SwarmTree-SwarmTallTree

Friday was suppose to be good.. comfortable.. it was sunny, clear, I could see the crisp skyline of Oakland and The City. The Golden Gate Bridge posed perfectly as the framing to the Pacific. I was computing, seriously computing. Sitting on the deck, legs up, shades on, computing furiously getting THIS site back into working order and Nelly Furtado was playing on my stereo – that’s when you know things are going well, “Hey Man” is going full speed and nothing can stop you. It was Friday and I didn’t even know. Until it all stopped.

I suppose I didn’t expect it to occur as it did, which is why I felt so supprised. Like a pre-teen, who didn’t know any better, took the car for a spin and was waving as they rolled by the house. Here I was, three stories away and my ladies just come rolling by. “Heeey-yaaa Jooohnnnn.” … “Heeeey-yaa. Check us ouuuuttt.” And then around the block again. Except, “NO.”

Basically, my ladies swarmed about a week after a very scientific and methodical split took place, so no, they were not allowed their driving privlidges. But they took them anyway.. .. youth.

So after a few phone calls to requisite beekeeping partners, I posted to the Yahoo group, recieved a generous amount of insight and suggestion and help and did as any reasonable ACBA member would do and ‘took care of it.” But rather than articulate that in more broken sentences with “quotations” and vernacular one-offs – I figure I’d try my hand at the 5-minute swarm capture film. – so, enjoy.

Thanks to those who called me and walked me through the process on my frist swarm catch, Victoria, Kevin, Bob, and Much thanks to Patrick Connally and his partner for driving up and helping us out with this negotiaton, really, couldn’t have done it without you two.

Enjoy the video (YouTube) or (johnmizell.com – coming soon)

Springtime Bees

Springtime means lots of activity at the hive, or some I’m told.

As this is our First spring time with our bees, I’m still quite eager to watch what happens with the colony, how things change, and what I might do to make the bees, well, happier. I often consider the answer to the last question is to leave them alone, not mess with their hive or take their honey, but that’s not good enough for me.. I want to Engineer them.. in that wholesome organic natural happy way.. HA!

Today’s hive evaluation was two weeks and two days since I last opened the hive and I expected much to have changed. I had added a second deep two weeks ago and had fiddled with the frames a bit, moving one brood frame up and replacing it with an empty, undrawn frame (all plastic). Today, I found what I imagine ALL beekeepers find when sorting through the boxes. Manic Depression. :)

The Manic:

  1. The hive is growING! The size of the hive has increased significantly and according to the amount of brood on the frames will continue to do so.
  2. I’ve got a great number of drones walking around and activity within the hive is high, with bees on every frame.
  3. They’re making honey, lots of it, even after all those rainy cold days. They’re going to survive!

The Depressive:

  1. They’re building comb perpendicular to the foundation. Pulling out a few frames, I’m finding they’re not building comb along the foundation, like they have in the past, but out, off the foundation. Perpendicular to the rest of the hive orientation. As the comb grows in size it covers more of the foundation, but I did not get the impression they wanted it to. with nooks and crannies all over the bulging comb, it’s become quite the maze for the colony and a significant change from the ordered one, two, ten of the parallel frames. But, it seems there is not much I can do aside from buying wax foundation, which I’m reluctant to do. Though I’m considering empty frames – no foundation… hmmm
  2. They’re building brood between upper and lower deep. Golf ball sized collections of brood have cropped up along the bottom of the upper deep and, obviously, the top of the lower deep. Each group has four to twelve cells in it and after pulling frames out today, I found that any activity in the hive decimates these cells and their contents, very little of which was honey or pollen. Sadly.
  3. They’ve got mites. I’ve seen a couple of mites in the past. One here on the ground, another at the entrance, and once on a bee that I couldn’t track down fast enough to confirm. However, yesterday I snagged one bee with it’s red-headed guest, got a photo of it and confirmed my fears. Now to treat or to leave be?

While these things are a bit daunting, I’m still excited to see how the colony changes throughout the year as I become more aware of the activities of bees.. a strange and fascinating little insect.

ACBA Observation Hive Cleaning Party

This 10 minute video features ACBA club members cleaning the club’s observation hive on monday morning. The hive is situated inside with an opening through the wall to the outside. Inside the hive there sit 4 vertical frames sandwiched by plexi-glass. It’s quite an interesting set-up. As the video shows, a more regular cleaning is important to keep the bees happy.

*Special Notes on the film: The hive should be carried outside in order to limit bees escaping into the building. Future taping within the building ‘needs to be ‘okayed’ by the city.’

Enjoy the video.

DRAFT VIEWING Version 1.2: Early Viewing of “Cleaning the observation hive,” draft v1.2 (2011-01-25) in HD.

Green Hive Fungus

Green as in bad, not socially responsible.

Green - inside and out.

I pulled off an empty deep I had on my hive and evaluated the frames to find a plethora of green fungus on each frame. After looking over each frame I scraped them clean of comb. Since this hive box and it’s parts are second hand, many of my frames were drawn which I thought would be useful, but much of it was old comb, apparently not useful.  However, because they’re plasic frames with plastic foundation removing the comb was easy enough. Following the inspection of all the auxiliary frames I removed the bottom-board under my screened bottom, and added a raised and screened telescoping-top. Hopefully these two changes will help with circulation, ergo less fungus. Shortly after cleaning the auxiliary deep box I examined the main brood box where I found another few frames with the fungus on them. Then I was stung (butt in the air, constant buzzing.. does that mean something in bee? Cause I’m pretty sure the gal acting funny was responsible for the jihad.. oh well.)

Seems like the best I can do is switch out old drawn frames with old scraped frames. I don’t have any new supplies to speak of. Fortunately, my colony isn’t very large, so they’re primarily focused on the three or four middle frames and I had very few bees on these outer ‘contaminated’ frames and removing them is easy.  However, there are signs of fungus on the corners of the inner inhabited frames too. I’m concerned.

I'd like to know more about this unappealing hive-guest.

Q1: Anyone know what fungus this is, so I can merge my mycological interests with my apiary interests?

I've only inspected the empty frames... I fear further infestation.

Q2: How clean do I need to get these frames before I can return the deep to the hive? (scape, rinse, rinse w/ vinegar, rinse w/ bleach, trash)

Half Cleaned - Need I wash each cell pocket too?

Q3: Is this a sign of bees ignoring the excess box/frames, or a hive-wide problem?

We all want a healthy hive.

—-> More Photos <—-

One More Pollinator

Sometimes the honey bee doesn’t make it back to the hive before becoming too cold and succumbing to the elements. This is a short film showing that many of these seemingly ‘dead’ bees are indeed still viable for the beekeeper as pollinators. However, since the life-span of the honey bee is between 6-weeks and 6-months this is not always a sure shot, but at least getting them back into the hive gives them a chance if it was simply luck or bad weather that landed them short. – Enjoy

Film Length, ~5-min. Real-time ~45-min.
(embedded film contains error)
Also available on YouTube in HD.

Seeking The Queen-Bee

The sun peeked out this afternoon after a solid week of rain and we decided to open up the hive and see how the bees are adjusting to the move. By external observations I’m seeing the bees return with pollen, previously orange, I found this lady with white pollen. I wonder where she was playing?

She's got white pollen. I'm curious where she got it.

Unfortunately, after smoking ourselves and then dawning the suit we attracted the attention of a couple neighbors walking by. The secret is now out. Hopefully this doesn’t cause any trouble down the line.

Opening the hive, I found the super to be virtually empty of bees, however they had done an excellent job uncapping some of the honey and draining the cells. Though there was still plenty to have. The top brood box was in a similar state. Empty of bees, with a little bit of action on the full honey frames. However, once I got to the bottom brood, where I had left the bees a week ago, my expectations were high.

… though I should pause here to think a bit.  Understanding that when I pulled the burr-comb out 12 days ago I halted ALL bee making business, as I removed all Brood from the hive. So any hive growth would have been, well, unnatural.. cosmic? spontaneous? I’m not sure why I was expecting such an explosion in population when I know that it takes 21 days to develop a bee. So when I found the box stagnant, my heart sank, but only momentarily until my rational, as discussed, kicked in. I then carefully evaluated each frame until I arrived at the bee covered frames. Arriving at the bees I slowed down and carefully examined each frame. Honey-flip-honey, replace. Then Brood-flip-brood, larvae, and…. eggs! she’s been here! (PHOTOS HERE)

Looking closely at this photo you'll see eggs, larvae, and capped larvae to pre-pupae. (Bottom Up)

Let me take a minute to remember the developmental cycle of the bee… Eggs are laid (the tiny grain like objects in the bottom of the photo), and are eggs for three days, then they develop into larvae and smothered in royal jelly (the white coils, mid-photo). They are larvae until 7-8 days. At that point the cells are capped and the bee develops into a pupae (brown cells at the top of the photo). Remembering that the oldest development could have only started 12 days ago, my oldest developed bee is in it’s ‘white-eyed’ stage and still has close to 10 days left in it’s development, which means the first bees to be born here are going to be Christmas Bees!

As you can see from the photo, we found the a good collection of brood, larvae, and eggs, which means the queen had been in the hive within the last three days… and that means she was most likely sitting on the frame of bees I was looking at. I examined closer and then POP! there she was (that was a figurative pop)

Bees on a frame with brood. Can you find the Queen?

I gently replaced the ‘queen-frame’ and then slowly scooted the other frames over. Made some changes to center the brood frame in the hive and wrapped everything back up. I was pleased with the relative ease of the event and returned to sweeping the bricks.

Bees!

Check our photo album for first days. Our New BEES!

This one’s named Kira… and so is this one…

We’ve acquired the beginnings of our beekeeping adventure, including the adoption of a small, yet ‘strong’ colony. Here’s the story & what we’ve got:

2 deeps, 2 supers, inner-cover, telescoping top, screened bottom, ‘waste-tray’, stand, strap, 20 medium frames, 20 deep frames, a queen excluder, full suit, zip-in veil, gloves, frame tool, brush, comb, smoker, & associated bees & honey. What’s this all mean? Well, nothing really… until you start keeping bees.. then it means EVERYTHING!

Newly Adopted Bee
A little bee scopes out her new support crew.

We got the bees from just across the way, near Berkeley Labs, so they’re quite adjusted to the area already and the drive wouldn’t be too horrendous.  I picked up the hive on Thursday and began by strapping the hive bodies together and closing the hive entrance with a dowel and some tape so that I didn’t have bees flying about looking for honey or bears in the back of a volvo where, we all know, there are no flowers or bears to speak of. Then I put the whole shebang in the back of the car. Quite pleased, the boxes fit perfectly and painted bright green, seemed to complement the car so very well. I even considered painting some permanent fixtures of the car to keep the motif after I would remove the boxes. I have yet to match the color though. The bees were quite for the whole ride home, a very short yet terribly bumpy and windy jaunt.  Then, with the help of Kira, we moved the hive down into the yard.  The bees were still quiet as as we all know, “no noise, means no bees.” I admit I was fearful, for I expect to rile them up by all the jostling about. That night we went out for beers with David . Properly hydrated, we all went home to rest for the hive opening in the morning.

We were up early at 6:30 AM. Since we were messing them WAY out of season, it was important that we get a jump start on the day and not interfere with the bees too much. The whole process was was easy and straightforward.  I pulled the tape of and pried the dowel out of the hive opening.  Then we waited, almost too easy.  Nothing. – so we went inside. About 20 minutes later we retured to find an accumulation of dead bees at the opening, about 5. This was good as the bees discard their dead out the front of the hive where they’re then carried away by other insects, like wasps.  So the little changes proved there were at least some bees in there. The kind of bees that respected their home too. (that’s why they’re all named Kira) As the day warmed (several hours after we woke up) the bees became more active and showed their existence and I did a little dance by wagging my butt.

newhive
A great location for any family, plus it's conveniently close to the ping pong table. You know, for the kids...

Now came the trick.  I was warned by the previous owner that there were a couple of frames missing from the brood box (that’s the deep boxes where the bees and the queen live) and that the bees had build some ‘burr comb.’ This is comb that is build by the bees without the use of man-made frames. Burr comb is not bad in any way, it’s just really hard to do anything with it, so it was important that it be removed and this was a task I was suppose to do sooner than later. I was itching to open the hive and prove to myself that a) I had bees and b) I wasn’t such a scardy-cat.

Prepping myself, I pulled up YouTube and watched everyone else do it for an hour. I watched everyone else get excited, then frightened, then terrified, then acting calmly, then acting like there was nothing to it.  The development was quite necessary and by the time I was done, I was ready to walk right out there like the other YouTube pros and just bust open the hive and get things done.. no suit necessary. Yet, I got up and put my suit on, because, “hey, I paid for it right?” .. yeah.. and I was terrified.

Suited up and ready I realized I still didn’t know what to do with the smoker, so veiled and coveralled I typed on the keyboard “YouTube – usinging a bee smoker.” This returned “YouTube – using a bee smoker.” I swallowed my pride and accepted the minor changes and spent another half hour learning, holding the smoker up to my face so I could familiarize as the TV told me what I was looking at, pumping the empty billow and smoking out the fictitious bees flying about the television, then opening it and filling it with all the imaginable combustibles lying about me.  I got up again, this time ready to open the hive.

Standing outside, smoker in hand, camera in pocket, bee-suit on, I felt I was missing something. Then I found my confidence and proceeded forward. I stopped again at the hive half in fascination with the diligence of the insects flying about me and half in utter disbelief of my confidence to continue.

This hive in front of me didn’t contain a puppy or a rabbit or a cat or any one little life, but THOUSANDS! I was about to firmly disrupt thousands of little organisms, knowing full well I’d crush, decapitate, impale, and stress-to-death a great number. I hadn’t yet figured out how I was going to cope with that fact and now it all struck me like cement about my legs. Immobilized.

After a bit of observation, however, this feeling melted away and my psyche returned to normal and I prepared myself again for the job. I lit the smoker, puffed it a bit and set it down never to use it again. Then I approached the hive and went to town.

First, I pulled off the telescoping top and saw the mass of bees sitting atop the inner cover, and spilling out of the top hole. Seeming like  a good sign of population I smiled. With the frame tool I popped the inner cover off and found the first of a frustrating problem. The burr comb was good and strong and had built it’s self to the inner cover, making it quite unruly. Covered in comb and consequently honey too after I inadvertently smashed much of the comb, it was a mess.  I attempted to brush the bees into the box, but then gave up and set the inner cover aside and began my work on the burr comb.

burrcomb
Burr Comb - makes it hard to manage the hive.

Removing the surrounding frames, I ‘looked’ for the queen but soon found my eyes were not as trained as they’d convinced me they were. So I set the frames aside and considered my options with the burr comb. I had been expecting small sections of burr comb, like pockets. Instead I found two frame-like structures, within millimeters of each other, and covered in bees. “Hmmmmmm…” I said to myself as I stood in awe of these incredible beings, still mostly un-effected by my presence and disruption. Remarkable.

Then, without thought, I reached into the hive, gripped this comb, and tore it from them. Placing it gently in a tray in front of the hive. The bees were still quite indifferent to my action. I then pulled the other burr comb out and went to work cleaning the space to make room for some man-made frames. I replaced them and then, after inspecting the burr comb brushed the bees into the hive vigorously. Then fell in with respect and went to work in on their new comb. Remarkable.

Bees indifferent to molestation - note the bee on the camera.

I then cleaned and replaced the inner cover, then the lid and sat in amazement. I puffed the smoker a couple of times, but it had gone out long ago. I set it back down and took some photos with my honey-covered camera. Good thing we went for the water proof version.

Waterproof, Dust-proof, and apparently honey-proof.

Settled up, I made a list of mental notes that were important. Purging all the unexciting or unimportant facts as I mindlessly cleaned my gloves and camera. Standing now inside and two stories above the hive, I looked at the fliers, still working, seemingly too good to be even interested with the drama surrounding the rape of the hive’s comb. They were apolitical. I can respect that.

My next duty was to do something with the burr comb I’d pulled out. Most of which was full of honey. I licked my fingers and enjoyed the flavor they had. I dropped a hunk of comb into my mouth and quickly associated the two flavors. After a little more internet research I learned of all the not-so-effective ways to extract honey and went to work on one of the methods using the oven on low and a baking pan. Hours later I had a soup of blackened wax and hot honey. Through the course of the day and evening I eventually got this honey separated and into a jar and settled up. Our first honey. Delicious. Though, those interneters were right, don’t think I’ll use that method ever again.

After a phone call that evening I was informed of all the things I should have done differently and I prepared for the next dry day.  Fortunately, this morning warmed up a bit and the rain hasn’t yet come, so I informed Kira of her new duties.  Graciously, she dawned the suit and began the process to familiarize herself with the bees, in the process accomplishing some tasks I had for her.  The primary objective I had was to put the secondary deep box back on the hive. She accomplished this with great precision, skill and success. A real ‘keeper’ that one.

Kira Adding A Deep
Kira adds a deep box to our new hive, giving the gals more space for their development.

As of this morning, there are about three frames of bees collecting pollen and honey and seemingly quite happy.

The End. More updates as I know them.

Cheers!