Saturday, September 19, 2009

Bee Club Meeting at the Farm

Today was the September meeting of the Worcester County Beekeepers Association. The theme of the meeting was Final Fall Preparations. It was held at an orchard / public farm. Ken Warchol did the demonstrating on the hives they had at the farm. There were about a dozen hives, and I think Ken is the one who manages the hives for this location. The hives looked real good - they are well maintained.

He showed examples of a hive which was "honey bound" - this time of year, you want the queen just cranking out the babies in order to get bees ready for the winter cluster. But if the frames are filled with nectar and honey, she doesn't won't have any place to lay eggs. Too much honey in the brood chambers is bad at this time of the year. Hence the term "honey bound." Later in October when she moves to the lower brood box, then you want the bees to put away the honey. It's a delicate balancing act, and Ken says that you have to pay attention to what is going on.

He also mentioned that this is the time to medicate you hive against the various pests and diseases. You can treat for Varroa mites with Apiguard. You can only do that after you remove the honey for human consumption (since you don't want contaminated honey). Apiguard medication is delivered on strips you hang down in the frames of the hive. When the bees pass over the strips, a little of the medication rubs off on them, killing the mites. You only leave the strips in for 45 days - any fewer and the medicine doesn't have a chance to affect the mites; longer than 45 days and you cause the mites to build up a resistance to the medicine (this has already happened due to inconsiderate and uncaring beekeepers - sort of like parents who insist on an antibiotic shot for their kids for every sniffle they get - you develop antibiotic-resistant bugs that way).

Another parasite are tracheal mites. You treat them with Mite-A-Way II, which is a pad you place in the hive across the top frames. The daytime heat vaporizes the formic acid in the pads, and the bees breathe it and it somehow kills / interferes with the tracheal mites without harming the bees.

The final pest you treat for is Nosema - an intestinal fungus which basically gives the bees diarrhea. The chemical you use is Fumagilin-B, which you add to the sugar syrup you give to the bees for a fall feeding. Again, you do this after you have removed the honey supers. Nosema is thought to be a large contributor to Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).

Ken swears by this regimen, and he has lost very few hives following these treatment plans. He says, "you've heard the rest, now hear from the best." I ordered these medicines today so that I can treat my hive. It's almost too late, but there is still time. I want to do everything I can to let my bees survive the winter.

It was a very good meeting. I noticed that the beehives at the farm were very active - much more so than mine. The same was the case for the last time I went to a bee meeting. I didn't know why mine weren't as active as these other ones, and it dawned on my one possible reason why. My hives sit at the edge of the woods, and they get shade for part of the day. The other hives I've seen sit out with no shade. I suspect that the bees aren't as active due to the fact the sun isn't shining on them all the time (bees are active when it's warm). Another clue that this may be the case is that I've never seen my bees bearding (hanging out en-masse on the outside of my hive). Bees beard when they are too warm.

Here are some pictures of the hive demonstration from today's meeting. Once again Ken didn't have any bee suit or gloves - it's amazing! I think I saw him get stung once on the neck, but he had been working the open hive for about 45 minutes - it's no wonder the bees might bee a little testy.

And here's a video of the active bees in front of the hives:

By the way, the picture at the top is just the new beekeepers with Ken after the main demonstration. There were about twice the number of members there in total.

I didn't inspect my hive today since I was going to the bee meeting. I'll try to get in tomorrow, if it's a warm day.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Inspection 9-13-09

Friday and Saturday were dank and rainy - not a lot of chance for the bees to be out (although I did see the bees flying Saturday afternoon when it was just a light rain). I tried to swap syrup feeders on the hives yesterday evening (still raining a little), and received a sting on my right arm for my efforts (not good weather to open up the hive without smoke!).

The bees were very active today - this morning, from the bathroom window in the house, I could actually hear the buzzing. I suspect that after the bees have been cooped up in the hive due to rain, they go out in numbers.

I noticed last inspection that there were a couple of frames in the lower body of the brown hive which hadn't been drawn out much - I suspect the bees canibalized the wax earlier in the season and then didn't have a wax foundation to build on as a result. I had a couple of frames I saved from the failed nuc I made, so I put them in place of the insufficiently drawn out frames.

I didn't want to dig through the hives much today. The bees hadn't consumed the entire pollen patty I put on a couple weeks ago, and it's a gooey mess, laying across the top frames. It looked like there was still about 1/3 of it left, even after 2 weeks. I see lots of pollen being brought in by the bees (the goldenrod is in bloom), so they probably prefer the real stuff to the substitute. I'll wait another week to inspect frame by frame.

Since I like to include a picture in each of my blog posts, I thought I'd show what the syrup feeder looks like that I use. In the picture above is an empty plastic peanut butter jar with a few tiny holes drilled in the lid. I fill it with 2:1 sugar:water solution (this time of year it needs to be thick) and put it upside down on a couple of sticks which are over the top inner cover's hole. The bees drink the syrup, which stays in the jar due to air pressure. Then I put an empty honey super over it and then the outer cover. There are many types of feeders you can buy, but this is a low tech solution that works for me.

On September 19th is the next Worcester County Beekeper Association meeting (the last outdoor meeting of the year). It will focus on Fall preparations of the hive. I have a Scouting activity with my son that morning; if it gets over with early enough I'm going to try and make it.

Note to self: don't leave a jar on the back deck that has sugar syrup still in it. I hadn't gathered up all my tools, and when I went back, there were about a half dozen bees flying around it and landing on it. I had to suit up again to go grab it, and took it into the house (after shaking off the bees). With two active hives, I see a lot more bees flying around my back deck - it would be nice if I were able to locate my hives farther away from the house. But life goes on!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Fed the Bees...

I fed the bees tonight. I filled up their sugar syrup feeders (upside down plastic peanut butter jars with small holes in the lid). The feeders sit on a couple of sticks over the hole in the inner cover (the sticks give the bees room to crawl up around).

They had emptied the jars I put there on Saturday - I figured they would. At around 7:00PM tonight I popped open the top, and took out the empty jar. There were about 30 bees on the jar and about that many looking at me from the hole, so I gave the empty jug a quick shake to shake off the bees, and quickly put back on the new jar. Then I closed up the top. I did it quick enough that I didn't need any smoke, and the girls didn't seem to mind too much (but I'm sure they would mind if I took too much time!). I exchanged jars in both hives - the bees didn't give me any trouble, but the mosquitoes did! Sheesh, fresh meat!

I also drizzled some sugar syrup into the water bucket I made up for them. The syrup has a little bit of lemongrass oil in it - hopefully that'll attract the bees, and they will drink from my bucket.

And for something somewhat related, look at this picture of a bus with beehives in it (click for a larger version):

Each of those colored panels is a beehive (some are 3 hives tall). I wonder if he gets stopped by the police often, or are they afraid?

Monday, September 7, 2009

Persistent Bees!

Well, I've discovered bees can be very persistent.

I mentioned before about my bees discovering a bucket of wood + water, and made it their favorite watering hole. Well, when that source dried up, they found another. Look at this picture:

With the removal of the blue bucket, the bees discovered the condensate water in the air conditioner window unit just next to it! The back cover is off the AC unit, and we saw bees drinking water in the lower edge of the unit. I wasn't happy to see that, since I want the bees to find water not on my neighbor's back porch. The neighbor got a kick out of the bees persistence - she said watching them it was like grand central station, with bees zipping back and forth between her AC unit and my hives (that's how she knew they were mine).

So I built a simple frame and stapled some window screening over it (I re-screened a screen door today and happened to have the left overs). Then tonight after the bees were in bed, I used some small bungee cords and attached the screen to the back of the AC unit, to keep the bees out.

I decided to put out again my bucket of water near the hives, with hopes that the bees will start to use that instead of water at my neighbors. I put some sticks in it that were in the original blue bucket. We'll see if they take to getting water from there.

I'm definitely going to have to give them a jar of honey, once I get some!!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Other Stingers

We have a compost pile, and the kids tossed some watermellon rinds on it. I want out and saw that there were some bugs which were loving the watermellon. I wasn't sure what they were (wasps?) so I asked BeeSource and everyone concluded that they were yellow jackets. These are some neat pictures!

I especially like the yellow and black face of the one in the last picture. You can see her eating watermellon - Cool!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Inspection 9-05-09

This past week the weather has been gorgeous - temperatures in the 70's and 80's; lots of sun; and no rain. I've been watching the bees be very busy - the goldenrod is in bloom, and the bees are bringing back lots of orange pollen. As I watch the hives, I see the bees come shooting out of the hive like a gunshot. You can't get in front of the hive without getting in the way, the bees are so industrious. The video above attempts to show this activity, but you can't do it justice on video.

I had a couple of goals in today's inspection: I wanted to make sure the bottom chamber of the brown hive was getting used (I was prepared to move some frames around), and I wanted to do a sugar shake for a mite treatment.

Due to the stings I got last week, I wanted to make sure I had on my boots, and I decided to wear bee gloves. During the inspection I did see a bee try to sting my finger, but all that happened was she lost her stinger on my glove. I had the usual 5 or 6 guard bees hassling me the whole time, flying into my face (protected by my veil, thank goodness) and buzzing around my chest. All I can think of was that they were very protective of the hive since the goldenrod was active. I got no hassles from the green hive. Weird!

For the sugar shake, I built a simple frame (matching the dimensions of the top of the hive) and put a couple of layers of #4 screen on it (I didn't have anything narrower, and the bees can fit through a single layer of #4). Then I shook 2 cups of powdered sugar on the hive, and swept it down between the frames. Here are some pictures of the aftermath. People talk about "ghost bees" because they are coated with powered sugar.

Everything is going well with the green hive - they have plenty of room to expand and store up honey for the winter. I also saw good brood patterns, so the queen is doing her job.

On the brown hive, I decided to start with the bottom brood chamber, to minimize the anger of the bees (by the time I am usually done with the top chamber, the bees are agitated). When I started pulling out frames, I was pleased to find some frames with capped brood! This tells me the queen has been down there laying eggs. I decided not to mess with things, and let the bees do what they need to do. I get mixed answers from BeeSource when I ask what I should do - some say let things be; others say reverse the hive bodies (put the almost empty bottom box on the top, with the understanding that the queen likes to move up when laying); still others will go in frame by frame and switch things around.

The bees on the brown hive still haven't done much with the honey super I put on the top, so I decided to take it off and that allowed me to start feeding the brown hive sugar syrup (I want them to put the sugar in the hive, not in the super). So now I am feeding both hives, and will probably do so until the winter.

A week ago I bought a box of Global Patties from Better Bee. These are patties made of protein as a substitute to pollen. I put one on each of the hives so the bees can have more to store.

Later in the afternoon I was visiting my next door neighbor. He is adding an addition to his house, and doing all the work himself. So I was chatting with him about inconsequentials, when he said, "Hey, what do we do about bees in a bucket?" Oh no I thought, I hope it wasn't my June swarm that has taken up residency! He then told me that he has a big 18 gallon tote on his back deck that had scrap pieces of wood in it, and it got filled up with water. I took a look, and saw that "my"bees had discovered an el-primo water source for their hive (standing water with good places to land). The sticks provided a place for bees to land and gather the water, and that afternoon there were about 20 bees coming and going all the time. Here are some pictures. You may be able to see the bees:

You can see that it is right on their deck! The bucket had collected rainwater since the cover wasn't on it. So I put on my bee suit (just to keep from being hassled by bees) and dumped over the box of water. Here's the view after I did that, with even more confused bees looking for their water source:

I told them that in a day or so the bees will figure out the water is gone, and stop hanging around. They'll go back to an alternate source (which will probably be that family's koi pond, which is less of a problem then bees on the deck). I checked the next day, and sure enough no bees around. Problem solved!

The family was very nice about it - they could have been very upset and caused me a lot of hassles. But they are very considerate, even given the fact the wife is allergic to bees. They understand the importance of bees to the environment. The wife said they thought about spraying the bees so they could remove the bucket, but she said she didn't want to since she knew they were "my" bees (and besides, spraying would only harm the bees there at the time, and do nothing to the bees coming for a drink later). I told them to not to hesitate to let me know if something like this happens, and I'll take care of it.
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