat box.
  • Do dishes.
  • Sweep the kitchen or bathroom.
  • Pour a glass of water.

Yet, they sent her home. And for various reasons, after about a week, the bulk of her care ended up falling to me, which meant going over each morning to help her dress and get set up for the day, and going back in the evening to get her to bed.

In between, I was terrified she would fall again, until finally she suggested checking herself into a nursing home for a few weeks until we could sort out some help.

There, at least, they had nurses on duty, aides to help her shower and dress, and a doctor to keep an eye on her progress. 

The downside was, she mostly sat in her room. And then she caught a cold, which turned into a respiratory infection. 

Still, it gave me time to organize some non-medical help for her. To my surprise, the doctor at the nursing home also wrote orders for a nurse, a physical therapist, and an occupational therapist. 

Meanwhile, on the day before I took Mom home (and several days before all the help kicked in), I got the flu, followed by a sinus infection and bronchitis. 

The last time I felt that bad, I had pleurisy (which was way more painful, but a lot shorter lived). I could hardly raise the energy to get off the couch, but the thought of Mom sitting there waiting, unfed, unwashed, undressed, forced me to go. Because if I didn’t, I wasn’t sure who would. 

I should mention that I have several friends, as well as a cousin, who expressed a willingness to help, but, well, you can’t exactly expect a friend to clean your mother’s false teeth, can you?

To complicate things, I couldn’t bring myself to go to the doctor, even when I knew I needed antibiotics, because the last few times I saw a doctor, I was charged not only for the doctor and prescription, but also a “facility fee.” The Engineer calls this a charge for “the pleasure of walking on their tiles,” and since it was over $200 to essentially pay their electricity bills, I just couldn’t do it. (See my previous blog on the subject.) 

Finally, I remembered some drug stores have clinics with nurse-practitioners and/or physician assistants. I went to one of them for a total cost of $109, plus about $5 for the prescription. 

I know this post sounds whiny. Be thankful I didn’t have the energy to write it earlier when I was really feeling peevish. (And can I just say here what a brilliant word that is? Peeeee-vish. Somehow it sounds exactly like what it’s saying.)

Things are finally getting better. Mom has a helper three mornings a week, which means I’m only “on duty” for the remaining four, and she can get herself to bed. After she sent the aide home early one day, I’ve also signed off laundry as a task for the aides, instead of dragging it to my house and back. 

This has freed me to do things like buy Mom a lift chair and one with arms for her kitchen table (to better enable her to get up on her own), take her to the doctor, buy groceries, and all the rest. Thankfully, I’m feeling well enough now so these no longer seem like insurmountable jobs. 

I even got out for a walk today (walking, Yoga, and Pound class having been distant dreams for the last six weeks).

The “walkers” have been trimming the trees of our beautiful park as they do every year. The sight always makes me smile, and I’m sharing these pictures in the hope they’ll do the same for you.

Also, if you feel the need to hear the song that’s been rolling around in my head for the last week and a half, visit here to see a Youtube video of “We Need a Little Christmas” as sung by Johnny Mathis. 

Eventually, I expect to feel energetic enough to put up a few decorations, wrap presents, and bake. It may not be Christmas as usual, but it will have to do. As John Lennon supposedly said, “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.” (I just looked it up, and Lennon may not have been the first to say this.) 

To sum up the Christmas part of this post, I encourage you to read some of the  “Christmas Notes” on my original “Reading, Writing, Ranting, and Raving” blog. Just search “Christmas,” and see what you get. If this is too much work, go here to see the best Christmas carol ever, performed by Bing Crosby and David Bowie. I realize this is only an opinion, but I am a Christmas song aficionado, so feel my thoughts on the subject should bear some weight.

As always, I am grateful for your readership, and I promise not to make a habit of writing posts when I’m feeling cranky.

Wishing you a very merry Christmas.

Bee update:
We winterized the hives a few days after Thanksgiving. First we pushed them together as close as we could, fit foam insulation between to keep in the warmth, and wrapped them together. We also put in shims, fit sugar patties in the open space, and put more foam insulation under the outer cover. The Engineer built a little shelter for them, which I’ve mentally dubbed “La Hacienda de la Apis Mellifera,” which if I’m translating correctly means “The House of the Honey Bee.” IMG_0855

On sunny days like today, a few crazy girls come out for little flights, even when it’s only in the thirties. Inevitably, a few end up in the snow. One of the (many) reasons I love my husband is because he always goes out, scoops them up, brings them inside to warm up, and then returns the survivors to the hive. 

Have a honey of a New Year.

 

 

Morning Feedings

It’s been over twenty years since my last one, but I’m back to morning feedings. This time, however, the process doesn’t involve getting up at 4 am, and there is no milk involved.

As you may have guessed, this time around I’m feeding bees, and they eat (drink?) sugar water. A 2:1 mixture, if you must know, with some “Honey-B-Healthy” essential oil mixture to pique their appetite.

And you thought essential oils were just for diffusers.

We’re feeding because we’re trying to help the hives store enough honey for winter.

On our last full hive check before things cooled down, we discovered FreeBees had very little to show for all their activity. Despite the abundance of nectar they had previously stored, they didn’t have much honey. Lots of nectar, but not much honey.

Yet, Buzzers’ Roost was getting heavy, as displayed by the picture below.

It was time to remove the honey supers (the medium-sized boxes generally used for honey that’s meant to be harvested). FreeBees’ needed moved because they needed feeding, and Buzzers’ because we were going to take a little honey for ourselves this year.

An argument could have been made to just move the smaller frames of honey down into the big boxes on Buzzers’ hive because we’re not 100% sure even they have enough, but after two years, we decided we were taking some.

Here’s how that worked:

Morning 1: Take super off FreeBees. Remove queen excluder, and replace with escape board. (For a picture, go back to this post: https://thebyrdandthebees.wordpress.com/2017/11/11/minding-our-bees-and-qs/.) Put super back on. Make feeding mixture and put in large mason jars with holes punched in the lids (pointy bits facing inside of jar).

Morning 2: Take super and escape board off FreeBees. Put deep hive box on top of inner cover, but below outer cover. Invert jar of syrup over something to provide bee space for bees to get beneath it to eat. Encourage bees remaining in escape board to go back in their hive. Move on to Buzzers’ and repeat steps from morning 1.

Morning 3: Repeat steps from morning 2, but do them on Buzzers’. Extract honey from two frames. Return those frames to bees to clean. (We stuck them in the upper deep boxes because the day after we extracted, the weather changed. It’s been too cold to actually get into the hive.) Also return the two full frames of honey we didn’t extract. Freeze remaining frames. Clean all equipment for next year.

I’m starting to think we should focus on harvesting propolis instead of honey.

Every morning since: Replace jars with ones that haven’t been outside in the cold. Not sure if this is necessary, but someone at a bee club meeting once said bees don’t like cold food. True or not, it’s been a good way to keep track of how much food they’re consuming.

We’ll continue the feeding until they stop taking syrup. Also, we’re hoping for a nice day to have one more look inside the boxes. And we need to treat both hives again before wrapping them for winter around Thanksgiving.

But back to our first honey harvest. We took two frames, which we extracted without an extractor. If you’re curious how this works, go here: https://www.keepingbackyardbees.com/extracting-honey-without-extractor/.

This is probably between four and five pounds of honey. I bought honey in the quart jar, and it was labeled as 2.25 pounds. We aren’t selling any so it doesn’t matter.

As things stand, I don’t think FreeBees will survive the winter unless they somehow manage to make enough honey from these feedings. We had a big goldenrod flow, and they seemed to be gathering as much as Buzzers’ so I’m not sure what went wrong

The two things I do know are I don’t really know anything, and anything could happen.

We can feed them, but in the end, the bees’ survival is up to the bees.

Weight and See

Summer is slowly winding down, and the bees have been making the most of the fine weather. They’ve been in a foraging frenzy, perhaps sensing the forthcoming temperature changes.

They’re finally visiting the goldenrod in their own yard!

It cooled down over the weekend, with rain on and off all day today. Each time the showers stop, the foraging begins again.

And yet, when we checked the hives a week or so ago, Buzzers’ Roost had no honey, and FreeBees had very little. Instead, we saw loads of pollen, lots of nectar, and a surprising amount of capped brood.

Still, with all that nectar, there’s bound to be some honey soon.

Check out the graphs below. Notice any trends?

The first two graphs show the weight of the hive over the last month — finally trending upward. The next two show a week each, and you’ll notice daily ups and downs, probably from when the foragers are out.

So, we’re not too worried about honey levels, at least not yet.

Below is a picture of a frame containing both nectar and pollen. We also found several that were filled solely with nectar or solely with pollen. Theoretically, we should be able to identify the source of the pollen by its color, but unfortunately, I’ve not found an accurate chart online. Here are links to two if you’d like to try: Sheffield Beekeepers’ Association and Metrobeekeepers.net. My guess is mostly goldenrod because the fields are full of it.

While we had the hives open, we did alcohol rolls on both. This is supposed to be a more accurate way to count Varroa.

Our count was a big fat zero on both hives.

Yeah, we must have done it wrong.

Either that or the hive beetles are eating them. Don’t even ask how many of those we found. It was too many to count.

Little bastards.

The weird thing is, the bees mostly ignore the beetles. Once in a while, they’ll herd a particularly brazen one into a corner, but then the bees go back to whatever they were doing, and the beetle scuttles away. (Unless we get it first!)

There was propolis everywhere, especially around the beetle traps, which makes me wonder if this is the bees’ response to the pests. There were a few beetle corpses in some of the propolis, so who knows?

Unfortunately, our girls don’t seem to grasp that the traps are there to help them and had propolized the openings where the beetles are meant to enter. At least one trap had every opening completely blocked.

But let’s get back back to the subject of the main hive pest — the dreaded Varroa. For two years, we’ve used drone foundation as part of Varroa control, with very little success.

Last year, the hive used the drone foundation mostly for honey.

This year, both hives have ignored them.

Until now.

This year, a few short weeks — okay, a few short months — before the workers start kicking out drones (to lower the number of mouths they have to feed in the winter), FreeBees has decided to make drone cells. Half the foundation was full of capped drone brood, and there were more cells on the top of some of the other frames.

Weird. Also unusual in placement. Drone cells are usually at the bottom of hive frames.

Whatever. It’s their hive. They can do what they want.

As we’d been instructed, we removed the drone foundation and opened the cells to check for Varroa, but found none there either.

I can’t believe there are no mites at all, but am willing, even eager, to believe the treatments have been working, and the threshold is safely low.

Just to be sure, we will treat both hives with Oxalic Acid before winter after we take off the supers.

I’m still holding out hope that we might be able to pull at least one frame of honey for ourselves.

Food for the Bees

It’s warm out — nearly 50*F — and tomorrow it’s supposed to be nearly 70*.  Don’t be fooled, this doesn’t mean it’s spring. Here in northern Ohio, you can’t be sure spring has arrived until June, and then it’s summer.

If the sun were shining, the bees would be flying. Instead, we have rain, making this a day of dullness, dead brown leaf litter, and grey skies and trees.

To escape, I’ve turned to the gardeners’ age old remedy for February: ordering flowers, a task made challenging because we live in the woods, with not much sun filtering through.

This activity was partly motivated by the beginning beekeeping class we recently repeated, which included a segment on planting for pollinators and reminded me it was time to get started.

These days, I order for the bees, focusing primarily on early spring and late summer bloomers, and making sure to order seeds and plants from nurseries that don’t use Neonicitinoids.

Simply put, Neonicitiniods kill bees. Not immediately, but this class of chemicals kills just the same. The pesticides reduce bees’ chances of survival and affect their hygienic behavior so they don’t clean the dead from the hive as efficiently, thereby allowing illnesses to spread more quickly. Even worse, Neonics affect the queen and the hive’s ability to replace her. Without a queen to lay eggs, a hive will die. (For more detailed information on neonicitinoids, visit PBS or the Xerces Society.)

So this year, I’m asking you to please think of our bees and other pollinators (and therefore yourself) when buying plants. Stay away from those who have been treated with Neonics. Several major retailers have asked their suppliers to label plants that have been treated. This is a good start, but try to avoid plants that a retailer can’t state unequivocally haven’t been treated. Ideally, stay away from pesticides altogether if you can, by buying plants that have been grown organically.

And don’t assume because a plant that’s labeled “pollinator friendly” hasn’t been treated. Some have.

Not so friendly after all.

If you’re truly concerned about the pollinators (and our world), you might go one step further by making your garden and landscaping plans with our flying friends in mind. To make this easier, Xerces Society provides suggested plant lists for every area of the country. 100Plantscover-224x300

They’ve also published several books on the subject including this one, which my friend Lynne told me about. (Thank you, Lynne! I use it every time I order plants!) Click here if you’re interested in ordering. I don’t get a kickback or anything. I just think it’s a great book, especially because it tells what type of pollinators prefer each plant.

One of the best early spring plants for bees is Skunk Cabbage. According to Wikipedia (from where these photos are borrowed) and other sources, Skunk Cabbage actually melts the snow, generating temperatures 27–63*F above the air temperature using a process called cyanide resistant cellular respiration.

Unsurprisingly, it’s one of the earliest plants to emerge in the spring, and a valuable resource for bees.
I ordered three.

Another early plant is the Hellebore (also called Lenten Rose).

unnamed-5

My Lenten Rose as it started to bloom last March.

Bees like Hellebores too. In truth, they probably like anything with pollen or nectar that blooms in March, but I ordered two more because I like them too.

The Figwort, Mountain Mint, Rattlesnake Master, and Virginia Bluebell seeds were just for them though.

I also bought some more Self-Heal seeds because it did well last year. The Bumblebees especially seemed to like it. See? I’m not just about the Honey Bee! In keeping with that thought I ordered seeds for two types of Milkweed to provide food for Monarch Butterflies.

We have one tiny part of our property that gets sun, and The Engineer (finally!) built a raised bed there, so I’m going to try Lavender again and Pineapple Sage along with our peppers and tomatoes. I expect the herbs will do better in amended soil in the bed rather than the hard packed clay that passes for soil in our yard. I often think we should take up pottery instead of gardening, but I think the raised bed will help.

And now, for the bee update. We checked the hive last Thursday when it was warm enough to actually take off the top cover. Here are our ladies on the inner cover, very much alive and well.IMG_3318
They have still hardly touched the (many) sugar patties we have provided (because we are — okay, I am — paranoid they’ll run out of food). They crawl around and over the sugar, but mostly ignore it. This is good news because it means they still have honey, a naturally more nutritious food. IMG_3317
We also pulled out many dead bees from the bottom of the hive. IMG_3320
The Engineer always sorts through to make sure the queen isn’t in the pile, though we couldn’t do anything if she was. There are no queens available this time of year.

On sunny days, even when it’s not very warm, the bees have taken to flying out of the hive and landing on the snow. As expected, this kills them. “Wet bees are dead bees” is a common saying among beekeepers, although the bees haven’t seemed to get the message.

One of the (many) reasons I love my husband is because he rescues them, carefully scooping the silly things up in a jelly jar, bringing them in the house, setting them in the sun until they recover, and then returning them to their home.

It’s fascinating to see them come back to life. Legs and antennae start to twitch, before they begin to move and eventually take flight, buzzing around the jar. If there are more than one, they examine each other, carefully touching antennae and wiggling their bottoms.

It’s as if they’re comparing stories.

Maybe they are.

 

Oxalic Acid and Sugar Patties

It was warm again on Monday, so we borrowed the backup battery from our sump pump to power the vaporizer for an Oxalic Acid treatment. (And when I say “we,” I mean The Engineer muscled the thing upstairs and into the wheelbarrow for me to cart it outside and treat the bees.)

Bees don’t much care for  these treatments, and I don’t blame them. As implied by the name, the vaporizer fills the hive with Oxalic Acid vapor to kill Varroa mites — not a pleasant experience, I’m sure. It’s no surprise many chose went for a cleansing flight afterward. (Go here to watch them in motion.) I watched them for a few minutes before going back inside.IMG_3283
I heard it immediately after closing the door — the telltale buzz of a bee in the house — and mentally kicked myself for not checking my clothing.

I carefully took off my jacket and shook it.

No bee.

Convinced one was caught in my hair, I gingerly ran my fingers through the tangles.

No joy.

The buzz continued. Was I imagining things?

I went in the bathroom, examined what I could see of my back. Still no bee.

I took off my shirt, gave it a gentle shake.

No bee.

My jeans.

The buzzing continued, and I was starting to feel like a character in a sitcom.

Finally, I realized the sound was louder in the foyer, and looked up to see one of our girls banging on the second story window.

Sighing with relief, I grabbed a glass to catch her, released her outside, and watched as she flew straight back to the hive.

Even though a hive has thousands of bees, no beekeeper likes to be the cause of harm to even a single bee. Plus, in many cultures, having a bee come in the house is either good luck, or a sign of company is coming. Obviously, this only holds true if you don’t kill it. So, next time you find one in your house, use a glass and a piece of paper to catch and release her. I’m pretty sure there’s no such superstition about Yellow Jackets. Just sayin’.

Friday, we again had a look inside the hive. The weather has been changeable, the temperature readout extremely variable, and we had no idea how much sugar our bees might have consumed in ten days. As you can see from the pictures below, the answer turned out to be not much. IMG_3286IMG_3287
They were more interested in the pollen patty in the corner, which led me to surmise (possibly erroneously) they still have honey.

We’ll continue checking when weather permits, and I’ll keep you posted.

Until then, bee happy. 🙂

 

 

 

Bee Poop + A Winter Peek Under the Hood

Yesterday morning at 9 am, it was 53* F. The Engineer opened the upper entrance a little wider, and the girls went crazy(click through for a brief video),  seizing the opportunity for mid-winter cleansing flights.

Consider this: The frigid weather has kept these girls cooped up for weeks, unable to relieve themselves outside. Small wonder they were pushing and shoving to get out.

It was poopfest. And when we got in their way, they didn’t hesitate to use us as their alfresco toilet.

Later, when things calmed down a bit, we had a peek under the hood to see where they were in the hive and how much food they had.

Many were upstairs, and their sugar patties were gone. We think this means they are either running low on food, or have been unable to move to the honey they’d stored because of the extreme cold. Probably the former.

Unwilling to risk cooling the hive too much by keeping it open, we covered the top of the upper frames with sugar patties, and closed up shop. (Approximately four pounds of sugar patties according to our hive scale — a remarkably exact measure since I used four pounds of sugar to make them.)

Then, we took off the entrance reducer, fully opening the front door to scrape out the dead bees. We’d been warned it would seem like there were a lot. So, when it did, I tried to view it as part of the circle of life. (For more info, see Honey Bee Suite’s post on entrance reducers and how they can tick off your bees.)

“I hope the queen isn’t one of the dead ones,” my optimistic husband remarked, thereby giving me a whole new avenue of beekeeping worries.

We were also warned to wear our beekeeping gear because the girls don’t appreciate having their house opened in the winter, and we did, but they were pretty mellow. I think maybe we just lucked out with an easygoing hive.

Today, we’re back in winter, with predictions of an ice storm/blizzard. During the next warm spell, we’ll feed again and treat with oxalic acid once more so they can start spring with a low Varroa threshold (assuming they make it that far).

Temperature update: The hive has been fluctuating like mad, from the 20s a few days ago, back up to 90* this morning. It’s becoming clear the location of the bees  in the hive has a huge effect on the temperature readout.

Other bee news (sort of): Over the holidays, I got a couple of bee-related gifts.

The socks are from Darling Daughter, and the shoes from a friend.
Aren’t they the coolest?

That’s the all the news from Buzzers’ Roost. Talk to you again soon! Bee warm!

 

 

Glory Bees! They’re Still Alive!

Yesterday morning, the ambient temperature outside was 4* F.

The hive was a toasty 82*.

We know this because the first thing I do each morning after I jump (or stagger) out of bed is aim my phone at the precise point where it receives Bluetooth reception from the hive. (It’s right under a spot where a bird made a small mess, which means I can never wash that window.)

Anyway, 82*.  What a relief!

We had been bracing ourselves for the inevitable truth that the bees wouldn’t make it through winter.The daily readings had been dropping steadily since cold weather began until they were skirting the low 40s.

You see, bees die when their bodies hit about 40*. To survive winter, they form  a “bee ball” and vibrate their bodies to generate heat. (See HoneyBeeSuite for a better explanation.) When there aren’t enough bees, they can’t generate enough heat, and the hive will die.

Between the Yellow Jackets and the Varroa, we weren’t sure we had enough bees.

Still, we clung to the hope that maybe the bees hadn’t reached the part of the box with the temperature sensor. Also, from time to time, bee corpses appeared on the “porch” and in front of the hive, leading us to believe they were still moving around inside, trying to keep order.

Or it could have been the bodies of bees mistakenly went out for some reason and froze.

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See the bee bodies on the snow on the porch and the ground?

The hive scale was also showing a slow decrease in weight, but we’re new at this and weren’t sure how much to read into this, though we hoped it meant the girls were eating.

We just didn’t know.

Then, just a few nights ago, the temperature shot up an amazing 20 degrees overnight!

Glory bees! They’re still alive in there!

I’m trying not to get too excited. This doesn’t mean they’ll make it through winter. Many bees make it through the cold part of winter, but die in March because they run out of food.

But for now, they’re okay.

Side note and catch-up time: I was stunned to see my last post was all the way back in November! I apologize for the neglect, and proffer this small catch-up. We managed to move the hive away from where the Yellow Jackets appear to nest and where we hope it will get a little more sun. As part of the procedure The Engineer also shortened the legs of the stand and set up the scale. Then, on the last warm day in early December we seized the opportunity to replace the full honey super, and re-wrap the whole thing.

If we get a warm spell in January or February (above 50), we’ll take a peek and add sugar patties if they are near the top of the hive.

We’ve also learned a good snowfall can add ten pounds to the hive’s weight.

On an unrelated note — though maybe it’s an excuse for my lapse — we’ve been busy cracking black walnuts.

Yes, they fell in November, but you’d be surprised how many nuts two aging trees can produce. Every year, we think they’re dead, and every other year, they surprise us with a crop. This year, it was a bumper one. Harvesting them is a major pain, but that’s a post for another day.

Meanwhile, I hope you can follow our bees’ example and stay warm!

One more thing, if you’re really interested, you can check the temperatures (and in some cases, the weight) of hives around the country by visiting Beecounted.org.

Update: It’s -5* this morning, and the girl’s are still at 77*.

Minding our Bees and Qs

I think I’ve established The Engineer and I have a lot to learn about beekeeping. If you haven’t yet reached that conclusion, I recommend you re-read my previous post, as well as the one before, which are full of corrections.

For this reason (and because Brushy Mountain offered 10% off any orders picked up at the event) we attended the Ohio State Beekeepers Association (OSBA) conference held Saturday.

We also planned to visit Darling Daughter, which morphed into attending a beer tasting event held by the Friends of the Worthington Library system. Bees, beer and books — what more could you ask for in a weekend?

The conference sessions were interesting and educational, though some were well beyond our beekeeping skill level. I’m quite sure we won’t be rearing queens for profit in the near future, yet it was good to be exposed to possibilities that are currently beyond our capabilities.

Our order from Brushy Mountain was hope, prevention, and current needs made manifest in beekeeping equipment — a nuc box in the hope that we’ll eventually have a large enough hive to split, a drone frame as part of our pest management plan for the future, and an oxalic acid (OA) vaporizer to treat once more before winter.

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Oxalic Acid and Vaporizer, with my notes on use, painters’ tape for sealing hive, nitrile gloves and measuring spoons.

We previously treated Buzzers’ Roost with MiteAway Quick Strips (MAQS), which can be used with the supers on, but for the vaporizer, it’s necessary to remove them. This means first removing the bees from the supers, and to accomplish this, we used an escape board (picture below is from the Brushy Mountain catalog). 774-escape-screen-10-f_main-1.jpg

The board above is upside down, and you can see how it works. The beekeeper puts the triangular maze facing down so the bees easily enter through the big hole to return to the brood boxes, but find it difficult to find their way back to the supers.

After performing what will probably be our last semi-thorough check of the boxes on Sunday (when it was 67* F), we inserted the board.

At first we forgot to close the top entrance, rather defeating the purpose of an escape board, but once that was remedied, the board proved effective. There were only three bees in the supers when we took it out the next day. (If you leave it in too long, the bees figure out how to get back up, so this must be done within 24-48 hours.)

By then, however, the temperature had dropped to the upper 50s, necessitating a quick removal to avoid chilling the hive. About 30-40 bees were hanging out in the net triangle maze and had to be assisted back through the front door to their brood box. Even with our encouragement and guidance, not all managed the feat. (If we looked at it from the bees’ perspective, you could probably substitute “interference and meddling” for the words “encouragement and guidance.”)

Yesterday, I taped off the upper entrance and the small gap in the back where the bottom board is inserted, donned my mask, gloves, and eye protection, and used our new vaporizer for one last mite treatment before winter. You can see the tape in the picture below. And check out the verandah The Engineer created to help keep rain off the entrance. The metal thing is a mouse guard. Both were removed before the treatment. IMG_3003
Unsurprisingly, the bees don’t like this kind of intrusion. About thirty seconds after inserting the wand, a kind of quiet roar began emanating from the hive. Also, one befuddled bee tried in vain to find the entrance that had been there only moments before. No vapor escaped though, and the OA crystals were gone when I pulled out the wand, so maybe the treatment will prove successful. Between the tape and the bees’ propolis (more about that next post), the boxes were well-sealed.

I removed the tape so they would have the ventilation necessary to prevent a wet hive and left them to recover.

Then, this morning I woke up to this.unnamed-5

Snow.
Time to put on the hive wrap.

Not all beekeepers wrap their hive(s), but since our bees had a rough start, we wanted to give them some extra help for the winter. This morning, I duct taped on the hive quilt we bought from B&B Honey Farm. There are other means to insulate a hive — a wind break made of straw bales, wrapping the hive in tar paper, crumpling newspaper to absorb moisture under the lid — about as many as there are beekeepers.

It seems the challenge is helping the bees keep warm while at the same time preventing condensation. Damp bees are dead bees.

We chose two tactics: the hive quilt and insulating foam under the lid.

IMG_3015

Snow falling over Buzzers’ Roost

Cross your fingers that this is only a cold snap and not the start of true winter. We’d like one more warm day to move the hive, put the honey super back on, feed one last pollen and/or sugar patty, and attach our new wi-fi hive scale.