Monday, May 31, 2010

Beekeeper's Day Off - Sort of

I was accused of not being a very good Auntie. Last summer I didn't take my niece or nephew to the beach. Not even once. I was so busy with my bees I didn't do anything else.

In my defence, I reminded my family that last summer we didn't have a single weekend without rain or when it wasn't too cold for the beach. "That's true", my sister said.

When my niece asked if I'd take her to the beach I agreed. I'd be giving up my Saturday with the bees (it was time to do a 1 week inspection on the two nucs and also to check on comb building in the honey supers on the other two hives). Sometimes family comes first. Besides, maybe I needed a break from bees.

We filled the van with kids and beach gear and off we went. We went to Port Stanley for this trip. This would be Lake Erie, a nice sandy beach although it often has minimal waves.

It was nice and hot, but a mostly windless day. The water was like glass. I wondered how long the teenagers would take to get bored.

I was sitting on my chair enjoying the sunshine when my niece mentioned a lady being pestered by a bee. I glanced over and saw a lady standing eating a sandwich. Probably a yellow jacket I guessed. They're omnivores so anything from sweet to savoury suits their pallet.

I stared back at the water and the passing sailboats. Amber mentioned again a lady being bothered by bees. I didn't look. I didn't want to watch people battling yellow jackets, swinging and swiping - doing all the wrong things when around a stinging insect.

Amber mentioned again that those bees were really bothering that lady. Finally, I gave it my full attention and looked over. A young woman was coming out of the water where she'd gone in desperation. She was swinging and swatting her arms and crying out, "What can I do? They won't leave me alone."

"Stop swinging your arms," I yelled.
"Stop swinging and swatting at them," I said. Then I saw them. This wasn't just one or two yellow jackets pestering a person. She had 20 or 30 insects circling and circling around her head like a halo.
"I don't know what to do," she said in a panic. "Can someone help me?"
No one stepped forward or said anything. Unfortunate but very typical.
I stood up. "Come here," I said as I walked towards her. The least I could do was try to figure out why the wasps were so interested in her and try to calm her down.

I took her hands in mine to hold them still and I told her to be calm. "There must be something that's attracting them to you," I said. I looked at these insects to get a better idea what they were up to. That's when I saw they weren't wasps at all. They were honey bees and they were very excited. They were landing on her head and licking her hair. No aggression at all. No bumping or threats of stinging they were very happy to have found this young lady and they liked her. A lot.

"These are honey bees," I said. "I'm a beekeeper and I can tell they're not interested in stinging you."
"I'm really freaking out she said."
"It's okay. Just stay calm. I think they might be thirsty and licking water from your hair. Either that or there's something like a perfumed soap that's attracting them. They're just landing on your head and licking your hair."
"I put mousse in my hair."

I kept a hold of her hands and reassured her to relax and walk calmly to the washroom and wash out her hair.

She returned a few minutes later, bee-less, and thanking me for helping her. I explained that the mousse probably had real honey in it which attracted them. I pointed to the miles of sand and dunes and commented on the total lack of flowers close by. The bees had such good noses I explained that they honed on the scent of that product. I suggested she may not want to use it again since any insect would probably find it attractive, but I could tell from the shake of her head that she didn't ever plan to use that mousse again.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Rules are Meant to be Broken

There's a saying that "rules are made to be broken" and often I’m inclined to believe it. But as I sit here now sporting my two fresh bee stings I am re-contemplating my position on whether or not they should be.

It occurs to me that rules might be made for a reason. I'm always one that likes to test a theory although I admit in this instance I didn't do it on purpose. More likely I forgot to think about what I was doing.

We were transporting two new freshly painted hives to the bee yard.
I'd come straight from work and was wearing casual clothing, a black T-shirt and jeans. Since I wasn't technically working on the hives at that moment and instead working beside them to set up the new hives, I did put on a handkerchief over my hair and a hat but I didn’t put on my veil or my light coloured shirt.

It was only a couple seconds after I shifted a couple cement blocks, sending a thunk and vibration through the ground that the first guard came at me. She flew out of the hive with a purposeful arch aiming right for me. No warning bump, instead a sting right on the neck.

First rule broken: Wear light colours because bees don't like dark colours. Result: It's true.

Next I had opened one of the hives to remove the rim spacer. It had been on there for a few weeks during treatment and the bees had made great use of that space, building a lot of comb. So I shook them off into the hive. My second mistake was to not pull my socks up over my pant legs. Sure enough a bee crawled up inside my pant leg.

Second rule broken: When working in the bee yard, pull your socks up over your pant legs to prevent bees crawling up inside your pants. Result: Read on....

I kept working but it wasn’t too many minutes after that when I yelped. You can guess where she stung me.

Funny thing though is that after those stings I felt great and slept like a baby. I’m not sure if that was from the hard work and fresh air or a little apitherapy at work. Maybe both.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Honey Supering

It's a honey of a super and now both hives have them.

(Pictured here is Hive#1 with its Mango coloured honey super that they got last week. The pink and white boxes are the bees' home--kitchen, pantry and nursery. Anything higher up than that is the extra honey for me.)

Beekeeping this spring has been hectic. I'm not sure if it's a second year thing or not. Gardens, taxes, feeding and medicating the bees. It's hard to keep up.

In Canada it's as if we all come out of our igloos and want to get active--all at the same time! Spring meetings and events abound. I'm sure it's like that all over the world, even for countries that don't have such cold winters.

(By the way, the Canada flag sticker on Hive #2 is patriotic but that's not why it's there. I put it there as a visual cue for the bees, especially since both hives look too much alike--remember how my newly mated queen came back to her hive last year, went in the wrong hive and was killed. So this year I'm trying to mix things up a bit colour-wise and help the bees find their correct hive).
Hive#1 continues to progress slightly ahead than Hive #2 and sporting more bees. But Hive #2 may not look as robust but on inspection they had just as much drawn comb as Hive #1. So they are keeping up, but in their own way.

Hive #2 is showing some aggression and I've been stung and received a few head butts (that's a bee warning for back-off-you-or-I'll-sting). This too when I'm not working on the hive! I'm just grateful they warn first.... but not always. A worker guard came barrelling out of the hive and went right for me, stinging me on the neck. The funny thing is after that I felt great and slept so much better that night. I wonder if that's a little apitherapy at work.
I don't see signs of skunk scratching so I'm not sure why they're ornery. Of note, once we open the hive and are pulling frames. etc., they are quiet and well behaved. It's only the guards at the stoop that are cranky.
I had a few frames of capped and uncapped honey that I'd saved in the freezer all winter. So I defrosted them and gave them to the bees in their honey supers along with frames of empty honeycombs ready for them to fill.
The whole orchard has been in bloom and on decent days the bees are very busy coming and going. They are very occupied with their thoughts to fill the larders.

(This photo is the bottom of my Styrofoam hive top feeder. Because I had a rim spacer in for 3 weeks the bees got busy. They just can't resist that space. I had to shake them all off--that's another story--and then scrape off their honey filled combs. This is Hive #1 which is doing very well.)
Now to my question: In the books it says to stick with a 7 of 10 rule. When 7 of 10 frames are drawn in comb, add another deep. This info applies particularly to new nuc colonies. But what of an established colony that has mostly drawn comb on their frames. When do I add the honey super? Do I go by how much nectar is in the frames? Shoudl it be capped or uncapped? What do you think?

They both had 3 frames capped of the 10 and the other 7 had nectar in almost every cell. With Hive #1 also roaring with a lot of bees I was concerned about swarming so I gave them a super box last week. Hive #1 being slower we waited another week (and for the rain to stop) and gave them their super today.
No stings or head butts today, but I was bearing gifts of honey. Maybe they'll like me more now.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

I'm Just the Chaufeur

That's what he said that first night that we went to the bee meeting.

It was last spring and we were new to the group. We were asked to introduce ourselves. I said I was interested in becoming a beekeeper and Dad said, "I'm just the Chauffeur".

I think someone thought I needed driving around because I actually got an offer for a ride to the next meeting (which just shows you how friendly and helpful beekeepers are). Thanks Dad. Now everyone thinks I can't drive.

I thought he'd come to one or two meetings and then stop coming. But most of the members in the bee group are his age and most come from an agricultural/farming background just like he did. So there's a connection and a rapport there that he enjoys (and he keeps winning the 50/50 draw!).

Beekeeping was supposed to be my hobby but with moral support from the family. Then I had an accident last spring and broke my arm.

I needed more than moral support, I needed someone who could lift heavy boxes when I wasn't allowed to. Dad fit the bill.

Wearing his thick sweatshirt and even thicker gloves, and a hat and veil, he came to almost every visit to the bee yard. At first it was because my arm was broken. Then later it was just because it was nice to have someone lift the heavier boxes.

Then one day he said he was a beekeeper and it became "we" instead of "me".

He was the assigned the tasks as smoker person, and heavy deep lifter. He'd even hold frames of bees, albiet with gloves on.

Then everything changed this spring. I did the work on the first hive, with him watching, and him assisting. Then we'd switch and he'd do the work and I'd assist. Mom would come out too and be the papparatzi--otherwise there'd be no photos.

Recently though I heard Dad call the second hive, the one he works on, "his hive". Now it's "your hive" and "my hive". And he doesn't want me doing the work on "his hive". He wants to do it.

And last week, the gloves came off! Oh yeah, we have another beekeeper in the family.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Gidday! From Australia

Do you listen to your intuition? I wish I did on this day.

I was going to Oxford Honey & Supply to pick up some honey supers and deeps. The night before as I went through my check list I felt that subtle suggestion--Take your camera with you.

I thought, no I don't need to take my camera because I'm only going to a supply warehouse. Even the next morning I heard it again and I thought logically at the time, why, I won't use it? So I left without it.

So, because I didn't listen to my intuition I now have to apologize that the two photos I have are poor, not closeup and were done on a cell phone camera.

You see, while at the supply store there was a man standing there, another beekeeper, and he was holding a cooler.
Just before he left John, the owner, said to me, "Barb, you might want to see this."

"What?" I asked.

"Queens. It's a delivery of queens. We picked them up late last night in Toronto. They're from Australia"

The beekeeper removed the cooler lid and it was full of little queen cages, each with its own queen and attendants. And they were tooting away.
"I can hear their Aussie accents," I said.

Then I went into a side room where they were putting tiny pads of warm water onto the tops of the queen cages - offering the thirsty bees a drink - and some moisture so they could lick at the queen candy in the cage.

The beekeepers who had ordered the queens had all been called and they would soon all be dropping by to pick them up.

What I really regret camera-wise is that I don't have sound or video to play. Otherwise you'd get to hear the high pitched "queen tooting" and a few hundred wings beating, which created a surprising amount of heat.

There were about 200 queens and they were all within inches of each other. I can just imagine if I was a queen that would make me toot too!
Next time, I'll take the camera... no hesitation!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Spring Treatments for AFB and Nosema

Here we have a trio of help for the bees.

Pictured in this photo (24 Apr), resting on top of the frames are:

Peanut butter coloured pollen patties. The bees really love these and have already eaten two.

The pink is the AFB (American Foulbrood) sugar powder treatment resting on wax paper and finally, a Formic Acid pad (blue) to treat for mites.

We took the winter wraps off the second week of April.

This spring has come up so fast that it caught me by surprise. I'm playing catch up now with posts on the hive activities.
Pollen patties were added to both hives and the bees have really been enjoying them. The photo above is when a fresh patty is laid on the top bars. The next photo is when the hive was just opened a week or so later.
The pollen patties come sandwiched between wax paper - it makes them easier to handle, although the more time they spend in the sun the more gooey they can get. The paper has small holes cut out and the bees were very quick to dunk down inside these holes to get a the food.
Later they chew up and carry out the leftover wax paper from the hive.
Hive #1, with more bees, gobbled their patties in less than a week and needed more. This hive has more bees than the other hive.
This caught me by surprise. I had more patties but there were at home in the freezer--oops!

For this trip, Dad and I were adding Formic Acid pads as a mite treatment to both the hives. The formic pads come inside a clear plastic wrap. The clear plastic is cut away, leaving behind the foam pad which stays inside it's blue plastic cover. There are holes in the bottom of the plastic and the pad is set, holes side down, on a couple of sticks. The sticks keep the pads off the actual wood frames of the hive.

Because of the thickness of the pad and the addition of sticks, a rim spacer is needed to create a little space - so we added those to--that's the lime green coloured rim in the photo.

The smoker was lit but it wasn't needed. As soon as the bees smelled the Formic Pad they dove down inside their hive and the buzzing went way up. I really hated doing this treatment. The instructions warn that you could lose up to 14 days worth of brood with this treatment. I was told that the reason the larvae die is because the nurse bees move away from the frame because of the smell and the bees are then not kept warm or fed and die. (Addendum to this note - the hive increased in size each week and it did not appear to lose a lot of brood).

The Formic also penetrates the capped cells to kill the mites, and often it kills the pupae too. But not treating would make things much worse. We examined the sticky mite boards prior to putting the formic on and Hive #2 is heavily infested - and they have less bees.
(Photo at left - bees enjoy eating their pollen patties).
I also watched this hive put out live deformed bees. These workers, born damaged as a result of the mites, are doomed to die and cannot support their hive. It's sad to see them.
We did remember to remove the entrance reducers once the Formic pads were in place.
A mite treatment is like chemotherapy. You're trying to burn out or kill off the cancer but not the patient. With the mites, you're trying to kill one insect but not the other. Like chemo, the treatment takes the patient down in an attempt to save their life.
It was also time for an AFB treatment, that powder is sprinkled onto wax paper that rests on the tops of the frames. I also gave them Fumigilan B to treat nosema.

We topped up their sugar water and then closed up the hive.

While taking photos I noticed some brown spots on the front of the hive. I don't think they were there prior to taking the wraps off. It could be Nosema (I hope not) or possibly a dysentery.
I'll have to keep my eye on that. (Addendum - no further brown poop seen on the outside of the hives.)
If you are new to beekeeping or you'd like to see a list of the recommendations and options for spring treatments, the Ontario Bee Association has an excellent list of what needs to be done and when. You can view it here. I found it most useful to remind me what I'll need to do next.