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  • Bee-Keeping, The Third Year

    Fall                                                         Full Autumn Moon

    Our revels now have ended.  The very last of the year’s harvest, four-foot long decorative squash and birdhouse style gourds, Kate brought in yesterday. 

    The bees are done for the year.  Two colonies will die over the winter and the third, with luck, will survive.  Even if it does, this is my last  year for overwintering colonies.  The part-time, small quantity operation we have here doesn’t justify the extra work of mite treatments, concern over various ailments only caught by colonies that survive from one year to the next and the inhibited production of the colony developing as a parent colony.

    Artemis Hives now has two honey harvests under its belt in this, the third year of bee-keeping here.  Kate and I have developed a work flow.  She takes care of wooden ware, uncapping frames and bottling while I put foundations into the frames, manage the colonies, remove the honey supers and bring them to the house and insert them in the extractor.

    Three hives, or even two, will make honey enough for us and our friends.  The process is more straightforward after three seasons, now heading into the fourth.  The bees have become part of our life here, like the perennials, the vegetables, the orchard and the dogs before them.

    We also have the beginning of a label collection with 2010 and 2011 labels designed and produced by Woolly Mammoth Mark Odegard.

  • Bee Diary: Memorial Day, 2010

    Beltane                                       Waning Planting Moon

    Hive inspections today.  A rhythm to the process has begun to set in, not jelled quite yet, but getting there.  In the honey house, the converted machine shed where we parked our various internal combustion contraptions, off come the hat, the gloves, sweatshirt.  Pick up the smoker, toss two handfuls of hamster bedding in it and light.05-31-10_beeyard Open the package of dense cotton clumps, tear off a piece or two and shove them into the  side of the smoker, being careful to keep the flame going.  Pick out a square of cut-up cotton cloth and set it on fire next to the dense cotton, hit the bellows a couple of times to make sure the thing gets stoked.

    (bee yard)

    Put on the bee suit, being careful to tighten the velcro around the wrists.  At this point it would also make sense to tuck my pants into my socks, but it seems I still require the sight of a bee on the ground.  Then I do it.

    Pick up the hive tool and stick it in my back pocket, close and pick up the smoker and head out to the package colony, #3.  I do them in the order of orneriness.  The package bees are very calm, the divided colony less so and the parent colony, #1, can be downright aggressive.  This way I leave fewer excited bees in the air as I get closest to the end.

    After a little smoke under the copper top on #3 and dash at the entrance, I lift the copper top off and put it standing up against a baby oak tree nurtured by Jon.  This reveals the empty hive body that protects the syrup bucket positioned upside down over the opening in the hive box cover.  Today it was not significantly down so I left it alone after removing it.  A little more smoke and the hive box cover comes off, the frames and foundations of this new colony now are visible.  Being careful to keep the frames over the hive box (in case the queen is on the frame and should fall off she’ll land back in the hive), I look at it with the sun to my back, then flip it over and do the same with the other side. I find larvae, so we’re still queen right and work has proceeded on several frames, but  there’re no where near the 80% needed to add another hive box.     (colony 3)


    This colony had eaten through the pollen patty I provided, so I had to interrupt my visit with a trip inside, down in the basement to get a pollen patty from the small refrigerator we have down stairs.  Made me think it might be nice to have a small fridge in the honey house.  I could keep pollen patties in there along with water and Sharps.

    Looking at the bees at work, once you get over your fear of getting stung, counts as one of the pleasures of bee-keeping at a hobby level, so I indulge myself.  Nursery bees go head first into comb to clean it out, or add more height, do something hygienic for a larvae.  Worker bees are adding pollen to combs and honey, too, creating a food supply around the colony’s nursery, ensuring food for the long haul. Close it up and move on to

    #2 has a lot more bees.  With its copper top off the hive box cover has a solid mass of bees.  The new hive box, on top of the divided box with the new, marked queen, has a number of frames with drawn out comb, but several are still empty.  This means the colony has plenty of room and I see no swarm cells on the top box.  Should I reverse them?  I couldn’t remember.  I don’t, figuring that the crowded bees are in the divided box and the more roomy box is on top.  Since the queen tends to move up, it makes more sense to me to leave this hive in the status quo.  Everything gets put back together in the reverse order from which it was removed.

    Colony #3, the package Mark and I hived last April in his surplus equipment he loaned me to get started, is mature.  It has a year plus old queen still in her peak fertility years, a full contingent of workers, two hive boxes with drawn out comb, larvae and plenty of food for the colony.  From a honey production perspective this is the point of the whole process.  As I lift the outside hive cover, metal topped to protect the colony from the elements, there are not as many bees here as there were in #2.  That makes sense because the hive cover here is over a honey super, not directly over a hive box.

    Just by looking I can see the honeycomb drawn out on almost all of the 10 frames in the honey super.  This is exciting.  When I lift this honey super off, it’s heavy.  Heavy05-31-10_filledhoneysuper with honey.  More smoke.  The second honey super does not have as much honey because they had to draw out comb for it, but there is still a substantial amount, maybe half of the frame sides.  It comes off, lighter than the top one.

    Below the honey super is the queen excluder.  It has bees all over it and experienced bee keepers assure that many times the queen, just out of contrariness, will be on the underside.  So, I’m careful to lift the excluder over the hive.  I look for the queen but cannot see her.  She could have been right in front of me and I’m not sure I would have known.  She’s longer, that’s the most obvious difference.

    (a full frame of honey)

    Today colony 3 seems calmer.  Maybe it’s me, getting more acquainted with the work.  I can’t tell.  These two hive boxes are full of bees.  The U says to reverse them every 7-10 days, so I’m reversing them.  What do I know at this point?  Both the hive boxes are heavy two with stored honey, larvae and bees.  Since I’m not turning pink and sweat is not blinding me as I make every move, I’m slower, use my legs.  Not a problem.  After reversing them and checking for swarm cells (maybe, but there’s not much I can do at this point except put on more honey supers which I have with me.), I put the honey supers back, starting with a new pair just constructed by Kate and beautiful to see.  This means I have chosen, not sure why, to put the heaviest box on top.  This could get unwieldy pretty fast. (see picture)  The hive box cover goes on over the top honey super, the metal covered top and another hive inspection is in the books.

    Hilo, who lay at the edge of the bee yard as I worked, and I go back to the honey house, open up the smoker so it can burn out, put the hive tool away, hang up the bee 05-31-10_colony1suit and head out to the chair sitting on the bricks in front of the honey house.  I finish off the Sharps, look at the trees, marveling at these unique living beings and watch a sparrow gathering material for a nest.  Until next week.

    (new honey supers on colony 3)

  • A Bee Day

    Spring                                          Waxing Flower Moon

    The drought took a hit last night and this morning.  We had almost an inch of rain and it all fell right in the window when I needed to hive my bees.  Wouldn’t you know?

    Today had a bit of the comic routine to it.  I got up this morning ready to hive the bee package I picked up last evening.  All  I had to do was put the foundation into the frames.  The foundation is a beeswax coated sheet on which the bees build their hexagonal cells that house larvae, pollen and honey.  It’s flimsy and I remembered from somewhere that it just snapped right in.  Right.

    The first two I tried I bent the metal holding the edges together and in bending it loosed the beeswax from its sheet.  So, I went on the internet to see if I had the idea wrong. Well, I knew I had it wrong, I went on the net to find out how to fix it.  I came away convinced that you had to build foundation into the frame.  Which meant I had ten empty frames I couldn’t use.

    OMG.  I have bees to hive and no frames with foundations.  Long story short I drove back out to Nature’s Nectar where the guy said, “Bullshit.  Let me show you.”  And so he did.  It was a long drive for a lesson in frames and foundations, but worth it.

    When I returned, I did indeed pop the foundations in the frame.  All in knowing how.

    So, I gathered the copper clad hive cover, the hive box with its ten frames and foundations, the bottom board, the entrance reducer and a top board that goes over the topmost hive box.  My plan was to do the complete reversal on the existing colony as Jim of Nature’s Nectar suggested, take the feeder off of it and reuse it on the new colony.

    The smoker, still the least understood part of the business right now for me, lit, I went out to the colony that stung me five times just a week ago.  Since this was an extended operation, I put on the gloves this time.  The bees got mad, they don’t leave home much on rainy days and don’t  like getting off their loungers while watching the bee olympics or whatever.  Well protected, I went on about the business of putting the top most hive box on the bottom, the bottom most box on top, removing the feeder and reclosing the hive.

    No stings.  I had the feeder.  It was all good.  Except.  Several, by several I mean a lot, of bees had set up house keeping in the area under the feeder.  They did not want to leave.  Not even after I shook the feeder, whacked it on hay bales and generally tried to evict the squatters.  I couldn’t put it on the other hive with strangers living in it, so I had to go to the hardware store and get pails of the right size to make feeder pails.  Which meant I had to get an empty hive box from downstairs to cover the pail. After taking the hive box out, I realized I had to go back inside to get a pollen patty.

    Finally, I had everything and proceeded to whack the bee package on the ground to move all the bees to  the bottom of the wood and wire package.  The feeder, a tin can with holes in it, pries out and leaves a hole through which you pour the bees onto the bottom of the hive box from which you have removed the four central frames just for this purpose.  The bees, after being liberally sprayed with sugar and water syrup, should fall to the bottom of the hive.  There you spread them around.  That worked for most of them, but some of them didn’t get the memo.

    So, I had an opportunity to test whether I have a developing allergy to bee stings.  Nope.  I’m just fine.  The bees are in their new hive, and so, I hope, is the queen whom I’d forgotten to remove in my excitement.  When I did get her out, I released her by the direct release method–pry up the screen covering her small box and let her walk out–but some of her subjects took it upon themselves to sting me right about then, so I’m not sure she’s in the hive.  Though I think she is.  I’ll find out in a week when I check the frames to see if there any larvae.

    Anyhow, the bee day has ended.  Tomorrow is plant day.  Time in the garden.  After that, who knows?

  • A Warm-Blooded Insect?

    Spring                                         Waxing Awakening Moon

    Sunny, but cool though warm weather seems fated to come our way.  Ice out has advanced on Round Lake though there is still rough, weak ice over most of its surface.  Many daffodils have speared their way up through the leaves and other detritus from last falls end of the growing season.  I’ve seen a few hosta roll-ups, too.  I put in my last order of bee stuff yesterday, bringing seven honey supers, 70 super frames and 50 super foundations, a copper hive cover and 75 frame and foundations for the deep hive bodies.

    The old machine shed, now to be the honey house needs a thorough cleansing which will be an early task once the weather moves away from soggy and I have some time for outside work.

    Today, in just a couple of minutes, I have a call about Matt Entenza’s gubernatorial campaign.  They want my thoughts on environmental issues.  They can have every one of them.  After the call, on to the language of ancient Rome.  Later in the day I may revise Liberal II.  That novel just sits there right now.  Waiting.  Meanwhile my promiscuous creative spirit entertains other guests, a new project, a big project, that will follow After the Hawthorn Wars.

    Here’s another jaw dropper that I learned about bees during my bee course.  Over the winter the colony becomes a large cluster with all the bees hanging, literally, together, shivering.  The shivering produces heat and keeps the colony alive during the temperature drops of winter.  This means, said Marla Spivak, that in winter the colony, the whole colony, acts like a warm blooded animal.  The colony is a super-organism that gathers food, births larvae and nurses them, takes diseased and deceased members, defends itself and takes up a lot of time with architecture as well.

    Since the cluster happens inside the hive boxes, it is difficult to picture.  I’ve chosen a swarm in the picture here, to show you a cluster, but not like the one I had in my first colony this winter.