Monday, December 28, 2009

Sweet Gifts!

Don't you just love family members who know us beekeepers really well? They understand our obsession with bees.

They listen to us for hours as we talk about our bees, or maybe they pretend to listen but at least they do it tactfully enough that we don't notice their eyes are about to roll up in their heads.
They've console us on the phone when we're crying over a mishap with the bees.

They pay attention while we list off all the things we think we should do to help our hives. We ultimately make the best decision we know but family help us get to that decision.

They love us and understand us.
And they know better than to ever say "they're just bees". Because they aren't. They're family too.

I've restrained myself from visiting the bees this week although I did drop by briefly last week. I really do need to bring home my plastic storage bin so that'll be my handy excuse for a visit next week.
I hope to visit mid winter as well when there's lots of snow on the ground, just to see how those entrance reducers are working and to get some winter photos.

Now to the precious gifts: The first photos are of a glass dish called a Honey Dish. They were produced by a US company called Indiana Glass.

Originally they were made in the 1900's and then the company reproduced them again in the 1970's. They came in 29 colours (aquamarine, amber, amethyst, pink, white, etc.) To see a little history about Indiana glass visit this link

They are wonderfully decorated to delight the bee lover. Bees circle the top, sides and even the bottom of the container. Bees, flowers and bee skeps are on the sides.
Best of all, these glass containers were originally used to house the square cut honeycombs. What a wonderful vessel to house the precious combs.

I couldn't resist slipping some honeycomb into mine.
They're sold on E-Bay or on various on-line shopping sites. They're usually called vintage - which would refer to the dishes produced in the 1970's.
Of course I just love it.
I was also given a hand puppet bee made by Folkmanis Puppets. The bees' legs are a six fingered glove. Although it's more bumble bee like in appearance it'd be useful to use in presentations with young children. It even has four wings made of silk.
I especially like the fact that it doesn't have a stinger sticking out of its butt. That always gives the impression that bees go around with their stingers out all the time which we know just isn't true.
Maybe I don't have my bees just outside my back door but that's okay. I've got bee gifts to play with now.

Friday, December 25, 2009

2010 Beekeeping New Year's Resolutions

1. I will not cry over each bee that dies.
I accept the fact that it happens on occasion. However; I still reserve the right to raise them from the dead if they are willing (see Lazarus Bees).

  1. 2. I'll always put greenery on top of the flames in my smoker.
    I never needed the smoker until the time when I didn't add the greens--that's when I accidentally burned a couple bees. Not good for future hive relations.

  2. 3. I'll spend more time watching from the outside.
    I did my inspections based on the schedule in the books and also when I could tell from the outside there were problems. I do feel I interrupted their activities more than I would have liked so next year I plan to open the hive much less.

  3. Spend more time talking to children about bees.
    Gosh that was such a blast, spending the day at the school and talking to classes. There were so many questions (from the teachers too) that it's clear people want to know more about bees. If you want to read some bee facts see this cool tidbits that I wrote about bees at Honey Bee Facts and Honey Bee FAQ's or a Powerpoint presentation on presentation on honey bees for groups.

  4. I'll seek more mentor advice.
    The books have to be generic because beekeeping in Florida just isn't the same as in the Great White North (Ontario, Canada) but the local mentor knows best the area and what works and what doesn't. There's not much point in getting winterizing hive advice from a Florida beekeeper when you live in southwestern Ontario.
  5. I won't bring home any bees for my dead bee collection, kept in alcohol, unless I am certain they are really, truly, completely dead.
    (I confess I put my dead queen in a zip log baggie in the freezer. She's in there somewhere with the frozen peas--why? 1-because I'm a little crazy and 2-so I can look at her through a microscope).
    Three times last summer I brought home 'dead bees' that came back to life after I'd got home--I think this Lazarus thing is becoming a theme--and so I had to feed them honey and keep them over night and then return them to their hive the next day. I bet they had a rapt audience for hive stories that night!

  6. If the bees want to requeen, give them a queen instead.
    I lost way too much time in summer waiting for the hive-made queens to hatch, mate, and lay their eggs. The number of workers dropped too dramatically and it did effect the hive's production to the point they had a lot of catching up to do. Then the lovely queen got lost on her way back to the hive after mating and perished... Now when I want to see her I have to open the zip lock baggie in the freezer... yes #6 above and unfortunately that queen really was dead. The purchased, marked and mated queen slipped into the hive very nicely.

  7. I'll make a vacation time in the fall to stay for the whole Annual Beekeeper's Convention.
    A lot of the most up to date info is shared there and it's a great time to network, relax and see Niagara Falls. There's no where else where I can find people willing to listen to my stories about bees or fact sharing. Pretty soon people in the office are going to turn around and go the other way when they see me coming.

  8. Remember that everything that can go wrong probably will.
    Make great use of these mistakes, accidents or nature's messing with your head by writing about it. Yes, most of this stuff is going into my children's book (aka Lazarus bees - who could resist using that one?) Also, by sharing via the blog, hopefully I can spare someone else the pain of the same mistake.

  9. When lifting frames from the hive, I will smoke the bees away from my fingers...
    Do I need to explain that one? (2 stings on my pinkie finger in about 2 minutes). When invading the deep and doing a really thorough investigation the bees will be much more stirred up than usual. Don't forget to keep an eye on them, not just the frames.

  10. Collect more comb honey to eat.
    That was so good it was hard to share. Would you believe that certain family members actually had the nerve to say "is that all I get?"

  11. Make major changes to the hive either at night or early in the morning.
    We moved the hives at night and that went well, with no bee losses but a change of adding winter wraps in the day time made their entrance look very different. 100+ bees perished, unable to find their way into the hive when returning because it looked so different.

  12. Girls rock at beekeeping.
    It may be a male dominated hobby but there are a lot of girls into beekeeping. I hope one day to be like Melanie and wear a Bee Beard. I might even make it a goal for lets say 2011?

  13. Blogging is Awesome for Beekeepers
    Thanks to blogspot and all the blogs available on the internet. Beekeepers are so willing to share that they make learning on line in the comfort of the home or backyard a real pleasure. God bless each and every one!

Happy New Year everyone. I hope 2010 is an awesome bee year.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Merry Christmas ...and Thanks!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all the bloggers and beekeeper bloggers out there.

Thank you for the interaction and comments. Thank you for sharing your joys, trials and tribulations with the bees.

We learn from our mistakes. Thanks for your warnings and advice on what worked or what didn't.

We learn from what worked too!

Thanks for your suggestions and how to information.

Thanks that you were willing to spend time to help a stranger (mind you a stranger who is as obsessed about bees as you are) :)

I'm working on my list of 10 things I learned about bees 'last year'. But it'll be more than 10 things! What would you say are the 5 or 10 top things you learned from the bees this year?

Wishing you every success in 2010 and that all your bees are gentle but great producers.


Saturday, December 19, 2009

Honey... Are you in there?

I dropped by the bee yard briefly today just to see how things were going.

I hadn't been by for almost 3 weeks. I noticed that. My entire summer was consumed by bees. Seeing the bees, working the bees, watching the bees, worrying about the bees and then on my summer vacation, reading about the bees.

I think about them still. I can't drive by every weekend or the guy who lives there will realize something about me. I'm a bit obsessed with bees. Actually, I think he's figured that out already.

I went out there once and he said to me, "You're a hobby beekeeper aren't you?"
I said, "Yes, why do you say that?"

"Because you've painted your hives all different colours. Commercial beekeepers," he laughed, "they don't do that."

I laughed too. "It's true, I have more time than they do."

"I can tell you're really into this hobby. You really love your bees," he said.

It's true. I do.

There were almost 100 dead bees in front of Hive #2 and not more than 15 in front of Hive #1. I do wonder at why? Was Hive #2 busier trying to bring in that last bit of pollen or nectar? Was Hive #1 so filled up and secure that they could afford to be more relaxed?

Then I wondered if anyone was in there. Could I put my ear on the hive and hear them? It'd be hard to listen through the quilted plastic covering.

I took some dry stiff flower stalks and scraped away the dead bodies. I did this for a couple reasons, one that it wouldn't looks so sad to see all those dead bodies, and two so that I'd know how many more may have died the next time I came out to check on them.

I looked over the bodies, looking for signs of Varroa Mite damage but didn't see any.

With my scraping I quickly got an answer to one of my questions. Are they in there? Oh yes they were! A bee flew out very quickly, obviously a guard bee, wanting to see what was going on. I stepped back really quickly just to make sure she didn't come after me.

So it appears that Hive #2 is still alive. But the actions of the guard were very aggressive which is what I experienced a few weeks ago.

My bee course instructor told me that if you let the bees make their own queen, the bees will get mean. I wondered about that at the time. Many would not agree. What do you think? I'd love to hear your comments on that. In a way it would make sense that the bees would do that. After all, they don't want you robbing their honey.

Time will tell on that issue when spring comes and I open the hive.

I took photos of the top exit. The inner cover is sitting underneath the styrofoam feeder so you can see it. It's also nested inside the "V" peak of the hive wrap, forming an upper exit for the bees.

At the bottom is a 3" nail, hammered into the hive. It's there to hold the plastic of the hive wrap back so once the snow falls the bottom won't get blocked. Of course, the entrance reducer is on it's smallest setting.

I read somewhere that when bees cluster, they work to keep their cluster warm, not the whole hive which I didn't know, thinking they kept the whole inside warm.

We've only had a light dusting of snow so far this year and temperatures haven't been colder than -10 yet. But that will come in time.

Meanwhile, my much loved bugs are pretty snug.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Sugar Cakes

This is the natural fine sugar powder that I bought at the grocery store that I used to make the sugar cakes for my fall feeding.

I could have formed them into pretty nice looking patties, but I was kind of lazy and made it into chunks instead.

As you can see from the photo below the bees are all over it and they seem to really like it.

The photos were taken a couple months ago when it was still fall and cooler weather but not that cold yet.

The batch on the right is the old and the clumps on the left is the fresh that I was putting in the hive. I piled it on top of waxed paper. The bees chew up both the sugar and the paper.

I also put some clumps on the feeder outside the hive and noticed that on sunny days the bees were much more interested in the sugar cake and that they were ignoring the sugar syrup.

I believe this sugar is "confectioner's sugar". It's used to sprinkle on desserts to make them pretty and it's simply natural white cane sugar but just ground into a finer powder that dissolves really fast.

Oh, and how is it made? No cooking, other than taking already made up sugar syrup and using that as a liquid added to the powder. Go easy on the liquid because it goes a long way. The amount of liquid determines how runny the paste will be.

Friday, December 4, 2009

A Little Nasty Business

For the first time all year, I've seen some nastiness from my bees. Yes, genuine aggression.

Hive #1 was as quiet as ever. No bees in sight at first. After my hammering a nail into their hive I saw one bee sitting in the entrance, keeping an eye out. No aggression at all.

Not so with Hive #2. Hive #2 sent out its guard bees and I could tell from the way they were flying that they meant business. I didn't get stung but almost.

The bees were provoked very quickly to anger. Both hives have been extremely slow to anger all year long. In fact, although I always lit my smoker every time, I didn't seem to need it much. They were always so calm and relaxed.

This is what brings me to comment on a couple things I can fault myself for: I lit the smoker before this task but I did not put greenery on top to hold back sparks or flame. Quite frankly I got lazy. Because the bees had been so gentle and smoke wasn't needed I skipped that step, thinking I wouldn't even need the smoker--but I did need it.
It turned out the bees weren't happy with my hammering and they came out aggressively. Then when I went to smoke them I accidentally killed one bee because the heat coming out of the smoker was too intense. I think this angered the second guard who then came at me more fiercely. I did not get stung that time - I backed off a few paces (actually I hid like a coward behind the hive).
The task I was doing was putting in my horizontal nail which prevents the winter wrap from slipping down and covering the bottom entrance of the hive. So my hammer was doing a bit of pounding and that really got their attention.

I had been to the hives every couple of days that week, more than normal so I think I had been irritating the bees with the too frequent changes--messing with their stuff--adding winter wraps, adjusting the wraps, hammering nails.

Oh and let's not forget the 100 or so of their experienced field bees that perished out on the front stoop when I installed the wraps on a too warm day when they'd been out flying and I didn't realize it... they came back and unable to find their way into the hive they perished. Maybe they were still mad about that. I know I'm still feeling bad about it.

The aggression was so unusual for them that I did start to wonder if the hive was queenless. When I opened the hive to remove the last of the sugar cake a couple weeks ago and put on the inner cover/winterizing I didn't get any stings, but I did see get some bumping which was very unusual for them. I put it down to my moving too quickly. Because it was a cool day I wanted to get the hive closed up again as fast as possible so I was moving fast.

I also found a young bee on the front stoop, near dead, with deformed wings. Obviously it was Varroa Mite damage (the Varroa mite babies feed on the bees blood in the wing muscle area which then damages the proper development of their wings). So it appears there is still some Varroa activity on this hive. I hope it's at a manageable level for the bees (and it's got me wondering if the Formic Acid treatment was thorough enough, given our ambient temperatures at the time. And I wonder if I should consider an Oxyalic Acid treatment mid winter just to be sure.....)

I can't cite the bees for being mad but as for Varroa or queenlessness, only time will tell. Let's hope time favours Hive #2. They could really use a break.