Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Many changes and The Worlds Smallest Bee Hive

So much has been going on with the bees that there's no time to blog.  There is just so much to do and it's a bit of work to keep up with everything that needs to get done.  The sun and heat at the bee yard is so warm that a 10' x 20' structure was built to hold shade cloth.  Not only will it benefit the bees but also the beekeeper.
Basic structure (still needs the shade cloth)
For some reason the shade cloth I ordered is taking a ridiculous amount of time in shipping.  I sure could have used it yesterday while inspecting the hives.  It was crazy hot and the bees, at least in one hive, were crazy aggressive.  It was quite intimidating the way they covered me and stung the daylights out of my gloves and suit.  I pulled a good 50 stingers out of the gloves and jacket after the inspection.  This kind of behavior was also present in our backyard hive which has me rethinking that entire location.  I don't like the thought of aggressive behavior possibly affecting the neighbors or their pets so that hive may be relocated to the bee farm.

When I installed the new nucs in their new boxes, I didn't have any deep frames with me and thought they would be fine until next week.  When I inspected, I was surprised to see those empty areas had been completely filled in with honey and comb !!!!! In one week.   It was a mess cleaning it up and the bees were not happy.

And now to the weirdest of weird bee news that has me scratching my head.  Several weeks ago I looked into the swarm trap in our front yard and noticed 4-5 bees on some new comb that was recently drawn.   I didn't think too much of it and thought they were just in there looking around.  But two weeks later I look in the swarm trap and again notice 4-5 bees hanging out on the new comb (besides the roaches and lizard running around inside).  It's like they started their own mini hive.  It was quite sad looking at the poor bees standing on empty comb, not quite sure what to do.   The roaches outnumbered the bees by about 5 to one.  Just weird ..... kind of like a homeless shelter for honey bees.  But in the end I decided to dismantle this breeding ground for roaches.  Hopefully the homeless bees will find a new home in a stronger hive.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

More bees and better prepared

The last couple weeks the equipment around here has been getting modified and ready for some new arrivals.  The new trays under the screened bottom board are working out great and are a big weapon in the war on hive beetles. 

After installing one of the newly designed bottom boards with tray of diatomaceous earth in the hive behind our house I spent several hours watching the activity around the hive.  Sure enough, the hive was besieged by hive beetles trying to break back into the hive.  When I tore the hive down, many of them flew off and were trying their old tricks to re-enter the hive but to no avail.  Not only did I secure the bottoms of the hives but the tops were also secured with fine mesh screen to keep any sneaky beetles from coming in from the hive covers and through the inner hive cover.  Now when they try that they are stuck in the upper chamber with nowhere to go ... until I open up the hive and squash them. 

But back to the hive beetles trying to breech the entrance.  They kept landing on the front surface of the hive and tried to make a bee line to the entrance which was now only a few inches in width and surrounded by guard bees.  The bees keep a close guard on the hive beetles and do what they can to keep them out of the hive.  Before they could fly under the hive and crawl in through the screened bottom board as the mesh on that is big enough for a hive beetle to squeeze through. No longer an option for them.

After several days the trays of diatomaceous earth under the bottom boards were loaded with dead hive beetles.  They may have been pushed through the bottom board screen by bees.  It's working as intended.  The surprising result came from the gargoyle hive which in the first day dropped a whole lot of maggotty little hive beetle larvae AND wax moth larvae into the tray.  Quite a bit.   They were pretty infested with those pests.
Two new hives (left, on the stand)

Today I picked up several new Nucs from a friend and installed them at the Bee Farm.  As it felt like a thousand degrees out there the install happened as quick as possible.  It looks like the next project will be some shade cloth over the hives.  I'm now thinking that all the beekeepers who recommended full sun for the colonies were not of sound mind.  Why subject bees to these temperatures and have them expend so much more energy to keep the hive temperature right.  Shade cloth will also help the dripping beekeeper that's working on the hives as well. 

Now up to 5 hives total.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Settling in

Woke up early and drove out to the Bee Farm to check on the new arrivals.  It was nice to see them all settled down and adapting to their new home.   Worth the effort.  The honeybee garden was loaded with buzzing bees.  A beautiful Florida morning.
New arrivals (right)

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Into the Belly of the Beast

I understood that the duct tape and mesh screens were just a temporary measure and bees would eventually break down my security measures.  But what I didn't know was how quickly they would undermine my plans.  They are smarter than I gave them credit.  Within FOUR hours of introducing them to their beautiful new bee hive a couple of crackerjack bees broke back into the Gargoyle !!  And it only took a few minutes before the rest of the gang were back in their cozy Gargoyle.  Word spreads fast among honey bees.
Gargoyle being prepped before surgery

Around this time I figured that the hose going from the Gargoyle into the hive just wasn't going to cut it.  The bees had no intention of leaving their comfortable Gargoyle home.  I used more duct tape and this time some aluminum screening.  That should hold them until morning when I'll figure out a new plan.   There were still several hundred bees out and about and they bearded up on the gargoyle's chin.  Very cute and I only wish I took a picture of that.  By this time I was worn out and decided to wait until morning to come up with another plan.

The next morning ALL the bees were back inside their Gargoyle.  They broke back into it again !!!  In all fairness, it rained last night so the rain probably loosened up the duct tape and made it easy for them to breach my security once again.  At least I had an excuse so I'll stick to that story.  It was obvious that drastic action was needed to get these bees out of that Gargoyle.  And that's when I realized the best course of action was to bravely enter the Belly of the Beast.

But first, I thought I'd try one last time to coax them out using almond extract which the bees hate.  After sprinkling a few drops into the mouth of the gargoyle, the bees dove into the deep recesses of the Gargoyle to escape the almond smell instead of exiting the Gargoyle.  By this time the sun was rising and it was heating up.  I was drenched in sweat under my veil and bee jacket.  The main concern however was this job needed to be finished before the sun came over the house and started heating up our work area on this side of the house.  Because once the sun shines in this area it could cook the bees.
Gargoyle belly button

Full of brood comb !!!

The first thing I did was to drill a hole in the stomach of the Gargoyle to see what the steel was like and to try and view what was waiting inside.  After several minutes a bee emerged from the Gargoyles new belly button and I could see there was brood in the belly.  Oh and during this entire process I had the bee vac running to keep coaxing bees from the mouth.
Gargoyle with a stout gag so he doesn't bite anyone (just in case)

The next step was to cut a hole in the stomach big enough to pull some brood comb.  That turned out to be difficult but eventually I got the hole cut all the while fending off defending bees and keeping them smoked.  Plus alternating between the grinder and the vacuum.  I was dripping sweat and it was a strenuous job.  Now that it looked like there would be brood comb my wife went to the store to buy extra rubber bands to attach the brood to frames.  The next two hours alternated between gently vacuuming bees, cutting brood out and keeping the guard bees distracted (telling them jokes).  Cool thing about this bee vac is you can hold the hose still and when bees come to challenge it, they get sucked in and join their friends in temporary bee jail.

Work area for brood
Finally the sun started poking around to this side of the house so I attached all the brood comb to the frames.  Any honey was probably in the Gargoyle's head and not readily accessible which was fine with me as time was running out.  Several times I lifted and dropped the gargoyle from about 6" and piles of bees fell into a clump that was quickly added to bee jail which was moved to be out of the sun.  The remaining bees in the air were quite testy and so it was time to load up the truck and chauffeur the girls out to the Bee Farm.
ready to go into the hive

On the way to the Bee farm I formulated an exact plan of how to transfer the hive as quickly as possible.  Since I had 5-6 frames of brood I would have to remove several frames from the brood box in the bee vac and then for sure chaos would ensue.  Little did I know that would be an understatement.  Since I figured I could do all of this in under 5 minutes I decided (unwisely) to not fire up the smoker.  That will not happen again is all I'll say.
Home sweet home (finally)

Sure enough a massive amount of agitated bees were released as I worked quickly to set up their new home.  The quantity of bees was amazing.  This was a very large hive.  They immediately covered the sides of their new home and thousands were flying around and getting acquainted with their new surroundings.  The other hive out there didn't seem to mind and just kept going about it's business as usual.

After finishing up (under 5 minutes) I hightailed it out of there to let them settle down.  I don't know if we got the queen but it's a good possibility.  At least we got brood so we'll probably have a queen regardless.   Another intense but fun day.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Taming your inner Gargoyle

Honey Bees using the mouth of a hollow Gargoyle statue to enter their spooky hive

I recently found an ad on Craigslist from someone with a Gargoyle lawn statue filled with a strong hive of honey bees inside.  She needed them removed as there was an elementary school across the street and the gargoyle was only about 20 yards from the sidewalk where the kids walk.  She loved the bees but after a year of them growing into a considerable sized hive she decided they needed a new home.
Road trip

As this was quite a distance from home I justified the trip knowing I could stop at my wife's favorite vegetarian restaurant (Dandelion Communi-tea cafe in Orlando) and pick up carry out for dinner so I made sure to bring a cooler.  Of course Orlando traffic was typical, I-4 went to one lane and I was in a virtual parking lot in the land of the mouse.  Not unexpected though.

The lady who owned the house and the bees couldn't have been any nicer.  So I took my time and after closing off the mouth of the gargoyle with mesh screen and duct tape we sat in the shade sipping sweet tea waiting for foragers returning to their gargoyle.  Once a clump of bees accumulated on the mesh on the outside of the gargoyle, the bee vacuum was used to coax them into a waiting brood box with frames.  This went on for several hours as we wanted to leave as few stragglers behind as possible.  Many of the bees were loaded with several beautiful colors in their pollen.  It was a pleasant two hours in the shade talking about bees and enjoying a beautiful day.  I could see the owner getting drawn into the world of bees and wouldn't at all be surprised to see her become a beekeeper someday.
Mesh taped to the entrance

One thing I failed to ask was what material the gargoyle was made of.  I assumed it was concrete and could be gently broken open to remove the brood, the queen, and the honey.  Then it would be easy to patch up up to return to the owner.  However being made of steel really put the kabosh on my plans.  On the two hour ride home I kept trying to think of a way to get the gargoyle open without hurting the bees or contents inside.  After sleeping on it I finally realized it would be impossible to salvage anything inside the gargoyle.  I could only give all remaining bees and the queen the option to exit the gargoyle and into a new hive.  I have metal cutting wheels and even a plasma cutter which could be used to open up the gargoyle.  But that would instantly fry all the bees and honey inside as well as splatter metal everywhere inside the honey and comb.  Using a cutting wheel to cut the gargoyle might work somewhat but still .... metal shavings will cover all the comb and brood and possibly kill the queen if I do it too early.
Weird looking you say ?  Typical for our home

Poor Gargoyle
So a one way exit from the gargoyle was fabricated allowing access to the hive by running a hose from the gargoyle's mouth to above and inside the new hive with a one way mesh valve at the end.  Bees can leave the gargoyle by marching up the tube into the hive but cannot return.  Hopefully the queen will come out soon.  Since all their honey was in the gargoyle, a feeder was placed on the new hive to give them something to eat in the transition.  I'm convinced this is the best option we have to keep this bee colony intact.  They may swarm off but their new home was spiffed up to make it as attractive as possible for them.   Keeping my fingers crossed.
One way valve coming from the gargoyle (box not positioned over hive yet)


Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Hive beetle War strategies

As of today I have two excellent strong hives of honey bees left.  Besides being strong hives, they are gentle as can be and a pleasure to be around.  And that's something I want to continue.  Because once they get overrun with varroa and hive beetles that can change.
Secure base.  Nothing gets in except fresh air

Slides into base (lubricated with beeswax of course)

The first thing I did was completely caulk all new frames in the hives to allow no crevices where hive beetles can hang out.  Plus that saves the bees time and energy so they won't have to fill these areas with propolis.  Several members of the Pinellas beekeeping group had some innovative ideas how their hive bottoms and covers were modified to add ventilation and close off areas where hive beetles hide out.  The hive bottom boards were screened but under the screens they had trays that could hold either diatomaceous earth  OR oil.  Both have their advantages and disadvantages.  I decided to start off with the diatomaceous earth which is fatal to hive beetles ... especially their larvae.  Oil is a bit messy and you may end up with low spots due to the angle of the hives not being completely level.
sliding bottom board pan for oil or diatomaceous earth

fine mesh screen vent in the bottom board promotes cool bees

So now the bottom of the hive has closed off access to hive beetles while still retaining a fine screened ventilation slot.  Plus the pan of diatomaceous earth to catch hive beetles being pushed out by the bees.
Modified inner hive cover

Fine aluminum screen - Nothing gets in but fresh air from the cover

The top covers of the hives also have major modifications.  Besides extra venting, the bottom of the inner covers are completely screened with fine mesh to keep out any hive beetles (or other pests like wax moths, etc.).  They may get into the upper chamber but it's impossible for them to get in where the bees are.  And I think this will be a major help because above inner hive covers is where these nasty beetles love to hide out and plot their strategies to lay eggs in the brood chamber infecting the baby bee larvae.

The final method of hive beetle control is one I've mentioned in previous posts.  And that's adding an entrance reducer.  This gives the beetles a limited area to gain access to the hive.  With a couple hundred bees hanging out by the entrance keeping watch this really limits the options for hive beetles sneaking in.
Adding beeswax to honey super frames

I'm happy to report that the bee farm bees were ready for a honey super so some beeswax was melted in the slow cooker we got at a resale shop and then applied to medium frames.  I used a foam brush to apply the wax which was somewhat clumsy.  Need to refine this technique somewhat.  Also tried a mini roller which might work better.  A constant learning process for sure.  Fun fun fun

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Honey Bee Sunday Garden Brunch

Today the bees were enjoying a nice Sunday brunch at the honey bee garden cafe behind their hive.  Plenty of sunflowers to pick from as well as gladiolas and other delicacies.  It looks pretty and there's something highly therapeutic about watching plants you grew from seeds transform into beautiful plants.

Beans !

New palm trees are doing well and the vegetable garden has it's share of wins as well as a few losses which are to be expected.  Beans are growing like a bean as they say.

The other advantage of the bee garden is it benefits butterflies and native bees as well as honey bees.  We can't forget about these important pollinators which are also very important to our environment.

Honey bee garden

bees on sunflowers

Honey bees enjoying sunflowers

honey bee garden

Monday, June 1, 2015

Moving a giant palm tree

In my typical attention deficit disorder (ADD) fashion, instead of doing all the things on my todo list I instead started thinking about how to dig up a large palm tree in our backyard that was growing into our giant oak tree.  Even though I knew it was too large for me, I kept thinking about how to engineer a method to dig it up.   After that I would consider options for moving it.

The one challenge involved with this task is the tree is about 8 feet in front of the bee hive in our backyard.  I had to use a pic axe and saws as well as construct a large wooden structure around the tree.  Fortunately these beautiful laid back bees paid me no attention and let me do whatever I wanted to without any guard bees chasing me off.  They are the best bees one could ask for.

So eventually I got the tree down and it was massive and even more intimidating after it was down.  I couldn't budge it at all it was so heavy.  Couldn't even pull on the top of it.  So now what ?????  After realizing this was way more than I could handle, I called someone to move it for us.  But it was $200.00 which in retrospect seems like a bargain.   After talking it over with the wife we decided to save our money and I would have to cut it up.  Not something I wanted to do.

That's about the time my brain became preoccupied with how I could move this tree.  After all, the ancient Egyptians moved giant stones with human power and built pyramids so why couldn't I employ some engineering techniques to move this 40 foot 1000 - 1500 pound palm tree?   Our son had a crazy plan that involved taking our rear fence down and dragging the tree out into the middle of a busy road and then chain hoisting it to a tree.  It would have involved shutting down a busy road and causing a traffic jam of people watching us wrestle with this massive tree on the side of the road.  He had to go out of town and told me to wait for him ....  I had to do something quick before he returned from his trip.

My plan kept formulating but I never thought I could complete the task.  My plan of attack was to move the tree a a few feet at a time and if it got too impossible I would get the chainsaw out and cut the tree up for trash day.

The first task was to get the palm tree out of the hole it was in.  A structure of 4x4 wood and 2x4's and a heavy duty metal crossbar held the chain hoist as the palm tree was hoisted up.  Several times the assembly snapped due to incorrectly sized screws and the structure collapsed.  The third try worked and the tree was hoisted out of the hole suspended by the chain hoist.  But now what ?
root ball dangling over the hole.... now what?

Two heavy duty ramps were placed over the hole and a large wagon was placed under the root ball and then the chain hoist lowered it onto the wagon.  The wagon's tires compressed completely due to the weight of the root ball and the wagon looked like it was going to roll over on it's side due to the hill it was on.  At this point I thought that this project was near impossible but we'll try to get it at least away from the hive so I can use a chainsaw to cut it up.  To lift the top part of the tree needed a floor jack to get it off the ground.   Then a large rolling home made floor cart was placed underneath so the top of the tree wouldn't drag in the dirt.  Chain hoist was used to advance the tree forward.  Fortunately there were always just enough places to attach the chain hoist.
Supported by wagon and cart
Supervised by Curious George from his perch on the giraffe
One step at a time.  If the wagon doesn't tip over on this hill we might be able to get it away from the hive.  And then we realize we made it to the first 90 degree turn.  Now this will be challenging.  Especially since you can't really turn the wagon as the axles and wheels are almost non functional.  And the front cart's wheels keep digging into the dirt.  But slowly and methodically we keep pulling this large tree forward and slowly use a chain hoist to turn the corner.  When we turned the corner I was in disbelief.  It seemed impossible, especially considering the length of the tree.  Now I was becoming more optimistic.  If we could squeeze down the narrow path and make it to the pavers we might even be able to get it to the next turn.

So on and on this went all day and we were drenched in sweat.  Eventually we made it to the front of the house but the biggest challenge remained.  How to get this monster to the bee farm.  A 40' tree in the back of a pickup is more redneck than I want to be.  A friend said that it was impossible to use a truck to move it and offered his trailer.  I have a massively cool crane that attaches to my hitch so if I used a trailer I would lose access to my hitch and crane.  Oh and the weight limit of the crane was around 700-800 pounds ... less than half of what I really needed.
Keeping Yvonne busy operating the hoist ....
A big advantage at this point was the wagon was no longer on the verge of tipping over on the uneven ground.  Now the wagon was level.   Fortunately we kept finding places to attach the chain hoist and dragging this monster to the front of the house actually worked.  The one big turn in front of the garage was challenging and I made sure I had plenty of chocks ready to deploy in case the weight and the wagon on the driveway's hill decided to make a run for it and roll out into the road.  The front of the palm was actually quite ready to start rolling and it took a lot to keep it from following the natural path of gravity.  The last step before nightfall was to see if we even could get this monster into the back of my truck and if so how ridiculous would this look.
Almost to the driveway ...
In the driveway - look at those poor tires
As I never thought we would make it this far, the newest challenge of loading a 40' palm tree into the bed of a pickup was overwhelming.  But I just kept telling myself that worst case scenario is we cut the palm up and chalk it up to an interesting day : )  Once I hooked up the crane and attached it to the root ball, I realize how heavy this thing was.  The crane was very very taxed and I worried about something snapping.  There was easily over a thousand pounds being lifted.  Possibly up to 1500 pounds I estimated by considering other things I've easily lifted with the crane. 
Up but not enough room to swing the palm straight
Once the palm was in the air I realized there was not enough room to swing the palm around straight.  This meant I had to pull the truck up about 2 feet.  The only problem was the crane's stabilizer was firmly on the pavement.  So I chanced dragging it several feet on the driveway and it worked with no problems.  Whew .... that was stressful while the heaviest part of the palm dangled over my tailgate which I unwisely forgot to remove before this complicated operation.   The final step was to swing the palm around and gently lay the root ball in the back of the truck bed.  No problem.  I also used a heavy steel piece I had to hold the palm up so it didn't touch the tailgate at all.
Safely in the bed of the truck. "Crazy" I think
And the obvious sets in.  This is way too long for a pickup truck.  But then again, this IS Florida where things like this are more common than you would think.   The plan was to wake up early on Sunday morning before any traffic was on the road.
Keeping it off the tailgate

Sunday morning was beautiful and we got going around 5:30am.  The end of the palm tree had green leaves which could be cut and save about 10 feet from our payload length.  But having green leaves will help the plant survive the shock of the move and that's not something I want to do.  Yvonne had a great idea to wrap the palm fronds in a plastic wrap I had and that would make the end more manageable and keep the leaves safe from hitting the road.  As long as the plastic is only on for a short period it will work.   So we wrapped it up and pulled the leaves toward the truck to shorten the load somewhat.  Securely strapping the palm down so it's not going anywhere took some time and then we were ready to roll.  Yvonne followed in her car and had her cell phone ready if the load shifted.  I'm sure if the palm wasn't securely fastened a bump in the road could have the palm standing straight up in the bed of my truck.  Or even worse, hitting the brakes it would stand straight up and then going over smashing the cab !  But the trip was uneventful since it was tied down secure.
Palm ready for a road trip

Once we got to the bee farm a large hole was dug after determining where to transplant it.  Now the trick was to get the root ball perfectly lined up in the hole.  Not at all an easy challenge.  But we got it pretty close and used the crane and truck to shift it just right.
After stabilizing the tree I realized I need to build a supporting structure or it would fall over in the first good wind.  Unfortunately my tools were at home so Yvonne went home to get what was needed.  I had the required lumber at the bee farm for this task.  Once we finished up the structure and the tree was planted I just sat back and couldn't believe we actually moved this from our back yard.  It's amazing what you can accomplish when you put your mind to it.  A fun challenge and some interesting exercise was had by all.  Plus I proudly received my official "Redneck" membership badge today.
clap clap clap clap clap clap clap !!!!