Monday, April 27, 2009

Bee Phenomenon

I've been a beekeeper officially now for a few weeks, and a beekeeper wanna-be for longer (before I got my bees). I've noticed an interesting phenomenon.

Before getting into the hobby, I didn't know much about beekeeping or bees. I didn't know any beekeepers personally. I honestly didn't give them much thought (except when I was about 10 and stepped on a bee in clover - I gave a lot of thought -- and hops on one foot -- at that time!). But when I talk to people, it's amazing how many people either knew a beekeeper, had relatives (usually parents) who were beekeepers, or otherwise had some connection to beekeeping. And universally, they had very positive comments about bees in general.

Even my next door neighbor, who said she is allergic to bees, is supportive (she just doesn't want to get too close!). But her daughter said, "Cool!" when I told her abotu them. People recognize the value bees provide to agriculture, and are genuinely interested. I'm known at work to have a lively discussion over lunch about the subject of bees, when people ask me how my bees are doing. It's fascinating the interest it generates.

Also, beekeepers are an odd lot too. They are very willing to expound on their art (like I am too!) and share with anyone willing to listen. They give a lot of their time helping other beekeepers. It's a good brotherhood to belong to!

So if anyone wants to know more about beekeeping, just ask! :-) Or better, do some research - lots of good beekeepers blog about their experience. There are some good books to read (look earlier in this blog for my reading material recommendations).

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Inspection 4-25-09

Today was a great day for bee hive inspection. It was a sunny day, and got up into the mid 80's by late afternoon. During the late morning when I inspected the hive it was only in the 70's (funny to say *only* when a week ago it was near freezing!).

I smoked the hive, and opened it up to do the inspection. I was wondering if I was going to have to add another layer (super), but my wife tells me that I am just being too ambitious - it's only been 13 days since I installed the package. I found about 3-4 frames had been filled out with honeycomb. While I didn't see the queen, I saw more eggs which tells me she is laying just fine. The books say I should see some larvae by now - I could have seen that, but I was not sure. I forgot to check specifically for larvae. The picture above is one of the frames, and you can see that the bees had added wax making the cells deeper. It's still uneven (the left side isn't done yet), but I don't think anything is wrong. They will fill it out.

The bees were going very strong today - it was a good day to collect pollen and I suppose nectar. I didn't see any bees with yellow legs (full of pollen) flying into the hive, but when I opened up the hive, I saw a little guy on the edge of a frame with packed pollen on his legs. Look at the larger version of this picture:

When you smoke the bees, they start drinking the honey (thinking that they will have to abandon the hive due to a fire). It's funny to see their little butts in the air as they frantically gather honey! But it keeps them occupied and not inclined to sting me!

Next week I should be able to see more brood, and maybe some of it capped. Then shortly after that, some new bees! Right now they seem to be happy, so we are hoping for the best.

Monday, April 20, 2009

First Inspection

Well, today I did my first inspection of the hive. I installed my bees last Tuesday. I didn't bother the hive until now, except to make sure they had enough sugar syrup.

First comment: the weather. The books say "pick a nice sunny day, over 50F, with little to no wind." Well, today it got to the mid 40's, and there was a good clip of a wind. I had to do it today because it's supposed to rain tonight and tomorrow, and I didn't want to wait too much time. I had left one of the frames out when I installed the bees, in order to leave room for the queen cage. I didn't want the bees to build too much burr comb in the extra wide spaces.

I got suited up, lit my smoker, and started the inspection. When I popped open the cover, what I was concerned about had happened: the bees had built a lot of free-standing comb in the spaces of the hive, and attached it to the cover and other places. The following pictures show what I saw (click to see larger versions):

There was probably enough free-standing honeycomb that would fill an entire frame, and a lot of it had sugar syrup in it (the bees were using it for storage). This is unfortunate because the energy and effort they expended to build the free-standing comb could have been spent drawing out the foundation of my frames (you can see in the picture at the top of this entry that they had started drawing out the comb on the frame, but not by much). So this probably put the bees behind about a week's effort. I used my trusty hive tool and scraped off the comb, and then I put in the 10th frame (I left out the frame to leave space for the queen cage). I also removed the queen cage, as the queen had been set free.

A couple of good things happened, though. One was that I didn't get stung!! I didn't feel the bees were too aggressive today. That could also be because the weather was a little chilly (and bees don't like to fly in chilly weather). The second good thing was that I saw the queen bee! She was running around one of the frames. So I know she is alive and well. I wasn't able to get a picture of her.

Since the comb I removed had sugar syrup in it, I left the comb at the base of the beehive so the bees could reclaim it and put it back into the hive:

One thing they mentioned very little in the books is how sticky working a beehive is! It was made extra so because I had to handle all the free-standing comb, and it was filled with sygar syrup, but not capped. So it leaked everywhere, and everything got sticky. But nothing a little warm water won't clean up.

The next inspection will be Saturday. Hopefully I'll see more comb built up, and maybe some eggs.

Update: I just noticed in the picture at the top, you can see some eggs! They are the little white slivers in some of the cells (visible against the black background of the foundatation). Yay! The queen is doing what queens are supposed to do!

Saturday, April 18, 2009


The beehive is in full sun now (the house blocks the sun in the early morning), and I thought I'd go out and see what they were up to. To my surprise, I saw some bees bringing back full baskets of pollen! Look at the image above and you'll see a bee with legs packed with pollen (click the image for a larger version). That's what bees are supposed to do!

I wouldn't expect much pollen around at this time of year, but then again, my kids are suffering from allergies (caused by pollen). I don't see too many flowers open yet, but apparently the bees are very good at finding them.

I can't wait to get in and see what they've done!

The waiting is torture!!

It's been five days since I installed my package of bees. All of the bee books I read say that you need to wait seven days after installation before you do your first hive inspection. Five is less than seven. The waiting is torture!

I'd like nothing better than to get in there and see what those little workers have been up to. By now, they should have released the queen, started laying down honey comb, and maybe the queen started laying eggs. I've replaced the sugar syrup container on the top of the beehive (that didn't involve opening up the main area of the hive, just removing the top cover). No bees were disturbed except for about a dozen sitting on the lid of the sugar feeder, and they were not happy to be moved (it was early in the morning, the weather a little cold, and they were groggy).

Speaking of weather, we had a little cool snap the last few days. The temperature got above 50 F for a little while (50 is about the minimum for bees to fly), and Tracy reported that while I was at work, the bees were out and about (especially yesterday, when it was warmer). Today should be warm, so I can watch them doing their business.

I have the next week off as vacation, so I will wait the full seven days before I get into the hive (on Tuesday). If you disturb the bees too early, they may reject the new queen. At first, it is a rocky relationship between the hive and the queen, as they both get used to their new environment (imagine getting uprooted from your nice warm Georgia hive, get shoved with 10,000 of your siblings into a small box, put on a truck for a couple of days to MA, sit on a kitchen table for a day, then get shook into a totally new hive environment). As I want things to succeed, I'm going to wait the 7 days. It is sort of like this commercial from the 80's:

(Did we really dress like that in the 80's? Not me!!)

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Bees Get a Home!!

It's official: I am now a Beekeeper!

Today is the day the bees get installed into their home! The picture above is the (empty) beehive. The white piece of wood is called an "entrance reducer." It minimizes the entrance to the hive because as a new hive, they don't have enough strength (bees) to defend the hive; the smaller hole is easier to defend. Once the bees multiply, I'll take it off later in the season.

The weather cooperated for the most part. It was a little sunny / partly cloudy, with temperatures in the low to mid 50s. There was no rain, thank goodness - bees get grumpy when it rains. The installation went off without any problems (meaning I didn't drop the package or the queen, nor did I get stung!). If you are interested, here's the installation process (11 1/2 minutes). Sorry the volume isn't very good - I didn't have a cameraman and I was not very close to the camera.

So the hive is all closed up and the bees who didn't get shook out will find their way up to the ramp. Here is a short video of the activity a few minutes later:

Also here are some more pictures (click on them to see larger versions). I have a gray bucket to the right which has water and styrofoam packing peanuts floating in it, to give the bees water if they want (they need something to land on or they will drown).

I put the wooden ramp there temporarily to let the bees have an easy time making it up to the hive (for those I couldn't shake out of the box - and there were quite a few!). I checked on them later in the afternoon and all had made it into the hive. There were a bunch of bees flying around the hive, just getting the lay of the land.

I'll leave things be for about a week to allow the queen to be released and to get established. They say that's the hardest part for new beekepers - let things alone for that first week. You want to get in there and look around!

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Bees - They're Here!!

The Bees have arrived!

This afternoon I went up to New England Bees and picked up my "package." A package of bees consists of:
  • A queen bee in a wooden cage
  • A tin can of sugar syrup
  • About 10,000 worker bees
all in a wooden box with screened sides. The queen is in a cage so that the workers don't mob her and kill her (since they don't have a home yet, they haven't accepted her as 'their' queen). The sugar syrup is to feed the bees during transit. You can see in the picture above how the bees are packaged.

These particular bees made a trip up from Georgia in the back of a trailer. Rick from New England Bees says he brought up about 500 packages (at around $80/package, that's a good sum of money!). He'll make another trip in a couple of weeks to fill more orders he has for more packages. The packages get stapled together on furring strips to make them easy to transport, as shown in this picture (he was down to these 15 when I arrived to pick them up).

When I picked up the bees, there were about a dozen bees clinging to the outside of the package (during transit, some bees escape due to insecurely sealed packages). I was worried about the bees in the car during the 1 1/2 hour drive home, but aside from a couple of them flying against the window a little, they stayed with the package. It's funny - I heard a couple of them buzzing around in the cab of my truck. Before I got interested in beekeeping, that would have absolutely freaked me out (I don't like it when a fly is in my car, nonetheless something which can sting!). But I didn't mind it one bit. Here's a short video of what I had:

I know that honeybees are very docile when they don't have a hive or honey to protect, so I wasn't worried about getting stung. In fact, one of the bees followed me in the house. Tracy pointed it out on the floor, then bent down and let the bee crawl on her hand. She carried it out to the outside as it was crawling on her arm. I'm surprised she didn't freak out - she was very calm. All she said was, "It tickled."

My kids are enjoying seeing the bees close up. Jacob was very excited, running around and being, well, very excited.

Tomorrow afternoon I'll install them in the hive. The fun begins!!
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