Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Swarm Season Continues

I got a call from Rob on a Monday afternoon about a swarm that had landed in his tree earlier that day. After confirming that it was honey bees and that they were still there, I headed out to grab them. Rob and his family were eager onlookers and helpers (thanks for the camera work Cameron!). A few pics of the swarm in the tree...

It was a relatively easy capture and went perfectly. My usual swarm-catching helper Jonah was with me but he got distracted by his new friend Nate, a big backyard and a cool swing set! Here's a video.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Rooftop Revival

At the end of last summer we had some work done our roof and I had to move the one remaining rooftop hive elsewhere. I really missed being able to look out of the window every day and watch the bees. But, we are back in business on the roof. It has become my nuc yard where, at the moment, I have 4 nucs growing up. If you have seen old pictures of the roof, you'll notice that we used to have it white-coated. For now it is black, which makes it REALLY hot up there on a sunny day. I'll have it white coated again, but probably not until next year.

Two of the nucs were made from some of my multi-year survivor stock. I let the queens mate locally and they are both laying well. The other two nucs were made with queen cells from Jeff Eckel of Instar Apiaries. Jeff has been raising queens in Philly for the past few years. I got two queen cells from him and installed them in queenless nucs that I had prepared. These queen cells were special - they were from a "Purdue ankle-biter" breeder queen.  These bees have been bred with a special hygienic behavior, they bite the legs of varroa mites off, which kills the mites (click the Purdue link to see pictures of the mites with their itty bitty legs bitten off). Both queens mated despite our wet and cool May and they are both laying strong. Here are a couple of different views of the nuc yard, including into Center City.


Comcast Center and Tower in the distance

Climbing out of the window to get to my rooftop hives is a bit of a pain (actually more of a pain every year!), but having these mini hives out there is relatively manageable because at least I didn't have to haul full size boxes out of the window. I plan on moving these to my other yards when it is time to put them in full size hives (well, maybe I will keep one out there for my viewing pleasure!).

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Swarmus Interruptus

Well, sometimes you get to a swarm removal only to find the bees have already left. And sometimes you get to a swarm and you watch the bees leave! I got a phone call earlier today about a swarm in Center City and after confirming that the bees were still there, I headed over. When I arrived there they were, clinging to a wall. I saw a fair amount of activity but nothing crazy, I figured it was scout bees coming and going. Within about 3 minutes of arriving, it became abundantly clear that it was more than just ordinary scout bee traffic - they were taking off. Here is what it looked like (sorry the Blogspot video quality is so bad, some day I'll transfer to Wordpress!) -

It's always great to see a swarm in flight, but not as great as catching one! Oh well, easy come, easy go! Jonah enjoyed watching it! We watched the bees as they settled in the tall cypress(?) tree. I guess they didn't like their spot on the wall.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Swarm 2016...and away we go for another season!

Hi all, hope you had a great winter! We had a mild one in Philadelphia. I went into winter with 7 hives and 5 of them survived. Now they are all building up as the weather has really warmed up in the past week and there are tons of flowers in bloom.

The other day there was a post on the Philly Bee Keepers Facebook page about a swarm in Northeast Philly. I jumped at the chance to grab it. The car was packed with swarm catchin' gear and I headed up to my old stomping grounds to go capture the swarm. But, I broke one of the cardinal rules of swarm catching - I didn't get last minute confirmation that the swarm was still there (I tried but couldn't get a hold of anyone). Lo and behold, got there and the bees had left already! Damn - no free bees today! Fortunately, I got a call from the same guy the next day and there was another swarm in the same exact place! I had told him they might throw a secondary swarm and if they did to call me. The parent colony is living in the building not 25 feet from where the swarms landed.

So I headed out again, this time with my trusty assistant Jonah and we captured that swarm! And we even saw the queen. Here are some pics and video.

A lovely little swarm!

My assistant saying hi to the girls!

In this video you can see when I found the queen. After removing a small branch, there she was - right in front of my face. I managed to get her on my pruners.

What was that I said about queens being unlikely to fly away???

Fortunately she didn't get away. She went back into the swarm to the safety of her daughters! It is nice to be able to contain the queen, because that really ensures that the swarm won't go anywhere once you set them up in a new hive. Sometimes a swarm will leave a new hive once it is set up and opened. I have had that happen only once. If you keep the queen contained for a day or two while the bees get settled in, it greatly improves the chances that they will stay.

Jonah being very brave

We got all of the bees into the box and sealed them up. All in all it was a very easy swarm capture and the bees were super gentle. It was great to have Jonah there helping, he was into it. According to the guy who called me, the bees have been living there at least 4 years, so it seems like they will be good genetic stock. We'll see how they do!

Girls are all sealed up ready to go home

Update - Here they are settling in to their new home at Woodford Mansion...

And one final update - I checked on them one week after installing them at Woodford. Saw the queen and she is laying eggs nicely. So far so, good...

Monday, April 20, 2015

A New Season Bee-gins

Wow, it's been almost a year since I last wrote. Life is busy and between the family, running a business, writing a book and of course, tending the bees, there isn't much time for me to keep this blog updated. Anyway, another winter is in the books and it was not a kind one! Sustained cold temps  were very hard on the bees (and the people!). We didn't get a ton of snow here in Philly, but it was below freezing for much of the winter and the bees didn't have many chances to come out and relieve themselves. Bottom line for me was that I went into winter with 7 hives and only 3 survived. Not very good odds. One hive disappeared, gone without a trace. The other deceased hives died from a combination of varroa problems, small populations and some nosema.

One of the hives that survived this past winter and looks amazing right now is a swarm that was given to me last May. A beekeeper friend called me one day (thanks Stuart A.) and asked if I wanted to capture a swarm. I said "Of course, I'll be there ASAP." By the time I had mobilized myself, he called back and asked me if I wanted him to bring the bees to me. "Uh, yes please!" He showed up at my door with a box 'o bees. One swarm delivered, no extra charge!

This hive is now known affectionately known as "WB Mason"

I moved the bees into my handy dandy Bushkill bee vac setup so that I could easily leave them confined in there for a day or two. This confinement decreases the likelihood that they will swarm again and it also allows the queen to start laying eggs immediately in the empty comb I provided.

Dumping bees into bee vac box

Sealed up and ready for transport

I installed this hive at my Francisville apiary and they made it through winter in great shape. The queen is now laying strong, they have plenty of honey and already have begun to store fresh nectar.

I once again broke my resolution not to buy any bees this season and I purchased a package from Sam Comfort of Anarchy Apiaries. Sam is a great guy and a great beekeeper, known for his singing and for his natural approach to keeping bees by getting out of the way and letting them do what they do best, be bees! Sam stopped in Philly during his wanderings and brought some packages for me and another beekeeper. I met him in a parking lot and there he was standing at the back of his little hatchback Honda with about 15 bees buzzing around his head. In a lovable and most admirable way, Sam reminds me a bit of Pigpen from the Peanuts, but instead of being trailed by a cloud of dirt and dust, Sam's constantly surrounded by a cloud of bees! Last year's bees from Sam didn't make it, they were the hive that totally disappeared without a trace some time between October and February. But I will try again and see how it goes. Below is a video of installing the bees at my Woodford Mansion apiary (video by my 6 year-old son and assistant, Jonah). Nothing too exciting in this video, although for me, it reminds me of how much anxiety I used to feel when installing a package of bees like this, but these days, it ain't no big deal at all.

That's the latest and greatest from Philly. See you soon and may the Force Bee with you!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Winter Recap and SWARM!

Well, it's been almost a year since I wrote, wow! I wrote lots of posts in my head, but they never quite made it to the screen! 2013 was a good year for the bees, until winter hit! I went into winter with 9 hives, most of them looking pretty strong. We had a brutal winter, with lots of snow (3rd snowiest ever I believe) and sustained cold temperatures. It was really hard on the bees (and on most people I know!) and I ended up losing 6/9 hives! One hive just up and left in the fall, a couple of others had a population crash and were too small to survive the cold. One hive died in late winter/early spring due to a cold snap that lasted almost a week. The Birthday Swarm hive didn't survive, but the Oscar the Grouch hive did! All-in-all it wasn't quite as disheartening as last winter's mouse debacle, but still pretty upsetting. The silver lining was that all of those dead hives left me LOTS of honey!

I had resolved not to  purchase any bees in 2014 and I was doing alright until I learned that Sam Comfort of Anarchy Apiaries was bringing a load of his bees to Philly. I have always wanted some of Sam's bees but had never made the drive to his place in the Hudson Valley to pick some up. But now that he was bringing bees to us, well, I decided to buy one little ol' package of bees. This brought my total going into this spring to 4 hives. I had also resolved to consolidate my apiaries because having 5 sites was too much for me. So, I am no longer keeping bees at The Spring Gardens or at Strawberry Mansion. Now I have one hive at my house, 2 at Field Street and 2 at Woodford Mansion.

That brings us to the first swarm of 2014. I got a call at 5pm on May 12th about a swarm in South Philadelphia (thanks to Lynn for calling!). I loaded up the V-dub and arrived to see this -

Swarm hanging out, nice and low!

This was a pretty large swarm. The bees were super calm and content just hanging out there. They had just arrived a few hours earlier. I had a big crowd of people watching me, cause hey, it's not every night that you see such a crazy sight on the streets of South Philly! One guy Robert, took a bunch of video (thanks Robert). Here I am shaking the bees into my swarm catching box -

Get in the box already girls!!

And one other video from Robert - this is after closing everything up and then discovering a large bunch of stragglers clinging to the underside of my swarm box that I needed to get inside the box; you'll see me dumping them in. As I mentioned before, this was a large swarm -

I got 99% of the bees into the box and drove them home (no, they didn't get out this time!). They spent the night in the swarm box in my yard and in the morning I took them to my Woodford Mansion apiary and set them up.

All sealed up, ready for placement

Removed bottom of swarm box and placed on hive stand

Top of swarm box is off

Getting comfy in the new digs

Sittin' on the stoop, just like in Southie!

So there you have it - a recap and a new start. Looking forward to a great year in 2014 - I'm actually happy to have fewer hives to manage, it feels more relaxed to me and I can take my sweet old time with the bees.

Friday, June 7, 2013

"I Love Trash..."

I think that most of us probably remember this...

Well, this past week I met some bees who also love trash. Got a call from a woman who had been away for 2 weeks and returned home to find some bees living in her trash can. This is what I found when I arrived...

Bees attached comb to trash can lid

Well, I'll be! I guess the bees don't care too much about where they make their home! You can see the trash bag in the can, the can was practically full of trash and the bees had very little space. But that didn't stop them from settling in. Makes me laugh when I think about how people will argue over which kind of bee hive is best for the bees - Langstroth hive, Top Bar hive, Warre hive, Golden Mean hive - well, I think I'm gonna start marketing the "Rubbermaid Trash Can Hive" (comes with trash)!
I decided that instead of doing the removal in this little courtyard, I would take the entire trash can lid, comb and all, and bring it to one of my apiaries so that I could relax and take my time and set the hive up immediately. Here's how I transported the lid (what else would I use in this case, but a trash bag)...

The second part of the video shows me placing a nuc on top of the trash can in order to collect all of the foragers that were out working when I relocated their home. I went back the following night and collected the nuc. It worked beautifully.

I brought the bees to my apiary in Francisville where I had an empty hive looking for some new bees. I turned the lid upside down and started to gently remove the fragile comb.

Most of the comb removed

My work station, on top of an empty top bar hive

Placing comb in the hive

My queen luck has been very good lately and that trend continued. I was able to find and cage the queen in this hair clip style queen cage. There are a few workers in with her. Caging the queen helps to ensure that the bees won't up and leave their new home. I will leave her in the cage for a day or two and then let her out so she can get to work.

Queen at the bottom, the one with long slender abdomen

Queen cage is under that mass of bees

Here I moved the queen cage down in between the frames

So that was basically it. I closed up the bees and left them alone. That was the quickest and easiest removal job I have ever done! I'm lovin' it!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

First Swarm of the Year, North Philly

I got an early birthday gift (the day before my bday) from the Queen Bee Goddess. She sent me a beautiful swarm. Thanks to Alison for reaching out to the Philadelphia Beekeepers Guild about the swarm in her yard (and for taking video). And thanks to Russ for helping me catch the swarm. I was able to find and cage the queen, which helped make the swarm capture very easy because the workers all followed the scent of the queen whom was placed in the swarm box. After catching the swarm I took it home and set it up on the roof. Have a look...

UPDATE: I released the queen today (May 20th) and the worker bees quickly proceeded to kill her! I believe that she was the old queen and she was probably well past her prime. I was able to find another queen in the hive and she appeared to be younger and maybe even a virgin. I will give them a few weeks and check for signs of a laying queen. It is not that unusual for a swarm to have more than one queen, like an insurance policy until they get settled into a new home.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

My 15 Minutes of Fame

Last month I was interviewed and photographed by the awesome folks at Grid Magazine. Well, here's the fruits of their (and my) labor. Click the picture below to enlarge it. And check out the rest of the magazine while you're lookin'. If it doesn't open directly on the page, navigate to page 14 to see the article.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

"Oh Doom and Disaster, What Absence of Mind!"

The title of this post is taken from a favorite children's book that we read in our house, Schnitzel Von Krumm - Forget Me Not and it succinctly sums up how I felt when I discovered the disaster in my bee yards this winter.  In the story, a family is packing their car to go on vacation while their little weiner dog, Schnitzel Von Krumm, excitedly runs around getting in the way of everything as they continually shoo him out of the way, too busy to mind him. Turns out that the family is so busy getting ready to leave that when they actually do leave, they forget to bring the dog with them. The following is the story of how I was so busy that I forgot some very basic beekeeping rules. I have been putting off writing this post because it still hurts when I think about what happened this winter with some of my bees; something that could have been prevented with a little less "Absence of Mind". If you are a beekeeper, please learn from my mistake! Well, here goes nothing...

On one of the warmish days in late February, I took the opportunity to make a quick check on my hives. I went to Woodford House first to check on the Honda swarm hive and the Conshy swarm hive. I pulled up and saw that the Conshy hive was flying but the Honda hive was not, which was a little strange because Honda had been the stronger hive and was heading into its 3rd summer. As I inspected the Honda hive, I didn't see any bees until I got to the 2nd to last box and I came upon a small cluster of dead bees. Hmm, OK, not the first hive of bees to have died under my watch, let's take it apart and see what happened this time. I go into the bottom box and I see an absolute mess. I see the rest of the cluster of dead bees, many of them decapitated. And I see comb that has been destroyed and chewed up, small wax flakes all over the place.

I'm thinking, what the hell could have done this? I have never seen this kind of destruction in a hive. Takes me a minute to realize the answer - Ohhh, I know, this must be what mouse damage looks like! Upon closer inspection, the tell-tale sign of mouse poop confirms my suspicion. I look down at the entrance to the hive and the entrance reducer, the little piece of wood that limits the size of the entrance, is not set on the smallest setting, which is what I usually do heading into winter to keep the mice out. A big mistake! Do I know for sure that the mouse was the reason this hive died? No, and it is even possible that the bees were already dead when the mouse moved in. But in this case I am going to assume that the mouse was at least part of the problem, if not all of the problem. There was plenty of honey in the hive, so that wasn't an issue. If a mouse takes up residence in a hive when the weather is still pretty cold, the bees won't break their cluster to try to drive the mouse out or kill it. So as long as the mouse stays away from the cluster of bees, it can have its way in the rest of the hive. DAMN, very stupid mistake!

I took a box of honey from this dead hive and put it on top of the hive next door, which was doing just fine (no mouse problem because the entrance was reduced to the smallest possible size - about the width of a few bees). So the tiny silver lining is that I have plenty of honey to donate to the remaining bees and maybe even enough for a small spring harvest. Here are some pictures...

Dead cluster of bees around the middle frame

Damaged frames, comb is chewed out

Top frame has wood damage in bottom left corner. Bottom frame has no comb left at all.

Bottom Board full of debris, dead bees and wax

Still kicking and cursing myself, I left Woodford and figured I should go check on my other Francisville hives just to take a quick look. Both of the hives in Francisville have been strong and healthy for the past few years. One of them was from a Wolf Creek Apiaries package and the other was from the removal job at Oakland Cemetery.

When I get to the apiary, I don't see any bees flying - not a good sign. I quickly open up one hive, taking off box by box and I am not finding a single bee inside the hive! Nothing, nada, zilch, zip, totally empty! As I get to the bottom two boxes, I see the same type of mouse damage I saw at Woodford, double DAMN! Now I am really upset. I move over to the next hive and repeat the same woeful experience - zero bees to be found, mouse damage for a third time! I am beside myself. My guess is that the mouse moved in and was somehow disturbing the bees so much that they said "We're outta here" and they just up and left, in the middle of winter, leaving behind pounds and pounds of honey!

Oh doom and disaster! A perfectly preventable disaster, assuming the mice were the cause. This was my worst day of beekeeping since I started this whole endeavor. The thought occurs to me that I am going to quit this beekeeping thing and the thought stays with me until I get home and pick up the phone to order some new bees for the summer. Is that a sure indicator that I am a full-fledged bee junkie? Wait, don't answer that...