Monday, October 28, 2013

Up to Here

I've struggled with feeding my bees in spring and fall.

I give them sugar syrup for two reasons, one so that they can top up resources and second so that I can medicate with Fumigilin B for Nosema.

I have used both hive top feeders and sugar baggies.  And I'm not happy with either one of them.
[sugar baggies placed on top bars in 2011]

I did like the Styrofoam hive top feeder at first but I soon found that wasps and ants can all too easily chew holes through the Styrofoam creating leaks.

I spent so much time duct taping and melting wax to plug the holes only to find this type of feeder kept leaking.

It's design is perfect in that it sits flat on top of a hive, it has a slit for the bees to go up, it has a clear plastic cover where the bees are so you can see them feed and refill the feeder with no bees flying around.  It's only fault is the material it's made from.

I found the wooden feeders leak and the baggies leak too.

I can't tell you how many times I've carefully filled and sealed a baggie and laid it on the hive.  I made sure my slits were small so it wouldn't leak.  I'd close up the hive and then look down a the platform and hour later to see a puddle.  A finger in the liquid and taste would confirm the baggie leaked.

The feeding is done in early spring or fall when it's cold and it's not acceptable to have liquid dripping over the bees.

The problem with a hive top feeder is the bees won't go up into them in cold weather to eat the syrup.  That's when the baggies are best because they sit right over the cluster and are so much closer at hand.
For quite a while I've been thinking about how to use a baggie and prevent leaking or dripping.  I finally came up with a solution.  I bought plastic and cut squares about 12" x 12".  Then I folded the corners up and stitched the corners - forming a tray with sides.  Then I filled a baggie and set it inside the plastic tray.  If the baggie leaked, the plastic tray would hold the liquid.
[My new method using a plastic tray that the baggie sits in.  The reason to use plastic is because I want to keep it thin so it's close to the bees and warmed by their bodies].
The other part of the plan was to put syrup in a Styrofoam feeder and set it out on the robbing table.
While carrying my large stock pot the 50' to the robbing table I stepped carefully through the long grass.  When I had only three or four more feet to go my foot caught on a tree stump and I fell.  The syrup went up in the air and splashed all over me.  I had it in my hair and all over my face, glasses and shirt.  What a sticky mess.
Unhurt, I discovered there was still 3 or 4" of syrup in the pot so I took it and poured it into the feeder.  It was a new Styrofoam feeder I bought this spring.
I worked in the yard for a couple hours and came back to check the feeder.  It was empty.  The robbing table was soaking wet with syrup.  It had leaked out completely.
Oh yes, I have had it up to here with those feeders.
On the up side, I checked my plastic trays and they are working well.  The bees are eating the syrup.
I'll be able to experiment with them more in the spring.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Sunny Day with an Observation Hive

A fellow beekeeper who is a very talented carpenter built us an observation hive.

Whenever we put up a table at an event or attend a school Dad and I do our best to educate the public about bees.

We want them to know the differences between the yellow jacket which they're well acquainted with and the friendly honey bee.

We want to let them know about the problems beekeepers are experiencing with pesticides in corn and soya beans.
We set out a petition from the OBA and people are signing it without question.  The bee problems have been in the news so much that people know a great deal about it.

On Thanksgiving weekend, Dad and I set up a table at Fanshawe Pioneer Village.  If the weather is good we bring the observation hive that fits a deep and a medium super frame.

We've been learning as we go with using this hive.  One thing is that the frames that go in the hive can't be fat ones or the bees will get pinned against the plexi-glass.  It's hard to find narrow frames to use.

So far I have not taken the queen.  In summer I'll select a frame with some brood but I don't want to risk my hive losing a queen to stress so I make sure she stays at home.  People don't seem to mind that she's not there.

Normally we're in the shade or part sun when we set up but on this occasion we had to put up under our canopy in the sun.  Due to the sun's angle we didn't get any shade until late afternoon.  It didn't take long until the was on the deep began to melt the wax.  Yikes!

We quickly moved the hive into the shade.

When we first set up there were two or three stray bees flying around outside the observation hive.  They could smell the honey.  But once it melted the bees outside were quick to put their tongues in the cracks at the bottom to lick up the honey.
And then they went home and told their sisters.  And they came too.
Lesson learned.  Even though it was not a hot day the observation hive can heat up quickly in the sun even though it has ventilation holes.  What is interesting is that the bottom deep frames had newer and thinner wax.  The upper super frame had thicker older wax aged to a golden brown.  The upper frame with the old wax didn't melt at all.
It was great for education.  I sat beside the hive all day and explained.  People were not afraid which was awesome to watch.

Of course the bees behaved.  It was a lovely sunny day in October and they had some honey to eat.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A Dog of a Day

Beekeeping is a time-consuming hobby as I'm sure you know.

We're all busy with our lives and many of us also have full time jobs and family to take care of as well.

It's hard to manage our days so that we can get to the bee yard.

We are at the mercy of the weather too and our working schedule.

This time of year it's even more challenging as the fall rains come.  This summer and fall we've received quite a bit of rain--enough to cause me to go to the doctor for arthritis medicine for my aching joints.

Some workers on the property where I keep my hives had done digging on the laneway to remove some old piping.  They left a gouge in the lane which I'd been driving through.

But as the rains came it got enlarged and became quite deep.  There was no gravel to hold the sandy soil and a lot of it washed away.  One night we got 100 mm of rain.

The next day I was trying to get to the bee yard because I had a queen I wanted to put into a queenless hive.
But I got stuck in that big rut.

My sister and her husband came out to try to pull me out.  We did a rope from trailer hitch to trailer hit.  It was actually working... until the rope broke.

So I lost that days work while I waited for a tow truck to get me out.

My sister brought their dog and she had a blast running around the property and digging in the mud and splashing through the large puddles.
Yes, it was a doggy day.
At least one four-legged critter was happy.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Queen Rearing Workshop

On 9 June 2013, a group of enthusiastic beekeepers gathered in Burgessville, Ontario at Oxford Honey & Supplies for the day.

The Ontario Bee Association's Tech Team were doing a workshop on Queen Rearing.
We arrived with our bee gear and then got our manual and handouts.

With the agenda to cover both classroom and  hands-on experience we knew it would be a very interesting and educational day.

We reviewed queen biology drone biology and many of the queen rearing systems.

Then we got to the practical aspects.

Out in the bee yard we inserted frames set up with rows and rows of queen cups so that the bees could build queen cells for the queen to lay eggs in.

Next we practised finding the queen.

On other hives once we found the queen we created four frame nuc hives and put the queen in them.  (Two frames of brood, one frame of pollen and one frame of honey and shook bees into the nuc).

 We also dug down into the deeps' brood area to find eggs and very young larvae (1 to 3 days).

We took the frames back to the workshop where we sat down with magnifying lenses and intense light.

We experimented with four or five different grafting tools trying to lift larvae out of their cells.

It was very difficult to get the tool under a larvae and lift it out and set it into a queen cup, all without touching the actual larvae.

You can't flip the little larvae over either since their spiracles (breathing tubes) are only on one side - because they lie in a pool of royal jelly they can't have breathing tubes on that side.  If you flip them over with breathing tubes down they'd drown in the royal jelly.
Most of us preferred the Chinese made grafting tool.

It had a tiny plastic tip (instead of a goose feather) and it had a plunger which aids to slide the little larvae off the tool and into the cup.
We all really struggled to remove tiny larvae from cells without touching them.

There was 100% agreement that after this experience paying $30.00 for a queen from a queen breeder was a very fair price considering all the work involved.

We created mating nucs using these cute Barbie Doll sized boxes with tiny frames inside.

There was a partition where sugar syrup could be added and a locking entrance to keep the bees in, or to let the bees out but keep the queen in.

We shook frames of nurse bees into plastic tubs.  Next we used one cup measuring cups.  We scooped 2 cups of bees into each mating nuc.

One cup of bees = 140 bees.  (Yes someone at one time actually counted them).

We also practised clipping wings and how to pick up and mark queens (practising with drones).

The course was very worthwhile. I don't plan on rearing queens yet ... well maybe a few for my own hives at some point.

They had draws at the end of the day and many prizes.  I won a Chinese grafting tool.  So no excuses for delaying getting into queen rearing.

I took the course because I wanted to know more about queen rearing. It was a very worthwhile day and well worth the cost.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

In Search of Propolis

It’s that time of year for the bees when the weather is changing.
The little breeze now feels like a cold draft. It chills the brood and take the hard won heat out of the hive. The rains are more frequent and the icy drips of water sluices through every crevice.
If there’s a crack or a hole in the hive, wind and water will find a way in. This sends the bees in a late season scavenger hunt.
They are looking for propolis so they can caulk up the cracks or holes in the hive. They’ll also seal up the inner cover and even sometimes reduce the entrance by creating a curtain of propolis.
Since propolis is gathered mostly in spring the only way to get it at this time of year is to scavenge it from somewhere else.
This is where you can help the bees. Your honey supers which you’ve removed, those boxes will have nice globs of propolis inside them from the summer when the bees glued all those frames in place. You can either scrape some off and lay it out for the bees—trust me they WILL find it—or you can set the empty super out and they can scrape off the propolis themselves.
They will chew it into small pieces that they attach to their back legs to take back to the hive. I have watched them and videoed them doing this on many occasions. The bees worked on the huge lump in the picture until it was gone!
I think that’s why I enjoy setting out a good sized piece for them to harvest. I know they appreciate it.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

How to Prevent Robbing While Extracting Honey

The bees are really good at getting the message around that they're being robbed.

Usually we use smoke to cover up and interfere with that message so that the bees are gentler to deal with.

But when extracting honey you don't want smoke flavoured honey so it's best to avoid using it if you can.

The key here is simple: Divide and conquer--Remove the full supers and set them aside.  Then work to brush bees from each frame of the full super back into the hive.

The separation keeps the scents separated so the robbing message doesn't get spread around so much.

First if you have time use your best beekeeper tool and that's the bee escape board.

With the board in place 24 hours before you will remove a honey super the less bees will be left in the super to deal with.
Next remove all the full honey supers that you plan to take and set them aside. If robbing is bad in your yard take some extra inner covers if you have them and cover the top of each box if it is exposed (I usually stack mine kitty corner and then use just one inner cover on the top).

Note a piece of plastic and some duct tape covers the central hole in the inner cover.

If I'm running short on inner covers I'll even use some of the smaller sized political signs that I have.

Covering the tops even lightly cuts done on the smell of honey and helps stop the robbing.

We actually bring a card table to the bee yard to set the boxes on.  Why put your back out if you don't have to.

Of course as each frame is brushed off you will put it into an empty super and you will absolutely need to have it sealed with some type of bottom and top cover to keep the bees from getting back inside.

I turn inner covers upside down so that the notched entrance is up.

If the honey drips on them they're easily set out later for the bees to lick clean... or to take your finger and enjoy sweeping up some honey yourself. :)

As you work the bees may become more aware of being robbed and that's when smoking over the hive can help to mask their chemical signals.

With the supers all removed you can easily brush the bees into the hive or up into the air.

If your brush gets sticky while working, don't hesitate to pour some water on it to rinse off the honey.

Once done you may have to smoke the bees down to get them out of the way and also use your hive tool to scrape off any burr comb that sticks up--this will prevent the inner cover sitting down flat to seal the hive.  Put the scrapings out in front of the hive and the bees will lick them clean.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Are you Cool?

You don't have to be a beekeeper for very long before you learn how hot it can get wearing the extra clothing to protect yourself.

Some people just don't wear bee suits.  They'll wear a t-shirt and shorts.  One beekeeper I know even wears flip flops.

On many days when working on the hives the bees are so calm I'd be tempted to wear just a t-shirt too.

But not all the time!

I wear a man's long sleeved shirt and jeans.  Sometimes I'll also wear a cotton apron that I got from Home Depot.

I find the bees don't sting through the shirt much, although they could if they tried.

I'll never forget my first experience with bees on the beekeepers' course.  It was spring and windy and the wind kept coming through the veil and making my hair blow into my eyes.  I had the veil tied down and it was a complete pain to be continually brushing hair from my eyes.

The solution?  Wear a bandanna.  It also helps stop the hat from shifting off when my hair is fresh washed and too slippery.

Even with this paired down gear I wear it's still hot when it's 30+ degrees Celsius with a humidex that makes the temperature feel like 40.

My solution for the heat is simple:  Apply water. 

I always have several large water jugs at the yard (water for bees, cooling water and washing water--in case of a formic acid mishap).

First I ALWAYS remember to remove my cell phone from my pocket.

Then I pour water on my hair and I allow it to slosh down my neck to my shirt and shoulders.

Wet hair is great to keep the head cool.  Have no hair?  Use a bandanna.

It keeps sweat out of your eyes too.

I wet my bandanna and then tie it over my hair.  It keeps the strands out of my eyes when working.

Yes my clothing will be damp but not for long.  While it's damp it keeps my body temperature at a tolerable level.  After a couple hours on a really hot day I'll have dried out and will need to re wet myself.

Try it on a hot day and see if it makes a difference.