Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Marketing Monster is at it Again

On Thanksgiving weekend, I booked myself to attend our local Pioneer Village's "Fall on the Farm" event.

The focus is on historic agriculture and of course bees are a perfect fit.  This year I don't have an observation hive but next year I will probably take a frame or two of bees to show the public.

The organizer has told me I'll have a table at the general store and if it rains I can go inside.

Then she said we could sell our honey and gave me the contact person to discuss the details.

So, I gave the info to the Marketing Manager, Dad, since that's his area. [Photo of Dad lifting a 75 lb pail of honey, but I did help].

[See the jars on the counter?  We're saving all our jars.  We put the honey for our use in them].

A few days later Dad called me.  Yes we could sell our honey and he'd have to be there very early in the morning, not mid morning like I had arranged.

I said he didn't have to go.  I could sell the honey.  Not so, he said, because he's the Marketing Manager and it's his job.

I said I'd be taking beekeeping equipment to put on the table.  Oh no, I can't do that.  He needs the table for the honey.  I said we're to share the table.  He said he'd bring his own table and if it rained he could go inside the general store.

I think that means I get to stay outside and get wet.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Robbing Station

I got lucky.

In the bee yard was a bit of a junk pile and this large spool, probably from some heavy wire for construction, was sitting there.

Perfect for a robbing station.

It's sturdy enough that animals like raccoons can't knock it over and better yet, they can't climb it like they can with most tables.

I set out my wet supers and usually cover them with an inner cover and then over that I put a plastic tablecloth and then a brick to hold it down.

Today was a lovely day with temperatures around 24 degrees Celcius.  It was hot!  The bees were busy flying.
We're supposed to have rain over the next few days so the plastic cover should keep things dry.

I also set out some honey frames from Hive #2 which was combined with another hive.

I've observed hornets and yellow jackets as they rob the frames but nobody can clean up frames better than honey bees.

I'll have to check with some construction companies to see if I can find more of these giant spools.

Here's a video of the activity:

Friday, September 16, 2011

Tips When Buying a Smoker

I got an FW Jones smoker when I started beekeeping.  It was a nice size and came with the protective cage around it, pictured at left.

My only complaint was that the lid didn't fit down completely tight and it would puff a little smoke from the side of the lid.

See the photo - how the cage goes all the way up.  It also has a hook on front for hanging it.

Later on I got a second smoker, one to leave in the bee yard for those occasions when I showed up there without my regular smoker.  That one is a Dadant smoker.  It's sleeker and also has the protective cage as well.

We've used both smokers and both are great.  It turns out that the FW Jones one that didn't seal completely is actually easier to use.  The Dadant smoker lid comes down with a tight seal - to the point that the creaosote from the fires would seal it shut.

Photo - the Dadant smoker is lighter - the top is taller than the bellows which is good.  The cage doesn't go all the way up and that hasn't been a problem.

I did manage to pry open the Dadant smoker so I don't have any complaints about it.  With the slightly wonky lid on the FW Jones smoker, it never sticks shut from the creaosote.  So I pefer using it as my regular smoker.

A friend has a smoker - a short squat one.  Actually it wasn't what she really wanted but it was the only one available at the supplier at that time so she got it.  This one is well made but the problem is that the top of the smoker is level with the top of the bellows.  So when the lid is open when you're lighting the fire the flames come up and burn your hands while you're trying to puff the bellows.  So you must close it if puffing the bellows.  Neither of us recommend getting that kind of smoker.

Both my smokers are taller than the top of the bellows so you can leave the lid open and puff the bellows and keep your fingers safe from the flames.

Just something to consider if you're shopping for smokers.  Stings are bad enough, so you don't need burned fingers too.

Have you made a smoker kit?  If not here's a post about creating a smoker kit

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Ants and the Bees

We've had some interesting weather in Ontario this year.  Some of it has been pretty scary.  A tornado in Goderich, Ontario, destroyed many beautiful heritage buildings and homes.  Red Cross called me and I volunteered in their reception centre for a couple days.

Back home in London we had tornado warnings, lots of heavy rain and high winds.  It was concerning.

This bad weather gets me thinking how my hives are faring.
After a night of particularly heavy rains I went to the yard and after lifting off the outer cover of the hive I saw many black ants on the inner cover.  They had their eggs there too.  I realized that during the night with the heavy rains they probably had to relocate to prevent drowning.

But what really caught my eye was while I worked on the hive, the ants all stood on the sides of the hive.  Many of them holding eggs in their mouths - as pictured.

I did my thing with the hives and closed up.  A few days later I was back again and opened the inner cover.  Again the ants were there with their eggs.

That's when I clued in.  The ants were holding the eggs and not running away with them because they planned to return.  And they did.

No harm no foul.  I don't believe they'll cause a problem since they're between the inner and outer cover.  What's interesting is that they seem to be smart enough to know that my interruption to their new home would be temporary.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

A Soft Touch with the Bee Brush

My first year in beekeeping I was trying to do a fast flick with the bee brush to remove the bees but then I noticed several bees with their feet brushed off.  I was brushing from down to up as recommended but I was doing it too hard.

[Photo - Dad taking a turn at brushing bees].

Trust me, seeing bees with no toes is a sad sight.

The next year I brushed much slower and lighter.  The frames in mid summer were heavily covered in bees and they fell off in clumps.  On occasion a bee would sting the brush but for the most part they were cooperative.

That worked fine last year.  But this year was a different story.

This year the yard was behaving differently.  Robbing was a real problem and the attitude of the bees when extracting on a few occasions in late July was pretty intense.

So I kept everything covered as best I could.  But my brushing was pissing them off.  Normally with a brush stroke I might get one bee stinging the brush.  But this time I would get about 10.  They were really mad.  Then they were stinging my fingers and bumping me.  They were upset.  I got stung so much I had to put gloves on for the first time.

I smoked the air which I believed helped (normally I never have to smoke them) and I rethought what I was doing.  I was brushing them lightly but quickly.

So I slowed right down with the brush and I used super light strokes.  It worked beautifully.  I mostly used the top 2" of the brush to lightly touch the bees, stroking from the bottom up.  They would fly up or drop down into the hive.  But the huge difference was their attitude.  It was like they didn't realize I was there.

From that time on I continued with this technique, as well as covering everything up.  It took longer to go slower but the end result was that I didn't need gloves, didn't get stung and I didn't need to use smoke again.

Another thing we learned this summer is that not all brushes are alike.  My friend Janice bought a yellow/orange bristled brush but we found her bees got mad too - the bristles were thick and stiff and with each stroke its like the bees were being slapped.  When she switched to my softer brush the bees calmed right down.  So check the bristles on a brush before you buy one.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Hives are Heavy - Save Your Back

A medium super can weigh around 50 lbs and hefting them can certainly put your back out.  I'm not so young anymore and I find my back complains more frequently with my activities.

Dad and I developed a technique to use for inspections and when taking honey that works well for us.  I found it really difficult to hold onto a 50 lb box and bend down to set it to the ground.

The lower I got the harder I found it to hang onto.  Often when the box is a few inches from the ground I felt I was losing my grip.

Our hives are on a platform which is about 10" from the ground so that helps.  When removing boxes we set them on a card table that we put next to the hive.  That way the box is removed and set down at standing height.

Another trick if you need to bend down with a heavy box is to set an empty deep on the ground and set the box on that instead. 

Sometimes if my back is aching from bending over a super that's too low down I'll put an empty super under it to bring it higher up.  Then the back ache goes away.

Why suffer if you don't have to?

Remember you only get one back in life so be sure to take care of it.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Cry Murder!

Everybody has to eat right?  But often one creature's dinner is a fresh kill.

When watching nature shows I'd feel sorry for the poor wildebeest or zebra being chased by the hungry lion.  Then they'd show the baby lion cubs and I'd feel for them too.  After all they were just hungry and Mom was trying to feed them.  Everybody has to eat don't they?

Nevertheless, it's still killing isn't it?

This brings me to report that I returned to the bee yard after three or four days.  My plan was to check on the small swarm that was living in a medium super.  A few days ago I shook them out of their hive only to find they had a queen.  Their equipment quickly reassembled and them back inside I fed them sugar water.

I did have the foresight to protect them.  I reduced all entrances down to a tiny keyhole.  I knew the yard was in a robbing mode--between blooms from summer into fall--and I had given them sugar water to help give them a boost.  With a tiny entrance they should be able to defend themselves easily.

Or so I thought.

In hindsight I should probably have removed the hive from the yard and brought it home.  Or maybe just let it go since they were so small.

When I removed the inner cover I couldn't see any bees at all.  I hefted the super to look from underneath but once I had raised it I saw what had happened.

They were all dead.  Their bodies were spread all over the floor of the hive.  Actually I should say their body parts.  All that was left was their heads and legs.  They had been eaten.

I'm pretty certain they fell victim to wasps or hornets--those omnivores that were over hungry at the end of summer.  It was only last week that I discovered they had a lovely little queen.  Then I had to be out of town a few days.

It was a sad homecoming.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Queenless Hive

This time I recognized the signs right off and didn't delay.  I think this means I'm finally getting a clue.

I inspected Hive 3 and found the deep to be full of honey - most of the other hive's deeps were busy with brood and some honey but not full.

Next, the supers were full of honey too, capped and uncapped.  And the real teller:  No brood of any kind.  No capped cells and not a larvae in sight.  Also, there were two more supers with drawn comb that had nothing in them.  There were lots of bees in the hive.  I pulled most of the frames in the deep and did not see a queen.

It was enough for me to conclude the hive was queenless.  The bees were in good spirits and the lack of brood was actually a relief - better than seeing only drone cells like with hive #2.  A drone layer can really complicate requeening.

I got on the phone to Ferguson's Apiaries and ordered a queen.  Bill Ferguson works with our bee association to create hygienic Buckfast bees.  He ships all over North America.

It's was his queen which got my Hive #1 going well and it's my most productive hive.

She arrived by mail.  In the UK they call their mail system Royal Mail.  That's very fitting.  In our case the queen came via Canada Post in a little crate with ventilated sides.  It was marked Live Animals and I had to go to our local post office to pick her up.

I enjoy that part because the couriers always find our bee shipments interesting. 
The postal gal informed me she could hear them buzzing.  I could feel the cool air conditioning in the building and I wondered if the bees were cold.

Once outside the buzzing stopped.  The truck was nice and warm so I kept the windows up and sweated it out for them.  Next I wetted a piece of paper towel with water and set it on a portion of the screening covering the cage.

Yes they were thirsty.  The workers wasted no time and stuck out their tongues to lap up the water.  Next they busied themselves with the sugar candy.  Water probably made it easier to eat.

Next it was off to the bee yard.  It was threatening rain and I could see a huge five mile black cloud headed towards the bee yard.  I raced, trying to get ahead of it.  I knew setting the queen in would only take a moment.

I got there in time, but it was starting to sputter rain.  I already made the decision to do the rim spacer, set the cage on the bars and close up.  It'd be the fastest solution and also there's often quite a few bees at the top of the hive and they'd find her quickly so she wouldn't get cold.

I took the cork plug off the candy end, being sure to leave the cork still in place on the other end and set the cage down.  I carefully put a small hole in the candy to help give the bees a start (the candy was soft so careful when pressing a sharp tool into it.  You don't want to stab the queen.)

I set the lid down and waited a minute then peeked again.  A few bees noticed her but they weren't doing too much.  Should I worry?  I decided not to.  It would take a few minutes for her scent to permeate the hive.  So I closed up and left them alone.
Six days later I returned for a check.  My plan was not to pull frames, only to lift the inner cover to check if the cage was empty.  It wasn't.

The bees had been busy with the candy.  The cage was covered in a huge cluster of bees.  They were all very calm and looked most eager to get her out of there.  No bees were setting their butts to the cage as if to sting.

[Photo - the queen, marked in white, as she exits the queen cage.  Note the small green rim spacer on top to create a space for the cage to sit].

The cage was totally covered in bees and it was difficult to pick up.  After picking up and setting down a few times there were less bees.

I wanted to release the qeen.  I removed the cork from the non candy end.  Then I waited.  First a nurse bee came out.  The bees were very eager and greeted her with a great deal of enthusiasm.  After a few moments the queen walked out, patiently, taking her time.  The bees ran after her as she walked across the frame and down into the hive.

I cut the screening to release the other workers and they scurried after their queen.

The signs looked good.  I'll give them a bit more time to acquaint and settle in before I inspect again, looking for signs of larvae.

I noted that looking down on the cage it looked like the candy hadn't been touched, but afterwards I could look through the end and saw the bees had indeed been most busy and they had chewed out a tunnel in the candy.  In another day the queen would have been freed.