Tuesday, July 24, 2007

bees in the rain

These summer storms can be tough on the bees. Due to the heat, they like to be outside and when the rain starts they form clumps on the front of the hive. These clumps seem to be three or four bees thick and the bees are... still. It is the only time that I have seen them not moving and it is strange. Based on my observations, (yes I have been spending a bit of time with the bees during rain storms) bees cannot fly if their wings are wet, so they just hang out until the rain stops and they have dried off. Following advice from my teacher, I have been constructing an extended roof for the hive out of corrugated metal when a major storm hits so that the girls don't get washed away. I take this off when the rain is over so that they can get as much sun as possible.
My attitude has shifted lately. Now that I have a super on the hive, there is no real reason for me to go in there other than to make sure that there is a queen. By watching the hive and seeing that girls are coming and going and carrying on in a typically busy manner, I can be pretty sure that there is one even without barging in to check for eggs in the cells. My goal now is to get the girls well established with what they will need to get through the winter. If I can do this, then next year will bring me honey.
As the girls collect pollen from flowers and pack it into the baskets on their legs, it forms into these beautiful solid clumps of various colors depending on what they have been harvesting. Frequently, the pollen falls off of their legs onto the varroa tray where it is out of their reach. I collect the fallen ones when I check the varroa tray. This last time up, I took a dozen or so for myself (it tastes strange and slightly sweet and is supposed to be good to combat allergies) but I dumped the rest back next to the hive. I wonder if they will re-gather it now that it is no longer in the flower that they originally got it from.
Matt got me a multiple pounded book titled "The Hive and the Honeybee" which covers hundreds of bee topics with essays from the mid 1800's throught the present. The following F.Y.I. tid-bit is from this book.
Considering that in a healthy hive about 1,000 bees die every day, it is amazing that there are so few on the ground at the base of the hive. In addition to the fact that sick and old bees will fly away from the hive to die if they are able, there are also "gravedigger bees" who's job it is to carry the dead away from the hive.
They continue to amaze me.

Friday, July 13, 2007

not quite fearless

Going into the hive last week, I was apprehensive after the previous two stings. I have adapted my veil so that it is easier to get on and off and I am trying to see it as way cool to wear bee gear rather than a sign of weakness or lack of beekeeping skills. I suppose I could think of it as wearing sturdy shoes when doing woodworking so that a hammer does not clobber your toe (something I don't always do). The girls were active and have been productive in a way that is both wonderful and difficult. The super was full of burr comb, (lumps of freeform honeycomb that the bees build in any gap they can find). I need to scrape the comb off because it messes up the artificial order that I am imposing on the hive and makes it hard to move the frames around. Between the burr comb and the propolis (a gooey gluey substance made from tree sap) that they fill EVERY space between the frames with, everything was attached to everything else. Within moments my fingers were sticking to each other and I was struggling to move things around without crushing the girls. It is a horrible sound when a frame slips and slams against a neighboring frame, smushing bee mass into bee mass. It sounds kind of like a saw starting up, a wusshhing sound of sorts. I could see the direct results of my smoking the bees and it is true that it makes them gorge themselves on honey, thinking that they will need to flee the hive. I could see their panic as they buried their bodies into the cells. The chunks of burr comb are filled with nectar still, not honey, as the water has not been evaporated from it yet. I found that if you treat a chunk of it like gum, the nectar oozes out and fills your mouth with sweetness. The waxy lump left will be melted down at some point once I figure out what to do with it.
The frog in Matt's hand is included in the bee blog as he is a neighbor of the bees and possible friend.

Monday, July 2, 2007

How much does it hurt?

Question of the week: "Just how much does it hurt to get stung two times on the face?" (Hopefully none of you already know the answer to this question).
Answer: "An awful lot!!" Even more than I would have thought if I had thought about it. Enough that I have ditched my pseudo-plans to get a small tattoo to commemorate my turning 40. (people say getting a tattoo feels like getting stung by a bee.)
I have learned much in the past two days. I have learned that even though I love my bees, that does not mean that they love me back and if I am going to play around with the unconventional habit of working the hive without smoking the bees, I had better wear my veil.
What happened was this. I was poking around yesterday, marveling at the amount of honey that the girls have packed away in the super over the past week and I had to get the hive tool (metal pry bar kind of thing) deep into the box to scrape off some burr comb (extra honey comb built in in-between places) and as a result I ended up removing some comb with honey in it and disrupting things to the point where they just got pissed off. The first girl got me on the ear, (see photo and note how the swelling, reddness and ITCHYNESS has spread down my neck). I screamed, popped 5 of the homeopathic pills that I keep in my pocket (apis mellifica) and went back to quickly put the hive back together so that I could go and remove the stinger. I knew that the bee sting would be worse the longer the stinger was left in because the poison sac keeps pulsing and releasing venom, and I also knew that the other girls would smell the venom and it would attract more attacks. I should have just left and dealt with the hive later because sure enough a second girl got me on the nose within a minute. At this point I ran down to find Matt and handed him the handy tweezers I also keep in my pocket and he got the honor of pulling out two pulsing stingers. Then I put on the Osha Root tincture that I bought from an herbalist and hoped for the best. Throbbing pain, hurt feelings (I thought we were friends, I am a failure etc.)
The ear sting is remarkably worse than the nose one. Perhaps because the stinger was in longer, I'm really not sure, but it is a drag. On a slightly upbeat note, I recognize that this was bound to happen and am happy in a way to have gotten it over with. I have read that over time you can become immune to the venom and the reaction that your body has to it. I have also read that you can develop an extreme allergic reaction to it.
1. Two bees exchanging nectar; the returning bee passes the nectar from her nectar stomach to the waiting bee, who then passes it to another bee etc. until it is packed away in a cell. The exchanging of enzymes is what turnes the nectar into honey!
2. Some bees removing some sort of undeveloped bee, perhaps a drone based on its size.
3. My ear today.