Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Beeks in January, what to do?

Hello! Happy New Year! It's 2013! WOW where did 2012 go?

It's a slow time for beeks right now. Time to read up on some articles or books, talk to other bee keepers, read blogs, go to a class or club connect. Make plans for the upcoming bee season. This time of year it maybe a good time to plan for what you want to do next year. Are you a brand new bee keeper? Or are you an old timer or maybe somewhere in between?

For myself? I'm hoping my girls over-winter well. My hive is quiet, no activities around the hive since it's in the 20's and 30's here. But my hive sits in the sun all day and from time to time I see a bee or two flying around. There is a massive pile of dead bees (which surprises me since we have chickens) at the entrance. This is not unusual it happens every-time we get a sudden cold snap and snow. Not really sure why that happens but it doesn't seem to have harmed the hive any, just seem to me that the dead ones didn't make it back inside before they died.

I've gone over to the hive and listened, there seems to be a constant hum. I'm not feeding them just leaving them alone. When we have a warm day or two they come on out.

I got a new bee suit for Christmas (Purple! AND made in the USA!) I also got new boots to go with it. I'm hoping my bees over winter well enough to be able to split next year. If not, my plan is to have 2 more hives in friend's yards. That way I can help them get set up, I'll work the hives, they can reap the benefits of the wonderful bees in their gardens and we will split any honey up at the end. I'm excited to give the T-bar hive a try.

One of my main gifts that I gave this year for the holiday was Lip balm. I made close to 40 containers of it. It's THE best lip balm I've ever used! Here is my recipe.

1 oz bee wax, clean
1 tbs honey
4 oz coconut oil
(optional... flavoring, I used honey)

in double boiler melt the wax, add the honey and oil mix well and let heat until smooth, using a turkey baster or large syringe extract the mixture and add to lip balm containers. Let set till firm.

Well, that's really all that we can do this time of year, just enjoy some home made bread with a slather of honey. Happy New Year!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Reclaiming their honey

I'm sitting at my desk looking out the window and I noticed something, bees. It's been unseasonably warm where we live. (CO) So it's not unusual to see bees buzzing round the hive. As ou may have seen from my prior post that I finished up my honey processing a couple weeks ago. I put out all my tools and tubs for the bees to reclaim what I couldn't get. I don't have an extractor, so it 'was a lot of sticky hand work, boiling down the jars and straining again and again. I had a lot of very sticky honey coated buckets, jars and frames.

Being the responsible bee Mom that I am, I put them out by the hive. I also stored all my frames and bases along with my extra supers etc... for next spring. I sealed mine up in plastic tubs so that they would over-winter without visitors such as mice. I'm not so naive as to think that they won't gnaw into them if they get the chance, but I put out rat poison around my property because we have a neighbor that feeds the rats, and well, we have chickens so I don't particularly want them in my yard. Some people think it's mean to kill the rats, but with a huge compost heap in my yard I really don't need to feed the rats and raccoons, and honestly I don't want them in my feed etc... So if you're squeamish or feel that is mean, please don't comment to me on it. I'm an animal lover, yet I find it easy to rid myself of mice and rats.  Thanks.
Also, note that I added a screen over the front of the hive for a mouse guard, it's just wire that is stapled down quite nicely so as not to allow any mice or rats access.

OK back to the bees. I have left out the piles of  comb from the frames, around 5 lbs or so in a flat left over from canning, so that the bees can clean out that wax. I am sending it down to a friend in Texas who makes candles. I reserved a bit back to make into lip balm. Those adventures to come. I promise pictures of that crazy adventure as I plan on working on that this week. Hey, Christmas is coming!

Because I'm insane or just can't help myself, I had to go out and watch the bees while it was warm. I sat out by the hive, tempting fate that they wouldn't swarm my head again. But they were busy. It was really cool to sit out in the sunshine and listen to the bees lightly buzz as they did their work. I had a few random girls come sit on my hand walk around, decide I was no threat and fly off. I was really amazed at the sound they made. I've had bees all summer, but not once have they been outside the hive in such numbers gathering up the honey from the frames and buckets. They were so loud and busy! I really enjoyed it. Here are some pictures I took. Enjoy!

Friday, November 23, 2012

Sticky to my armpits, worth it?

No one prepared me for this part of beeing a BEEK. I had thought about the end result of the year's worth of work & expense. Let's face it, of course you do! Since I had only 5 frames that I kept out, I thought how much work can this be to extract. My first thought as a TOTALLY self absorbed, instant gratification-drive-through-happy-meal American is, well, I'll take it somewhere and have it done. Now, where's the fun in that? Or the stickiness for that matter. Ha.
I pulled that honey about 3 weeks ago, and kept him-hawing about with it. Opening it, looking at it, making some phone calls or posts to friends (beeks) about how to go about processing it.... Finally, I was told for the small amount I have it's simply not worth it to go have it extracted. Uh-Oh.... now what? SO.... I got the instructions (out of a book, off of boards and asked my friend Greg @ Dakota bees) on how to do this. I assembled my equipment. Which consists of a sturdy kitchen spatula, a food grade bucket with a spigot (what do you know I had one from my days in the wine business!), a painter's screen, a large glass bowl, colander, a tub that I stored the frames in, and elbow grease.  I'm not all the way done, but here's the deal. Did I mention this is sticky sticky messy work? Well, it is.

I'm OVER it! Seriously. I've been fooling with it for 5 days now, because it gets cold and I have to stop because DUH... I couldn't figure out why it wasn't flowing, until Greg casually mentioned a space heater.... well, shoot, no wonder, my honey was cold. So.... take 2 or 3 I forget which. I finally decided that I will sacrifice the comb, I hate to do that since I really wanted to try to let my girls have it for next year or seed a new hive, but can't be helped. This year I'll start feeding them early so they can get going on the comb. I digress...

My Sainted son, Christopher took some amazing pictures as I've been dealing with this. So rather than bore the pants off you, here are the pictures. I will say I'm still not to the jarring point, I have yet to finish this monstrous job, and we had a holiday and I forgot to buy jars before black friday, not going out!
on try one, I tried cutting the caps off the top of the comb and letting gravity have it... em, nope. 

So, as you can see, I scraped it off the frame to the base. 
Really pretty! 

now I smooshed it onto the painter's screen 

I was captivated at how pretty it was 

add more elbow grease, you're not done yet! 

it's harder than it looks. 
sitting in the sun it dripped really nicely 

this is what was left on the frame, can't leave that. 

Yep, I'm very very sticky. 

gotta little jar from the stuff in the bottom of the tub

afore mentioned sainted child who loves honey and I did this for
him because he has such bad allergies. Let's see if the raw honey works! 

big pile of comb that is sitting on top of  the painter's sceen
atop the bucket, atop hot oven to drip 

And it's dripping quite well now 
I have about 3 gallons of honey so far, and the spent comb is in the colander still dripping what I can get out of that into the big bowl. Once the comb is as clean as I can get it, debating if I should press it through a new pair of panty hose (washed once to rid them of chemicals) or not. Once the comb is as clean as I can get it, I'll put in the tub for the bees to reclaim what they can. I plan on using the comb for lotion and lip balm. I'll post about that later. I'm dedicated to only giving local and home made gifts this year, at "worst" things made in the USA, because if you're gonna talk the talk, walk the walk. Somehow given the number of requests for honey I have gotten, I really don't think people will mind a gift I worked so hard on and is clearly full of love. You can't smell my house through this blog, but if you could you'd be amazed at how GOOD fresh raw honey actually smells.

Till next time when we foray into the adventures of lip balm and lotion....

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

First year costs for New Beekeepers

The hive I got for free 
Tyvex suit
I've been out of the loop so I apologize it's been a bit since I blogged about the bees. A couple of things, first off, I'm developing an allergy to the bees, which is not good. I've taken a lot of stings this year especially in the past couple months. I have broken down and bought a Tyvex suit until I can raise the funds for a real suit. I've found some online for around $70, so it's on the Christmas list. So far the Tyvex (around $10) works great, but it's FAR too hot for use during the summer months, if I am going to have bees next year (and I plan on it) I will HAVE to have a protective suit due to the reactions I've had to the stings, more on that further down.

OK, so when I last left you in my bee blog I was off my feet. Had on a cast about half the summer! :(
I'm concerned that my bottom box is going to be a bit of a mess when I dig in once it's spring, but at this point, it's too late in the year to open and do one more cleaning. Even though we are 77 degrees in Denver by the way. I likely could get in there but I will opt not to since we do have a storm moving in tomorrow and I'd rather not disturb my girls. I am putting my mouse guard on today also because even though I have 3 cats, everyone I've talked to has warned me that mice are wily and they WILL get in, and they can ruin your hive! I'm simply waiting on a run over to pick one up when the store here in town opens. My husband says he can make me one, but they are so inexpensive and he's been traveling that I am going to put it on myself. Hopefully I'll post a picture of that.

As I ended up with 2 deep supers and 1 med super of honey I took only 4 frames of honey out. I know that I could have taken more, but I decided to err on the side of caution as a first time bee keeper who really wants my hive to thrive and hopefully split it next year. I am going to try out a top bar hive next year. What I really want to convey in this blog entry is my experience with my first year of beekeeping.

In that spirit I'm doing a loose breakdown of the return on investment. Mind you, my investment was not based on what I could sell honey or honey products for. This is strictly a hobby for me, but I have many friends who have asked me about how much I've spent on this little hobby and also it's a good breakdown for someone who is thinking of giving it a whirl.

So, way back in January of last year my overworked holiday brain started thinking of ways to annoy the heck outta my husband. Given that we have a small house with a smallish yard, we opted to pull out the back yard 5 years ago and put in a full vegetable garden. Which we have done successfully and enjoy our oasis every year. Each year I like to sit in the garden and watch bees do their thing. Well, being January, Tree put up for a whole year, I decided to check out some books on beekeeping and peruse the internet. I ended up buying 3 books on bees, I figure about $30 worth. Then, well, if I was going to have books I then decided I had to have magazines, such as Grit, which added another $20 so all in all publications, $50

I wanted to take a class, which I found online Craig's list for FREE :) Awesome!
I ordered my bees, a package of local bees here from a longmont beekeeper with 30+ yrs of beekeeping and queen rearing experience. $120 for the package + marked queen.

Then, I got very stressed out because money became a BIG issue due to a lay off, so I had bees on the way, but OMG, NO HIVE.... SO, I put an add on Craig'slist asking if anyone had an old hive they would be willing to give me, AND SHAZAM! I got an old hive. All med supers pretty beat up, but I put it in the oven on low heat made sure there were no lingering parasites, blow torched the pieces that were too big for the oven. The frames had no base, so I was going to need to get that but otherwise... pretty good.
Well...then my hubby got a job and I was able to afford a new hive, saving the old one for hopefully a split next year. The new hive cost $250 that included a front feeder, 2 deep supers, inner lids, a base and an outer lid.

I got some cinderblocks to keep the hive on, $5 for 2
I needed a strap to keep the box tight and closed, $12
So far I've used 2 25 lb bags of sugar + 2 5 lb bags, for about $40 worth of sugar
My tools I ordered online, a hive tool, a smoker, a frame holder, brush, 2 veils, a pair of sheepskin gloves $120
I also ordered an extra set of med super frames with bases for the old frame, which as it turns out I didn't even need, but now I have them for next year. $100 (10 of them)
I had to buy jars 12 for $10 (8oz)
I needed a tub and a bucket for collecting the honey, I don't have an extractor. $15
Mouse guard $5
I have moved to a top feeder, but I made it myself, so it was only $2 or so.
Tyvex suit $10 (I recommend you get a bee suit, you can make it to start with a Tyvex or long pats and light colored hoodie, but you NEED a veil)
I also have a spray bottle for sugar water $2

I think that's about it. So my total outlay so far has been $714 (wow, that is a lot more than I thought!)
Right now, I have 4 frames of honey, I'd say about 30lbs to process. I haven't been able to get to the extractor and the honey is still capped in a tub in the cold garage. I will have to process that and so far I've accounted for what all I will spend. I do have to get some little containers for homemade lip balm.

So there you have it, $714 and hours of entertainment, enjoyment and fun. Totally worth it.
Now, before some of you gasp, remember I have 2 hives, and totally plan on either buying a second package of bees or splitting mine, my hive IS strong.
I know I will also buy a bee suit for $75 or so. Maybe I'll see if there is a used one online I can find over the winter.

So, I am not selling any honey this year, I have gifts for the holidays of balms and jars of honey.

Now, I talked about getting stung a lot this fall, and it's true, even with a lot of smoke and the tyvex suit I 've taken a lot of stings in the past month. I took 7 in one day, which was SO random! As you can see, I got one RIGHT in the face, and I'm totally swelled up! Insane!

Well, I hope to post again sooner than later when I get my lip balm and honey put up. If not I'll try to keep other new'bees" posted on my progress as the winter goes along. Not much to do really. I'll certainly post when I start working them again in the spring.

Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Hey dude? wanna smoke?

     Sorry it's been a few days, it's been a madhouse!  I last left you all hanging off a cliff dying to know if I was going to be beekeeping in my Birthday suit or not. As it turns out YES! I did get a "bee suit" for my Bday. I got the $ for one, but my husband and a bunch of research led me to a Tyvex painter suit first. I already have a couple of veils, but I got a smoker and new vented gloves. I'll say right up front, this suit is NOT chill.... It has been unmercifully hot across the mid-west area including Denver, which is where I am.
hey hey Macarena! 
     So here's what's new.... I was getting robbed something fierce from the wasps & ants. The wasps were a real problem, they are still everywhere in the yard, especially close to the hive and the water, but not ON the hive now that I moved the feeder. So it's been like 2.5 weeks since my last blog, so there's a lot to tell. First and foremost I did make a top feeder, which I simply did by using two craft sticks and taking the jar off my front feeder putting the sticks above the hole on the inner cover, then inverting the jar on the top, since it was a big enough hole I did two jars & then put a med super on top of the cover and put a second inner cover and the outer lid on. Worked like a charm. The bees seemed a bit confused as to where the feeder was at first but I suspect when the drips of feed found their way down, they were off to the races.

     Shortly after I moved their feeder I noticed the wasps really weren't as aggressive on the hive, but were simply buzzing around it here and there, and drinking the bee water, can't really fault them for wanting a drink, it's been HOT!
hey dude, wanna smoke?
     Finally on the 3rd I got my smoker, we were to have a big party on the 4th, so that morning, before it got terribly hot I got my suit, smoker and tools all ready for my inspection. I had to check on my brood. I was getting a lot stressed about it. The last time I inspected my hive I was about 1/2-3/4 drawn out on the second deep super. I've had several exchanges with some other beekeepers (beeks, as they call themselves) both online, on the phone and in person. I knew I was getting close to A) adding a honey super and B) pulling the feeder.
     I decided that the morning of the 4th sounded like a glorious time to do my inspection. Especially since I will be having foot surgery in less than a week and I really want to do one more inspection before the hive sits to it's own devices for at least 2 weeks, I know it will be OK, I just need to not freak out about it! Bees will do what bees will do.... they've been around a lot longer than I have.

you can see the larvae, they look like maggots at the bottom of the cells

     Back to the inspection.... I got all dolled up in my new outfit, man, times have changed from the days of high heels and mini-skirts. Now, I think my bee suit is all dolled up! haha. I'm indeed a "BEEK". I also had never used the smoker before, which incidentally didn't come with instructions nor anything to put in it. I used some cardboard all torn up and a few pieces of wood slivers out of a bag we use for BBQ (Mesquite bees). I was able to get the feeder off, it was empty. I set the med super off to the side, along with the tops and the (feeder) jars.  I worked quickly, trying not to invite more robber wasps. I did a full inspection on the top box, it turns out it's 100% drawn out. I got the first frame out and then slid the others out one at a time. I was shocked to see that there was a TON of brood in there! I'm talking 2 of the frames had nice big patches of day old larvae. I was not expecting to see that much! But lo and behold, my queen is a layin' machine! I cleaned up the burr comb and some of the glue that was all over holding frames in. Lots of capped cells. Even a couple that looked oddly shaped, again, not the actual "peanut" shaped queen cells that you would find at the bottom of the frame, these were more like just the size of a pencil eraser in the middle of the frame, I have no clue what it is. I did note they were a bit darker than the rest of the wax and it just now occurred to me that it might be propolis, perhaps it's the body of a wasp or beetle they glued in? I don't really know. I was still working with purpose, trying to finish up my inspection. I mention that because when I work the bees I work at a steady clip but try not to make crazy fast movements, they don't like that. Just then, as I'm thinking this, the grip I had on the frame I was holding, full of bees.... gave! I dropped the frame! HOLY COW BATMAN! about a million bees (pissed off ones too!) came flying at me! Wow, they DID NOT like being dropped. Lucky for me I had the smoker, oh... FOOEY! It went out! OK, second line of defense.. I had on my bee suit, veil and gloves. Thank God. I surely would have taken a boatload of stings that day! The experiment of the tyvex suit certainly was a success, a few girls tried to sting but they didn't make it through the tough suit. These are available from the paint department of Lowes or Home Depot for about $10 or online in more bulk for around $8. I honestly think that the one will last me a good long while. When I am done I hang it up in the garage, so I can foresee this being a way to go on the cheap. I finished up checking the bottom brood box, and again found that my queen has been earning her keep! LOTS of day old brood. I was very happy to see that. My only question is should I get a queen excluder for the top boxes? I've read the pros and cons of these.... I am up in the air. I do know I will be buying one for a little side project I plan but that's only because I don't want brood in my honey jars (more on that later...cliff hanger!)

about 2 seconds before I dropped it! 
     So I shut up the hive after I got it all cleaned up, removed spare comb hangin' around, dealt with the excessive propolis and did my general hive maintenance. Over-all I'm pretty thrilled that I have 2 full boxes! So, I went ahead and added a 3rd medium super. I also finished up the feed I had left that was already made up which only was 1 jar, and have decided that they are good to go on their own for foraging. Given the info I've gotten from other beekeepers when 2 supers are drawn out that's good, they can sustain until winter, and they should be starting to fill "MY" supers with honey soon!

As an aside, we got some chickens and I will likely start a blog about those little chicks, cause they are funny! Most of my friends who know me as this very professional entrepreneurial and kind of girlie girl for the past 20 yrs are vastly amused that I've become Green Acres in the middle of the city! All I lack are a pig, an alpaca and a goat... I would get one but my husband might have a cow.... hey... I think I'm onto something there....

I did notice some VERY irregular behavior in my bees yesterday, so I've taken a precaution of adding a hive with some "queen pheromone" close to my hive. My son and I were outside weeding, and I have left the weeds by the hive intact. OK, so come on here, they are practically trees (ok, maybe not really) but certainly too big! So I carefully weeded the front of the hive area. About 5 minutes later the bees went totally berserk, it really did look like a huge swarm (see video). The bees were so agitated flying in all directions in vast numbers! I've never seen a thing like it, and mind you I dropped a frame of bees on the ground the other day! Certainly that was a ruckus! At any rate, I will be getting back into the hive today to take off the feeder and do a cursory check. After yesterday's crazy activity I just feel like I need to take a peek. I'll let you know how it goes. In the meantime, here are some pics of the hive and also the larvae. I also will edit the video and add it to the blog in the next day or so.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Inspector Gadget!

     I say inspector (Gadget) because I really had to inspect the hive today. I didn't want to actually. It's about a million degrees here (OK, slight exaggeration, but just SLIGHT!) fires are burning all over and the whole city smells like a campfire. Ironically I'm still waiting on my smoker... I had a conversation with a fellow bee keeper and he suggested I look for day old larvae so I had to do it. I put on jeans, with socks up over my jeans, my hiking boots, a sweatshirt and gloves with bands around the end of the sleeves. I was going in! Oh, also my veil. I thought about putting a bit of tinder in a can for smoke, but opted for a bottle of sugar water, my luck I'd burn down the hive. and given the fires in our state I'll just wait for the smoker!
The wasp was in trouble, these bees covered it.
Likely killing it with body heat
I also decided to pull the front feeder, which turned out to be of a good decision today because there were a ton of yellow jackets trying to rob the hive today! I think my girls put up a good defense though, as you can see from some of the pics I took. I also noticed that I have a good number of ants, so I will be doing something about that too. Likely I will go with some vaseline or grease on the base. More on that at a later date.
These dang things are in the water dish too! 
     So after suiting up like I was going skiing, I gathered my tools, hive tool, frame grabber thinggie, (hey it's technical), spray bottle of sugar water, empty med super, inner top, and feed. I have to tell you with the stings I've taken lately, and how really cranky the bees have been I really didn't want to inspect today! Also I have been doing morning or evening inspections, because of the heat, but since everyone has told me that daytime is best when the foragers are out I sucked it up and went to do the inspection. Feeling like I was on the surface of the sun because it was so hot, I figured I'd get this done!
Another wasp that fled ASAP 

I used my hive tool to pry off the inner lid, which of course has been stuck to the hive with propolis. I gave the girls a little spritz of sugar water. The top super is only about 1/4 drawn out. It looks like they started in the middle and are going on from there. I removed one of the outer frames and checked the rest of the frames quickly. They are looking good. At that point I had to pry the top box off the bottom brood box, due to again, the bee glue. I gently set the top box onto the blocks behind me and began the inspection and search for larvae. I had to spritz a few more times because they were riled up (duh, I'm in their house! MAKE MY DAY LAW with a stinger!). Once I had the first frame out I was able to move around in the box and check for brood. This box is full, completely drawn out, there are no blank spots at all on the frames, which I take to be good. The outer frames were mostly capped, it wasn't until I got to the inner frames I found day old larvae. Which I had trouble locating at first, because even though I've looked at a million images via books or google, I wasn't sure what I was looking for!
One of the top super frames
     Let's not forget I'm brand new at this! I located several rows of what looked like tiny maggots, but rolled up in a C at the bottom of cells. I think I also had trouble locating them because my eyeballs were not co-operating in the sunlight through the veil. It's a learning curve! Once I found those I breathed a sigh or relief! My queen is working and laying. :) that makes me happy! I didn't doubt that she was since it's evident to me that the hive is thriving actually, but still, I needed to be sure. I'm confident that even though I didn't see the queen, again, the sun & veil it's hard to see.... I'm sure she's there. I'm also always super careful not to smash the frames when I'm in the hive, don't want to damage the queen! So even though I found those larvae I went ahead and pulled out the rest of the frames one at a time and checked them. I found other fresh larvae as well on a couple other frames. I did see some strange looking cells, which I am not sure what they were, not queen cells since they were in the middle of the frame, and not as big as a peanut, just sort of bulgy. I'll try to research those.... I wish I could have taken a picture but my hands were occupied and I wasn't letting my son too close this go round. My GoPro is on loan, but next time I inspect I am wearing it on the headband I think.
The new look of the hive.
Note, no strap yet! 
the front feeder now on top bees still in there
Top is vented this is a view from the back

bees on a plant in the garden post sugar spray
      I was pleasantly surprised that not being as fearful of the stings due to the precautions, I quite enjoyed checking out the bees today! I got the hive back together utilizing a few more spritzes of the sugar water here and again. Once it was all together, I put the med super on top and put a jar with holes for food on top of the inner cover. I need to get a real top feeder but this will work totally fine until I give Greg a call about it this week. (I buy all my supplies that are hand made right here in Denver from Greg at Dakota bees I put the second inner cover on the feeder and then vented the hive as I added the telescopic cover. I'm a bit concerned that I my strap is at capacity and I need to add a second one. If you have read my blog before, you know I'm kinda a ditz about these and my husband and to help me on it before. I am hoping that the top feeder will be a better fit for my hive and that it will cut down on the wasps and robbers. And even though I've lost 10 lbs sweating to death in my sweatshirt in 100 degree weather, it was worth it! And, I might add that I will likely buy a bee suit, cause dang it all, it was much more enjoyable to work the bees without worrying about being stung and the days of itching and swelling that comes along with them. I'm not so naive as to think I'll never get stung again, but let's face it, no smoke, no suit wasn't working.  
    I was becoming afraid and that is no good! The smoker should be here today along with my new vented gloves and I'm going to ask my hubby for a suit for my birthday, Ha! A BIRTHDAY SUIT! perfect! I can work my bees in my birthday suit! Spectacular! I'll keep you posted on the top feeder and ant situation!