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  • Bee Diary: 2012

    Spring                                             New Beltane Moon

    One of the new colonies is queenright for sure.  I saw the white, curled up worker bee larvae resting in their cellular incubators.  The other colony, I’m not sure.  It looked like there were some very early larvae on one frame, but that could have been my hopeful squinting, too.  I’ll have to check it again on Monday or Tuesday.

    I did drop one frame, loaded with bees, during this hive inspection.  They spilled out onto the ground and an angry buzzing commenced as they tried to figure out what happened to their warm, comfortable work space.  Oops.  Haven’t made that particular mistake before.

    There was plenty of smoke though and these bees seem, like last years, docile, not overly aggressive.  I’m glad, because I prefer using only the veil and regular garden gloves.  That way I don’t get overheated and my hands are easier to use.


  • 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: 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.

  • Bee Diary: June 24, 2010

    Summer                              Waxing Strawberry Moon

    I got through 2.5 hive inspections.  The package colony has beautiful comb, an excellent egg-laying pattern and is now ready for the third hive box.  That’s as far as it needs to go as soon as it fills out at least 8 frames in the new hive box.  That should happen over the month of July.

    The divide has had three hive boxes for a week now and has begun to fill up frames in the third hive box though they are far from full.  I see no evidence that either of these two have swarmed and I saw few swarm cells.  Still a bit difficult for me to recognize for sure.

    All of the colonies were a bit more aggressive than usual this morning, a surprise to me since it’s sunny and warm, a good day to go gather nectar and pollen.  In my opinion there was no need to harass the bee-keeper, but the divide began whacking at me and got me in a tender space right on top of my thumb’s joint.  That hurt!  I completed that inspection, too, trying to follow the check every frame idea.

    When I got to the parent colony, I removed the two empty honey supers I put on last week.  Nothing.  Nature’s Nectar, a blog about bee-keeping kept up by the guy who sold me my queen and my package, however, said he had little new honey, too.  He’s thinking it will pick up this week.  It’s nice to have that kind of confirmatory message since it makes me think things are ok here at Artemis Hives.

    When I got the honey supers removed, I began my inspection of the top hive box.  It is full of bees.  Mad bees.  I to about half way through the inspection of the top box and the bees had begun to dive bomb my hands as I reached for a frame.  Game over.  I’m not willing to spend a week with swollen hands.

    I’ll go out tomorrow or Saturday to finish the inspection.  I don’t know for sure whether the irritation of hive inspections transmits from colony, but if it does, then the parent colony was ready for me.  I may try starting with it next time.

    Other than that my fears of a foul-brood infection seemed to be misplaced.  I saw none of the signs.  The egg laying pattern in the parent colony seems uneven to me, where the other two looked more compact. (better)  I’m still a long way from feeling sure about what I see and what to do with the information.  But, I’m much further along than I was in April.

  • 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?

  • More Bee Stuff

    Spring                                           Waxing Awakening Moon

    The bulk of the bee woodenware has come:  frames for honey supers, honey supers, foundations for honey supers, a bee brush, a feeder for syrup and a bunch of pollen patties and goop to make my own if I need to do so.   While this may seem like a lot of gear, and it is, by next year we should have four colonies with two producing a lot of honey and two ready to divide to create two more good honey producers and two more developing parent colonies that will provide the honey for the year after that.

    This system can work with any number of colonies, but if focuses on producing two at a time and can reach a steady state at any multiple of two.  In the first year (last year’s for me) the goal is to create a parent colony that can divide in mid-May.  With the division there are now two colonies, one with an established queen, the parent colony, and the division, which initially has no queen.  The parent colony produces a lot of honey while the division with a new queen builds itself up to three hive boxes and may produce some honey.  Over the winter the parent colony bees die out–the usual life span of a queen is two years and worker bees somewhere between 30 and 90 days on average.  The parent colonies hive boxes get cleaned out and accept the division from the new parent colony and so on.  By adding a new package of bees this year in a new hive box in the orchard, I’m preparing a parent colony for division next year there.

    After next year we will have four colonies, two producing a good bit of honey and two strengthening themselves toward division in the upcoming year.  With careful attention to bee diseases, hygiene and good management this can self-perpetuate.

    On April 24th or so I get my new 2 pound package of Minnesota Hygienic bees.  They’ll go in the orchard with the fancy new copper hivery top.  We’ll see these two hives out our kitchen window year in and year out so I wanted them to look good.  Mid-may I divide the old colony and start stacking up honey supers.  Then we should be off to the races.

  • 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.

  • 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.