new bees

Jan. 22nd, 2011 06:32 pm
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It's pretty apparent that the Italians I got from Dane last year and are hived in a Lang in Annandale are all dead now (although, I'm completely open for surprises) much like the swarm of Italians that I started out with back in 2009 - dead before Christmas. The Russians hived here at Front Royal in an identical Lang made their latest appearance around New Year's day, possibly later, but that was the last I'd seen of them flying about pooping and bringing out their dead. I'm guardedly hopeful that they will pull though winter, but you never know until April, or so. I ordered two packaged swarms of Russians from Walter T. Kelley yesterday, to the tune of $208 which concludes my foray into buying packaged bees for a while. April 9th the new bees ship so I'm looking at a delivery date of April 11th or 12th that I will hive in the top bar arrangement that Chuck and I spent our weekends last winter building.

What I've learned from my winter bee-search so far is that the varroa and nosema, that kill so many bees, aren't so much the enemy as perhaps they are the messengers from Mother Nature regarding our own colony mismanagement, and it seems to stem from the ease of tearing into their hives - the frame - that might actually be the culprit behind colony collapse. More on this later, as I fabricate and utilize some frameless, Warre-type hives.
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Lye Preparation
The preparation of lye is simple and acceptable to all beekeepers. The lye is prepared from ash of fresh firewood. It is better to use the ash of birch firewood.

The ash is sifted through a fine grid. Then it is mixed with cold water and left to draw no less than three days, periodically stirring it. Usually beekeepers use one part of sifted ash to 10 parts of water. After brewing it is necessary to remove the ash foam and to siphon the lye through a small pipe into glass crockery. The closed container of lye should be stored in a dark, cool place. The storage time of lye is unlimited. Ash itself loses its alkaline qualities in 6 months or so.

One can fill a container again with ash and water, and after brewing, boil the lye. This yields technical lye which could be used to wash hives or other stock, but it is not suitable as a component of bee food.

from the decidedly Russian website:

It's like a goddamn advertisement for Russian Bees, rife with all sorts of opinion errors but I do pay attention to the fanatics; there is a reason they believe the things they believe. I love my Russian bees!


Aug. 22nd, 2009 12:41 pm
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Small hive beetles

Since last week I've been discovering small hive beetles in my top feeder. First one, now three. What next? These eat brood, wax and honey, in addition to shitting in honey causing it ferment an ooze out of the cells. How do they get in to a hive? A small hive beetle trap should keep populations of these things in check but an infestation may require medication with coumaphos, sold under the band CheckMite+. They seem to be more prevalent in southern states. Yay! The South.

Tracheal Mites

Here's a recipe for grease sugar patties that inhibit the growth of tracheal mites:

• 1½ lbs of solid vegetable shortening (such as Crisco™)
• 4 lbs granulated sugar
• ½ lb honey
• Optional: add ⅓ cup of mineral salt sold at Southern States or farm supply store.
• Also a 1½ oz shot of wintergreen oil may be added for patties that are not to be used while honey supers in use.

Mix all ingredients together until smooth and form into a dozen or so hamburger-size patties. Keep frozen until ready for use.

Varroa Mites
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I lieu of working my own hive this weekend Chuck invited me out to "the Fort", his place in Ft. Valley, where he manages four hives, 2 of Italians, 1 of Carniolans, and a "split" that he created from a few frames of brood from each. He's been at this a few more years than have I and can do fun things like that with entire colonies. I hope to split my hive next spring, but first I have to see them through the coming winter, so that's a post for another day. He makes no claims to being a mentor but the truth is I wouldn't have gotten this far without his help, insight, and guidance.

Because I'm obstinate I don't regularly wear gloves when working my own hive, and because I'm dumb I left my wedding band on while working Chuck's hives. And bees, being bees, generally are all about the bling in the worst possible way - as in "Oh, Shiny! Let's attack that!" So while Chuck was going through the frames on hive#2 and I was taking pictures I was stung on the back of the hand, and then again on my left ring finger which is now swollen to the point that I can't get the ring off. So far, it's not so bad as to cut off the circulation but it certainly hampers my already meager typing skills. I'll attempt to get a point across with as much cutting, pasting and pictures. . .

Hmmmmm. . . accessing these files lends a whole new dimension to "buggy" software. Chuck uses an 8 frame version of the standard 10 frame Langstroth hive and I probably would, too, had I met him earlier. They make lifting a super full of honey much lighter and easier. Notice also the tool he's holding in his right hand. He's gotten me in the habit of using a painter's 5-in-1 rather than the classic hive tool or even the "improved" modern version (the one with the yellow paint) We've just found that the 5-in-1 allows us to apply a lot more torque when prying loose sticky, propolis-bound frames.

Happy birthday, Beautiful! From a group of capped brood cells a brand new bee chews her way into the world! She'll begin life as a nurse bee staying within the confines of the hive until gradually transitioning to foraging duties as she gets older. Within the span of a few weeks she will have worked herself to death for the greater good of her sisters. Don't we all wish we had family that dedicated!

As fun as it might sound, the point of regular hive inspections is not getting stung repeatedly but rather checking the health of a colony. The best way to determine how well the hive's doing is to locate the queen, and in a burgeoning colony this becomes an increasingly difficult task. Sometimes the mere evidence that she's been there recently has to suffice, such as the presence of brood and, especially, eggs. The maggotty-looking things toward the center are larval bees. In the upper left-hand quadrant you might be able to make out eggs resembling tiny grains of rice anchored to the bottoms of the cells. (click through for full-size) This is good news! It means the queen has been there sometime earlier that day.

Of course, nothing beats meeting Her Majesty in person! She's the one with the enlongated abdomen. Within a few days after hatching from her special over-sized cell she'll take to the wing for her mating flight where she copulates with dozens of drones, or male bees. Bee breeders attempt to control the lineage of their bees by restricting her access to certain drones usually those of the same species, and specifically those with desirable traits of productivity, gentle temperament, and disease and pest resistance. After returning to the hive her sex life is pretty well over. Although it's a common practice for beekeepers to replace a queen every to every other season, she can live a (re)productive life for as long as three. At this point she's basically an egg laying machine.

Can you spot the queen?

Here, take a closer look. . .

Still no luck? Now imagine trying to find her in a box of eight to ten frames as she moves from one to the next among hundreds of other bees milling throughout and you stand in the hot sun, sweating head to toe in your full length bee overalls and veil while the rest of the colony flies ass-first into your face in an attempt to kill you by stinging your eyes and mouth shut! Still photographs on the internet leave a lot to be desired. . . I consider it an exercise in patience and presence. Lapses in mindfulness during a hive inspection are punished with swift certainty!

Ha ha! Bees. . . so called the "angels of agriculture". The real point of all this masochistic craziness is the honey harvest (granted, bee folk love their bees for their own sake) It's an age old arrangement of housing-for-honey, like taxes we attempt to get Nature to do what we want, and we're "The Man". We estimated that there's probably at least 7 lbs. of un-extracted honey within this single shallow frame. If you can visualize ten or more of these per hive twice a season you'll get a sense of why we bother.

Bur comb

May. 24th, 2009 06:14 pm
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I hived my bees on the 5th of May, and today was my very first inspection. Everything went well, I didn't find the queen but there was brood and eggs, plenty of pollen and un-capped honey. I'm not sure if anytime sooner than later is a good time to super an extra deep of brood frame but I think I can wait a couple of weeks for that, at least as only about 5 frames contained brood and those weren't yet full. Everything was textbook except bur comb. They'd gotten an early start making bur comb; a week after hiving them I went back in to removed the queen cage, etc. and they'd managed to create bur comb between the frames around the empty queen cage after releasing her that I, in turn, had managed to drop down inside the hive while attempting to remove it. Rather than go into the empty space left by the "absent" frame and try to pull it out then, I left it. It has been a point of concern for me after the fact that in doing so I took the chance of having possibly crushed my queen had she been on that bur comb when I situated the full compliment of brood frames.

Today I discovered that they'd managed to make bur comb in between two adjacent frames despite that they were squeezed tightly together. It looked as though rather than drawing comb based the foundation they formed a little bridge attached at the top bar that was connected only marginally to either of the flanking foundations. They managed to make similar bur comb with what I'd left on the bottom board two weeks prior. While separating the two nesting frames I managed to damage both caps or base. This time I was diligent to remove this "extra" comb although it contained brood, eggs, pollen, and un-capped honey. I weighed my options quickly but carefully as to whether I should take this stuff out now or leave it. Just in removing the frame I had already done significant damage to many of the cells within the questionable comb, and would probably compound the damage with each successive inspection, so I took the chance and removed it. Had I discovered this later in the season I wouldn't have attempted it but in doing so now I'm hoping it's still early enough to encourage the girls to draw out the foundation without significantly setting back their progress.

Chunks of comb removed from a single deep brood box, the largest two are each the size of my hand (and, therefore, probably the size of yours). The middle piece at the top was what I had managed to drop to the bottom board when removing the the empty queen cage two weeks ago.

Detail of the piece of bur on the right of the previous photo. The dark cells along the top and right-hand edges contain pollen. The maggoty-looking things from the center down to the bottom corners are larval bees. From the center left, if you look carefully (click for larger image), you can make out a single egg in many of the cells (looking like a tiny grain of rice) - good signs that my hive has a healthy laying queen present, as late as two days ago.

Detail of the chunk from the right (opposite side pictured in 1st photo) showing pollen and capped brood. Except for having to remove this stuff everything looks good!

And, not that you're counting )
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Scheduled to arrive May 2nd or 3rd from Walter T. Kelley's Bees. I was afraid that I had waited too long this season to be able to establish a colony but Jane, who took my order, reassured me that May is a fine time to hive bees in the northern Shenandoah, although I shouldn't expect to harvest much beyond a single frame of honey from them this year, "Autumn honey's good but Spring honey's really the best!"


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The exquisite itch

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