Sunday, June 19, 2011

This is just kinda neat!

A few weeks ago an apiarist from France commented on my article, "A Call to Organic Beekeeping." I was astounded that we might have had an international audience for our little blog. But I didn't realize how international we had become until I looked at the stats just now. People from nine other countries, including India and China, have taken at least a peak at A Natural Beekeeping Blog. Most of the pageviews have been directed at my "Call," leading me to believe that this is a subject that is becoming near and dear to people everywhere.

By the averages, it looks like about 15 or so people visit our site every day (and it's not me - this is the first time I've checked it out since my last post - bad blogger!). It's humbling to know that people stop by, but it's empowering  as well as John and I try to do this little bit to help those lovely pollinators, Apis mellifera, and others that are in danger of disappearing off the face of the earth.

One of the other fun stats was seeing where we get views sourced from. In a very early entry I mentioned an inspiration on why it only took me about two seconds to decide to become a beekeeper when John asked if I was interested. That inspiration came from Allen Estrin's journal on honeys that he had tried from around the globe (for those of you who don't know or don't click on the links provided, Allen is the producer for the Dennis Prager Show, a wonderfully smart conservative AM radio talk show host). If you want to get a literary flavor of how many types of honey bees produce and get your palate dying for the amazing substance, read his journal. But the fun thing for me about Allen's journal besides the honey is that if you Google his name along with honey, our blog is the first thing that pops up after the five sites that directly refer to his work. It's kinda like that 15 minutes of fame that Warhol used to refer to.

I want to thank our regular readers and all of our visitors for giving me the feeling that relating what John and I love doing is worth it. I'd still blog about it, but it's really good to know that people are listening!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Busy couple of weeks

A week and a bit ago (the last weekend of May), John and I went out to Farmer Katy's to split the Italian and Sicilian hives . Side by side splits are an incredibly easy way (in theory) of increasing your apiary numbers. It sounds just like it is: you take the top hive body off of a hive and put it to the side of the bottom, add another hive body to the top of each and, viola, you have two hives where you previously had one. The big issue here lays in whether or not you let the hive that suddenly finds itself queenless requeen themselves or install a queen you've procurred elsewhere. Lack of funds from planting a garden dictated the first move for us. But we ran into another problem before we even got that far.

The Italian splits on the right and the queenless
Sicilians on the far left

Two weeks before we planned to do the split I did a quick inspection of the Strasburg hives and found them to be active and well populated. Much earlier in the season we had added honey supers to get them started on production and to easy the potential of overcrowding - something that, if the hive feels it, causes them to kick off a swarm (see "Our first swarm collection" and "And the second…and third…and fourth…" for more info on swarming).

 Everything seemed hunky dory at the time, but I probably should have done a more in depth inspection. As soon as we opened the Sicilians we knew there was something wrong. First, the population didn't seem as large as it was two weeks previous. Second, the stored pollen, known as bee bread, was waxy looking. During a beekeeping class last year at DeLaney Farm, a part of Denver Urban Gardens here in Aurora, Marty Hardison told us a secret he learned a long time ago. You can teel a hive is queenless before you don't see any eggs or new larva by looking at the bee bread. If it has a waxy or glossy look, the queen is gone. Judging by this and confirmed by the lack of eggs and really young larva, and taking into account the smaller population of the mean little...bees, we decided that the old queen had swarmed off with a good chunk of the hive.

Honestly, it was hard to figure out if we should be bummed or do the happy dance. On one hand, the Sicilians produced some great and copious amounts of honey last year. On the other, we know they had put a hit out on us a some point (later, John would get stung six or seven times in the head when one got inside his veil and a bunch others snuck up on him when he was trying to clear it). In the long run, I am glad for the possibility of bringing in a new queen and I'll get to our solution shortly.
We checked the Sicilians the rest of the way to make sure that they were queenless and moved on to the Italians. Always more agreeable than their cousins, the Italians were well situated to split. The queen had laid lots and lots of eggs, plenty of capped brood was present, and decent honey and pollen stores were present. So we set up the side by side and hoped for the best.
John developed a great idea to build up the Sicilians and requeen them at the same time. We had the swarms we captured the previous week at his place so why not add the smaller swarm to the Sicilians? It was small enough to easily add to the existing population and we knew it had a queen. Plus it cost is nothing - always a good price! The plan was in place, just impossible to execute at the moment, so we planned for the next weekend.

A frame of ferals from the Top Bar Hive
Our inspection of the TBH ferals gave us a large amount of encouragement. About half of the front brood frames had newly drawn comb. At least one of the three queens we had accidentally joined together survived because eggs were aplenty in that new comb. Also encouraging about the ferals was there calm demeanor. They only got riled when I was trying to get the frames back into the hive without squishing any of them. Yeah, gonna need some new technique on that. But the TBH keeps most of the population from being exposed and thus helps keep them calm.

A quick look in the nuc that we had the the fourth swarm in showed that they would do well also. The queen was laying a good number of eggs in the comb her girls had drawn on four of the five frames in the nuc. So we wrapped them in a sheet and put them in my trunk for the journey to their new home.

An inside look of the ferals in the TBH

The trick to building up a single hive from two, I have heard, is to separate them with a piece of newspaper. So that's what I did. I used a spare hive body (one that should have been taken by the Sicilians had they stuck around long enough) and put the frames of ferals in that and placed it on the top of the Sicilians. Now we wait. In theory, the queenless Sicilians should slowly get used to the ferals as they chew threw the newspaper and start to catch the scent of the feral queen. Once they get used to the new queen, they will add their strength to the ferals and vice versa. Most importantly, the Sicilians will be gone in about 6 or 7 weeks: there may be some capped brood, but they will be the last of our little mobsters.

The ferals on the left with their new high rise digs

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Wanted to share what's happening on the other side of the Atlantic

Yesterday my "Call to Organic Beekeeping" article was commented on by Jan Michael of the rucher ├ęcole Villa le Bosquet (rucher ├ęcole is French for bee school) in France. Jan shared a link to a YouTube video about his school: While he's hoping to get clips in English and German soon, the video is worth watching (especially if you're fluent in French - for which I'm not!). The hives are Warre hives, kind of a cross between the archetypical Langstroth hive and top bar hive. It uses foundationless frames like the TBH, but stacks vertically like the Langstroth. It's a great video and, I'm betting some great honey comes from those hives!

Posted by Bob Nelson