Sunday, March 29, 2015

Pesticides, herbicides and fun honeybee facts

While at our beekeepers meeting last week, the lady in charge of our group told us that when she recently went to inspect her hives she found several hives full of dead bees.  Inside the hives were full of dead bees and there was a pile of them dead on the ground under each hive.  Quite distressing for a beekeeper.  Another hive was trying to swarm and get away but they too were dying.

Why did this happen?  It's unknown at this time so she froze many many of the dead bees to give to a state inspector to help determine the cause.  Not sure it will ever be known but the probable cause is pesticides.  The actual pesticide may be hard to determine but another possible culprit may be the chemical used to kill lawns / crops named roundup.  Some are even saying it may be the cause of colony collapse syndrome.  Roundup is a cancer causing chemical that is sprayed on most of the corn people eat.   Here's an article on the subject if you're interested

So to counteract the downer of reading about dead bees here's a couple "Fun Facts" that was on a beekeeping brochure from St. Pete College in addition to a few other online sources:

Honeybees are the only insects that produce food for humans.  Honey is the oldest food in existence and it never spoils;  it contains all the substances necessary to sustain life including enzymes, vitamins, minerals, and water; and it's the only food that contains "pinocembrin", an antioxidant associated with improved brain functioning.

Honeybees will usually travel approximately 5 miles from their hive for pollen and nectar.

A single honeybee will produce approximately 1/12th of a teaspoon of honey in her lifetime

It would take about 1 ounce of honey to fuel a honeybee's flight around the world.

A honeybee has to travel over 55,000 miles and visits approximately 2 million flowers to make 1 pound of honey.

88% of pollination of fruit, vegetables and seed crops in the U.S. is accomplished by honeybees.

Honey bees have 170 odorant receptors, compared with only 62 in fruit flies and 79 in mosquitoes. Their exceptional olfactory abilities include kin recognition signals, social communication within the hive, and odor recognition for finding food. Their sense of smell is so precise that it could differentiate hundreds of different floral varieties and tell whether a flower carried pollen or nectar from metres away.

A colony of bees consists of 20,000-60,000 honeybees and one queen. Worker honey bees are female, live for about 6 weeks and do all the work.

 Larger than the worker bees, the male honey bees (also called drones), have no stinger and do no work at all. All they do is mating. In fact, before winter or when food becomes scarce, female honeybees usually force surviving males out of the nest.

Each honey bee colony has a unique odour for members' identification.

Honey bees make about 200 beats per second with their wings, creating their infamous buzzing sound. A worker bee in the summer lasts six to eight weeks. Wearing their wings out is the most common cause of their death.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Into the hives and guess what?

Today was inspection day for the bee farm hives.  All four hives were opened up and examined.  In particular I was anxious to look at the smallest colony that was from the swarm that split.  Not as many bees as all the others so I had to determine if there was a queen.  Sure enough when the hive was opened, the numbers were not great but ok.  Two to three strong frames being worked on.  And as hard as I looked, there was no queen to be found.  The good news was I found active brood and what appeared to be queen cells midway up one of the frames.  We have many dragonflies in this area and dragonflies love to eat bees.  Maybe the queen went out to find a boyfriend and got eaten by a dragonfly. 

The two original hives (from the Nuc's I purchased) were going strong and the honey supers on top were already half filled.  What this means is I better get to work building more supers and frames.  Because these will soon be filled and need more supers stacked on top.  The last swarm colony looked quite healthy.  Only hive Beatles were found in one of the original hives from the Nucs.  I placed beetle traps in them.

After examining 60 frames it was time for a rest.  I still struggled with keeping the smoker lit but will get it right eventually.   All in all it was a good inspection and took a good portion of the morning.   The colony in our front yard won't be opened for a couple more weeks.

Last night frames and bases were built.  This seems to be a never ending fun project.  Deeps, mediums, more frames and inner and outer covers need to be constructed this week.  I can't imagine doing this and having to buy everything instead of building it yourself. 

Here's the guess what from the title ... I was on the side of our house and noticed a lot of bees around where the swarm traps were stacked on top of each other (with no bait scent).  A lot of activity was around the one in the middle so I removed the cover and couldn't believe how many bees were inside.  A bunch flew out at me buzzing around.  Quite amusing so I put a couple frames in the box for them to start building comb.  Why not?  What's so funny is they're only a few feet away from the noisy air conditioner.  Is this swarm 6?  Not sure yet.  I'll check back in a couple days. 

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Honeybee Garden

For the last couple weeks work has been progressing on the honeybee garden which sits approximately 30 feet behind the hives.   Last weekend we planted the milkweed flowers and various other plants we had been accumulating.   Also there were many seedlings that were ready to plant so those were added to the garden.  Most of the seedlings were various varieties of sunflower but there were also Moringa (edible) and papaya seedlings.  I'm finally getting the hang of starting plants from seeds which is much more gratifying than store bought plants.

A couple hundred bulbs were also planted in the garden including many varieties and colors of iris, gladiolas and a bunch whose names evade me now.  A bag of mixed flower seeds (honeybee mix) was also sprinkled over the entire area.   If everything grows as planned it should be very beautiful.

A couple of days after mowing the lawn with that riding lawnmower, several bees kept harassing me as I worked in the yard.   Even when I wasn't even close to the hives a few chose to be quite annoying.  Fortunately I was able to send them to bee heaven and it's been back to normal since ... kind of.  The one very large hive by the chair where I used to sit and watch the bees seems to have a million guard bees hanging out on the landing entrance area.  They don't seem to like me sitting there any longer and let me know it.   It's like a bunch of gang members hanging out on a street corner and then I come along.  A few of them want to show off in front of the other guard bees and have a good laugh as the lumbering human gets chased off.  It's so humiliating ....

The original 2 raised beds are doing well but the new one is just ok.  That one didn't get enough good compost and soil so it's going to need some extra TLC.  Most of the plants are doing very well and we've been getting plenty of fresh tomatoes which is our favorite.  And it looks like the mustard greens will be ready for picking soon.
Growing corn in Florida should be interesting

Slightly challenged raised bed

Brussel sprouts

The rain barrel system has been tweaked and a level indicator was installed.  It rained right after it was installed so watching the indicator rise showed how quickly the rain barrels fill up.  The plumbing with the new pump was also completed and works very well.  Only thing that still needs to be installed is a backup system which will allow me to hook up a hose to city water in case the rain barrels run dry and the irrigation system needs to run.  The (new) irrigation system will be installed later this week and should automate most of the watering.  Because it takes a lot of time to water all these plants and you can't ignore that task.

Friday, March 20, 2015

New House bees settling in and why it's good to have a fast riding lawnmower in the Bee Yard

The new bees that were moved from the tree to the stand in our front yard are settling in nicely.  Yesterday there was a lot of zipping around in bee confusion as they tried to figure out why their queen moved to this new box.  And many bees were zipping around in the area of the tree where their old home was.  Today is much calmer with a few bees still zipping around the tree but it's pretty much normal bee foraging going on with a much calmer atmosphere than yesterday.

Today was lawn mowing day at the Bee Farm.  A little breezy and the first time mowing since the hive count made it to 4 out there.  The breeze made for some dust being thrown up by the riding mower  ... a little too much dust for the bees apparently.  Because on my first pass behind the hives I felt something hit my head.  And then another and another ... bam bam bam bam.  Major warnings being thrown at me by the guard bees.    So I shift into high gear full speed to get away before things get too interesting.  And they followed me for quite a ways until I jumped off the tractor and took off running, losing my sunglasses in the process.  Finally they let me go and I sheepishly returned to find my sunglasses.  Good thing I have to mow on the other side of the property and let things cool off by the hives.  But eventually I have to face up to the fact that the bee area still needs mowing.  Time to develop a plan.

The accelerator is increased quite high and the race course is formulated in my brain.  I'll zip under (actually into) the loquat tree and buzz the back of the hives with the pedal to the medal as they say.  Then do a little on the other size of the property setting up for another screeching run at the hives.  All they see is a red blur of the mower shooting past them before they even know what's happened.  The plan works !!!

Unfortunately one bee remembered me and away from the hives by the shed she would not leave me alone.  Quite the bee bully.  So time for another plan.  I grab a spray bottle of Murphy's oil soap and hold it up against my forehead as I quickly pump the sprayer turning in circles.  It works too.  Finally (before I got too dizzy) I see her start to fly away and she gets nailed with some dead on squirts of Murphy oil soap.  And that solves that problem.  Murphy's oil soap was what I had and it worked pretty good.  Shooting bees with warm soapy water will kill them.  So Murphy's was a good alternative. 

Thursday, March 19, 2015

New Hive outside our living room window

With this last swarm, there came a bit of work.  There needed to build some more hive equipment to accommodate these new arrivals.  They were going to be put on the existing platform at the Bee Farm but instead I decided to keep them at home because they're so much fun to watch.  To do it right the same type of ant proof hive stand needed to be constructed and cement into the ground.  It was built to accommodate  two hives eventually.  All this took longer than I expected but it was done right and looks nice in our courtyard.  The stand and hive base/deep were painted turquoise and the top is lavender.  While I was in cutting, sanding and painting mode the bee vacuum was finished correctly.  The bee vacuum was slapped together in 3 hours and looked a little rough.  Now it looks professional and ready to gather swarms.
New screened bottom board

One of the rules of beekeeping (well not a rule but more of a guideline) is to move your hives less than 2 feet or 2 miles or more.  Anything in between may confuse the bees and it's said you risk them leaving.  Since this swarm was moving about 15 feet we'll have to just cross our fingers and hope they love their new digs (and nobody told them about those guidelines).

While the sun was coming up the anti-ant grease traps and grease covers were installed on the hive stand.  Then it was time to light the smoker and suit up.  The new hive and stand were readied with all the new frames needed.  As I was climbing the ladder with the smoker, it looked like the hive was starting to wake up (actually they never sleep and are just not as active at night).  After a couple puffs with the smoker, I cradled the swarm trap under my arm and descended.  The bees were placed on the hive stand next to their new hive.  The hive tool was needed since the top of the swarm trap was stuck pretty tight (probably with propolis from the bees).  When the top was finally pried opened the sight of a zillion bees was marvelous.  That little swarm trap was absolutely packed with bees.  First thing I did was transfer the completely packed frames.  Then two large pieces of comb were removed from the lid and then the remaining bees on the top were dropped into the new hive. Finally the swarm trap box was shaken upside down and bees were poured into their new home.  Bees everywhere so the top to the hive was installed on right away.
Honeycomb that was on the lid

Next the swarm trap was bagged up so they didn't get tempted to return to their old home (bees are sentimental like that).  The tricky part is not bagging it until all bees are off it so none get suffocated in the bag.  There was plenty of activity and many bees zipping around everywhere.   Complete Bee Chaos.

After removing the bee suit and extinguishing the smoker I noticed the piece of wood in the tree that held the swarm trap had quite a few bees bearding up on it.  A pretty good size clump.  So the bee suit was put on again and the piece of  support piece of wood was removed from the tree (complete with a large clump of bees) and it was gently placed under the new hive.
New home for the bees just outside of our living room window

About an hour later the bees that were bearding on the tree (around where their old home was) seemed to be finding their way to the new hive.  There is still a good amount of bees flying around that area but the good news is there's more bees zipping in and out of their new home so the move looks pretty positive so far.  Hopefully they'll soon stop buzzing around and start foraging.

The size of this swarm is amazing.  The amount of bees around our home is strong.  Providing a home for this swarm in our yard will be beneficial for the bees as well as for us. 

Monday, March 16, 2015

Swarm Number Five

This blog is beginning to sound like a broken record with all these swarms.  I either have a magic swarm trap or a magic oak tree that it sits in.  Because I've never heard of anyone catching this many swarms in their front yard all within one month.  It's crazy.  And this swarm seems to be bigger than all the others.

I wasn't going to put the trap back in the tree because I ran out of hive stands and bottom boards.  But I missed sitting in the living room watching bees check out the swarm trap.  It's quite addicting and I'll admit I'm completely addicted.  Watching bees is relaxing.

So now another dilemma ... I need to come up with a bottom board and base to the hive as I have a deep brood box and inner and outer top cover and frames.  The hive stand out at the bee farm was technically built for 5 hives so a few minor adjustments could be made to the existing hives to squeeze one more in.  But hey .... why not.


Friday, March 13, 2015

A few more gardening lessons learned the hard way

The mini greenhouses we made seemed to be working so well and produced many healthy looking little cucumber plants.  The cukes were beautiful and I was just getting ready to permanently remove the tops from the mini greenhouses.  But I waited a day too late.  They ended up getting baked and wilting which was a big disappointment.  A few may survive but this was another one of those lessons the hard way.   But something was learned at least.

The other big disappointment was these low pressure soaker hoses that I spent so much time installing.  Once mulch goes on top of them, they stop working and clog up with the dust from the mulch.  A complete waste of time and money.  Fortunately these (Mr. Drip / Mr. Soaker Hose) were bought from Amazon and I'll be able to get a refund.  It will just be a real pain to pull them out of the dirt and put them in a box to return. 

It's virtually impossible to find others using them.  One person said hers stopped working which made me suspicious and had me monitoring the hoses closely until I determined they were complete junk.  Now it's back to the drawing board to come up with a hands free irrigation system to keep our plants watered.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

I love it when a plan comes together

Despite the fact that my table saw wasn't working, the bee vacuum came together very quickly this morning.  Since I was rushing, it was a little rough around the edges but once the bees are relocated the bee vacuum will get sanded down and finished.  I didn't have caulk so I used duct tape which sealed the areas just fine.  Total construction time was 3 hours which wasn't bad.  Everything just came together with no problems at all.  Everything fit first time and all my zany ideas actually worked.

But the first thing I did this morning was spray the swarm down with sugar water to buy me some time and keep them from swarming again. 

Time to gather the bees.  The saw horses that were used in the construction were moved by the tree to make a table to put the bee vacuum on.  I then connected the hoses and ran an extension cord out.  After putting on the bee suit, it took about 45 minutes of gently pulling the bees into the vacuum hose.  Despite being a 2.5" hose, the bees clogged up the hose a couple times and I had to wiggle the hose and hold it up to persuade them to stay in the hive.  The pressure was perfect.  Not too much but just the right amount.  That was pure luck.
Bee Vacuum ready to work

After 45 minutes, my neck was getting a little sore.  Halfway through the process I cleared the entrance to the swarm trap and plugged that up to take with us.  At this point I didn't have a clue what was inside the swarm trap.  As the weather's starting to heat up around here, I was drenched in sweat after gathering the swarm.  The vacuum motor was then disconnected and removed from the bee vacuum to allow ventilation into the deep box now full of bees and frames.  There were a few stragglers but most were in the box.

Deploying the new hive at the bee farm was quite simple.  I lit the smoker and then the first thing I did was position the landing pad/base/bottom board on the platform.  Then the ratchet straps were removed and after smoking the vacuum the deep was placed on the bottom board.  Then the top was removed and the inner cover and outer cover were installed.  It only took a few minutes.  By this time there were a lot of buzzing and not the happiest bees in the world zipping around.  A bunch were clumped on the vacuum top and bottom so those parts were shaken off to add even more flying bees to the mayhem.   Oh and the Nuc was opened up and was empty !!!  It's a good thing they were captured with the bee vac because they might have flown off in a swarm. 

Tomorrow it's time to inspect the other hives and I suspect that they may be reaching capacity.  Some medium frames are coming in the mail today.  I couldn't resist having a little peek into those hives and wasn't expecting how packed full of bees they were.  After seeing numerous bees on the inner cover and crowded around the inner cover hole I decided to wait until tomorrow to continue so I wouldn't disrupt the hives too much.  Adding the medium supers tomorrow probably should happen so they don't run out of room and possibly swarm.
And then there were four

As the new arrivals are numerous and not in the best mood I decided to leave and let them all calm down.  Everything worked out even better than I expected.  PLUS there were no dead bees in the entire vacuuming operation which is a plus. 

Newest Hive (far right) painted by mom

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Be careful what you wish for

It was a particularly rough day getting a couple yards of topsoil to cover the new flower garden that's by the bee hives.  They warned me that two yards of soil might be too taxing for my truck but since it's a GMC 2500 HD diesel, it didn't seem like much of an issue.   It's just a good thing I didn't have far to go because that truck was loaded to the max.  Pulling a heavy fifth wheel was nothing compared to the weight of the top soil.  And it was a comedy of errors on my part at the soil place.  After he dumped the first load of dirt from the top loader I noticed the tailgate was still down !!!  Lucky I brought a shovel.  The tailgate gave me a lot of trouble though and it took awhile before I could get the second load.  And then I noticed the sign that said no credit cards.  Geez.....  at least there was a bank within walking distance.

Unloading the soil was a big chore and took a long time.  Then the truck needed to be cleaned.  Needless to say when I got home later in the afternoon I was quite tired.  I sat down in the living room to relax and out of the corner of my eye noticed that the swarm trap that was just re-deployed was now covered in another massive swarm of honey bees.  Less than 24 hours and I caught another even bigger swarm.  Third one in 2 weeks.   And like the last one they bearded up on the outside of the swarm trap.  So much for relaxing tonight ...

ANOTHER new swarm only hours after deploying trap
This time I'll act quickly to prevent the beard from flying off like last time.  I've been designing a very cool bee vacuum for a few weeks now.  The idea is still conceptual and a mixture of all the ideas that are floating around on youtube and the internet.  If it works, it will be the best bee vacuum out there.  Because my idea covers all bases.  It will allow gently pulling the bees into a hive that's ready to deploy with frames and all.  The bee vacuum will be a 3 piece unit.  Top has a vacuum built in, middle is the actual deep with frames (hive), and the bottom is a smooth landing pad where the hose connects to pull the bees in.  And the best part is once you're done vacuuming them in, the vacuum disconnects on the top leaving a nice big ventilation screen to keep the girls cool.  That's really important.  The plans are in my mind and I'm confident of the feasibility.    Plus I have extra wood and most of what I need to fabricate it in the morning.  Should be interesting.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Moving Day

While it was still dark this morning, plans were being made to move our new honey bees to a new permanent home at the Bee Farm.  The plan was to quickly plug the entrance hole with paper towels and then use duct tape to seal it.  However when the flashlight illuminated the swarm box up in the tree I saw a big clump of bees gathered in the entrance.  The group of bees was densely packed together about the size of a golf or tennis ball and they protruded slightly outside of the entrance hole.  Those bees need to be inside before I can plug the entrance. 

This means the smoker is needed.  The smoker was lit and after a few puffs of smoke the bees went inside.  Fortunately my wife delayed going to work a few minutes to hold the flashlight as the ladder was not too stable.  A few more puffs of smoke and then I sealed all the openings (they opened up a few of their back doors chewed in the Styrofoam).

When I arrived at the bee farm it was still dark.  Plenty of time to fire up the smoker again and move the girls into their new home.  I wanted to be as gentle as possible and transfer the frames quickly.  Because the least amount of disruption will provide a smooth transition to their new hive.  As twilight arrived the frames were transferred into the new hive and I was surprised how much new comb they had already created.  And there were a lot of new honey bees in the box.   I didn't do a full inspection  and look for the queen because it wasn't light enough out and they need to get acclimated to this new location first.  An entrance reducer was also installed to help them defend their new home against any potential robbers looking to take advantage of the newbees.
Best looking (new) hive in Pinellas county

The transfer went as smooth as could be and I spent a lot of time watching the new bees get settled in.  I have a chair in front of the hives and it's so relaxing to sit and watch them all.  They were very curious about their new home buzzing all around and especially checking out the screened bottom board.  The other two hives did the same thing when they arrived.  After an hour or so I noticed a few fights on the landing board but not too bad.  Probably just curious residents from the other hives getting too close.   And of course the big ole Carpenter Bee paid a visit zooming around all the hives a few times .... probably showing off.

And then there were three !
It didn't take long for the new arrivals to start foraging.  Several bees were noticed returning loaded up with pollen already.   I thought that might take a day or so but they didn't waste any time. It was a very relaxing morning observing the bees, working in the garden, and listening to all the song birds.  What a beautiful way to start your day.

Friday, March 6, 2015

With a little help from Murphy

Murphy's law is an adage or epigram that is typically stated as: Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.

With this in mind, I decide to open up the swarm box to see what's actually in there.  So if I suit up with my protective bee suit and gloves then there will probably be nothing inside.  But if I use murphy's law to my advantage .... and not suit up and then open up the hive then it will be full of honey bees that will not be very receptive to this lumbering intruder opening up their new home.   Sounds logical to me.

The first thing was to move the ladder and climb the tree from behind the entrance.   As I'm going up the shaky ladder my thoughts are how difficult a hasty exit will be if this endeavor heats up.   But that even boosts the Murphy factor a couple points higher.   Once I get to the top, I climb into the bough of the tree and notice that there are more bees around this box than initially observed.  Time to open her up.  As the top is being pried open it feels sealed.  They must have been gluing it shut with propelis.  Hmmmmmm  Adding another few points to the murphy factor.

And then the box pops open.  WOAH !!! BOX IS FULL !!! and then the bees notice me.  But before they could even think of any defensive actions, I gently position the top back on the box and begin a hasty exit.  As I make my retreat the top of my head is brushed by a palm frond which I mistake for a head full of bees (no I didn't panic).

Thank you Murphy !

Looks like the feeder will go back on top of the trap.  Next week they will get moved to the bee farm.  I'm smiling again.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

And then there were none?

Just before dusk we were both sitting in our living room looking at the swarm bearded upon the swarm trap.  They seemed pretty content and were enjoying the sugar water in the feeder.  Bees were coming and going looking like they may be foraging.  I just couldn't figure out why a big group was still bearded up on the outside of the box.  While watching them this afternoon they finally gave us the answer as they all took flight and flew off before our eyes.  It was something to observe.
Honey comb left behind

At least they left a little present before leaving.  In the center of the beard they made comb and left a nice piece behind.  Even though many bees were inside the box it appears the majority were outside.  I was able to observe the bees pouring out of the box on the outgoing swarm.  The euphoria of them arriving matched the disappointment of them leaving.

MAYBE the lemon grass scent was too strong inside so the queen stayed outside because it masked her pheromone scent???
MAYBE a frame should be removed from the trap to give them more room ???
MAYBE they should have been scooped up right away and deposited into a full hive.  Next time I won't hesitate.

AND JUST MAYBE ... there's still a hive inside the box.   They say swarms can double and even triple split.  Tomorrow will tell.
New hive (center) ready for new arrivals.  Top box will house feeder

Black Carpenter Bee
Out at the bee farm some of the flowers are attracting bumble bees. There were many honey bees on these flowers before the bumble bees took over this turf.  One all black bumble bee that looked pretty smooth was very interesting.  While sitting and observing the honey bee hives, this black carpenter bee kept zooming around the honey bee hives, possibly looking to an opportunity to get into the hive and help herself to some honey I guess.  But the honey bees were quite numerous and where the Carpenter Bee dominated in size, the honey bees could overwhelm in numbers.  The Carpenter bee never did much more than zoom around the hives and a few passes by the entrances.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Breakfast in bed

The bees are mysterious in so many ways.  For example, I just couldn't figure out why they ended up "bearding" on the outside of the swarm trap by the entrance last night.  That was quite worrisome.   It could mean several things.  But the worrisome reason might be that they are just stopping for the night on their quest for a new home.  So our humble little swarm trap would merely be a bee version of Motel 6.  Why else wouldn't the entire group go inside for the night?  Although there could be a lot of bees inside too.  Maybe it's full????  I can't open it up and look in because it's too high up.

So the next morning before they became very active I mixed up some sugar water and filled a new sprayer and feeder to welcome them with a delicious breakfast.  When you spray swarming bees with sugar water it gets them into eating mode vs "let's fly away" mode.  And it inhibits flight temporarily.  They will get a nice snack of sugar which is definitely good for swarming bees as they don't have a hive full of honey to fall back on.  The feeder placed on top of the box is also another reason for the bees to stick around and call this their new home.  So if they do head out again, at least I know that everything possible was done to keep them around.

The other alternative is to gather this hive in a box and take them immediately to the apiary and dump into new hive box.  This may not go over well with the bees and off they could go again.  Plus you could hurt the queen and have some other issues.  By letting them stay in the swarm trap for a week or two the plan is for them to start forming comb inside on the frames and foundations making it theirs.  Then in a few weeks the frames will gently be transferred to their new hive with very little disruption to the group.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

All's well in the hives and bearded swarm

This morning was inspection morning for the honey bees.  Both hives were inspected and I'm happy to report that it went very well and was a lot less chaotic than the first inspections.  The smoker worked great (after I made some repairs) and stayed lit the entire inspection.  Kept the bees a lot calmer than last time when I had trouble with the smoker.

The highlight was I was able to find both queens and identified brood and larvae (baby bees).  Only one hive beetle was discovered between both hives although there could have been more.  Bees all looked very healthy and strong so it was a good inspection.   And an absolutely beautiful morning to be doing the inspection. The frames are filling up with nectar and pollen.  I'll probably need add another deep brood box to each hive next inspection.

But the big news for today was the massive swarm that showed up as I was looking out the window this afternoon.  I couldn't believe it.  It wasn't the couple hundred bees that I saw yesterday.  It was more like 10,000 to 20,000 bees.  A giant swarm.  After coming in and flying around in a cloud for awhile they formed up into a beard at the entrance to the swarm trap.  They've been there for about 3 hours and hopefully they'll get all settled inside before dark.  Keeping my fingers crossed.

It was a wonderful experience standing in the middle of the swarm as they flew in.  This is fun.

Monday, March 2, 2015

If at first you don't succeed ...

Looks like the tweaks to the home swarm trap work !  Next morning I was pleasantly surprised to see all the interested visitors.  Hopefully this won't be another one night stand.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Planting seeds, monarch butterfly plants and a new plan for catching bees

I'm kind of skipping over a lot of projects lately so there's a few things missing in the blog.   It's been quite busy.
2nd attempt at a successful swarm trap

First thing is I'm reading a fascinating book called "Honeybee Democracy by Thomas Seeley.  It is based on research by some of the top bee scientists / animal behaviorists that describe how the honey bees make collective decisions and how they communicate.  It completely leaves you in awe.  One chapter talked about all the experiments that were done to determine how bees choose their homes when they swarm.  After reading this chapter I made several modifications to the swarm trap in front of our home and moved it up into a tree as well as changed the direction it was facing and made it more desirable to honey bees.  Now we'll see how this works out.  Only down side is if I catch a swarm I'll have to retrieve it with a ladder which will be a bit tricky.

Today we planted seeds in our miniature greenhouses we made from items bought at the dollar store.  My earlier attempts at planting seeds were not thought out and researched as carefully as I should have.  This time the seedlings will have a better chance.  However it looks like we're running a takeout restaurant with these containers lined up on top of the rain barrels.  The seeds will be more protected and controlled in that humidity and water delivery will be accurate.  Not quite sure if I want to put them in direct sun as it may cook the seeds.  Still working out a few details.

milkweed (on the right)

Not long ago I was at a friends home who had raised beds with flowers that attracted monarch butterflies.  There were butterflies everywhere so I inquired what type of plants they were.  They were milkweed and the more I researched milkweed the more intrigued I became with this plant which is not easily obtained.  But thanks to the internet, a dozen plants were located not far from where we live.  Milkweed is also loved by honey bees and supposedly makes top grade honey which will be another benefit.

The raised beds are as healthy as can be and the plants are growing like mad.  I cooked up a 55 gallon barrel of delicious compost tea for the plants and spent the other day going all around the yard feeding plants.  A giant tea bag was made from a paint strainer bag and it was loaded up with compost and some rock dust.  After dipping and hanging in the barrel, an aerator was added to keep the tea oxygenated.  I used an electric pump to fill the barrel with rainwater from the rain barrel setup.  The resulting bacteria in the compost tea needs a couple ounces of molasses a day for food.  In the near future the plan is to hook the compost barrel up to a garden hose with a pump so it can be easily applied anywhere using a garden hose.

Tomorrow it's time to inspect the hives and see what's going on in there.  Should be an interesting (and beautiful) day.