Saturday, May 22, 2010

Swarm Season Begins

On Thursday I found my first swarm at my bee yard, a lovely prime swarm. I had to run back home to fetch loppers to trim away the brush. On returning, I see a new born fawn trying to hide in the foot long grass. His hind legs are so long they stuck up like a grasshopper behind. I walked within 3 feet of him. With one great "bleat!"(translated "Mom!" in English), he ran for the hedge. Mother jumped out of the hedge, considered whether to run or stomp me to death, then ran into the woods with junior. That's when I remembered I had a camera in my cell phone.
Back to the swarm. Dr. Tom Seeley says that to conserve energy, a swarm keeps its temperature too low for flight until the swarm is ready to take off. The scout bees grab hold of the low temperature bees and shake them to get them warmed up. I thought of this as I noticed the top of the swarm seemed to be "bubbling"—a lot of activity. As I trimmed around the swarm the activity increased, then the bees began sloughing off the sides and within a minute they were airborne.
Tanging: the beating on a pot or clanging a bell to induce a swarm to alight. The superstition persists, probably because it appears to work most of the time (especially when the swarm, emerging from a hive, is going to alight anyways). I had a pan handy, and no one around to see me make a fool of myself. So I tanged them out of sight. Good bye bees.

Swarm Call and a Moral Dilemma

The Avoca School had a swarm on the gymnasium wall at ground level. In their panic, they called 2 beekeepers. When I arrived, beekeeper #1 was already there, trying to brush bees into a hive body. Because the swarm had split into two areas, I offered to scoop up the bees in the second area. My area contained the queen and the bees were soon filing into my swarm box and exiting Matt's hive body.
Who owns these bees, the beekeeper who arrives first, or the one who catches the bees?
Matt should get the bees, but what you can't see in the picture is that these boxes fit into my bee vac and I didn't want to just give them away and I sure didn't want to drive to Wallace to retrieve them.
"You want these bees?" I asked Matt, knowing they should be his. Matt, it turned out was mostly getting the bees as a service to the school. He let me take them. And they moved right into one of my dead hives.
I also received sting #5( hand) and #6(right between the eyes-enough impressing the audience, time to put on the veil and gloves).

Monday, May 17, 2010

First 4 Stings

One of the local plant that yields surplus honey is blooming. I've heard it called Autumn olive or Russian olive. It's probably an invasive species and considered a pest. I didn't see any bees on these when I looked.

Saturday, May 15th: cool and breezy. Not an ideal bee day but I'm not keeping up with them very well. I opened the first colony. A couple bees seemed annoyed. The phone rang and as I talked for the next 20 or 30 minutes, a lone bee kept batting at my head, until I walked away into the woods.
That colony looked good—lots of brood, nectar, and pollen.
After the phone call I opened the 2nd hive. Suddenly I had a cloud of bees around my hands. I backed away, but too late. Later I counted 4 stings. I closed up that hive but a cloud of bees followed me around the yard so I gave up for another day.
Sometimes "hot" hives return to normal. Sometimes "hot" is a reaction to some sort of stress. I'll use gloves when I work that hive. Some experts say there's no correlation, but in my experience, aggressive hives often produce lots of honey.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

2008-9 honey bee losses

I got an e-mail from Dennis VanEnglesdorp with the results of the latest bee loss survey:
Just over one third of bees died last winter: 33.8%. The year before that was 29% and three years ago 35.8% of colonies died.
These are managed colonies and many or most are probably treated for various diseases. If you lose a third of your colonies after treating them, you waste the treatment cost as well as the value of the bees.
How serious are these statistics?
1. Some mortality is normal and acceptable. I don't know what's acceptable, but despite a beekeeper's best efforts, most hives will swarm at least once a year. (My hives swarm somewhere between 1.5 and 2 times a year.) If all colonies survived the winter, we'd be over run with bees in ten years.
2. The survey includes people with 5+ hives. The number of beekeepers with less than 5 has increased in all three years.
3. This number doesn't count wild colonies.
4. These losses aren't cumulative. The losses are replaced every spring and summer through swarming and swarm preventive splits.
The total number of colonies every year may be somewhere in this article and I missed it. That's probably an important number.
Anyways, I lost 1/6 of my colonies, or 16.7%, about half the national average and I didn't waste time and money on medications.
I expect more summer deaths and unless I have time to make splits and add supers, I'll probably have lots of swarms to catch again this spring and summer.

Beekeeping class

It's snowing now at 9 PM, May 8. Seven hours ago I hosted a "Bee Yard Etiquette" class during a high wind advisory. 5 attended and we broke my first two rules of Bee Yard Etiquette:
1. Don't open a hive when it's cold.
2. Don't open a hive when it's windy.
We broke rule 3 after about twenty minutes:
3. Don't open a hive in the rain.

The first hive was a drone layer.
The second hive was a double nuc—it survived the winter with only 8 frames. I wanted to check the condition but the frames were pretty tight and then it started to rain.
I shortened the class.
The power was gone when we returned home.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Noah's Ark Preschool lecture

How do you scoop bees out of a hive when it's snowing? I tried putting the jar over the inner cover hole, then tapping on the hive, thinking they might crawl up. They didn't, but the inside of the jar fogged up. You forget how warm it is inside a hive.
There were 20 or so bees on the inner cover and I had a large funnel. Once the bees cool down they don't fly so by the time I thought of it, it was easy to brush them into the funnel and into the jar.
The next morning I took my little pets to preschool to teach the children about honey and bees. There were 10 just over knee high children there and they put them in a semi circle on the floor. I put my stuff on a flannel sheet I use for swarms. I put on my veil and gloves, opened the hive and lifted out the jar of bees. The kids inched closer as I talked until they were all over me and the hive, spreading deadly preschool germs. Could this be how Nosema ceranae spreads?
I passed out crackers with a glop of bamboo honey. Both women later bought some of my bamboo honey at the local bulk food store.