Category Archives: Bees

The bees are thriving

Everyone has been asking:  Are your bees ok?

Happily, they are doing very well.  Not bad, since I thought this hive sat on the edge of 50/50 winter survival chances.  They are vital and exploratory, polishing off a jar of syrup every few days, and making appearances at the neighbours’.  The pollen du jour is now bright orange.  Dandelions, perhaps?

Even though I can’t inspect them thoroughly yet, I gave them an empty super, sure that they were gonna bust their seams any moment.  All that pollen has to go somewhere.

H.W. has taken more of an interest in them, watching them every day, and reporting that the bees HATE the “door” (the entrance limiting stick).  We’ve been having warm days, and the inbound flights start bottlenecking at the entrance mid-morning.  Then he pulls out the stick and “the bees BOIL out!”. It takes a few minutes to rebalance, like traffic after an accident is cleared.  Then the bees come shooting in and out like a time lapse video of La Guardia at 16x speed.

The bees have decided to share the chickens’ canteen.  I don’t understand; they have their own perfectly good bowl.  But they line up on the edge, drinking.  Every night I have to go and fish out (usually three) soggy bees and deliver them to their doorstep.  In the day they can pull themselves out of the pool and dry off and warm up in the sun, but at night they are too chilled to fly home.  I hold my finger with three bedraggled bees by their door.  The evening arrivals are zooming in and they land on my hand on their way in.  I can feel the warm sweet air of the humming hive coming from the entrance, and the grateful swimmers perk up in the warm draft, drag themselves off my finger and indoors.

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Bees have pushed the stick open themselves

I tell H.W., who is sympathizing with bee frustration, that the stick still has to go back in at night.  “But they hate it!”  As it turns out, the bees are more than capable of opening the door themselves.  They just don’t shut it.

 

Pollen baskets!

The bees were coming home loaded today with pollen baskets.  A soft snot-green colour- I wonder what is the source.  Bees at the end of their workday were zooming in every few seconds with payloads, as the sun ran out.

They are still in winter wraps, but are very lively with this warm early spring we’re having, already polishing off bottles of syrup within a week and thoroughly exploring, sometimes a little too adventurously.

I do a fair amount of bee rescue, returning bees who have got themselves in trouble to the hive.  I find them in buckets, or frantically lost in the house, raging at the windows.  Half drowned, half froze, half exhausted-  I run them back to the hive, transfer them from my finger to the doorstep, and watch as they wearily drag themselves back in the door, or are helped.

Today I had my face quite close watching a sodden bee (who could at first only wave one antenna to let me know she lived), pull herself back inside when a small black flying insect landed on the bee porch for a rest- just a little gnat.  A guard bee dashed out, snatched the insect up with her bee forelegs, and then seemed to throw it.  It flew away with alacrity, lucky to escape.  A beat after she chucked it she zoomed at me.  Hey git out of here!  You’re too close for comfort too.

 

…with songs they have sung, for 1000 years

Whahoo!

My bees are alive!

(with the sound of buzz-ing)

We had an extreme cold snap (relative, very relative) here with a -20C night.  I didn’t think they’d made it.  I kind of had a feeling.  I’m really on the fence whether this hive will make it through their first winter.  Neither death nor survival will surprise me.

They had honey, but such small numbers….luck, chance, and the weather all have to weigh in before the winter’s out.

After that cold night – brrrr!  I couldn’t hear anything when I pressed my ear to the front of the box.  The wind was whistling hard, but still.

We’ve had a warm snap.  The kind where the above freezing temps suddenly expose all the old dog bones and buckets that blew away and random flagging tape on the ground, and you’re wishing for a snow asap to cover it all up again.

Today-lively humming.

Insulating the hive

November has been harsh.  We’ve had three hard freezes.  That’s not supposed to happen yet!  I’ve been throwing a duvet over the hive on the cold nights, hoping it helps some.

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We get serious wind. Dog “tie-out stakes”, or picket pins, that screw into the ground, are PERFECT.

I wrapped up the beehive for the winter, with 2 inches of rigid styrofoam and roofing felt.  I don’t love this.  What did people do before plastics and tarpaper?  There has to be another way.  But anyway, I made the tri-fold foam into a three-sided box (the front doesn’t get foam), using the lap joints and taping it up with Tuck tape.  Then I wrapped it all in the felt, stapling it on.

As I worked, a few sentry bees came rocketing out, angry.  It was cold though, so these were suicide missions.  They would come out, buzz around angrily, then land on something, and be too cold to get back into the hive.  I picked one still bee body up off where it was clinging to a branch and placed it on the upper hive doorstep.  Within a second, pffft!  The bees threw the body back out.  I guess that one was dead.  I put another motionless bee on the doorstep.  They pulled it into the hive!  Maybe for a little bee cpr.  I put two or three more bees back in when I finished, in case they weren’t dead yet.

I did the front last, because for a few minutes, the bees are entirely closed in, until you cut out their entrances out.  They may not like that.

When I cut out the upper entrance, there were two bees sitting inside, looking out.  Hello bees!

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Bee sculpture

When I’ve had the hive open (sorry, sorely remiss on bee updates), often there are comb protuberances where the bees decide to build comb between frames, or connect to the lid, or the frame above it.

When I pull out frames and then need to break off these comb “burrs” so that the frame can slide back in, I give the broken off bits back to the bees to reclaim the honey and the wax.  They were making a habit of sticking all the frames to the inner cover for awhile so there was quite a bit of comb to scrape off.  And tasty…omg!

On top of the supers and above the inner lid, I have a 6″ box to accommodate the feeder jar:

2015-08-28 09.14.13and that’s where I toss the chunks of comb, on top of the inner cover.  (The bees crowd this space in the day, supping and sculpting, but in this early morning picture, they are mostly down in the hive).

Thing is, the bees have not recycled all the wax.  All the honey is extracted, but only about half the wax I’ve thrown back to them has disappeared back into the hive.

The rest of it, they have made into sculpture.

That’s the only way to put it.  They aren’t using this comb for anything, and it’s intricately molded and shaped – changed so that it doesn’t resemble the jagged chunks of comb that were piled in there, and does resemble some fantastic art-deco architecture.  Amazing!!!

There’s a fantastic domed archway and a Gehry-esque zigzag highrise.  So beautiful!

First Hive Opening

Hmmm.  Something is awry.  No brood.

It was time to inspect the hive, two weeks from installation, and also refill the syrup.

2015-07-05 11.52.092015-07-05 11.54.49 I had an assistant for hive opening, proud to be operating the smoker.

The bees had built a lot of comb on the underside of the inner cover, concentrating on the center of their operations.

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I scraped that off and left it inside the top compartment with the syrup.  It was all filled with honey and dripping.  I’m sure they’ll have cleaned it all up in days, probably transfer it back where it was.  We each ate a little nibble of honey comb- WOW!

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Every frame I pulled out, honey.  Honey.  More honey.  Where is the brood?  Of the four frames that I received, when I received them, three were brood and one was honey.  In two weeks, the bees have cleaned out the three brood frames and have nearly finished filling them with honey!  The one honey frame has had the honey moved elsewhere and has been cleaned, but no eggs, no brood!

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The fresh foundation frames I gave them have some lovely clean new comb started on them… still no brood.  The

re was an emergency queen cell, too, open and being attended.

2015-07-05 12.17.20We saw a queen, so she is alive, but I’m not sure about well.

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Klaus confirmed that all honey and no brood means the queen is not “working right”.  The next inspection will tell if the queen we saw is the emergency replacement and if she has started laying eggs, or if it’s the “old” queen and she’s somehow a dud.

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No bees were injured during this inspection of the hive.

What the bees really did with that comb on the inner cover.

 

Bees! Day 2

Bee transfer day.  In which the bees are transferred from their nuc box to their forever home.

Yesterday afternoon I put together my wooden frames (properly, having been taught how) with wax foundation and build a stand for the hive, etc.  It took much longer than I thought, although it was easy, fun-fiddly work, like making balsa wood airplanes, or something.  All of a sudden the afternoon was gone.  My least favourite part was the wiring.  Nothing hard about it, I think I just don’t like handling wire.  I used a bar clamp in lieu of a jig to compress the sides of the frames to string them and they all came out sounding like guitars.  My very favourite part was melting the wires into the wax foundation with the battery charger.  That was super fun.  Also the very last step.  I’m realizing now that no one but my fellow students will have any idea what I’m talking about here, and I didn’t take pictures.

Other than this one.  One frame, all done.
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Then I got my tools together and went out to handle my bees for the first time.  I wore my suit because I was alone, and these stressed bees have every reason to be tetchy right now, so I did not expect them to be “lambs”, like Klaus’s bees.  I moved the nuc box forward with the milk crate and took some time placing and leveling the hive stand behind it.  I was glad I had the suit on because I got covered with ants.  They are not amenable to being evicted.  The ants were irritating me a bit (Leiningen vs the Ants in high school made an overly vivid impression on me.  Although ants are pretty amazing too, I don’t like too many of them at once) so I took a minute to calm down before the main event.

And then, anticlimax.   Bees were swirling all around the nuc box, confused, but I popped the lid, no reaction.  I lifted out each frame and glanced at it and put it in the clean new hive, and that was it.  No drama, no stings.  Not even any agitation, really.  I packed them back up with the feeder jar, which they’ve been ignoring.

For a few minutes, there was a crowd of bees hovering in front of the new hive (Something’s different!).  I must have matched the height of the entrance exactly, because they immediately started landing on the porch, in the middle, and eventually began to walk inside.  One bee led a crowd walk around up and around the front of the hive, and then they started using it like they’d always lived there.  The airborne crowd dispersed.

Until I reduced the entrance with a stick.

All the bees still landed in the middle, which was now blocked, and walked back and forth, but not far enough to find the hole on the right.  A confused crowd formed again in the air (Too many new things today!).

One bee found the hole.  2015-06-20 17.18.23Another bee came out.  2015-06-20 17.18.12A few more bees came in and out.

This was more challenging to them than the hive swap.  The majority remained in the middle, frustrated.  Eventually, another group walk around formed on the front of the hive.  This little stroll up and around performed by a small pack of bees seems to be a marker of placefinding, or communication.  It happens fast, but I saw it three times, right as they adjusted to change.  Doorway change, specifically.

So, they are installed.  I hope they like it here.

There are no guard bees, there is a steady but thin squadron of bees leaving and returning, and I saw some with pollen baskets.  They seem very quiet.
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I have to say, I could sit around in that suit all day.  It really takes care of the horseflies.  Very comfortable.  The dog wasn’t sure what to make of it though.

Bees!

My brain is full.  I spent two days at a wonderful Introduction to Beekeeping course put on by the biodynamic apiarists of Bello Uccello, outside of Digby.  I feel tired with all the information, but also grateful, because workshops are not always so intense or packed full of knowledge.

-PHILOSOPHICAL TANGENT BEGINS- My favourite thing I learned is that bees like to work my favourite way to work.  They move around the hive, and do whatever comes to hand (antenna?) within their ability at that stage of their development (as they grow bees have distinct tasks that they capable of performing at a given age).  I get that!  The days that I’m able to work like that are the best.  Do what’s right in front of you, and keep slowly moving forward and doing what’s there, and then as you’re carrying something you run into something else to pick up and end up roaming back and forth all over, and not a thing gets done that you “planned” to do, but so very many things get done that needed to be done, and the experience of doing all that work, and usually working quite hard, is quite relaxing to the mind, and blissfully satisfying.

I have a private theory that there is a great and costly expenditure of energy that happens when you direct yourself to do something that “needs” to get done, that you’ve “decided” to do – to meet a deadline, or an appointment, because it is moving against what you feel like doing.  Again and again, experience bears out that moving with the feeling-like-doing produces better results.  Like this morning, for instance.  I popped up to run the dog earlier than I’d “planned” to, because I felt like it then and had the freedom to be flexible, and the moment we got back from our run the sky opened on us.  I hadn’t known if it was expected to rain.  Alas, there are so many deadlines, and appointments, and plans, to cope with.  We keep on making them.  It is very difficult to cooperate with even one other person (partner), let alone business hours, when following the feeling-like-doing can get you into zealously emptying the back shed instead of doing firewood together, as planned, or vacuuming out the truck at midnight when you have to go to town first thing in the morning.  However, the feeling of the work, which is supposed to be the important part, is so dramatically better when you work one thing to another until it’s time to sleep, and then if you’re lucky, get up again with energy and without an alarm to do it all over again.

My theory continues, to say that if you could continue in this mode A: everything would get done, including the things you have “planned” B: everything truly not important would fall away C: the rhythm of work to be done would come to match and balance the energy you have for it D: the pattern of work would become more consistent and come into alignment with natural patterns, like daylight, and sleep, and E: eventually you would come to harmony and knowledge of much larger and more subtle rhythms, like time to plant the potatoes, and it’s going to be a long winter.  To do this, I opine, would require making no commitments, ever, to anyone, including yourself, to ever show up to anything at a given time; accepting the consequences of all that (essentially not participating in society at all); and to have an extremely patient and accepting partner.   Until then, compromise.  I will revel in the lone days I am able to work like a bee, moving from one task to the next without the tyranny of a to-do list, and maybe in valuing those times, I can create more of them. -TANGENT ENDS-BACK TO THE BEES!-

Also literally tired, because after the second day of class I drove to pick up my bees in the late evening and then drove another two hours home.  I’d requested a nucleus (mated queen, couple hundred bees, and four frames of brood and honey) from Kevin Spicer, and he’d said he’d have one packed up for me (too late in the day to put them straight into my box).  I got to his place a little early, and saw a nucleus box, obviously mine, waiting on the porch.
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During the workshop we’d spent a lot of time interacting with the bees: observing their behaviour, inspecting the hive, standing in the apiary.  Klaus was notably affectionate with his bees, as a whole and as individuals, calling them “girls”, “sweetie”, touching them gently, and obviously always concerned about them.  “See this bee?” he would point out to us instructively.  “She’s [fanning/guarding/cleaning/transferring pollen]. Isn’t she cute?”

I was usually feeling anxious around his bees, impatient to get them put back in the box, concerned for all the jostling and noise that the great lumbering group of us crowded around the hive were causing.

When I saw that box of bees on the porch, though, my bees, I felt an overwhelming rush of love that I really was not expecting.  My bees, that were going to come home and be a part of our family, and I would have to take care of as best I could.

I went to sit by the box of bees and immediately bent over it for a deep inhale, to smell them.  Instantly, the bees just on the other side of the screen from my face buzzed angrily.  Hey!  Cut it out with the wind!  At the round entrance hole, where the tap would be if this was a box of wine, not bees, the bees there were desperately trying to push themselves through the wire screen stapled over the hole.  The whole box had a sound and attitude of frustration and panic.  I sat there with it, watching them, and noticed that some bees at the screened entrance were trying to push out clumps of garbage but were frustrated by the screen.  There was a pile of small crumbs they’d already pushed out, but they had bundles of fuzz, fibres and dirt larger than them that would not pass through the mesh and were starting to clog up their hole.

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I made a tiny wire hook and slowly teased out some of the garbage through the screen, while the sanitation bees pushed from the other side, and the more I pulled out, the more they brought to the door.  They’d only been in there for a few hours, but were already “This place needs sprucing up!” like a no-nonsense pioneer wife.  The bee box calmed down a lot while I sat there, happily bonding with them and helping with garbage extrication, New Caledonia crow style.

Two bees were on the outside of the box, crawling around on the screen on top.  They obviously believed they belonged inside, and I hoped they would stick it out until getting home when they could be reunited.

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Bees!

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Kevin arrived and promptly gave me a tour of his whole bee facility, and then I departed, just before dark, with my box of bees in the back seat, but only one of the two hitchhikers remained on top.

I drove off, then remembered I had to give them water.  Drove some more, remembered the bee on the outside had no access to fuel, so stopped to feed her.  I made it home before midnight, exhausted, wearily singing Tori Amos and K.D. Lang to stay awake.  I figured at least the bees’d get used to my voice.

At home HW unloaded the truck and I slowly carried the nuc box to the house.

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Bees!

Me: There’s a bee on the outside of the box, careful don’t squish her.  HW:  There’s a loose bee?

Inside, the frames were loose and swinging, so even though I tried to carry them like a glass of water, they were getting jostled and they weren’t happy about it.  Bump, bump.  Buzz, buzz.   They stayed in the house for the night because it was kind of a cool night.

In the morning I had to go out and place them in their new location and release them.  It was a cold rainy day, so it would not be transfer day.  I set the nuc box out on a milk crate and started pulling out the staples.  One staple, and it bent the wire mesh just enough for one bee to pop through the screen.  2015-06-19 06.02.33

Poppopopopopopop, a steady stream of bees flowed straight out of that hole, head to tail, did a little crowd walk around on the face of the box, and started taking off.  2015-06-19 06.03.21

About this time I noticed the “loose bee” was missing.  I went and found her in the house, sitting on one of HW’s shoes, and took her to the door and she slipped right into the box.  She made it!

Bee prep

The bees are coming.  I’m off to bee school to beecome a beeginner beekeeper.

We assembled the fresh new hive supers, etc. from Country Fields Kind of guessing at how it even goes together at this point, but I need to bring the box, because, hopefully, I’ll bee bringing back bees in it.

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Haha! I didn’t even notice the passed out dog in the background!

Made a lid for it.  After bee school I will have to make a stand and a couple other pieces, but not immediately.  No postponing a lid, though.

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Back of the truck, ready to go