Sunday, March 6, 2011

Is it Spring yet?

Last month we had a day where the temp was up in the low 70s. I made a quick inspection of two hives and stood outside the entrance of the other two for a while, watching the bees come and go. The two I inspected looked happy and healthy. They were still well-stocked with honey and had already collected a good supply of nectar and pollen. The foragers I saw at the other hives were busy and purposeful; they looked like bugs on a mission.

I liked what I saw that day. But Winter is not over. So to not jinx myself I'll just say that I am cautiously optimistic about still having four hives when Spring comes.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Eye candy

Here is a photo taken in early September of a comb from the hive I call Victoria. This is one well outside the brood area; probably 15th to 18th from the east end of the hive.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Snapshots of Cleopatra

Last Fall Frank Walker came with me while I was inspecting my hives. I am one of the few top-bar beekeepers in the area and he wanted to see how it has been working for me. As we made the tour he took some photos: all photos in this post are by courtesy of Frank Walker, president of Tidewater Beekeepers Association.

Here is Cleopatra. She is the first split from my one surviving package from my first season of beekeeping. The box is made from reclaimed pallet wood. It is 4 feet long overall with 6" handles on either end. The handles are nice when moving the hive around but it leaves a 3' long space for the colony to build in. The top is built from pieces of 3/4" pine and two sheets of 1/2" HardiBacker.

Here's the east end of the hive with the top off. They looked vigorous at the time but sadly they didn't put away enough supplies to get through the Winter (despite my giving them plenty of syrup) and they didn't make it to Spring. This Spring I combined a queenless colony and a brood comb from a healthy colony in this box and they seem to be doing alright. Time will tell. At the time of the photo the colony mainly occupied the east end of the box, so I would start the inspection from the west end, as shown:

Here we're looking down into the hive from the west end. Most of the bars were still empty: the visible comb is the outskirts of the working part of the hive. The bottom of the box is a drawer that slides out from the west end. On top of the drawer is 1/8" screen, on the theory that varroa mites will fall through it and not find their way back up into the cluster. And some of them may have done so but it also provided a protected space for moth larvae to build cocoons. Also, many bees found their way under the screen but apparently never found their way back out, prematurely removing themselves from the colony's workforce. In the future I plan to make hive bottoms more like Lang-style bottom boards; a separate assembly from the hive box with a screen bottom and an inspection drawer that can be pulled out. And if I leave a small gap between the drawer and the screen, bees shouldn't be able to get lost in that space.

The bees did attach comb to the sides but only a bit here and there. They maintained a gap almost all the way around the bottom and sides of the comb. This eliminates one possible hideout for small hive beetles. In other parts of the hive I found groups of SHBs hiding in the small gap between the side of the box and the sides of the remaining frames. I am considering using foundationless frames in one of my hives, to provide additional support and prevent the kind of comb failure I saw there this Summer. If I make the clearance between the frames and the side of the hive tight enough that they don't make a SHB shelter the bees will probably glue them to the sides, mistaking the small gap for a possible source of draft. But I guess that's the lesser of the possible problems.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

My, how time flies

Its been over two years since I updated this blog - the fate of so many blogs. But the bees are in much better shape than the blog. I now have four horizontal top-bar hives: one in my back yard and three hosted in yards in the Thoroughgood neighborhood of Virginia Beach. Currently I am giving them all the sugar syrup they will take in hopes that they'll winter-over in good shape. Before long I will mix up batches of fondant or something like it, put it in the hives and bid them farewell for the Winter.

I am considering an ambitious plan for next year. I may build several new hives over the Winter and try to stock them all with nucs I split off from my larger colonies. More on that as it develops. In the near future I plan to update this blog and tell details about my hives, this Summer's honey harvest, and more about my suburban beekeeping.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Bees in the TBH, take 2

Today I took a thorough inventory of what the bees had built in the hive and decided to take the plunge: I split the hive. There were two brood frames with a queen cell each on them. So I took those frames, another with lots of brood and two frames with honey, nectar and pollen and put them into my TBH. I added two brood bars and a follower board and put both hives back together, putting fresh frames in the empty slots in the old hive. By this time the bees sounded irritated and I was hot & tired so I went away for a break.

My plan was to set up a false swarm: to leave the queen in the Langstroth hive and force the bees on the hives to raise a new queen for themselves. (It is a great plan - as long as the existing queen is where she's supposed to be). And I had almost talked myself into believing that the she was most likely on one of the frames I'd left in the Lang.

But as I was about to drive away I decided, in the spirit of Murphy's law, that the odds of something going horribly wrong with anything are directly proportional to the distance you have to drive to fix it. My hives are an hour's drive from my home. That, and the bees in the Lang had not calmed down during my break. If anything they sounded even angrier. So I got back out of the car and went through the TBH frame-by-frame.

And there she was! I found the queen on the second frame I pulled. So I yanked the outer cover off the Lang hive and gingerly set the bottom edge of the frame down on the inner cover. The queen was a regular Cheshire cat; appearing and disappearing among the masses of nurse bees. After a few very long minutes I managed to get her to walk up my hive tool far enough for me to flick it slightly and drop her near the hole in the inner cover.

I got one last glimpse of her as she bolted into the hive. Right away the noise of the hive fell to a murmur and the peevish cloud of bees outside the hive entrance vanished. Foragers came and went and the hive hummed along quietly as if nothing had happened.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Puderzucker - (K)ein Zuckerschlecken für Bienen?

Usually when I watch youtube movies by beekeepers I think, "yeah, I could do that". Here's the first exception. I'm not scared of my bees, though I do take what I consider reasonable precautions. And while I admire the fact that he can do it this way, one of my precautions will be to not imitate this beekeeper.

Powdered sugar is an increasingly popular means for dealing with varroa mite infestations. There are several common ways of applying it. But this guy does it with a boldness that has to been seen to be believed.

When I treat my bees I plan to use a method I saw demonstrated at a TBA meeting recently. The idea is that you take a framed window screen the size of the inner cover, lay the screen atop an open brood box, pour on a cup or two of powdered sugar and spread the sugar around the screen with a brush so it falls evenly into the hive. (bee brush, clean chip brush, etc) Lift the screen and sweep any sugar off the tops of the frames into the space between.

In other words, open the hive, place the screen, pour the sugar, spread the sugar, pull the screen, sweep the frame tops, replace the hive tops, walk away. Supposedly its that simple.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

NYT on Beekeeping in NYC

The New York Times has an interesting article, "For Hives and Honey; Rooftop Beekeepers Defy Law to Get That Sweet Central Park Bouquet."

For Hives and Honey...

It is a story about a New York beekeeper who works with NYC residents to set up and maintain hives in out-of-the-way places like rooftops. The resident gets some training in beekeeping and a cut of the honey. The beekeeper gets to have more hives that are dispersed across a larger area. The bees get to forage with less direct competition between hives. So it is a win-win-win.

On the other hand, it is illegal. NYC health code prohibits "...keeping animals that are 'wild, ferocious, fierce, dangerous or naturally inclined to do harm'...." But in a city with a normal share of bumblebees, wasps, hornets, spiders, rats, cars, trucks (not to mention NYC taxis, busses, subways, gun-slinging cops, falling construction cranes and generally decaying infrastructure), I don't think adding a few honeybee hives to the mix will add any significant amount of danger to anyone's life there.

I think it is an excellent idea. Many people have properties that would provide good sites for bee hives. But few go to the trouble of keeping bees. Maybe the thought has never occured to them. Maybe they are sympathetic to the idea but don't have the resources or time to get started. I used to think of beekeeping as a rural activity; something to do in wide open spaces with plenty of room for the bees to roam. But when I saw the trees and bushes bloom in Virginia Beach this Spring (and it was eye-popping) all I could think was, ""!

So maybe that will be my Winter project this year: to build a number of hives, contact homeowners in good locations and negotiate a way to keep a hive or two on their property the following Spring.