Bee Diary: April 17, 2011

Spring                                                       Full Bee Hiving Moon

First full outdoor morning.  Took off all the hive boxes, cleaned every frame and the hive boxes, prepared hive boxes for the packages due next weekend.  The divide from last year’s parent colony had a lot of remaining honey, so I put four frames from it in each of two of the hive boxes for the packages.  In the other hive box I used honey from the package colony I had started last year.  A sticky job, scraping old propolis and wax off the frames, scraping dead bees off the bottom boards and into the garden (I’m told they make excellent fertilizer.), evaluating remaining frames for use in the upcoming year.

(Artemis Hives patroness goddess)

Now I have three single hive boxes with ten frames, four of honey and six with drawn comb.  Both of those mean the packages should be more efficient earlier since they will not spend energy drawing out comb.  Each of those hive boxes has its entrance reducer in to full obstruction, or, in one case, it sits flush on the foundation board, which seals it up.

I have to buy one new bottom board and three entrance reducers, other than that, I’m well set up for what will be my third year of bee keeping. I’ve got a long way to go before I’m proficient, but it’s beginning to be less of a mystery.

Mark and I both worked outside.  He moved limbs and compost material while I worked on the hive boxes and frames.  I only have one hive tool.

We Inch, Slowly, Toward Spring

Spring                                                                 Waxing Bee Hiving Moon

Kate comes home tonight.  Yeah!  I miss her when she’s gone. I’ll follow our usual procedure and pick her up at the Loon Cafe, conveniently located at the end of the light rail service 650-herb-spiralfrom the airport.  Makes the drive much shorter and I get a good meal in the bargain.

After the biting and the barking and the adrenaline I figured out a somewhat complicated solution to the Rigel/Sollie problem.  It involves making sure that one set of dogs is in their crate before admitting the others to the house.  This way nobody trespasses on anybody else’s territory.

It demands a careful watching of when Rigel and Vega are away hunting so I can let Sollie, Gertie and Kona inside.  Or, alternatively, when Rigel and Vega are on the deck and the others are out hunting.  A bit baroque I know but I have no more indentations in the leg.

(pics from April of last year)

As the Bee Hiving moon goes from New to Full, our yard will lose its snow and we will have several species of flowers in bloom, a few vegetables in the ground and as it begins to wane we should have our new bees hived and happy in their new homes.  There are things that need to happen before this last, not the least moving the hives to the orchard, cleaning all the frames of propolis and burning the old hive boxes and frames I got from Mark, the bee mentor.650-apple-blossoms

Seeing the bulbs planted in the fall begin to emerge always heartens me because it reminds me of hours of labor spent in the cool air of late October or early November.  We won’t be here for that time next year, so probably no new bulbs this year.

In fact, I’m declaring finished to our orchard, garden, vegetable, bee expansions.  We’ll stick with no more than three hives, the raised beds and other beds we have in the vegetable garden, the trees and bushes we have in the orchard and the flower beds we have in place now.

We’ll always have to replace dead plants and put in new ones in their place.  We have to care for the fruit trees and bushes, plant vegetables and maintain the bee colonies so we’ll have to plenty to keep us occupied.  I just want to get good at the stuff we have and begin to slowly limit the work we do over the course of the year.

Excluded Queen, Clean Fins

Summer                       Waning Summer Moon

The smoker worked.  Mostly.  The bees have had 2 to 2.5 months of breeding, brooding and comb building.  There are a lot more bees than there were in April when Mark showed me how to load a box a’ bees into the first hive box.  Weekly I’ve checked each frame, when there are three hive boxes on as there is now, that means checking 28 frames each time.

The bee’s propolis had welded together many frames this time, so prying them apart proved more difficult than it had the first weeks.  With smoke to discourage angry bees each frame came out with minimal interference.  After checking a few frames in each hive box, I put the top box on the bottom, left the middle one in its place and put the bottom one of top.  If I understand it correctly, this encourages the bees to continue producing brood, making the colony more healthy for the winter while also expanding their honey base in the honey supers where the queen cannot go.

In this way the colonies survival over the winter gains a higher probability while still allowing the bee-keeper to harvest some of the honey flow.

Today, after the hives, I cracked the case of the outside air conditioning unit, took it off and sprayed off the literal blanket of cottonwood fibers that had collected around the fins which guide air past the cooling coils.  I could have done this three weeks ago, but I forgot about it.  It’s not fun for me since it involves lot of little screws, a cantankerous body of sheet metal that must line up with the holes just right and more bending than my deconditioned joints can stand.  A good prod to get back to the resistance and flexibility work as well as the aerobics.

I tend to emphasize the aerobics since the heart and circulatory system and the respiratory system tend to cause death if not tended with care.  That’s only half of the battle though, the other half is having enough strength and flexibility to live the life time saved by regular aerobic exercise.

The cantankerous sheet metal awaits.  I’ve written this while letting it dry off.  This all falls under the British category of estate management.  Where are all the servants again?  Oh, that’s right.  They are me.

Late June Hive Inspection

Summer                        Waxing Summer Moon

Mark and Elise came over today.  We wandered through the garden and the orchard, followed by Rigel and Vega.  They licked and pressed and jumped.  New people!  New people!  Oh, boy!  Oh, boy!  New people!  Rigel and Vega found Leif and Tate and Tate’s twin really, really interesting.  Baby head!  Baby head!  Oh, boy!  Oh, boy!

Mark and I went out to the hive and popped the lid after suiting up.  The smoker worked better today, but I’ve still not got it down.  There are a lot of bees.  I thought so, but Mark confirmed it.  There are lots of brood, plenty of honey and a few uninhabited queen cells.  We scraped and checked each of the 20 frames, leaving two frames out to insert into the new box we put on top.  The hive is now three boxes high, its maximum.

Next week or so, the honey supers go on the third box.  About half the size of a hive box the supers fill up with honey.  They are the work product that goes into the centrifuge for extraction.  A typical super has about 30 pounds of honey.  Seems like a lot to me.

Mark finds the bees fascinating per se, the honey a bonus that sometimes pays for the bees and the equipment in a given year.  I agree.  The hive construction project alone interests me.  The six sided cells, the propolis, drone, worker and queen cells, the making of honey and its storage reveal a life way and a life form unlike any we contact in the usual day to day.  There is more, too: the queen and her squadron of drones, hopeful suitors, all but one of whom will live and die unfulfilled, the solitary life of the queen, moving from cell to cell squeezing out egg after fertilized egg, the workers who build the cells and scout out food, coming back to communicate in a well known  complicated dance.

Many bee keepers work without suits and gloves.  Honey bees that survive our winters have a docile temperament and are not as defensive as the ordinary person would imagine, though Mark says they get more protective in the fall when the beekeeper begins to take the honey.   This might seem a bit cruel, but in fact the bulk of the honey, say 80-90 pounds, remains in the hive boxes and has enough nourishment for the hives to over winter.