• Tag Archives hive
  • Avoiding the Swarm

    Spring                                   Waxing Flower Moon

    A bruising middle finger, swollen passes the inflammation onto the top of the hand.  It itches.  This aspect of bee-keeping has its annoying moments.  Like using same finger to hit the i with regularity, or the comma both assigned to this one on the right hand.  This will, however, pass.  Kate says it is possible to develop an allergy of significance, I hope I don’t.

    This time of year in bee-keeping the primary task is to keep the colony from swarming.    My hive had burr comb when I opened it, comb on top of the top frames;  it also had swarm cells, that is, cells in which the larvae have been fed royal jelly to produce a queen.  Both of these are symptoms of a colony ready to swarm.  Swarming is natural, the way feral bees keep their population at optimum size and spread their kind.  It robs a beekeeper of the honey flow, however, because it is the over-wintered colony that produces the maximum amount of honey, so beekeepers want to keep their bees happy.

    One way to do this is to do a partial reverse, which I did Saturday.  Since a colony tends to move up during the winter, this puts the largely vacated middle box on top, thus creating more room for the hive.  A hive with room and food is less likely to swarm.  Another critical point comes in ten more days, when I then do the complete reverse.  About 10 days after that, I’ll split the colony in two.  That means I’ll have two colonies, plus the new one I’m starting this weekend while Kate’s away in Colorado.

    I’ll have three colonies through the fall, while the parent colony (if it doesn’t swarm.) will naturally die out.  If things have gone well, I’ll have two parent colonies next spring which I’ll split in May, thus giving me four colonies, two producing a lot of honey–the parents–and two perhaps producing some, but their primary task lies in producing a strong parent colony for the next spring.  Then, I’ll have two colonies which I’ll split and so on.

    Spread composted manure and hummus on the bed I plan to use as part of our kitchen garden after shopping at the Anoka co-op.   Not such a great experience at the co-op.  It was an old style co-op with few price labels, indifferent and largely volunteer staff, crowded aisles and only a modest selection of food.  Think I’ll stick with the Wedge.

  • Doing Stuff

    Spring                                                      Flowering Moon

    The netaphim ruined last year by dogs Rigel and Vega has repairs.  The repairs sit safely inside fences that Rigel has shown either no interest or no capability to penetrate.  They should last.

    The bees will wait until a less breezy tomorrow.  Wind blows the smoke around and I have to perform a reversal, hive check and clean off the bottom board.  The reversal of the top 2 hive boxes encourages the queen to move into the top box and lay eggs there to create an ovoid shape of larva outside of which the nursery bees will complete a ring of pollen and a ring of honey.  This makes the planned colony split on May 15th assured of one hive box full of larva, hopefully the top one with new larvae and therefore newly born nursery bees.  Nursery bees take more kindly to moving around than the older worker bees.

    Irrigation folks have scheduled Tuesday to come out and turn on the irrigation system.  A good thing.  They usually wait until the second week of May since our average last frost date is around May 15th.  I imagine that’s moved up closer to the first week of May on average, but a frost outside the average is still a frost so most planning still accommodates the old date.

    Tomorrow the bees and soil amending, that is, putting in composted manure and humus on the raised beds and adding some sphagnum moss (some more) to the blueberry beds.  The outdoor season with sun.  The great wheel turns.  Again.

  • 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.

  • Echoes of Narcissus

    Imbolc                                     New Moon (Awakening)

    An all day Latin day, this time 3rd conjugation verbs, the notorious bad boys of Latin grammar.  Due to a weak vowel they got jiggered around by spoken Latin until they’ve become most unusual, irregular in some ways.  Got remember the paradigms for present, future and imperfect.  Just gotta remember.  Latin has become easier and harder, reflecting, I suppose, past learning and present state of ignorance.  It is true though that I have begun to be able to read sentences without looking up a single word. That’s pretty exciting.

    Ovid here I come.  Of course, that’s Owid to English speaker’s ears.  I have a plan to put my Latin and my affection for Ovid to good use.  When I get closer to its realization, I’ll let you know.

    Talked to Mark Nordeen.  He has some pollen patties and has agreed to give me one for the live hive.  I’m gonna see him tomorrow.  Then, in April, I’ll hive the package bees and wait until mid-May to divide the new one, feeding and caring for both of them in the interim.  Kate has volunteered to be assistant apiarist.  Her first job involves whacking together ten hive boxes, eight supers plus frames and foundations.  It will be fun to have help.

    All the fruit trees are now visible.  No rabbit or vole damage on any of them.  That’s a relief because I was exasperated at the end of the last growing season–trying to keep Rigel and Vega in the yard, then out of the gardens.  As a result, I didn’t put up the hardware cloth protective barriers around them.

    It hit 64 here yesterday and its 56 today.  Geez.  The sun feels good.  When I walked out to pick up the mail today, I felt warmth on my neck.  It surprised me.

  • The Dead Live

    Imbolc                                  Waning Wild Moon

    Big news.  The dead live.  Or, rather, the bee colony I declared dead last fall turns out to be very much alive.  I checked busy-honey-bees_1712this afternoon.  That means the whole bee thing looks more and more rosy here at 7 Oaks.  In the second year we can expect honey.  And a second hive.  Good thing I’m taking this  class.

    All about bees.  Nothing about birds.  Marla Spivak is the charismatic professor of entomology at the University of Minnesota who has a lot of knowledge about colony collapse disorder.  She runs this weekend program for beginning beekeepers, a tradition at the University of Minnesota since 1922, as well the Bee Lab and the whole Bee program at the U.

    You might not think much more about this, but when you realize that, as I learned today, the Upper Midwest is the primary honey producing area in the United States, flanked by California and Florida, and that there is no bee program in any of our surrounding states, Nebraska is the closest, then you understand the significance of her role and the U’s bee program.

    Last year there were 160 people in the beginning bee-keepers class.  This year there were 250 with a waiting list of 150.  Interest in bee-keeping has taken on the characteristic of a small groundswell.  This is great news for bees, not so much for the 250 of us who sat in a theatre today that had little air circulation and 250 human furnaces pumping out BTU’s.  It got hot.

  • A Real Honey

    Summer                              Waning Summer Moon

    Today the queen excluder goes on my three hives after I shift the bottom to the top and the top to the bottom.  On top of the queen excluder goes two honey supers.  A honey super has half the depth of a hive box.  The queen excluder makes sure there is no brood in the part of the hive from which I will harvest the honey.

    The bee keepers refer to this as the fun part, but I’ve enjoyed the whole process so far.  The learning curve, steep at times, has leveled off right now.  I can work the smoker, know how to check frames and have mastered at least some of the know how necessary to bee keeping.  The next lesson comes during the honey flow work.  After the honey flow stops in the fall, there is the question of hive maintenance over winter.  Over wintering comes later.  Now, the honey.

  • Smoke Gets In Your Bees

    Waning Days of Beltane                   Waning Dyan Moon

    We near midsummer; it’s only 15 hours away.  The Summer Solstice, the hot sister of my favorite holiday, the Winter Solstice, comes to Minnesota at 12:47 am tomorrow, the early hours of father’s day.

    To celebrate I plan to work outside in the garden and do some pre-Raphaelite reading, maybe look for a PRB take on midsommer.

    To start, this morning I checked on the bees.  There are many, many more bees than came in the small wire and wood box in April.  They come and go, searching the area for nectar and finding plenty at this time of year with the bumper crops still ahead.  Nectar flow precedes honey flow and we are hind leg deep in pollen and nectar.

    The bees did not meet the threshold of 8 sides substantially covered with brood that indicates the need for another hive box.  Maybe next week.

    There must be a trick to getting the smoker lit and working.  It has challenged my bee-keeping more than the bees so far.  In order to use it  you have to a fuel burning, then smother it, but not put out the coals so the fuel will continue to smolder, producing smoke for the duration of your hive check.

    Like many learning curves this one imposes a double penalty.  While taking time to keep the smoker lit and producing, I can not work the hives.  Once in the hives, which I work slowly anyway because I’m still learning, the smoker punking out (pun!) puts me at risk from angry bees.  Meanwhile back to the smoker which means I’m not checking the hive.  Normal learning process.  Frustrating and exhilirating.

    Now for some deadheading, trellis building and potato and beet mounding.  Check you on the flipside.

  • Saling. Bogota. Bees.

    Beltane                 Waning Flower Moon

    And on the second day of May we turned our garage into a retail establishment.

    This reminds me of my first ever off the continent trip to Bogota.  The neighborhood of our small hotel was residential, living areas above garages, sort of like the San Francisco versions.  A middle-class to affluent neighborhood, not poor.

    I went out one morning for an after breakfast walk, just to take in the unusual experience of a people who lived in a  country in South America, who spoke Spanish.  I was not at home and loving it.  As my walk went on, the neighborhood began to wake up and the garages, too.  Doors slid up to reveal small businesses.  This one had groceries, that one had cleaning supplies, another with snacks and pop.  The neighorhood was one giant, apparently perennial garage sale.

    They had to do better than we did.  You’d think with a recessionary economy that people would turn out in large numbers.  But they didn’t.  The day was slow.  None of our big items the telescope, the dining room set, the bed sold.  It was a nice day, too.

    The only significant retail moment for me came when I sold a Che Guevara t-shirt to a Mexican family.

    Onions got planted today, a large bed weeded and prepared for peas.  The hive came open, too.  Inside the bees had gathered all at one end, working furiously on something, what I could not tell.  The smoker, filled with wet hay, smoked and the bees remained calm. The white bee suit and mesh head covering worked.  No bee got inside.

    Did they accept the queen?  Couldn’t tell.  I’m glad Mark plans to come tomorrow.  We’ll look together and he’ll help with what I need to see.

  • A Level Foundation

    Spring                 Waning Seed Moon

    This morning I leveled a foundation for the bee  hive.  Tomorrow I’ll paint the hive boxes and the base with a light colored latex paint and let them dry.   I also ordered a smoker and a hive tool from Mann Beekeeping Superstore in, of all places, Hackensack.  They should get here by Thursday.

    Once I have the hive tool I’ll finish cleaning the frames and the hive-boxes of propolis.  After they’re cleaned up, I’ll assemble the first part of the hive on the foundation.  I need to lay in a supply of white sugar.  At that point I should be ready for the bees which will arrive this coming Saturday.

    Will the dogs get too snoopy and get stung?  I hope not, but I think the hand on the hot stove learning curve will apply.  Daughter-in-law Jen has concerns about bees and I can understand that, no one wants to see kids get stung.  My general understanding is that American bee populations are not very aggressive to downright passive.  That is my experience with bees and bumble bees over several years in the garden.  I can work on flowers and plants while bees feed right beside me.  I have had no stings under those conditions.

    Wasps, that’s another story.  It’s a good thing wasps don’t make honey.