Every morning before I leave for work, I take the dogs out to take care of doggy related things. While they are busy with the dog stuff I have the opportunity to enjoy the morning stillness before the chaos of the day.

Since it is now still dark out, I tend to look up. Really, more people should do this. I spent some time in the U.S. Coast Guard and besides the obvious learning the navigational stars, I had years of opportunity to look up without the light pollution prevalent in the populated areas of the modern world. Few people have seen the sky as I have, and it truly is a shame. Staring into the bowl of stars, seeing cascades of “falling stars”, and the Milky Way shining brighter than most people will ever see. Gave me a sense of perspective – I’m a minuscule mote in the cosmos.

Despite the fact that I live in a populated area, this small town isn’t too bad for stargazing. I see familiar stars and constellations. Planets come and go, right now Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn are visible to the naked eye. Sirius, the Dog Star follows Orion in his annual journey through the sky. Rising above the horizon in the morning in October, Sirius portends the arrival of fall, and the cold of winter to come. I always feel ambivalent about the arrival of cold weather – it’s a break from the swelter of SW Virginia summers, but increased energy consumption because we have to use lights, and I do turn the heat on because I’m not a fan of being uncomfortably cold.

The trees lose their leaves, the bees put up the last of their groceries for the winter, and the other bees try to steal the groceries. The walnut trees drop the nuts, squirrels stash them away for their winter. The circle of life in scale both grand and tiny.

It’s not cold enough yet to get all bundled up in winter coat, thus far a hoodie is enough to ward of the chill. I see the folks who grew up in this part of the country wrapped up in so many layers they can barely move, and it’s 50 degrees out. I just smile, and wonder how they would react to a nice crisp 50 below morning.

When I was a young’un I had a Ford Pinto. I had gone up to Saranac Lake to visit my little sister. As was my routine, before starting the Pinto, I checked the oil. It was down a quart so I grabbed one out of the back seat, shoved the metal spout in the can, and tipped it up to replenish the engine oil supply. The familiar glug glug glug didn’t happen. After a few minutes, I lifted the can and the oil was still in it. I pulled the spout out, brought the can inside and opened it with a can opener. Took a spoon and used the spoon to dig the oil out of the can and into the top end of the engine. The trusty Pinto did turn over tho slower than usual. The fuel air mixture fired and she started. I let her run a while to warm up before I left. Thing is, I was in my boots, jeans and a t-shirt while all this was going on. It felt crispy cold but there was no wind at all. Went inside, put on my jacket, grabbed my bag, said goodbye and left. On the way out of town, the radio said that Saranac Lake had just set a new record for low temperature, -52 Farenheight. Yes, 52 below. No wonder the oil didn’t flow. I was out in it in a t-shirt.

In 3 more months, Orion will be setting when the dogs and I go out to take care of the dog related things. I will look up and smile, knowing that soon it will be warm enough to check on the bees, and the winter coat will return to its hanger for the next 8 months or so. The power and gas bills will diminish, and the people will soon start complaining about how hot it is.

Watch them go!

Walked out this morning to load the bicycles up so we could go for a ride. Heard that sound beekeepers hate to hear – an almost agitated buzzing. Looked over at the apiary and sure enough there was a cloud of bees swirling around over hive 6.

It’s way too late to prevent a swarm once it’s started so all I could do is watch the magic of bee colony multiplication at work. Whipped out my phone and got a video of the process.

Kim’s video

The ladies went into the Catalpa tree, way up where I could not reach them. Thought about cutting the tree down, since I value the bees more than that tree, but that would just agitate them and make a mess in the yard. Also that tree shades the dog pen.

So what’s a beekeeper to do? I have some spare beehive parts lying around so I quickly built a hive, gave it some frames with foundation, and a square of paper with some Lemongrass oil on it to entice the ladies into moving into this luxury accommodation. Set it up on the grape arbor where its shady in the afternoon, now we wait and see if the ladies like it enough to move in. The rent’s right anyhow!

Been quiet lately

Just because I haven’t put anything out lately doesn’t mean I haven’t been a busy bee. There are so many beekeepers out there, and we’re all going through the same things. I felt that I had nothing of significance to add to the din.

I’m up to 8 colonies (9 for a short time). At this point I am breaking my inspections up and doing them over a 2 day period. Yesterday was 1-4, today was 5-8.

Nothing of significance noted in 1 and 2. There has been a late June – July nectar flow that took us by surprise, and hive 1 had 2 full honey supers. Some of the honey has a purple/grey tint, and I noted purpleish pollen in the brood supers. I put a new honey super on and after I finish writing this will extract the honey.

Hive 3 got moved into a new bigger house, and next inspection they will get another brood super.

Hive 4 was the surprise, When I looked in they were queenless. That explains the cranky bees that stung me through the suit. Later on made arrangements to pick up a queen for this colony.

Hive 5 is booming, no surprises, they’re doing just fine.

Hive 6 is also doing well. This queen is friendly and will pop up and say hello. They colony also had 4 capped queen cells on 2 frames. I moved these frames into hive 4, let’s see if they’ll raise these queens.

Hive 7 is another nuc, they’ll get moved into a bigger house next inspect. They’re doing just fine.

Hive 8 is also queenless. I’ll put the queen I’m picking up this evening into this one and see how they fare.

I’m at the point where I don’t want to expend the apiary any more. 8 hives are enough for me to care for. I am, after all, doing this as a hobby. I have made hobbies into businesses/lines of work before and I found that I no longer enjoyed doing them. I still dig bees and beekeeping and so next year, when I am splitting my colonies for swarm prevention, will sell the colonies to other beekeepers, and maintain my apiary at this level.

I may add 2 more colonies next year, as I want to experiment again with Top Bar hives. I had really good luck with them the last time I had top bar hives and there have been some changes/improvements to the design since those days.

But that’s next year’s tale.


Preparations I through P

I have some queens showing up soon and today I had to make things ready for their arrival.

As much as I hated to do it, it involved regicide – I had a couple queens that were either way underperforming or were making aggressive bees. I found the underperforming queen and gave her a swift and gentle death. The queen making aggressive bees is usually friendly and pops up to say “Hi” when I’m inspecting the hive. Not today she didn’t. I will have to go back in and look for her when her replacement comes.

It also involved making another split (a new colony). While I was in the hive I took several frames of brood and shook out many bees into the new colony.

I will have to feed the 2 new colonies because the forager bees will leave the NUCs and return to their original hives. Feed is simply 1:1 sugar syrup that I make by the gallon.

The weather cooperated, rain holding off just long enough for me to do what I needed.

Preparations A through G

Getting plastic foundation ready to go on the hives tomorrow.

Had some wireless wax foundation that didn’t work out so into the melting pot it went. Dip the foundation in the melted wax to give the ladies something to work with.

Doesn’t take much to inspire them to draw comb. The foundation comes with a skim coat of wax but like all the ladies agree, more is better!

4-19-20 inspection

Since the last inspection I added a couple more hives. You may recall that at the last inspection I made 3 splits from the 2 existing hives.

The splits are doing well, one queen hasn’t been laying much brood but I will see how she is doing at the next inspection.

The 2 new hives are from packages I bought through the beekeepers club. They arrived last Sunday but the weather was not good enough to install them after work. I put them in Monday, leaving the Queens in the cages. Put feeders on even though they had drawn comb to get them started.

I started at hive 7, a split from hive 1.  There was brood and larvae and they were putting up groceries.  The queen made an appearance, she is most lovely with her stylish blue dot.

Hive 6 was a split from hive2, things were a mirror of hive 7. Not as much brood but still acceptable.

Hive 5 was a package, the queen made it out of the cage and was also laying ok.

Hive 4 is queen less. Will have to replace her soon.

Hive 3 is doing well for an afterthought split from hive 1. Larvae and eggs spotted. Will have to add another box.

Hive 2 is doing well no troubles in there.

Hive 1 is still too aggressive. The queen is still a prolific layer of eggs and they have already filled most of a honey super. This queen is still the reigning champion of hide and seek. Making the splits out of this hive was the right thing to do, I found no swarm or supersession cells. I was actually hoping to find one that I could have put in hive 4. Oh well. By

Buttoned everything up, carried the stuff back to the house. Went in and took the suit off. Turns out that there were several hitch hikers on the suit and they were not happy in my house, preferring to be in their own home. They let me know this by stinging me several times. One EpiPen misfired and after waiting to see if one was enough I write this from the local hospital. No worries.

Anyone have a couple queens for sale?

New hives and such

I’ve decided that this year is all about increasing the number of colonies in the apiary. I had ordered 3 VSH (Varroa Sensitive Hygene) queens way back in January. These queens and their daughters are supposed to remove Varroa mites from each other, to put it simply.

The blessed day arrived last week (beginning of April), when I met Jerry (who coordinated a group buy) at the UPS center by the Roanoke airport. After we got home, it was time to install their majesties in their new homes. I had one hive that has been increasingly aggressive, and I planned to replace that queen with one of the new ones. That left 2 colonies for me to establish.

The procedure for establishing a new colony with queen in hand is pretty straightforward. This is called making a split. You take frames of brood (baby bees in cells, some open some capped) and groceries from an existing hive and stick them in your new one, along with your lovely new queen in her travel cage. Shake in a generous amount of bees to ensure there are enough nurse bees to take care of everyone. The foragers will leave and return to the original hive, so it’s a good idea to shake in more bees than I think I need. Come back a few days later and release the queen if she hasn’t already managed to have an escape from the transport cage.

This procedure went well from the first large hive. Everyone was cooperative, and the queen was, as always, easy to spot. This queen is friendly and pops out to say hi and see what is going on. Lots of brood and groceries available to make the split. Easy-peasy lemon squeezy!

The second hive – different story. I have seen this queen only 2 times since I installed it – when I installed it as a NUC and once during an inspection last month. I had no luck finding the queen though there was evidence she was around someplace.

There was also a lovely swarm cell. Unfortunately I damaged it removing the frame it was attached to. Swarm cells tend to hatch really nice queens, and would have made yet another colony if I hadn’t damaged it removing the frame. From now on I will tip the box back and look for swarm cells before pulling frames.

Of course I did not find the queen in this hive. That is frustrating because I really wanted to remove her and install one of the new queens in her place. Since she remained un-located, I did a second split out of this hive and established a third colony, bringing the total to 5.

After the queens have been in their new homes a few days it is a good idea to make sure they made it out of the cages and into the hives. I had not removed the little corks out of the cages, opting to let the colonies get used to the smell of their new queens to lessen the likelihood of the colonies killing the queens. Unfortunately, a few days later happened to coincide with my having to work. In addition, we had experienced a couple days of cold wind, rain and snow. The only day that offered acceptable conditions for opening the hives to release the queens was Saturday afternoon. I am lucky in that my boss is awesome and let me leave for an hour to take care of this task.

The whole release the queens took all of 15 minutes, and they all paused as if saying “thanks” before diving in between the frames and getting to work doing queen bee stuff.

But wait, there’s more!

The club had also done a group buy of package bees. After I had lost 3 out of my 5 hives over the winter I felt it would bee prudent to pick up a couple packages as well. I have many boxes and enough drawn comb for a colony to not have to work too hard to get established.

The packages arrived Sunday morning. Of course I had to work but my lovely wife was able to pick the packages up not far from where I work, since Bill and Denise live nearby.

I didn’t get home from work until nearly dark so installing the packages was not a good idea, especially since it was windy and rainy as well as late. That meant the bees got to come inside and hang out in the house overnight. Overnight the heavy rains and wind woke me as if to reassure me that bringing the bees in was likely a good idea.

Today was install the bees in their new home day. I made sure their new homes had lots of drawn comb, good ventilation, and a nice view of the town. Its all about location!

Most people just spray the bees with sugar water, yank the feed can out of the transport box, stick the queen cage between some frames and shake the bees out the 3 inch diameter hole into the hive. I’m good with most of the above procedure except shaking the bees out the tiny hole.

I understand people have been doing it this way for many more years than I’ve been keeping bees. Thing is, bees are exoskeletal and shaking them through the hole probably injures a significant percentage of the 3 pounds of bees you typically get in a package. The top bar folks choose a different method for getting the bees out of the box and into the hive. They take the side of the box off and shake the bees out the large opening. I opt for this release method. Here is a n article with a video of how they do it:
I still release the queen a few days later, the only real difference from their method. I also put the transport box in an empty medium box on top of the hive and let the remaining bees walk down into
the hive on their own. When I come back to check on the queen I will remove the empty transport box and fill the medium frame boxes with frames.

I would love to have photos to show all of this, but beekeeping is often a solitary endeavor for me and my phone won’t respond to inputs from my gloved finger. Maybe when I go back in.

For now, that’s all the news to give you fits.

Capitalist honeybee aggression

Despite having lost 3 out of 5 colonies over the winter, I am working towards expanding the apiary. I am building another stand to hold 5 more hives.

I may have mentioned that one of the hives is somewhat aggressive. I don’t mind that much, except for 2 reasons: there are a couple little kids across the street, and I can’t do anything within 15 feet of the hives. Once the foragers are really active there’s no work happening nearby.

This queen is a red-dot, which means she is going on her third year! Although she is ageing, she is a phenomenal layer of bee eggs – perhaps the best I have ever seen. The downside is her progeny are aggressive. As much as I hate to say it, I may commit regicide and replace her with another, in hopes that this hive will lose the aggressive tendency. Like so many things in life, this is a crap shoot and I may end up with an even more aggressive hive, or a queen that just can’t lay eggs worth a darn.

Most of the building happens near the house where there is power and I can hear whatever I have decided to listen to while I work. Yesterday was The Disco Biscuits, today is Daft Punk. It is also far enough away from the hives that I can work unmolested. Even though I have a couple containers nearby of uncappings and honey that didn’t make it to the bucket, the bees are too busy cleaning them to be bothered by me.

Yesterday I measured out where the new stand was going to be whilst dodging aggressive bees. Waited until almost 7 pm to fire up the auger to drill the holes. Why an augur you ask? It’s really quite simple. I hate digging. Turning the goon spoon rates right up there with impacted teeth and walking on a broken ankle. I know this because I have been through these things. The augur was less than $200 and in my book has already earned its keep, having drilled over 20 holes so far.

One of the ladies cleaning a bucket

While starting the rails I also processed some wax, mostly uncappings and burr comb cut out of the hives while doing inspections. Put them in a pot of water and bring to a boil. The wax floats to the top, then a layer of nasty stuff, then the water with dissolved contaminants. I used a foam paintbrush to apply the melted wax to some plastic foundation. The rest of the wax was allowed to cool and harden. I will re-melt and strain it then pour into a container for later use.

Melted wax
Black plastic foundation with wax applied

Put the posts in and poured the cement, using stakes and small line to keep them level until the cement hardened. While I was out with the dogs yesterday, we stopped at the local lumber place and got the rest of the supplies to finish the project. I will spare you the details of the build, if you want to know that stuff contact me.

Posts in place

Today I built the rails and carried them up to the posts, only got stung once for my troubles. Think I will fire up the little mower and do around the house and wait until 7 tonight to finish assembling the stand.

So here is the result, newly finished. I still have to install eyehooks for the straps to attach to. Had enough for today, this wasn’t the only project on the list. Tried to get the wee mower to start, but I didn’t get all the old gas out of the tank and the plug is likely coated with varnish. How I miss the days of Gulf Purple (103 octane with real lead). You could leave the tank full of that stuff, let the bike sit through a northern New York winter, jump the battery and the bike would fire right up and do great smoky burnouts (soon as I let the oil circulate and warm up enough to vaporize the condensation from sitting all winter).

The finished product

March 20 inspection

Last time I was in the hives, they were both booming with brood. I had swapped brood boxes on #1 to get her majesty laying in the emptier of the 2 boxes. It worked.

Started on hive 2, because they’re a bit better tempered, and I wasn’t in the mood to spend more time in a cloud of pissed off bees than i had to.

Hive 2 is a daughter of hive1, with a queen i got from Jim Hill. It’s doing great. Some queen cups, thankfully unoccupied. This queen is usually friendly, popping up to say “Hi” at some point in the inspection but I guess she was busy laying eggs. I added a queen excluder and a medium super to hopefully get a little honey from these ladies. It also got a shiny new bottom board that I had built. The existing board was one I had bought on the cheap, it had served its purpose but I just didn’t like it. I know, the bees don’t care.

Hive1 is still booming with lots and lots of capped brood and larvae present. This is a red-dot queen that has absolutely exceeded my hopes (Thanks Fred)! Some queen cups, no one was home in them but I see a split in this hive’s future, perhaps 2 this year. This hive got a shiny new bottom board, a queen excluder, and a second honey super. These ladies are not as content to let me mess around their nethers so I actually used the smoker for a few huffs.

I’m still a better mechanic than carpenter

I started building beehive parts recently. Not because I can’t buy them, more I am unhappy with either the price or the quality of what is available.

There are many plans available on the internet for just about any kind of hive you can imagine. I took bits and pieces of several different plans and added my own twist. The results are in.

The first is a landing board/hive bottom. Unpainted and the screen isn’t installed. The second is a telescoping top. I made my own inner covers as well, they are in a different missive. I have more than enough boxes to complete at least 10 hives, I just needed the other bits.

Now just waiting for bees to want to make more bees.