Tag Archives: beekeeping

Move-in day for the bees

Time for the new bees to go from their nuc boxes (temporary housing), to their forever homes.Sheltered from the rain with a hive lid.

These bees were also midnight bees.  They came from a agreat distance, and with the aid of caffeine and chatting on the phone, I did very well on the drive back, until I was 10km from home and the black dogs struck.  At midnight there was no one else on the road so I crept, 40kph the last few klicks.  My theory was if I fall asleep and go in the ditch, I’ll go in slow.  So tired. 

I got home and fell fast asleep in the driver’s seat the moment I shifted into park, sleeping next to the boxes of bees belted into the passenger seat until dawn.  It was really neat, a different, dreamless but not completely unaware sleep, with the light humming of the bees next to me.  Not often one sleeps next to bees, I suppose.

I was annoyed by the ping of rain in the morning, that forced me to move, to put the bees in place on their prepared stands, and cover them for the day’s downpour.

The following day came move-in day.

The four frames in the nuc box get placed into a super, alternating with brood-ready comb frames, and a frame heavy with honey on each side, for insulation.

These bees had built some significant burr comb on the bottom of the frame, so much it wouldn’t go in the super, and I had to slice that off.  While I was doing that, always a delicate job, I did the unthinkable:  I dropped a frame.

I’ve never done that before.  Immediately I heard Klaus’s voice in my head saying to stay prepared (in the event of a sudden sting), and never drop a frame.

I didn’t drop it from very high, it slid before it fell, but with a frame, however it lands is going to be bee side down.

Right away my feet were stuck where they were.  I picked up the frame and there was a pool of bees rumbling around on the ground, all around my feet.  Not to mention suddenly three times more airborne as a moment ago.

I finished with the other frames, then crouched and started scooping bees into my hand with the bee brush, and dropping them in the super.  I got most of them this way, and the rest were forming a group and on the march.  Here they are starting up the leg of the hive.  So smart!

I picked up the straggling individuals until I could move my feet; the group seemed to have it handled.  Amazingly, I did not get stung.  More amazingly, not one bee was killed!  Not one bee body from the drop.  Inside the empty box, the remaining bees are doing the same thing, grouping up, here on the wrong end of the box.  The fallen bees have finished their journey in.  20 minutes later all the bees had found their way inside. The other hive went much better.  Phew!  Nerve wracking, but no casualties.  Moving day never goes all well as you expect.

Unwrapping the bees

April 28

I have woodenware now for another hive.  This year I want to get a second nuc, and still be prepared in case hive #1 splits.  This will step me up to a different league of beekeeping.  A not-yet-serious, but not-quite-casual league.  Bees take quite a bit of time and work, more than is immediately apparent, and I´ll notice the difference if I double them.

I was in the apiculture supplier´s retail space, waiting for my order to be gathered up, when the cashier commented to me “That´s so nice, that you still use wood and wax”.

As in, “Isn´t that quaint”.

I was actually startled.  I had been marveling at the towers of styrofoam prefab hives, but when she said that, I was hit by how now wood is the exception.  That´s why they have to dig it out of the back room.  Everything is plastic.  Plastic frames, plastic foundation, plastic hive parts now.  No assembly, nails, or skill required.

Someone rolled through a minute later inspecting my growing pile of un-assembled woodenware and thoughtfully told his partner that that wood would “probably be nicer, for when you have to burn them”.

Yeah!! On the awful occasion that you have to bonfire hives because of disease, YES, it might be “nicer” to torch wood and wax and wire than 40 pounds of plastic and extruded polystyrene!

This left me thinking:

  1. What is the world coming to?
  2. What about when the plastic runs out?
  3. How awful for the BEES!

If it´s bad for us to drink out of plastic water bottles and live with off-gassing carpet, are the bees supposed to be unaffected in a 100% plastic house, growing from larvae on a plastic bed, living in a plastic box sitting in the sun?

I unwrapped the hive a few days early.  Hot weather.  By all signs, they wintered well and are thriving.

i ripped the tarpaper off the front, and the styrofoam insulation, and scooped most of the straw out of the bee lounge.

There was a moisture breach and quite a bit of mold on the front corner of the bee lounge (aka eke), but I guess that´s what it´s there for – there doesn´t seem to be water or mold incursion past the inner cover.

The bees are polishing off syrup jars quite rapidly already.

New bee boxes

I’ve been assembling  bee supers and frames.  They look so nice, all fresh.

The idea is that if the bees are ready to swarm this year (so far they are thriving and vital, so I’m hoping for the best), that there will be a move-in-ready apartment conveniently right next door!

My idea is to leave the bottom super empty, maybe a couple frames in the top box, to be spacious like a swarm box.  Since I haven’t built a swarm box yet, I need to build supers anyway, and I want to have something ready in the event of a sudden swarm, then this is a better-than-nothing measure.

I was assembling frames in my tiny camper, and stocking them outside, when the robber bees arrived.  They were doing their nervous, zigzag robber bee thing, investigating the new wax frames with enthusiasm.

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More and more bees arrived (they were uncannily camera shy though).  I started to get nervous, and promptly put up a box in the field for them to inspect.

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Immediate investigation

They haven’t made any moves on it, but they know it’s there.

This has been such a drab, cold!, protracted spring, that there hasn’t been a day warm enough for me to make a full hive inspection.  I feel like I should.  I am heartened that it takes a long time to find a Varroa mite on the bottom board, they are sucking back the syrup I give them, and they have at least doubled last year’s numbers, judging by the comings and goings.  So far they seem to be caring for themselves quite well.  I hope I can give them a third super in time.

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!