Sunday, April 29, 2012

Seeking Water

We did have a hot spell back in March but it didn't last.  Cold weather has swept in since then, but with the cold we didn't get rain.

Farmers had planted their seed and they were saying that if they didn't get rain soon that their crops would be late for the season--ripened plants in late fall run the risk of being destroyed by early frosts.  We did get some rain which I'm sure helped.

But we didn't get a lot.

At the bee yard I was up at the abandoned house.  It's all boarded up.  I saw bees flying around the front steps and I wondered what they were up to?  Were they house hunting scouts?

[Photo - extra supers to give more space to booming hives.   The apple tree behind is in bloom but too cold to offer nectar/pollen I think because the bees ignored it that day].

I stopped to watch.  They were focused on a couple pieces of plastic - like those plasticised signs.  After waiting for a minute I saw their tongues were out.  What were they licking up I wondered.

Then I headed to the our hives and there I saw the same thing.  I have old political cardboard signs on top of my hive outer covers.  They create a natural rain and shade porch for the bees.  Bricks hold them in place.  Again, bees were licking these card board signs - putting their tongues into the open ends.

Then I realized that it was water they were sucking up.

Despite a lack of rain for the season, there's still a lot of water in the area - creeks and a huge lake.  But considering bees don't forage so far in early spring, maybe they didn't know about these other sources of water yet.

I put water out for them and within a few minutes several bees were licking it up.

Then today there was a swarm call.  A neighbour on my niece's street had washed his car and it was covered with bees.  The neighbour was concerned and had turned the hose on them to wash them off.  He even resorted to driving around to try to shake them off.  I was out of town but Dad was able to go over and brush them into a hive.  He left the hive until evening.  If they were a swarm they'd most likely be in the hive by dark.

They weren't.

When talking to Dad he said the bees were all over the car as well as a wet cloth that the man had draped over a lamp post.  The cloth was so covered in bees he said you couldn't pick it up.  I asked if he waxed the car and he said no, and that he always washes his car every week and had never seen bees before.

This sounds like very thirsty bees to me.  There's even a wide river less than 1/2 a mile from that location so there is water close by.

Strange and stranger.  I'm sorry to miss out on a neighbourhood swarm but this confirms there are bees on that street somewhere.  I did get a swarm from there last year and they're my best bees.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Elephants and Bees

One of my favourite sayings when confronted with a huge problem is "How do you eat an elephant?"  The answer:  "One bite at a time."

For many years in Africa agricultural farmers have struggled to protect their crops from the wilds.  Elephants have voracious appetites and would learn of the succulent leafy vegetable pickings in farmer's gardens.

They'd raid the gardens, often at night.  And they'd keep coming back.  This created a deadly conflict between the villagers and the elephants that would sometimes result in the death of either the farmer or the elephant.

This definitely classifies as a huge problem.

[Photo of zoologist Lucy King]

The farmers had attempted many solutions with varying degrees of success.  They would put up fences, burn torches at night, fired off shotguns, etc., but none of these methods were effective enough.

The farmers needed their crops for food and income.  Their livelihoods were at stake.  Elephants need to forage and follow their migratory routes.  And they need to eat too.  Would one side have to lose to the other in this situation?

By this time you are probably starting to wonder what this story has to do with bees.  Well, a lot actually.

In fact, bees were the perfect solution to this problem.
We've all heard the comical story of how a huge pachyderm would panic and run off in fright at the sight of a mouse.  It turns out that these giant denizens are afraid of more than mice.

They're also afraid of bees.  It was an African Zoologist Lucy King, who learned that 90% of elephants will run away at the sound of bees.  They'll even do warning sounds to other elephants to stay away.  Elephants don't like getting bee stings inside their trunks.  Lucy took this knowledge to the next step by building beehives into fences around crops or compounds.

When elephants would grab or shake the fence to break through the bees would be disturbed and come out.  Then the elephants would run away.  It worked beautifully and the farmers increased their income with the honey sales--sold with the label "Elephant Friendly Honey".

See a video on the website showing how even playing a recording of bees buzzing causes elephants to flee.

Lucy King sure knows how to eat an elephant problem--complete with honey on top.

You can read more about this ongoing project at the web site.  There's also instructions on how to build the Kenya style elephant proof hive.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Celebrate Earth Day 22 April 2012

Today is Earth Day.  I'm going to make a point to pause during the day to stop and smell the flowers and appreciate our incredible planet.

I've been reviewing my ecological footprint lately to see where I can make even more improvements to help the planet.

So far I take the bus to work, share rides with people as much as possible, use energy efficient lighting and turn them off when I'm not in the room.  In winter I turn the heat down more and wear sweaters and in summer I turn the a/c up a bit more and run ceiling fans.

Out at the bee yard over the years there's been some garbage dumped.  It's frustrating when lazy and cheap small time renovators look for a quiet location where they can pull in on the Q-T and dump their garbage ... a whole bathroom renovation, complete with a broken toilet sits in a large pile.

[Photo - my hives are just past the top left of this site.]

I found a huge pile of empty pop cans.  They can be recycled and I gathered them up--10 garbage bags worth.  Sadly a few had pop in them because I poured the fluid out along with about 20 drowned bees.

The clean up is a big task so I'm using my "how to eat an elephant" philosophy.  The answer?  One bite at a time.

Each time I go to the bee yard I bring home a bag of garbage.

It's also time to fix the main gate to keep these dumpers from accessing the property.

Today is supposed to be a day to celebrate the earth but I feel more like spending it apologizing to her on behalf of us humans.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Book Review: The Backyard Beekeeper's Honey Handbook

In the first two minutes flipping through this book I got the perfect answer to how to warm my honey up slowly without using too much heat (how to build a warming box).

This book would be enjoyed by a beginner, giving them information they can use but I think the perfect reader for this book is a beekeeper with a couple years experience or one who is preparing to expand their business.

There are many large colour photos throughout which add to the written descriptions. The primary focus of the book is giving pointers on how to preserve the flavour and quality of the honey right up to point of sale.

The secondary focus is on how to produce artisan honey - those lovely unique flavours from mono floral sources.

The third focus is a review of all the equipment and techniques used to remove frames of honey from the hive, and covering all the equipment used for extracting--showing hobbyist equipment right up to equipment used in a large commercial operation.

Honey house layouts are pictured and explained from a small corner in a room to a warehouse sized operation. Flowers that provide great tasting honey and also not so great are covered. (I knew bees loved common privet but I had no idea it made a horrible tasting honey). \

The back of the book has numerous recipes that include honey. The author is a bit repetitive about not overheating honey and mentioning the value of artisan honey but the rest of the book has enough information to satisfy the reader.

I recommend this book.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Lazy Woman's Honey Warmer

I had a dilemma.  I'd recently read Kim Flottum's book, The Backyard Beekeeper's Honey Handbook. .

The author describes how to make a warming box.  It's basically an insulated container where the honey pails are set with a low watt light bulb.  The honey slowly liquefies over a 12 hour period.  The key is to sustain a low heat so that the honey's natural elements are preserved.

[Photo - sticky honey and cappings before heating]
If you've been beekeeping for even a year you'll have noticed how quickly natural honey crystallizes.  And that's a normal process.  (If you want more info on how and why honey crystallizes read this.

In the next month or so I plan to build a warming box and I will certainly share all the details of that with you once I get it done.

But this brings me to the dilemma.  I needed to warm up some honey and wax cappings that I had scraped out of the cappings box last season.  They've been stored in containers and it's quite a sticky mess of wax and honey.

I don't want to cook the honey which would separate the wax and honey but would give my a dark caramelized honey.

So I started looking around the house for a potential warming box that I could pop two bowls into to warm up.

I looked over cardboard boxes and then my thoughts turned to the oven--not to turn it on but to use it as a warming box.  It's a closed container, maybe not super well insulated but it could work.

I took out a shelf, leaving only one shelf up about 4" from the bottom.  I put the bowl of cappings on the shelf.  Then next to the bowl I set a trouble light with a 60 watt bulb.  I closed the oven door, with the electrical cord only creating a small gap.

The next morning the honey was softer but not melted so I made two changes.  I upped the wattage to 100 and put the light on the floor of the oven underneath the bowl.

Viola!  By evening I had runny honey.  I could put it through a sieve and jar it.  The cappings left on top of the sieve I'll give to the bees to lick dry--they do it better than any other method.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

They Have a Queen ....Really and Truly

What a surprise.  And a lovely one at that.

I waited a little over a week to inspect Hive #1 again.  The weather had been cool during the day time.  I didn't want to pull frames on this small hive in colder temperatures.

[Photo - Hive #1 workers clustered over combs]

With temperatures at +13 I decided to go ahead.  By then the brood would be capped.

The big question was do they have a real mated queen or a drone layer?  The cappings would be the tell-all evidence.

(I wrote about this previously when Janice and I  inspected the hive and found a tiny queen).

We saw combs with more than one egg in a cell and I was concerned that I might have a laying worker (drone layer).
On inspection I could see the cluster had grown  with workers and best of all, the capped combs were with worker brood.

This answers the question do queens sometimes lay more than one egg in a cell?  Yes they do.

I had read (I think it might have been Tungsten's book The Buzz about Bees) that the workers will move the eggs when the queen does that.
Also, if the queen is laying more eggs than the hive can handle, either because they don't have enough workers or enough resources to handle that many brood, the workers will eat the eggs.

That explains why the brood are still only occupying the top right corner of three frames - there's not enough workers to cover a larger area and keep the brood warm and fed. They do have pollen and honey. I've also given them a pollen patty which they are consuming and a hive top feeder with sugar water which so far they have ignored.

[Photo - the queen is at the bottom just to the right of center.  I swear her abdomen is longer than before.  Is it possible that when I saw her last she hadn't mated yet?]

I want to give them a frame of brood from another hive and wonder if I could put a frame in, bees and all. I'll need to ask my mentors. If that could be done then the bees would gain workers, nurse bees, and it could help increase their numbers faster. If I put in a frame of just brood right now there’s not enough workers to tend to them.

[Photo - queen bottom to right of center]

I do know that a hive this tiny is normally considered a write off and would be left to die but I thought this would be a good opportunity for me to practise my beekeeping skills and see if I can help to bring them back from the brink. There are some advantages to being a hobby beekeeper. I’m keen to help and I've got the time and patience to give it a try.

I don't need to ask the bees, I know they're keen too.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Humble Bumblebee

It was only 6 degrees, so it was a cool day.  Not really the kind of weather when honey bees would want to fly.  This bumble bee, most likely a queen, as on the ground and moving very slowly.

She looked cold.  So I picked her up and set her on a table.  She started to climb up so I lowered my finger and she hopped on.  I figured she wouldn't mind a little body heat to transfer some warmth.

It was a pleasure to have a few minutes to closely examine her, comparing her movements, size and fur to honey bees.  It's no wonder that bumble bees can fly when no other insect can.  They are wonderfully fuzzy.

I gave her a droplet of honey which she immediately started to lunch on.  I noticed how very long her tongue is, and that it even extends further with a light feather-like flexible tip.

This bee is defininately a flower specialist--able to reach deep into flowers that no other insect can.  Also, in summer, the bumble bee has the size and strength to open flowers that snap shut, such as snap dragons.

Watching her cleansing ritual was a treat.  Her legs come right up in sweeping gestures which are very effective to gather up the particles of pollen.

After her snacking and cleansing she flew off.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Space, that Interior Frontere

Give them a little and they'll take full advantage.

And they did!

At the bee meeting last week the consensus from the group was that the bees had all eaten very little honey during the winter.

The Canadian winter that wasn't.  With exceptionally warm weather we had no snow.

Beekeepers reported their hives are full of bees, this spring and bursting with uneaten honey.

Add in a week of exceptionally warm weather.  Many of us opened our hives to check on the bees.

That's when I discovered that they were honey bound.  Yes, honey bound in spring.

This is where I messed up.  I had a super on hand but only six sticky frames from last year.  I gave this strong hive that box to tide them over.  I was thinking they'd spend their time licking the frames off and repairing the combs.

I planned to return in a few days with more frames to fill the box.

I returned only five days later but that was enough.  The bees had built to large pancake-like combs hanging in that extra space.  The queen had even laid eggs in every cell.

Another lesson to remember.  Bees can build combs very quickly when the weather is warm.

Bear in mind I gave them the super to build combs to give them something to do with their excess energy.  I still need to treat the hives so I don't want honey supers on at this stage.  So I'll keep them busy building combs.

That should give them an excuse to eat some of their honey.

With this quick start in spring it could mean early swarms but then our weather has turned cold again so it's a guessing game.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Beeswax - A Tale of Trial and Error

Candle making.

I've been figuring this one out a bit at a time.  I get a piece of advice here or there and then of course there's my tried and true:

Trial and Error

I had some nice and dry cappings from a few seasons ago.  That season I'd had the bees lick them dry.

When these were melted in the crock pot everything went great - the wax was clean with very little debris.

I scooped out the melted wax near the surface and then poured it through a piece of silk over my glass pitcher.  Fine particles were trapped.  From there I poured straight into my candle mold.  No problem.

I got a little over excited because I was ripping through some containers of wax that had been sitting around waiting for a long time to be processed.
With the change in our weather back to cold I decided to use my free time to paint some wooden ware and finally process all this wax.
I'd made a few candles and they'd cooled down so I was able to remove them and free up the molds.

Then I found another batch of combs.  These were heavier and clumpier.  It should have been a warning but I was too busy being productive and proud to pay attention.  Into the crock pot they went

I poured the molds.  Hours later I returned to empty them only to find the top 2" was wax and the bottom half was a thick cooked honey.
Then I remembered that the dross and honey go to the bottom of the pot and the wax floats to the top.  So I switched to a two stage process.

[Photo - glass pitcher with debris caught on silk.

The clean wax pours from the spout onto the second silk which is clamped on my mold container.]

Stage one to melt the wax.  Then I poured it through a piece of silk into a glass pitcher.  The crud was caught on the silk.

Next I poured the cleaner wax through another piece of silk camped over a plastic container.  This container will be my brick mold.

The bricks can be stored until needed and the size is just right to fit into the crock pot.
Another way to do this would be to heat the wax up, letting it separate and then just let it cool so the wax will harden on the top.

I was left with some dark sweet syrup - caramelized honey which could be used in cooking.  It was hot so I set it aside to cool.  A layer of wax cooled on the surface, reminding me of beef fat and gravy.

By the way remember to never feed caramelized honey to bees because it will kill them.