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 -

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 - 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)

Friday, April 24, 2009


...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...

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...