Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Rockstar of Beekeeping

Friday was "Bee Day" for us, from beginning to end.

It started with the biggest event, a visit from NJ's Rock Star of Beekeeping, our state apiarist, Tim Schuler.  He's an amazing beekeeper (Eric called him the Bee Whisperer), incredibly knowledgeable, very matter-of-fact, and funny besides.  Definitely someone to emulate.

He and another incredibly experienced member of our Bee Association, probably the best we've got, John Gaut, showed up around 11 a.m. to inspect the three hives in our yard, a service of indescribable value.

Tim chose to start with the Wonderland Hive, which we told him was an early spring split we'd made from the Pooh Hive and a queen from Hudson Valley Bee Supply.

You'll note that Tim works with nothing other than his smoker and glasses - short sleeves, no veil.  I will admit that I was silly and went veil-and-jacket-free that day, but I was taking photos.  (Though you'll see in the videos just how close I get to the bees to get those photos!  No fear!)  I still can't touch 'em, though.  Not yet.  Eric, on the other hand, held his first frame of bees without wearing gloves!

Nice job, E!

Meanwhile, Tim confirmed that the Wonderland hive was doing great and everything looked as it should.  Awesome!  He spotted the queen off to the side (you'll see her in the video if you look closely at where Tim points; she's on the frame that Tim handed to Eric.  I didn't get a separate photo, but she's the extra long one that's a mahogany color and without striping), and thought she looked great.  While in that hive, we got to taste some of our own honey.  Whoa, it's good!  It made me really excited for the club's honey competition in September.

Odd thing, during this inspection (you'll see during the video), John noticed a queen bee on the ground where she shouldn't be.  She wasn't one of ours, and she was behaving like she wanted to mate.  I ran and got a queen cage we had, and John put her on in.

Then we moved onto the Fish Hive, which we already knew from last week was queenless but had capped queen cells.  The cells were still there, still capped, and there were a few more of them too.  The girls were working hard to make themselves queen-right!

Tim confirmed that they had a good population and would likely soon be back on track, and that we'd done the right thing in taking a frame with a capped queen cell over to the queenless swarm hive for them to raise.  He doesn't even think, because of the number of emerging bees in the Fish Hive and capped brood still to emerge, that the population will diminish by the time the new reigning queen is ready to start laying!

The worst part?  He doesn't want us to check the Fish Hive or Swarm Hive until July 4 for eggs and larvae!  Gah!

As an aside, Tim called attention to the awesome waggle dance a bunch of our girls were doing on their front porch, to call their sisters back home.  I've circled a few for you.  See those tushes up in the air?  They were vibrating around like crazy.

We were trying to figure out what was best to do with the queen John found, unmated and without a colony, and Tim commented that he needs video of worker bees not accepting a queen, balling up on her instead of trying to groom and feed her.  So between the GoPro and my camera, we tried to get that footage while inspecting the Pooh Hive.  Didn't work.  Our girls must not have seen her as any sort of threat, as instead of balling up on her, they completely ignored her and even moved away to avoid her.

Something was obviously wrong with her, and Tim said, with all his vast experience, he'd never seen anything like it!  Which, although he didn't get the video he needed, is still pretty nifty.

In the meantime, we got to see, for the very first time ever, a drone pupa.  It's very rare to see pupae, since the brood gets capped over as larvae and then emerges as adult bees; the pupal stage is the one you never see unless you break open a cell or one happens to break, which is what happened here.  He must have been in some burr comb (the comb sometimes built by the workers between levels where the queen occasionally lays drone eggs) that broke when we took the hive apart for the inspection.  Out of that came this awesome photo of a creature that looks more like an alien than an insect.

At any rate, the Pooh hive is bursting at the seams with bees, brood, and honey.

In fact, we saw some of our girls sharing some of that honey with each other.  So cool!

We also saw several of the new bees emerge!  How awesome are they?!

They're so cute, and when they're first out, they stagger around like little colts trying to find their legs... and some honey to eat.

Our queen is amazing, as is the work they're doing.  In fact, we were exceptionally proud when Tim pulled a frame from one of the honey supers and told us that if we were inclined to save it and enter it, it could be a winner at the Sussex County Fair!  Whoa!  So not only is our honey delicious, our girls make beautiful, beautiful frames of it.

After they'd left, we reveled in our success for a bit before heading to a meeting with a director at a local organization who's interested in having one of our hives on their grounds and having us teach their students about bees!  We loved her, and were very happy that she's very excited about it; now she just has to discuss it with the board.  Fingers crossed that they love the idea as much as she and we do!

If they do, you'll be hearing a lot more about it in the future, for sure.

After that, we went to buy yarn for this blanket that Eric wants me to knit.  It'll mean learning four new techniques, but for this blanket, with a big ol' bee as the centerpiece, it's totally worth it!  Plus, I like to learn and want to expand my knitting repertoire anyway.

Eric and I chose a gold yarn somewhere between butter and mustard for the background color and a beautiful dark maroon for the design.  It'll go beautifully with our living room rug, pillows, accent wall, and the dining room chair upholstery.  I'm starting it tonight!

From there, we brought hive boxes to Mahwah, where our two new nucs are spending time until they can come home to our neighbor's yard in Franklin Lakes, and we installed them there into our hives until they can be moved.  That should be July 4 weekend.

While we were in Mahwah, I got a call from a woman who found us on the NJ Swarm Removal List.  I was so happy that she found us and called us before immediately going for an exterminator, but I found when I had her text me a photo of her "honeybees" that they were unfortunately really yellowjackets and required an exterminator.  Ick!

We were sad not to have another swarm to catch, but to be honest, I was relieved at the time we gained back in not chasing it down.  That evening was the monthly Northeast NJ Beekeepers Association meeting, and we were dying to go, especially since Tim was this month's speaker.

He discussed the inspections he'd made over the two days that he was here in northeast NJ, and then focused on mite treatments, as the time for that is coming right after the harvest in July.  These days, as he's adamant, mite treatments are imperative for the life and well-being of bees.  A survey of the past year's experiences of beekeepers across the country showed that untreated hives had a 76% death rate, which is just outright frightening.

So... first the honey, then preparations to treat and help our girls fight their parasitic tormentors.

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