Sunday, September 20, 2009

Bye Bye Boys...Hellooooo Honey!

Well, it has been quite a while since I last wrote. Summer has been busy, not just for the bees but for me and my family too. I have been in the hives many times since my last blog entry and overall things are going well. The rooftop hive continues to look very strong - they have put away a full super of honey (pictures later) and the population seems large. They are still bringing in tons of pollen, which most likely means they are bringing in lots of nectar too, so they are still making honey. The late summer weather has been much more cooperative then the early summer, so this means a better nectar flow.

The garden hive is still a little behind but they are trying hard to catch up. I just added a 4th super on this hive (the rooftop hive has had 4 boxes for a while now). I also fed this hive some honey to give them a little extra boost - they gobbled up 3 pounds of honey in a few days (actually, they most likely just moved the honey I fed them into the hive's honeycomb for storage). I also took a full frame of honey from the rooftop hive and gave it to the garden hive. In the words of the outspoken, queen guru of small-cell, zero treatment beekeeping, Dee Lusby, this is the Robin Hood style of beekeeping - steal from the rich (strong) and give to the poor (weak). Hopefully we will continue to have nice mild fall weather so that the bees will have plenty more time to work. This is what a frame full of capped honey looks like (notice there are some uncapped cells on the sides) - it weighs about 3 pounds -



At this time of year, one of the interesting things that happens with the hives is the "expulsion of the drones". In preparation for cold weather and a smaller winter population, the worker bees get rid of most, if not all of the drones. Those poor boys get dragged, bitten and stung as the workers kick them out of the hive. The "hive-mind" views the drones as a drain on resources and as little help in maintaining the hive. The ground in front of the hive is littered with drones - some dead, some half-dead and some wandering around aimlessly. They will not be allowed to re-enter the hive should they try. I did at one point get to see one of the drones being dragged out - there were 3 workers herding and corralling the drone out the front door! The workers will also chew out and expel any drone brood that are growing in the comb. Don't mess with these girls!

A few other fun, bee-related things have happened in the past month. We went to visit our friends and one of my bee mentors, Vicco von Voss, at their farm on the Eastern shore of Maryland. While we were there, I helped Vicco check on his hives - he has five or six, most of which were swarms that he captured this year. Here are some pics of us at work -






Here we have taken comb from one of the cut-outs that Vicco did and rubber-banded it into a frame - the bees will fill in all of the gaps, attach the comb to the frame and chew up and discard the rubber band.



Love the satellite dish coming out of my head - really looking like a space cadet!



And finally, a very shaky video (Teresa was holding Jonah & trying to take video!)

video


And one other exciting development is the founding of the Philadelphia area beekeepers club. We had the inaugural meeting at the historic Wyck House in the Germantown neighborhood of Philadelphia. This effort is being led by Germantown brothers Joel and Jeff Eckel - who were recently part of a great article on hobbyist beekeeping in the Philadelphia Inquirer. Until now, Philly didn't have its own beekeeping club. This is why I have been hauling out to the Montgomery county beekeeping association for the beekeeping classes - but that is a good 45 minute drive - pain in the ass! There was a great turnout for the first meeting - about 25 people attended. I am excited to share with the group all that I have learned about small-cell, zero treatment beekeeping and I think that they will be quite receptive to hearing about these methods. Viva la small cell revolution!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Hot and Bothered

We've had some real classic, hot and humid Philly summer days in the past two weeks - can you say muggy? I was checking on the bees on one of these 90+ degree days and I was pretty amazed at what I saw - this was the busiest I have ever seen the hive. Tons of bees were flying around the hive or gathering near the entrances. They were probably just trying to stay cool. Here is some video...

video

Then as I sat and watched the activity, I saw a yellow jacket flying around the area checking out the hive. The yellow jacket was trying to get into the hive but the bees wouldn't let him (her?) in. Instead, the yellow jacket was hanging out in front of the hive harassing a honeybee drone and a worker bee. The drone is the thick, fat bee hopping and flopping around. The yellow jacket is the long skinny black and yellow one with long wings. I got some good footage - it's not quite Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom, not quite a cheetah taking down an antelope - but still kind of cool. By the way, a yellow jacket is a type of wasp - not a bee. What many people think are bee stings are actually yellow jacket stings.


video


This is a yellow jacket - looks pretty different than the honeybees when you actually look closely -


copyright 2008 Tom Murray

I didn't open the hive this time so I am not sure what is going on inside. I will open the hive some time this weekend to see what's happening. Maybe there will be some honey to take!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Summertime

Finally our wet cool spring gave way to some beautiful, sunny, warm summer days. I have been in both hives a few times since I last wrote. For the most part, things are looking good - the rooftop hive is going really well. I just added the 4th medium super so the colony has grown nicely. I may be able to steal a frame or two of honey from them depending on how the rest of the summer goes - but I am not expecting much. The population of the hive has grown nicely.

Here is a look at a typical afternoon in front of the rooftop hive. A lot of the bees flying around the entrance are doing "orientation flights". These are bees that are just beginning to leave the hive to go forage - so they leave the hive and fly in circles around it to orient themselves to the hive's location. They orient to the sun and all of the structures around the hive.

video



The garden hive is going along slowly. The queen was released by the workers within 3-4 days of putting her in. I had to go in and retrieve the empty queen cage before the bees built comb all around it. About two weeks after releasing the queen, I put on a second medium super - it may have been a little early still but we'll see how it goes. I was at this hive today hoping to put on a 3rd super, but they are not ready for it. If you give them too much room, it is harder for them to manage the internal climate of the hive. This hive's late start could make things interesting later in the summer - I am not sure they will be strong enough to get through the winter. We shall see...

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Bees in My Britches

Queen bee survived the night in her cage and then I installed her in the hive at The Spring Gardens yesterday. All in all things went smoothly with a couple of small bumps on the way. Following the instructions of the bee supplier, the first order of business was to find and then destroy any queen cells that these workers had made in an effort to make themselves a new queen. When I installed the bees in this hive - 5 days prior - there weren't any queen cells at all, so it would be interesting to see how many there were - if any.

I had to go though each frame and look closely - if I missed any queen cells, there is a good chance that the bees would kill the queen that I was about to re-introduce to them. I could have just let the bees raise their own, new queen, but the hive would have lost a lot of population and time in that process. Well, there were plenty of queen cells - the bees had been busy. I found at least a dozen.

Here are some examples of what a queen cell looks like - the big droopy cell in the middle is a capped queen cell (just a reminder - ya gotta enlarge these shots - click on them - very cool!) -



A few more queen cells - there are 3 in this photo -




The one here is an uncapped queen cell - it is not as far along in its development as the capped cells. Look closely in the cup and you can see the larvae in the cell - when it gets to a certain stage of development, the bees will cap the cell and the queen will start to change into a pupa -



Exploded view - after I opened the queen cell. The white liquid surrounding the larvae is "bee milk". Also in this photo, you can see worker larvae (towards the bottom right corner) and directly above that, the little pea-shaped capped cell is a drone brood cell (drones are much bigger than workers, so their cells are bigger too) -



One more view (this was one of the most developed queen larvae) -


The bees were very calm in general - which is pretty amazing given what I was doing to their hive. I was in the hive for a good 20 minutes. There were a lot of bees flying around me because I had to brush them off the frames in order to find all of the queen cells.

So, I'm going about my business when, at one point I felt a tickling sensation on my chest - I thought, hmm kinda feels like a bee in there (I was wearing 2 long sleeved shirts and my veil). I remember thinking to myself "Stay calm" and somehow I did. I walked a few feet from the hive and pulled my shirt up - there she was, a bee crawling around on my hairy chest! That kind of got my adrenaline up a little!! But, not as high as it would go a few minutes later...

After shooing the bee out of my shirt, I went back to work. About 5 minutes later, I felt another tickling - this time, on my upper thigh - way too close to my crotch!! I thought I was just beeing paranoid after the first incident - but I was not about to take my chances on this one. So once again, I stepped away from the hive, dropped trou, and lo and behold - there was a bee crawling around on my skivvies!! Yikes!! I quickly flicked her off, checked for friends, then closed up my pants!! Now my heart was pumping pretty good! I didn't really believe it when I heard that bees like to crawl up pants - but now, call me a Believer!

Somehow I managed to finish what I needed to do - which was to destroy the queen cells and then install the new queen cage. The bees in the hive will release the queen over the course of a few days by eating the candy filling and opening a hole in the queen cage. Amazingly, I got no stings (praise the lord!). I got in my car, pushed in the clutch and my leg was shaking from being so amped up!!

But, really, I am having fun!!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Queen Update

As I was finishing writing my last post, Teresa called me to tell me that the queen bee had arrived and was in our mailbox. I made Teresa open the sealed cardboard box that the queen was in - Teresa loved that! The queen is packed in a queen cage with some "attendants" - 4 out of 6 of these bees were dead - but the queen was fine. I got home too late to install her into the hive, but I will do it first thing tomorrow morning - hopefully she survives the night.

Here she is in her little cage (the pile at the bottom is dead bees - the white stuff at the top is "candy" for food during transport - when I install her in the hive, the bees in the hive will eat through this candy to open a hole which will help release the queen from this cage)...



Tough to get good shots of her in this cage, but here you can see her elongated, pointy abdomen -


That's her on the left...



Hopefully she makes it through the night. Then tomorrow I will reunite her with her hive.

The Waiting...Parts 2 and 3

The second delivery of bees finally arrived on Saturday June 13th. After a few last minute preparations, I loaded the car with everything and called my helper/documentarian David (see pic below). We went over to The Spring Gardens to get the bees set-up in their new home.


This is what the "nuc" (short for nucleus hive) looked like when it arrived.



Prying it open - you can see there are 5 frames inside - a few frames of honey and a few of brood.



Here they are all tucked in to the new hive...


After examining each frame twice and looking for the queen, we were unsuccessful in finding her. I just assumed she was in there and I couldn't find her, but...

Immediately after returning home, I see an email message from the bee supplier -

"John is not sure whether or not he put a queen in your nuc. So I have sent one to you priority mail this morning. You should have her Mon or Tues. Please let me know how the bees look upon arrival and if you have a queen. The one we sent is yours."

OOOOPPPS!!!

When I was looking for the queen, I assumed she was roaming free with the other bees. But, in order to protect her during shipment, they typically put her in one of the little queen cages (like they do for package bees) - and there definitely was not one in the nuc. So they did forget to pack her!

So now, more waiting - for the queen to arrive! The bees will be OK without a queen for a little while - but they will begin the process of making a new queen. This means that when the original queen does come, I will have to seek out and destroy any "queen cells" that the bees have made on the comb - otherwise, they will kill the original queen when I re-introduce her.

Anyway, the hive sits on top of an 8 foot high steel shipping container and it is surrounded by a grove of bamboo. A very cool setting and out of the way of the main garden. My only concern is that the spot will be too cool temperature-wise for the bees, we shall see.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Hive is Growing

I have done a few quick inspections to see how things are progressing in the hive. And things seem to be going well. Progress is a little slower than I expected, but it is probably more about my impatience than anything else. It is hard to resist the temptation to open the hive every day - but it's really not a good idea to bug them that much.

That being said, I did need to check to see how the bees were coming along in drawing out the honeycomb. The rule of thumb is, when the first box is 80% full of drawn comb, it is time to add another super/box to the hive so that they can continue to grow.

So I opened up the hive and saw that they had almost drawn out 8 full frames of comb - close enough to add a new super. I looked for the queen but was unable to find her this time, though I saw evidence (lots of larvae) that she was doing her job. When putting on a new super, some beekeepers recommend taking two frames of brood from the original box, and moving it up to the new box in order to entice the queen to start laying eggs in the new super. So this is what I did - took two frames full of brood and put them in the new super, then replaced the brood frames that I took from the original super with two new empty frames for the bees to work on.

The bees were very mellow during this inspection, they didn't bother me at all. No stings. Here's some video - complete with family narration and participation!

video

A week or so later, I wanted to check the hive again because, well, for no good reason other than I just had to see what was going on. The bees had other ideas! As soon as I opened the hive, I was dive-bombed by a kamikaze worker bee. She stung me on my forearm! After dealing with the sting, I had a chance to take a quick look to see how they were doing in the new super. They were drawing out comb nicely - here is a cool shot of them working on new comb - this is called "festooning" (what a great word!) - they cling together and make a ladder of sorts as they excrete wax from their wax glands.


Here is a close-up view...



But overall, the ladies were very cranky and they were buzzing all around my head and veil. As I was looking at one of the frames, lo and behold, the queen walks right in front of my eyes. I wasn't even looking for her but there she was. This might explain why the bees were cranky and defensive, because the queen was right there where I was looking. It also could have been because, once a bee stings someone (or something) pheromones are released that alert the other bees that there is trouble nearby. So having just been sting, the alarm had been sounded.

After spotting the queen, I just closed up the hive, deciding that it was better just to leave them alone that day. Besides, there was no good reason for me to tear apart their home any more than I already had.

Update on second hive...
I have had a really tough time getting in touch with the people who I ordered my nuc from - they had not returned any of my emails. I finally heard from them this week - they said that they should be shipping the nuc later this week - but I have heard that before from them, so I'm not too confident. We'll see - the plan is still to keep them at the community garden.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Her Majesty is in The House

Last weekend I did my first real hive inspection. This involves actually taking frames out of the hive to see what the girls have been up to. When you go in and essentially pull apart their home, the bees can get upset, so you want to go in with a clear plan and idea of what you are looking for in order to minimize disruption to the bees. The main thing I was looking for was evidence that the queen was doing her job - laying eggs. And not only did I see the evidence, but I had a fairly easy time finding the queen herself and I got to watch her for a bit. Very cool!

Besides seeing the queen, there was a lot to look at. The bees had drawn 5 frames of beautiful honey-comb. And in that comb, they had put honey, pollen and brood. I only have a few fuzzy pictures because I was trying to hold the frame and take a picture at the same time - not that easy - but you can still see the bees and some of the comb.





There was brood in all different stages of development and you can tell this just by looking. A brief recap of insect life-cycles - first the egg is laid (bee eggs are tiny and though you can see them if you look close enough, I didn't take the time to do this), then the larval stage - with bees, the larvae are "uncapped" - that means they are in one of the cells of the comb and the cell is open - you can see the little larvae hanging out in the cell. This allows the nurse bees to feed and care for the larvae. The cells are sealed (or "capped") for the next stage, the pupal stage. Then the bee makes a cocoon and finally emerges as an adult. For worker bees, this all happens in 21 days, for drones, 24 days.

http://animals.howstuffworks.com/insects/bee4.htm

So now I am waiting for the second colony of bees to come. They should be coming next week. It looks like the plan to put them in the community garden is a go. Hopefully I can find someone to help me document the second installation with pics and video.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

One week old and plans for hive #2

Well, the girls (and a few boys too) seem to be doing great. They have gone through about 5 lbs of honey already, so they are eating well. Hopefully I won't have to feed them much more, but we'll see what happens with the weather. They have definitely started to make honey comb, but I haven't really gotten into the hive yet to see how much. I was watching them earlier today, which was a cool cloudy day, and they were bringing in tons of pollen. You could see some of the bees struggling to land and enter the hive because they were carrying such heavy loads. The colors of the pollen ranged from "curry yellow" to maroon to silvery yellow to bright orange. Here are some gratuitous pollen shots...


(BTW - if you haven't already figured it out, you can click individual pics for an enlarged image - which is especially cool with these shots)


If you look on the left-hand side of this picture, you can see a little sliver of comb down between the frames, that the girls have drawn out -



And this picture shows the difference in size between a drone and a worker. The guy hanging upside down towards the left side of the hive is a drone, all of the others are workers. The drones are almost twice as big,



Here is an interesting article that I came across that gives you a sense of how honeybees know their roles in the hive community, how they communicate and also how they locate flowers for nectar and pollen - pretty amazing for a little insect -

http://judson.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/04/28/guest-column-lets-hear-it-for-the-bees/

The second colony should be coming in two weeks or so (this is the one that will come as a "nuc" - a mini-hive, as opposed to the "package"). A few months ago, I had the idea to see if I could keep one of the hives at our local community garden. The Spring Gardens is a huge, beautiful, well-established, 15 year-old community garden that is just a few blocks from our house - http://www.thespringgardens.org I contacted the garden and after some back and forth, I went to the garden today to meet with them and it looks like we are going to give it a try. They have a huge shipping container (approximately 10'x10'x20') that they use as a storage shed, which is surrounded by a big grove of bamboo. They suggested that I keep the bees on top of the shed in order to keep them out of the way. I am a little concerned that it might be too shady up there, but over the next few weeks, they will take a closer look at how much sun the roof of the shed actually gets. So that's an exciting possibility. It would give the bees a great source of food and also help pollinate the garden. I also just like the idea of connecting with the garden. If it works out well this year and all of the gardener's get more comfortable with the idea of having bees, I would love do some educational stuff with the hives or maybe keep a hive in the garden proper so that people could watch the bees.

I'll leave you with a little movie - turn up the volume and you can hear the buzzzzzzzzzz... (I was literally one foot away from the hive and not one bee even noticed me, they were too busy)


video

Friday, April 24, 2009

Finally...

...the bees have arrived!! They were supposed to arrive Wednesday - which would have been great because I work near home on Wednesdays - but alas, I got a call from the post office to tell me they didn't arrive on Wednesday!! So Thursday afternoon I get the call from Fred - post office manager - telling me that "Your bees has arrived". Problem was, Thursdays I work 40 minutes from home and I wasn't finished until 7:00. So I called my neighbors, the Champagnes, and they came to the rescue - they went and picked up the bees (thanks guys!!). So I didn't get to see the looks on the postal worker's faces, but I was told that on the walk home from the post office, there were many questions from the neighbors about what David was carrying!

This is what a 3 pound package of bees looks like. They are all hanging onto each other around the feeder can (which you can't even see). The queen is in the middle of it all in her own little cage.

So anyway, I have to race home from work to try to get home before it's dark out so I can install the bees in their new home. I get home at 7:40 and still have a few things to do to prepare (hey, I was never a boy scout, what can I say). The light is fading fast and I am scrambling around. I could have left the bees in the cage for the night but since they had an extra day of travel, I really wanted to get them in the hive. There were a few hundred dead bees on the bottom of the cage, but that's pretty typical. It had gotten dark out so we needed to bring a lamp out onto the roof - wonder if any of the neighbors were watching!

It is pretty amazing to hear the package of bees buzzing and humming - as I carried them up to the 3rd floor of the house, the volume of the buzz would rise and fall - but 10,000 bees buzzing in unison is pretty loud. I think Jolie liked it too...

video
I bring the bees up to the roof to and I'm ready to go. So I popped the lid off of the cage and removed the can of sugar water (their travel rations). When the cage was opened, a few bees starting flying around, but 99% of them stayed in the cage. The queen comes in her own small cage which is suspended in the middle of the larger cage. When the bee suppliers prepare the packages, they take bees from many different hives - so the workers and drones don't really know the queen. If the queen were just dumped in from the start with strange bees, there is a good chance they would treat her as an invader and kill her. So, the queen cage allows the workers to get to know the queen and her pheromone so that they can accept the queen as their own.

I had already set up the hive and now I just had to dump the bees in. (This picture is actually after I had already dumped them in.)

The bees are all kind of clinging to the top of the cage and to each other - they hold onto each other and form a kind of daisy-chain - it almost looks like a net. A sharp rap of the cage on the ground (or roof in this case) makes all the bees fall to the bottom - and then I just turned the package over and literally shook the bees into the hive. It took a couple more sets of rap-flip-shake to get most of the bees into the hive. At this point there are many more bees flying around - but they are incredibly docile. And somehow, I felt totally calm - I was surprised myself. I had no idea how I would feel - if I would be scared or nervous - but for the most part, I was calm. I didn't wear a veil or gloves or anything other than the clothes I had been wearing all day.

Like everything in beekeeping, there are several different ways to release the queen from her cage. One end of the queen's cage is plugged with fondant/candy. A typical way to release the queen is to suspend her little cage between the frames in the hive and let the worker bees eat through the candy to release her - this usually takes a few days and gives all of the bees time to get acquainted with the queen so that when she finally gets out of her cage, everything is hunky-dory. One disadvantage to this is that you lose 3-4 days of the queen beginning her work of raising brood. Another disadvantage is that you have to open the hive/frames to check if the queen has been released and retrieve the empty cage and this is very disruptive to the hive. So, another way to release the queen is to pop open her cage and dump her into the hive with the rest of the bees - the so-called "direct release" method. The major risk here is that the other bees may kill the queen. Also there is a chance the queen could just up and fly away when you release her this way. The major advantage is that the queen is immediately able to settle into her new home and get to work laying eggs.

Because my bees had a few days on the road to get to know the queen, I opted for the direct release method. I pried open her little cage and dumped her in. In reality, I can't say 100% that she is in the hive at this moment - besides the fact that it was getting dark out, she could have just taken off and said "I'm outta here". But I feel pretty good about it. I will know for sure when I open the hive for an inspection in a few weeks to check on what's happening - if there are eggs in the hive, you know that the queen is in there and doing her job. It is really discouraged to poke around in the hive a lot, especially in the first few weeks of a new hive setting up their home. It is hard to resist the temptation!!

Next I had to figure out the feeding situation. Until the hive gets more established, the weather gets consistently warmer and the nectar really starts to flow, they need a little help with food. Typically people use sugar water or honey to feed the bees. I opted for honey. I was using a method of feeding that involves filling a ziploc baggie with honey and laying it on top of the frames in the hive. You cut a few small slits in the bag, and the bees are able to get to the honey without it leaking all over the place (note to self - this only works if you have a ziploc that actually closes tightly!) So I am tearing through our kitchen trying to find a freakin' gallon ziploc that doesn't leak - yeah, the treehugger that I am, we wash and re-use our ziplocs and we didn't have one new bag in the whole house (I thought we did but I never actually checked!). So I finally found one that would hold water - or so I thought. I filled it with about 4 cups of honey and a little water to thin it out. I even turned it upside down just to check for leakage - all good. So I laid it on the top of the frames and made a few 3 inch slits with a razor and covered up the hive.



At this point I am just kind of hanging out and watching the bees. There are a decent number of bees flying around - some of them bumping into me or landing on me. But again, I was pretty calm. I felt a few bees on the back of my neck - hanging out on the fuzzy hair on the back of my neck. It didn't really phase me until I felt a little pinch. I honestly didn't realize I had been stung for a good five seconds - it barely hurt at all (not as bad as some acupuncture needles I've inserted!). I did get a little freaked and I went inside for a second to make sure the stinger was out - I had Teresa scrape it out. If you ever get stung by a honeybee, first thing you should do is get the stinger out - because as it sits in your skin, it pumps more venom into you. It stung a little bit, but really not bad (today it is just itchy like a mosquito bite). I went back outside to finish cleaning up. No biggie.

I woke up early this morning to check on the girls. When I looked outside - I saw a total mess! A river of honey was flowing from the bottom of the hive down to the gutter. Bees were drowning and getting covered in the sticky sweet liquid. I guess if you're a bee, there are worse ways to go - I think it's equivalent to us drowning in a vat of ice cream or maybe beer if that's your thing! My ziploc was unlocked!! This is definitely not how it is supposed to happen! After cleaning up as best I could, I just spent some time watching the bees settling into their new home. I think they'll be OK.

To be continued...

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Waiting Is the Hardest Part...

I was supposed to get my bees this coming week but due to bad weather down south, the shipment has been delayed. Bummer - but this is part of the deal. When the weather is nasty you can't really handle the bees and open the hives, so the bee supply companies have to wait for better weather before they can package and ship the bees. There has also been some flooding down south where my bees are coming from. This might not have been as much of a problem if I had found a local source of bees but I was unable to because I started looking too late and everyone was sold out. Anyway, hopefully the bees won't be more than a week or so later than expected.

In reality, the delay is probably good for me because I am not really ready for the bees yet. So I will have some extra time to prepare. I had to buy some extra hive components because what Vicco gave me will not be enough for two complete hives. Typically, the standard configuration for a hive is two "Deeps" (these are the biggest boxes) for brood production and then as many "Mediums" or "Shallows" as you need on top of the deeps for honey production. The boxes used for honey production are called "Supers" (because they are placed on top of the brood boxes). One issue with this set-up is that you are left with at least two different sizes of equipment - you will need deep frames and foundation for the deeps, and medium or shallow frames and foundation for the honey supers. So all of your equipment is not interchangeable. This is not to mention the issue of weight - a Deep that is full of honey weighs over 90 pounds, while a Medium full of honey weighs 60 pounds (still not lightweight, but better than 90 pounds). With all of this said, there is a growing trend towards using all of the same sized boxes.

So in the interest of keeping thing simple, my plan is to use all medium supers. I will start one hive with all medium supers (the package bees) and the other hive I will initially use two deeps and the rest mediums (the bees in the nuc will come on deep frames, so I will need to put them in deeps). Eventually, I will phase out the deeps (not sure how to do this yet, but...). I needed to buy some extra medium supers and frames and here is what I got -




Divvied up into bags - the pieces for the frames are in the bags - tops, bottoms and sides -



Here is my workspace down in the dungeon -



After I assemble all of the medium supers, I will prime and paint them and then they'll be ready to go. I also went up on the roof today to check out the place where I want to keep the hives. Looks like it should be fine and not too conspicuous - as long as my neighbor doesn't stick his head out of his bedroom back window too often!

So, here I wait...

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Great Beekeeping Video and Some Basics

I wanted to share this video with y'all. It is a bit long - but even if you don't watch the whole thing, try to watch the first section to see him handle the bees and also to hear some of the explanation of what is he doing and why.


One thing you might notice is that he is not wearing any protective gear and you will also notice that because he is comfortable (I mean, come on, his name is Sam Comfort!) with the bees, they are not really concerned about his presence and they don't bother him. Sam is using what are called "Top Bar Hives" which are a different set-up than the typical rectangular Langstroth hives. I will be using Langstroth hives - which generally look something like this:



Here is another example of a top bar hive - from Michael Bush's website which is an incredible resource:



Another interesting thing to note is that he keeps his bees on what are called "foundationless" frames. The modern beekeeping industry uses frames with "foundation" - which is essentially a thin sheet of plastic or beeswax which has been embossed with the hexagonal pattern of honey comb (see pic below). In theory, this foundation saves the bees work - the idea being that it gives them a head-start in building their comb. But many people believe that bees can draw out their own comb faster without any foundation - hence, the foundationless folks. With foundationless hives, you basically let the bees build their own complete comb as they would in nature - you only give them a bar with a small guide on it (the popsicle stick that Sam Comfort pointed out) in order to give them a place to start building. I plan on using foundationless frames in my hives. Another bonus of foundationless is that it saves you a lot of effort and money because when you use foundation, first of all you have to buy it, and then you have to install it on each and every frame.

Another issue that some organic and biological beekeepers have with foundation is that historically, the individual cells in each sheet of foundation are one size, 5.4 mm wide and they feel that this is an unnaturally large size (the basic idea being that industry made the cells larger in order to increase honey yields). There is a school of thought that feels that, along with overuse of chemical treatments, the larger-than-natural cell sizes have lead to an increase in certain diseases (mainly, infestation with varroa mite). This has lead to the development of what is called "small cell foundation" - which is 4.9mm wide, closer to what bees make naturally (though there is some natural variation in cell sizes based on geography and other factors). This smaller cell size seems to offer the bees some protection from varroa mite infestation by disrupting the reproductive process of the mite. For those beekeepers who want to use more natural techniques but don't want to go foundationless, they can use the small cell foundation to closer approximate natural conditions. Or sometimes using small cell foundation can be a stepping stone towards going foundationless

So, in addition to using foundationelss frames, I am going to use "small cell bees" in my hives - that is, they have been raised on small cell foundation. If you order bees that have been raised on large cell foundation, there is a somewhat involved process of regressing them in order to get them to build the more natural small cell comb. More to come...


Saturday, March 7, 2009

Let's Get Started

Last weekend we loaded up the family and drove down to Centreville, MD to the von Voss homestead - otherwise known as Oak Leaf Farm. We met Vicco von Voss through our dear friend Jacqui Flisher - who married Vicco a few months ago. Vicco is a furniture maker and home-builder - but these words do not do justice to his work - go check out his website and you can see pictures of their incredible timber-frame house and some of his furniture designs - his work is unbelievable and even more so in person - http://www.viccovonvoss.com/

Among other things, Vicco has kept bees for about ten years. While hanging out with Jacqui and Vicco last fall, he unintentionally helped to plant the idea of keeping bees in my head. I had thought for a while about the idea of being able to provide locally produced honey to my acupuncture patients who suffered from seasonal allergies (the jury is not out on this, but there are people who feel that if you consume honey that is produced where you live, it can help with allergies - the honey acting as sort of a homeopathic dose of all of the local flower pollen) and finally meeting someone who kept bees helped me realize I could do it myself. Of course having my own supply of honey at home is an obvious motivation too!

So I went to the library and got out every book on beekeeping that I could find. Then Vicco sent me an entire set of other well-thumbed books to read. He also promised that he had a lot of equipment that he could loan me to help get me started in my first year of beekeeping. So, last weekend it was time to go pick up the goodies. Vicco provided me with two hives worth of equipment, a veil, a smoker and assorted other accessories (Thank you again Vicco!). You can see that the VW was packed to the gills.





























Today I spent the day cleaning the equipment as it has been sitting in a shed for a while at Vicco's and it was pretty manky. I also placed my order for bees today - yes, they come in the mail! They get delivered in a package (2 or 3 pounds of bees - up to 10,000 bees and a queen) to your local post office and then they call you to come pick them up. I can't wait until they arrive at the post office around the corner from us - the looks on the faces will be priceless. So, in mid-April I will receive my bees. I actually ordered one 3 pound package and one "nuc". A nuc (short for nucleus) is basically like a mini-hive - it has brood, honey and pollen already in it. I plan on having two hives and I wanted to start one with a package of bees and one with a nuc to see how the two hives compare. I am going to keep one hive on a second story roof and one in the yard.

I started attending a beekeeping class with the Montgomery County, PA beekeepers association - it meets once a month and basically walks you through a full season of beekeeping. I also went to a separate one day seminar for beginning beekeepers. Of course as you might imagine, there is a ton of great info about beekeeping online. I have recently been reading about organic methods of beekeeping and definitely plan on trying to minimize my use of chemical interventions (which are very common in commercial and even hobbyist beekeeping). There is a growing and very active community of biological and organic beekeepers who like small organic farmers, are instituting practices which are healthier, more sustainable and more beneficial to the bees themselves. If you know me, you know this is right up my alley.