Friday, May 29, 2015

A Glossary of Sorts

It's come to my attention that I'm, well, not really speaking English anymore.  I've gotten so immersed in bee culture that I forget not everyone knows the lingo.  So here's some, and I'll be adding more as I think to:

A nuc is a nucleus colony of bees, consisting of 4-5 frames (the ones we bought were five-frame nucs) of drawn honeycomb, a couple thousand worker bees, maybe a few drones, and one mated, laying queen. It's like a mini-colony.

You put that into a new hive (the structure), which they then make home and build out into what you hope becomes a strong, full-sized colony.

Colony, by the way, is the group/family of bees living in one hive.

So we've got three colonies in three hives: Winnie the Pooh, Fish, and Wonderland.

 People use different size boxes for the brood boxes & honey supers. What we've chosen is to use "deeps" for brood boxes, which is where the bees really live & the queen lays all her eggs. They make & store honey there too, but that honey is left for them to eat. It's also where they store nectar & pollen, and care for the eggs/larvae/pupae and do most of their work inside the hive.

We use "mediums" (a few inches shallower than deeps - 3 mediums ends up the same height as 2 deeps) as honey supers. Once the deeps are filled out, the supers go on top for the bees to fill with just honey, and that's the honey we can take for us to use, eat, and sell. Some people use "shallows" (2" shallower than mediums) for their hives, but we don't bother. It's a matter of what you're comfortable lifting when they're full.

To harvest, we'll be borrowing or buying an extractor. The frames of honey-filled comb are put in after slicing off the beeswax caps from the comb (when the honey is ready, the bees cap it over with wax to keep it stored), and slowly spun so the centrifugal force removes the honey. Then it's put through a sieve or cheesecloth to get out any bits you don't want (we'll be using one that's not TOO tightly woven so it doesn't remove pollen) and jarred.

There you go!

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Just for Kicks

While Eric and I were planting a new peach tree out front, and new plants in our perennial gardens (which reminds me, I really should take photos to post), just for kicks I put my camera on the tripod in front of one of the hives for 20 minutes.

This was around 6 p.m., so not nearly as active as it gets at 3 p.m. in the midst of the afternoon heat and sun, but definitely shows how they behave when they're coming & going.

Thought I'd also throw in a couple shots of our tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers, which are very happy and soon to make our girls very happy too.

Lots more to come as progress is made!

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Another Day with the Hives

Checked out our girls again today, again with happy results, mostly.

The Pooh hive is doing really, really well, building out honeycomb to the outer frames of foundation, but they haven't touched the honey super yet.  We really hope they notice it soon and start building!  Without honeycomb to fill... no honey in them!

Then, the Fish hive, which is also doing amazingly well, so well and so quickly that we added a honey super there too!  Fingers crossed!

The Wonderland hive is also doing well, but I have to apologize, because I'm a twit.  I forgot to charge the camera battery, and it died at the very beginning of the inspection.  Sorry 'bout that.  But they've got about 60% of the frames of their second brood box built out with honeycomb, and the brood looks good.  Not bad, since they consisted of just 4 built-out frames when we split them off from the Pooh hive, and considering the fact that we worried about them swarming and/or losing their queen.

So nice to have an uneventful inspection with the girls not finding a way to scare us!

Monday, May 18, 2015

Spring Fest!

Yesterday, Eric and I were so excited to represent the Northeast NJ Beekeepers Association at the Teaneck Creek Park Spring Fest Celebration.  We were given one of the awesome club tablecloths to use, as well as pamphlets, coloring books, and stickers from the club to hand out, but were actually worried our table would be boring and flat without more.  Silly us.

Like we weren't so excited we'd think of more to bring!

We brought my canopy, which was really smart, considering how hot and sunny it got on the blacktop.  And then we brought my beekeeping jacket and veil to hang from the canopy, which of course was interesting to non-beekeepers.

We got these amazing posters, one on pollination and the other on beekeeping, from Hudson Valley Bee Supply, got some poster frames for them, and they were a great eye-catcher.  Lots of people stopped to look at the photos and read about them.

On the table, we had the six different pamphlets, coloring/activity books, one of our empty new hives and an unused honey super with foundation frames in it, our smoker, hive tools, brush, frame rest, and my gloves, plus a shadowbox frame with our cool bee stages action figures and some information about the various stages of bee life.

And to prove we were there, there's us!

We had an amazing, amazing day.  With the exception of one man who seemed to only want to try and antagonize us (we didn't take the bait), everyone else was either excited about our booth or really looking for information.  It's terrific how many people either are interested in keeping bees or even just helping bees by planting the right flowers and herbs or putting out water for them; how many people were beekeepers, former beekeepers or friends or family of beekeepers.  We also met kids who ran the gamut from "I love bugs!" to being scared of bees until we were able to explain to them that yellowjackets are not bees.

The coolest, I think, was one young lady with really nifty pink glasses, who came over to ask us why, when she waved her arms and ran, the bumblebees flying around the area followed her.  Her dad was surprised when he found his daughter, who had just been running from bumblebees, over at our honeybee booth, but it made perfect sense to us!  Who better to come to with her question?

The biggest lament?  It's over and we want to do more!

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Best Inspection Ever!

Another hive inspection yesterday, and we are so happy! We didn't go far into hives when we didn't have to, but we saw what we needed to see. First, the Pooh Hive.

Our girls have the second brood box almost completely drawn and a few are up in the honey super. It's not drawn at all yet, but we having a feeling that's coming very soon.

 Next, the Fish Hive.  Unfortunately, this video is a bit blurry, and for that, I apologize.

This is the nuc we got this year, and it's growing really quickly. We might actually get honey out of this hive this summer! 

Last, Wonderland Hive.  

This is the split we took from the Pooh hive, which last week we were afraid were going to swarm.  They didn't but all the queen cups and swarm cells are gone - the girls removed them and hung around, drawing out the comb instead.  Plus, we found young larvae, so we've got a queen!

After our inspections, we spent some time chatting with our neighbors across the street, and found out that the husband used to keep bees too!  They hadn't realized we were keeping bees, but were really excited.  They've got an amazing garden in their yard, with fruit trees, a huge vegetable garden, roses, basil, mint, and all sorts of other herbs and flowers.

Apparently, the other day, their son was over and noticed a ton of honeybees on the apple tree.  He commented about it to his dad, who insisted that they hadn't seen honeybees in years, and that it had to be bumblebees.  The son insisted no, it was honeybees, and now they figure it was our bees!  That's both sad and wonderful.  Wonderful that they're seeing our bees, and that our girls are getting their sustenance, and without pesticides there, as they don't spray.  Sad, as they hadn't seen honeybees in many years, which is just evidence of the frightening decline of the population.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Woo, Boy.

We inspected all three hives today, starting with the split, now known as the Wonderland hive, since I stayed up until 3:30 a.m. Thursday night painting the brood boxes with Wonderland themed paintings.

We were pretty horrified to find swarm cells and queen cells.  You'll see them in the video where I point them out; swarm cells are queen cells that hang off the very bottom of the brood frames.  The workers build them and move eggs into them to grow into new queens, generally when they haven't got enough space to live.  They usually build regular queen cells on the brood comb when their queen is failing or has died and the need a new one.  This hive had both, and one of the swarm cells is capped, meaning there's a queen pupa in there; another was not quite closed but had a larva inside, and a third was being worked on by a worker bee.

The possible problem here, we thought, was that when we did the split, we moved four drawn frames of comb, and then all the foragers returned that evening, and there simply wasn't enough space for them.  Bees don't see new foundation without drawn comb as space in which to live.  Alternatively, our queen could be dead, as we didn't see her.  Either way, we needed to figure out what to do, and fast.

For the time being, though, we put that aside and did the fish hive inspection.  This seemed much better, though we didn't go far into the hive; our girls were going strong and building out well, so we added a second brood box.

Last, but not least, the Pooh hive.  This is the original hive from which we took the split.  They're going strong and building well, so we added our first ever honey super!  Those are the shallower (medium) boxes and frames (as opposed to the deeps we use as brood boxes) that will eventually contain the honey we can take for us.  So excited!

Once we were all done, we called two mentor (and friend) beekeepers and described what was happening in the Wonderland hive.  Both were under the impression (from us, because we told them we saw young larva) that the hive was otherwise queen-right and set to swarm.  

One suggested we completely cut off all the swarm cells we could find and checkerboard the undrawn foundations in between drawn comb.  He suggested that it could possibly confuse the bees into not swarming and building the new foundation out.

The other suggested that we should do something similar, but without removing the swarm cells.  He also agreed we could try removing the frames with the swarm cells and some honey frames, and move them to a nuc box to create an additional split.  That's what we were considering and intending when we went back into the hive.

Upon second inspection, though, we decided to follow the advice of neither of our more experienced beekeeper friends and leave the hive as it was.  We had been so freaked out at seeing the swarm cells that it wasn't until the re-inspection that we realized we saw capped brood and older larvae, but no new, young larvae like we had the week before.  That seemed to mean that our queen was gone, and the girls were doing what they needed to make a new queen and save the colony.  We decided to let them.  If we're wrong and they do swarm, hopefully the new queen they leave behind is strong and good, and mates well.  And hopefully we catch them in one of the two swarm traps we've set up.  If not, then not.  At least if they truly need a new queen, we're leaving them the best opportunity to make themselves one.

As it is, this was the smallest, least advanced of the three colonies, not a huge loss if it's lost.  And splitting prevented the Pooh hive from swarming, which it may have been populated enough to do.

We shall see.
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