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Hived a new swarm this morning.

Charlie and I went to the monthly MVBA meeting last night and guess what we got?  A swarm!  Paul, a fellow member and all around superhero, had heard that we lost most of our new packages so, when he caught a swarm, he brought it for us!  That is just about one of the nicest things anyone could do, don’t you think?  Now I’m going to have to get pregnant again just so I can name a kid after him.  Or maybe he’ll settle for a chicken or duck.

We didn’t get home until late and so left the bees in the van (in their swarm box) overnight.  This morning, I set up the Snow White hive box on that pitifully empty hive stand.  I brought out my camera and took a quick pic, then handed the camera off to Charlie.  Apparently, my clumsy gloved hands must have hit a button or two because all of the photos came out horribly.  I was able to edit a few of them enough to show you but they’ve all got that goofy over-edited look to them.

I’ll get some better pics of Paul’s swarm box after the straggler bees clear out but this will give you a general idea.  It’s a cardboard box with a screen “window” for ventilation.  The inside has a bit of wooden framing to keep the lid from collapsing during/after taping it up.

And, boy, does Paul love duct tape.  A man after my own heart.  It took me a while to fight the tape with my gloved hands.  A brighter person would have just admitted defeat and taken off their gloves.  But I’ve never been accused of being overly bright, now have I?

When I opened the box, there was a big ol’ gob hanging from one of the top flaps and building comb.  Maybe I should have knocked that clump of bees directly into the hive but with four top flaps flying around, I figured my graceful self would end up dumping them all over the ground and, with my luck, the queen would be lost.

So I brushed the big clump back into the box, sprayed them with a bit of sugar syrup, and dumped them into their new hive box.

Out with the bees — and there were a lot of them — came several chunks of old comb Paul had put in the box.  I rubber banded them into a few frames and got everything & everyone settled in.

While I was out there, I filled the boardman feeders on all the hives and stuck one on the new swarm as well.  The bees are really sucking down the syrup this year but I guess it’s understandable.  I don’t see much of anything blooming right now.  We had fruit trees and other things blooming a few weeks ago but there’s nothing now.

Cross your fingers for this new hive, will ya?

Pokebator: Gonna hatch ‘em all!

So have I ever told you about my fear of styrofoam?

We now have two incubators and, for those of you unfamiliar with them, they’re made of styrofoam.  So what’s a slightly-off-her-rocker gal to do?  Modge Podge & Pokemon fabric!  We now have two dozen turkey eggs, two dozen duck eggs, and ten goose eggs in various stages of incubation.  The first of them should be hatching out in a week or so.

We bought the turkey eggs from a wonderful local lady we recently met, Gail.  The other eggs came from Bob, mighty leader of our Boy Scouts and an animal control officer to boot.  Ducks and geese at one of the local parks lay eggs and then kids come along and smash them.  What a waste.  So he’s been collecting them and giving them to us to hatch out for ourselves.  Good stuff!

He also let us know about a hen and chick at the humane society a week or so ago.  They’re not really set up for birds and wanted them out of there ASAP.  We bopped over there the next day and picked them up but it turns out that the chick did not belong to the hen.  The hen went out to be introduced to our flock and we built a small brooder for the chick.  (We had a few brooders already but they’re big, not appropriate for smaller amounts of chicks.)  Of course, one lone chick is a pitiful thing so we went and bought him a half dozen friends from the farm store.

Bee update:

I did a bee check today.  A fella came out to interview for the local paper this morning, doing a story to help us get the word out about a new 4-H beekeeping club we’re starting up.  While I was already suited up and showing him the hives, I went ahead and dug through them all.  The bees were very well behaved for us.  Thanks for coming out, Matt!

Fred, the 2011 Italian hive, is doing well.  This is the hive that split & swarmed.  So, while it is smaller than what it was, it’s doing fine.  Lots of nice brood in there.

Phyllis is still very small and I’m just not sure how that’ll all work out.  Our local beekeeping meeting is tomorrow evening so I’m sure I’ll get some good advice on how to handle it.

Hans Huberman is doing great!  Beautiful comb being built.

The new swarm hive completely wowed us.  Every frame was filled with bees and comb.  Gorgeous, creamy white comb!  I added a second medium to it, knocked off the entrance reducer to add a boardman feeder from one of the empty hives, and gave it one of the outer covers from the same empty hive.  (Originally, I’d put an empty box on top and gave it a tub of syrup, along with a Rubbermaid tote lid as a temporary cover.)  I love, love, love this hive so far.  We’ll have to give it a name soon and either give it a real hive stand or move it to one of the existing ones.

All in all, losing all of those packages was pretty tough but we’re already over it and moving on.  I’m sure there’s some Giant Life and/or Bee Lesson in all of this that we’ll figure out later.  I’ll try to read up on making splits and, eventually, someone will call us to collect a swarm or two.  In the end, we’ll come out just fine.

Garden update:

The Sugar Snap peas are up and doing well.  The broccoli & cabbage are growing… slowly.  The self-seeded lettuce patch is loving the spring and the lettuces I recently seeded are up.

All of the pulled (potato) sprouts got bitten back by frost.  Since there are no tubers under them, there are no reserves from which they can spring back.  I’ll replant those rows with something else, maybe the TPS (potato seedlings from True Potato Seed).

The onions I started from seed this year were perfect!  I’ll definitely be starting my own from seed from now on.  I love Dixondale but you all know how much I like being able to collect seed & start them myself.  But, this year, I’ll have to buy some plants from a local store.  We had just one too many frosts/freezes after I set them out.  Some will come through it but some are completely gone.

All of my mass-planted seeds are now separated, potted up, and living on the front walk (except for frosty nights).  In an effort to reduce the amount of potting soil I go through each year, I’m trying to keep most of them in 6-pack cells.  If I’m going to sell them, I’ll probably pot them up because people just won’t pay what the time and supplies are worth for the smaller plants.  Then again, once I pot them up and put that time & expense into it, there are so many unsold ones at the end that it’s not really worth it, either.  I need to get better at estimating what I’ll use + what I’ll sell + what I give away.  Heck, I give away far more than I sell each year.  That might be part of the problem.  Heh.  But, yeah, the sidewalk is still crowded with seedlings.

Bees going, going, gone…

A friend came over today so we could look over the frames & brood together, maybe learn some things from each other.  We cracked open each hive only to find most of them… gone.

  • Max, the old Carniolan hive, is completely gone.
  • Fred, the old Italian hive, is still there and has brood but is much, much smaller now.  I figure it was one of the swarms from the other day.  We took off everything but the one deep brood box.
  • Fang, one of the new Carniolan hives, is completely gone.
  • Snow White, the other new Carniolan hive, is completely gone.
  • Honey, a new Italian hive, is completely gone.
  • John, a new Italian hive, is completely gone.
  • Phyllis, a new Italian hive, is still there but very small.
  • Hans Huberman, a new Italian hive, is still big and doing well.
  • The new swarm capture from the other day is still there and active.  We didn’t even bother opening that one.

Bleh.  I’m going to go stick my head in the toilet.

Our First Swarm Capture

Thursday the 12th.  We were all at the tail-end of a week-long pukefest.  Cody came running in the house, as only Cody can, excitedly announcing that we had a swarm.  He’d been moving that tree & brush from area we cleared out for the new hives and noticed a swarm on one of the branches he’d moved the day before.  Yep, sure enough, in the new brush pile by the lagoon, there buzzed a good-sized swarm.

It was low to the ground and would be easy to get.  A great way for us to experience capturing our first swarm!

While beebopping around the yard, gathering supplies, we heard more buzzing in the treeline.  Yep, sure enough.  A second swarm.  Can’t see it?  It’s up there.  Waaaay up there.

Um.  Yeah, maybe we’ll have to let this one go.  Charlie offered to climb the tree but, dang, it was probably 35′ up there.  No way.  It left within an hour or two anyway so, by the time we got done with the first swarm, the second had left.

Isaac got some video of Charlie & me as we were whacking the bees into the box.

Being completely inexperienced and wholly unprepared, we were very glad that we got to do this right in our own yard where we had access to what we needed.  We set a medium hive body & 5 frames in a cardboard box to use to contain & transport them to their final home.

I’d do it differently next time but it worked.

See all of those bees to the left of the box up there?  They fell off of the swarm cluster as we got the rest of the bees into the box.  It was impossible to try and get a sheet under the swarm before we started because of all of the brush but I should have at least put one right up next to it, between the brush and under the box.  That would have allowed at least some of the bees to be caught on it for easier scooping & dumping into the box.

But the bees knew what they were doing.  I tried hard to get the biggest part of the clump in the box with the first whack or two, hoping the queen was in its center.  Must have been because the fallen bees quickly began their march into the box, following the queen.

It was an incredible process to watch.

Incredible.  This is one of those places where I’d use the word “awesome” if that word were not so horribly overused & deflated.  It would truly fit here.  I was in awe.

Charlie got this amazing close-up shot of the bee train.

I had to go in and out, suit up and unsuit, several times that afternoon due to being sick, so it took a few hours to complete.  We found them in late afternoon and didn’t get them hived until later that evening.  (Steve had to build a quick bottom board & fix up his prototype inner cover since we had no extras so we would have had to wait a bit anyway for him to get home.)  Once the bees were mostly in, I put the box on a sheet, gathered up the edges, and carried them over to the hive area.  Being so late in the afternoon, I worried that the scouts from the swarm would return and convince the swarm that they had found a great new home elsewhere.  I don’t know how effective moving the swarm box 250-ish feet would be in losing the scout bees but it worked for us this time anyway.  I got them set over there, mostly closed over the top of the box & draped it with the sheet so they’d feel secure in their new, temporary-ish home, leaving a small opening for entrance & exit.

By this time, the second swarm had left.  Whew.  Now I didn’t have to try and feel guilty for not figuring out some way to get them.  I figure both swarms were from our bees so I was happy to at least catch one of them.  The neighbors had complained about the lack of bees here before we got hives so we’ll just consider the other our donation to the “neighborhood”.

I set up a tire with some old boards across it for a hive stand in the hive area.  Once Steve got home from work, he threw together a bottom board and fixed up that wonky prototype inner cover.  We got the hive body with its five frames set up and dumped the rest of the bees from the box into the hive.  We set another five frames in there, topped with another medium box and set a tub of sugar water in there (with sticks, of course, for the bees to walk on, instead of drowning) since we had no extra boardman feeders left.  Topped that off with the inner cover — and here’s where we get all redneck on it.  We were out of flashing to make another outer cover so we covered it all with a Rubbermaid tote lid and weighted it down well with boards and a concrete block.  While there, Steve tossed a tire on each of the other sets of hives to further weight them down for whatever spring storms come our way.

Lessons learned:

  • Have some extra stuff on hand, for Pete’s sake!  We need to get some extra boxes, frames, bottom boards, inner & outer covers built ASAP for whatever swarms come our way.  Once we’ve been in this a few years, I assume we’ll have extras laying around but, for now, we don’t.  Need to fix that.
  • Keep some extra hive tools & brushes around.  I’d just loaned out our only hive tool & brush that very morning (or was it the day before?).  The hive tool would have come in handy for prying off the extra box from the top of the @#^&#% Carniolan hive — that’s where we got the box & frames for the swarm.  The brush was sorely missed when I was trying to get all of the bees into the box and, later, trying to get them all out.  I didn’t have any paintbrushes handy to use so unscrewed the handle of a broom and used the broom end.  That was far too rough on the bees.
  • I need to come up with some sort of “swarm kit” that’s packed and ready to go when we eventually get called out for swarms elsewhere.
  • Throwing up in  bee suit is not something you’d want to do on purpose.

Removing the Queen Cages

I showed Steve how to work the camera so that I could suit up & help Charlie add the inner covers & remove the queen cages a few days after the recent installation.  I also cracked open Max, the %@&*(@# Carniolans, to check out the details.  It wasn’t pretty.    We spotted a very few pupae and a few capped drone cells.  Ew.  Not looking good.

Here’s the ventilated inner covers Steve made.  He made them with entrances (the side facing away from us in the following pic so not really visible here) so that all of the new hives will have top entrances, plus room for a boardman feeder & the small service entrance at the bottom.

Being without an inner cover for a couple of days meant that the outer covers had bees clustering inside them.  Dumb me laid the first one upside down while oohing and ahhing over the bees in the box and, by the time I was ready to put the lid back on, the bees had spread all over the sides & corners.  Doh.  Chalk that one up to a newbie mistake.  We left that one alone while we finished the other hives (with me leaving the lid NOT upside down on those!) and then came back to brush them out of the squishable areas.  I think I heard a few dozen bees calling me really nasty names by the time we walked away.

Except for the lid incident, it was pretty smooth sailing from there on out.

The bees (not involved in the lid incident) were all nice & calm, settling in well.

No messy comb building around the queen cages which I had expected.

We didn’t pull but a couple of frames because we didn’t want to pester them too much while trying to get established.  No funky comb to be seen because of all of the foundationless… yet.

When setting up the hives, we did put one frame of plasticell in each hive.  I’d read that bees much prefer to build their own comb over building on foundation but, apparently, these particular bees hadn’t read that.  This hive had a big ol’ clump of bees all over the plasticell frame.  There were still plenty of others doing up the foundationless in the same hive.  Maybe one of these days, we’ll get these nutty bees all figured out.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go learn how to edit video.  We had two swarms yesterday and we got some video!  Woo hoo!  I feel so studly.

Duke Photography: Bees

Duke got to play around with my camera on one of the recent days.  He got better shots than me!

These are all of the original @%^*&!@!#% Carniolan hive, I believe.

I tried to get a shot of the photographer but he’s suddenly camera shy.

#4: Installing the 2012 Bees

Previous 2012 installation post:  #3:  Intalling the 2012 Bees.

We had considered releasing the queen the same day we installed the packages but hadn’t really made a decision.  The rain on installation day decided for us.  It turned out to be a quick & dirty, dump-the-bees-in thing.  So a day or two later, the fellas went back through the new hives and released the queens.  All went well and the bees had calmed down quite a bit.  We got to see the bees doing their thing on the foundationless frames.

All of their boardman feeders were empty so Charlie refilled them.  I put syrup in sun tea jugs with spigots at the bottom for easy filling of the quart jars right at the hives.  Worked great!

While they were there, they dove into Max, the Carniolan hive from last year.  They’re still really small, maybe the size of an apple.  I just don’t know what to think about these guys.  They overwintered fine but they’re just not doing much.  Maybe I’ll dig in there with Charlie tonight and see what I see as far as brood & other clues.

Steve has almost finished building the inner covers so, tonight, Charlie and I will put them on and take another peek in the hives to see if the bees are behaving.  Maybe I can convince Steve or Isaac to man the camera this time.

(The sun was right behind them during the above activity so the photos are not the greatest.)

#3: Installing the 2012 Bees

Previous 2012 installation post:  #2:  Installing the 2012 Bees.

This year, I Sharpied the year on each of the frames.  This serves two purposes:  (1)  Obviously, to mark the age of the frames so I can rotate out frames with some sort of regularity if needed; and (2)  For orientation — so once we start slinging frames around during inspections, we know which way to put them back in.  I don’t figure the bees appreciate us rearranging their furniture more than we already do.

With eight hives going now, we decided we’d better come up with some names to help keep everything straight.  Some of the kids helped name them and then the girls “decorated” a couple.

Meet John (Wayne/Denver), Phyllis (Diller), and Hans Huberman.  You can see the screened bottom boards here that Steve made.  He made the entrances just big enough for a boardman feeder plus a “service entrance” for the bees to haul out dead bodies.  We’re going with top entrances this year for the main entrances.  Steve will build the top entrances into the inner covers he’ll be making (hopefully) tonight.

The backside of John, Phyllis, and Hans Huberman.  Notice the hive stands?  Steve pulled up a couple of old bed frames from the basement and, with a whiz of the saw and a zap of the welder, we had hive stands.  How cool, right??  The hollow legs are resting on nails in 2 x 4 bases to keep them steady & sturdy when certain uncoordinated people run into things.  Quit looking at me!

Here are Fang (because you can’t have Phyllis without Fang), Snow White (Nellie’s pick for a name), and Honey (Josie’s pick — she’s very practical, you see).

And their backsides.

Of course, we then had to name the two original hives.  The thriving Italian hive is now Fred (McMurray) and the %#&^@#%* Carniolans are now Max (Charlie’s hive).  Maybe the name “Max” will inspire the lazy bums to actually do something to live up to their new name.  We need to work some weed cloth & wood chips around these hives, too.

Nellie, Charlie, and I picked up the bees in the van Friday afternoon while Steve stayed home with the rest of the kids to work on that last-minute stuff.  Nellie sat right by the bees and didn’t even squeal!  She sat back there and giggled with delight.  Then the bees had to spend the night in the van so we could finish things up for them.  We didn’t actually get started installing until early Saturday afternoon.

Let the dumping begin!  Steve & Charlie did the dirty work while I manned the camera.

Notice the suits this year?  (We so need another bee suit or two so more of us can be up close at a time.  It’s on the to-get list!)  Last year’s bees were so calm that we didn’t use suits during the installation.  These suckers, though, wow.  They are all feisty little boogers.

Until Steve gets those inner covers with entrances built, they have their outer covers propped up with shims.

And then it started to rain.  It had been spitting off and on for most of the installation but it got heavier as soon as they started dumping in bees.  Which, of course, made the bees that much crankier.  Something about messing up their hairdos, I think.  Those of us not in suits had to stand pretty far back.  Thank goodness for zoom!

Did you see the globs of bees on Charlie’s hat up there?  And on Steve’s back?

The boys laid the package boxes under the hives so they’d be out of the rain until the few remaining bees in each could find their way into the hives.  Then the boys brushed each other off  and walked a few feet towards the house.  Then brushed again and walked a bit more.  Then brushed again and walked a bit more.  And so on.  I’m expecting they’ll make it back into the house by Thanksgiving or so.

While these bees were cranky little snots from the get-go, they sure were healthy.  By healthy, I mean not dead.  Last year’s bees had quite a few dead bees in the bottom of the box, as is the norm.  This year, there are hardly any at all.

Will get to the releasing of the queens post tomorrow.


#2: Installing the 2012 Bees

Previous 2012 installation post:  #1:  Installing the 2012 Bees

Remember what the “apiary” area looked like with last year’s set up?  We’d had to clear out a bunch of brush & trees.

We left one tree, an Osage Orange, because the kids loved climbing it.

That shed stored our lawnmowers, tiller, tires, etc, etc, and it wasn’t in the way.

Now let’s bounce back to this year…

Friday morning, the day of the pick up, Steve was out there with the chainsaw, doing some redecorating.

He emptied the shed (the piles you see in the yard there) and pulled the entire shed across the yard and parked it at the end of the driveway.  Voila!  Instant room to expand!

We laid down weed barrier cloth and covered in wood chips, then placed the hives in a line with the old hives.  There’s room to have another line of hives on the backside, facing the opposite direction.  Now we have room for whatever splits & swarms we come up with down the road — without the last-minute panic!

To be concluded tomorrow.  I have a zillion seedlings in the basement, screaming out for me to pot them up.

#1: Installing the 2012 Bees

For reference, here’s the post from last year’s installation:  #3:  Installing the bees.

We’d ordered six new three-pound packages of bees back in the beginning of March.  They’d be in roughly April 15 but I sort of thought it’d be later.  Afterall, last year’s bees didn’t come in until April 29th or so.  In hindsight, my “thinking” was nothing but wishful thinking.  Oopsie.

We were out working frantically in the garden on April 1st, trying to get everything settled in that department so that, the following week, we could focus on building some bee equipment.  My phone rang.  It was Bernie.  The bees would be in Friday.  As in that Friday.  April 6th.  Oh, crap.  Nothing had been done.  No lumber had been bought, no major plans decided, nada.  Oh, crap.  Oh, crap.  Oh, crap.

Wait a minute…  Bernie’s quite the jokester and it was April Fool’s Day.  Ha ha ha!!  Yeah, good one, Bernie.  Good one.  Man, you really had us going for a few hours.  Whew.  Glad that was just a joke.

But he never called back to tell us he was kidding.  Oh, crap.  Oh, crap.  Oh, crap.

You remember I mentioned that we wanted to build all of our own equipment this year and do some experimenting with various non-standard set ups?  Yeah, that went right out the window.  Monday was booked with something else.  Tuesday was booked with something else.  And so on.  Oh, crap.

Thursday, we waved the white flag and the kids & I headed over to Dadant to make some last-minute purchases.  We’d still build some of the equipment but decided it would be better for our sanity (and sleep) to go ahead and buy the fiddly stuff that doesn’t cost much.  We bought two medium hive boxes, a case of medium frames, and some boardman feeders.  We’d make — or make do with — what we already had on hand for the rest.

Leftover from last year, we had four deep boxes and some medium frames.  Steve cut those down to mediums one evening.  Charlie & I put those and the two new ones together the next day and painted.  Friday, Steve started building the screened bottom boards and telescoping covers from scratch while Charlie & I nailed together frames.  Steve’s work on the bottoms & tops saved us a ton of money and he made them even better than what we could have bought — customized to our own desires.

This year, we decided to go with all medium boxes so everything is interchangeable.  We also decided to go foundationless.  Medium boxes also come in handy for that — deeps can mean a lot of heavy comb with no foundation supporting it ==> good chance of sagging & dropping.  Mediums seem to do much better in that respect, as well as being strong enough to extract.  I know, I’ve read all of that about all foundationless being too weak to extract, too.  But further reading from people who are actually doing it?  They say it can be done — and they’re doing it.  You just have to do it a bit slower.

So back to the foundationless frames:  The leftover frames from last year were grooved mediums.  (We thought we’d bought shallows last year but, nope, they’re mediums.  That particular screw up works out in our favor.)  The grooved have a groove across the top bar that your plasticell foundation normally snaps into.  Steve ripped some wood scraps down for us and we nailed them into the grooves for the bees to use as a starting point.  The frames we bought this year, however, are wedges.  They have a little piece of wood that pops out, you place your plasticell foundation against the piece that is left, then nail in the wedge bar against that.  I know the beekeepers know what I mean but I’m attempting to explain it to the nonbeekeepers — and probably just further confusing them.  In short, we had two separate types of frames but they all ended up with a thin piece of wood hanging down across the top.

From what I understand, the bees hang down from that little piece of wood (festooning — kind of like when ants make bridges from their own bodies for the other ants to cross).  They do that from that lower, thin piece of wood and use their own dangling bodies as a plumb line.  From that, they’ll build straight if you’ve leveled the hive properly.

Of course, that’s in a perfect world with perfectly behaved little bees.  In reality, they’ll still build some crazy things that we have to watch for & fix.  We’re cool with that.  Once we get over the  hard work of convincing them to build straight comb, it should get easier on us.  Famous last words, right?  I can hear the experienced beekeepers snickering madly, waiting for their chance to say, “I told ya so!”  :-D

More later…

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