Wednesday, December 15, 2010

What are the bees up to this time of the year?

I get this question quite a bit, so I thought I'd give a quick answer.  Many insects die in the late fall, leaving eggs buried in the ground or encased in some protective covering to perpetuate the species.  Others, like the infamous and devastating pine beetle here in Colorado, continue to live on in the tree it is inhabiting, barely restraining its life cycle.  Bees are somewhat like this in that the hive continues on, but with a lot less travel. 

Bees make honey as an overwintering food.  As the weather turns cooler, the queen nearly halts reproduction as the fall brood will live much longer than their earlier born sisters, who have life spans of about 12 weeks.  The autumn-born workers do little travel outside the hive, the biggest hazard to a bee.  You can tell how close a worker bee is to death by how tattered her wings are.  I ran across a dead bee on the green belt just a few days ago and its wings were a shambles--most likely she died of old age considering how mild the weather has been this December.  However, these late season workers are no slouches.  They continue many of the internal hive duties that their spring and summer-born sisters engage in.

The girls (all the drones have long been kicked out of the hive to conserve honey and bee bread) still tend to the queen and the brood that will be born in late January and early February.  They also meet all the needs of their queen by collecting her feces and depositing outside when its warm--sunny and 45-50 degrees at least.  The queen is the only bee that will defecate in the hive--the workers must go on cleansing flights when the weather is warm enough.  A healthy worker would rather die than defecate in the hive.  This is one of the many reasons a bee hive is the most sanitary of any animal lair in the world.  They deposit the dead outside of the hive on those cleansing days.

To survive the eventually brutal temparatures to hit them, the girls cluster around each other and beat their wings to generate warmth.  Much like penguins, they answer some kind of call that cycles the bees inward to keep everyone warm.  Through this convection of sorts, the area around the bees stays at a balmy 90 degrees or so (oh, lucky them!).  In Vermont, where it gets to 40 below all too frequently, this method keeps bees alive and kicking, ready to take advantage of the first days of spring.

Some beekepers chose to tarp or otherwise cover their bees.  We are choosing not to since Colorado winters are pretty mild and the extra labor and cost seems kinda pointless.  Our experiment is with a solid bottom board compared to a screened bottom board.  This expirment is unintentional: when I bought the hive for the Sicilians, our supplier didn't have any screened bottom boards.  So we'll see how it works and go from there.  Some resources say that you must create additional ventilation if you do a solid board to prevent condensation, however, all these resources come from humid states.  That said, when we transistion to top bar hives, we may have to worry about that since the hive is fully enclosed.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Sheesh...been too long!

The season went well!  Two out of our three hives survived, flourished even.  The Carniolans completely disappeared at the last inspection we did of them.  When I carcked open the hive, all I found was a couple of bees scraping the last drops of honey or bits of bee bread (a pollen-honey mixture that the bees use for protein storage), a couple of earwigs that quickly met their untimely demise, and a few wax moth larvae. 

The last was the most depressing as they wreaked carnage upon some of the frames.  The moth itself is a dark grey moth that looks pretty much like any other moth.  It lays its eggs in bee hives, hoping the bees are too weak to fend off the moth and its larvae.  Once the eggs hatch, the larvae eat their way through the wax leaving a path of destruction not disimilar to what a town looks like after a tornado crashes through it.  The larvae spin a web-like substance that only heightens the effect as it's cast about through the wrecked comb.

A moth infestation (and even one larva can look like an infestation) is a sign of a weak hive...or nonexistent one in the case of the Carns.  The moths are comparitavely large and easy to detect when they attempt to intrude into a hive.  If the bees are in good spirits by being queenright and have a good population, a wax moth has not chance of getting in, much less laying eggs.  The Carns lacked both of the above traits.  The queen we purchased had a penchant for laying two eggs in a cell (often a sign of a drone laying worker), something that dooms both eggs as they won't have enough room to grow.  It's impossible to tell why she did this.  It could have been she never perfected the single egg drop (i.e., she was defective), or it could be that she was so stressed by a lack of workers that she was just shoving her abdomen in a cell and laying willy nilly.  Or it could be something completely different.  Either way, the Carns will be missed but we learned a lot from their time with us. 

Next time we run into that problem--that a queen appears to be out of the picture--we know that we must act more quickly to get the hive requeened.  We discovered over the summer a couple of ways to do this.  One is to manipulate the frames by slicing off the bottom of a comb in a sort of jagged pattern to help induce the workers into creating queen cells (something that can be done in a queenright hive to breed extra queens on purpose).  Another is to buy a queen quickly and get her introduced fast.  Her pheremones, assuming she is accepted, will turn off the drone laying worker's or workers' reproductive organs.  Thus, we could have prevented that kill off that I pereptrated in the early stages of our requeening attempts (see the "How Salvation Hurts" post from June).

What it came down to was a problem with PPB.  This ailment doesn't infect the bees, but the beekeeper, which affects the bees.  PPB is a curable ailment, requiring two things: the desire to be a good steward to the bees and a bit of knowledge.  PPB is a beekeeper's affectionate term for being a lousy bee keeper: it stands for piss poor beekeeping.  One could argue that John and I were just naive and unlearned brand new beekeepers.  However, when it came to the kill-off, it didn't feel like a good idea at all and I should have decided against it.  But at the time it was our only option, or seemed so.  We didn't know that you could try to requeen it as is.  We didn't think about adding them to the second Italian hive to boost their population and, therefore, production.  For me, it all came down to not exhausting the research and knowledge base out there.  That last is one of the simplest cures for PPB.

One last thing about the learning curve.  Another thing that we learned is that going foundationless with deep supers has certain ramifications.  On my last inspection of the hives about three weeks ago, both Italians were obviously doing very well.  As normal, I started with the Sicilians to prevent too much aggression.  Didn't work.  They got pretty "in my face" pretty quickly.  I swear they have African roots some days!  (Look for a post about the recent arrival of Africanized honey bees in Georgia soon.)  I pulled out a few frames of from the top super and they were loaded with honey.  As they were getting mightily ticked off and I had seen enough to know they would do well over the winter, I buttoned them up and wished them well.

The first Italians were so docile initially that I started wondering if they had a a problem.  but as I popped off the inner cover and peaked in, they were as busy as bees should be and looked in good form.  And here's where the learning curve comes in: the first frame I removed was one of our foundationless (the Sicilian frames that I puled out were all foundationed frames that came with their nuc) and the bottom bar had been pretty well attached to the frame below it.  Hence, the bottom bar came half undone, pulling itself halfway out of the frame.  "No problem," I thought.  "I'll just knock off some of the girls and pound the bottom bar back in."  The comb was fully laden with capped honey and weighed a good seven pounds or so.  I tapped and brushed most of the girls off and flipped it over to reattach the bar.  As soon as I had it upside down, the fragile comb collapsed on itself.  The bees start the comb from the top bar and then build it down, attaching it to the sides and bottom once it's fully built out.  Without the bottom bar securing it and the jostling that I did to it to get the frame out, the comb lost its footing and, well, crapped out on me.  So, we got an extra bit of comb honey and the Italians suddenly sounded like the Sicilians.  As soon as the comb collapsed, I heard the hive go into a bit of an uproar.  I felt horrible about it, but realized that if this outside frame was fully loaded, they had more than enough honey to get through the winter.  So I returned the belatedly fixed frame, spaced them and buttoned them up.

So, I can't wait to start our top bar hive project, the subject of the next post!  In that post, I'll tell you how this little incident will be (almost) completely avoided with the different hive design.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A Second Harvest...more coming?!?

A week after the fact, let's talk about the second harvest.  John and I were both excited and apprehensive about pulling the honey out of this set of supers.  This hive houses our Sicilians, after all! 

For those of you just joining this blog, the Sicilians came to us as a replacement hive for our queenless Carniolans.  They've been productive and they've done what bees do, but these girls are agressive!  We initially purchased two breeds of bees, the Carniolans and another hive of Italians.  Originally hailing from (you guessed it) Italy and the Mediterranean region, the Italian breed is by far the most popular for beekeepers and has been for about 200 years or so.  They are loved for their quick population buildup in the spring, large production and generally mild temperment.  The Carns are almost as popular.  They are a bit darker than the Italians, populate with nectar flow instead of ramping up right away, don't rob other bees (Italians are a bit notorious for that), produce honey well and are very gentle.  To give you a quick idea on the gentle factor, despite numerous hive manipulations that included dumping every bee out of the hive unceremoniously (I believe that is described in the "Salvation Hurts" post), neither John nor I have been stung by the Carns.  Our first Italian hive has stung me twice and John once. 

But those Sicilians.  Can they be similar?  Oh, no.  They have to teach us about dealing with an aggressive hive.  We named them the Sicilians for their desire to put a hit out on us nearly every time we open the hive.  Fortunately, they are a bit Jeckyll and Hyde, sometimes being calm, sometimes going nuts and attacking the hive tool.  These are the girls that hit me 12 times in one day, 11 of those stings occuring so fast that I only felt three or four.  So, we were a bit nervous.

To deal with our testy mavens of sometime misery, we pulled a frame, knocked most of them off into the overturned top cover, and sprayed them with a sugar water mix that has the probiotic kombucha in it.  We have to be careful with using the spray as we don't want the kombucha or the sugar water to infiltrate the honey harvest as it puts a foreign substance into the mix, quite a way to reverse our organic desires!

In pulling out the frames, which the Sicilians are quite good at bonding to the frames from the upper hive body, they got a little riled.  They buzzed both of us incessantly, attacked the tools, followed us about fifty feet away from the hive (much farther than even the most agressive Italians from the first hive), and stung John about five times.  Surprisingly, despite me pulling almost all the frames out, the girls never stung me.  Again, I go back to my Jekyll and Hyde comparison.  But there may be an easy explanation.

Once a bee stings you, it releases an "attack" pheremone that the other bees target on.  The Africanized honey bees get hyper-focused on this pheremone and follow the target for up to a mile, gladly sacrificing themselves for the cause.  This trait leads to their so-called "killer bee" status, even though victims rarely die, albeit they do get stung upwards of 100 times on less than rare occasions.  Africanized honey bees do deserve their reputation of being super bullies!  John and I have come to believe that our Sicilians have a tiny bit of this trait in their genes.  In talking about it, John became a bit of a pheremone-covered sacrificial lamb for me, giving the Sicilians something else to focus on besides me.  I can't say that I'm not thankful about that!

We received the Sicilians about 3 weeks after the first two hives, so the first Italians have had 21 extra days to build up their population and had good conditions to do it in.  The Sicilians have not slacked on production, though!  While the super was not nearly as full of honey, they did an admirable job in playing catchup.  We harvested six out of the nine frames in the super and returned five on the advice that less will equal more.  Our guess is that the bees build deeper cells and therefore can collect more honey.  That said, it was still a good harvest with an estimated 15 or so pounds of honey (I've revised my estimates from the original harvest and think we got 20-25 lbs).

A last note on the harvest: there is more coming.  The 1st Italians have already built up significant comb on the frames John emptied.  We don't expect nearly as much, but flowers are still in bloom and the weather is nice, so nectar is still flowing and bees are still gathering!

A note on our underdog hive 
The Carniolans will die.  There is no way, at their current population level, they can over winter successfully.  Not only are they too low in numbers, their spirit had dwindled and the queen hadn't laid an egg in several days by the time we did the inspection after the harvest.  We saw several larvae, but the youngest was about four days old, judging by size.  They also have eaten maybe six ounces of sugar water in the two or three weeks since we last filled it. 

Our next question is what to do with them in a way that doesn't foul the hive.  I am concerned that we might not be able to use the components within the hive if they die on us "without notice," yet am unwilling to bring about their demise as I remember what I felt when I tried and succeeded in getting rid of the drone-laying worker.  I don't think it's a wise idea to introduce the larvae into either of the other hives as it might mess with the population balance as they wind down for the season.  So, any plans are on hold at the moment.  Sometimes, "wait and see" is the way to go.

Friday, July 30, 2010


I would like to thank John and his family for doing all the work extracting out first honey harvest!!!  I was stuck downtown with the wife for a seven-hour long four-hour mediation.  I much rather would have been getting honey, darn it.

Anyway, because the Italians had 90%+ of their honey super filled a week and a half ago, we decided to do an impromptu harvest.  John says it was an extremely sticky affair and Kirsten felt like she was sticking to herself a couple hours later as we were enjoying a beer.  Their middle son, Aiden, pulled out a frame all by his lonesome and did not get stung.  The fun thing about this experience is that he was the least interested of the kids when we brought the bees home that first day back in April.  Now he'll actually talk about something besides video games!  I know John is quite happy about seeing Aiden turn his interests around - makes for a good sense of fatherly pride.

Since we used a foundationless frame, John and the kids pulled the frames and then just lopped the comb off onto metal trays.  The bees were readily removed using a trick we learned in a beekeeping class presented by the Denver Urban Gardens at the Delaney Farm in Aurora last Saturday: instead of using the bee brush (which is effective but really ticks the girls off), he used a handful of weeds.  For some reason, this method doesn't anger the bees nearly as much.  I'm guessing that they don't get rolled off like they do with the brush, but more just dislodged or pushed off.  During the process, John reports that the bees remained pretty calm.  Admittedly, between the two of us we have only received three stings from them, so we know that they are easy to work with.  Still, they didn't even get riled up much, so we'll have to focus on this hive and split them so we can attempt to have more hives with hopefully the same temperment and production levels.

John used a pot with a collander for the extraction.  He set the combs in and used a potato masher to squeeze the honey out.  He was able to collect just over three 32-ounce-sized jars of honey plus four Mason jars with large chunks of comb honey and then still save a fram of comb for the everyone to devour.  I'm estimating that we got about 10 pounds of honey out of this harvest.  In remembering what different books have siad about how much honey a beekeeper should expect out of a super, this seems low (about half, actually), but this is this hives first harvest and we need to develop a more efficient method.  The potato masher looked like a really messy way of putting the squeeze on.

Filtering quickly became our next issue.  The next morning, John tried running the honey through cheesecloth.  I won't repeat what he said about that mess, but his solution will now be to let the honey settle and scrape the wax off the top.  I tried a nylon bag with similar results (even though I suspect the overall holes were larger than John's cheesecloth).  I was also unhappy with the amount of wax that filtered out.  Yesterday I tried a different approach.  I found a wide mouth Rubbermaid container used for storing spaghetti and then stole (with permission) a pair of knee high panty hose from Joy (her only request was that they had holes in the toes).  I knotted off the toe hole so I would actually get some filtering done and then placed one over the mouth of the container.  This worked really well as there was plenty of knee high to slide over the container to keep it secure, while still having a large "reservoir" to hold the honey as it drained through into the container.  I then warmed up the glass jars holding the honey in a large pot of water, bringing the honey to a temperature less than a warm bath but with a nice runny consistency.  John doesn't want to use heat at all to preserve the enzymes in the raw honey.  My though is that the hive is roughly 90-95 degrees, so as long as the temp is under that, I shouldn't lose the enzymes.  Also, I am personally less concerned about the enzymes than I am having a waxy film in my cup o' tea.  The honey filtered through the nylons marvelously and got rid of at least 99% of the wax and particulates.  I'm calling the process "warm filtering." [ Bees do keep their hive cool by fanning their wings, so the honey may be a bit cooler then 90-95 degrees , also certain enzymes can be damaged or destroyed at temperatures of around 100 degrees , so in erring on the side of caution I am still against warming it even slightly. In regards to the wax, it has, after several days risen to the top leaving clear golden honey at the bottom. (  it looks like a jar of lager ). I am thinking of filling a wide jar right to the brim, and with some method of slight displacement, skimming  the wax off . By the way , what does 'toe jam' honey taste like ?  ;-)   ~  John ] 

Most importantly, the honey tastes great!  Unfiltered or filtered, it has a mild taste much like clover honey, rich creamy texture, and is sweet without being cloying.  We can't really call it wildflower honey since most of the nectar collected by the girls comes from surrounding flower gardens.  So I'm thinking that we'll call it Suburban Blend.

Whilst I got over to the Rodgers' too late to participate in the harvest, we decided to check the Carniolans and the Sicilians.  The Sicilians were in Hyde-mode and really didn't want us to be in there (note: do not mess with aggressive bees at sundown when they are all home).  John got stung once almost immediately after opening the hive.  I'll be honest about something here, that makes me kinda happy!  I'm tired of being the one who takes it from these ladies almost all time.  Our score is 17 to 2 right now.  He's finally starting to catch up!  Either way, the mobsters didn't want us in the hive.  They were attacking the hive tool so ferociously that I decided to leave them be and put 'em back to bed.

I'm heartened somewhat by the Carns!  The queen is laying tons of eggs and the hive is much more spirited than it has been.  They've knocked off a half jar of sugar water in two weeks, more than they have done in a month, and they were actually a bit fiesty in dealing with us, buzzing John's face.  I had to get really brave to actually find eggs: I took off my veil so I could see them in the too dim light of the near dusk conditions.  That's when I saw how many eggs the queen had been laying.  That's also when a bee flew inside my shirt.  It got out, but another got in.  And she couldn't find her way out.  So, as unpanicky as possible, I put the frame back in and stepped away, unbuttoning my shirt carefully so she could escape.  Most guys would say it was awesome to have a lady in such intimate contact with your chest, not so true in this case!

Anyway, there is a possibility that the Carns will survive.  They have about 6 weeks or so, depending on the weather in September, to rebuild.  They have a queen that is super-productive.  And they have us nurturing them along.  Hopefully that will all be enough.


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Rained out

Yesterday we saw the most rain so far this summer.  The bees saw it coming, too.  As we were lighting the smoker and getting ready, John noticed something interesting with them and said I needed to see it.  I left him with the smoker and went over to the hives.  It was raining bees.  Hundreds of bees cascaded out of the sky, most heading to the 1st Italians.  That hive had hundreds of bees hanging out on the side and front, waiting to go in.  I saw lots of activity outside the Sicilians' hive as well.  Somewhat sadly, the Carniolan hive just had a few workers coming in and out of theirs.

For the inspection, we opened up the Sicilians first.  Considering the impending storm I would have expected them to be really quick to get cross on us, but they decided to be Hyde instead of Jekyll.  Never can tell with those girls!  Anyway, they had maybe a quarter of the super worked over with comb and were starting to fill it with nectar, so that's exciting!  As it started to rain, we buttoned them up.

I figured we had a few minutes to take a look at the Italians before the rain really let go.  I haven't had such a hard time opening a hive cover yet.  They had that puppy glued on tight with propolis.  Once I popped that off I started on the inner cover.  If I thought the outer was fun...sheesh!  We got some great shots of the orange propolis tearing apart between the cover and the super.  Once I got it off, we couldn't have been more happy!  Their super was at least 90% full of comb and almost all of it had capped honey. 

We got them covered back up just in time for it to really start coming down and evacuated into the house. John and I hung out in the front of the house enjoying a cup o' joe and chatting.  We figure we need at least one more super to take advantage of the Italians' production, but both of us don't really have the cash to fork out on one (and we'd probably need another when the Sicilians catch up and that'll be soon).  So we came up with a messier, but cost-free plan.  While I've put out a note to a bee club emailing list for cheap supers, our current idea is to do something I did to "harvest" honey from a sample of comb that we got right before I got rid of the Carniolans' drone laying worker. 

What I did with that was put the comb in a glass jar and did sort of a double boiler trick with it, melting the whole thing.  Then I removed the jar and strained the honey through a small strainer I found in the kitchen (don't let my wife know) into another container and let it cool.  The wax drifted to the top and hardened.  I popped the cap of wax off and, voila, Raw & Unfiltered Honey!  So that's our plan with a couple of frames from the Italians this Saturday.  I need to find a cheap pot to do this because the wax doesn't come off easily (that's why we need to keep the strainer thing between us and not tell Joy).  Still, even if there's wax all over the pot, whoopie do!  Did you know that one of the ingredients in Gummy Bears is beeswax? 

Last note: On Saturday we're going to crack open the Carns to see how they are doing.  I want to do this to see if all we're doing is nursing them along through the fall so that they'll freeze over the winter or if they actually have a chance.  Really, the only way I think they'll make it is if we can find a swarm to build them up.  However, if they have a lot of fresh workers, there is a small chance they'll make it.  Here's for hopin'!


Sunday, July 18, 2010

Just a musing

Getting into beekeeping has been a life altering experience for me.  I've been taking a close look at how I live and how Americans generally live, what we consume, and how we don't really get it.  I promise I'm not turning into a crazy, pretentious eco-hippy, but rather my philosophy is becoming more adamantly conservative, but not in the right wing sense.

I've been a fiscal, social, and governmental conservative for a long time: don't waste it, don't waste people (but don't tolerate crime), and keep the government out of things.  About eight years ago I became a religious conservative (before that I was an agnostic conservative, but I just didn't really know).  To a degree I've always been an environmental conservative: I love nature, convinced my family to wash and re-use Ziploc bags when I was 13 or so, buy cars that get good gas mileage (saves me cash, too!), avoid wasting water, etc., etc.

Lately, that conservative core has been convinced that we're spiraling out of control in this world.  As Dave Ramsey (the guru of getting out of debt using common sense) likes to point out: we spend money we don't have on things we don't need to impress people we don't know.  And it seems that the biggest export of the U.S. is that philosophy.  We waste so much, pollute so much, have a really twisted idea on how to get our food, and have a governmental system that lines the pockets of the wrong people with lots of cash to get it all done.

When all is said and done, I don't have any solution to this problem other than what Ghandi said once: Be the change you want to see in the world. 

Kinda crazy that a little bee would show me this.


Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A tale of two hives

  I opened the Sicilain hive and observed that there were not that many bees up in the honey super, and had done absolutely nothing to the frames. Yet when I opened the Italians, I was presently surprised to see it full of bees. I was even more pleased to notice that the Italian bees are well on their way to filling theirs. I would estimate it is roughly a third to a half full with honeycomb. I think we might even be able to stack another super on in a week or two. So with a quick conference call with Bob it was mutually decided to peel the now propolis encrusted queen excluder off the Sicilian hive.

 I am quickly learning that hives are complex and unpredictable and that there seems to be no real hard and fast rules to beekeeping, in a sense Bob and I were both right and wrong about the excluders.

 Sadly the Carniolans have become a footnote in the report. They have gone through a little more of their sugar water and I didn't care to inspect them, there is even less coming and going from the entrance.


Thursday, July 8, 2010

Skipping an inspection

With a hectic schedule and darkening skies, we decided to call off our hive inspection this week. However, I felt it was worthy of a blog update. This is because even though there really wasn't any pressing reason to see what was going on inside the hives, it is worth pointing out that many advocates of natural beekeeping believe the less intrusions into the hive, the less the bees are disrupted from doing what they do best, i.e., collecting honey. It certainly makes sense when you stop to think about it. We figured that the Carniolan numbers are so low now we are sure that the almost full jar or sugar syrup we saw last inspection couldn't have been depleted in one week. The Italians hadn't built on to the frames of the honey super in the last inspection, so it was doubtful that in one week they had built it up and filled it with honey. The same goes for the Sicilians, too. Besides, both hives look really busy. Yup, we can wait another week.


Friday, July 2, 2010

A quick update

John took a peek into the supers yesterday as he had seen massive activity outside the 1st Italians the day before, triggering some concern about the hive kicking off a swarm due to overcrowding.  If there was an overcrowding issue, then we figured we needed to add more supers to give them some room.  I must admit some "bummerness" that neither Italians had done much in the supers, but were both working the frames in them.  While I am getting great pleasure out of wrangling 130,000 or so of head of bees, I am in it for the honey and would love to have a bumper crop this year. 

One thing to note, it appears that the perpendicular excluder issue was a good idea - or at least not a bad idea.  We placed the excluders on Monday and they were already starting to work the frames by Thursday.  The worker bees seem to be undeterred by the screens, so we just have to wait and see if we find eggs to see if the queen avoids the area or not.

A bit silly to think so and over-optimistic, but I can dream, right?


Monday, June 28, 2010

The honey supers are on.

In the last inspection we added one honey super to each of our Italian hives. We did this because the bees have filled up their upper brood chambers and simply need more room. This also means from now on all honey produced is ours. These honey supers are like the regular supers but are a little shorter. We have also put Queen excluders underneath the honey supers. Queen excluders are [ Obviously ] screens with holes big enough to let the workers through, but too small to allow the Queen into the upper part of the hive. The reason being is that you want to keep the honey to be harvested free of eggs and larva. The use of these excluders are a little divisive as some beekeepers think they prevent the workers from moving up into the honey supers also. As Bob and I are of opposing views on this, ( I am a little against them, he is for them ) we have come to a compromise. A Beekeeper friend of Bob suggested that we place them at a 90˚ angle. As the hives and excluders are rectangular in shape, this leaves the ends of the excluders sticking out a little on the front and back, and leaves a gap on either side inside. This will hopefully give the bees a little more access to the super. It also has the benefit of giving the hive a little more ventilation.
    It is also interesting to note that although the 'Sicilians' ( as Bob likes to call them ) arrived a couple of weeks later then our first two hives, they have almost caught up with the Italians in regards to production. At this rate I would expect to be adding even more supers to the hives in the coming weeks.
  The Carniolans are dwindling, the queen is still laying as we see evidence in the many eggs and larva, but it is not doing well. The queen also seems to be without her attendants as she wonders around the comb. Only time will tell.


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

It's a super thing!

To note, yesterday was our second full month as beekeepers - and the stinging hasn't dampened our spirits (or at least mine, since John has only been stung once - still not sure how he's managed that...).  When I started sneezing right after the inspection, I lamented that my hope of stings warding off allergies had been soundly written off, but then was tempted to go put my hand in a hive to get stung just to be sure.  I decided not to as it just ain't that pleasant of a feelin'.  On to the inspection!

Our inspection cycle of starting with the "Sicilians" seemed to work.  They were much less agitated for a longer time and neither John nor I got stung.  However, as I've remarked before, these girls are our Jekyll & Hyde hive and change moods about every week.  We'll have to see what they're like next week.  The hive is doing well.  They continue to build comb in the upper body and the population continues to grow.  We removed lots of burr comb from the bottom of the frames and got a tiny bit of honey with it.  It has a pleasant, mild flavor but the smaple was too small to really get any nuance out of it.  By the time we had inspected 7 of the 9 frames on the top body, they were getting agitated.  We'd seen plenty of honey, new comb and capped brood, so we buttoned them up and moved onto the Carniolans.

My thought on the Carniolans is a bit woeful.  They have a lot to overcome if they are to survive the winter.  The new queen needs to stay healthy; they need to survive the onslaught of drones that will hatch in the next two weeks (I think we'll need to remove most of the drones as they really will only drain the hive's resources); a large enough number of the current population needs to hold for on about 8 weeks to raise the eggs that have been laid in the last week; they need to avoid disease, protect their home from invasion; and build up enough stores to make it through the winter.  We decided to not do much more to intervene beyond feeding and tending to the hive.  That said, they are lovely to work with and I would hate to lose them.  They've yet to sting anyone and show huge potential in their persistent attitude.  I have read that bees get nasty or they lose their will to live when they lose a queen, but these girls have just kept pushing forward through it all.  I like that and want to see that trait continue in this little venture of ours.

Last week I purchased to medium supers and 18 unassembled frames, and it looks like it's none too soon!  The medium supers are about 2/3 the size of a hive body and are intended for honey collection.  The first Italians, our happy, productive hive, are really kicking it into high gear.  Last week there were three or four frames in the upper body that they had not drawn comb on.  This week, every frame has comb and some of it was fully loaded and capped.  The frames in the upper body will become their overwintering food.  And, by the looks of it, the Italians will overwinter well! 

Right now I need to get moving on assembling the frames and painting the supers.  By Friday I want to have the supers ready for installation as John and I both feel that within another week, the Italians will be setting aside honey for us.  It really is a super thing!


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Queen inspection

Approaching the first hive we observed a fair bit of activity at the entrance. This was an encouraging sign as after we dumped out the bees at the side of the house from this hive last week many of the bees that we wanted to make it back did. However as we got a little closer we noticed two bees fighting to the death at the entrance. This wasn't good. A lot of activity and bees fighting at the entrance is an indication of robbing.  Robbing is where bees will actively go and steal the honey from a hive that is weak and unable to defend itself ( as the Carniolans are ). We watched for a while and observed normal enough activity, the girls were landing heavy ( loaded with pollen and nectar ), and took off light. If there were robbing this would be opposite. The bees would be taking off with a dip before gaining altitude due to being loaded down with stolen honey. The fighting bees was perhaps just a guard fighting off a lone opportunistic scout, who by now was dead.

  We opened the hive and examined the queen in her plastic cage ( see picture ). It was covered with worker bees that were feeding her through the holes. This meant she had been excepted. The lid was eased open and she crawled out with the bees still tending to her, they had accepted their queen. We checked to make sure there was no eggs and put a half full feeder jar in and closed the lid.

The Italian hive next to it is still going from strength to strength, they have almost filled their second super, and it looks like we can add a honey super in the next week or two.

The third hive at the back has made some modest progress, they have almost filled all the frames on the lower super but they haven't built comb in their second super. Again, we had to abandon the inspection as they turned mean and started stinging our gloves and shirts after five minutes. After they calmed down some we put a couple of full frames and moved them up to the upper super to encourage the bees and queen to move upwards.

Posted by John Rodgers

Lucky Number 13

To our delight and hope, the Carniolans have accepted their queen!  The next real big step is whether or not she'll start laying eggs and if there are enough workers to raise them to full maturity.  The workers in there have done well with the drones; we saw several large larvae and capped cells--and no new eggs, so we've dealt with the drone laying worker.  Drones take about 24 days to go from egg to maturity and workers take about 21.  When the new worker emerges, she explores a bit and then starts taking care of the brood (brood means any developing bee from egg to its emergence from a capped cell), thus taking on the title of nursery worker.  If the workers do successfully raise up the eggs the queens lay, we still aren't entirely out of the woods.  The hive population is incredibly small and might not build up enough to overwinter.  Only time will tell here.

One of the neat things here is that the new queen is marked.  By being able to see her, I'm hoping that my eyes will be trained to see the queens in the other hives (who are unmarked).  The queen is a bit longer in the body and more slender than a worker, but that is hard to see when surrounded by hundreds of busy bees.

An interesting mystery came from the spot where I emptied the Carniolan hive last week.  The day after I emptied the hive, it rained a lot and rained some more the next day.  Exposed bees would not be able to survive those conditions and John said that most of them had died.  He was going to clean up the carcasses of the Carns (as a writer, I find that little phrase a title possibility...carcasses of the Carns...hmmm....) two days ago, but not a single bee body was to be found.  When I examined the "crime scene" I found a couple of chunks of comb I had discarded there and two squished Carns from rapping the frames on the ground, but nothing else.  Since dead bees don't fly and his kids likely didn't clean them up, that leaves really only one solution: something ate 'em.  My guess is a skunk came across the area and said, "SCORE!"  Unfortunately, this is only a guess as the ground was not conducive to leaving tracks or the rain obliterated them.  However they disappeared, John was saved from a grave duty.

The 1st Italians continue to do very well.  Nearly every frame in the upper hive body has comb and we've decided to add honey supers at the next inspection.  So I'm going shopping today before school!

The title of today's blog comes from the 2nd Italians, whom we've nicknamed the Sicilians.  Initially, the Sicilians started out pretty calm, making me think that we should call them the Jekell & Hyde hive - one week they're calm, the next they're aggressive.  Yesterday, they fit that title in one inspection.  They are laying eggs, building comb and storing honey, though none in the upper body yet.  We removed one of the brood frames and put it in the upper body to encourage them to start working there.  This worked well for the 1st Italians. 

About halfway through the inspection, they got really aggressive again.  Even with the veils and gloves, it gets disconcerting to have a half dozen bees banging against the mesh of your veil.  I could almost hear them yelling, "You wanna piece o' me?  You wanna piece o' me?  I don't think so!"  That's when lucky number 13 came in.  I wear a thick cotton henley and jeans for inspections.  The henley wasn't thick enough and I got stung in the arm.  At this point the pain isn't that bad - it feels like a small, hot splinter getting shoved in really quick.  But after getting stung 12 times two weeks ago, I decided to exit the area for a minute to avoid having a repeat.  This morning I have a goose egg around the sting site and it itches a bit, but is otherwise fine.  The one thing I am annoyed about is that I'm sneezing my head off this morning.  Drat!  My hypothesis about apitherapy (being stung to treat ailments such as arthritis) seems to be disproven as it relates to allergies.  Double drat!

Through the experience today, John came up with a brillian idea: for the next inspection, we'll start with the Sicilians first, inspect the 2nds (if needed) next, and then check the Carns.  The thought is that by the time we get to the Sicilians we are covered in alarm pheremones and they react pretty quickly to that.  You live and learn, eh?

Posted by Bob Nelson

Thursday, June 10, 2010

How Salvation Hurts

Today was a rough day.  No stings, but I signed the death warrant for a thousand or so bees.  The Carniolans, as a quick reminder, came to us queenless.  We attempted to get them to raise their own queen, but nothing worked.  Instead, at least one, probably several, female worker bees developed sexual organs and became drone laying workers.  This is the end of a hive.  If you try to introduce a queen at this point she will be killed as the workers see all the eggs and think the hive is queenright.  The drones are useless to the continued existence of the hive.  My thought is that the phenomenon of the drone laying worker is to attempt to keep some of the genetics of the hive in the gene pool of bees by throwing the drones to the wind in hopes that they will mate with a fertile queen somewhere else.  But there is a way to use the productivity and morale of a hive that thinks it's queenright.  It's just a bit tough, but it's what I did today.

We ordered another Carniolan queen that somehow managed to survive the USPS's inability to read the label "LIVE QUEEN BEES - HANDLE WITH CARE."  I retrieved the queen and her four attendants from the mailbox last night and about threw a fit right after my heart detached itself from my stomach (it sank pretty badly).  The box was broken open and mangled, crushed and abused.  Yet the girls managed to live and enjoyed the honey I dripped onto the small plastic container they came in  The queen cage is about the size of a fat, squat lighter with one end meshed to provide ventilation.  The other end has a long tubesticking out that is large enough for a bee to enter, but is stuffed with a sugar candy plug to keep the girls out for a little while.  The idea is the workers eat both sides of the candy plug and byt the time they get rid of it, the hive has adjusted to the new queens pheromones and accepts her as their own.

Here's the method of getting rid of the drone laying worker(s): move the hive at least 100 yards from its current location.  Empty the hive of every single bee - you must get all of them out as you can't tell which one is the drone laying worker.  Move the now empty hive and all its parts back to its original position and install queen cage near the center.  Some of the evicted bees will find their way back, but not the drone laying worker as she has never been outside of the hive.  Unfortunately, that also means that the non-offending nursery bees, who also have never been out, cannot make it back to the hive either.  Thus they will either freeze or starve to death.  Hence my sadness about the day and the salvation of the hive.

The procedure really was simple, but it was not easy. 

First, John's yard ain't big enough.  Initially, I thought the most merciful thing to do was dig a wide shallow hole, knock all the bees into it and then drown them.  The idea didn't sit well on my soul nor John's.  So we decided to that the best place for the operation was on the east side of the house, basically on the opposite side of our apiary.  With a big house in between the bees and their hive, we felt that they couldn't find their way back going around corners and such.  At least that's the hope.  John was unable to help as sometimes work gets in the way of what you really want to do.

Once I cleared the area for easy emergency evac, I moved the hive over.  Both hive bodies, the bottom board, the outer and inner covers, all the frames, and the bees weighed about 40 lbs.  My understanding is that a honey super that is about 2/3 the size of the hive bodies, weighs up to 60 lbs.  I removed the top hive body and set it several feet away and put the outer cover over it to keep any strays out and to put the bee-lees frames in.  Then it was time to get the bees off.  In a silly fashion, I hadn't given much thought to the disposition of the bees when I commenced with my project.  Fortunately, a beekeeper at work has used the method several times and warned me to wrap up tight as, not surprisingly when one thinks of it, the bees were going to be, well, a bit upset (not her words, but this is a family friendly forum).  I had my thickest gloves on, a thick cotton shirt on tucked into my pants and leather hiking boots (normally I go for comfort and wear running shoes with well-ventilated mesh uppers).  I got the smoker going and went to work.

I found the best way to get the bees off each frame was to rap the frame hard on the ground.  We have found that even though a bee brush is very safe to move the bees around, they HATE it.  It really ticks the girls off getting the brush off.  Rapping the frame on the ground removes about 90% of the bees and disorients most of them. They just crawl around on th eground wondering if they're still in Kansas or not.  About 5% of them take to the air and get kinda annoyed.  The other 5% need knocking off with the brush and that moves them well into the "Where's he at?  Lemme at 'im!" phase.  A couple tried to sting me, but couldn't get through the gloves or the shirt.  Still, I did the rap, brush, skedaddle pretty quickly.  Once I had most of the bees off I would step away a few feet and finish brushing off the persistent ones.  My biggest problem frame had two lobes of comb built away from it, forcing me to break the lobes off to get the several dozen hiding behind them.

I found that spraying the bees still on the ground with sugar water helped to keep those distracted.  Once everything was clear of bees I moved it all back about halfway to the apiary and checked the frames again.  Wisely, I might add.  In one of the nooks where I broke off the lobes, I found another bee.

When I got everything back, several harvesters were flying about in confusion, wondering where their hive had gone off to.  I quickly put everything back in order and then covered teh cnady tube on the queen cage with duct tape and attached a long nail.  The queen dealer suggested that the tube be covered to give the old hive a longer time to acclimate to the new queen.  Remember that the hive thinks it's kind of queenright with the eggs constantly showing up.  I set the cage in between two frames in the center of the bottom hive body and then closed it up.  I placed an entrance reducer to help the already denuded population protect its even smaller population and then inspected the other hives (they're doing great - the 2nd Italians are just as easily annoyed as ever and the 1st Italians - I only peaked under the outer cover - look to be amazingly productive).

One of the treats today was removing some honey comb that the Carns had built up in the wrong place.  The comb was loaded with honey.  Once I had a chance to taste it, I found that the honey wsa (no surprise) very sweet and had a taste that I can best describe as citrus-y.  It was delicate and mild and just darn good!

Posted by Bob Nelson

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

About two years ago, while listening to one of my favorite radio talk show hosts, I learned something that was intsrumental in deciding to become a beekeeper: not all honeys are alike.  The very thoughtful, intelligent and engaging Dennis Prager is not only a true conservative, but he likes honey.  His producer, Allen Estrin, likes it even more.  Not long before I heard this particular show, Allen had become a conoisseur of honey and began getting samples of honey from 'round the world and writing about them in his honey blog (found at - he describes two honeys of completely different character from Portugal in the most recent edition). 

The day I was listening to the show, Allen described a recent find in an Egyptian honey that strongly tasted of licorice.  When John asked if I was interested in getting into beekeeping, I wondered what auburban Aurora "wildflower" honey would taste like.  Since then, both of us have sampled honey straight off the comb from our first Italians and Carniolans.  It was light in color and flavor and nicely sweet.  John's had a bit of an eggy taste, but he suspects that was because the bit of comb he got it out of had some eggs in it.

In this grand expirement that I desire to turn into a business, I look forward most of all to the myriad flavors the honey will bring us.  We have alfalfa fields out east, watermelon and other gourd crops to the north, peaches and cantelope in the mountains, and I keep wondering if grapes need pollination as there are several wineries in Colorado now.  Plus, tastes in flowers change locally year to year, so no harvest will ever be exactly the same in town.

The link for this post goes to Mann Lake's newsletter and describes several popular honeys from the U.S.  To plug a local honey producer until I become their competition, I buy Ambrosia Honey Co.'s wildflower honey from the Western Slope.  It's raw and unfiltered and usually cheaper than anything else on King Soopers' shelves, including their store brand.  Being raw and unfiltered, it still has many of the particulates of beeswax and pollen that make honey good for you and not just empty calories like sugar (they are tiny, tiny particles, so the honey dissolves completely in your tea).  It has more flavor than clover honey and I love the fact that buying it supports our state's economy.  As the label "warns," the honey will crystallize if not consumed fast enough, but it can easily be reliquified by placing the bottle in very warm/slightly hot water.

So, the next time you are at a store that is not Walmart (they carry crap when it comes to honey), look at the honey and see the variety of colors, especially amongst the "gourmet" brands and then buy something besides clover or even with the clover to make a comparison.

Posted by Bob Nelson

Monday, May 31, 2010

Oh, Death, where is thy sting?

Saint Paul wrote those words nearly 2000 years ago. He just hadn’t met our third hive yet.

Here is something I just realized, like children, each of our hives have distinct personalities, for lack of a better word. The first Italians are active and energetic and the Carns are dutiful and gentle. I can sum up the personality of the third hive in one word: mean. These buggers have attitude and aggression down pat. They have a lot of guard bees that bum rush you, running into your veil or hand or whatever at full tilt to let you know that you are being watched. They simply do not like intruders.

Early on in the inspection of this hive I found out that the gloves I have are not nearly thick enough. One of the guard bees decided she had had enough of me and stung me on the back of my wrist. I stepped away from the hive and followed the advice of a 17th century beekeeper: remove the bee and its stinger and “cover the sting in spittle.” This might (BIG might here) cover the attack pheromones released when a bee stings you. We were nearly done with the inspection—John has still only been stung once during any of our inspections—when the new girls on the block got really ticked. In less than five seconds I felt at least 4 or 5 more stings. They happened so fast that I really didn’t know how many times I had been stung and wouldn’t find out till the next day. I did what any smart person would do at that point and ran away. Fortunately, unlike Africanized honey bees that will follow an intruder/victim for a mile, the Italians stopped chasing me after about ten feet. I let John handle the rest of the inspection as I surely reeked of attack pheromones.

After things settled down I discovered that I had at least six new stings. Because I am weird, I was looking forward to what would happen next. When I was stung twice three weeks ago by our other Italians, my arm swelled from nearly my elbow all the way to the first joints of my fingers. Small blisters appeared near the sting sites, one of which popped and scabbed a bit. My arm burned and itched for a week and a half. On the plus side, my allergy symptoms—sneezing and runny nose—dissipated quite nicely.

So, two days later, here are the details. At first, I knew that I had been stung more than 4 or 5 times, but couldn’t quite tell how many. The sting sites ached a bit and because one sting was on my left ring finger knuckle, I removed my wedding band to avoid having to get it cut off if the swelling was too bad. Very little swelling occurred by Saturday night, but the sting sites hurt much more than the stings I received three weeks ago. I popped two Benadryl and a couple Tylenol and went to bed.

In the morning the pain had nearly disappeared and some swelling affected both hands. By this time I knew I had been stung at least nine times. I felt some relief that the swelling was much less than the previous time despite the number of stings. By the time we got home from church, I had found another sting. Some of the sites hurt nicely if I put pressure on them, which was annoying since one of the stings was on my forearm where I tended to rest it on the arm of a chair. Uncomfortable. Some itching had also presented. Yet, the symptoms have been to much less of a degree than previously. The swelling as of today (Monday, Memorial Day) is already diminishing and the itching is very mild. Plus, I haven’t sneezed once today despite not taking any Benadryl last night nor having any Claritin.

Here’s the funny thing. I found two more stings last night. So, I was stung a total of 12 times on Saturday. Yes, 12. Six on each arm. Remember, eleven of those happened in less than five seconds. By midday Sunday I had found a total of ten, including the first one, as the welts became more distinct. The other two sit right next to each other and were hidden by the swelling in that hand.

So, St. Paul, we might have found Death’s sting and I need to find new gloves...

Posted by Bob Nelson

Update (belatedly)

Despite getting 12 stings in one afternoon, they healed remarkably fast.  By the following Tuesday evening, the only thing left were the welts from the stings - no swelling or itching at all.  As of today (Tues 6/8), I have just a tiny patch of dry skin where the worst sting landed.

For our last inspection I found some thick nitrile gloves, which worked great except for the lack of feeling and bulkiness.  I'm going to try a pair of nitrile examination gloves next time for better dexterity and the knowledge that they have some natural pucnture resistance.

Another inspection – but the commentary is only on two hives and some of our philosophy about our beekeeping...

Saturday marked the last of the weekly inspections of our first Italian hive. From now on, we’ll check on them once a month unless they give us a reason to do an emergency inspection. They are doing fabulously: kicking out bambinos left and right, collecting nectar and pollen, building comb predominantly on the foundationless frames, and remaining active but not hostile. And I think a few have set up a honey laundering racket based at the swing set in John’s backyard...

John and I are excited about their choice for building comb. Some beekeepers have found that bees actually prefer the foundationless frames over foundation. A little terminology seems in order here: a frame with foundation has either a sheet of wax or plastic that is imprinted with hexagons of a specific size – most often 5.4 millimeters. The idea is that the bees will draw their comb on top of the foundation and it will be easier for them since the shape is already there. Plus, the foundation adds some stability to the honey extraction process. 5.4 mm is also bigger than what bees naturally draw their cells on average (this little distinction is important, so keep it in mind). Two questions arise from this idea: (1) do bees really like having some of their work done for them and (2) is it really best for the bees? It’s distinctly possible that the answer to both questions is no.

In a natural hive (i.e., in a log or crevice or the siding of your house), the cell size of a honey comb ranges from about 4.5 to 5.4 mm. Not much of a difference to you and me, but a big difference to the bees. When they draw it on their own, they tend to build the larger cells toward the top of whatever they are connecting to and the smaller cells toward the bottom. According to one beekeeper who studied this for several years (I wish I could remember his name, but for further information, check out the first appendix in Fruitless Fall by Rowan Jacobsen, an incredibly well-written book about Colony Collapse Disorder, or CCD, and bees in general), this allows for maximum efficiency during the winter months as they can breed a smaller bee at the bottom and thus a bee that uses less honey over the winter. Plus it allows for better pest control.

Before I go any further, let’s review CCD. CCD appears to have a multiplicity of causes, pesticides and stress topping the list. Standard commercial beekeeping requires the bees to be moved all around the country for pollination services and honey gathering. Bees may not be sedentary, but they aren’t jet setters that look for the next great thing in the next state either. Migratory beekeepers haul thousands of hives around for thousands of miles a year, completely disrupting the natural ebb and flow of the hives. Plus, over the last two decades, varroa and tracheal mites and a variety of bacterial, fungal, and viral infections have spread like wildfire throughout the world. So beekeepers, in stressing out their bees, opened the door to these pests and diseases. They disrupted and destroyed the bees immune systems through the stress and vast amounts of miticides and antibiotics. All of this combines to lead to massive overwinter deaths for the bees: Colony Collapse Disorder.

The beekeeper, who used to do exactly what everyone else did with pesticides and antibiotics but abandoned that practice to avert CCD in his colonies, found that his bees were better able to control mites in the smaller cells, though it’s unknown why. A female mite lays her eggs in a cell with a freshly hatched bee larva. The eggs hatch while the bee pupates – which happens after the cell is capped. This gives the mite larvae plenty of time to feed on the pupa, much like ticks (to whom they are related). If it doesn’t die from the mites, the pupa pupates into a worker bee and eats out of the cell, but is usually weak and malformed. Here’s where the small cell comes into play. Somehow the nursery bees can detect the presence of mite larvae or even the female mite when it is capped inside a small cell. The nursery bees will then rip the cell open and dispose of the infected bee larva. Some mites might still make it, but a good chance stands that the bees will eliminate a mite infestation on their own.

The other thing he found, as well as others, is that bees don’t prefer to have the work done for them. As with our experience with our Italians, they seem to prefer building their own comb their own way. Our plan is to go hybrid. For the brood chambers, John and I will use the foundationless frames mostly so we can avoid using any miticides, but also to let the bees just be bees. For the honey supers (all the hive bodies that we’ll add for honey collection) we will use frames with plastic foundations for ease of extraction. To keep the queen from laying eggs in the honey supers, we’ll use a screen called a queen excluder between the brood chambers and the supers. Extra protein in the honey is not what the doctor ordered!

The Carniolans are still kicking along. And I don’t know why. They’ve been without a queen for about five weeks. All that I have read suggests that they should be dispirited or even angry. Instead, they continue to collect nectar and pollen and raise the brood we transplanted from the Italians. None of the brood cells screamed “I’m a queen cell! Look at me!” But we could be wrong. Hopefully, one or more of the cells has a queen growing in it to set the Carniolans queenright. In the meantime we are continuing to supplement their diet with sugar syrup and wait. I expect them to surprise us, but I’m worried that most of the bees are at least middle aged or older and we may not get a queen in time.

Posted by Bob Nelson

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Third Hive

Many thanks to Chad Ragland of Apis Hive Company ( for getting us a replacement hive for our queenless Carniolans!  Due to some logistical issues (he's based in Grand Junction CO and we are in Aurora CO), he is letting us keep the Carniolans.  This will allow for us to finish our expirement to see if the Carns will create a new queen out of the Italian brood frame we pt in at the first inspection.

Theoretically, the Carns will pick a few to several of the eggs and turn them in to queens.  All eggs hatch in about four days and become very tiny larvae.  For the next four days the nursery bees (recently pupated worker bees) will feed all the larvae royal jelly, a protein rich substance that they create from a special gland.  But they will continue to feed the royal jelly to the ones they pick to become queens.  It's believed that this extra protein allows the larvae's sexual organs to fully develop, whereas in the rest of the larvae, those organs become the stinger and venom sacs. 

The queens develop a bit faster than the rest of their sister worker bees, going through the entire growth cycle in about 21 days.  The first queen to hatch will seek out the other queen cells, break into them and sting the undeveloped queen to death.  This is about the only thing the queen uses her stinger for (excluding self defense from marauding bees or wasps looking to steal honey).

On our next inspection of the hives, we'll be looking for queen cells, peanut-shaped protrusions from the comb.  The thing I find fascinating is that...well this will sound silly...a bee is a bee.  The Carniolans are taking care of Italian brood and will raise an Italian queen to take over the egg-laying duties of the hive.  They care not a whit that their time as Carniolans is limited.  Once the queen mates, and it won't be with any drones from the Carns (they killed or expelled them before the first inspection), they will slowly die away without leaving a genetic difference in the hive.  Within a few weeks, only Italians will exist in that hive.  But they couldn't have gotten to that point if it weren't for the selfless efforts of their Carniolan nurses.

Posted by Bob Nelson

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Second inspection

As we had expected, hive A1N had not started building any new foundation, though the girls had drawn out the existing comb and built up a little bur comb ( bee filler ) here and there.They had taken care of the eggs we put inside Monday which have now hatched in to larva. It is too soon to tell which of the new larva cells are being built out to raise queens, perhaps our next inspection in a weeks time should reveal these peanut shaped cells. The hive seems to be quite healthy and happy despite not being 'queen right' ( the term used to refer to a hive with a queen ), so we are hoping they should do well until they have raised their queen. We have decided to keep feeding them syrup even though they are slowing down on this sugar diet.

Hive A2N is strong and healthy and has started to build on to a new foundation-less frame. We still have yet to spot our elusive queen, but we know she has to be there somewhere as there are plenty of new eggs. On one of the older frames there are three large tear shaped combs that have been drawn right though an adjacent foundation-less frame. This extended comb must be removed, but as it has plenty of eggs we decided to attach it to the bottom of a new foundation-less frame in the second chamber right above the hole of the inner cover. Hopefully the bees will climb up through the hole and take care of the eggs as well as encourage them to move up into their second story.

Posted by John Rodgers

Who are these guys and what are they doing?

We're Bob Nelson and John Rodgers.  I'm a native Coloradan and he's from the other side of the puddle (that's a euphimism for: he's English, mate)  We started raising bees.  Was that enough of an answer for you?  Probably.  If not, then here's a bit of expansion.  John and I got into the beekeeping thing last year when he wondered if I'd be interested.  I pondered for all of about two seconds and said, "Sounds like a blast" or some such lameness.  In that two seconds, I was already thinking of how to make money off the honey.  John is slowly coming around to the idea (I'm the conservative, capitalist in this business partnership; he's slowly converting - yeah, right!). 

He handed me Sue Hubbell's A Book of Bees and I was fascinated.  Here's a middle-aged woman raising 100 hives pretty much by herself.  She had gotten up to several hundred but was slowly cutting back and making a decent living off of it.  We started doing more and more research and reading (I'll toss out a list of recommended material here shortly) and decided that going au natural was probably the best bet.  Our presiding thought is "What will work best for the bees that we may benefit?"  Rampant pesticide use inside and outside of beehives and a host of other common practices has wrecked the immune system of most commercially kept bees and many hobbyist kept bees.  So we're expirementing with what the FDA calls "natural": no chemicals added.  Our practices will be organic, but since we're doing this initially in a suburban setting, we can't guarantee that the bees won't bring something home.

Our hope is to build fitter and more resilient bees and get some darn good honey.  To note, neither John nor I are liberal hippie types.  I'm very conservative in my thought processes and John is a moderate.  However, we both have a deep love of nature and want to keep the bees around.

So stay tuned for more info on Colony Collapse Disorder and tips to help the bees.  Also, you'll probably see us find the rewards of getting stung...I think it helped my allergies a bit, but I forgot to take pictures...

Monday, May 3, 2010

First inspection

Italian hive ( A2N )
 Impressive growth, and they still had over half a jar of syrup left. More importantly they had started building comb on one of the foundation-less frames. They haven't bothered with the foundations, which has really justified our choice in going foundation-less. They have also started filling their other frames with honey, pollen and we found a whole frame of eggs, that were fresh ( standing on end ) so we can safely assume the hive is queen right. We removed the jar, gave them access to the top chamber, and removed one frame of eggs to put into the Carnolian hive. Hopefully they will raise a new queen with it.

Carnolian hive ( A1N )
On opening the Carnolian hive we finally confirmed what we suspected in that there was no queen. Further evidence of this was that we found no eggs in it either. So we took a frame of eggs from the Italians ( A2N ). Hopefully they will have started to build queen cells when we inspect it on Saturday.
They had gone through most of their jar of sugar water so we topped the jar off with the rest of the syrup from A2N, and carried on feeding them. We called our supplier who agreed to exchange our Nuc.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Picking up the Bees

they picked up the Bees. They were quiet then. But once at home and they had become much angrier. The one man asked the other,'why are they angry?'. But they both new the answer and nothing was said. So they stared at the buzzing boxes.

They sprayed them with a mixture of sugar and kombucha. The one man had read somewhere that other men had tried it with success. Each felt it was worth a try.