Tag Archives: bees

Bee Addition and Subtraction

It’s been a long time since my last update.  Been a long lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely time.

For a while, I planned on a new blog post about once a week.  But as it often does, life kept getting in the way.  So, for the next handful of updates, I’ll try to recall all of the special details from past geek-off-grid-iness situations.

Months ago, I got a message from a friend in town who had honeybees in his porch ceiling.  And he needed them gone.

Sweet!  It just so happens that I want honeybees, so this seemed like a win-win-win situation.  I already had most of what I needed: extra hive bodies and the proper equipment need to peek your face into a bee colony.   I bought a couple other things (a queen cage and some lemongrass oil), gathered all of my stuff, and planned on making a day of it.

Sure enough, when I rolled up, there were tons of bees going in and out of the porch ceiling.  Keith said that they were pretty calm and they only sting Jehovah’s Witnesses in the six or seven years that he’d known they were there.  Add me to the list, though, because while I was invading their space (before I had my veil on), one got caught in my hair.  After it panicked for a a minute or so between the forest on my head (i.e., it was nowhere near my bald spot), I thought I’d try to help it get unstuck.  It wasn’t a fan of that, and died in order to let me know.

keith-porch

I forgot to get many pictures, but you can kind of see the hole that they were using as an entrance in the corner.  So I removed the soffit, hoping to see a glorious amount of honeycomb, considering they’d been there for so long.  Here’s what I saw instead:

keith-porch2

Yup.  Nothing.

Apparently that was only the gate to their courtyard.  I walked through his house, putting my ear to the ground (literally) and walls, and determined that the glorious honey was somewhere in the floor joists between two bedrooms.  This was above my pay grade, so I packed up and left.  Sad day.  Sting and no honey.  (Which would have been a much better backup band name for The Police)

Since that produced no extra bees for me, I decided to go with phase two: splitting one of my healthy hives.

It’s not rocket science…  Nature does this all the time, and as a colony grows a beekeeper must make sure to give them ample space to continue to store honey.  If they outgrow their house, a new queen is reared and the old queen takes about half of the bees with her to find a new home.  Or – the ’emergency’ situation is that nurse bees start rearing a new queen if the old one dies, disappears, is sick or just not laying eggs like she should.  Splitting a hive is pretty much just forcing a bunch of nurse bees to make a new queen because they’re cut off from the old one.

I’ve watched YouTube, folks.  I’m an expert.

I took five frames out of my strongest hive – three frames of larvae, one frame of honey, and one empty frame so they could have room to grow – and put them into one of my original Nuc boxes.

healthy-nuc

There are a lot of different methods online – but it seemed like the general consensus was that the existing queen simply needed to stay with the old hive.  Of all of the bees that came over to the new hive, a bunch of them would go back to the old hive (just because when they leave the Nuc, they’d fly back based on their memory) and the nurse bees would stick around and make a new queen.

split-hive

Easy peasy, right?

Well, I came back maybe a week later, and the Nuc was pretty low on honey.  I still had a lot of wax from when I extracted my first harvest of honey, and it was probably actually a 1:1 ratio of honey to wax.  I had planned on heating the honey wax to separate them, possibly to make candles or something (and of course eat the honey) – but instead I decided to give it to the honey-hungry Nuc.  Over the next few days, I left this honeywax at the top of their hive, as well as at the entrance.

If I haven’t said it before, bees do not waste honey.

wax-dust

Each time I gave them a clump of sticky-sweet-waxy goodness, I returned to find that they’d sucked every ounce of honey out of it and turned it into dust.  The above picture has just a little bit of honey left (the darker spot by the bee).

Here’s a short video of them incredibly focused on the task at hand:

Anyhow, it was all for naught.  I realized at one point that it was a losing battle, because no queen cells were starting to form.  And as the hive grew weaker (no new bees to take over as the older ones died off), wax moths and other jerks started taking over.  It was a complete loss.

At least the chickens took advantage of the situation, though…

So I tried again!  Exact same method, but this time I noticed three or four in-progress queen cells when I transferred the frames over to the new Nuc.

And the same thing happened.

jerks

But, even worse: apparently, in all the commotion in transferring frames, the healthy hive’s queen was lost.  I should have thought of that when I took literally all of the potential queen cells out, but I didn’t.  So, when I went back to check the Nuc two weeks later, a once bustling hive was now almost completely empty.

empty-hive

I wish I had good news to end on, but I don’t.  I completely dismantled the hive (it had wax moths and other critters as well, so I didn’t want to combine it with my other still healthy hive) and left it out for the chickens.

dismantled-hive

Perhaps the tiniest bit of silver lining is that the other hive found the now exposed honey, and stored it for themselves.  But, they’re not nearly as productive as the hive that I lost, so I’m not even sure they’ve gathered enough to make it through the coming winter.  Hopefully I’ll have good news later!

stealing-honey

honeyjar

Harvesting Honey the Old Fashioned Way

I have honey!

Over the winter, there really isn’t much you can do with honeybees.  Except for poking your head in during very warm days to make sure they have enough honey stored to get them through the season.  I tried to stay out as much as possible, realizing that they know a lot more than I do about keeping themselves alive.

However, spring has arrived!

As such, soon after it looked like we were in for consistent warm weather, I poked my head in with a much different intention: robbing them of their honey!  I didn’t want to take too much – but dang it, I’ve been at this for a year and have spent a lot of money, so I want some honey!!  Sunny, runny, bunny, funny, money, honey.  (Sorry – the line before last rhymed and I couldn’t stop myself.)

honey-frames

They’re doing great, and I saw some frames packed with brood (larvae/eggs), so it looks to me like they’re healthy.  I only took one frame from each, and those frames weren’t 100% capped and ready but they weren’t too far from it.  (Don’t worry – there was plenty of honey left in the hive.  I’ll take more after everything’s in bloom, though)  I didn’t even get stung, even though I was brushing them off of the frames pretty aggressively.

honey-stand

After I got the frames, I realized I had no idea what to do with them.  Most legit beekeepers have access to an extractor and other fancy tools to help them efficiently remove the honey.  However, I don’t know if I’d consider myself a legit beekeeper yet, and since those things cost money I figure I’d try to have a go without them.  (I’m really excited about the Honey Flow system, but that’s a lot of money, too…  One of my frames costs $1, and a frame from the Honey Flow costs about $80.  Basically, I don’t want to spend a bunch more money until I know I can pay myself back with honey.  I’m rhyming honey with money a lot in this post.)

My first idea wasn’t a very good one.

honey-first-try

I basically just stood them up like a teepee over a pan and used a spoon to scoop the honey out.  It wasn’t very quick, and I got a lot of spoons dirty because I tended to stick them in my mouth.  Don’t worry – I’m no double dipper.  If a spoon went in my mouth, it didn’t go back in the honeycomb.  I promise.

honey-scooped

I got pretty impatient, because I felt like I wasn’t getting very far even though I was scraping a lot of wax off.  So, I simply looked at a few websites on how to harvest honey without an extractor and got some much better ideas.

honeycomb

I just scraped everything off the frame into a colander.  I didn’t want to use a strainer, because when you filter honey you actually lose some of the benefits.  Unfiltered raw honey has pollen in it, and this is the pollen from my own back yard so it can help with my specific allergies, since I’d be ingesting the same pollen that my sinuses have a problem sorting through.  When you filter, those chunks of pollen can get thrown out.  (I should have taken a picture of some of the pollen, but I didn’t think about it.  I will next time.  Unless I forget again.  (You can see the pollen on the next picture, but it looks more like dirt.)

honey-mangled

The picture above is after I scraped from one frame all the comb that contained honey into the colander.  There’s still a lot of pollen, but I don’t think I missed any honey from that one.  I’ll get the wax later.

honey-drip

After that, I crushed the comb, forcing a bunch of honey, pollen, and some small chunks of wax into the bowl below.  I ate more wax in that day or two of extracting honey than the rest of my life combined.  Not that I’ve eaten a lot of wax in my life, nor that I just munched on wax all day – I just figure the little bits and pieces added up, since I was sucking the honey off of them.

honeycomb-dry

I poured the honey out into a mason jar, then crushed more comb, then poured, etc.  Finally, I just let it set for a long time dripping down, and the comb was fairly dry.  I’m planning on melting the wax in a cloth in the sun, which would let any trapped honey run out, but it’ll take a while.  On top of that, I had an ant problem when I left the whole setup out overnight.  (Well, technically my wife had an ant problem…  I just came home to an unhappy wife who dealt with an ant problem.)  So – if I set it out somewhere to melt and separate, I’ll need to make sure our six legged friends don’t have access.

To clean up, I left the frames on top of the hives, because bees will suck absolutely any remaining honey off of it.  I read somewhere that it can take bees collectively flying up to 40 million miles to make a pound of honey, so it would make sense that they would spend the time to get even the slightest amount of honey close by.  Sure enough, I left the frames overnight, and they were bone dry the next day, with bees still checking it out.

The honey has a very interesting taste, with a little bit of a kick to it, because all (actual) honey is flavored by the pollen and nectar that the bees gather from.  For a while I tried to analyze it to figure out what plant I wast tasting, but then I realized I was basically not seeing the forest from the trees.  Honey!  I have honey from my back yard!  I’ll figure out plant-flavors later!

I ended up getting three pints of honey, and I have been eating more honey than ever!  My friend Chris gave me some bread that his family baked, and I pretty much ate that with a 1:1 ratio of honey to bread.  My intention was to sell honey, but at the rate I’m using it, I might have to hoard it all…  I’ve been putting it in coffee, and I figure if I can replace all my sugar intake with honey, then I’ll be healthier.  Right?

Right?

Doesn’t Everyone Gather Acorns?

To make up for the lack of off-grid-iness over the last couple of months, I crammed a few random things in over the last week or so.

To start off, I’d been looking into acorn flour lately…  So, one day when I was planning on going outside to do who knows what, I got distracted by all of the wonderful acorns on the ground.  I thought I’d pick up a handful or so, and make that a ritual each time I went outside, but I got a little obsessive.  I filled all my pockets, and then got a bag  and went back to it because I just couldn’t stop.  I mean – there were so many of them!

Around that time, some friends of ours (who left a jacket at our house) stopped by.

Mitch: Hey David!  What are you doing?

David: Oh, you know…  Just picking up acorns.

Mitch: ….Oh yeah…  Yeah, I know all about it…  I just love gathering acorns…

(There was a lot of sarcasm in there, in case you didn’t pick up on it through my typing)

I finally realized that I was a borderline psychopath, so I stopped with a healthy amount.

acorns

Later on that night, I started splitting them.  I’m extremely glad I didn’t spend any more time gathering these nuts, because almost all of them looked like this:

acorn-dirt

It looks like my worm friend there – and all of his worm friends – got to the acorns before I did.  Instead of finding a nut inside, I found dirt and usually the culprit.  I cut every single shell open, and I had less than a handful that were decent.  And a lot of those were questionable.

acorn-nuts

I realized I was probably going to do a ton of work for about a cup of acorn flour, so I decided this might be a project better suited for next year.  When I start hearing them hit my roof as I’m attempting to fall asleep next Autumn, I’ll know it’s time for the harvest.  Then I’ll be a psychopath again.

Later that week, my buddy Andy and I went to visit his friend Todd’s farm.  Andy had been talking to me for a while about it, telling me of all the cool stuff that Todd has going on, and we finally carved out some time to make the trek down.  Andy didn’t know exactly where Todd lived, so we simply followed the map announced on Andy’s phone.

Big mistake.

We left the paved road, and then left the gravel road, to what seemed to be a driveway, or perhaps better called a trail.  Thing is, we drove on this thing for at least two miles.  His little Mazda 3 did not like the gigantic water-filled pot holes whose gaps were bridged by old doors.  Yes – someone had taken interior doors to fill in these holes – but the years of driving over them pretty much just made them random splintered pieces of tire-death.  We also passed a sign that said “Stop – Gun Range in Use.”  The sign was not actually up – it was laying on the ground beside the road.  At that point, Andy really started wondering if we were in the wrong spot.  I said “Hey – we’re surely almost at something – we might as well keep going down this road.”  Because – as we have already determined – I’m a psychopath.

Well, the road abruptly came to a steep hill, and he wasn’t excited to see if his car could make it back up said hill – especially if it wasn’t the right farm.  Luckily, there was a bunch of Amish dudes building a house at the bottom of the hill, so I walked down to inquire.

Nope – not the right farm.  But at least it was the amish, and not a live gun range.

After we got back on the road (backtracking the splintery trail), we got ahold of Todd who updated our destination.  Funny enough, Todd’s house is literally right off the pavement.  No off-roading needed.

The first thing I noticed was that his chickens were just about everywhere.  I asked him if he was afraid of predators, and he said his dogs keep them at bay.  (reason #432 why dogs are better than cats)  The second thing I noticed was there were children just about everywhere as well.  I think they have 11 kids, and there were a few friends in tow.  Yowza!

We helped him start some ferments, and had some awesome fresh-from-the-farm cuisine, and just talked about life, God, and everything in between.  Kind of the way I imagine a conversation with a true farmer should go, rather than the distracted dialogue inserted between glances at a phone screen.

The next day, I was planning on doing a little work outside (cutting logs), and I realized – Hey!  I’m better than a dog, right?  I could keep those mangy predators away while I’m outside beside the chickens!

Thus instituted the inaugural free-ranging Saturday.

free-range

It was hilarious, actually…  The first time in their lives they are given actual freedom, and they pretty much stayed where the chicken tractor had been circling for the last few months.  Specifically, where the ground was down to just dirt and covered with their poop…  Anything familiar, I suppose.

And apparently I’m familiar, too, because anytime I came nearby, they’d all circle around me.  At the time, my wife laughed and cutely said they were following their farmer.  Now I’m wondering if they were simply plotting to take me down.  When I sat down on a stump and sharpened my chainsaw blade, I’ll bet they decided to rethink their plans.

They even followed me to places that contained nothing for them to peck at…

concrete-chickens

I suppose the cats are following me because I’m their farmer, too. Just kidding. Holly won’t let me eat them.

I didn’t get too far into my wood cutting for two reasons:

  1. Turns out I’m not very good at sharpening a chainsaw.  I’ll give it another go, but I’ll probably just take them to my dad so he can refresh my memory on how to do it.  It would still cut, but not as easily as it should.
  2. Someone stopped by to look at the Blazer sitting at the end of my driveway.

That was a pleasant unexpected visit, because I’d just put the Blazer by the road on Thursday evening, and I’d fielded a couple of calls from guys on Friday that said they might stop by Saturday afternoon.  It wasn’t noon yet, but this guy bought it right on the spot.  It makes me excited that I had so much immediate interest, because that means when I put a sign in my front yard that says “Fresh Eggs,” it will be seen.  It also makes me think think I should have priced it higher!  (Only halfway kidding)

With the money from the Blazer, I’m hoping to buy a beat-up diesel truck.  Beat up, because I want something cheap that I don’t worry about getting scratched to pieces driving through my woods.  Diesel, because I want to try my hand at alternative fuels.

Well, sure, I guess diesel is alternative, but I’m talking about making biodiesel from cooking oils.  (If any of my readers have a restaurant and need to get rid of a bunch of used oil, I’d be happy to take it off your hands.  Or – if you don’t have a restaurant, but you fry food for 11+ kids, you probably have plenty of oil.)

Also, at some point earlier in the week I checked on the bees, who have been fairly silent.  I knew they wouldn’t be out and about when it got cold, but I expected to hear them generating heat in their hives.  I got nervous because I couldn’t hear a sound.  Luckily, when it was warmish, I opened them up to find them balled together just like they’re supposed to be.  One hive had bees up in the top super, though none of the comb was drawn out.  The other hive had no bees and no comb drawn in the top super, so I removed it.  I figure they’d prefer to save on their heating bill this winter by not warming a huge empty space.  (For anyone wondering – and I’m sure you all are – there was still a frame or two of undrawn comb in the remaining top box, so they shouldn’t feel claustrophobic)

Also also – apparently my subscribe button wasn’t working there for a bit – so if you tried to subscribe but didn’t get this in your inbox, please try again.  Chalk up another reason why I’m not a fan of wordpress.

Kill the Invaders! …or… How I’m Protecting My Bees From Small Hive Beetles

Over the last few months, I’ve noticed something every time I’ve opened my hives.

These jerks:

At first it wasn’t a big deal – I’d only see one or two, and they’d be running from a swarm of attackers who were unhappy with sharing the same living quarters. But… Lately…

Photo Aug 11, 10 13 00 AM

Yeah. They’re everywhere. In almost every corner of every super, there’s a mound of them. Interestingly, they’re gathered together because the bees are shoo-ing them into the corners, putting them in time out. I watch them do it – if the beetle isn’t running, the bees curl around it as if they’re planning on both eating it and stinging it at the same time. I don’t think they do either, but it’s fascinating.

One of the first Nashville Area Beekeepers Association meetings I attended was about pests, and for some reason I felt like that was something I wouldn’t have to worry about until a couple of years down the road… Fewer bees, fewer pests, right?

Apparently, the stronger a hive is, the better a colony will be prepared to keep the small hive beetles at bay – and if a colony is weak, the beetles reign supreme. They damage the wax, honey and pollen, and – if there are enough of them – can cause the colony to abandon the hive. So – more bees, fewer pests, then?

Well – not really. As my bee numbers grew, so did the number of these little punks. It’s just that as the hive grew stronger, they were able to coral them better. Almost every time I peeked into the hives, I saw this:

Photo Aug 11, 10 10 40 AM

At the bottom of my hives I have screened bottom boards, which basically means that the structure itself is open, with only a screen covering the bottom.  (“Screened Bottom Board” is a great name, then, eh?)  I’ve had corrugated plastic slipped in since the beginning to basically seal it shut, because I’ve been told that the bees like to draw out comb in the dark. They’re done drawing out comb in the first super (otherwise known as a brood chamber), and it’s been pretty hot, so I could probably leave it open. (I literally just realized that as I was typing this)

However, besides ventilation, the screened bottom board is there so that the bees can push anything they don’t want in the hive out of the hive, without dragging it to the entrance. There’s plenty of trash that they’ll have to drag to the entrance, but hive beetles are small enough (and numerous enough) that it’s convenient to drive them to the bottom of the hive and let them drop through the screen.

Until recently, I’d see just about the same amount of small hive beetles on the plastic and I’d kill as many as I could before they flew away. But the problem is that if they’re just sitting on the plastic, just an inch away from the screen, there’s nothing stopping them from crawling back up into the hive after they catch their breath. So – even though I was seeing around the same number when I pulled the plastic out, the truth is that there were most likely a bunch that came and went when I wasn’t looking.

So – I bought some lunch trays online (had to get them online to get the right size), and they arrived a few days ago. Why? By replacing the plastic with the lunch trays, I can pour in a little cooking oil into the tray, so that when the beetles fall in, they get stuck and die. (I didn’t come up with this idea)

I suited up, including my new ankle guards, protecting me from the curious bee:

ankle-bracelet

Be honest… Do these make my feet look fat?

All I could find in the kitchen was olive oil – which I know is much more expensive than most cooking oils, but… I used it anyway, with a very thing layer.  Don’t tell my wife.  Success!

Photo Aug 21, 4 22 14 PM

In about 24 hours, more than the usual amount of small hive beetles were stuck in the oil! There were also a bunch crawling around on it, telling me that my thin layer wasn’t going to cut it. Luckily, I ran to Kroger while I was running errands earlier that day and brought back a big jug of canola oil and filled them both up after dumping the first batch out.

So… Another 24 hours later…

Photo-Aug-22,-2-03-50-PM

 

Booyah!  With more oil, I have less beetles!

Wait – that doesn’t sound like a win, does it?

It does to me.  Because I got so many the first day with a thin layer of oil, and then far less the next day, that means the numbers of the beetles had already drastically lowered.  As I said before, every time I pulled the bottom board plastic out, I had a consistent number of beetles – which says to me that the bees were dumping a consistent number out through the screen at regular intervals.  Before, if I shooed them off the plastic and came back the next day, I’d see the same number.  Because the little buggers now drop into the oil, they couldn’t get away – so seeing less hopefully means less overall.

I was away on vacation for a week, and I checked them again yesterday.  (If my present/past/future tense gets a little crazy in this blog, it’s because I started it before I left, and am finishing it now that I’m back)

Photo Sep 01, 10 03 34 AM

I did not dump out the previous bath of beetle-juice (I had to fit that in somewhere), so everything above includes the old amount.  There isn’t that many – which makes me very excited!

You can also see a whole lot of pollen that fell through the screen, which means that they’ve been busy little bees during the week, too.  There were also some moths and moth larvae in there, so the trap is doing double duty.

Regrettably, there are also a handful of bees in the bath.  However, I’ll bestow honor on them, and say that they gave their lives in the line of duty, corralling the invaders to their death.  Truthfully, they can’t fit through the screen, so they probably didn’t follow them into the oil…  It’s more likely that they were on the underside of the screen when I slid it in place – but I think I’ll tell the other bees that they’re martyrs, so that they don’t come at me angrily next time I pop my head in.

I always hate losing bees – but since a good colony has more than 50,000, and the bees only live for about 6 weeks during the summer, it’s happening all the time.  Still…  I’d prefer not to be the reason that they go gently into that good night.

honey-super

On another note, I added a honey super, because they’ve drawn out all of their existing comb!  I still won’t get any honey this year, because they need to be set for winter, but they’re on a good path to hopefully be self-sustained.  (Instead of me feeding them sugar water to get them through)  I’m hoping there will still be enough in bloom for them to fill that super up – and I actually planted a few perennial flowers around the hives, so that next year (or possibly this year), they’ll have some pollen close by.

Bee Aggression, Chicken Detective

A lot has happened since my last post – here’s a quick list:

  • I was away from the real world at Camp Loucon for a week
  • My band shot a video (we’re actually not appearing in it, and I was just the guy holding a sweat rag for between takes)
  • We realized out that our construction loan was expiring in August, so we scrambled to get everything in order to refinance the loan to a normal mortgage.  (Don’t worry, Dave Ramsey – it’s a 15 year, and we have more than 20% equity in it!)
  • Part of what we had to get in order was the house.  So, we quickly tallied up what we had to get done to have an appraiser come by.  Another list!
    • We had to pour the concrete for our front porch and sidewalk
    • We had to fix the septic tank cover that broke when the concrete truck drove over it while pouring front porch and sidewalk (which involved me pouring a literal ton of concrete – yes, over 2,000 pounds – after my uncle helped me form a new tank lid)
    • Putting all the hardware on the kitchen cabinets
    • An immense amount of painting, staining, and polyurethaning
    • Lots and lots and lots (and lots) of general fixes around the house
    • Cleaning
    • Anything else not mentioned above that might make a big difference in an appraisal
  • Multiple trips to various county government buildings to pull or file forms needed for closing, requested from my bank AFTER they needed them, which has resulted in pushing back our closing date twice.

On Friday we got our final inspection from the county, and the day before we had an appraiser come out.  So – barring anymore stupid requests from our bank (we’ve not had great experiences with them, so I won’t link them or give their name – ask me if you want to know who to avoid), we’re DONE!

Back to what I know all of you have come to see…

My Bees are Trying to Kill Me

I guess it’s only fair that my bees are ramping up their venomous attacks on me, considering I kill a few of them each time I move their homes…  When I first got stung, I had fairly minor swelling (not to mention a fever and convulsive shaking), so I assumed that future stings would give me less of a reaction.  On the contrary – I’ve been swelling way more.

First – how I got stung:

A few weeks ago, I was inspecting my hives like any normal computer programmer does.  It’s been a surprisingly cool summer in middle Tennessee, but that’s not to say it’s cold, but rather low 90’s.  When I do my hive inspections, I wear long sleeves, long pants, long gloves and a bee veil.  As such, I get very hot.  And I sweat.

There have been a number of times that I have mistaken sweat slowly dripping down my leg as a bee, and had to calm myself down at the thought of a tiny stinger zeroing in on my nether regions.  “That’s sweat moving down, David,” the inner dialogue usually goes, “bees would start at the bottom of the pant leg and move up.”

But this time…  This time the sweat was moving up.  Wait – not sweat.

I honestly didn’t know what to do.  At first, I just thought I’d leave it alone – it crawled in, so maybe it will crawl out.  When it got to my inner thigh, however, I knew it was time for action.

I swatted my leg out of sheer terror.  No plan, just swat.  It’s obvious what the outcome of that would be (though I didn’t think of that at the time), but I’d much rather she sting me on the thigh while waltzing up my leg than pretty much anywhere north of there.

After I had sat the box full of bees down, I ran through the woods trying to get far enough away to…

…take off my pants.

Well, not all the way, but enough to get the stinger out of my inner thigh and allow the dead bee to roll out onto my sock.  It had to be a funny sight – a guy completely covered from head to toe except for the exposed underwear.  Or creepy, at least.  Good thing my neighbors aren’t too close.

I finished the rest of the inspection after tucking my pant legs into my shoes.  I’ve heard other beekeepers suggest wrapping duct tape around your pant legs, but I was always under the impression that it was to prevent ticks.  I will soon add duct tape to my beekeeping equipment.

Immediately, the sting was just annoying, but not too swollen.  The next morning, however, it took up my entire thigh.  I drew a sharpie line around it to keep an eye on the swelling.  I popped benadryl and used a topical antihistamine cream for the next few days – and eventually it went away.

So, on my next trip out to the hives, I started out by tucking my pants into my shoes.  (Still need to get that duct tape)  All went perfectly during the inspection, but when I was taking off my gloves I didn’t realize I had a bee in my elbow pit.  When I bent my arm, it knew of its impending doom and went out in a blaze of glory.

Day One:

beesting1

“Arm Selfies” are a thing, right?

 

Day Two:

beesting2

Sheesh – looking at them back to back makes me think I might have actually had a bad reaction.  I haven’t learned my lesson, though – luckily.  At least it takes a day to swell, and not a few minutes.  That’ll give me enough time to drive to the hospital if needed.

Again, benadryl and antihistamine cream, and I’m right as rain.  Though I have discovered that non-drowsy benadryl causes me to sleep for a very, very long time in the middle of the day.

CHICKS!

teenage-chicks

Er – wait…  Not really chicks anymore.  These are like…  Chickens.  Or at least fowl teenagers.

They’re not full grown yet – they hatched about a month ago, and it could be a couple of months before the hens start laying – but I’m amazed at how fast they have grown.  Before I left for camp, they definitely had grown since the furballs hatched – but when I got back, it seemed like someone replaced them with larger, feathered creatures.  I wish I got a better picture – but hopefully you can see just how huge they’ve gotten compared to the feeder.

I had to give them a bigger box and put a bit of chicken wire on top because they would flap their wings anytime they’re nervous.  A couple of days ago, I went out to the garage (where they’re staying now), and one of them was standing on top of the box.  Luckily, I think it was scared of its newfound freedom, and was just walking around above the other chickens, not wanting to let them out of its sight.  There was a fairly small opening on one side of the box where the chicken wire was too short, so I had to cover it.

I’m not a Murderer!  …I think…
[***Warning – pictures of dead chicks ahead***]

After the remaining eggs sat in the incubator a day or two after they should have hatched, I decided to play detective to see if I could find out why they didn’t hatch.  What I found was a fairly interesting progression of chicken development.

dead-chick1

Ok…  So – I might have killed this one.

It’s pretty much fully developed, and I think it died just before eating the yoke (which busted when I cracked it open).  Heck – the picture looks like it’s ready to chirp.  But it won’t chirp.  It will never chirp.  I blame myself for opening the incubator too much.

After that, in the order I opened them, they get smaller and less developed.

dead-chick2

dead-chick3

dead-chick4

dead-chick5

They might have died for any number of reasons, but one reason could be that the temperature wasn’t perfect, and that I didn’t have anything circulating the air in the incubator.  But this is speculation, which I’m probably not even close on.  Some detective…

It’s probably good that only five hatched, though – because I’m definitely running out of space in the current brood box.  I started building a chicken tractor on Saturday, and I’m fairly close to finishing it.  (I wanted to finish this post before adding anything about the chicken tractor, so that I have two blogs rather than one at 5000 words)

Because of everything that’s been going on my world, I probably wouldn’t have been able to build the chicken tractor sooner, which means they’d all be sitting on top of each other right now.  Currently, they’re merely sitting very, very  close to each other.

[Actually, I’ve already moved them into the run on the chicken tractor, which is unfinished, because it’s taken me almost a week to finish this post…]

So – next time you tune in, I’ll have a bunch of fun pictures of building a chicken tractor.  I promise, no pictures of dead chicks.  Well – unless one of my chickens dies and I feel like it’s worth posting a picture.  But even then – not a chick.

But I’ll leave you with a teaser on the chicken tractor production:

wood

candled-egg-banner

You Win Some, You Lose Some

A lot has happened over the last three weeks!

First – The Bees

At the risk of sounding confident, I’m actually getting a hang of this whole beekeeping thing…  I guess about two weeks ago, I decided to remove the top feeders in both my hives, because both hives had a decent amount of “honey” stored up.  (I put quotes around honey, because a lot of the honey was made from my sugar syrup rather than nectar)  I figured that, while flowers were blooming, it would be better for them to go out and gather rather than lazily assume that food will always be raining down over their heads like manna.  That way, when I put my first medium honey super on, I’ll get pure honey rather than sugar water.

I put my second deep brood boxes on both hives about three weeks ago, before removing the top feeder.  The last time I poked my head in, they hadn’t drawn much of the new frames out – just starting on the center frames – but there were a good amount of bees exploring it.  I’m going to be checking in today – so it probably would have been better for me to wait to post with a fresh update, but I just wanted to post everything that has happened lately.  (Or I won’t – because it started raining as I was writing this)

Two deeps deep!

Two deeps deep!

I also removed the entrance reducers for both hives, which are used to simply reduce the size of the entrance so that a small hive can defend itself.  If they have a wide entrance, then robbers (bees from other hives that are low on honey stores) could come in and steal honey without encountering a lot of bees.  The first hive (the one with only one mark on the entrance, and the one that I thought had no queen for a while) pretty much immediately covered the entire entrance board, which proved that the reducer was getting in their way.  Later that day, the second hive, however, only had a few bees around where the entrance used to be, and seemed even less active than when I took the reducer off.  I put it back in, but somewhat awkwardly diagonal, so that bees could get in almost half of the whole entrance.  I checked on them a couple of days ago, though, and removed the entrance reducer at that point, and they’re defending like champs.

Strong defense of second hive entrance

Strong defense of first hive entrance

You can kind of see how I awkwardly placed this entrance reducer

You can kind of see how I awkwardly placed this entrance reducer on the second hive

The picture is above is fairly late in the day, so there are a lot more bees hanging out than mid-day.  I saw both hives bearding the other evening, and I thought I took a picture, but apparently I didn’t.  “Bearding” is basically when all the bees are home for the night, and a whole bunch of them cover the front of the hive because it’s hot inside – way more than the picture above.  If they’re bearding mid-day, then you’re probably about to have a swarm (half of your bees will leave, if not all) – or at least that’s how I understand it.  If I’d seen a hive of bees bearding before I learned all of this stuff, I probably would have assumed they were plotting to kill me.

Here’s a little zen bee moment for you…  Their buzzing is actually calming to me these days, because I’m continually in awe of them, and of the design that they are following perfectly (that results in honey for me!).  Around 1:40-2:00 you can see the queen (bottom right at the beginning, then bottom center when I turn the frame around.

Second – The Chickens

Two weeks ago Holly and I went up to Kentucky to see my family for Father’s Day, as well as go to Hasting Plants (my aunt’s greenhouse) for her annual season-end blowout.  (If you’re in the southern Indiana/Illinois area, you should check them out.  But – next year.  Season’s over!)  My brother was originally planning on giving me some eggs from his meticulously bred Delaware chickens, but the roosters up and died not too long before he started breeding them, so I got a mix of 15 Delaware, Ameraucana, and Black Copper Marans eggs.  I promptly put them in my incubator upon getting back home, and they’ve been sitting there for almost the entire time since.  I’ve opened it a few times to add water to keep the humidity up, but I’ve been trying to simply leave them alone.  For the first day or two, I constantly looked in on them – as if my eyes would make the process any faster…  I’ve calmed down since.

Chicken Incubator

I candled the eggs a few days ago, which is taking them in a dark location, and putting a light behind them to illuminate the inside of the egg.  A few of the eggs are blue-green, and I couldn’t see through those shells at all, and I think I need a few flashlight because the others still didn’t give me a great look.  The image at the top of this post is what a candled egg looks like – though that is not my image because I could barely see inside even when I wasn’t trying to get my camera ready.

I candled them again today, because there were a few that looked to me like they weren’t developing.  I didn’t take them out of the incubator early in the week, because I didn’t want to make an assumption and throw away good eggs.  When I did it today, though, 5 eggs still looked completely undeveloped, so I pulled them.  I cracked them open to confirm, and four of them looked like they never started developing, most likely because they were jostled too much during travel (all of those yolks were broken).  The last one started developing, but died probably on day 7, based on how the embryo looked.  I couldn’t tell at first, because the eggs had a large shadow ring inside it, which I thought might be a big crack in the shell messing with the light.  I called my brother and he told me it was probably a blood ring, which basically is a sure sign that the embryo died – and that was confirmed when I cracked it open.

I’ve still got about a week before they start hatching, which means I need to get on the ball in terms of preparation.  The first living arrangement won’t be too difficult, but building their long term home will take some time.  I figured if I actually got the eggs first, I would have some hard deadlines to make sure these things happen!

dead-bee

The Queen is Dead. Long Live the Queen!

I know what you’re thinking.

“Wait, David – that image is not of a queen – it’s body is too short and wings too long.”

Or maybe that’s not what you’re thinking.

I’ve been watching my hives over the last week and a half, trying to make sure my busy little friends are comfortable and well fed.  More importantly, I’ve been making sure the queens were laying eggs so that I didn’t just spend a lot of money for no reason.

One hive is doing great – I see different stages of larvae on multiple frames, and I’ve seen the queen roaming her kingdom, gracing the common insect with her presence.  The other hive, however, isn’t doing so hot.  I haven’t seen the queen yet (I’ve looked through it multiple times), and I still don’t see any eggs or larvae.  I called up Joel White, and he told me what to do: put a frame of brood from the thriving hive into the broodless one.  The one rule was don’t transfer the queen.

This makes me nervous – this seems like a very advanced beekeeping skill, and in fact this is the way you split a hive.  So, it’s something that I definitely want to learn – but not necessarily a week after I officially started.  But – the other option was helplessly watch my bees work themselves to death with no babies rising to take their places – which didn’t seem very positive.

I lit my smoker (with a little trouble this time…), opened up the broodless hive, and gave it one more look to make sure I wasn’t simply missing the tiny eggs before.  Still none.  About 90% through this hive, my smoker died completely, so I had nothing to calm them with.  I’d been relying pretty heavily on smoke in the past, but I didn’t have a lighter with me because my pocket lighter ran out of fuel, so I would either need to go to my barn to relight it (leaving the top off the hive for a while), or just keep chugging along with no smoke.  I decided to see how they’d do sans-smoke.  For the most part, I was surprised to find that they were almost as calm as when I smoke them – though I did have a few more bees sting my gloves than normal.

I went through the thriving hive, found a frame of brood, and brushed all the bees off.  That was nerve-racking.  If they weren’t already agitated, bristles the size of a house ripping them away from their work would probably do it.  Again, though – they were surprisingly calm.  Obviously they buzzed in anger, and some kamikazed themselves at the screen over my face, but considering the number of them that I forced off the frame, it was minimal.

After the frame was completely free of bees, I placed it in the other hive.  I continued traversing the frames of the queened hive to make sure I wasn’t taking the only frame of brood, and saw the queen conversing with her subjects.  I then replaced the stolen frame with a frame from the other hive – which they hadn’t even touched yet.

Again – uneventful.  Still no stings (in my skin) or pain.  I’ll be checking on the queenless hive in a few days to see if they’re rearing a new queen, and the other hive will probably need a super (box of frames) added, assuming they’ve drawn out that new frame I put in today.

I need to figure out a way to take pictures of my bees rather than relying on stock photography – but I don’t know that I have the coordination to hold a phone in one hand, and pounds of stinging insects in the other…  One thing at at time!

IMG_0509

The Proper Way to Install a Nucleus Colony of Bees

If you’re looking for a repeat of my last blog, where my activity with bees ends with pain and suffering, alas, you will be disappointed!  I learned from my previous mistakes, so I took the proper precaution this time around.

I’d been anticipating getting bees for months now, reading, researching, trying to put things into practice – but until yesterday everything was pretty much only theory.

Yesterday, I picked up my two nuc colonies from Joel White Apiaries (who I had a great experience with), and placed the nuc box itself where they would permanently go.  I was at first under the impression that I should immediately transfer the frames to my permanent hives, but Joel said it would be better to let them orient themselves to the area first, so that they knew where they were before I also confused them by putting them in a new hive.

So – easy enough.  But the drive back home, with thousands of bees in the back of my SUV buzzing at the same noise level as my vehicle’s engine and air conditioner, was more than a little nerve-racking.  I took all turns much slower than I normally do, because I kept having this image appear in my head, where the boxes tipped over, and two swarms of angry bees decide that I am their enemy.  That didn’t happen.

I got home and carried both to their locations, and removed the duct tape that was sealing their entrance.  After only a moment, they were out and about – obviously wondering where in the heck they were.  I put tape on the entrance of both boxes in two designs – firstly because I wanted them to easily differentiate which hive was theirs of the two, and secondly because I figured I could put the exact same tap design on the permanent hive, so they would recognize it quickly when their old box was gone.

And – then nothing.  I left them to do their thing.

This morning, I donned all my protective gear (helmet with veil, gloves, hive tool and brush), and moved the nuc boxes off their blocks, and replaced them with the new 8-frame hives.  After smoking them for a while, I precariously took each frame from the nucs and placed them in the new hives.  It took a while, but believe me – patience was worth not panicking from making hasty mistakes.

After getting all frames in place, I planned on giving them some sugar syrup to feed them – but apparently I did not make near enough.  What I planned on dividing between the two hives barely was enough for even one.  So – when I was done I came back and made a little more, which I have cooling in the fridge right now.  As soon as it’s at a decent temperature, I’ll fill both of the top feeders up.

So – there you have it.  No drama, no getting to laugh at David’s misery…  One project started, infinity minus one projects to go!

beehives

Why You Should Have the Proper Equipment When Opening A Beehive (Lesson Learned)

Let me preface this with the following:

I am an idiot.

I’ve been thinking about getting bees for over a year now, and have been reading and researching a good amount in that time.  I attended a weekend seminar on beginning beekeeping, and feel like I’ve got the basic understanding down.

A few weeks ago I bought two complete hives (no bees), and all the equipment I’d need to go with them.  I then tried to find some bee packages to order, but to my dismay, there were none available.  After about a week, I decided I’d spend the extra money and buy some nuc colonies, but they wouldn’t be ready for another month or so.

I figured I’d use the time for more preparation, so I painted my hives, assembled frames, prepared the location, etc.  But my anticipation has been growing and growing…  I can’t wait to get them started!

My mother-in-law has a farm about an hour south of us, and my wife and I went down there this past weekend for a bridal shower – excuse me, a Tea.  As you might assume, I didn’t go to the shower (Tea!), but they did need a hand moving some furniture at the house that it was held, so my brother-in-law, Nate, and I went to lend some muscle.

Alas!  My mom-in-law recently had 7 bee hives placed on her property (they get a prime location with tons of pollen, and she’ll get pollinators and most likely some honey), and they were screaming “Come take a look at me!” in their steady collective buzz.  So, of course I wasn’t going to pass up an opportunity to finally get a look at what my colonies would look like soon enough.

Nate and I drove close to the hives, and I proceeded to approach the hives – sans any equipment.  He wisely kept his distance.  At first, I just walked along the front of them, not getting too close, because I didn’t want to cast my shadow on the entrances.  They were busily moving to and fro, clustering around the entrances, and…  well…  doing whatever bees do.  Part of which was checking me out as well – I had some swirling around me and landing on me, which is normal.

That wasn’t enough, though, so I went around behind the smallest of the hives and took the outer cover off, then the inner cover.  Because it was such a small hive, there really wasn’t much to look at – I could only see just a few bees at the top of the frames.  I replaced the covers.

But I wasn’t satisfied.  I’d seen all the pictures and videos I cared to see – I wanted the real deal!  So, after successfully looking in the small hive, I decided to check the one next to it, which was about three times the size of the first.

Outer cover comes off easily.  The inner cover is slightly sealed shut – which is completely normal, but I don’t have a hive tool to pry it open too easily.  Instead, I just work it a bit, and it eventually comes off.

Bees!  They are all over the place!  It’s exactly what I was hoping to see, an I just stood there for 30 seconds or so, admiring their activity.  A few bees decide to flurry with activity in the thinning spot in my hair, I assume because there was a lot of salty sweat available to them.  Around this same time, Nate decided he’d had enough of the bees and quickly made his way back to the car.

I don’t know what really occurred at that point – maybe because I was starting to get a bit nervous about the bees making the top of my head a mini wrestling ring, or because I simply just realized that I don’t have any protection, nor did I smoke them to keep them calm.  Either they started buzzing louder to tell me to go away, or I just heard their buzzing amplified in my now nervous ears, but I felt like I was overstepping my bounds.  I tried to replace the inner cover without smashing any, which was difficult since I didn’t have a brush to move the bees off of the edges.  I think that was when I was first stung.

With one sting, I knew that more were on the way, and I wasn’t excited about that since there were so many on my head.  I basically let the inner cover lay where it could lay, without worrying if a bee or two met it’s untimely end.

And then I ran.

I ran past the car, and then again that same length, and then again even further.  Nate is yelling at me that I’ve got a bunch on my back – but what I was thinking about at the time was the bees crawling on my face and head.  I was trying to shoo them away, rather than smack, knowing that the angrier they got, the more stings I would enjoy.

Luckily, the stings didn’t hurt as bad as I remembered (I don’t know the last time I was stung), but I was still in a bit of a panic because of the sheer number.  I thought about taking off my shirt, but then I realized that that was basically saying “Here – why waste your time on the little skin exposed on my head, when you have this gigantic target?”  After a while, I got most of them off.

I walked over to Nate and told him to blow the bees that were on my head, to softly urge them to leave rather than force them.  I thought all of them were gone, so we got in the car and shut the doors.  I sat there, trying to catch my breath, both of us laughing a bit hysterically.

Buzzzzz…

Both of us jumped out of the car and ran around a bit, opening the back doors, trying to get the bee out.  After we were successful, we jumped back in.

Then I realized that I never put the outer cover back on the hive.

Crap.

Nate made the suggestion that we go back to the house to regroup, and maybe give them some time to calm down.  I didn’t know what else to do in that moment, so I felt like that was a pretty good option.

We walked in the house through the kitchen, where our wives were also a flurry of activity trying to prepare for the shower (TEA!).  We nonchalantly passed them by, and went upstairs to try to find anything that would work as a bee veil, and settled on a dirty clothes bag and hat.  I then grabbed a thick shirt and gloves.

With Nate momentarily distracting our wives in the kitchen, I passed by undetected with my new gear, and we made our way back to the scene of the crime.  This time, it was fairly uneventful.  With homemade veil adorned, I walked over to the hive, carefully replaced the outer cover, and walked back to the getaway car.  I stopped for a moment to make sure I didn’t have any on me, and jumped in.

Buzzzzzzzzz…

Again, mass pandemonium.  We jumped out and ran around until it was out.  We tried to jump back in, but the dog had taken the opportunity to sprawl in the front seat, since we were too preoccupied to keep him from jumping in.  After getting him out, we jumped back in, and walked through the house like we didn’t have a care in the world.

I didn’t tell my wife until around dinner, so that I wouldn’t be the topic of conversation at the shower (TEA!  TEA TEA TEA!), and a good laugh was had by all at my expense.  At the time, I only knew of about 4 stings – though during dinner, I found another stinger in my head just above my ear.

I was happy to know that I’m not too allergic to bees, because the stings that I knew of weren’t swollen or hardly irritated.  However, on the drive home, I had to swap seats with my wife, because I wasn’t feeling too good.  I ended the night with crazy convulsive chills, and then a 101.7˚ fever.

When I woke up, my fever was down, but I got a wonderful surprise in the mirror.

david-sloth

Perhaps it’s hard to see, but I have a swollen ear and brow.  We counted almost 20 stings!

My wife and I had a baby shower to go to, where I garnered the nickname Sloth (from the Goonies) because of my swollen face.  Then we had dinner with friends from church, who also enjoyed my antics.

Do I regret it?  Nah.  I’m glad to know that after 20 stings, I might have a fever and little sleep (all of which included dreams of bees), but I’ll still be ok.

I don’t think I’ll ever poke my head in a hive without the proper equipment, though!