Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Seven is Heaven

Dad took the call.

Someone in our city had a swarm in their back yard.  Could we come?

Normally we would refer them to our Swarm Collector List but in this case it just so happened that the swarm was in our subdivision.

It was only two streets away.  In fact it was a house on my sister's street.  And it was the house right next door to hers.  Dad called me and we went over.  It was around 8:00 p.m.

I called my sister.
"Dad and I are collecting a swarm on your street."
"Where?" she asked.
"We're going to the pink house," I said.
"What pink house?" she asked
"The one next to you.  On the corner."
"Yes, so go on over and we'll meet you there," I said.

Dad was already there when I arrived, along with the home owner, and my sister.  The owner stayed a ways back from the swarm.  That's not unexpected.  He was being cautious.

I handed my camera to my sister.  She could be the paparazzi.  I noticed she stood a lot closer and wasn't afraid.

She hasn't been to the yard a lot but she's heard so much about bees and has been my beta reader for my book so she's learned a lot about them.

The swarm had placed themselves in perfect reach about 4 feet from the ground.

Isn't it handy that the bees often swarm on a branch close to the ground?  I know they don't always do it so nicely, but the last two swarms were very considerate.

Dad and I opted to do the shake method since the limb was fairly substantial.  This is where the light cardboard nuc comes in handy - it's easy to hold up to the limb.

After a couple good shakes there were lots of bees in the air so I took to using the brush instead and this actually worked better than shaking.  I held the nuc lid under the limb and brushed the bees into it.  They fell in large clumps.  Then I tipped the lid and shook them into the nuc.

It would probably work well to have the deep on the ground and use the cardboard lid to catch them and then shake into the deep instead.  I had a deep there but didn't want to use it because I wanted to clean it up first before putting it into service.
I took the nuc to Mom and Dad's for the night.
The next morning I put the nuc frames into the deep along with a hive top feeder.

Dad had to return the next day because there were more bees clustered around the limb - so we hadn't gotten them all--I should have left the nuc until after dark and given the bees more time.

Mom had her plates of water with sticks again and I asked Dad who removed the rocks from the bird bath?
"I did," he said.  "I thought some kid put them in there."
"Yes," I said, "Mom was the kid."
We explained the rocks were there for the bees to sit on when they got a drink.

Once again Mom has a hive to observe.  At least for a week or so until we move it to the bee yard.

We have seven hives now but we still haven't found a new location for our yard.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Book Review: The Biology of the Honey Bee

This book is a beekeeper's must have.  I learned a lot of new stuff, details about bee biology that I hadn't read anywhere elsewhere.

It answered the strange yellow stripe on the bees question.

There's a wonderful two page chart which shows the exact development day by day for all three castes - worker, queen and drone. It shows the development of egg, larvae and pupae as well as the stages of capping - this is great when viewing queen cells to see how far along they are. The chart used in queen rearing courses.

I didn't realize how many glands the workers have. Most I knew about but not all of them. Hypopharyngeal (for royal jelly), salivary, mandibular (alarm/defense), wax, poison sac, Nasonov (homing scent), Arnhart and Dufour.

The Dufour and Arnhart are foot glands. The Arnhart gland is used for footprint marking and possibly forage marking as well.

There are many detailed diagrams and charts throughout, i.e., how the worker transfers and attaches the pollen to the hind legs, grooming, use of wings, etc.

The Chemical World chapter was really interesting - how the queen's pheromones get transferred through the hive by worker messenger bees, how brood pheromones encourage workers to forage for food, etc.

The author's writing style is easy to read. There are some technical details but they're certainly not overdone (no need to skip pages or be put to sleep) and the author breaks them down in such a way that you'll get the point, regardless if you're a beekeeper or someone who's interested in bees.

Some of the chapters are: The Origin and Evolutionary History of Bees, Honey Bee Anatomy, Development and Nutrition, Nest Architecture, The Age-Related Activities of Worker Bees, Other Worker Activities, The Chemical World of Honey Bees, Communication and Orientation, etc.

References to studies are listed throughout. There's a full reference section at the back.

This book is available on I highly recommend it and certainly plan to read it again so I can absorb more of its content.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Summer Solstice is a very Long Day

Wikepedia says:  The summer solstice occurs exactly when the Earth's semi-axis in a given hemisphere is most inclined towards the sun, at its maximum tilt of 23° 26'. Though the summer solstice is an instant in time, the term is also colloquially used like Midsummer to refer to the day on which it occurs. Except in the polar regions (where daylight is continuous for many months), the day on which the summer solstice occurs is the day of the year with the longest period of daylight. The summer solstice occurs in June in the Northern Hemisphere.

Ever since we moved to the new bee yard two years ago I grew more concerned as I fell more and more in love with that property--concerned we'd lose the location.

Spiderman would say his spider senses were tingling, giving him a warning that something was coming.  Something bad.  In my case my gut was telling me.  I just knew.  My pessimistic self says it happened because we had it too good.  The site was just too perfect.  My optimistic side says it would have happened anyway.  Somewhere in there is the truth I guess.

The problem is straightforward:  The city owns the land.  They're selling it.  We have to leave.  We have two months.

Lester, the apple farmer, has rented the land for years and years.  He's the one who welcomed us there.  Now he has to leave too.

They'll level the old farm house and the crumbling outbuildings.  At some point they'll probably bulldoze the 700+ apple trees too.  All I could think about is where will the Orioles, Warblers, Chickadees and Pheasants go?  I've never seen more birds than on this property.  It's a bird watcher's delight.

When Les told me I could feel my eyes watering up.  I had my veil in hand so I quickly put it on so he wouldn't see the tears.

"Are you crying?" he asked.
"Yes," I said.  "Sorry.  I'm a girl so I can't help but cry."
"I cried too," he said, "and I'm not a girl."  He tried to laugh.

It was a sad moment.  Two people who cherish the ground under their feet.  Now it felt like sifting sands.

He explained that he was trying to find an alternate location for me.  I realized he's like me.  Trying to give a solution along with the problem.  He didn't want to have to tell me but he had no choice.  The hives had to go.  He knew I loved it there.

I asked where he would go?  He's lived there a very long time.  He said he'd move downtown.  He'd be most happy being close to people.  Les is a real talker.  I nodded.  It made sense.

I couldn't wait for him to walk away so I could be alone to do what Oprah calls 'the ugly cry'.

The bees were coming and going, oblivious to the change that would come shortly yet my little world felt crushed.  Only a few days ago Dad and I had installed the swarm hive, our sixth.  I was still visiting the yard every few days, often just to hang out and relax, watch the bees and listen to the birds.

On my way home I stopped in at Mom and Dad's so I could let them know.  Dad didn't say a thing.  It's not like him to be quiet.

The property will be worth millions for some industrial company or investor so it's well beyond our wildest dreams to purchase it for ourselves.  Les thought the demolition could begin in a couple months.

21 June is the Summer Solstice, the longest day of daylight.  I agree.  It was a long day.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Yellow Pollen Stripe on Bee's Thorax

My friend Janice bought two full hives in May.

She was new to beekeeping and hadn't taken the beekeeper's course yet so I offered to help her with her first hive inspection.

Her hives looked great and she was proud to hear that her queen was an awesome layer. There were wall to wall worker combs on the frames.

With both hives we noticed the occasional worker with a strange rectangle shaped yellow stripe on their back (thorax). It was a yellow daffodil colour and to my thinking it didn't look like pollen.
It was such a perfect rectangle with such straight edges that it looked like it had been painted on. Was it some strange infection I wondered? Were the bees sick with something? Janice wondered if she'd medicated them incorrectly.

I regret very much that I didn't take photos of these striped bees but at the other photos are of Janice and her bees.

There was only one thing to do: Ask an expert.

I emailed our tech team and they advised that there are certain flowers that mark the bees with this stripe.

That was a relief to hear!

I've been reading The Biology of the Honey Bee by Mark L. Winston (I'll report on this book later). In it he says that when bees groom themselves they "have a blind spot on the top of their middle thoracic segment, and workers returning from pollen-collecting visits to certain flowers can be seen with a stripe of brightly colored pollen on that region of the thorax."

It's so nice to have double confirmation. It'd be nicer if I had pictures too… next time I will.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Naughty Marketing Manager

There once was a beekeeper/marketing manager who sold honey. He was very proud of his delicious honey.  He thought his honey was the best tasting honey in the world.

One day he and his wife packed their suitcases. They were going on an exciting trip to Melbourne, Australia. His youngest grandson was getting married and they were flying down under to attend the wedding.

The day before he was to leave his beekeeper daughter thought about how proud he was of his honey. She knew he wanted everyone to taste the delicious honey.  So she asked him if he had packed honey to take to Australia.

"Yes," he said, "but it's in my suitcase and not my carry on bags so it's okay."

"No, it's not okay," she said.  "You can't take honey to Australia. It's forbidden."

"It's just one jar. I want my family to taste our honey."

"Australian customs won't allow it. It's against the law," she said.

"No it's not."

"Yes it is. If that honey got eaten by Aussie bees it could spread disease."

"We're going to eat it. I'm also taking maple syrup and Tim Horton's coffee," he said.

"Those are different. But with honey the Agriculture dog is going to bark when he sniffs your bags and you'll get pulled off the plane," she warned.

"No he won't bark."

"Trust me he will bark and you'll get into big trouble.  You could get a fine too," she said.  "That's how pests get into countries.  It's because of well meaning people. Now we have Varroa Mites and Small Hive Beetles. Even American Foulbrood was brought to North America by the Pilgrims."

But the marketing manager was so proud of his honey that he refused to take the honey out of his suitcase.

"You'll get arrested," she warned again.

"Then I'll go to jail," he said.

"You'll get pulled off the plane in Sydney and you'll miss your connecting flight to Melbourne."

He hesitated.

Later that night the beekeeping daughter Googled Australian customs. Then she called the marketing manager and told him, "No bee products are permitted into Australia. That means honey, wax, bees, pollen or propolis."

"Okay, you win. I won't take it," he said.

"It's not winning, it's to prevent the spread of pests, disease and viruses."

Then the beekeeping daughter asked if the marketing manager would bring her home a big jar of Vegemite from Australia.

The marketing manager replied he didn't think that Vegemite should be permitted into Canada if he couldn't take his honey to Australia.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Mini Me

I don't know why but I admit it came as a real surprise.

I put the swarm I got last week in a hive that I took to my parent's place.  The plan is to keep it there a week so the bees can reorient.  Then I'll return them to the bee yard.

The surprise was the amount of interest my mother is showing in the bees.  In fact she's been spending quite a bit of time observing them.

When I arrived with the hive I noticed she had put rocks in the bird bath for the bees to land on.  She'd also set out plates of water with twigs as landing boards.

The next day she commented that some of the bees aren't very good fliers.  She noticed that sometimes they bump into each other at the platform.  She witnessed caretaker bees carrying out their dead.  She watched them stick out their tongues and sip water from the damp paper towel (which she keeps re wetting for them).

Then I heard that she was feeding them honey.  She remembered me telling her that I would take my pails and empty combs back to the bee yard for the bees to lick clean.  After she emptied a honey pail she put it and the sticky spoons out for the bees to lick clean.  And they did.

Yesterday I was at their place for dinner and was informed that the bees had found a food source.  I watched them flying in a bee-line up over the house one after another.  I wonder what food source they'd found.

For a new hive I've noticed they aren't eating much sugar syrup.  I guess they don't need it.  On the weekend I'll move them back to the yard and do a hive check just to make sure everything's okay... but looking from the outside and their busy-as-bee activity I can tell things are just fine.

So after hearing about all this interest from Mom I'm left thinking that my enthusiasm for insects may have come from both parents.  After all, they say the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.  And we all know who pollinates the blooms.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Naughty Naughty Bees

Saturday we had storms and some towns outside London had hail.

Then early Tuesday morning another huge storm rolled in bringing high winds and fierce thunder and lightening.  They wind was clocked at the local airport at 102 kms an hour.  The airport is less than a mile from my bee yard.

We all missed our sleep that night.

By Wed I knew I needed to do a drive by the bee yard to make sure the high winds hadn't damaged the hives or caused problems.  I had a delivery to make and a meeting that night so I only had an hour.

This is what greeted me at the bee yard:

Hive #3 swarmed.  Oh I knew it would be them.  But God bless the little bees because they landed close by where I could easily see them.  And they were only 5' from the ground, easily within reach.

Wouldn't you know it, my limb cutters had broken the previous week.  I tried cutting the branches with a pair of scissors but they were too thick.  The only other option was to shake them. 

Originally I hoped to cut the branches and put them in the wooden deep but with shaking, I couldn't hold the deep with one hand and shake with the other.  I needed something lighter.

I had brought one of my cardboard nucs to leave in the yard .... just in case.  Well this was the just case!  I grabbed it, added two frames with foundation, lowered the branch into the nuc as much as I could and shook the branch.  (I only put in 2 frames so there was room for the bees).

Thousands fell in a huge clump into the box.  Others took to the air, circling.  I had on a veil and helmet and short sleeved shirt - no problem.  They were gentle.

I shook the other branches until I got as many as I could.  Then I set the nuc down on top of the deep.  I left the lid partly on and waited.  In moments the bees started putting their rears in the air, exposing their Nasonov glands and fanning out homing pheromones.  The nuc began to fill up quickly.  Within 15 minutes there were very few bees still in the air.

Then I put a moistened piece of paper towel on a corner of the screening on top of the nuc.  It was 36 degrees Celsius and very humid.  I knew the bees would be hot.  I was sweating buckets.

In the mean time I'd made a frantic call to Dad.  He came out to take over the delivery of some items that I was supposed to do that night.  That left me free to take care of the bees.

I decided to transfer the bees to the wooden deep while still at the yard.  Any bees that didn't want to transfer could then fly back to Hive #3.  I finally relaxed while the bees did homing scents again and the deep filled up.

I loaded it on the truck, leaving only a small keyhole open - I knew they'd get hot very fast and I wanted to get them situated as quickly as possible.

I warned Mom I was coming and a request:  Please set out dishes of water.  I've read that the first water source bees find they stick with--and I didn't want it to be the neighbour's swimming pool.  With water in a bird bath and some dishes  they'd be fine.
We set the hive with a southern exposure.  I took off the cover a moment to let out the extra heat.  Many bees crawled up for a few minutes and then gradually moved back down into the deep.

I added a hive top feeder.  I left them with an upper keyhole exit and half the entrance reduced.  It was too hot to reduce it more than that.

I'd used an inner cover as a base for the deep on the ride home and I set that out front so the bees could walk up home, which they did.

[Note the moistened paper towel outside the entrance - the bees were sipping water from it].

The bees on the porch put their rears up and scented for these younger bees to find the new entrance.

They weren't really naughty, since swarming is a sign of a healthy hive but they did get me going for a few hours.
I never did make it to the meeting.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

First Split Hive Returns to the Yard

When is the best time to move a hive?

At night.

This event, moving the new split nuc hive back to the bee yard, was a clandestine operation.  So, there's no night time/flash photos.  I didn't want to attract the neighbours' attention.  I had put the hive in my back yard for two weeks because I needed an alternate location so the workers wouldn't all fly back to their original hive after the split.

[Photo - next to the new split hive is an empty hive.  it never hurts to have an extra hive around.]

During daylight I prepared.  I was using a hive top feeder because they need to build comb on the deep--six frames and a super.  By taking that off early it gave the bees inside a chance to leave and return to the hive.

Next I sealed the hive parts together, the bottom board, the deep and medium super.  I'm a big fan of duct tape.

At 9:30 p.m. when it was pretty dark I took a piece of window screening and pressed it into the entrance to keep the bees inside.

Then my nephew and I lifted the hive and set it on the back of the truck.

The advice given here is to place the hive entrance facing to to the road behind so that wind from driving won't blow inside the hive.  Also by placing this way the frames will be parallel with the direction of the vehicle so that when the truck sways in motion the frames rock end to end instead of possibly slamming together when you go over bumps in the road.

I had prepared the yard ahead, setting up a platform with cement blocks, a skid and a large piece of plywood on top.

I had flashlights on hand so we could see and I put in a different entrance reducer so the bees would hopefully notice the change and orient before leaving.  I also put some greenery right in front of the entrance to slow their exit down.

The bees were calm and quiet and the exchange went well.

The next day I returned and gave them back the hive top feeder and removed the duct tape.  The bees were flying well and orienting.

A week later the hive was ready for another super.

A note re our weather - The next day I was driving about 20 kms north of London and came through pea sized hail.  But back home they only had rain.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

From Lions to Lambs

When I first was interested in beekeeping I spent a year researching bees.  I took the Introductory Beekeeping course too.  After a year of novel writing and research I got my bees (after breaking my right arm too!)

[Photo - my "homemade" grafting technique - using a double-pointed knitting needle to hold a queen cell between the frames].

When I finally got my bees I called a fellow beekeeper that I'd met to tell him I was now officially a beekeeper.  He laughed and said, "You know, you're not a real beekeeper until your own bees chase you out of your bee yard."

I can tell you that I'm now a real beekeeper.

This spring my bees were not very friendly.  It was so unlike them.  The rains kept coming and the weather stayed cold.  It was difficult to get a day when the hives could be opened.

Then they built swarm cells.  This happened two summers ago too when we had a horrible wet summer.  I'd heard that many beekeepers were having problems with bees swarming.

[Photo - empty queen cell from my Hive #1 graft]

Another beekeeping friend said the bees need to have something to do, otherwise they think about swarming.  When it rains too much and they can't forage they get frustrated.  It reminds me of a border collie dog, bred to work all day long without tiring.  They must be kept busy to be kept happy.

In the last week my bee yard was like a lion's den.  I got stung on the forehead for merely standing six feet away.  Another bee got stuck in my hair and buzzed angrily as she tried to sting me.

I had to gear up and the bees pelted off my helmet.  I was not their favourite person.

When I opened the hives their personality was different.  They weren't relaxed.  They were agitated.  They went for my hands constantly, bouncing off them or trying to sting.  This just wasn't their normal behaviour.

They were zinging me so much that I left the yard.

But ten days after the queen graft I dared to return.  And I found that the lions had turned into lambs.  I opened all the hives.  I didn't need to do inspections pulling frames.  I had my answer when just lifting the inner cover.

That happy contented hum.  They look up at me and ignored me.  I didn't need smoke.  I don't know if Hive #1 accepted the queen I gave them (queen cell) or if they had a hatched queen that was mating but either way I could tell they weren't queenless any more.

They were happy.  Finally.

And the sun has come out for a few days.  It's been hot.  I feel happy too.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

A Knitter Grafts a Queen Cell

What has beekeeping got to do with knitting?  Well lots actually.

I have cute bee knitting patterns and even wool.  I just don't have time to knit.  I'm too busy beekeeping.  But I digress.

When I did the split of Hive #4 one frame that went into the split had the old queen and I knew there were two capped queen cells there as well.

While making the split at the yard my plan was to crush the cells after I did the split.  But the bees got agitated in the split hive and I realized if I took the lid off they'd fly back to their old hive.  So I left it to do the next day.  I relocated the split hive to my back yard--it'll stay there for a couple weeks so the bees will orient to a new location.  Then I'll take it back to the yard (4 kms from my home).

My goal this day was to open Hive #1 for a second closer look.  The bees had been very agitated on the last inspection which was unlike them.  I suspected the hive was queenless. 

On Hive #1's previous inspection the boxes were very full of honey.  There were some capped brood--sporadic-- and I didn't see any larvae.  No queen cells were evident and neither was a queen.

On this second inspection - it was the same.  No capped brood that I could see, nor larvae.  And the bees were mad.  My friend Henry says they'll sound different if they're queenless.  They did:  Agitated.

There were a couple queen cups this time but I didn't see anything in them.  Maybe the bees didn't have an egg they could use?

I got stung too.  This hive has never stung me in three years.  I didn't have absolute proof yet but this hive was looking queenless.  And I knew where there was a queen.  At home in the hive I'd split the day before.

I closed up, raced home.

My solution was to take a queen cell, one of the ones I was going to crush when I did the split.  I used a sharp knife to carefully cut the cell away from the bottom of the frame.  I held it carefully.

I could actually feel the queen wiggling and moving inside the cell.  She wanted out!

An excellent book, The Biology of the Honey Bee by Mark Winston has a great chart showing each day's development in the life of a worker, drone and queen.  Based on that illustration this queen would be hatching any time in the next two days.

This is where knitting comes into the story.  I was trying to figure out how to graft this queen cell into a frame and do it without harming the queen.  I brought a range of potential aids to help me do this--even duct tape. 

In the end I opted to use a small double pointed knitting needle.  I carefully pierced it through the thick part at the top of the cell, leaving the cell dangling down from the needle.  Then I hung it across the top bars so the cell pointed downward between two frames.

As soon as the cell entered the hive the bees gravitated to it.  They could smell a queen.  I only kept the hive open a moment to watch while they climbed onto it.  Their behaviour didn't look aggressive but I didn't stay longer to watch--the hive had been opened twice that day already.  I gave them an extra super and closed up.

It'll be up to the bees to decide what to do.  If they have a queen, she can dispose of the cell or the workers can.  If they truly were queenless then this cell could provide them just what they need.  Time will tell.

All we need now is for the sun to come out.