• Tag Archives queens
  • The Outdoor Season, Well and Truly Begun

    Spring                                                    Bee Hiving Moon

    Kate got a nasty cellulitis on her left arm.  Probably from scratches incurred while vigorously pruning and weeding.  Spring clean up.  It swelled up, got hot and sent her to the urgent care last night, the doctor visiting her own clinic for treatment.  They gave her a couple of jabs of rocephin, prescribed some sulfa and sent her home.

    After a restless night, she got up and drove out to the arboretum (today) for a class on fruit tree pruning.  She’s a Viking, moving past the pain, just as she has from the first days of our life together.  I’m no where near as stoic.

    Later on today I’ll check on our new colleagues, making sure they’re clustered under the feeder pail, then I’ll leave them alone until next Friday.  Next Friday I’ll go in and check for larvae.  Finding larvae means the queen has gone to work laying eggs and the colonies will be queen right.  After that, it’s the normal hive checks, hive box rotations and following their life as the colony builds up to full strength.

    The outdoor season is well and truly underway.  Got 2.5 pounds of potatoes from Seed Savers yesterday.  I’ll supplement them with sprouts from leftover potatoes of last year’s crop and, possibly, a few from Green Barn, up the road a piece near Isanti.  That bed has to be dug and amended.

    Also on today’s docket.  Move the large limbs I pruned a month ago onto brush piles, clear out the work Kate did yesterday, clean off the AC and do some weed prevention.  That’s enough for today.

  • Bee Diary 2012: Hiving the Packages.

    Spring                                                       Bee Hiving Moon

    “Sometimes, you have to step outside of the person you’ve been and remember the person you were meant to be. The person you want to be. The person you are.”
    H.G. Well

    Drove out to Stillwater and picked up my California girls.  About 16,000 of them.  Sprayed’em down with sugar water when I got home.  Unloaded a 5 gallon pail of prosweet, a food supplement for this early period when nectar is in short supply, and two gallon pails with holes in the top for feeding (turned upside down).

    Later today, around 5 pm, I took the packages, the two gallon pails filled with syrup, a pollen patty and went out into the orchard.  There I took the hive’s copper tops off, then the hive box cover and removed three frames from the center of the hive box.

    Rain, a light rain fell.  And Rigel came in through a gate I had forgotten to close and ate the first pollen patty.  In spite of not being a bee.  Sigh.

    So, back down to the refrigerator for another pollen patty.

    Back up to the orchard and out to the packages.  I pried the syrup containing can out of the package, sprayed the bees again with plenty of sugar water, removed the queen cage and put it in my pocket, then rapped the container sharply on the remaining frames and 7,000 to 8,000 bees fell onto the floor of the hive box.

    I spread them around with a bee brush, then took the queen out of my pocket.  First, check that she’s alive.  Yep.  OK.  Pull back the small screen on her cage while placing the cage in the hive box.  Tap it and make sure she falls into the bees.

    Replace the three frames, gently.  Not killing the queen is an important part of this whole process.

    Put a pollen patty on top of the frames, away from the hole in the hive cover since that’s where the syrup will come into the hive box and put the hive cover back on the box.  At that point invert the white plastic pail over the oblong opening in the hive cover, place a medium sized box over the pale and the copper top over that.

    That’s it for the first day.

    There were a couple of moments.  A bee crawled up into my glove.  I removed it.  All the time saying, if I’m calm, the bees are calm.  This is sort of true though even now, four years in, I still get an adrenalin pump when the bees hit the mesh on my bee veil.

    I didn’t get all the bees out of the packages, most, but not all.  It was those stragglers that took off after me.  They were not a problem.  But, they could have been.

    The hives look great in the orchard; they give it a productive, yet homey feel.


  • Bee Diary: Hive Inspections

    Beltane                                                    Waxing Garlic Moon

    Colony #1:  This is the colony in which my queen release went well.  She’s been busy.  The second hive box, on only a week, has all the brood frames with brood, some full, some partial, so I went ahead and added another hive box.  This is the colony I’m going to keep as a parent colony for next spring.  I’ve decided I want to manage the other two for maximum honey and then let them die out in the fall.

    Colony #2:  The first of the one’s where the queen got to her job a week late because I didn’t handle the release well. (at least I didn’t kill her, which I did last year)  This colony seems to be putting a lot of honey in the two supers I added in place of a second hive box.  Not sure what that means, but it for sure means we’re not ready for another set of supers quite yet.

    Colony #3:  The second late queened colony.  This colony has brood in the bottom of the two honey supers I added last week, and seems to be storing honey in the top one.  Again, I don’t know what this means, but this one is not ready for another two supers yet either.  I plan to check both of them mid-week, just in case they accelerate the brood production process.

    Once again, these bees are placid, friendly, and diligent.  Great colleagues in our life here.  I feel lucky to have them.

    Artemis, our patron goddess, has several images, as do most of the Greek pantheon, but this one always causes some consternation.  What’s with all those blobs on her chest?  Though a common explanation suggests they are breasts, symbolizing her role as a fertility goddess, some scholarship suggests they may instead be bull’s testicles or gourds, both also potent symbols of fertility in Asia.

    I saw this statue in a museum near the ancient city of Ephesus.  From nearby it was also possible to see the one remaining pillar from her great temple, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.  Now, it looks bereft, a lone monument in a not too well tended field.

    On the same trip Kate and I went to Delos, the site of the Delian Leagues treasury during the glory days of Greece.  Artemis and her brother Apollo were born on this island. It’s a small, uninspiring rocky island, but it has a storied past that makes it more than repay a visit.

  • Bee Diary: Keep On Keepin’ On

    Spring                                                           Full Bee Hiving Moon

    The die is cast again for this season.  Three packages, three three pound packages with around 8,000 bees each will arrive on Saturday.  I’m glad Kate convinced me to buy the larger package since the shipments experienced a two-week delay due to bad weather in California.  Gotta dig out the syrup spray bottle.  Started defrosting the pollen patties left over from last year.  Once done a couple of times hiving bees is not a formidable process, but it does require execution of several steps.

    I did learn why my divide failed.  When I requeened it in late summer after inadvertently killing the queen while checking for mites, I did what I thought was a slow release, but it turned to be a fast one.  I stuck a marshmallow in the end of the queen cage so that she and the workers could eat their way through it and come together in happiness and fertility for all.  In fact what I needed to do was put a piece of hard candy in the same place, something that takes four days for the workers and the queen to eat.  Over that length of time they become familiar with each other, old buddies, willing to cohabit without any smothering going on.

    As you know, royalty is not beheaded or shot, unless you’re uncivilized like the 17th century English, but instead have the garrote. The same thing is true for bees.  To kill a queen the workers form a ball around her, known as balling (a different use of this term was popular during my college days), and plug up the holes through she which she breathes.  Not a violent, but a certain, death.

    The queen is dead, long live the queen.  Yes, colonies will requeen themselves given time, but heading into the gales of November there is no time.  So the divide died an early death.

    The parent colony, I think, died from American Foul Brood.  At any rate I burned the hive boxes, frames and foundations.  Scorched earth against this plague.

    That leaves my strong package colony.  It looked good headed into winter.  Plenty of bees, what I thought was adequate honey supply and a fertile, young queen.  I’m not sure what happened here.  It could have been mites.  It could have been an inadequate honey supply.  It could have been its fate, woven elsewhere by Artemis and her court of virgin nymphs.  At this point I can only proceed with a completely new bee population and hope that last winter was an anomaly since it was from a weather perspective.

    Anyhow perseverance is the route to wisdom in beekeeping as in so many of life’s endeavors.  So, in the immortal words of Robert Crumb, we’ll just keep on truckin’.

  • 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: June 7, 2010

    05-31-10_colony1Beltane                                           Waning Planting Moon

    Hive inspections today.  Looking to see how the bees are using the other two honey supers I put on last week, now a total of four.  They have two almost full, but they have not begun to draw out much comb on the two with bare foundation.  At least not yet.  I did another reversal of the hive boxes–at least I think I did, the bees got pretty mad about the time for the reversal and I couldn’t recall afterwards if I’d switched the boxes or not.

    Novices leap ahead where veterans fear to tread.  In the bee newsletter from the MN. Hobby Beekeepers Assoc. this month, Gary Reuter of the U Bee lab recommended taking frames out of a bustling parent colony, one per hive box and putting them in a divide or a package colony.  The divide, if you recall, is the hive box I moved from the parent colony late in April.  It received a new queen, a marked Mn. Hygienic.  I’ve not seen her, but I have seen brood.  The package colony is the one growing from the two-pound package of bees I got in mid-April.

    There is, of course, a possible major problem with this maneuver.  What if you take the queen from the parent colony over to the new colony?  So, I decided that careful observation would take care of that.  I scanned both frames and tried to do it in an organized fashion, looking for a longer, more slender bee with her abdominal end deposited in a cell.  Didn’t see any.  Of course, as I learned long ago in philosophy, you can’t prove a negative, so all I can say for sure is that I did not see her.  If I was wrong, I guess I’ll know next week.

    The divide and the package colonies have made progress since last week.  I decided to put another hive box on the package colony so all three now have two hive boxes.  The parent remains the only one with honey supers.  If the divide kicks into gear as the nectar flow starts (I’m not exactly sure what that is, but it’s good and a big deal and supposed to be happening about now this year.)  The goal for both the divide and the package colony is to have three hive boxes before winter with enough honey stored to feed the colony until the spring.

    That’s what my current parent colony did, so I have evidence that it can be done.  It seems to me they’re both on track to get that much done and I would be surprised if I didn’t get some honey from the divide.

    No stings.  I’m moving slower now and have mastered the art of keeping the smoker going for the length of time I’m working in the bee yard.  The package colony needed another bucket of syrup, but the pollen patty was fine.

    I closed them all up, took off the bee suit, put my hive tool and smoker away and came in the house to make these notes.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Queen Bees

    Beltane                  Waxing Dyan Moon

    thebeekeeper Hat jauntily askew and ready to check on his bees.

    The bees have been busy since I left two + weeks ago.  A lot more worker bees, probably three times than the original packagae, so maybe 24,000 bees.  Also a lot of queen cells so I think they are not far from swarming.  I have to contact Mark, my bee expert, and found out if I did the right preventative measures.  Using the hive tool, I opened the queen cells and destroyed the brood.

    This sounds cruel, but the purpose of new queen cells at this point is to produce a swarm with its own queen.  Without them, they will continue to build more worker bees and produce honey in the hives.

    Trellis and planting next.