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...

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Keeping Busy and Waiting for Spring

It's that time of year, when all of the beekeepers (and let's be real, everyone else too) are getting antsy for spring. It's been a few months since we had the chance to really look in our hives and we need to know what is going on in there. Yes, there have been a few warmish days when we've had the chance to see the bees flying (or not, as is the case with some of my dead hives - more on that later) but no chance for full inspections.

After 2 years as president of the Philadelphia Beekeepers Guild, I have stepped aside to let someone else take the reins (Suzanne Matlock is now Pres, along with a great group of other officers). Even though I am no longer president, I have been keeping busy this winter with Guild events. We had our big symposium a few weeks ago and by most accounts, it went really well. And we have our beginners beekeeping course coming up this weekend, which I will be helping to teach.

I have volunteered to videotape the Guild's Natural Beekeeping Symposium events for the past 2 years and I have finally uploaded those videos to YouTube. You can view footage of John Seaborn and Sam Comfort from last year and Michael Bush from this year on my YouTube Channel. Below is the first part of Michael Bush's talk from this year. I'll be back soon with another blog post.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Treatment-Free Conference - Leominster, MA

Photos from the Northeast Treatment-Free Beekeeping Conference in Leominster, MA 

July 27-29, 2012

(Hey, better late than never!)

Dean Stiglitz out in the apiary

Michael Bush Speaking

Dee Lusby Waiting to Speak

Sam Comfort Releasing a Queen 
Sam Closing Up the Package He Made

Sam Looking at a Top Bar 

Erik Osterlund speaking, all the way from Sweden

Kirk Webster Checking Out Some Top Bar Bees

Les Crowder Talking Bees
Treatment Free Mascot