Thursday, April 21, 2016

Transferring the wild bees to a hive

We had to make a quick trip to New Hampshire so I couldn't get back to the bees for a week. The old comb has been in a box, separated by 3/8 inch spacers (that's the natural distance bees keep between combs. The bees have to be transferred to a movable comb hive. So to start I move the box about 10 feet away and put an empty box in its place, and add a comb of brood, a comb of pollen, and a comb of honey from another hive.

Comb removed from the barn and stored temporarily in a hive box
The combs are shaken into the new box with regular frames in it.
The new box is placed on the original stand
The old comb containing brood is put over a queen excluder in the hive from which I borrowed the brood. I'll take it out again when the brood has hatched and melt it into beeswax. 
The queen didn't survive the transfer, so the bees made queen cells from the young larvae. Most of them were small and would yield inferior queens. I killed them, but saved this frame. I'll have to move it before they hatch. Virgin queens might squeeze through the queen excluder and kill the other queen below. She is due to hatch in about 3 days. The rest of the brood on the comb will be hatched in about 14 days.
3 queen cells

Friday, April 15, 2016

Rescuing bees from a Collapsing Barn

The old barn had shifted suddenly off its foundation about 18 inches. The owner wanted to save the barn but a colony of bees had lived in the corner for about 25 years. He hired me to remove them.

To the left is the nest, located on the 2nd floor in what was once the granary. To the right notice the biggest white faced hornet nest I've ever seen. I'm glad the hornets were gone.
The nest was obviously occupied for many years, although the colony could have died several times with new swarms moving in. That would hardly be noticed by the people. This is a typical colony size—5' tall and 2' wide. Also typical are the long droopy combs at the bottom irregular comb near the top.
Early in the year the population is low and easy to manage. By July this comb would be totally covered with bees. If I knew how, I'd add arrows to the photo to show drone comb, brood comb, honey comb and last year's unused queen cells.
You can see irregular fault lines in the honey comb where sometime in the past the comb became too heavy, stretched, then was later repaired by the bees. Lots of last year's honey is left in this colony. I'll render about 60 lbs of wild honey from this colony.
Bees are generally easier to handle in the spring. I removed a large portion of the colony with no protective suit or gloves. The owner helped the entire time without any protective clothing. We both tied at 4 stings each for the afternoon's work. I'm filling the box, lower right, with combs of brood. There are thousands of baby bees developing and discarding them would be a huge set back for the colony. I filled a large plastic bin with honey-filled comb and another one with empty comb to be melted into beeswax.
Cutting out brood comb.

The brood needs almost the same temperature that a poultry incubator provides, so I keep as many bees on the brood comb as possible and I brush more off into the hive to maintain the proper temperature. The rest are vacuumed into a special vacuum that doesn't injure the bees and in the evening I poured them into the new hive. The homeowner wants to become a beekeeper. Since he stayed through the entire process, got stung and still shows interest, I have no qualms about giving him the bees once I've established them in a movable comb hive. I like his one comment, "Beekeeping is a lot of work, isn't it?"

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Wild Honey

Rendering old honeycombs from wild bee nests usually yields honey that is black, bitter, and nasty. This batch has a rich but mild excellent flavor.
 The secret is to sort out all combs containing pollen which makes the honey bitter and gritty. Nothing but clean pure honeycomb is put into a giant double boiler (a bucket inside a canner) and heated just below the melting point of the wax. The honey and wax are poured through a coarse and fine strainer into the bottling bucket. I only bottle the honey that runs out freely—no squeezing the combs. That all gets remelted to fully separate the rest of the honey and wax. That honey is black, somewhat bitter, and I can sell it as baking honey.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

April Snow Showers bring...

After a blustery, snowy night I visited the bees.
 You can tell the size of the cluster and the health of the colony by the size of the melted snow in the center of the roof. You can also tell which colonies are alive or dead:
I never saw this pattern of melted snow all winter, only this spring. My guess is they are making more heat and using more honey because of brood rearing. The brood has to be kept above 90 degrees.