Friday, September 11, 2015

Eau de rucher, en automne...

My goodness, this summer has FLOWN.  Here it is, already the beginning of "bee winter" and nary a post for weeks.

Maud has been going great gangbusters, last night she was boiling over with boxes worth! I've had to buy and assemble more equipment to keep up with her.  The good news is she's got at least enough honey to get themselves through winter, plus, she's made enough for Jenny as well. Yay bees!

And Jenny...she's also doing really well, and as of the other day was still building wax, into her third box. Now they'll have a place to store all the sugar syrup I'm feeding them to build them up for winter. Overall, I have to say I'm pleasantly surprised at how much my two hives have accomplished in a relatively short time.

Maud's mismatched clothes, and a growing Jenny. Both sporting little beards on a hot day.
In early August, I did a test for Varroa mites. The test involved taking a frame of bees from down in the brood chamber (the lower boxes), shaking them into a bucket, scooping out a half cup of them and putting them into a peanut butter jar with screened lid. Then I put a heaping hive tool's worth of powdered sugar in the jar and gently rolled the jar until all the bees were coated. After a few minutes, I shook all the sugar into a white box and added a little water so I could see the mites.  A half cup of bees is about 300 bees, so the goal is to see fewer than three mites per hundred in the bucket. I saw exactly 9 mites. Great. Now I get to treat for mites.

It should be noted that the bees used for testing were not killed, as they would have been if I'd have done an alcohol wash. They were roughed up some, yes, but I put them back in the hive to have their sisters clean off all the sugar and tell scary stories to the young bees about the danger of the measuring cup from above. The name of the game is to assess the mite levels and treat accordingly. Oh, and report my findings to the University of Minnesota so they can add it to their database. A few seasons of testing and treating should give us a good start on mitigating those pesky mites. 

Meanwhile... the bees maintain an internal hive temperature of 92 degrees; keeps the brood warm, and it's not so hot as to melt the wax.  When the weather gets super hot, they like to come out and relax on the front porch for a spell. If they had lemonade, I'm sure they'd have a nice, cool glass. This behavior is called bearding.  I got some really amazing shots of Maud's full-on lumberjack, and Jenny's little soul patch.

A close up of Maud in late July

Labor's a little patchy, like Patrick Kane's beard. 

Just a little bit of peach fuzz for Jenny

Here's a fun fact about bees:  In the fall, when they're protecting the honey they're going to need for the winter, bees get a little...testy. Even Gentle Jenny is on edge these days.

A couple of weeks ago, I went to check up on them. When I get to the bee yard, I usually give a quick peek under the hood of Jenny before I suit up, and this day was no exception. Sure enough, she and her clan were as calm as could be, barely noticing as I pulled all their frames and poked around. I was wearing shorts, sandals and a sleeveless top, and hadn't even bothered to light the smoker.

Everything was fine, so I buttoned her back up, and went to peek into Maud. I got the covers off without so much as a how-do-you-do, so I figured it was a good day.  Suit and gloves are still in the car and I'm not worried.  I got the top box off, again, without a hitch.  Then I went for that second box. It was heavy and full of honey. I needed to pry it off since they had glued everything down with propolis. (A resin they collect and line the hive with. Full of all kinds of good stuff for bees and people.) I shoved the hive tool between the boxes and the sticky goo gave way with a slight lurch.

There was no warning.

It's amazing how fast those cute, fuzzy insects can turn into tiny killing machines. They rise straight up, and WHAM! they're on you.


Before I could drop the box on the stack and run, they were stinging me in the softest places I have. The first one was on the side of my boob, the second one was in my uncovered armpit.

I started to run, fast.

They kept up with me.

I ran past the car and grabbed a glove so I could pelt myself with it while I ran three yards away. (That's yards, as in backyards. If the neighbors had seen me, they'd have been wondering who the hell this crazy woman was running on their property) Running, flailing, running through branches, those killers were relentless. I had been wearing a baseball cap and sunglasses. As a couple bees got caught between my glasses and face, I ripped the hat off my head, undid the ponytail, and flapped my hands through my hair to no avail. Mind you, I'm still running at this point.

Finally, the bees that were still with me managed to either give up or sting me. My tally for the day was seven stings. The two in the tender places, two on my head, one on my butt, one on my back and one on my foot. I took a minute to realize whether or not I was having any trouble breathing or showing any signs of anaphylaxis. I wasn't. I retraced my steps to retrieve all the stuff that had fallen off of me. Hat, gloves, ponytail holder. I lost one of my good hair-pretties.

So much for doing a re-test for mites that day. I put the suit on and put the hive back together, and went home. I found two stingers still left in me. The one in my armpit, and one on my head. Of the seven hits, those were the only two that swelled up. My eyes were half closed, and my forehead looked like a Klingon's but I went to work anyway. I looked quite sexy, indeed.

Two of the stingers...
Kind of looks like me, kind of doesn't. 

The moral of the story? Wear the damned suit in the fall! Oh, and pencil in those eyebrows.

It's September now, and that means it's Goldenrod Season. This is a second honey-flow that's crucial for gathering honey for the winter. Some years we get it, some years we don't. We're getting it this year, and I'm proud to say both my hives were building new wax to accommodate it.

One thing all of the experienced beeks have said about goldenrod is that you'll know if it's flowing before you even open the hive. They're right! I can't get within 10 feet of them before the smell hits me square in the face. As one beek on reddit said "It's the odor of fall salvation. Without it, the bees wouldn't be able to make it through the winter."

So what's that beautiful, glorious smell?

Dirty feet. Stinky, sweaty, swelly, dirty feet.

Just bee your selfie! 

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Genebee(ve), Shrek, and Foundationless Comb

Ever since I lost Myrtle, I've been thinking that the next queen I get will be named Jenny. It's a short, sweet, simple name, and it's also my late grandmother's name. Actually, her name was Genevieve, but folks just called her Jenny. One of my cousins said that Auntie Anna used to call her Genevee, so Genebee wasn't too much of a stretch.

Anyway, here she is!

I spent a good four hours in my bee yard last Sunday, making the split off of Maud, installing Jenny, and waiting for enough nurse bees to defect to the new queen. 

I had the full suit with me because I'm tired of getting stung. The skin on my leg from that big one is still discolored, and I'm not in the mood for another. As soon as I arrived, I went to rescue a struggling Ophelia from the water pan.  As I reached in to fish her out, I felt a little pinch right around the knuckle of my middle finger. At first I didn't notice, then it kept getting 'pinchier'. I turned my hand over and there was a stinger in my hand, with a bee still partially attached. Sonofab---! The poor little gal was apparently under my hand while I was fishing for Ophelia and I squished her. Well, that's out of the way.

After I suited up, and with Jenny's cage in my pocket, I started taking frames out of Maud to make the split. She and her girls were NOT happy to see me, and were pinging my suit left and right. I don't blame them though. If someone busted my house open and started stealing my food and my kids, I'd be pretty pissed too. Thank goodness for bee suits.

Let me tell you about a little feature of the bee suit. The suit itself zips up all the way to your neck, and then the veil zips around your neck and the zipper ends meet just below the end of the suit zipper. There is velcro there to seal up any gaps. I've read somewhere that bees will find any little gap and try to get up close and personal on your side of the veil. Doesn't sound like fun, but I was confident I'd gotten myself properly bundled. 

So I was elbows deep into Maud, making her girls mad, and shuffling things around. Bees were pinging the veil, but I wasn't too concerned. Frankly, the mosquitoes were louder than the bees, so I kept working. Then I felt something crawling on my cheek. Uhhh....!!!

Bee in the veil! Bee in the veil! Bee in the veil!

Ok, keep calm. Stop breathing. Don't open your mouth. Please, little bee, don't sting my lips.  

I slowly walked away from the hive, holding my breath, and pulling my lips into my mouth. I slowly unzipped the veil and slowly lifted it over my head.  As soon as there was clearance, I flicked the girl off my face and she flew away.


I guess she didn't like being cooped up with a sweaty face any more than I wanted to 'bee' cooped up with a sting-y bee. I was lucky this time. I was extra careful re-fastening the velcro. 

I put the new box with the new queen on top of Maud's boxes (with a queen excluder in between to keep Maud in her own house) and had to wait at least an hour for the nurse bees to climb up to the "borrowed" brood. I de-suited, put the back seat down in my car and laid down to watch my girls fly around. When they take off, they do a spiraled climb, and then zip off in search of nectar. After my nap, I put Jenny's box on her stand and left both hives with some sugar water to help them get back to normal. 

Maud and Jenny!
Later that night, my hand started to Monday morning, I was sporting a paw that looked like Shrek's hand. I no longer had knuckles, but my skin had never been smoother! And yes, I do have an epi-pen now, just in case. Technically, this is just a localized reaction, but I've heard that you can develop a systemic reaction at any time. I'm prepared. 

I don't need no stinkin' knuckles!
I went back a few days later to let Jenny out of her cage. Before I suited up, I decided to take a quick peek under the lid, just to make sure there were still bees in the new hive. The first thing I noticed was that everybody was so calm. I was able to pull out a couple of frames without so much as a curious girl checking me out. I found the queen cage in the bottom of the hive, and Jenny was already out. Alrighty then. I checked on one of the brood frames and there she was, and, she was laying eggs! Wow, what a great queen already! Plus, it's really easy to find her with that blue dot on her back. One of these days I need to catch Maud and mark her, too.

While I was standing there, I popped the lid off of Maud. If she was pissy, I'd suit up. She too, was amazingly calm. Like, "we don't really care if you're here, primate" calm. Wow, this was new. I noticed they'd sucked down a whole quart of sugar syrup since Sunday. My poor girls were probably hungry. But now they had full bellies, and were working on building new wax to make up for the frames I took from them. I put in a couple frames of foundationless, just to experiment, and I was amazed at how much they had done in such a short time. Plus, I even found new eggs! Maud is hitting her stride, and things were running like a well-oiled machine. I'm feeling much better about their chances. I'm sure they won't have enough honey by winter, but at least they'll have comb built, and will be able to store the sugar syrup I give them.

There were eggs on this frame! Notice the girls 'daisy chaining' on the right.

I'm always amazed at the beauty of new comb.

This is only  three days' worth! 
Best of all, there were no stings! No suit, no gloves, no veil! So this is what gentle bees are like. My new Jenny must be a good influence. Either that, or the bees outsourced "irritating the primate" to the mosquitoes, who were simply horrific and left me with no fewer than 17 bites in a matter of minutes.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

The More I Learn, the Less I Know

Wow, how time files! It's mid-July already and my girls are chugging right along.

The week before last was the annual conference of the Heartland Apicultural Society, which is the end-all, bee-all for Midwestern beekeepers. All of the bee gods were there. In fact, I've never seen more Ph. D.s in a square mile before. Turns out my bee teacher is among the revered. Her talks were packed to the gills, standing room only. How lucky I am that I get to learn from her!

The sessions ranged from super-basic info for pre-beginners, through the presentation of a multi-year research project to measure the antibiotic effects of propolis inside a hive. There was one Ph. D, Dennis VanEnglesdorp, who presented his findings on varroa mites which was a real eye opener. Varroa are to bee disease as mosquitoes are to malaria and fleas are to the plague, and varroa are EVERYWHERE.  Those who don't treat for them are spreading them to beeks who do treat, and it's becoming a big mess. As much as some folks want to remain chemical-free in their hives, and I can completely understand that, it's just not practical to let a colony become infested with horrible viruses. If your kid or dog had an infection, you'd treat it, right? You wouldn't just let them suffer. Same goes for bees. They're livestock in our care, and we wouldn't just let a cow become infested with parasites, would we?

Ok, enough soap box.  

The "thing we can do", however, is test for mites, and report our findings. Dr. VanEnglesdorp, in conjunction with my bee teacher, Meghan Milbrath, and another person from University of Minnesota whose name escapes me, have put together mite testing kits for backyard beekeepers. Everything you need is in the kit, and you just have to report your mite numbers to their website, where they're gathering tons of data about mites, which will help us in the fight against them. 

For the beeks who are reading, here is where you can order a kit: Citizen Science Project Mite Test Kit 

Meanwhile, I was able to pick up a five frame medium nuc kit from the vendor room. A nuc is short for "Nucleus Colony", which is just a smaller hive kept in order to support the larger hive, or a way to start a larger hive. You take frames of brood, pollen and nectar from a large, strong hive, and put it in the smaller box. You also move a bunch of bees there too, to take care of the brood, and don't forget a queen! If you take the queen out of your main hive, the bees will build themselves a new one. It's actually a good idea to break the brood cycle in your main hive while they're building a new queen, as it helps curtail the spread of varroa.  By the time the new queen is hatched, mated and laying eggs an entire generation of workers will have come and gone and with them went the fodder for mites. 

Anyhoo... I was thinking about making a nuc off of Maud to have another set of bees to go into winter with.  I really want my girls to survive, but they odds aren't in their favor. Meghan, our teacher, says that overwintering nucs is a good way to have bees in the spring. (They're smaller, easier to manage, and don't require as much food.) Once I got my nuc boxes built, I'd either look for a new queen from a reputable breeder, (read: Meghan) or have Maud's girls build a new one.  The best time for this is right about now.

A fancy Nuc. The beer's not too shabby, either.
The rest of the conference was filled with lots of different activities.  There was a night hike through a nature center which was pretty darned cool.  We called owls and they answered! There was a barred owl following us around. We also saw the coolest bio-luminescent fungus.  Did I mention we didn't use flashlights?  Yep, it was super dark, but our eyes adjusted and we were able to see just fine. I highly recommend it, especially for the all the wildlife sounds you'll be able to hear. Also, if you crunch wintergreen lifesavers with your mouth open, in the dark, you can see sparks. Quite cool.

We also had an ice cream social one night, and the next night there was a barbeque, folk band and a delicious mead tasting.  There were about 9 or 10 different mead makers there with several types of mead available to taste.  I had no idea there was so much variety! Most of it was pretty sweet, but I found a couple I really liked, including one that was made with hops. Note: Mead is high in alcohol content.  

The band, "Behind the Times"
Say hello to my little friend.

...and then there was a queen auction!  A smooth move on the part of the Apicultural Society; get us tipsy then auction off some really amazing queens. They even had some of the "ankle biters" from Purdue's breeding program.  For those not in the know, these queens are the superstars of the genetics world. Northern survivors, with some amazing hygienic behavior. They attack any mite they see and bite its legs off. End of mite.  There were also some of Meghan's queens, as well as some other 'famous' stock from Vermont.

Ladies and Drones... I give you Jenny! She's one of the fine gals from Vermont. 
Jenny, short for Genebeeve. She has the blue dot.

Yep. I won a queen in the auction. I guess I'm going to make that split a little earlier than I thought, but at least I have Myrtle's old equipment handy, and I have plenty of time to build her and her girls up before winter. 

The main thing I learned from the 2.5 day conference is that there is so much to learn, and 2.5 days isn't enough to cram terabytes of information into my gigabyte head. 

Here's to a lifetime of discovery!

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Got up on the Wrong Side of the Hive...

Yesterday the weather report showed sunny skies and warm temperatures. Perfect beekeeping weather. However, shortly after I got out of bed today, it started to rain. WTF?! We've had rain nearly every day for the last few weeks, and I'm pretty damned sick of it. Not only is the humidity at what seems to be 8,000,000%, every time it rains, it washes all the nectar out of the flowers.

Dear Mother Nature: Knock it off already! What do you have against my sweet little bees anyway?

After running a few errands in the rain, and having to go back to my house at least twice for things I forgot (and I STILL forgot something), I headed down to see the girls, loaded for bear. Maybe watching a little bit of BeeTV would make me forget the royally pissy mood I was in. After all, it was early in the day and there was bound to be some pretty pollen coming in.

It wasn't raining at the hive, and indeed there was pretty pollen coming in, and lots of activity on the front porch. I set up my little step-stool and set up my notebook for the inspection. I make a diagram of all the boxes and frames so I can record what's on each one.

Because I work a lot slower when I'm not wearing gloves, I wore them today so hopefully I wouldn't aggravate the girls as much as I did last time. I even put on my pullover jacket for extra coverage, but I didn't put on the hat and veil. It's really hard for me to see through the veil, and what with me working a little faster, hopefully I wouldn't need it.

The smoker cooperated today and lit in only two matches! Yippee. Thank goodness for small favors. I put a little smoke in the entrance to let them know I was there. Ding-dong, Avon!  There were quite a few more bees in there this week.(and earwigs...eew) Clearly Maud is doing her job. Good girl. The first box went smoothly, and the girls were pretty calm. My co-worker (the lady who introduced me to my hostess) was visiting and she got to get a good look at the nice frame full of honey I pulled out.

The second box was also pretty calm, but I could hear them get a little louder when I moved their frames around. Lots of brood and food, and they're doing a good job filling out the empty frames.

The third box had been listening while I poked around up top and by the time I got down there, they wanted no part of me. I sprayed them down with sugar water to calm them down, but all that did was make them mad. Really mad. A couple girls came after me and got tangled in my hair. Their buzzing started to get louder and higher pitched, and sounded just like my mother's evil cat.  I tried shaking them out of my hair, but they were hell-bent on giving me hell. I got one out, but that second one... she got me right on the noggin.


I tried to scratch out the stinger, but I have no idea if I got it. I reckon not, since the throbbing and burning lasted longer than usual.  I blew several puffs of smoke on my head to mask the "KILL" pheromone, but clearly, the gal who got me was chock-full-o-pheromone and another one came out and got me on the thigh.  Seriously?!

Then the fun started.  One by one, the girls came out and screamed at me and went for my hair. They chased me away and I grabbed the hairbrush to brush them out of my hair. This time, I put on the veil, and finished my inspection. I buttoned them back up and they seemed to calm down.

I took off the veil and jacket and went to check the bottom board. (A little board that slides out so I can inspect for mites, etc.) There was a bunch of nice pollen on it which is always really tasty. There was a guard bee making the rounds, and she came after me. All the pollen fell off the board as I was running away, trying to get the bee out of my hair. I had to run pretty far before she finally gave up and went home.

After a few minutes, I went back, and sat down on the stool again to watch them. They ignored me while they took care of business, so I was able to finish my notes. However, the business they were taking care of was clearly the discussion of how to get rid of me, because they took another  run at me.

FINE. I get it. It's time to go home now.  Clearly my bad mood rubbed off on them, so I left them there to stew while I went home and ate some ice cream and put some cortisone cream on my thigh.

And here... here's my very sexy leg after the Kamikaze Security Guard zapped me. Ugh. It feels like a hot, deep bruise, and the swelling is a good 5 inches across. The good news is my head isn't swollen like that. It's just a little sore.
Yeah, it's a little hurty...
Maybe I can find some [ahem] "medicinal herbs" to put in the smoker next time...that's sure to put me and the girls in a really good mood.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Pretty Little, Busy Little Bees

Just a few shots of my girls in action. I love it when I can catch them coming in for a landing, loaded with pollen.

Those are pollen baskets on their legs, filled with yummy yellow goodness.

Usually I'm there in the evenings, so I don't get to see a lot of pollen. By that time, the gals are coming back to roost and build wax for the night, but here, before noon on a sunny day, I see lots and lots of brood food coming in.

Coming in for a coordinated tandem landing.
They remind me of tiny little F-18s coming in for a landing on an aircraft carrier. They wobble side to side, hover a little, and then just drop right down. Maybe that's more like a Harrier.  I'll have to ask my dad.

Meanwhile, on BeeTV, one little undertaker bee is trying like hell to get the bottom half of a dead bee out the door. She pushes, pulls and goes around in circles, then she just says "f*** it!" and leaves it there. Nobody else seems to care it's there, so why should she?

Ok, that's enough for today. It's time for me to focus on the Stanley Cup Final game 6. I'm officially torn, but I heard myself cheering for the Hawks when they broke the tie in game 5.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Box on, box off...

The girls are chugging right along.

I went to visit them on Monday to add a new box to the hive so they'd have plenty of room to grow. I'm paranoid that they'll get too crowded and swarm when I'm not there to catch them. While I was there, I decided to do another semi-full inspection. I saw lots of eggs up in the top box, but only on about 3 of the 10 frames. Down in the middle box, it was the same deal... very few frames of eggs and brood relative to the number of frames, and there were many, many frames that were completely empty. No comb, no bees, no nothing. I wonder when they'll finally fill out those outer frames? They really need to do it because they're going to need to fill them with pollen and honey.  As it is, all the "nectar" they have is from the sugar water I was giving them. Yeah, ok, girls, no more sugar water for you. You're big enough now to go get real nectar from nature like you're supposed to.

I wasn't wearing any veil or gloves, so I was working pretty slowly to avoid agitating everybody. However, by the time I got down into the bottom box, they were pretty much done with me poking around in their house and they started to come after me. I got head butted a couple times and had to step away for a second. Heaven forbid I put on gloves... I was trying to get the frames back in the right spot, and they didn't like that either and one of them got me on the tip of the thumb. I scraped the stinger out with the hive tool and then blew some smoke over it to mask the "KILL THE INTRUDER, NOW!" pheromone they were giving off.   It didn't work. The initial sting isn't so bad, but then it's like eating a hot builds up, and for about 20 seconds it pretty burn-y. Then another Kamikaze Ophelia raced out and got me in the knee. Was that really necessary? Little bit--... oh, wait, these are my sweet little bees I'm talking about.

The next night, at bee club, I explained my "skinny" brood and empty comb situation to a couple seasoned beeks. (one of which was my neighbor, to whom I haven't talked since the big drama night of their arrival.) They told me that as long as I keep adding boxes, they'll keep building up, and that I have to take that extra box off and make them fill out the rest of that foundation. They assured me they won't swarm any time soon, and that I really don't want to have a hive 10 boxes high with no honey in it. Ok, fine, I'll take off the box.

Wednesday evening, after my hair appointment, I ran down there to take care of it. Of course it was pouring rain the whole way, so much so that my AWD car was hydroplaning. Yeesh. The girls sure aren't going to like this.  Fortunately, it stopped by the time I got there, and everybody was in a good mood. I (suited up this time) took off the extra story, put the roof back on and sat back for a little Bee TV.

The workers were all coming back from the field, each one approaching at the same angle.  There was a bee on the front porch sounding the "we live here"  buzz so all the returnees could make instrument landings.

Now I REALLY have to let them bee for awhile.  If they were in my own backyard, I'd be sitting out there all the time, certainly to the detriment of my social life and laundry chores. It's hard to stay away from them for so long, so when I do see them, I want to open everything up and see what's going on. The bee teacher says this is normal for beginners. By next year we'll have enough faith in our girls to leave them alone.

Here's a little sample of the Real Housewives of Maud County...

Friday, May 29, 2015

Barefoot Beekeeping

The weather's going to get cold and rainy in the next few days, so I did a full inspection this evening while it was still warm. It's the best way I can think of to spend a Friday evening.

The previous water supply was a big plastic planter filled with water, but instead of being a bee pool, it quickly became a mosquito nursery. Whoops. I dumped it out last week and today I replaced it with a pie tin filled with marbles and a couple of rocks. Sure enough, within an hour, one of the girls tried to drown herself. I fished her out with a stick and added some more marbles for landing pads. Silly bee.

I have these gray plaid rain boots I've been wearing to the hive, but the problem with them is that the right boot is way too tight, and I can't really wear them for very long before my foot starts to ache. I haven't had a problem the last couple of visits, but this time, I got all the way back to the hive and remembered that I forgot the hive tool. Back I went, and by the time I got back from the car, my feet had had enough. I took them off and promised to be careful where I stepped.  The girls were in a great mood today so I didn't have to worry. I didn't even wear gloves or a veil. There were a few curious girls buzzing my hair, but nobody head butted me, let alone came after me.

I was SO proud of Maud today. Not only did I find more eggs, I saw last week's eggs in various stages of hatched, some capped brood, some pollen, and even a little honey. All of this is food for the brood, so it looks like they're getting ready for the big hatch just in time for the main honey flow around the solstice. I brought a hive inspection sheet with me this time and wrote down what was on each frame, and whether there were eggs and brood. Now I have something to show my bee teacher when I ask her what to do with my ladies.

After two weeks of drama, the girls seem to be settling in quite nicely. I'll leave them bee for a while and let them do their thing.
Maud is happy! 
Oh, and here's a bonus! This lovely creature snuck up on me while I was packing up.

Monday, May 25, 2015

God Save the Queen!

Sweet relief! Good Queen Maud has been found.

I combined what was left of queenless Myrtle with Maud last week. I put a sheet of newspaper on top of Maud and put Myrtle's box on top and shut the lid. They'll sort it out from the inside, and sure enough, they did. There was a big hole chewed through the middle of the paper to get up into the piddly comb that Myrtle has. Still nothing on any of the outer frames, but the bees are alive and are now part of the bigger colony.

Good. Step one. 

I didn't want to do a full inspection, so I just looked at the frames in the middle box, Maud's second box. All I really wanted to see was evidence of a queen so I can rest easier and not have to worry about them all the time. I pulled one frame and didn't see anything except pollen and some nectar. Same old story as last time.  The next frame had a lot of unattended cells, but as I looked closely, with my glasses on, I saw tiny little grains of rice standing on end.  Eggs! Woo hoo! Evidence of a queen! I didn't see anything capped, but at least I saw eggs. That means the queen was there at least in the last three days. Better get the frame back in so they don't get cold...

Step two. Check.

I pulled the next frame, just to see if there were any more eggs, and there, up in the corner, she jumped right out at me. MAUD! Holy crap, there she is!  She's big and fat and gorgeous, and she's laying eggs. Hallelujah, I have a queenright hive. 


I buttoned everything up and called it a day. No sense disrupting the rest of the boxes. I saw what I needed to see.

Now my challenge is to leave them alone for a couple of weeks so they can do what bees do. Wish me luck. ;)

Trust me, she's there. Top left corner-ish. Surrounded by her attendants.

Giving my girls a big hug. 

Sunday, May 17, 2015

RIP Myrtle

The girls have been in their hives for 9 days, and already there are signs of big trouble.

When I checked Myrtle last Monday, there was burr comb (extraneous, or in the wrong spot) attached to the inner cover. This isn't good. I scraped off a big chunk and pushed it into an empty frame. (they're all empty...another un-good thing). My bee teacher said that was the right thing to do.

I checked her again yesterday and not only did they not build more comb in the frames like they were supposed to, they had re-filled the top cover area with more burr comb. It was really beautiful comb,but sadly, it can't be connected to the inner cover. I pulled it off and put the chunks in the frames and took away the top feeder and box, just so they wouldn't do it again. They weren't taking the feed anyway.

Today I got there and there were paltry few bees in the box and absolutely no evidence of Queen inside. Then I found her...dead.  She was dead and laying in front of the hive.

< sigh >

Ok, so how's Maud?

Well, the Maud hive has a lot more bees than Myrtle, and there are several frames, heavy with drawn out comb. There is a lot of nectar in the cells and a nice bit of pollen. These are good things. However, I cannot, for the life of me, see any eggs, or any larvae. This is not good. I wore my glasses and looked for a long time, but I just couldn't see a queen. The bees are all different sizes. The drones are easy because they're the size of Refrigerator Perry, but the queen looks a lot like other bees, only really long. I just can't see her, that is, if she's there.

So if Maud doesn't have any brood, I won't have anything to give to Myrtle. Not to mention, if Maud doesn't have any brood, the hive will wind up like Myrtle soon enough.

These little bees are in my charge and I'm letting them down. They're both queenless, and going down before they ever got a chance to thrive. I have emails out to seasoned beeks who will hopefully have something good to tell me. What I need is brood, and I need it fast. Maybe there is someone out there who can sell me a couple frames.

Ugh. This is a learning experience, but right now, I don't feel like I've learned anything.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Drama Queens!

Thursday, 1:00pm: Sent a text to my hive host in Ann Arbor, letting him know I'm going to come by and set up my cinder blocks in preparation for my bees arrival on Saturday. I still have two days, which is plenty of time to set up the site.

Thursday, 7:00pm:  En route to his house, with a car full of cinder blocks and 4x4s, my host calls me to let me know that there have been some issues at home and that his 10 year relationship is ending (which is sad), he will be moving out,  and that he suggests I find a Plan B for my own hives. I'm free to install them there, but they'll eventually have to move.  Oh, and by the way, the hive next to which I'm going to put mine is super hot and ornery and attacks anything and anyone in a 20 foot radius so I'd better wear all my protective clothing. Not my idea of friendly neighbors. I keep driving past his house, and head toward home.

Thursday, 7:05pm:  Hang up the phone with my host. Look at phone. There's an email from the bee supplier..."THE BEES ARE HERE EARLY! COME GET YOUR BEES NOW!"  Shit. They're here and I don't even have the nursery ready.

Thursday, 7:25pm:  Back to my house, I run in to take a couple of tums for the ridiculous indigestion I'm now feeling. 

Thursday, 7:30pm : Grab phone, run back to car to go to Napoleon, MI (a/k/a middle of nowhere) to pick up my bees. on the way out of the neighborhood, I see my beekeeper neighbor, Andy, working in his yard. I stop by to ask him if the girls will be ok in their package for an extra two days, and can I bring them in the house, or do I have to leave them outside. I use extra flaily hand gestures to indicate the level to which I am freaking out.  Andy is calm, and says, yes, I can bring them in the house, they'd like that. Also says when I get them home, I should spray them with a little water, as they're probably thirsty. He said they'll stick their little tongues through the screen to get to the water. He was right, and they were adorable.  Also said they'll be absolutely fine for a couple of days. Good. Thank you. Off I go.

Thursday, 8:30pm:  Arrive at bee supplier. Notice I don't have my purse. Make note to self to drive slower on the way home.  Wonder what else I've forgotten. I check in at the office and go out to the truck where a nice young man in a bee suit (a beekeeper's suit, not a bee costume) picks up two packages and puts them in my car. No government approved car seat required. There they are, Myrtle and Maud and all their attendants. I still haven't decided which one's Myrtle and which one's Maud. They're quiet, which I didn't expect. 

Thursday, 9:30pm:  At home now with my girls. I mist them with some water. They're tired, hungry and thirsty, and crowded as hell in their boxes. I stay up until midnight making sugar syrup for their feeders.  I test a little on my wrist to make sure it's not too hot, and give them a couple sprays of syrup for a bedtime snack. I collapse into bed, unable to sleep a wink. 

Friday morning before work:  I notice that one of the packages doesn't have nearly as many bees clinging to the sides, and that there seems to be an inordinate amount of dead bees on the bottom. I can see right through the package, whilst with the other one, the sides are completely coated with bees and they're somewhat active. I can't see through it at all. I worry if spraying them with sugar water made them stick together and wonder if they'll get themselves unstuck. (no, they're just dead) I'm still frazzled from yesterday and nearly get out the door before realizing I'm not wearing any shoes. 

Friday morning, at work:  I still have a job, so I'm trying to get some work done. Not too easy. I frantically post something to Reddit asking for calming words or advice on what to do about the second package. I also post something to the bee company's facebook page. The owner called me directly and said I could bring the package back and he'll give me another, more active one. Huh? Who knew I could just take them back and exchange them? I'm feeling slightly guilty because I'd kind of already bonded with them, and it's not like parents can take their kid back and get another one, right? Well, these aren't humans, and I'd like to have as healthy a package to start off with as possible.  He tells me to come on out, preferably today. He'll set aside a nice, healthy package for me.

Meanwhile, I tell my coworker about the drama with the site host, complete with flailing, and she tells me her friend in Tecumseh has a really big yard, and that she and her husband are kind of crunchy and would probably like to have bees on their property. She emails her friend and within mere minutes, her friend says an emphatic YES! to the bees, but oh, wait, maybe she should check with her husband know, just to be polite.  Husband comes back with another emphatic YES!. I think about it for a minute... Tecumseh is about 40 minutes away, but then I look at the google earth view and realize that their property is absolutely perfect for bees. A nice southern face, lots of fruit trees and gardens nearby, in small town with lots of trees and gardens, and most importantly, no big agriculture in the bees forage range.  Ladies and Drones, we have a new site! I'm not thrilled about the drive, but if my dad could drive from Columbus Ohio to pick me up, take me to Granny's for an hour, drive me home, and go back to Columbus, every weekend  when I was a kid, then I could drive 35 miles for my girls. 

By now it's evident that I'm going to need the afternoon off. Rain is in the forecast and I need to get these girls in their hives as soon as possible. My boss ok'd the time and off I go. I stop home to get the weak package. I've decided that the other package is going to be Myrtle, because that was the first name I picked out, and it's a healthy package. The weak one is Maud. Maud and I head back to Napoleon where I bid her adieu and good luck, and pick up Maud II. She's super active and full of healthy bees. 

Friday afternoon:  I get home with Maud II and pack the car with all of the hive equipment I'll need, plus extra veils, all the sugar syrup feeders, extra long sleeved clothing just in case, a sharpie so I can mark the frames, and whatever else I think I'll need. I also have to stop off at Lowes to get a bag of cedar chips and some tie down straps, and something to keep water in close to the hives. Remembered to put both packages in the car.

Friday evening:  My new hostess, whose name is also Melissa, greets me in the driveway with a hug. She's simply fabulous! She walked me out to the site and shows me around. It's perfect. She lets me drive my car (her lot is 1700 feet long!) back there so I don't have to lug 6 cinder blocks a quarter mile. I get the stands set up and proceed to install the first package, Myrtle. The installation goes pretty smoothly, and I'm able to release the Queen Myrtle into the hive with no problem. I put the feeders on and close her up. The girls sit on the front porch with their butts in the air, signaling that "this is home now, and the queen's in here, come on in". Good sign. 

Now I go to install NewMaud. She's in her cage with a couple of attendant bees. I tried to get the cork out of the one end to expose the candy plug. I can't get it out, so I try to push it all the way in instead, except I pushed a little too hard. Of the three bees in the cage, I squished and killed only one. The Queen. Are you kidding me?? I KILLED the QUEEN?!?! Now what?!  The hive can't survive without a queen. They cant't even build a new one because they don't have any brood to build from. They need a queen to lay the eggs in the first place, and now she's dead. What the hell? I put her lifeless body on the bottom of the hive, and dumped the package on top of her. I figured I'd make another trip out to Napoleon in the morning and get another queen.

Melissa's son and his pal come back to check out the bees. I give them a quick Bee Safety 101 course, and promise that when they're all settled in and running smoothly, I'll suit them up and show them how it all works. They were fascinated and thought it was the coolest thing ever. They were even good enough to haul back a big bucket of water for me and fill it with sticks so the bees will have something to land on. Bees love to drown themselves, apparently. Her husband and neighbor joined us and we watched the girls buzzing around, finding their way to their new home to unpack and start building furniture. I called the bee supply place and left a message about me killing my queen and do they have another one. 

Bee place calls me back, said they're still open and if I come now, they'll stay open for me. They have lots of extra queens.  It's only 30 miles down the road. Piece of cake. On my way, I realize I'm very thirsty. I contemplate stopping off for some food and some water, (haven't eaten, or peed, since noon) but opt not to because I need to get the queen and get her into the hive before dark, and before it rains. I can eat later. 

When I walked into the bee place, I said "I'm the idiot who killed her queen". Steve, the owner, was in stitches, wondering how the hell I managed that. He even took the cork out for me and gave me a rubber band so I could fix her to the frame. "Candy up, facing out". Ok, duly noted. They all joked that they'd be laughing about this one for quite a while...I made sure they got the correct spelling of my name for their Facebook post. 

By now it's 8;00 and daylight is running out. I fly back to Tecumseh (I have my purse with me this time) and decide to drive the car back to the hives to save time. It's starting to rain now. I think about putting on my bee jacket to stay dry but decide not to.  I got the lid off, pulled a frame and put the queen on it and secured her with the rubber band. The rain's coming down a little harder now. I'm scrambling to get the inner cover on without crushing any bees. They're milling around and don't feel like moving. "Come ON girls!" I shove them out of the way and put the inner cover on. It's raining a little harder. I get the outer cover on at the very second the sky opens up and pours buckets of water on me. If I hadn't gotten the cover on, I'd have drowned all my bees. 


It's done. They're installed, and they're fine. I have sugar syrup in my hair, and everything is sticky. Time to go home and eat something, drink about a gallon of water and go to bed. 

Saturday afternoon:  I fixed up some more syrup in case they needed it and went to see them this afternoon. They're doing great! Lots of activity at the hive entrances, and I see the girls making their orientation flights. I peeked in the tops and saw that they've found the feeders and everything looks normal. I even saw one girl with pollen on her legs! Yay! 

I'm a real beekeeper now!

Myrtle on the right (pink) and Maud III on the left.