Tuesday, August 21, 2007

late august

Dear reader,
Up until recently, I have been keeping this blog AND keeping a beekeeping journal and have been finding much redundancy, so I have decided to keep this as my beekeeping journal. What this means for you is more details about things that you might not care too much about. Feel free to just look at the photos and say "oooh"and/or "ahhh" and skip the words if you feel overloaded. I will try to keep including some interesting factoids here and there, like the fact that a worker bee can locate where the sun is even during the nighttime. As always, feedback is welcome.
I went up yesterday with the intention of venturing into the first deep, a place I have not been for many months. A local beekeeper convinced me that I needed to make sure that all was well there, but having gone in, verified what I already knew, (that everything was fine), made a mess, killed a lot of bees and gotten stung, I stick to my original belief that it was unnecessary.

Before going in, I noticed this row of workers, all head down lined up on the front of the hive.

The first deep has some frames loaded with worker brood (no drones this time of year) while other frames have vast areas of empty cells. This makes me nervous (it all makes me nervous) but is probably not a problem. I saw larvae in various stages, but no eggs, which does not mean that there aren't any, just that they are hard to spot. I did not go into the second deep or into the honey filled super. The new super has almost nothing drawn on it yet, which makes me doubt that they will have time to draw comb and fill it with honey before the season ends. So, perhaps I will not be harvesting this year after all. We will just have to wait and see.
I got stung on my left index finger and for the first time put on the super cool elbow length leather gloves that I ordered in the spring. I am willing to get stung once per visit, but that is my limit I am afraid.

Here is how the hive looks now, fully stacked. The red strap is in case a bear knocks the hive over.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

the second (last) super

An active few days at the hive.
After not going in for a month, I knew that things would be a bit of a mess in there, and I was right. I went up yesterday but did not go in because of some interesting but off putting activity. Hundreds of girls were hovering in mid air in front of the hive, all facing the hive, occasionally landing and then taking off again, only to hover some more. Speaking with Chris today (bee teacher) he explained that this was a "graduation flight", meaning that the girls who were about to become foragers were leaving the hive for the first time and orienting themselves so that they would be able to locate the hive again. I feel so lucky to have witnessed this! The other strange thing that I saw was the presence of MANY drones on the entrance board. Usually I might see one or two, this time I saw up to a dozen at a time. The girls were kind of nudging them to the edge, at which point they would fly away. I realized that I was witnessing the beginnings of the expulsion of the drones. With the cooler weather coming, the girls cannot afford to feed any extra mouths and the drones are all kicked out by the fall. Today, the hive was very calm and with Matt agreeing to be my smoker and photographer, in we went. This first photo shows a ton of propalis that the girls laid between the outer and inner covers of the hive. A beautiful bee painting.

There was a ton of burr comb between the super and the second deep and as I separated the two boxes, very mature larvae were exposed as the burr comb was ripped apart. Their bodies are all white, but their huge eyes were a strange purple. (click on the photo of me scraping burr comb to see this) I felt so bad destroying them and know that if I had come in sooner they would not have been let to develop this far.
As I scraped off the burr comb, I tossed the chunks onto the ground in front of the hive so that the bees could find it and eat what they wanted of the high protein larvae. All through this, the girls were docile and pretty much ignored me. Some days feel calmer than others at the hive, and luckily this was one of them.

I was thrilled and amazed to see that the frames in the super were 90% FULL of capped honey!! It is one thing to read about it in books, and yet quite another to see that it actually happens. Similar to Sammy learning to walk and talk, it seems obvious that given the right circumstances it will happen, but none the less miraculous when it does.
Many of the brood frames however, contained very little capped honey, which concerned me because this is what the girls will be living off of for the winter if I take the honey super away to harvest it. I saw lots of capped brood and uncapped larvae but no eggs. This is frustrating as I cannot verify that there is a queen unless I see her (yet to happen) or eggs, but I really did not want to delve into the first deep as the girls were getting restless, buzzing my veil and buzzing Matt.

Super frame with capped honey!

Deep frame with capped honey (light colored on top) and empty cells, probably recently vacated by newly born bees.

After I put the hive back together, I called Chris and he told me to put a second super on so that the girls can continue their work with more space. The purple loose strife is just now in bloom, resulting in near black colored pollen and "coca cola" colored honey. After doing this, I walked toward the house and breathed a sigh of relief that I had avoided getting stung after such an invasive inspection. Apparently I spoke to soon as I felt the sting on the back of my hand from a lone lost girl who had gotten trapped in the cuff of my shirt. Today my right hand is swollen like a rag doll's. It cannot dampen the excitement I feel at the prospect of actually harvesting some honey in the next couple of months though.

Matt smoking the hive

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.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Happy national pollinator week!

It has come to my attention that June 24-30 was National Pollinator Week!! Hurray for all of the creatures who do what they can to share the sweetness of the world and help things to grow. Check out www.pollinator.org/pollinator_week.htm for lots of information for gardeners and others regarding pollination. Also, look for the new stamp that will be coming out honoring all of these creatures that we love and need.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Every day? No way!

Hi folks, I know the google group thingy just sent you an email saying that you will receive an email everyday. I am assuming they mean that this will only happen if I add something to the Blog, which I don't plan on doing EVERY DAY so relax. I don't intend to bombard you and risk losing my bee fans.
The first photo here shows you what a wasp nest looks like, (courtesy of my parents). Wasps are mean and hairless (that's not what makes them mean though) and should be avoided. The second image shows you what a bunch of bees look like when the hang onto each other in an attempt to reach their bee tea. The third image shows you what a busy entrance board looks like.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Who we are

Sammy is the little one. He is learning a lot from this and asks questions like "Do insects have eyes?" ("Yes.") "Then what are their antennae for?" Matt is the big one. He thinks that I have become totally obsessed (He is probably right) but has been a supportive and involved party in all of this. I am the one working the hive. People ask what got me into this. A good question and one with several answers. Curiosity. Feeling ready to delve into a new world. Turning 40, possible mid life crisis, (this was less trouble than having an affair and cheaper than buying a sports car). And underlying it all may be my name, Deborah, which means honeybee in Hebrew. Throughout my life it has felt like an ill fitting shirt. A bit too formal and stuffy as Deborah, too young and girlish as Debbie, too abrupt as Deb. Somehow, with this endeavor, I find myself feeling more comfortable with Deborah. Like it makes sense on a below the skin level.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Some photos of the hive in its first month

Instead of rewriting all of what I wrote pre-Blog, I will include a few photos of what has been going on.


O.K. So I am diving into the world of BLOG. For those of you new to me, I have one beehive that I am taking care of and reporting on. So far it has been a great experience and has made for some interesting photos and thoughts.

A photo of the girls sipping bee tea.