Tag Archives: bees

Hive Inspection Gone Awry

Saturday’s hive inspection started innocently, as most of them do. The bees seemed busy, so I decided to open up the hives and make sure everyone’s ready for winter. The day was a little cool and gray, but not rainy or cold: good enough for a hive check in October.

The lady bees were busy bringing in bright pollen and many of them seemed to be bringing in heavy nectar loads, too. They fly a little bit drunk when they’re weighed down.


My guess is that this is goldenrod pollen.

I jiggered a 10-frame box to “fit” my 8-frame hive, which meant my bees built all kinds of burr comb that I had the displeasure of removing when I took off the box. (burr comb is comb that is inconvenient for the beekeeper – and it is usually the beekeeper’s fault).

I left the mashed up comb in an empty box nearby for the bees to lick clean. It would be more ideal to avoid burr comb entirely but, well, this is all a work in progress.

And then things took a turn for the worse. I cracked a box open and a cloud of bees flew out, directly into the unfortunate face of the resident photographer / my beloved wife, Krista. One bee stung her, and the isoamyl acetate started flowing. This chemical smells strangely like banana candy, and it calls all of the bees in the vicinity to join the attack. I’ve been in a cloud of isoamyl acetate myself, and it is a fairly horrifying experience to be the target of a lot of angry bees. It was Krista’s first experience with the banana smell, though. Her total number of stings since we installed the hives went from zero to seven in a matter of 60 seconds. I actually killed bees on purpose in my gallant efforts to rescue her. It was a first for both of us – Krista’s multiple stings, and my deliberate murder of bees.

I closed up the hive quickly, probably killing more bees in my haste, and went inside to check on Krista. It turns out that she inadvertently made a video of the bee attack. The video is a lot like a horror movie with all of the “Get them off of me!”s and slapping noises as I smacked the bees. As tempting as it is to upload it, we deemed it just too horrible. Fortunately, we discovered that Krista is barely allergic to bee stings. She said afterwards that the frightening cloud of bees trying to burrow to get into tender flesh was worse than the pain of the stings. I am very sympathetic to that sentiment; I feel exactly the same way.

This isn’t exactly normal behavior for a hive, so I guess we’re going to go back to using a smoker and consider upgrading our armor bee suits. Now, when someone asks if we get stung keeping bees, the answer is finally, Yes, every single one of us. The honey is sweeter for all the stings.

xoxo,
Jess

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could somebody bring over some scones?

Stat!

I remember buying honeycomb with my mom at a farm stand as a child. I learned recently that a lot of people have never tried honey in the comb. What!

I guess I better get to baking. We’ve been on this whole grain kick, but I think this is asking for some buttery, white flour-y scones, don’t you?

Thanks, honey, for taking all the stings.

(No, the stings don’t happen too often but we had one angry hive this week.)

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Summer progresses: blackberries, bees & honey

The blackberries are blooming in my neighborhood. I’ve written about our blackberry issues in the past. They are invasive weeds with sharp thorns, certainly, but lovely ones.

The bees go crazy for them. There is a lot of freshly capped honey in the hives.

Later, we’ll extract the honey. Something like this:

In a few short weeks, we’ll pick the neighborhood blackberries, make jams, jellies, syrups and shrubs. I can’t wait!

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2011 Mason Bees

Here’s a montage of the 2010 mason bees:

I have written about our mason bees before:
In March 2010, when we installed the bee house.
Again in March, when they started to emerge.
When they filled the first hole in April 2010.
We checked on their progress in May 2010.
In June 2010, when activity slowed down in the bee house.
And, finally, in February 2011 when they were all quietly waiting for spring.

But a lot has happened between now and then, and somehow I never got back here to do a 2011 clean-up and re-start mason bee post. Now it’s June again and I haven’t written a thing about them. This generation of mason bees has some serious second child neglect. Please don’t tell them you prefer photos of fluffy adorable chicks.

In March 2011, I brought the mason bee house inside and cleaned it out. This is important because I left the bee house outside all summer, which meant that summer bees built on top of spring bees. So when the spring bees hatched, they would either die because they couldn’t get out, or kill the summer bees on their way out. Ideally, a person might have a system to accommodate both spring and summer bees but, well, we’re experimenting. Anyway, I cleaned out the bee house.

Inside, each tube has layers from the front to the back.
mud wall – cocoon – frass (waste products) – mud wall – cocoon – frass (repeat)

A single cocoon looks like this:

Then we hung the house out again, nice and clean. I put all the cocoons in an up-cycled yogurt container. Krista asked me why I insisted on stuffing garbage into our cute bee house, so I guess I need a new strategy for next year.

The weather this year has been, in one word, awful and the masons have struggled accordingly. We have seen some activity around the house, like this little lady. It was a relief to spot her after I had almost given up on any mason bees this year.

They filled the first hole at the beginning of May — later than last year. The bees seemed busy every nice day we had, but there weren’t many. Now it is June and the mason bee season has passed. Forgive this stylized camera phone photo; we got new cell phones and I’m a little obsessed. This is the progress they made.

At this time last year we had 20 mud-filled holes. This year, we have 12. I read the Cliff Mass Weather Blog, which has great information on western Washington weather patterns, and they are reporting:

The new numbers for the average March through May temperatures at Sea-Tac are in, and by any reasonable measure (average temperature, average maximum), this has been the coldest March through May at Sea-Tac since dependable records are available (1956).

Lets begin by viewing the 5 coldest springs ( average daily temperature for March-May) in the last 55 years from 1957 through 2011 at SeaTac:

1) 2011 47.6
2) 1975 47.8
3) 2002 47.9
4) 1964 48.0
5) 1962 48.0

My bee experiences are only anecdotal, but I suspect this weather affected my mason bees. Other western Washington beekeepers are reporting normal to good mason bee production this year, so maybe it’s just me. Furthermore, I hypothesize that some of our mason bees are using alternate accommodations – cracks between the wood shingle siding of our house, perhaps? I am not going to excavate the siding to find out, but I have seen enough bees buzzing around to think it might be true.

Last year, we had a flurry of summertime solitary bee activity. I don’t know what species they are, but they managed to fill another 8 holes before fall. So now I’m waiting for the summer bee activity – we have plenty of room for them, obviously.

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Sweeter than Honeycomb

The other day I told you about what’s happening in our backyard beeyard. I wanted to share a photo of the bee candy I mentioned in that post & talk about sugar cakes a bit more.

To make sugar cakes, I boiled five entire pounds of sugar for a long time with a little bit of water, heated it to hard-ball stage (250F), cooled it down to 200 F and then poured the molten sugar lava into greased paper plates. Once it cools and hardens, you can peel the plate off and feed it to the bees, or store the extras in the paper plates. (This is not a precise recipe or method, and if you need to make sugar cakes, follow along with someone who knows what they are doing. For example, this) 5 lbs of sugar made 4 cakes of bee candy.

The girls are crazy for it. They love it more than the frames of honey that I selflessly did not steal from them last fall. They are eating it like, well, like candy. The bees ate 1/2 of the first cake pretty much immediately, so I pushed a second cake into the hive on President’s Day. Since it’s started snowing in Olympia, I haven’t had a chance to check and see their progress on the second candy cake, but I’m sure they will eat through it in no time. At this rate, we are going to go through a lot of sugar before the spring nectar flow starts. Hopefully once the weather is a little warmer, the bees can move around the hive more freely & rediscover their honey stores. On one of my favorite bee keeping blogs, Honey Bee Suite, Rusty wrote recently:

The best advice I can give is this: buy sugar wherever and when it is on sale. Some places sell it in 50-pound bags which are often cheaper but harder to handle. Most stores have sales from time to time. If you stay in beekeeping you will never run out of a need for sugar.

I wish I had stocked up on sugar when the stores were having holiday baking sales. Sometimes you don’t fully understand your future needs and maybe you live in a little house that’s short on cool, dry storage options, so you don’t like to hoard things you might not use like 50 lbs of sugar. Then, you end up paying extra for sugar later. Live & learn, eh? I love how the sugar candy looks like the surface of the moon. I love to see the bees tunnel through the cake of sugar; they seem so excited about it. And now our bees have a better chance of making it in this big, crazy world. Thanks, sugar cakes.

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Queen Pest, our Serene Consort

The bees are tucked in for the winter, taking the occasional cleansing flight when the weather breaks. My biggest concern is the moisture in the hive. Days of rain turn into weeks of rain, and then the damp settles in, bringing mold, fungus, and their ilk. Bees can handle a good deal of cold weather, but the moisture is terrible. It’s enough to make me move to California.

Last weekend, I had a scare with the hive, though. I thought there were small hive beetles taking over! SHB have not been seen in Washington yet, but it seems like a matter of time since they can hitchhike with migratory bees. Anyway, I read up on SHB and looked at a few hundred gross beetle photos. I was just being paranoid. The beetles I found are nothing like SHB. These are beetles and they are on a hive, but they are larger than SHB and they look completely different.

Our beetles:

Small Hive Beetle:

I spotted a few varroa mites in the varroa drawer of the hive. I haven’t seen any adult mites in months on these bees, so that was a nasty surprise. It’s not an ideal time to treat the bees or do much in the hive, so I’m going to be patient for now, and plan to be super proactive about the mites when the weather is more favorable. My beekeeping goal for the year is to successfully overwinter my hive. That’s my main focus. I didn’t take any honey from the bees in the fall, so hopefully they will have plenty of food to see them through to the first spring blossoms. Please send good, hopeful, strong, healthy thoughts for the ladies!

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The Swarm hive

It’s finally summer around these parts, and our time is our scarcest resource with so much going on around our farmlette, but I’m finally writing about our crazy bees. Yes, we have a garden too, but it is always taking backseat to the bees, as plants are substantially more patient than bees.

We really need to name the bee hives. It’s getting confusing to talk about them. The old queen is in the new hive, the old hive is going to have a new queen (hopefully). The situation does not lend itself to simple conversation at cocktail parties when people ask, “And how are the bees?” Anyway, this is a quick update on the swarm hive, which has the original queen that we bought in April.

The hive has eggs and brood in beautiful rainbow patterns, and a few frames of honey and brood. This website describes the rainbow pattern clearly:

It is typical for a frame to have a rainbow shape of stored nectar, pollen and brood. Usually the brood will be toward the lower part of the rainbow, and next to the brood will be pollen, then the nectar will be stored on the outer or upper part of the rainbow shape.

Last week, I added a second medium 10-frame box about a week ago, and they have started drawing it out. This week, I baited the upper box by moving one of the deep frames from the lower box today in hopes that more bee presence will speed up the building. I had to leave an empty space in the lower box so the bigger frame could hang down. I hope they move into the second box before they take advantage of the extra space in the lower box and build wild and crazy burr and brace comb.

Here’s an interesting shot of eggs on black plastic foundation. We use wax foundation usually, but the hive I borrowed from my fellow beekeeper, Duane, came with some black plastic foundation. I have to say, it does make for very easy egg spotting! It’s tough to imagine this tiny white thread becoming a honeybee, but it almost certainly will.

And this is an awesome photo that Levi took of the marked queen that came with our package of bees. This clinched it with all certainty that the swarm was most definitely from our hive — not that we really had any doubt, but you know. It was nice to see her again. She is certainly a lovely bug.

So, that’s the status of this swarm about three weeks after it was issued from the garden hive and ended up in the Italian plum tree. We’re supposed to have an awfully hot week, so hopefully these ladies can start making up for a lot of the lost weeks of rainy weather.

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