Monday, May 28, 2012

That's SUPER (says the Valley girl)

     After driving in from VA, in 2.5 days, I was pretty dang tired, but I suppose I couldn't really complain too much since the bees are always working their little tookuses off. Given the average life of a bee is somewhere around 60 days I can't complain I suppose. I mean, really? 21 days as an egg/larvae then 21 or so as a hive worker and then 21 or so as a forager if you don't get killed before that! Whew... my paltry 2.5 day trip in the cab of a moving truck seems trivial...
     Anyway, as soon as I got home I checked on my hive visually inspecting the outside to see if there was anything amiss, all looked well. My son had fed them two jars of syrup while I was gone, which seemed like a lot given that they had not been eating that much, but it was full when I got home and I noticed this AM that it's down a quarter to about 3/4 this morning. I have noticed more ants in the area, the large red ones, so I am going to pick up some ant traps today when I run to the store. The ants are not excessive but I see a few stray ones on the feeder when I fill it, I would like to head off any ant problems now. If it's one bug I can't stand, it's really ants, they just heeb me out, it seems that they are a sign of a dirty house, which I know isn't really true, since I keep a tidy ship and I get them every spring.
      So, after I visually inspected the hive last night, I decided to check on what was going on inside, so I donned my veil and gloves, grabbed my hive tool and brush. I took off the top and WOWSERS! these little girls have been BUSY! The inner cover was a bit hard to get off because heck if they hadn't built a big comb into it! I did remove it, and saw that almost all the frames were covered with bees and comb on a good part of them! So, I decided to add a second super to the hive. I pulled a couple frames to check for the queen, in the fading light of twilight I wasn't able to see her, but she is for certain in there working, lots of capped cells and larvae present. I didn't stay fooling around in the hive for long, just a quick peek really. I put the inner vented top back on and went over and got the other super that was ready to go. I also retrieved a soup cup. When I got back to the hive I again removed the inner lid, and brushed the bees off of it, into the hive. I set the new super (a deep) onto the top and made sure it lined up right. Then I used my hive tool to scrape off the comb the bees had created on the inner cover into the soup cup. Quite a lot of honey in there! I then put the cover back on the top of the new super and added the outer cover.
     Since I have now mastered the strap, I let the strap out and snapped it into place. We have evidently had a lot of wind here in the past few days. I took my raided honey comb and left the bees to explore the new digs.

Now, as a nice sort of gesture. I thought it would be nice to let the kids in the hood get a taste of the delightful bounty that my bees produce, given that I will be sharing any honey I end up with. I took the bowl of comb (with the honey) out to the front yard where the kids were playing. They can usually count on me for popsicles in the summer, so when I came out offering treats on a warm afternoon they were thrilled. There was plenty for everyone to get a piece and they were all like, WOW MS LISA! you grew this? I laughed but said yes, (they are all pretty young). One boy didn't care for the wax so he just sucked on his. But my son was happy for his, which he is in love with! Granted its' still the honey that has been produced by sugar water mostly, but I'm getting excited because it seems my colony is really getting a move on! My pics here are not too exciting this go round, let's face it. I was just worn out from a long trip, and this was a purely utilitarian check! I will note that since the hive effectively doubled in side (physically) it "LOOKS" so much more like a bee hive now...

Sunday, May 20, 2012

watching the bees dance

It's just time to watch the bees do what bees do right now. I have cleaned the comb and propolis from the other set of hives and supers I have sitting on my back deck. Who knew they would try to make a home here? I had been turning on the hose close to the empty hive and heard a buzzzzzz.... I opened it up and there was comb and stray bees... I actually don't think these were from my hive, they looked different more black, less like mine. I have decided to move the extra hive I have over onto cinderblocks and "bait" it for a swarm. We'll see if anything pops. I am putting queen pheromones inside it to try to attract one. Keep ya posted. Here are a few pics of me working the comb off the hive where they had put it on the lid.

removing wax from the lid 
As you can see I scraped out off the wax they had put in and then re-stacked the hive boxes and put the lid on. If there is an "opening" it's not an easy one to access.

Right now I'm just letting the bees work. I assume all is well inside the hive from the activity I've been watching on the outside. It was cold and dreary here the past couple of days. Not so cold that sitting outside in a hoodie was impossible or that I had my garden was in danger of freezing. Honestly we have been getting seasonal weather rather than the extra warm weather we've been

enjoying most of the late winter and spring. We got buckets of rain on Friday night, it was nice. On Thursday it was in the 80's, go figure. I'm curious about the bees though, and while I know better than to open the hive too often, I have set a bench on wheels next to it so I can watch and take pictures as they go in and out. On Wednesday it was also quite warm, and while sitting watching them go in and out of the door guard I decided it was time to take it off. There was a line of several bees at a time awaiting getting in, and I noticed that they had pulled one side of it out so they could squeeze in. My opinion on this was that if they were wiggling in and out of the space they created, the hive was strong enough to take the door guard off. I have been continuing to feed them a 1:1 ratio of sugar syrup. They seem to be going through a pint of it every few days.
with entrance guard 

without entrance guard 
     I have been taking about 45 minutes to an hour each day to sit on my bench and just watch them. I'm not a drooling idiot, I promise. I'm actually sitting quietly counting. Of course not the amount of bees, that would be highly unproductive. What I have been doing is counting in groups of 10 to 100, and in those counts I make note of how many bees have been foraging and are coming back with loaded pollen sacks on their legs. I also have been checking out the color of the pollen, just for kicks. I note that the bees coming from the South side of the yard (likely over the fence) are covered in yellow pollen, I also note that some over the fence to the North have yellow.

The bees who have been to the West and East seem to have white. I think the bees to the West are collecting
pollen from my raspberry bushes, which is white,
Bee foraging in the raspberries
 I know because I sat on the deck and watched the bees on the bushes become covered in white pollen. It's also interesting to note that many of the bees that were not honey bees in the bushes.
I began to take count o the bees who came back with pollen before I took off the entrance guard.

I counted (estimated of course) around 10 per
100 on about Tuesday, maybe 15-20 onWednesday and as soon as I took off the entrance guard, it seemed like it doubled in a day! Then we had the cold snap on Saturday, with nothing but rain, the hive was not as active. 

However, today, Sunday, we've been busy in the garden finishing up the herb boxes and potato boxes my darling man has built for me, I took the opportunity to take a break sitting on 

the bench with the camera. I was able to do my count and visual assessment of the hive. Today's count on the bees with pollen was WAY UP! It's every other bee today! Yay! I was a bit worried about my bees to be frank when I was doing my "count" earlier this week with the very low amount of bees I saw with pollen on them, today I'm MUCH more enthusiastic! So I of course took some snap shots. I will also give you a couple pieces of advice. First and foremost, bees usually just make a "bee-line" to their door! So, if you are gonna sit and watch them, it is likely a good idea to sit to the side. I didn't bother with any gear of any sort, since I'm setting around 3 feet from the hive, and just sitting quietly watching them. The biggest deal was the cats who wanted to sit by me and were intrigued by the bees. But you want to sit back a bit so that the bees don't get confused and land on you, so don't sit in front of the entrance :) I am again going to be out of town a few days again and feel confident that they will be fine while I'm gone. I'll feed them before I leave and if they need to be refilled I'll leave it for my husband or son to fill. It's a front feeder, so it's easy to take off and fill.

So, everyone have a safe and happy Memorial day, see ya on the flip!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Pablo Picasso never drew comb!

      Well, I was out of town for a week, days after I installed my bees. This quite stressed me out to be honest. However, my son is in the Navy, and needed his car. It was a lovely visit. But after a week of being gone, I'll bee honest, I was glad to bee home. I did get a chance to see a few bee hives along my travels, many were actually at some of the wineries I visited. Have I ever mentioned that I am a wine lover? :) Turns out that many of the vineyards we stopped at along the way had a nice amount of hives! I even chatted a bit with some of the proprietors about the bees. Of course some of them use the honey for Mead and some just to pollinate the flowers in the orchards and vineyards. I digress...
      So I got home in the nick of time! My bees were down to the last dregs of food in their feeder (since my husband is allergic I am the only one who can mess with them), so I got them fed yesterday morning, and observed that they were buzzing around nicely. I opted not to open the hive in the morning. I had so much to do, getting caught up on stuff around my house. So, I went ahead and got most things done during the day. In the evening I put on my hoodie, hat, gloves and veil. Armed with my bee brush, hive tool and frame grip went ahead and opened the hive to look for larvae and comb.
     Not wanting to keep the hive open very long I moved in determined quick movements, and let's face it I really don't have much of a clue what I was really looking for. I didn't locate the queen in the waning light, but I did see that they had drawn out comb and that many of the cells were sealed. I took this to be a good sign. I looked at several frames finding the same thing. It seems there are only small clumps of comb here and there, and in one spot it seemed to have a big long comb drawn on the frame, that didn't really look like a regular comb, I've never seen a queen cell, but would be what I imagine it would look like. I'm a bit stressed out about it, but not so much that I am going to do anything rash. I may try to locate the queen again, and if I can't find her also have some pics of the strange comb, to send it to one or two of the bee folks I've met to see if they can tell me what it is. I'm just so inexperienced I don't really know.

     I noticed this morning that my stack of extra supers and second hive has generated a lot of interest of my bees, or some bees anyway. It was buzzing with them, I did a little digging around of the extras to make sure that my bees aren't migrating over. Honestly, I think they were just checking it out. There were no bees inside, just looked like they were just being curious, part of it was the used hive and did have some old wax in it, which I am thinking perhaps had some old honey. I'm going to keep and eye on it just in case. The trees behind our house are in bloom looks like perhaps pears or some other fruit, bees abound! I'm wondering if it's time to take out the entrance blocker. I think it maybe OK now that they are it appears they are doing what they are supposed to be doing and I am confident that we have larvae and comb. I am going to continue to feed. I put in my garden before I left, and while some of my plants didn't make it, looks like a good many did and so therefore I am anticipating replanting some new stuff and waiting for some of the other goodies I just sewed in the ground directly to take root. I anticipate my bees having plenty of food in the next months. Today, back to the nursery to add in more plants. I will let you know what I discover about the strange cells in the hive and try to shoot some pics of it so that if you have a similar one you can either tell me what it is or know what yours is! See you in a few days!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

New-Bee-doo-bee-do... where are you?

Day five into the hive...
So since I my last entry it's been pretty jazzy around here! 24 hours after I put the bees in, the queen was ready to make her regal appearance. The grande Madame was ready to get to work. Being that I've never done this before I was unsure how long to wait the papers & books disagreed so I put in a call to Tim the lovely man whom I bought the bees from. He assured me that 24 hours was fine, and not to worry about the weather we were having since bees have been around for a darn long time and I was doing fine. I felt greatly reassured by his wisdom, so I went ahead and got myself ready to release the the queen. Given it was about 60 degrees and overcast I was wearing jeans, uggs and a hoodie. I decided to keep that gear on and just added gloves, a veil and a hat. Again, I am not using a smoker. So, out I trekked across the freshly tilled garden (ie, mudd) to get to the hive. Confidence in hand, or mind, I should correct, I looked at the strap on the hive. At this point it occurred to me that I had no idea how this thing worked. I gave it a try but all I ended up doing was pissing off the hive by shaking the hive a bit... that was not a good BUZZ noise... At that point I decided that I had better take a moment to let them calm down and use good ol' fashioned ingenuity to figure out that strap...
      Hello Youtube! I came in stripped down the hat, gloves and veil and got myself situated on the computer. Three or four videos later I figured I had a better grip on it, just about that time my 14 yr old son came in. Ah-ha... a MALE.. certainly he'd know about a strap-release... right?

So HE put on the gear and off he went to try to fool with the strap. No luck. So we switched back, I am certainly investing in a second veil... Evidently after looking at this stupid strap for a while longer, careful not to jostle anything I noticed a black button on the black handle... could this be? a RELEASE?! Why yes it was! Hallelujah! I got the strap undone and lifted the lid, and then the inner lid, my bees were looking good! Just chillin' doin' what bees do. It was clear that I was going to need to remove a frame in order to get the queen out of her box. I removed a frame with few bees on it. I pulled the last frame and moved the others to give myself some room. I checked the queen she looked lively and well, a little yellow dot on her head. I will make mention that the entire queen box was covered by other bees, who didn't seem too happy that I was messing with her. At this time my entire hands were covered with bees! It was about this time I realized that the cork in the box was really lodged in there and would require a pair of needle nosed pliers to get it out. Here I am, covered in bees thinking, hu... not good planning Lees! My son grabbed a set for me and I carefully leaned over the hive and took out the cork, I'd read about queens flying off so I was careful to have her over the box in case she decided to fly. She did not. I reattached the box to the inner frame and put the frame I'd taken out back in. OUCH! Bee sting... right on my knee... really? I'm wearing jeans! OK, I looked, no bee... I finished up doing what bee keepers do... put the lids back on, but left that infernal strap off because dang if it wasn't just as confusing to put it ON! Plus, I'm not gonna lie, my knee was stinging because I had not been able to just scrape out the stinger so I could feel it in my leg. It isn't so painful that I feel like I'm going to die, certainly not anything that's terribly pleasant. I think I would liken the sensation of being stung to a mosquito bite on steroids, a little more painful but not all that bad. I'd rather have a bee sting any day than in itchy bite from a mosquito.
     I went back in the house took off the gear and then removed my jeans to see what was up, and there was a bee... the little bugger that stung me. I had totally forgotten that bees crawl, and crawl up my leg this one did, right up under my jeans and over my boots. Note to self on that one!
Clearly no longer a danger of being a stinger, I called my son up to my room and handed it to him. Here are some of the pics he took. He was sad it was going to die, but it was a great learning tool for him to hold a bee and feel how they feel on your skin. He was quite fascinated by it.
     So skip ahead now a couple days. It was time to check the hive for activity and making sure that the queen was doing her queenly duties. I also needed to replenish my bees food. I was able to do all these things because thankfully my husband recognized my frustration with the strap and replaced it with a new one, that is much easier to use. THANK YOU HONEY FOR YOUR SUPPORT!
     As you can see, I pulled several frames, checked for wax and larvae, which I didn't see too much of, but I do see good activity, and I did spot the queen. That was what I going for. As an aside, you will also note I have some new tools. I bought a bee brush, a hive tool, a frame clip and a
queen catcher, all as a package deal for less than $15 on Amazon. I wouldn't have gotten the other two items the clip and the catcher unless it was just a part of the set, and it was, so hey? why not? That is a significantly lower $ amount than here in town at the store, amazingly it got here in 24 hours! I was thrilled! I did use the brush and I also tried out the frame clip.
     Last of all since I am going to be gone a few days I filled up the bee food, and after I spilled an entire gallon of it on the ground by the hive, oops. I did get it all settled. Alls well that ends well. So the hive is on it's own for a week or so, I will leave them alone to let them BEE....

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Houston, the hive has landed!

     It's Cinco De Mayo for some, for other's it's Derby day, and for me?! It's bee day. Our bees had been pushed back from the seller for a couple weeks, which for me was actually a blessing. I wasn't ready yet! However in the past few days I was able to get myself all sorted out and my new hive all ready to go! I didn't get to paint it, long story there, but I figure the bees won't much care one way or the other.
    Given that I was not feeling all that well last night a friend was kind enough to help me out with my hive and getting the last pieces into place. This morning my son, my Mom and I put the hive together. Got the Cinderblocks in place, then the base, the brood box, the feeder, and the lids. All ready to go, a brand new bee home. I watched anxiously as the time for the scheduled bee pick up grew closer. Finally I got in the car and headed off to pick up my bees. Tim Brod who is the beekeeper who I bought my Colorado bees from, has been a beekeeper since he was about 4, given that he's a little older than myself, that's a good long while! I've been told over and over by anyone who knows about bees in Denver that he's the go-to guy! So I "went-to". I followed the GPS to the warehouse district off of the highway out in Downtown Denver. The parking lot was packed with all of the people picking up bees today. I was a tad early for my grouping, but it was perfect because I needed a veil at the shop anyway.
     To Bee or not to Bee is a small store in the back of an industrial area off of 39th and I-25. When you open the door it smells of lumber. The store is small and was full of busy bee shoppers. I made my way to the back of the store, passing by the pretty painted hives, the plastic frame bases, the queen excluders and smokers. I saw tables of books, and packages of seed for bee friendly flowers. In the back along the wall I found the beekeeper's suits. Possibly because it was so hot today or maybe because I just was feeling brave but I have opted to go without a costly suit that frankly looks like one of those things that you buy because you "should" and then later go, "WOW, why did I spend $160?" So... I got a veil that goes over a baseball cap for $20.
yes I'm making a goofy "scared" face! 
     I looked at the hive tools and bee brushes but was put off by the price. I'm normally not the world's most frugal person when it comes to hobby supplies, but when I saw these tools I was like, really? I see things that look just like that at the hardware store for $5 not $16, so I opted out, and I have a drafting brush that is actually much nicer and softer than the bee brush I saw there, now it was only $6.50, but the line to check out was so long that I didn't get it because I'd already bought the veil and remembered I needed a tool and brush as I was leaving the store and I didn't feel like waiting again. I figure I can always order my goodies online if I need or want them later. I completely had made up my mind that I didn't want a smoker before I even went in, so I didn't even price them. I may at sometime in the future go that route but not today.
     After I did a little lap around the shop, I headed out for my bees. I stood back and observed the handing out to some other folks and everyone was very nice. It got to be my turn, I stepped up and gave my name to a helper, to his right was standing Tim, who remembered me from our conversation on the phone and was so very nice! The helper (didn't catch his name) looked me up and was like "OH, WOW! Tim must like you! He gave you the best ones!" Which made me happy! Tim's best bees! YAY! I'm super excited now! The instructions that Tim had sent out had reminded us to bring some gloves if you were worried about the bees crawling on you when you carried the package. I had made up my mind that I was NOT going to be afraid of them crawling on me, this was not the way to start out a relationship. I did bring my gloves but left them in my purse. I chatted with Tim for a few min and he told me some basics about where to put the bees in my car etc... We shook hands and he put the package of buzzing bees into my bare hands. There were about 100 loose ones buzzing on the outside and one decided to take a ride on my bare arm to the car. I was a bit freaked out because hey, we're always taught BEES STING! But I very calmly walked to the car with 25 or so loose bees flying around and one hitch-hiking on my arm. I could feel it's prickly legs walking on my skin. I had left the windows open in the car so I simply leaned in and set the bees in the front passenger seat. Bees were ridin' shotgun!
 Since its only May, we haven't charged up the air in the blue jeep, and bees need to be kept at a good temp, cause let's face it they are riding in a box with about 3,000 of their closest friends... I left the windows down and had the fan on for them. Soon, I found myself with a few of those loose bees buzzing around the car, I have to say, a little freaky, cause how wants to ride with a bee in the car? But it was all good, we got home safe and sound. But now what? I was on my own! 

     I got the bees into the house and and set them in the kitchen. Of course I snapped off a couple shots for my blog :)

I had made the bees food before I left mixing 4 cups sugar into a gallon jug and then filling the jug with hot water. Giving me a good syrup. (NOT a gallon of water, but fill the rest of the gallon jug with water) So, I filled the feeder at this point, not having done so before, so as not to attract robber bees when I had an empty hive. Now was the moment of truth. I got my new veil out of the package and put it on. I had opted not to do a whole big deal of cloths in the heat of the day, so I wore my tank top, shorts and flip flops to put my bees in the hive. I did of course wear gloves and the veil. I had a tool that looked a lot like the one they had called a hive tool so I used that to pry the feeder can out of the package box, this was  trickier than I thought it was going to be BTW... and took me 3 tries it was wedged in there pretty good. It was also sort of freaky because the sound the bees made was a direct line to their mood! They made a cool buzzing noise all as one, it was really a soothing noise, until they sounded pissed! I had knocked the side of the package and they clearly didn't like that! So I stepped away and let them calm down for about 5 min. Then I went back and was able to remove the can. No one can actually prepare you for the sight of about 1000 bees coming at you out of a box.... it was intense! It was around this time I was rethinking my decision to wear a tank top and shorts to do this... But I was in for a penny, in for a pound! The box was open, so I turned it upside down and did what the books all told me to do, gave it a good shake, dumping the bees into the waiting hive. I'd taken out 3 frames like the books said. A big pile of bees fell into the hive, but the box was still half full! So, I gave them another shake, and then one more. The box was still about 1/4 to 1/8 full, and I decided that was good. I then took out the queen in her box, made sure to put her in with the screened side facing out so the bees can feed her. Right about then, OUCH! I got stung under my arm, and then 2 seconds later OUCH! another sting on my leg... OK I feel ya bees...

I put the frames in, the lid on and walked away. I scraped out the stingers with my sharp nail after I had gotten a few steps away and took off my glove. I was still in a cloud of bees I could hear them buzzing around me. I wasn't afraid though, I know they only actually stung me because one got under my arm stuck in my armpit and the other must have been between the leg above the knee but both most likely got squished my me as I was moving around. I tried to make slow deliberate movements as I worked with them. All in all I think it went pretty well. I just went back out a little while ago and put the package they came in and the feeder can on top of the hive, most of the bees are gone out of the package now. I did notice that there was a big "line" to get in the hive since I have the entrance blocker on but now they are all in except for the scouts who are flying around checking out what's to eat around here....
     So, that's my first day as a Bee-Ma-Ma.... I do think when I release the queen in the next day or so I will wear long sleeves and probably jeans or yoga pants, not because I'm afraid of being stung, but I think that I would have been fine and gotten through sting free if I hadn't smooshed one or two bees in body creases... I am pretty dang happy and self satisfied right now and keep going over to peek at the beehive out the window. Just seein' what's up with them. I'll be posting again when I release the queen and hopefully have someone at home so that they can take some pictures of me doing it rather than being alone for it!