Sunday, September 27, 2009

Goodbye to the Boys

The boys have been cast out. No more warmth of the hive and no more coddling or being fed by their dedicated sisters. I felt sorry for them. Their bodies, curled up and dead are scattered all over the stoop in front of both hives.

I really enjoyed visiting with the drones all summer, picking them up and enjoying watching them while they groomed or just hung out and then they'd fly off, looking for a queen.

I found one outside the hive, cold and near death. He was barely moving. I couldn't resist and put him in my apron pocket to warm him up. Later, seeing he was still alive, I fed him some of the honey I had in a jar. He really perked up after that. I held him out on my hand and let him decide whether to stay or go. He chose to go and flew way up high and then did a huge circle and headed back toward the hive. I wished him good luck.

I had done a mite count on both hives on the 27th Sept and found the mite population has increased substantially from 3 weeks ago. A few weeks ago when brood rearing had dropped off during the requeening there were about 2 and 3 mites showing on the sticky boards. But since then both new queens have gotten to work laying and so the mites have regained a foothold in the hives as the new brood hatches. The counts were #H2 - 8 mites and H1 - 15 mites in a 4 day period.

Previous to that the count was 12 and 18 mites on the boards but that was when the boards had been in for over 3 weeks.

I also found it very disturbing to find a couple of dead workers out front - with deformed bodies and tiny twisted wings. This is a sure sign of damage to the bee's body when capped in its cell--capped with the parasitic mother mite and her offspring they would feed on the bees' body while she is completely defenseless as a pupae. The mites feed where the wing muscles are and this damages the bees' wings and can also vector other diseases to the bees much like how mosquitoes spread malaria.

I realized that I must treat these hives if they are to survive the winter. So I took today as a holiday day and I went to Burgessville and got Formic Acid. This stuff creates a vapour that fumigates through the hive for 26 days (no entrance reducer). The bees of course won't like the fumes and will ventilate which will help the fumes to permeate the hive. It will penetrate the capped cells of the brood to kill Varroa Mites. It will probably also kill some of my precious brood as well (covering eyes so I don't have to read that part).

I also got a powder to do a fall AFB (American Foulbrood) treatment which I spooned out onto waxed paper that I put on top of the frames. This treatment is repeated for 3 more weeks.

The formic acid comes in a soaked pad which I set on top of two sticks just to keep it off the frames. The whole thing sits inside a "rim spacer" which just creates a space for the treatment pad. This rim spacer can also be used if feeding pollen paddies, etc.

(photo - see the green rim spacer under the white hive top feeder).

I hated doing it though and I confess I was upset enough about having to do it that I didn't want to take photos. I just have to share that with you. I was upset to put this noxious stuff in with my bees, and baby bees. I knew they wouldn't like it either.

But then I found a worker laying cold and soaking wet on the front stoop. I picked her up, thinking she was dead, but she wasn't. She moved her legs. I examined her closely. Her wings were deformed and her abdomen was too small. Overall she was smaller than she should be. She was damaged--damaged by mites feeding on her as a pupae. She would not live more than a day or so. She'd never fly and she would probably never enjoy her household chores of caring for brood or building comb. I realized that the treatment, although no one likes it, is really necessary.

I picked her up and put her in my apron pocket too. Later she emerged from my pocket, dry and lively. It's amazing how a little warmth and a little toweling off can revive a near dead bee. She ate honey from my hands and we visited for a while. I watched as she did her best to groom herself. I noticed she had mobility issues too. I knew she wouldn't live long. I wished her well too as I released her.

I wished them all well as I took up my wheelbarrow to head back down the path. I'll be thinking about them a lot over the next while.

Friendly Honey Competition

At our bee club meeting last week they had a friendly honey competition. It was a chance for all of us to bring in a jar of our best from the harvest to show off and to taste.

We all judged each others' honey using a paper made up from the real fair competitions. I hadn't spent any time thinking about this yet but the main things we were marked on were:

Correct Class (colour)
Flavour & Aroma
Fill Level
Density (moisture content)
Freedom from foreign material
Freedom from air bubbles either in suspension or as froth
Appearance of container

One of the members even had a colour scale which showed all the shades that honey can come in, from very clear to a deep brown. It looked like one of those paint sample kits.

My honey did not win, but I did not expect it to so I wasn't disappointed at all. A couple of the judges brought a device called a refractometre (hope I got that right). It's used to measure the moisture content of the honey. I was very interested to know my honey's moisture level because I was suspicious that it was too high.

Mine rated at 19.10%. The ideal moisture content is anywhere between 17 and 18.5%. I was very surprised to learn that bees can and will cap honey that is higher than the correct humidity level (I need to find out more about this).

(photo - Dave from Dave's Apiaries checking the moisture content of honey with a refractometre).

What this means is that if we don't eat this honey up within a couple months it will ferment. This is very important to know as a beekeeper! Henry said the problem starts when the honey crystallizes--it's the remaining liquid between the crystals that ferments.

One of the beekeepers there told me how he lost a huge tank of honey and just had to pour it out on the ground. Trust me, he was pretty horrified at the loss. Ever since then he makes a point of dehumidifying his honey to be sure the moisture content is at the right level.

This was news to me. I assumed from all the books and research that if the bees cap it that the moisture level is correct. I did hear from Henry that uncapped honey could be put with a dehumidifier to cure it but what I didn't know is that beekeepers also place all their capped honey frames in a sealed room with a dehumidifier to lower its moisture level too.

(photo of the actual refractometre device - sorry it's a fuzzy photo).

Over half the members at the meeting - about 30 honey samples total--were found to have their moisture levels too high. The highest was 23%. I wonder if this is because of the especially wet weather we had this year.

Almost all the honey was the same colour. What I found the most fun was tasting the honey. It all looked the same but it didn't taste the same. It was like a flavour parade or an excursion and it was a delight to taste the subtle or not so subtle differences in flavour.

Scott and his wife won first place for the best tasting honey and the gentleman in the front (sorry I don't know his name) won for the best overall honey. Pictured also is Bob, the president of our bee club.

The advice for my already extracted honey is to keep it in the freezer to prevent it from fermenting. I think at some point I should invest in one of those refractometre thingies. It's probably not too late to leave the open jars in a room with a dehumidifier, but with our second batch of honey safely tucked away in the freezer (frames and all) I can leave that for a January project.

The focus of the meeting was on the competition but I did try to do some networking about my need for a new bee yard. Henry most graciously offered me one close to where he is. That would be over an hour's drive away so I'm hoping I can find something closer to home.

I've been calling orchards and berry farms but most of them are already locked up with long time relationships with commercial beekeepers from our area. I really don't want to compete with them--they're doing it for a living and I'm in this for the learning experience, the fun, the research, and a bit of honey at the end.

I'm sure something will come up.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Needed: A New Home

Sometimes the truth is a painful thing. But truth can be revealing and set you free too.

Truth is, our beehives are on this guy's land (since Dad has opted into being a beekeeper with me in this he's been correcting me when I say 'my hives' to "our hives". I guess that means he takes a share of the blame too).

My Dad, my cousin and I went out to the swamp last weekend and we measured. We also had records from the land registry office so we knew what the actual acreage and footage should be.

And we were wrong in our estimate. It was all unintentional of course but the bare truth is that we cut down someone else's tree and we are squatting on his land. The hives are misplaced and now they must be moved. But to where?

At least the truth helped to set things straight. Now we know what actions we need to take. We apologized of course and offered to plant new trees but the owner has plans to plant his own native trees so he declined (it wasn't a 40 year old maple though). Our apology was accepted, which we're grateful for.

Dad and I were separately brainstorming where the hives might go and funny enough we both came up with a great idea--the same idea. I thought that meant something. There is a fruit and veggie farm a couple miles away with bees already there. Maybe we could add our hives to theirs at that location. We met the land owner and he was really enthusiastic about it. After all, this is the pollination that his farm depends on. Then we called the beekeeper (a gentlemen in his 80's). But he said No! He didn't want our hives there. (Secretly we were hoping he'd want to retire from beekeeping and we could buy him out, but that didn't happen).

I have one other place in mind that's in the area that could be good. There's some hives across the road from what was my grandfather's farm. We don't own the farm any more but that place is the nearest and dearest thing to my heart. Having bees there would be awesome. I'm hoping to find out whose hives they are (I asked the old guy and they weren't his. He didn't even know there were other beekeepers in the area). I'll ask if I could keep mine there too.

Maybe I should instead spend my energies on looking for an entirely new place which would mean scouting farms or orchards etc., in the area and pulling in to ask the farmers and making calls. This may be the best long term solution but is very time consuming and I'm not sure how patient that guy will be. You see deer season starts 1 Oct and I think he'd like us gone before then.

A couple reasons why I won't stay in the swamp relocating to our land is mainly that now that we now the actual footage, our land is so far back from the road (1325') as to make trucking the equipment and carrying things too difficult. Currently they are 700' from the road and I carry or wheelbarrow everything back there. Also, the bees if relocated within that area they will just fly back to their original location.

My thoughts at this point are to just find a spot where the hives can go until at least spring and then I could spend the winter trying to find a permanent location.

Our bee club is meeting Thursday night. I'm planning to stand up and ask for help, to ask if anyone has a place reasonably close where I could move my bees. I expect I'll get many offers because one thing I've learned about beekeepers is that they are, for the most part, some of the most helpful people around.

And I just keep hearing that tiny voice saying, "I've made provision for you." So I'm curious just what that will be.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Can I have a dull moment please?

It was a dark and stormy night... at least that's how the fictional stories start. At least it was dark. I was in a hotel in Toronto for a couple days for my job. I actually had a nice room with a great view. Toronto lit up at night and viewed from the 15th floor is really quite pretty.

Then the phone rang. But I had greasy dinner on my fingers because the restaurant forgot to give me cutlery and I let the phone go to voice mail.

The message was from my niece who was taking care of my home and pets while I was away. Apparently a guy was calling who owns a portion of the swamp land next to ours. I had cut down a 40 year old tree in the swamp and he was really angry about it.

This was worrying but I actually did manage to get some sleep that night but I think it was more from trip exhaustion than anything else. I didn't call him because I needed to focus on my work and I realized there was nothing I could really do but rack up long distance charges.

Besides, my hives were on our land so I didn't think he needed to be concerned. But the nagging question kept coming, was I certain the hives were on our land? It's possible my cousin made a mistake and what if I was on his land? That would mean I cut down his tree. And that could make some people really mad. If someone did that to me, I guess I'd be mad too.

I got home the next night so tired I was close to tears, maybe that's a girl thing. I knew I wasn't up to dealing with anything let alone anybody. I'd call him the next day to find out what was going on.

The next evening I came home to a voice mail. Basically it said my hives were on his land and if I didn't call him he be throwing them out into the road the next day. So I called him. He didn't answer. I hung up. He called me back.

He told me he had a map that drew out the lines showing who owned what portions of acreage and he felt certain I was on his land and that I had cut down his maple tree.

Now, after calming down I wonder if I've been kidnapped and put into a fictional story that's carrying me off in a direction I don't want to go. I'm afraid to ask if anything else could go wrong because I know it can. Can it ever.

The next question is what now? I've negotiated a couple weeks to get the hives moved but in the mean time we need to re-look at the markings to try to clarify where the boundaries are...just in case he's wrong.

Meanwhile, the bees are enjoying their second week with no rain and all that extra sun, minus previously mentioned cherished tree. I haven't been to the bee yard in a week, the longest I've gone all summer without visiting. I need to go out and see them, just to make sure they're okay.

Maybe I need to tell the bees that today, I'm not okay. That we've got some problems. Again.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The First Honey Harvest

I'm so proud of them. The bees. Look what they did. They made all this extra honey and in their first year too.

Pictured here are:
5 jars x 750 ml
8 jars x 500 ml
10 jars x 125 ml
If you're ever picked strawberries the way I pick them then you know there was actually more honey than what you see here.....

These bees are pretty amazing because they started as small nucs yet they still managed to make all this extra honey, most of it from Hive #1, in spite of all the queen troubles and weather this summer.

You've probably noticed that the weather has been a little weird this summer. In southern Ontario it was cold and wet all summer with temperatures not exceeding 26 degrees. That's rare.

It was so wet that it was hard to find a decent enough day when I could open the hives to check on the bees. I did as few inspections as I could to try to stay out of the hives. Some times it felt like the only good weather day we had was also the day I had to open the hive and interrupt them. It really wasn't fair at all.

But now... now we've had a solid week of sunshine and another week of sunshine coming. They're having a good run at the moment with the fall blooms such as golden rod, sedums and asters.

Then I'll feed them just to make sure they've topped up all their cells full to the brim. I left them each with a full capped medium super. Below that super is their deep box which should weigh 65 lbs by the start of winter. This is the estimated weight it should be for the hive to survive our cold Canadian winters.

The honey is light tasting and of course delicious. I'm quite addicted to it. Now it's more than just honey on the tongue and a sweet taste, I feel a connection to the bees that made it, to the hard work and toil they put forth to bring it about.

Because the nectar is stored in the bees' honey stomach they add something of themselves to it, enriching it.
Scientists have analyzed all the components of honey yet some parts of it remain a mystery to this day. But I'm sure the bees know and I love the fact that honey has some mystery.

The little bit of honeycomb I had I shared with my family. It was very light coloured and tasting as well.

My friend Henry says their honey is very light this year. But Bill Ferguson said (he runs the queen rearing operation in Hensall) that his honey was dark. So not all of Ontario had light honey.

I bought a 7 gallon pail with a gate at the bottom and it has a lid so I could store honey in it if needed.

This might be a good time to point out that not just any plastic pail should be used with honey (which is food). Only liquid food grade plastic pails or buckets should be used. There are "dry" and "liquid" plastics on the market. You can purchase them from your bee supplier or sometimes the local ice cream, bake shop, bulk food supplier or donut shop will have pails to give away for free or very cheaply. Food grade plastics are durable enough that they don't leach into the food.

I brought the honey home in an enamel cooking pot from the extraction at Clovermead. From there I poured it through a double stainless steel sieve into the white pail and then the cappings so they could take some time to drip through. Then I let everything sit for 3 days so that bubbles could work themselves out. The bubbles don't cause problems to the honey, they're just unsightly so honey retailers do their best to avoid getting bubbles in the honey.

When bottling the honey - I just put my enamel pot under the spout and the jar inside the pail. That way any spillovers were caught in the pail.
When bottling, there were still some small particles of wax visible in the honey so I poured it through a fine clothe I got from the supplier which I cut and used elastics to secure it to a measuring glass.

The hard part was dealing with the sticky fingers. I didn't want to waste a drop so I kept licking them which then meant I had to wash my hands constantly. I just kept the sink full of soapy water to wash with.

It took a couple evenings, because the clothe straining was slow, but I could do other tasks at the same time so it wasn't an issue.

I had hoped to do some graphic arts or a watercolour painting for a label for my brand which I'm calling Bee-Magic Honey (after the book I've written) but I never got time to do it. There's always next year I guess.

Now I have to divvy up the honey... some to my sister and Mom and Dad. Some for the farmer next door who let us drive back into his field. Then I found out Dad has been pretty excited about becoming a beekeeper too and he's been talking to a lot of people. And he's been promising honey to them. He's promised some to his neighbours and the receptionist at the dentist office and gosh knows how many other people ... I think it's time to plan on expanding to 4 hives next year.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Queen is in Residence

She's in there.... somewhere.

This reminds me so much of when I was a child. Dad would be sleeping on the couch and I'd be talking to him and he wouldn't answer. So I'd then pry open one of his eyelids and ask him, "Are you in there Daddy?"

I did pry open Hive #1 today to check the queen cage which I had inserted 6 days ago. It was empty. Whew!!! There was not even a lick of candy left in that cage. The bees had licked it clean as a whistle.
There were two bees in it though when I picked it up but I could tell they were just tourists checking it out ;)

When I first arrived around noon there wasn't a great deal of activity on Hive #1 but it was not dismal or concerning like it had been in the recent past. Hive #2 was more active by comparison.(I see why the advice given to new beekeepers is to start with two hives and not one. That way you've got something for comparison).

I got the queen from Ferguson Apiaries in Hensall, Ontario. Bill Ferguson runs a Buckfast bee operation and sells all the bee related products but he also has a queen rearing operation (see my blog from my visit there last summer). He works with our Ontario Bee Association's program to help create hygienic queens so I figured getting a queen from him would be a good choice.

Bill said to check the hive after 5 days to be sure she was released but not to 'disturb' the hive. I'm presuming that disturb would mean pulling frames to look for the queen or eggs. All the other reading and advice I've been given is to wait 7 days without disturbing. But I have read many threads in bee newsgroups where people are popping their hives after 3 days to check if she's released. It's not recommended though. I certainly didn't want to take any chances with this poor hive and I think the people peeking after 3 days are a little excited.

On day 5 we were cutting down the trees so I thought I'd wait for the next day. As soon as I removed the queen cage I just took a moment to shift the frames back to where they were before. I had squished them together to make room for the queen cage so some didn't have their proper bee space.

Then I closed up and was done. Total time was about 5 minutes. I had the smoker going and only gave a couple small puffs in the crack between hives just to let the bees know I was there. They ignored me though.

The rest of my information I gathered from the outside. The bees were coming and going very nicely--not tons of bees but those that were there were busy. As the afternoon progressed the numbers increased and I saw lots of pollen coming in attached to their back legs.

I could tell she was in there. At least I'm pretty certain.

I don't have plans to pull frames on the hive for a while if I can avoid it. I want to leave the bees alone and let them do their thing. If she doesn't survive then that's it for them and I'll have to start over next year.

As for the queen cage itself, if you've never seen one before, this one is made of wood with 3 circle cutouts. It has a screening across the top. The right hand cutout has a hole which was plugged by a white candy filling. It originally comes with a tiny piece of cork over the candy which you remove before placing in the hive.

The bees lick away at the candy and it usually takes around 3+ days for them to eat away enough to release the queen. This slow release method is a clever invention. The queen is safe in her cage, protected by the mesh screen, and fed by a few attendant bees which were put in to care for her.
The slow days of release allow her pheromones to penetrate the hive and for the bees to become used to her scent and accept her.

I always wondered what happened to the attendants but when I think about the methods used to combine hives, putting newspaper between two hives so the bees can get used to each other slowly, I think by the time the queen is released and accepted that her attendants are as well.
I'd heard from other beekeepers that bees put propolis on queen cages and they did. See the photo where they used propolis to glue her cage to the frames.

You may not be able to see it but there's a small piece of plastic on the candy end - so the bees can only lick out the candy from the hole area on the end.

The other end has a small round cork in it. That's the spot the supplier used to add the bees to the cage. The bees had been busy chewing on it too--they really wanted her out of there!!!

On Linda's blog I saw how she used fishing line and a tack to secure the queen cage to the frames so that if it shifted it wouldn't fall to the bottom. I'd read too many HELP ME emails from new beekeepers who wrote to say their queen cages had shifted or fallen. So I copied Linda's technique. The cage never shifted but it doesn't hurt to be certain.

The amount of light around the hives is quite nice, even on a clouded overcast day. The air flow is fresh as well, which really helps dry the sweat off the skin.
I feel like I've been speeding down a highway at lightening speed for a few days with so many bee related activities. Now I hope to have at least one day to read a book in the back yard... and watch the bumble bees come and go on my flowers.


TIMBER!!! But not my hives--trees!

On Henry's visit back at the end of July he suggested that two trees quite close to the hives could be cut down to bring in more light.

At the time of his suggestion we were heading off on vacation so we didn't act on it at that time.
Then when we were back we were in the process of requeening and queen acceptance and I didn't want to disturb the hives too much. I put off the idea until the fall.

It's certainly fall now. On the drive out to the bee yard I could see that the sunny side of many maples were already turning yellow and red. At least it was a warm day (24) and although it was a little overcast it was still nice out (possibility of rain in the afternoon).
I had a few extra vacation days added onto the Labour Day weekend so we opted to cut the trees down now. The other reason was that my nephew Codie (with the big muscles) was available to come and help us.

The bees looked pretty good in the morning. We arrived around 11:30. I had been noticing that the hives weren't getting much sun until late in the day and now in retrospect I wonder if that has contributed in part to some of the queen problems. Cold overcast and raining days maybe weren't helped because the hives would have been sitting in shaded moist cold air.

Dad brought his axe, hand saw and chainsaw. I brought my cup of tea, some rope for pulling the tree and my camera. Codie brought his muscles.

The $%^##W@*$ chainsaw (insert appropriate explicative) started but it began to smoke--something was wrong--and then after only partially cutting down the tree we stopped it. Then when we tried to restart the thing it wouldn't start. On the up side, we did get almost half the tree cut before the saw died.

So it was the three of us taking turns after that with the axe, and hand saw.

We tied a rope onto the tree and were set to pull it to make extra sure it fell in the right direction. The tree was only 1' from the hives so we needed to be certain it was falling away from and behind the hives.

And it did. It's always fun to shout, "TIMBER!"

We also took down a dead tree at the back of the hives. Codie did this by tying a rope on it and pulling it half down and then jumping on it until it fell the rest of the way. Yes, we're a little unconventional, but hey, we didn't have a working chainsaw and we wanted the job done.

The bees didn't appear too disturbed by all this. Around 2:30 I noticed that hive activity increased on both hives. I've noticed that around 3:00 the hives seem to get busy. I think it has something to do with the sun hitting the hives at that time. So now hopefully the sun will hit the hives much sooner in the day and encourage the bees to go out and forage more.

The other advantage will be the increased air flow in the area. I noticed right away that the air seemed more fresh because the foliage wasn't holding the humidity down under the leaf canopy.
I've been trying to think of all the variables that brought about the bee issues this year - bees on both hives that felt they needed to supersede when both had 1 year old queens with good laying patterns. It shouldn't have happened. A summer in southern Ontario is usually hot and dry (lawn watering restrictions in the city). But this year was like last year, rain and like 12 tornadoes!!! You probably heard about them on the news. On the days it wasn't raining outright it was overcast and cold with temperatures around 17 to 20 Celsius most days. It should be between 26 and 30+ degrees.
When thinking about the cold and damp I realized that the trees were probably contributing to the bees unhappiness. They made the hives shaded even on the most sunny days. There was some sun that could get through but not enough I think to make the bees feel warm enough to go out and forage.
We still have some sunny days this fall and there could be a beautiful "Indian Summer" yet so I hope the bees now enjoy and are happy with the redesign.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Bee Swarms

Not one bee swarm, but two!

Before you shake your head or shed a tear at my bad luck I must tell you that these swarms were not my bees!

(Huge sigh of relief and click to see a close-up of these swarms).

While at Clovermead on Saturday for Harvest Day, I went over to Henry's house to check out his large pond.

Henry had several hives in his back yard and I could hear the bees buzzing around and I could see the bees too.

I noticed a smallish tree in the middle of his yard that had a lot of bees flying around it. I'm very happy with myself because my instincts told me this wasn't normal activity. What I detected as abnormal was that the bees weren't coming and going or zig zagging in front of the hive like when they do orientation flights. Instead they were doing big loops and circles and going every which way in front of the hive.

And I was right. They were swarming.

Hanging about 2 1/2 feet from the ground were two small swarms. The hive they came from sat at the base of the tree (see photo).

It's hard to tell from the photos but in size they were about 10" long and 3 to 4 inches thick.

Of course I had to take advantage with a photo op. The bees were certainly cooperative about that.

I confess I never thought that my first few months (since June this year) of beekeeping that I'd be exposed to so much so soon! I certainly have tons of material for my book and great photographs to use for my watercolours. I've written and illustrated a children's novel about honey bees which I'm trying to get published.

Henry had told me a couple weeks back that one of his backyard hives kept swarming. He put them in a hive on two occasions.

But they would not stay. They ended up flying off. He knew that they would not survive this late in the season. So this was yet another hive that had decided to do a late season swarm and it's not swarm season for bees.

The next photo (below) was taken from underneath the swarm. Click to enlarge - this photo turned out really well and the close-up of the swarm is really cool.

This hive had two small swarms which Henry said indicates that there's probably two small queens which the bees have gathered around.

He said he'd put them in a box later in the day and see what he could do.

I hope they stay.

The swarm was calm and they showed no aggression. I've also read that when before bees swarm they gorge on honey to take with them.

That's so that they can regurgitate it into the combs of their new home. Also, because they're stomach is engorged, they can't bend their bodies to sting.

We all agree that this is unusual behaviour for bees to swarm so late in the season.

I hope Henry is able to convince these swarms to stick around. Maybe he can somehow trick the bees. Let's hope that he can.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Robbing the Bees

It was time. Time to rob the bees of their extra honey.

An offer came to extract my honey at Clovermead on Saturday and because I don't have an extractor and they did, I couldn't say no to this great opportunity.

Dad and I headed out to the bee yard on Friday. I had just requeened Hive #1 which was under a no peeking, no disturbing law so I was in a bit of a quandary about whether it would be wise to sneak off a honey super.

I did it in stealth mode. No smoke, pop the outer cover. Peel the cloth inner covering as noiselessly as possible... yeah right!

The bees' propolis had it glued down and it cracked as I pulled it off each frame. I ended up doing the bandaid thing and taking it off with one quick swipe.

I slipped off their super and set it aside. Then I put the cloth and outer cover back on. That part done was done.

The bees still had the yellow super with frames if they felt inclined to build foundation and store nectar. If not, no worries because I'd save it for them for next year.

Under that super was another super, the pink one which is all honey, capped and very heavy. That's for them for the winter. And finally is the bigger box, the white deep which they will also fill with honey.

Hopefully the queen is in that deep laying eggs as I write this. I think of Queen Elizabeth a lot. I hope the bees have licked all the candy out of her cage so she can be free to lay.

I hope too they've accepted her as their hive mother. Time will tell. I will not snoop down that far into the hive until the week is up. Bad enough that I stole a box of honey.

Hive #2's honey super was not as heavy as Hive #1's. It's not a competition at all but I believe Hive 2 lost their queen before Hive 1 and struggled more to catch up. Isn't it funny because originally Hive 1 was behind Hive 2 in production such as comb building, nectar and pollen gathering.

They had more brood and their boxes got heavier faster. They also had a lot more activity outside on their porch than Hive 1. Yet Hive 1 seems to have surpassed Hive 2. They had much more honey capped and ready to go. They didn't do so bad after all, except for losing their queen and having to make another one. And then she died. What an experience this has been!

Almost all of the frames in Hive 2 were not ready for extraction. They had honey but the bees hadn't finished capping it yet. On some frames the honey was capped on one side but not the other.

Because all the books and training said not to extract uncapped honey, I took these frames and put them in the yellow super. Then I removed the undrawn frames from the yellow super since they didn't appear to need them. (Henry advised later that I probably could have extracted the uncapped frames because of our run of hot dry weather lately).
I hope over the next couple weeks the bees look to cap the rest of that honey.

So, I ended up with one box of 6 frames of capped honey to extract.

No complaints. This was after all the first year for these bees (starting from nucs) and we've had one of the worst summers for rain in our history.

The invite for Clovermead was made more special because it was their Harvest Day. Every Saturday in September they have multiple events going on which visitors can watch or participate in. There's candle making, honey extraction and a bee beard. This in addition to their regular features which are farm animals, hay rides, go-carts and the bee train.

They had a really nice 2 frame electric extractor. It was only about 6" wide and was square built. I'd never seen one like this before but it was NICE.

Chris Heimstra started off by trimming cappings on a couple frames and putting them in the extractor --all this in front of a bus load of people out on a day trip to Clovermead. They were lined up in rows and watching with great curiousity.

Throughout the process Chris shared info about bees and honey and fielded questions from the crowd.
Then it was my turn! He handed over the microphone and the hot knife.

There's nothing like jumping in and doing something for the first time in front of a large audience AND sharing interesting bee facts and fielding questions at the same time. I loved it!

We told the group I'd never done extracting before and I asked them to tell me what I'm doing wrong :)

After all 6 frames had run through the extractor I ended up with a small pail of honey. Sorry no photos of me in action. The paparazzi (Mom) wasn't present on this trip and Dad was too busy telling me, in front of the crowd, that I wasn't doing it right to get out the camera for some photos.

I've put the honey through the double strainer to filter out the bees' knees (and other misc bee parts and comb that were in it) and now I'll let it sit for a few days so that the bubbles will rise up and dissipate.

Meanwhile the comb cappings are sitting in another filter, slowly dripping into a container. Then that honey will be added to the main amount.

I can't wait to explore candle making as well as making lip and foot balms.

This photo at left is of Tom the turkey who danced and wagged his tail feathers to get my attention. He was certain that the whole day's event shouldn't be only about honey bees so I felt compelled to take his photo.

There was a lovely pot bellied pig too, but I was too busy feeding him bits of corn and forgot to take a photo.

My honey is very light coloured and Henry told me all their honey has comb out pretty light as well, in fact the lightest it's ever been.

I've got a big sweet high going at the moment. I've been eating spoonfuls of it all evening and eating the comb cappings too. Yum! Who needs caffeine when there's honey available!

Somehow though, honey from your very own bee yard seems to taste much sweeter than honey from anywhere else :)

Friday, September 4, 2009

The Queen has Arrived!

"Her Majesty has arrived," said Mom on the phone.

I was at work and I had made arrangements with the supplier to have the new queen delivered to my parents' house because I knew they'd be home to receive her.

She had been put in the mail at 4:30 the day before and at 9:30 a.m., the next morning she arrived, a 2009 green marked kick-ass mated queen.

We headed out to the bee yard. We'd just been in the hive two days prior but this was really necessary. On the last inspection the hive was found to be queenless. Minimal brood was seen - all older larvae which we're presuming were the eggs laid by the last queen right before she died.

There were also six queen cells.

The plan was to pull all the frames and to crush every queen cell I could find and then to place the queen cage in the hive, hoping it will be love at first sight.

We found no less than 20 queen cells. Some were longer and more peanut shaped and some looked similar to capped drone cells but they were a bit more bullet-like. I used a small metal tool I brought with me to open these capped cells and to crush them.

I didn't enjoy this. I tried not to think about it. Instead I focused on this last desperate attempt to save the hive.

Speaking of desperate, 20 queen cells seems like a lot. I think the bees knew too that they were going to be goners soon if they didn't get a viable queen soon.
They must have taken almost every worker cell laid and turned it into a queen cell.

The bees were very calm as I took out frame after frame. I took my time to look over the frames carefully, not only in search of queen cells but also searching to see if there was a queen present.

If there was it would make things difficult. I could kill her but then I'd have to wait a couple days before I could add the new queen.
This scenario was a little worrying.

After frame after frame no queen was spotted and no eggs or uncapped brood either.

I pushed all the frames really tightly together to make room for the queen cage. I didn't want to remove a frame from the hive.
It was pretty squishy but I was able to make enough room to fit her in.

I put the cage in screen side up, remembering to remove the cork first from the candy end, leaving the cork in the other end. We tied and duct taped fishing line to the cage and taped the floppy edge of the line outside the hive.
This was just in case the cage shifted. The fishing line would prevent it from dropping to the bottom of the hive.

I don't' think it'll move though because I pushed it into the comb on the frames and then pushed the frames very tightly against it.

But the funny part was trying to work with the queen cage. I first set it down on the outside edge of the hive. There weren't many bees there, the closest being a good 4" away.
Within seconds there heads turned and they then began to march right to her. It was amazing to watch. They formed into lines like ants or geese flying and headed straight for her. Then they began to climb all over the cage.

I realized my mistake was not practising first with an empty and unscented cage to get the fit right before trying it with the real one. I didn't get a single sting though but I did have to put my fingers on the corners to shift it into place while it was absolutely covered in bees. But the bees weren't paying any attention to me. Their focus was entirely on the queen.

I have no prior experience to watching bees receive a queen but they didn't look like they were mad or in a panic to me. In fact, to my eyes they looked eager to reach her.
They were putting their mouths to the screen almost like they wanted to feed her. I didn't see any bees turning their butts down to sting so that was a good sign.

We carefully put the hive back together and put the outer cover on. We were done. This was it. It's up to them now.

Now I wonder if there might have been a laying worker in the hive that killed the other queen and I worry that it might happen again. I have to remind myself that I've done my best. It's up to them now.

I'm to leave them alone for a week. No peeking.

I went to bed satisfied. Then I woke up in the middle of the night realizing I forgot to put a nail hole through the candy. Just one more thing to wonder if it will make a difference. I'm presuming the only thing is it might take a little longer for the bees to lick her way out.

I'm naming her Queen Elizabeth. I hope she lives long and prospers.

I replied to a post on beesource from a person who was in the same scenario as me. It's not great that it happened to someone else but it's comforting to know I'm not alone. We're both in our first year as beekeepers.

A kind person replied with this: "I always tell those wishing to begin a bee business that the worst thing that can happen is to have a great year the first year--it sets an unreasonable "standard" in one's mind."
Let's just say I'm becoming 'experienced' really quickly.