Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Bee wrap up

I had plans to make periodic posts about bees and lace. Grand plans. Plans that were completely derailed by an unexpected back injury.

So instead of a play-by-play, a retrospective. Title it "Bees and the Summer of 2010". Dates are approximate.

March 27 - My bees are great! Gave them a super (extra box) to start storing honey. Barnaby's seem to have lost their queen and so are not doing so well. :( We were planning to replace her anyway, but the new queen won't arrive for another two weeks. We're hoping they can hang on that long, and transferred several frames of eggs and brood (baby bees) to help keep them going, since there's no queen to lay eggs.

April 11 - Despite my pulled back and B's twisted ankle, we managed to survive assembling the third beehive the day before the bees arrived, and had no problems hiving the new bees or requeening B's hive. Beekeeping is interesting when one of you can't lift and the other shouldn't stand.

April 22 - Intrepid beekeepers Gimpy and Hunch took advantage of a warm evening to quickly check the bees. My hive is going strong and filling the honey super. B's hive has accepted the new queen and has a bunch of brood, looks like they'll make it. New hive also going strong, has about half the first box of frames drawn out into comb, some capped honey and brood. Yay!

May 13 - Did a quick check of the new hive over the weekend and couldn't find the queen or any eggs or baby bees. Oh no! They lost their queen! Panic! Where will I get another queen? A more extensive search several days later did reveal she was home and busy, at that point I'd already been given a swarm by another bee keeper who couldn't use it. Fortunately, had a spare beehive. Now up to four hives (maximum allowed per lot by city ordinance.)

July 4 - I think my hive swarmed. Not many bees, not very busy, and the bees who are home are acting sort of lazy.

July 17 - Looked through my hive. Lots of swarm cells (special cells to make a new queen prior to swarming), so they probably did swarm the beginning of July. Can't find the queen or eggs. Are they still raising a queen? Other three hives are doing great.

July 21 - Queen is found! Yay! She was hiding in the very last frame of the very last box, and has only laid eggs in the last three frames. Not so good. Hopefully as she gets a little older she'll pick up the pace. Moved her to the middle of the box to encourage her. Bees aren't filling the super with honey, putting it in the main boxes instead. Bad bees. The new hive and B's hive are working right along and filling the supers with honey.

September 12 - Pulled the honey supers and got the bees ready for winter. The swarm never made any extra honey for us, but they have most of the frames drawn and filled with honey, so should make it through the winter. The new hive made almost two supers of honey, doing well. Ditto B's hive. My hive doesn't seem to have recovered from the swarm; not a ton of bees, and they did some strange things with the honey supers. Looks like they ate about half the maple honey and replaced it later with a much darker honey. (This is disappointing; I was looking forward to pure maple honey.) I'm not sure they'll make it through the winter; if they do, I will probably requeen in the spring. Got just shy of 2 supers of honey from them as well. Not a huge yield, but far more honey than B and I and our families can eat, so nothing to complain about.

In summary: things went well, other than a number of queen problems and beekeeper health problems. Three strong hives and one medium hive going into the winter, with plenty of honey for the bees to eat, and good prospects for healthy hives in the spring.

We'll extract honey toward the end of September. In the meantime, I'm enjoying a bit of fresh honey from extra comb (burr comb) they built between the boxes, which we removed as we were pulling the honey supers. Really fresh honey is amazingly rich, almost buttery. I wonder if I could make or buy a tiny honey extractor, so that I could extract a few frames of honey every month and have a constant supply of really fresh honey.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Bee planning

My co-beekeeper B and I got together the end of January to do inventory and make plans for the coming bee year.

Plan 1: we both wanted to add a third hive. I can’t speak for B, but my primary motivation is to decrease the odds we will have a repeat of the winter of 2008-09, when both of our hives died. During any winter there is always a chance that any particular beehive will not make it due to a combination of factors including the health of the hive, how well they were managed, attack by pests/disease, how much honey they were able to store, weather and abnormal weather events, etc. Not all of these factors can be affected by the beekeeper. Adding a third hive is all about playing the odds that at least one of our hives makes it through the winter; if you have a healthy hive you can split it to create two hives, but if you have no bees you have to buy them.

I suppose that brings up the question of why we’re buying bees this year instead of splitting a current hive. Part of it is that splitting a hive will reduce honey production, since the remaining bees need to spend more time raising replacement bees and less time producing excess honey. The more important reason is that the package bees we got last year were a little on the aggressive side (we’re buying a replacement queen for B’s hive, which was the worst offender.) We’re assuming this was an aberration and we’ll get better-behaved bees by buying a new package this year.

Plan 2: as we discussed ordering additional boxes to accommodate our new bees, he mentioned wanting to go to all screened bottom boards this year. Winters here are wet and warm, and it seems that the added ventilation is good for the bees. It may also help with mites, but we aren’t sure if that’s really a problem for our bees now or not. We were going to do a comparison last year, with my hive sporting a lovely homemade screened bottom board, and his hive with a regular bottom board, but then my package turned into a soap opera and a fair comparison was impossible.

Plan 3: we’re also going to do some research on designs for hive stands, since the current “up on blocks in the side yard” approach doesn’t work very well with screen bottoms. Once we’ve got a design, B will fire up his welding equipment and get things made.

Looking ahead to harvest, I’m wondering if it’s worth getting a mold to make small blocks of beeswax for the craft bazaar. Now that I’ve figured out how to clean the wax, I’d like to be able to make something useful (or at least financially rewarding) out of it, and I don’t know many people who actually burn candles. I’d also like to come up with venues for selling honey that don’t require me to be at a farmer’s market all Saturday.