Saturday, May 30, 2009

Pollen everywhere!

A couple of weeks ago I got a new camera - a Canon EOS Rebel XS. The previous digital camera we were using is a Canon Powershot A540 (we like the Canon brand) - it's a nice camera, but Tracy complained a lot because it took a while to turn on and autofocus; by the time it was ready, you missed your interesting shot. We have an older film camera Canon EOS Rebel-G, which she likes, so I knew the new digital version would be good.

One of the features of the camera is a continuous shot mode. It can shoot 3 frames per second for as long as you have space on your memory card. So if you are looking to capture a good shot, you can take a bunch of successive pictures and pick the best ones. I think that's what the pros do.

I decided to take some pictures of the bees. I've seen such a variety of pollen being collected, I wanted to capture that to show you. We had a lot of rain on Tuesday and Wednesday, and Thursday the bees were out in force! I was amazed at how much pollen some of those bees were carrying - some of them looked to be carrying about as much as a pea-sized bundle! And the colors!! After taking about 300 pictures (most of them continuous shots), I used a graphics program to put together some good pollen shots (click on the picture to enlarge):

I've been seeing a lot of the dark red / rust pollen coming into the hive, and wasn't sure where it was coming from. Well I was standing out front of the house where Tracy had planted a "broomstick bush" and saw that it had about a dozen of my girls working it, and their legs were full of the rust pollen. Mystery solved! They really like the bush, so I took a lot of pictures. During that time, I think I've taken my all-time favorite picture of the bees so far; it's the one at the top of this post (and I think I'm going to put it as the main picture of this blog, since that picture there now is from someone else). The bees love that bush. It was neat to be able to say, "yep, them's my bees!"

Here are some bees coming in for a landing laden with pollen:

It's a "super" day!!

I did the weekly bee hive inspection today around 12:00. It was a very pleasant day - temperature about 70°F, and no wind to speak of. All week the bees have been very active, and I was anxious to see what they've been up to. Plus I wanted to make sure they still liked me (after the weed whacker incident!).

I was pleased to see the queen, and see that she has been very busy! There are a lot of eggs, larvae, and capped brood in the hive. Last week I had shuffled around a couple of frames to try to even out the hive - when I started the hive, the entrance reduced had the bees coming in the right side of the hive. They've concentrated on that side ever since, and that's where they build up first. So I've been slowly shifting things one frame at a time to try to get her to lay evenly (because at the other end were 3 ignored frames).

There's the 70% rule in beekeeping - when 70% of the frames have been drawn out as comb, it's time to add another later of frames. Well today, I judged that the top "super" had been drawn out 70%, so I added my first 'honey super' (the boxes are called "supers" after the Latin word for "above," since you add the boxes above the existing ones. But even the bottom boxes are called supers - go figure!).

If you look at the picture above you can see the hone super I added. It's narrower than the brood boxes for the main reason that a brood box full of honey weighs 100 pounds! I certainly don't want to be moving that around for inspections! So they make a shallow super where when full it "only" weighs 60 pounds. Also, if you look closely, you'll see a line separating the honey super from the brood boxes. That is a queen excluder - it's basically a grate (like a grill grate) where the bars are separated enough to let the workers through, but not the queen. If the queen can't get up there, she can't lay eggs in the honey supers, and the workers will only store honey up there (which is what I want).

I like to take at least one picture during each inspection, even if not much has changed. Here's an interesting picture:

The center of the frames shows some capped brood and empty cells (where bees have already come out). On the left of the picture (which would be the top of the frame), you can see in the corners some white wax - that is stored honey. Along the bottom of the frame (right of the picture) are some comb cells which are hanging down. Those are either queen cells, or just some wayward comb. I am going to keep an eye on them next week to see.

All in all they are doing great!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Bees Don't Like Weed-Eaters

(image from Best Health)

I learned a new fact this afternoon: bees definitely do not like weed-eaters!

The area around the hive was starting to get overgrown with ferns and various weeds. So while I was out with the weed-eater taking care of the edges of the lawn, I decided to clean up around the beehive. I knew I didn't want to linger, so I decided to just go in and clear around and behind the hive, and then leave.

Well, the next thing I knew I had this sharp pain on my left temple near my safety glasses (I always wear safety glasses when using the weed-eater; safety first!!). Apparently some of the girls took offense at me coming around with a loud, smelly piece of equipment, kicking up bits and pieces of vegetation around their home. After I felt the sting, I looked over at the hive and there were a lot of bees coming from the hive.

I made a hasty retreat to my deck, and I could still hear the bees buzzing around my head. I felt an additional sting on the side of my head, so I think I got nailed twice.

So I learned my lesson - don't do that again! Or if I need to, I should smoke the hive first, and maybe put something over the entrance while I am actually near the hive with the weed-eater.

I was going to mow the lawn today, but I think I'll wait for another day...

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Inspection 5-23-09

It's been six weeks since I hived the bees in April, and I've noticed a lot more activity lately. The weather has been good, and the bees are doing what bees do. One thing I've noticed is that in the afternoons there are bees which just seem to be doing some lazy flying in front of the hive. It turns out that this behavior is called orienting. The new bees have to fix into their minds the location of "home" and they do that by flying around the hive, noticing the orientation of the sun relative to the hive, as well as visual cues as to how to find their was back home. Once they magically learn this, they can find their way back from being out as far as 2 miles! Take that, GPS!

When I did the inspection, I saw what I expected to see - lots of bees! The numbers of bees has increased dramatically now that new bees are being born, and most frames were covered with them. Here's another example:

The holes in the center are where bees have been born already. The workers will either fill them with pollen/nectar, or have the queen lay another egg in there. Down toward the bottom you can see some larvae which have not been capped yet - cool! I didn't see the queen, but I did see brand new eggs, so I know she's on the job.

There is still a lot of frames in the upper super (and a couple in the lower) which don't have any comb drawn out. So like last week, I moved a couple of the outermost (empty) frames one position in to encourage the bees to use them (bees build from the center of the set of frames outward). You can't put an empty frame right in the middle of the hive, because you may divide up the brood area and the bees will have problems keeping the temperature regulated. But moving the outer frames each week is OK. I also took off the sugar syrup feeder - over this last week they only consumed 1/2 the jar. I think they are getting enough from the flowers.

I know this sounds silly, but I think the bees enjoy having the hive where it is. They are very gentle when I inspect them, and they don't bother anyone who comes up at other times. I don't think there are too many (if any) hives nearby, because the bees have no problems bringing back food. But I may be wrong. In the morning the sun hits them about 7:00AM, and they start working hard at that time! Anyhow, I like to think I am just being a good beekeeper and the bees like me :-)

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Lots of pollen!

The bees have been very active of late. We've had good weather, and the entrance of the hive has seen a flury of activity. I know there is a lot of pollen out there now for two reasons: 1) the bees are coming in with pollen baskets loaded with pollen, and 2) my eyes are itching like crazy!! I suffer from seasonal allergies. I don't think the bees bringing in pollen makes my allergies worse, since they have the pollen firmly packed on their legs. But I have been miserable these past few weeks as I try to figure out what over-the-counter medicine will work. My poor co-workers have to put up with my coughing and sneezing.

Today's inspection went well. I removed the top of the 2 cinderblock supports since as you can see in the picture above, the hive is very tall with all the supers on it. I didn't want to let things get too hard to work later in the season, so I took it off now. I also considered taking off the sugar syrup feeder, but others I've talked to say leave it on since it will stimulate the bees to produce wax to draw out more foundation.

I saw the queen today; she was in the upper super and I saw lots of eggs being laid. So she is doing what she is supposed to do. The bees had drawn out about 3 frames in the upper super, but there were still a couple of frames in the lower super with no wax yet. I moved one of the drawn out frames to the outer edge, and moved a couple of the undrawn frames closer to the middle, to encourage the bees to use those frames. They certainly aren't hurting for space, at least.

As i had mentioned once before, I am amazed as the variety of colors that the pollen the bees bring in has. Enlarge this picture to see for yourself:

So live goes on for yet another week in the life of bees.

P.S. Later in the day I stopped by a local honey producer, Hebert Honey. My wife and I stopped by his operation last fall to ask some questions., and he ended up giving us the nickel tour of his works. He was out working in the bee yard on Saturday, so we chatted for a while. I told him how my bees were doing; he recommended taking off the entrance reducer, since during this time of the season, the bees are busy bringing in pollen and nectar, and are too busy to rob other hives. So I did that when I got home.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Extreme Makeover: Bee Edition

It's been about 4 weeks since the bees have received their new home, and they have been busy.

I went out this morning to do the inspection: I got the bee suit on, lit the smoker, got all my equipment ready, and when I opened the top of the hive, it started to rain! Bees really reeeeaaaallllyyyy don't like to get their hive rained on, so I closed things back up and decided to inspect it later in the afternoon.

When I did inspect the hive, I saw that one of the frames which had capped brood in it now had open cells in the middle. See this picture:

Compare it with the same picture from last week's inspection (the third from the top). You can see that the cells in the center no longer have caps on them. That means the bee babies were born! The queen continues to do what the queen is supposed to do.

I was a little disappointed that they hadn't drawn out more comb than they had. There was a couple of frames which had absolutely no comb on them. I think it may have to do with the fact that last week I pulled off the sugar syrup feeder. All of the books I have read talk about keeping the feeders on until you need to put on the honey frames - the bees will choose whether or not to get syrup out. I think I'll do that, so I put the feeder back on.

I also decided to add the 2nd layer of frames (hence the "Extreme Makeover" reference in the title). I moved up one frame from the lower super which had the starts of comb and honey on it, to encourage / remind the bees to use the upper area as well. The picture at the top looks a little tall for just adding the additional super; here is the breakdown of what each of the layers is:

I noticed after I got everything put back together, that the hive is now very tall! It's a little difficult for me to see in the top, and it will be worse when I get the actual honey frames installed later this season. So I'll probably remove one of the cinder blocks supporting the hive to lower it a few inches.

Later in the afternoon I went back out just to watch the hive. I am continually impressed how industrious these worker bees are - they were streaming back to the hive with full pollen baskets! I don't live anywhere near a farm, but there apparently is enough pollen in the flowers, etc. around the neighborhood that they find what they need. I made a video of it - I hope you can see the pollen baskets.

I think the rain is helping the pollen and nectar supply greatly (we've certainly had our share of rain lately!).

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Hive Location

It's been chilly and rainy the last few days until today; this afternoon the bees were out in force, partially because with the rain the flowers produce lots of nectar; and part because I think bees get a little stir crazy when they have to stay in their hive. Bees won't fly if the temperature is too low (less than 50°F) or if it is raining too much. They tell you not to inspect the hive on cold rainy days due to cranky bees!

One comment I get a lot when I talk about the bees (in addition to "Gee, you sure do talk a lot about bees!") is "Wow, you must live on a lot of property to have bees." The short answer is, no, not really. I live on about 1/2 acre, and half of that is woods.

Take a look at the picture above - that's what I see when I am on my deck. The beehive sits exactly 35 feet from the edge of my deck, nestled in the edge of the wooded area. These next pictures are a side view of my back yard, and a Google Maps view of my house. You can see I am right smack in the middle of a residential neighborhood.

I wouldn't keep 20 hives on this small a space, due to being a nuisance to my neighbors. But a hive or 2 isn't too bad.

The bees come out and go foraging just fine. So far I haven't seen any problems (but then the bees aren't up to full strength, and I haven't tried to have lots of people over for a picnic). If it becomes a problem, one trick you can do is to put up some kind of a barrier (like a dark fabric fence) about 6' high, a few feet away from the entrance of the hive. This barrier forces the bees to fly up very quickly after leaving the hive (bees are straight-line thinkers) and that gets them out of everyone's way. But from what I've observed from the path of the bees, they gain altitude quickly anyway. So I don't anticipate any problems.

So bees don't need a lot of space. In fact, there are beehives on the rooftops of New York buildings (cool video here) Interestingly, it is illegal to have bees in New York City, something a few people are trying to change. So don't let a lack of space deter you from keeping bees!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Inspection 5-2-09

Today was a great day for an inspection. All week the weather has been very nice - some days in the 80's! The bees are active, and I was excited to see how much farther they had progressed. It was a day of good news in the hive!

First good news - I saw the queen bee! Last time I checked, she was hiding (and I didn't do a good job of searching). This time I was specifically looking for her, and found her. See the picture above - the queen has a green dot on her back. Look how much larger she is compared with the workers. Also in this picture is a good example of a drone - he is to the left a little lower than the queen, almost to the wooden edge. Note he has large eyes (almost touching), and a square bottom, and his wings go all the way to the end of his body (by comparison, worker bees' wings don't reach the end of their bodies).

Other good news was that I saw a good healthy pattern of brood. Look at the following picture (click on it to enlarge):

This picture shows a good time sequence of the baby larvae. Starting at the left edge (by the wood) you can see some very young larvae. They are probably about 4-5 days old. As you move to the right, you see successively older larvae, until you get to the point where the cells are covered up ("capped") by wax. Since the queen bee lays from the center outward, this pattern makes sense.

Notice some empty holes toward the center of the frame. The gestation of a honeybee is 21 days from egg to full worker. Since I installed the queen 18 days ago, I don't think those are from a bee being born. I think the queen just skipped the cell for some reason. I am told that a few skips like this is normal. Next week I think we'll have more empty cells, due to bees being born!!

Also of note on the left edge right at the wood is what looks like a larger cell. That is a drone cell, built in preparation for the queen to lay a drone egg (which is just like a worker egg, but left unfertilized so it grows up as a male). The hive always keeps a decent supply of drones during the spring and summer, to mate with other queens in the wild. Workers always seem to put the drone cells at the edges or on the corners of the frames (the "low rent" district perhaps?).

This next picture is from a frame more toward the center of the hive (where the queen started laying earlier). Note that it is almost fully capped - that means that these are older cells, and have pupae in them far along in their development. Along the edge there are some cells with pollen in them. In the corner (not wisible) is a little bit of honey storage. See if you can also spot some drones just hanging out!

It is really fascinating watching this all unfold - it's one thing to read about it; it's another altogether to hold the frame of bees in your hand!

Overall, I found about 5 1/2 to 6 frames drawn out and being worked. The books recommend waiting until they have about 7 frames drawn before you add the second "story" of the hive (with 10 more frames); so I think that may occur next week. The population of workers will increase as more are born, and there will be more workers to make more comb (remember, these so far are the original workers brought up from Georgia and installed with the package). When that new top story gets drawn out to about 7 frames, then I add the honey supers! For the past couple of days, I've noticed the bees not consuming much of the sugar syrup I provided. The books say that they will stop eating the sugar when they have good nectar and pollen to eat; I think that's what is happening. So I decided to stop feeding the sugar, and took off the empty body (covering the feeder). It now looks a lot shorter.

I also decided to switch the entrance reducer to the "medium" setting - instead of about 3/4" gap for the entrance, it is now about 3". One funny side effect of this is that due to the way the entrance reducer is cut, I had to put it where the entrance is on the left side of the front of the hive, instead of the right. Well all afternoon, the returning bees have been going to the right side, landing, and walking around all confused since the hole is now closed up. They eventually walk a few inches to the left and figure out how to go in to the hive, but it's funny to watch. I made a video of it:

When the returning bees land, since they can't immediately find the entrance, I've been able to spot more bees with very full pollen baskets. The pollen has a variety of colors - I've seen bright yellow, burnt orange, and even a white / gray color. Such industrious workers!!

As you can tell, I am excited about all of the things I am learning; I hope this blog is helping spread the information in an entertaining and enlightening way!
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