Friday, July 31, 2015

Gargoyle road trip home

Yesterday was the day to return the Gargoyle that was formerly a beehive to it's owner.    Since it was a couple hour drive with tolls and all, I waited until our niece needed some furniture delivered to her new college apartment in Orlando.  The bed of the truck was pretty full so my nephew and I strapped the Gargoyle to the open tailgate and ratchet strapped it securely to the truck.
Gargoyle at a rest area along I-4

Needless to say it was quite a site going down the road.  For some reason nobody wanted to be behind us with this bizarre looking Gargoyle staring at them.  We did get a few thumbs ups and were even followed into a rest area by some guys who wanted to know what that was in the back of our truck.  Maybe they thought it was attached to whatever was wrapped in the blue tarp.  The lady who owned the Gargoyle was glad to get it back as it was a 28th wedding anniversary gift from her sentimental husband.  My kind of guy.  And she was such a nice person but even so, I told her I'm doing no more bee removals from heavy steel Gargoyles.

After getting home, new queen bees arrived.  I spent the next couple hours dodging monsoon rains while in the hives.  I had one of the best and most experienced beekeeper I know help me through the rain and darkness working on the hives to requeen.  I was pretty worn out by the time I got home after 9:00 pm.  Every time we opened the hives, the rains would start and let loose.  Toward the end we rigged up a tarp to somewhat help.  But looking for a queen with a flashlight is not very easy.  Especially with my eyes.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Five Queens a "piping"

Five new Italian Cordovan Queen Bees arrived via UPS yesterday after traveling from Ohio.  Fortunately they all looked healthy and active despite being held an extra day in a warehouse due to a screwup by UPS.

The first thing I did after opening the box was to give them all a few drops of water and honey.  Then I noticed the high pitched noises that new queens make.  Kind of like a trumpeting sound it's called "piping".  When there's several queens in a hive after queen cells hatch, this sound is heard ... a battle cry of sorts you could say.  Turn the volume up in the video and you should be able to hear the piping sounds.  Pretty cool.

Not only did we think it was cool, our cat was fascinated by the piping bees.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Beekeeping tip of the day - Propolis

While inspecting one of the hives recently, I noticed the fine aluminum mesh screen covering the hole of the inner hive cover was almost completely sealed with propolis.  Since a feeder was being added to this hive, the screen needed the propolis removed.  The reason for this fine screen mesh is to keep out sneaky hive beetles that creep in through the top of the hive.  The other part of this anti hive beetle strategy is to seal underneath the screened bottom board with a slide out tray of  diatomaceous earth and fine mesh to allow ventilation.  Since implementing, we've gone from being infested with hive beetles to having zero in all hives during the last 3 inspections.  I didn't expect the results to be this dramatic.   It pays to NOT listen to conventional beekeeper books that are basically ignorant of hive beetles habits and their bag of tricks.     

But back to the inner hive cover with the propolis covering the aluminum screen.   Scraping the propolis is impossible and will tear the screen in no time.  Water doesn't work and using any solvents or chemicals is not an option when trying to achieve a completely organic chemical free hive. 

The natural solution actually turned out to be quite easy.  A heat gun was aimed at the wire mesh and a small container was placed underneath the inner hive cover to collect the dripping propolis.  As the propolis heats up, it drips into the collection container.  Simple and efficient.  And it only took a minute or two.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Hungry Bees

The last couple days we had very wet weather complete with numerous lightning strikes.  Not at all conducive to working with the bees.  The frames that we extracted the honey from were wrapped up nicely and then placed in heavy duty plastic containers waiting to be returned to the hives.  I didn't want to wait too long before giving them back to the bees.  The comb is already on the frames and there's still quite a bit of honey and nectar on all of them. 

Cooling a batch of sugar water in the sink
Yvonne cooked up a big batch of sugar water that will be fed to the bees.  This time of year the nectar flow is very minimal and foraging is difficult for the bees.  The second nectar flow will start in a month or so, but until then it doesn't hurt to give the bees a little help. 

Bee Wagon loaded down
Once I got out to the Bee Farm I began building more frames to fill the honey supers that were to be installed.  The wet frames (ones from the extraction) would be divided equally between the hives so they all have a good base to start building as well as nourishment.

New Bee Workbench quite handy

As soon as I started taking the wet frames out of the bags, quite a few bees materialized to take advantage of the sweetness.  All sorts of uninvited guests also showed up to the party including a few wasps, flies and ants.  After the wagon was loaded up with the supers and feeders I started inspecting the hives and immediately noticed a problem.  The nuc that was dropped the other day had a large crack on one side (the back door I was wondering about).  Fortunately there was an empty spare hive available to transfer those bees into  even though their numbers were on the small side.  They were not at all happy to be transferred again but it had to be done.  For their patience I rewarded them with the biggest feeder we had.
Gargoyle hive with new honey super and feeder

Half way through the work I looked down and noticed I forgot to zip up my head net.  All along my neck was completely exposed and bees could have flown right up into my headnet.  Fortunately I was pretty gentle with the bees up until then and hadn't done anything to alert the hot hive yet.  I quickly zipped the headnet snug.   And then that little voice in your head keeps suggesting that one of the girls snuck in and was walking around on the inside of the headnet admiring the view from the inside.   For a few minutes I was absolutely sure there was a bee in the headnet and would have bet money on it.  It's really not a big deal because worst case scenario is you get stung once but still it's kind of a mental thing that noodles around in your mind while you're working.

Besides the weather cooperating, everything went off fairly smooth and the bees are feasting tonight after several days of being cooped up trying to stay dry in their hives.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Just when you think you got it all figured out

Yes, when you finally think you got it all figured out, the universe steps in to humble you and knock you back down to your knees.  I'm really getting good at this humbling thing and the knees are getting sore : )

Today was moving day for the final group of bees in our backyard.  The Nuc had quite a few bees and they were beginning to become an annoyance due to their cantankerous attitudes.  Unless I wore protective covering, I couldn't work in the backyard or mow the lawn.  Time for another road trip to transport them to the Bee Farm.    I stapled #8 hardware wire over the entrance and placed the Nuc into a large plastic container.  Once they were in the plastic  container, it hid the nuc/hive from those in the air (except one...) so they could be loaded into the truck without flying escorts.

Everything seemed nice and smooth and I was getting a little over confident.  Once I got to the Bee Farm, the container was carried over to the new bench behind the hives.  When I opened the plastic container, the box was full of bees .... apparently there was a back door I missed or they found a way to squeeze around the stapled hardware cloth.  No matter, in a minute they will be sitting on the stand in their new location.

I haven't used these Nucs except when they were installed, so I really didn't think much about what I was doing.  So I gingerly lifted the nuc out of the plastic container and started toward the stand.  The propolis (glue the bees make) stuck the cover to the heavy nuc for a few seconds.  And then the cover separated from the nuc and it crashed to the ground without the cover on as a zillion angry bees came bubbling out !  As I stood there with only the cover in my hands, my brain registered the fact the the lip of the cover IS NOT a handle.  What started off sooooo smooth ended up in complete chaos.  Just add this to the long list of lessons learned the hard way.   As usual, quite humbling once again.

Needless to say I didn't stick around and after getting the Nuc positioned on the stand I quickly retreated to my truck surrounded by a paparazzi of bees that desperately wanted to let me know how very unhappy they were with my clumsy actions.  Not that I blame them ...

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Honey time ...

Out of the extractor - In the mesh strainer is the larger bits of wax
On Sunday we fired up the extractor and came away with 80 lbs. of the absolutely most delicious honey we've ever had.  Maybe we're a little biased but it really did taste like the best honey we've ever had.  We were lucky and caught the weather just right.  The last few minutes of extracting is when the storms hit and we were able to finish up the extraction with the help of a large umbrella because you do not want additional moisture added to the honey.
Bottled with love

Soooooo patient

Last night was bottling night and we set up a production line to fill four cases of honey containers that we recently purchased.  I started off pouring and made such a mess that Yvonne took over and did a great job not dribbling honey on the sides of the jars.  It was fun.  Besides the honey we added another 5 lbs of wax to our growing bees wax collection.
Demoted to being the bottle washer
Time to set up a Local Honey stand

This honey was just filtered through mesh strainers with some cheesecloth so it has natural pollen and some fine particles of wax in it.  Absolutely delicious and good for you.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Killer Bee Honey - Delicious

Since the rain won't stop, it was time to bottle the honey from last weeks bee removal of Africanized Honey Bees.  It's recommended to leave the honey to settle for several days to remove the air bubbles.  We use quite a bit of honey in our diet and this came at the perfect time as we were running low.  The flavor of this honey is out of this world.  Absolutely delicious. 
Delicious honey

Oh and one thing I forgot to mention about the removal last week.  A few days later at the beekeepers meeting I was talking with the lady (Marti) in the bee removal video, and she told me that when she went to bed that night whenever she closed her eyes she saw bees swarming around her and it took her a long time to get to sleep.  It's funny she mentioned that because I had almost the same thing happen to me.  When I went to bed that night I told my wife I kept seeing bees relentlessly swarming around me when I closed my eyes.   It was so strange but unlike Marti I was (thankfully) able to conk out in no time.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Papaya Pantation and a new Hive Stand

The other day I got lucky and was given 60+ papaya trees.  Some were almost 4' tall and some smaller.  All very healthy.  Even though I had a million things going on that day, I changed direction and spent the day transplanting trees and locating them throughout the Bee Farm.  Papaya trees are somewhat delicate and they're always dropping their skinny branches.  Plus they don't like  cold weather.  But the tropical feel of a Papaya tree as well as the delicious fruit is a big reason why we love Papaya trees.   So now we have about 70 Papaya trees on the Bee Farm and we may even get another 20 or so more next week.  Why not?  You can't beat the price of "free".
New Hive Stand

Notice the shade cloth.  It sure makes a difference.

Today was to be moving day for my backyard hive but instead I installed the new hive stand out at the Bee Farm and got everything ready for the move.  Besides installing the stand, anti-weed cloth was laid down and the new work bench was leveled also with anti-weed cloth underneath.   Looks like it could use another load of crushed shell though.  This new stand isn't the ant proof type I originally built for the main stand.  The ant proof stands require using a power auger and mixing cement.  I just didn't feel like doing all that and am interested to see if there even is an ant problem.  The crushed shell and weed cloth may be a good deterrent for the ants.

Shortly after the stand was installed the weather got quite rainy with dark clouds so I'll put off moving day until tomorrow if the weather cooperates.  The good side of the rainy morning is our new Papayas are getting a nice drink without me having to drag the hose around the yard.

When moving day finally arrives for our backyard hive, the hive will be split into two and some honey will be harvested.  A small nuc will stay in our backyard while the main hive moves to the Bee Farm.  The plan is to harvest honey from all our hives.   Several cases of honey containers and bears were delivered by UPS yesterday and are now waiting to be filled.

The next project on the to do list is to create a solar wax melter since the containers of wax that we've been accumulating need to be turned into something useful.  That's what I love the most about beekeeping.  The never ending opportunities to build stuff. 

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Africanized bee removal

Yesterday I received a call from a friend asking if I would be interested in helping out on a hive removal of bees from the soffits of a home.   Why not I thought.   It's all a big learning experience.

There were four of us on this removal and two of us arrived slightly ahead of the other two.  When we walked over to where the bees were coming out of the corner of the home's roof,  almost immediately the bees launched into attack mode. The other guy (Tom) got stung on the ear and face a few times and the bees started hitting us.  We were calm and not that close to the bees so it was unusual to get pinged so quickly.  We quickly retreated and suited up.  I (wisely) even decided to duct tape my socks and around the shoes below where my bee suit hugs the ankles.

And then it gets crazy.  One experienced beekeeper with us who has been doing removals for 10 years and said this was the most aggressive hive he's ever dealt with.  Even with full suits, all four of us received stings.  The bees were determined to get to us no matter what.  I even had some sneak under my gloves and into the ripped netting on my gloves !  My poor hands were quite swollen the next day.  I fared much  better than the other guys though.   Mostly because of my type of bee suit.  Also the lady that was with us had a suit like mine and did pretty good in regards to stings.  But the other two guys weren't as lucky.

It was a lot of work, especially in the heat of summer.  I'm glad I did it because I always wondered about confronting an africanized bee colony so now I've faced that and know more what to expect.  These bees fan out and attack everything in a large radius.  We taped the area off to the road to keep the curious away.  Across the street a lady walked up to her sidewalk to tell us about her uncle's bees and we tried to quickly warn her away.  She kept saying she's ok around bees until a few found her (about 75 yards from the hot hive).  Then she hightailed it home.  Wherever we went we had a cloud of bees attacking us relentlessly.  We would retreat from the hive and get something to drink by our vehicles and all of us had clouds of bees aggressively head butting us.

One thing I learned is you can drink water through the net on your veil.  Thank God for that.  One guy who didn't feel so good after getting numerous stings through his bee jacket and jeans walked a block away to get away from the bees so he could relax.  Afterwards he said he's buying a better suit.

We opened up the soffit and removed the brood and honey comb which was plentiful.  Luckily they didn't build too far up the roof-line.   When we removed everything and sucked up most of the bees in the two vacuums I was ready to head home and was quite tired.  One problem was I couldn't remove my bee suit because the bees buzzing around me, even thought the cloud was not nearly as bad as earlier.  So I jumped in my truck with my suit on and only a few bees made it in with me.  Since it was only a few I removed the suit which felt good.  The suit I have is vented and I wore shorts and a short sleeve shirt.  Still somewhat warm but you can actually feel the breeze while working and it's quite comfortable.  Even with the venting it's highly effective in preventing stings.

One of the other guys returned in the evening to wash the nest area with sudsy water and finished the job.   We all agreed that these bees were an africanized colony.  I can't imagine being attacked by these bees without a full suit.  I can see why they call them killer bees.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Down with the Queen (s)

Yesterday I brought home a bunch of scrap lumber from a job site that donates their scraps.    I brought home enough wood for several projects and spent the day building a Bee bench for out by the hives.  It's always nice to have clean flat surfaces to place your hive tools, smoker and whatever while you work on the bees.

This morning I drove out early to drop the bench off.  As soon as I got out of the truck I saw several bees attacking my truck in a frenzy.  As I'm watching, the thought goes through my head that when they get tired of trying to sting the truck I'm going to get some attention.  And then I hear it .... faintly at first ... then louder and louder until I heard (or at least imagined)  A high pitched "GET HIM" !!!!! and then the fun began. 

They just wouldn't leave me alone.  And it was fairly aggressive behavior that basically chased me from the yard.   Aggressive enough to promote thoughts of re queening the hives.  Re queening will replace your bloodlines with gentler bees even though that takes a few months before you're back to a calmer group.

Viva la revolution ... death to the queens !!!!

Friday, July 3, 2015

Cool Bees

I debated whether the title should be Cool Bees or Spoiled Bees.  You could say they're both.  Today we went to the nursery and picked up a couple plants to make a natural barrier between the apiary and the garden / shed area.  Most of the plants we got were very popular with honey bees at the nursery.
cool bees

new palm

Even though it was 94 degrees, we both spent a few hours planting and watering.  Also brought a large bunch of Hawaiian plumeria plant cuttings that were crowding the walkway at home.   After planting, everything was watered and looking good.   We even picked up some milkweed for the butterflies.

The bee hives were nice and shaded under their new structure and fortunately there were no guard bees with an attitude buzzing us while we gardened.