Thursday, November 11, 2010

Knock on wood

So I was at the Apalachee Beekeepers meeting Tuesday night and someone casually asked me how my hives were doing. I hesitated before answering. A long time. It seems as though the status of my hives the past couple of months has been all over the place - from high highs to low lows, the only sure thing being that nothing stays the same for long.

I'd just checked all 3 hives on Sunday and everything seemed to be going
okay. Bees seemed calm, enough brood, no signs of mites, few hive beetles, a good store of honey in the supers. I responded to the question by saying that they seemed fine for the moment, and added a quick "knock on wood" just to be safe. I guess maybe I should have knocked a little harder.

Yesterday morning I was out early watering the vegetable garden and pulling a few weeds when I noticed that the pleasant hum of bees in the background had gotten a few decibels louder. I hated to even look. Last time the hum broke through my sub-conscious I looked up and witnessed a swarm. No swarm this time, but the yellow hive was definitely getting robbed. I ran inside, suited up, fired up the smoker, and took the Boardman feeder off the front of the hive. My fault - I should have had that thing off ages ago but h
aven't been able to locate a drill bit to cut a hole in my lid so . . . I left it on thinking maybe I'd be lucky and not have any problems. I guess my luck ran out.

I thought things were under control but, by the time I left to take Eliza to ballet at 4, blue hive was getting robbed too. I dropped her off, hurried home, suited up again, fired up the smoker again, and closed the entrance to the blue hive. No Boardman feeder on this one, but I guess maybe the bees that robbed the yellow hive decided they'd try for this one too since I'd made yellow hard to get into. By dark, things had slowed down. Just to be on the safe side I closed up the green hive too.

This morning, I went back out to check on them and every
thing seemed calm. I decided to take the Boardman feeder for now and put it on top of the yellow hive inside an empty deep, with the lid on top - as a temporary arrangement just until I can find a hole cutter to modify my lid. All three hives have plenty of honey stored, but since there's nothing blooming right now I thought it would be good to feed them with a heavy syrup that they could store for the winter. I started working on weeding the blueberry patch when I noticed the hum again. Turned around and saw bees pouring out of the tiny opening on the blue hive. I smoked them a little and took off the entrance reducer to see if I could tell what was going on. I'm still not sure whether they were trying to swarm, or if I'd locked the robbers IN the hive last night and they were trying to leave, or whether the bees that live there were trying to get out.

So . . . just for now I've put the entrance reducer BACK on and thrown a white sheet over the whole mess for the day. If blue is being robbed again it may be that too much damage has been done. I lifted the back of the hive and it
does seem lighter than it was a few days ago, but not terribly light. I'm hoping the sheet will at least calm things down and break the robbing cycle. Then, if I have to, I'll combine yellow and blue for the winter.

Never a dull day in the bee yard - that's for sure.

Normal happy bee-havior

Robbing bee-havior

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


These bees continue to surprise and amaze me! After yesterday's robbery, I decided it would be a good idea to pop open the lid of the robbed hive and make sure nothing else unforseen was happening. All seemed to be back to "normal" with team blue (has anything really been "normal" with this hive since the day I brought it home?) and since I still had a smoker full of pinestraw I opened up the top super on the green hive to see how things were progressing.

Much to my surprise I found ten full, capped frames of beautiful honey! This is the super I added on July 4 since the first super was full of honey and brood and the girls were working hard and still packing in the nectar and pollen. I was hoping it might be filled by the end of summer, but had not expected it to be full already.

After a day spent tracking down the bee club's extractor, Eliza and I went a picked it up on Wednesday evening and prepared to wake early on Thursday for our fi
rst honey harvest!

Thursday morning dawned cloudy and looking like rain, so I knew we had to work fast. After a quick cup of coffee we suited up and fired up the smoker. I elected to try to remove the frames this time without using either fume board or other equipment. This was partially because I didn't HAVE a fume board or other equipment, but also because it just seemed a simpler and more natural thing to do without and I wanted to see if it would work.

With Eliza suited up and standing about 20
feet from the hive with a plastic box and lid, and Emmy standing nearby with the camera I smoked the front of the hive, then removed the lid and smoked pretty good inside. Waited a few seconds, then I removed the first heavy frame. It was absolutely covered with bees and, I must say, they didn't seem all that overjoyed to see me! I gave the frame a quick but firm shake to dislodge some of the bees, then quickly brushed the rest down into the super, took the frame to Eliza who stuck it into the box and slammed on the lid, then went back for more. Looking back on it now I probably should have removed the entire super and brushed the bees into the bottom super since every frame I removed had more and more bees on it from the previous frame. But . . . live and learn!

After shaking and brushing for about 15 minutes there were hundreds of bees in the air, checking me out nose to nose and getting more and more agitated but - no stings. I took only 6 of the 10 frames in the end because the middle two were from the Apiguard-treated hive and 1 had some upcapped honey. The other I left for the girls as a peace offering.

I was SO glad that I'd helped my friend Jane with her honey harvest back in June because it definitely made the whole process go so much smoother. We loaded the extrator with 4 frames for the first spin after lightly scratching the wax cappings with a fork. Then turned each frame over and did the opposite side and the 2 remaining frames. Then - the best part of all - opening up the tap and seeing our honey for the first time as it flowed out of the extractor, through the seive and into our white honey bucket. And - another surprise! Instead of the light, typical wildflower honey I expected to see, out flowed a very dark, thick, and full-bodied honey with a distinct lemony-y flavor!! What looked like a miniscule amount of honey in the bottom of that huge extractor turned out to weigh in right at 23 pounds which, considering I wasn't expecting honey at all this year, was not a bad haul at all.

I have no idea what to call this honey, and why it's so dark and strong. Since July 4 there have been odds and ends blooming in the garden, and loads of crepe myrtle along the road. There were butter beans and blackeyed peas and the liriope was in bloom. Who knows? But, as I told my neighbor Dan, it seems only appropriate that my first Grassroots honey would turn out strong and opinionated - just like this community!
In the end, we filled up 10 honey bears, 4 half-pint jelly jars, and 6 pint jars. It's so exciting to see them all sitting on the dining room table with the light shining through that honey - I'm not sure when I'll be able to put it away!

Thank you girls for all your hard work bringing in nectar, filling your beautiful wax cells, and capping them off. I truly feel honored to be able to share your bounty and only hope that you consider the good place to live and forage that I've given you is, in some way, a fair exchange.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Smokin' hot

What can I say. It's full-on summertime in north Florida, with 98 degree days, 60% humidity, and a heat index of 105. Walk outside and you feel like somebody slapped you in the face with a warm, wet washcloth. It's July. Things will cool down in just four more months.

People deal with the heat by staying inside in where it air conditioned or jumping into a cool spring or sinkhole. The cats lie as flat as they can on the porch, preferably in the shade under the porch swing. The chickens take dust baths and retire to their roosts earlier than usual. Even the bees have their ways of coping.

Late in the day - just before dusk - they gather on the front porches of their hives and furiously flap their little wings, trying to fan some air into the hives so they can keep the inside temp near 90 degrees (the honeybee comfort zone). Hard to do when it's five to ten degrees hotter than that outside and their hives are sitting out in the full sun.

Others line up on the outside of the hive and rythymically rock themselves back and forth in what looks like an odd kind of bee line dance. Entomolygists call it "scrubbing" or "washboarding" and nobody seems to know for sure why they do it, but you see more of it in the heat of the summer. If you can't stand the heat, get out of the hive and scrub.

I love to watch the forager bees out slurping up water wherever they can find it. These hard-working girls spend almost every day of their lives flying up to three miles out, scouting for sources of nectar and pollen and bringing it back to their sisters who must work inside the hive attending the queen or taking care of baby bees. I've worked out in the garden in the summer heat, and I don't know how they do it day after day. Staying hydrated must take up a lot of their time when it's this hot. One of their favorite spots to get a drink is on the soaker hoses in the garden. Stray drops can also be found dripping from the outside faucets, around the compost pile, or from any place where the dew collects overnight. Even though I put out a large planter saucer of fresh water for them every day, and there's a good sized lake just across the fence, their very most favorite hangout is - unfortunately - the community swimming pool. Something about the chemicals in the water appeal to them, the experts say. Or maybe they just want to be sociable. I sometimes spot them stopping for a pool-side drink when I'm hanging out there, and pretend that I don't see them or that they're not "my" bees. "Those bees?" I say, when a neighbor asks if they're from my hives. "I think those are wild bees."

And who knows? Maybe they are.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Don't weigh your honey before it's extracted

I try not to count my chickens before they hatch, so I know better than to weigh my honey before it's extracted. Nevertheless, if the 2010 summer honey flow is supposed to be over in these parts, nobody has told my bees.

I went to the monthly ABA meeting Tuesday night. The subject was small hive beetles, and I was pleased to come home with 4 new beetle traps - 2 of Mr. Cutts' Beetle Blasters, which I already use, and a new one that I'll try too. I asked a question about what we should be doing/looking for/etc. at this time of year and got some great answers and suggestions.

At the end of the Q&A, the consensus from the experts was that, if we new-bees had managed to keep our bees alive at this point, we were doing good. That's slightly depressing news, and says volumes about how rough a year this has been for beekeepers in general. Just in this area we've had loads of hive losses, more than average swarms back in the spring, loss of queens, heavy varroa mites, and worst of all - foulbrood. Bob L's entire beeyard is still under quarantine and he had to have several hives burned, which means he lost his honey crop for this summer and a good bit of his monetary investment as well.

The good news is - all 3 of my hives are going strong at the moment, so I'm happy not to have been one of the people raising my hand when Bob asked how many folks had lost at least one hive this year. All in all, it's been a hard, but interesting few month since my girls arrived. I've had 3 swarms, captured one, started a new hive, requeened, treated for varroa mites, and lost all the honey because of the Apiguard treatments. On the bright side, I ended up with 3 hives instead of 2 and now have loads of honey for the bees to eat over the winter. I recently installed a second super on my green hive because it was simply bursting with bees and the super was completely full of honey and brood. I just this morning checked the second super and they're drawing it out nicely and already putting in new honey so, as I said before, if the honey flow is supposed to be finished for this summer, nobody has told these girls! The only thing I see blooming right now is crepe myrtle, but there's tons of it in our neighborhood so they must be finding enough to keep them busy. Since I've already treated for mites, I am keeping my fingers crossed that I will at least get a couple of frames of honey to extract before the winter - especially once the goldenrod begins blooming. And with all the signs I've seen lately that we'll have an early fall, that just might happen.

But . . . until the honey's in the jars, I'll try not to weigh it!!

Thursday, June 10, 2010


I’ve been so busy enjoying summer in Tallahassee that I’m having to go back and catch up on things I should have posted long ago!

Almost two weeks ago now, I had one of the most fun days ever when I spent the morning with my friend Jayne – who is also a new beekeeper – helping her extract honey from her beehives. Jayne’s bees have been good girls. They didn’t swarmed, haven’t gotten varroa mites, and have been busy making tons of honey while mine have been out causing trouble. As a result, she had loads of honey that needed to be extracted and I volunteered to help out so that I could learn how to do it – in the event my bees ever decide to make enough to share with me!

First, we visited her hives. Jayne and her husband Jack have a beautiful piece of land that’s loaded with blueberries, goldenrod, gallberry bushes and loads of other plants that the bees obviously love. We opened up both hives and

decided that there were 6 frames that were fully loaded and completely capped with wax that could be taken from the hives. She had decided to try using fume board to get the bees out of the honey supers – which we all agreed smelled bad enough it would get rid of just about anything (the general consensus being that it smelled like rotten cheese). She put on the fume board and we waited 5 minutes, but still ended up having to brush a lot of

bees off the frames. After being stinked out of the supers AND brushed, they were not too happy! We all 3 worked as fast as we could, brushing bees and stuffing frames into an ice chest, then slapping on the lid to keep other bees out. Finally, we headed back to the house in her truck with our frames of honey.

Back at the house Jayne set up the honey extractor that she’d rented from the beekeeper’s club for the day. We set each frame on the top of the extractor and gently scraped the wax cappings with a fork, then loaded them one by one into the extractor. It only took a few spins of the handle to sling all the honey out of the frames. It didn’t look like much in the bottom of that big extractor, but when we opened the valve and let the honey flow out into my 5-gallon bucket, it filled it almost half full! We lifted the bucket onto Jayne’s bathroom scales and it weighed out at almost exactly 20 pounds. Not bad for only 6 frames of honey! If she’d extracted 10 frames each from both hives, I figure she’d have gotten about 70 pounds!

The honey really tasted good – a light clear golden color. I got a jar to take home, and drove home hot and sweaty, sticky with honey, but happy as a clam.

Can’t wait until I get to do this at my house - thanks for sharing your first honey extraction with me Jayne!

The dreaded varroa mite

It's been a while since I posted on the state of the bees, and much has been going on in that time. Being a new beekeeper I have nothing to compare it to, but all my experienced beekeeper friends agree - it's been a strange year for bees.

First, there was the epidemic of swarm activity back in the spring. Then it seemed that just about everybody whose hives swarmed ended up queenless. And now, to cap it off, there have been several cases of AFB, or American Foul Brood, in the area. AFB is the mother of all bee diseases - the ONE hive disease you don't want to end up with. It's so harsh and so contagious that, in the state of Florida at least, hives that are found to have it are required to be burned - bees and all.

The good news is that my hives don't appear to have it. The bad news is that beekeeper Bob, who lives only about 1 1/2 miles away (and from whom I bought my 2 queens a month ago) did have AFB in several of his hives. Bad news not only for Bob (who lost 4 of his hives) but potentially bad for me, since bees travel up to 3 miles from their hives to forage.

So . . . I called bee inspector Jeff to come and check out my hives earlier this week. They all looked clean for Foul Brood, but 2 of the 3 were carrying a heavy load of Varroa Mites, which can weaken and stress a hive and make them more susceptible to diseases. Such as Foul Brood.

Yesterday, I applied the first dose of Apiguard on both boxes, which is a natural thyme-based treatment that apparently doesn't kill the mites, but makes it so unpleasant for them that they pack up and head for greener pastures. After catching a whiff of the stuff, I can see why they wouldn't want to stay. I feel sorry for the bees, but am hoping that this will solve the mite problem and strengthen the hives. I'll apply the second dose in about a week, then will check for mites a few days later and see if the Apiguard has worked.

Keeping fingers crossed . . . .

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Movin' on up

Seems like there's always something to figure out or fiddle with in the beeyard. The problem of the week: why aren't the bees moving up into the honey super on the green and yellow hives? The past few times I've opened these hives I found a handful of bees walking around in the supers, but it seemed more like they were just out for a stroll rather than busily drawing out the comb and storing nectar.

I posted a question on the ABA site and was quickly advised to remove the queen excluders I had placed between the lower, deep hive and the upper honey super. The excluders were put there to allow the smaller worker bees to move up into the super to store honey, but to keep the larger queen from being able to move up and lay eggs there.

So on Saturday I opened up both green and yellow hives and removed the queen excluders. Last night I lifted up both lids and just took the tiniest peak inside. Both supers were LOADED with bees, which means they have clearly taken the hint that it's time to get down to work in those supers! Next task: checking to see if they're drawing out the comb and storing nectar there. If so, the excluders will go back on to keep her majesty down in the deep hive laying eggs, and hopefully - if all goes well - the supers will soon contain lots of beautiful honey that the bees and I can share!