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