• Tag Archives hives
  • 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 Diaries: April 9, 2011

    Spring                                                                             Waxing Beehiving Moon

    This morning:  an auto da fe, an act of faith, but as you history buff’s know, also a burning.  Acting on the word of Mcarthur Grant Genius, Marla Spivak, I burned my old hives and frames since I believe they had an infestation of American Foulbrood.  They were old and came from my first bee mentor, Mark, so it was time to cycle them out of our bee yard hive-burninganyhow.

    It took me a while to get them going, I felt a little bit like Crankshaft, pouring on the starter fluid, but finally the heat got high enough to melt the wax and then the fire burned, smoky and jumping high, all that work melting into flames.  While they burned, I cleared plant matter out of the raised beds, detritus from last fall, readying them for planting tomorrow, I hope.

    (not mine, but a bee keepers fire)

    Purification by fire, burning out a disease organism that can stay in the brood cells for up to 50 years, a small flake filled with the virus, only waiting for a moment when it can awaken.  This stuff can spread from hive to hive so scorched earth is the best answer.  In addition, Marla recommends burning five year old frames and hive boxes just to be safe.

    The comb melted and spurred the fire higher, small bee bodies dropping from the brood chambers and the sides of the frames to the bottom board.  It’s been awhile since I burned anything, but it did remind me of the old days in Alexandria, Indiana where we used to burn our trash in 50 gallon oil barrels.  We had to poke it and move the the stuff around to insure everything got consumed.

    I’ll use the dead bees and the ash as a fertilizer for the raised beds, a whole cycle.

    If you go down further in my postings, you’ll discover the posting I removed earlier are back.  My brother is now here in Andover, away from Thailand.  Apparently an angry employer can retain foreign nationals for unfinished work contracts and Mark had a bit over three weeks left on his.  Nothing happened, so he arrived safely around 12:45 today after the grueling 17 hours in the air from Bangkok.  We’ve talked, he’s sleeping off his jet lag now.  Both Kate and I are glad he’s here.

  • A Parent Colony, A Divide, And a Package Colony

    Imbolc                             New Moon (Awakening)

    Bees.  Bees.  Bees.  Bees.  I’ve had two 8 hour sessions of nothing but bees.  And more stuff about bees.

    Today I learned about dividing a colony, a successfully wintered colony, which is our situation here.  As Marla Spivak says, “If you’re not sure, just let the bees do it.”  That conforms to my work late last fall with the bees.  Mark, my bee beepackagementor, had a traumatic autumn and we just didn’t get together quite enough.

    Now, though, I understand the next step, which will create a parent colony–the old queen with two hive boxes–and a child colony, which I will treat in the same way I did the current one.  That is, the goal with it will be to get to late fall with three hive boxes with a combination of brood, pollen and honey sufficient to see the child colony through this coming winter.

    (2 lb package of bees)

    Here’s the difficult part.  The parent colony gets no care after the honey flow stops.  This means that its queen will die of old age and since the colony will then have lost its egg layer, the entire colony will die out over the winter.  There’s nothing cruel about this since it follows the essential biology of bees.  That is, queens live around 2  years and the workers 60 days, so the entire colony would die out under any circumstances without a new queen and even if a new queen were added, the bees that would become the new colony under her reign would be entirely new bees.

    There’s a big upside to this for all bees.  We can clean out the old hive bodies and frames, check for disease and virus and if necessary we can burn the old frames and start over.  This means that each bee colony will have a young, prolific queen and each hive will get a complete going over ever other year.  Both of these elements, cleaning and a young, prolific queen increase the colonies capacity to survive and thrive.

    The good news is that the parent colony begins making honey the minute the divide is complete.  Honey supers go on the parent colony right away and they start filling up.  A honey super is about half the size of a deep hive box and honey filled frames are their only result.  A queen excluder is put on the parent colony deep hive boxes, so the queen does not crawl up in the honey supers and start laying eggs, therefore only honey ends up in them.

    In addition to the divide Mark the bee mentor called and said he had an extra package of bees on the way.  I agreed to buy it because I thought my bees were dead.  Since they’re not, taking on another package of bees means we’ll end up with four hives next spring if everything goes well.  At that point, we should be producing some serious honey, possibly enough to sell at farmer’s markets.

  • 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.

  • Still sinking.

    Beltane                    Full Dyan Moon

    Kate can tell when I begin to submerge, move below the surface of day to day contact.  I become short, irritable.  She gets the feeling of walking on egg shells.  By the time this happens I’m not in touch with my effect on the outside world.  Distraction and self-absorption reign.

    She brings it up.  We talk.  Today I said, “I’ve moved into melancholy.”  The distance between closed.  We both know this journey and its dark side.  I ate my chirashi and she her teryaki bento box.

    “What precipitated it?”

    “I have no idea.  Chemicals, I think.”

    “No. Wait.  It began, I think on Hilton Head.  Maybe it was the weather.  I now that sounds absurd, but then, I know it happens, too.  Gloomy outside, gloomy inside.”

    “I love you.”  Said with the grasp of both the condition and the afflicted.  Therapy in their own right.

    Otherwise, the day had bees and money.

    Mark Nordeen came over and we popped the top on the second hive.  Lotsa bees.  Took a long while to get the smoker going.  The smoke calms them down.  They stop flying, go back into the hive.

    The top hive had brood on several frames and the number of bees has tripled at least.  There were three queen cups and I got to see exactly what they looked like.

    “If you ever see a queen cup that has a queen in it, don’t knock it off.  That means they’re about to swarm and you’ll need the second queen for those who stay behind.”

    We moved the bottom hive on top because there had not been as much work done down there and we wanted to encourage more frames filled with brood.

    Later in the morning we saw our cash-flow adviser.  We’ve done very well and continue to  do so, but as we move to retirement she says there is a big trick to moving from paid employment to retirement income.  In the case of Kate we’ve been lucky to have her producing large quarterly bonuses which have enabled us to do many different things:  dogs, permaculture, long trips.  After retirement, those kinds of bumps in income will disappear and we have to decide how to deal with that.  Turns out cash is the primary tool, having lots of it in liquid investments like CD’s, bonds or money market.

    The moral here is that no matter how you feel, life goes on.  Decisions have to be made.  Bees need care.  The garden goes through its season.  There is something reassuring to the constancy and permanence of natural change.

  • Hive 2 In Place

    Beltane                     Waning Flower Moon

    Mark came over and we suited up.  The bees have been busy.  I saw the small larvae curled up in the very bottom of a comb’s cell, several of them.  We investigated each frame, finding one frame with many capped cells, maybe 60%.  The bees did not seem interested in us.  We only used the smoke once and that was as we removed a frame with a large number of bees working on it.

    Mark said it was a little early, but we decided to put hive 2 in place, moving up into it one of the frames with brood and spreading the others out a bit on the bottom since it left only 9 frames below out of 10.  Much of this management of the hive involves swarming.  If the bees feel their space has become  too cramped, some of the hive, maybe all, will fly away into a tree, then send out scouts for a more roomy place.  This means less to no honey at the end of the season.

    After this next phase, we will switch the top one onto the bottom and put the bottom on it.  The third and last hive goes on top of both of them.  After this last swap, the supers go on.

    Lydia came over from next door.  She’s going to do some weeding and some heavier work like taking out yew that died over the winter.  Much of her initial weeding will happen over the week we’re gone.  It will be good to have some help.  Weeding becomes a chore around this time of year.

  • A Green Miracle

    Spring              Waning Seed Moon

    The bee hives have a new coat of white sealer, a soothing color for them.  The raised bed on which I painted them has some tulips pushing up and the bed across from it have the garlic.  They’ve begun to wake up in force now so we’ll have the pleasure of garlic grown this year from garlic we grew last year.

    We had chard for lunch today.  I thought about it a moment.  I took one chard seed and put it in a small rockwool cube late last fall or early winter.  It got water and light from the fluorescent bulb until it sprouted.  After the first tiny roots began to appear outside the confines of the small cube, it went into the clay growing medium, small balls of clay that absorb nutrient solution.

    The seedling grew in the nutrient solution for several weeks as the roots spread out.  The nutrient solution comes in a bottle, concentrated and goes 3 tablespoons to two gallons of water.  What those roots and the chard plant leaves have to work with then is that nutrient solution and the light from a full spectrum second sun that glows above the plastic beds in which the liquid circulates.

    The wonder in this is the transformation of that small seed, not bigger than the head of a pin, into food with only the inputs of light and some concentrated chemicals diluted in water.  I’m not sure why  you need water into wine when you can turn water into food, better for you anyhow.

    Over the next month the outside work begins to grow and take up more time.  In our raised beds and the orchard this same miracle happens, changed only by the addition of soil.  Seeds into food.  Which in turn create more seeds so you can grow more food.  A green miracle.

  • Is There Such A Thing As An Individual Bee?

    Spring             Waning Seed Moon

    The bee hive essentials are in the red car and they come out today.  The bees themselves arrive next Saturday by semi.  Mark Nordeen told me last year’s delivery came during an April blizzard, hit a patch of ice, rolled over and killed all the bees.

    This will be my first year with the bees and I’m looking forward to learning a lot about them.  The notion a hive mind has, I know, fascinated my step-son Jon for a long time.  It gets its intellectual legs from the performance of bees and ants and other social insects who as individuals can only accomplishments small increments of a larger task, the survival of the hive, but together they ensure the hive’s endurance through time.  The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.  Here’s a question:  Is there is such a thing as an individual bee, or, rather do we have multiple flying macro-cellular organs of a single entity?

    It’s a chilly start for the Wishes for Sky day, but I got an e-mail that said dress warm and come.  So Minnesotan.

    That reminds me.  I read the inscription on an early Zhou dynasty kuei (a ritual food vessel) and one of the kids on the tour, a young Chinese girl said, “That’s so Chinese.”   This kuei was made in the 10th century B.C.

    Gotta get ready.  Unload the hives and plant some peas before I take off for St. Paul.