Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Tutorial: $7 Hive Stand

   Finally! The long awaited $7 hive stand tutorial! Sorry it took so long. I know it's been mentioned at least three times before. I've been throwing all of my energy and time into 7 day work weeks (first day off tomorrow in 3 1/2 weeks woo!), with the end goal being the purchase of a nice bee and agriculture friendly parcel of land. It took a while, but things have finally fallen into a rhythm. Now it's time to play catch up with the blog!

   So, for a while I'd been using cinder blocks as a base for my hives. Unfortunately, cinder blocks provide LOTS of surface area for ant activity. Before I knew it, the base of my cinderblocks had become causeways for fire ants. On the positive side, the ants are more interested in dead bees than honey. The ants have been doing an excellent, and very timely, job of keeping the ground free of dead bees. This in turn keeps away more serious pests, and the stray ants do get bullied away from the hive interior by guard bees. It's actually really neat to see! Without physically feeling the wind that comes off of a single bees wings, one would never guess just how powerful they are. If I had three bees on my veil to act as fans at all times, I'd never break a sweat. These girls pack some serious horsepower in those wings! When I was removing the bees from the toolshed, the floor had ended up being covered in sawdust. There'd be the occasional bee lazily flying around the shed about 2 feet off the floor. Those bees would be parting the sawdust in the same way that a boat splits the ocean to create a wake. It's not uncommon to see a guard bee chase an ant to the edge of the entrance, and then turn around to literally blow the ant off the edge with air buffets from it's wings! Crazy girls. They impress me every time I visit the hives.

   That being said, it's a sad fact of beekeeping that it's not uncommon to crunch a bee or three between the outer cover (lid of the hive w/ aluminum covering) and the inner cover or sides of the hive. Ants love to get in there and clean up whoever got crunched. It's a nice service, but I do worry about them overcoming a weak hive, or setting up a nest between the top & inner cover, and going for larvae. So we need something better than cinder blocks. This calls for an actual hive stand with wooden legs!
   The nice thing about wooden legs is that it's possible to sit them in cans of motor oil. Motor oil creates an impassible moat that the ants won't be able to cross. Presto! Ant free bee hives! Vegetable oil is no good by the way. It instantly absorbs moisture from the air and will spoil real quick. That in turn will just attract more pests/mold, compounding the problem.

   After a short interwebs search, I came across several really popular designs and YouTube videos for creating ladder-like hive stands. These in turn were set on cinder blocks, which was no good, but the concept was sound! The best part of these hive "ladder" stands is that they're made from $5 2x4's, the most common piece of lumber around. I also found a few designs that had legs, but they were all sorts of overly complicated. In addition, the weight bearing segments had all of the weight resting on the nails... That just didn't make sense to me. Above is one of the popular designs with legs. I'd much prefer having the weight bearing wood, that over 200lbs of hive rests on, be resting on the legs so that the wood of the legs is where the pressure would be concentrated. Is it just me, or does the design above just beg to have the hives come crashing down once the nails rust enough to bend? If those nails come out, then there goes the support for the horizontal beams, and down they go.

   Here's my design. It's simple, sturdy, and the horizontal beams are situated on TOP of the legs. That way, the weight bears down on the legs, and is distributed by the horizontal beams. That way the nails mainly serve to connect the boards so that there's no movement in the boards. The weight is supported by the density and integrity of the wood, rather than on the integrity of the nails. I'd bet on the nails more quickly rotting through in a 24/7 outdoor environment than this copper weather-treated wood.

   I'm not naive enough to think that no one has come up with this design before, but I wasn't able to find it anywhere else. So I'm going to be willfully ignorant and bask in my own ingenuity for the time it takes to write this tutorial haha.

$7 Hive Stand Tutorial:

Materials For 2 Stands  
3 - 2x4 8" Weather Treated lumber
1 - Saw (I use a Japanese style "ryoba" pull saw)
32 - Weather Treated self-starting 2 1/2" screws
1 - Electric Driver/Drill with a screw-appropriate bit
1 - Measuring Tape
1- Pencil
1 - Pair of gloves (I use soft calf hide. The wood treated lumber is construction grade and will splinter the heck of you real quick, not to mention avoiding the absorption of weathering treatment)
1 - Breathing mask (if sawing in a low-breeze area, you don't want to inhale the moist copper and chemical infused sawdust, seriously.)
1 - Bottom board of a nuc box, if on hand

Step 1) 
Measure out your wood! For two of the 2x4s, you'll want to measure out two 3' pieces and two 1' pieces. The longer pieces will be the horizontal supports, and the smaller will be braces.
The third 2x4 you'll want to cut into four pieces, which are 2' each. These will be the legs.

Step 2)
Use the bottom board of a nuc box to layout the pieces. I didn't see this anywhere, but it just "worked" when I needed something to hold my long boards in place while drilling out these holes. I was a cheapskate and didn't buy self-drilling screws. Learn from my mistakes!

The long support beams fit perfectly on the sides as you can see, and the stabilizing braces also evened out nicely, with the edges approximately centered on the long support beams. You'll just have to eyeball the spacing of the braces from each other. You'll want them about 4" in from the edges. That seems to center the weigh on the legs nicely, while still having the legs close enough to the middle that the support beams won't sag in the middle over time. Also, make sure that the 2' segments settle nicely in next to the support braces, like above.

Step 3)
Screw it all together! Two screws per piece, reference the picture of the finished stand that's flipped upside down. The screws going vertically through support beam <-> braces are wide set, about an inch in from the edges. The screws going horizontal through leg <-> brace are a bit more closely set, that way they run on the inside of the vertical screws.

PRESTO! Your super amazing, ridiculously good looking hive stands are complete! How sweet is that? It took me a longer time since I was kind of generating the plans for this as I went along, but I'm sure it will go much more quickly for anyone following this. It's a lot more simple than other plans, three major steps, and costs $5 per piece of 2x4. That's pretty hard to beat! Store bought stands can run $40 EASY. These can each support two hives with telescoping covers, and can easily be lined up so that the beekeeper can walk down a pathway, with hives on both left and right, with entrances facing away from the keeper.

Not too shabby methinks.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

New Logo x2!

   Not one, but TWO new looks! My good friend Angela (http://loveangelaan.blogspot.com) redesigned the logo (and Gentlebee) to look more warm, as well as to be more "print" friendly for shirts/cards/etc. Just look at the little buttercup he's drinking from! Also check out the banner at the top! So awesome! The wallpaper is going to need to be changed to match too. I'll have to do some wallpaper hunting tomorrow.

   Also, I was planning on revealing the artwork along with an update on the bees, but things have been crazy in real life! My remote-access IT job started (9am-7pm Fri-Mon), as well as working again as a veterinary assistant (7/8/9 - 7pm Tues-Thurs). Yes, that's a 7 day work week. Unfortunately that only leaves a few hours each night to take care of the seven projects that are in the works. So each night has pretty much been devoted to just one task, except for 30mins-1hour each night of teaching myself HTML. Hopefully the new website will be up soon and the blog can be transferred over to a real-deal url, that being Zeekeeper.com.

   All of this work is going to be worth it though, things are on track to purchase 20-40 acres of land in seven months. Depending on the parcel size, it'll either be entirely in cash or more than 75% down. There'll be plenty of space for setting up bee yards on the parcel corners, an area for training the future hawks and falcons, plenty of space for farming if my friend decides to co-op, space for setting up a wood/metal/glass community workshop, and a LOT of semi-wild land for training and raising Japanese hunting dogs. Most of the parcels I've viewed online are bordered by completely undeveloped, wild land too, which is excellent!

   As for the next blog update (with hive stand tutorial included, I promise!), it'll be posted as soon as I get pictures from today's hive inspections. My buddy, Davis, came along to see what it was all about. From the sounds of it, he'll be starting his own hive soon It's still to be decided whether he's going to pick up some Italian-Carniolans or if I'll split the Wildling hive and give him a nuc of my bees. The Wildlings are real close to swarming... I can feel it in my bones. So tomorrow morning they're getting a second stage. If they're still looking "swarmey" on Thursday then I'm going to split them, with two frames of eggs + one frame of honey into a nuc box, and see what happens.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Do You Want Ants? Because That's How You Get Ants

   To preface this post... it's going to be long. Real long! Mainly due to how many pictures there are, and the fact that it took two days to complete (several reasons behind that). I'll save the honey extraction for the next post. Also, this is the first time I've done a REAL cut-out alone. Not a tree pot cut-out, this was a "manually cut through plywood, hammer/claw out nails, and be exhausted at the end" cut-out. Oh, this was also all done in a 15' x 15' shed with no ventilation or airflow, all after rain, and in the 90+ degree Florida heat. Fun stuff!

   This one was actually on the property of one of the guys painting my parent's house. The bees had been in the shed for almost two years, and were very docile, except when the lawn was being mowed. That's pretty normal and they sounded like the average, pleasant feral bees. He asked how much I would charge him, and I threw out a lowball of $50. It sounded like a pretty straight forward job, and the bees definitely sounded like they were strong, durable bees (like most feral bees). So I figured I'd sweat it out, get a nice big, strong hive, and a good amount of honey to make up for the low amount charged for the job. Unfortunately I was wrong, as you'll see later in the post. However, they did have some excellent honey, and a good amount of it. So in the end I still came out with a respectable trade of time/experience/pain for honey/tools/experience.

   Now, normally just to have an exterminator come out would be $300-400 dollars. When an exterminator is called all they do is gas the hive with insecticide, killing off the entire colony, which sucks! Not only is it leaving a vacuum for more aggressive insects (wasps, bees with a higher ratio of africanized genes), but it leaves the home owner with a giant mess of decaying bees, larvae, wax, and honey. Exterminators don't go in, cut out and clean the hive, and relocate the bees so they can help the 5 miles around the hive thrive with plant life. So in the end it's a loss for everyone except the exterminator.

   Oh, the best part of hiring an exterminator to remove the bees is that if YOU don't remove the decaying hive, then ants will do it for you. I don't really think you want ants, do you? A dead hive is a meat and honey buffet for ants, beetles, moths, wasps, raccoons, and a variety of other vermin. So in the end, unless it's an easy to access area, the homeowner will have to cut in and get it all removed anyways. So there'll be repair costs to the property anyways. Better off hiring a beekeeper to remove the bees, cut it all out, and then all the home owner has to do is patch it up. Just make sure they're not wasps before calling a beekeeper to come out... wasps don't make honey.

Day 1

   Anyhoo, on to the cut-out! The homeowner told me that potentially the entire floor was a beehive, considering how long they were there and how many bees they were seeing. It was definitely a possibility, but that'd be a pretty big hive for the pretty average amount of bee traffic I was seeing. 

   I did my first cuts using my ryoba saw. It's a Japanese pull saw where the sawing action is done on the "pull" motion. Mainly it uses your back/shoulder/lats. I could saw all day with this thing! Best $25 I ever spent.

   After a few exploratory cuts I dipped my phone in and took a few pics. Yup, definitely bees down there! This cut was 4 feet from the entrance, so far the hive was 4 feet wide. Pretty legit hive! One thing though, there was a pretty high ratio of drones... that could mean a laying worker instead of a queen.

   "Cut through plywood and just lift the whole piece of wood over" was the plan, but I did run into a few road bumps. Namely the NINE BILLION ancient nails buried in the wood. I cut around the perimeter as much as I could, but eventually those nails just had to go. Not only did they line the sides of the plywood sheet where the bees were under, but there was another support plank going through the center of the sheet. The first day I ended up using a flathead screwdriver and hammer to chip away the wood for each nail, then once enough was chipped away it was dug out with the hammer. Eventually I had to go to class though, so I called it after 4 hours. There was no way to do any more than 4 hours in that heat though. It had rained just prior to starting, the early afternoon sun was beating down, and I was wearing a full thickness bee jacket and hood. 

Day 2

   Yup, that's the dimensions of the hive. 4' x 4' doesn't sound like all that much, but just wait until you get to the next picture. Thankfully one of the homeowner's neighbors loaned me his saw. I'd also bought a cat's claw (mini handheld crowbar with pointy V's at each end, designed for digging out nails) for $17, so there went almost half of what I was charging. I'll definitely be charging an appropriate amount for the next job ha.

   It took about an hour and a half of nonstop hammering to get all of the nails out of this board. Meanwhile there were some agitated bees in the air and it wasn't worth missing work again due to another case of "MMA Face". So it was definitely break time, again, before tackling the hive itself. Once the comb is exposed, it's best to just go through it to the end. Stopping only gives time for the queen to get into some impossible corner, brood to overheat/underheat, and the bees to get even more stressed out. So that also means no feasible way of drinking water while in the midst of the bees, plus my gloves were going to be honey soaked. I have a "thing" about sticky hands and grabbing sticky things... I probly shouldn't have picked beekeeping haha.

   I'd brought a gallon of water with me, and 1/2 of it was gone by the time I'd taken this picture. My shirt is all sweat, no water involved there. It's right about here where I reminded myself for the twelfth time to charge a reasonable price.

   Not a bee, but this guy was pretty neat. He just chilled on my elbow for a good five minutes while on my break. I always liked the bugs with metallic sheens. They're like little transformers, and there are a ton of metallic bees too!

   I'm really happy with the picture above and below. Before flipping the plywood sheet I decided to snap a few closeup shots since the bees were so friendly. Throughout the entire cutting and hammering process they'd gone about their business, without so much as a few passes to see what was going on. Somehow these two photos came out perfectly in focus, perfectly lit with natural light, and are great closeups of the bees. 

   Honey bees really are neat little creatures. It's incredible how perfect their form is for what they do.

BEHOLD! See all those leaves? They're from how monstrously fast this board was squatted upwards. Eat your oats.
Just kidding, they're actually stuck to the comb, and I'm way out of shape. This panel weighed about 100lbs before a quarter of the panels fell off due to weight + heat. 

   This picture was taken a bit after the first one. At this point I'd established that there was no queen here. There were thousands of drones, no eggs, no larvae, and the only brood was capped brood and capped drones. The capped brood was very spotty in it's pattern and all of the open cells between capped brood were all filled with honey. This was pretty much the same exact thing I'd seen a few weeks earlier, when helping Mike out with the bees that were under the eaves of the foreclosed home. 

  What this means is that the hive had swarmed, with the old queen leaving with half of the hive. For whatever reason the new queen hadn't survived, and there wasn't any young larvae at that point who could be raised as queens. At that point they were hopelessly queenless.

   Since I don't own a bee vacuum, there would be no taking home of these bees. They were doomed to die out simply from age, and the bees knew it. There was no closed loop of baby bees taking over the duties of the older bees since there was no queen. So their resources were being entirely invested in honey and pollen to raise massive numbers of male drones before all of the female workers died. 

However, their genes would live on through the drones, who would go out and mate with virgin queens. Bittersweet, but that's still chalked up as a success in nature's own brutal way.

   Here's one of the drones from the hive that had decided that he was driving. Pretty cool looking! Very wild feel to his deep orange abdomen with black stripes, and his really neat orange feet! The "aviator" eyes are really clear in this picture as well, and by that I mean eyes that wrap around fully to the back of the head (just like dragonflies).

   I did learn some solid lessons that day as a budding beekeeper. Mainly: charge an honest amount for the effort and knowledge involved, every beekeeper should own a CamelBak, and every beekeeper should own a bee vacuum if they intend on doing cut-outs.

   After getting it all wrapped up I was ready to just fall down face first on my bed. The equipment got cleaned off, put away, and the honey was left for tomorrow. It was such all-in work in such muggy, awful conditions that I had only noticed one sting. The next day, after waking up, I counted out the stings and it was a solid eleven stings. Six in my left hand (one with a stinger still embedded under my skin), one under my left armpit, one on my left ear, and three on my right hand. 

Oh well, the stings are good for the body, and it just makes the honey taste that much sweeter.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Zeekeeper Honeyworks + Awesome Logo + Updates!

   Check it out! How freaking cool is that?! This is the first version of my company logo, designed and illustrated by my good friend Angela An. She does some really incredible things, and has a really sweet illustration style like Samurai Jack! I've been incredibly touched by her offering her time and artwork to help me get Zeekeeper Honeyworks off the ground and looking sweet! We've talked about doing some really cool things with honey labels, one example being a season-based illustration for the label, depending upon which season the honey has been collected or bottled in. Just that idea right there has so many ways of being turned into something awesome, and I'm extremely excited about it!

   Angela's blog is super cool (with a great Game of Thrones illustration among other things!) and you should go check it out before continuing with this blog entry!  She does commissions on top of prints of her work, so you should probly think about those too ;) Oh, and it also has the newest version of the logo, which I'm planning on sharing in the next blog post, but feel free to cheat and check it out!

  I also didn't think Z's Bees was an apt enough description for what I want to accomplish in beekeeping, both commercially and educationally. On top of that, there's a Z's Bees out of California so it'd be too confusing. If anyone is familiar with Sam Comfort of Anarchy Apiaries, reading about his philosophy was the catalyst that sparked my interest in the craft. I could write an entire post about my thoughts on commercial methods of beekeeping and farming, so that will be another entry. However, I'll sum it up by saying that the modern generation has a stunning disconnect with where our food comes from, where our species comes from (spoiler alert: it's the forest and wilderness), and the mental/spiritual stress we put on ourselves by maintaining that disconnect. I'd like to create a non-profit division of my beekeeping for holding child-based educational workshops, with the goal of keeping that incredible curiosity burning. In addition, having fun with honey (mead, natural health products like lip balm, recipes) is a big part of my interests as well. No young person of the new generation has ANY idea what an apiary is either, much less an aviary. So the nickname given to me, by my friend Mark, plus "honeyworks" was settled upon. Zeekeeper Honeyworks! I also got the Facebook page off the ground as well, feel free to join up for pics and other things that are shared more often than here on the blog :)

Zeekeeper Honeyworks @ Facebook

Hive Updates

  Wow, it's been wayyy too long since I updated this. Sorry guys! Things got incredibly busy between finals last month, an increase in work hours, and then had to fit beekeeping tasks in with the time between (including a massive cutout, building $3 hive stands, and a $15 solar wax melter!). So there really wasn't time for blogging in between, just uploading and editing all the photos that I'd taken to keep picture records.

   So I'm going to have to split these updates into four different posts. 
1) Individual hive updates
2) Cut out of a 1 3/4 year old feral hive, which was living under the floorboards of a tool shed
3) DIY: Building cheap, easy, durable hive stands for under $5
4) DIY: Building a solar wax melter for under $20 (and best of all, almost no assembly required)

   You may also be wondering why I have a toad as the first picture. I'd noticed that there weren't any dead bees around the hive and figured the ants had been taking them away. Then I noticed a toad when I went to do some evening hive checks, the week after that there were two toads, then three toads. Soon enough, all three toads stayed nearby day and night. It's the time of year where toads are reproducing so it's wasn't much of a surprise, but the lack of bees was still a mystery. 

   Then one day it clicked after seeing a dead bee get gobbled up by a toad. These three had made my backyard their home! They were hoovering up any and all bees that they could! All of this really has nothing to do with beekeeping. They were like my clean up crew, minus the massive poo logs they left everywhere. I just thought it was funny. They ended up disappearing after moving the Dothraki and Casterly Rock out to the bee yard. Sorry toads!

   As for the hives, everyone is doing quite well! Winterfell and Casterly Rock are both solidly building up their second Deeps. I was going to do a check on Winterfell today but got delayed due to rain, and by the time I got out to them they were mostly home, which means testy guard bees. So they'll get checked tomorrow. The above picture is from a check of Winterfell from two weeks ago. For anyone who hasn't seen it before, that's what drone comb looks like when normal brood comb (on foundation) is expanded to fit drones. Drones are much larger than the worker bees, so the width and depth of the individual cells needs to be expanded. A drone cell in the works can be seen just to the top right of the photo's center point.

A larger view of the drone frame. Solid white capped band of honey along the top, with eggs and younger larvae in the middle, older larvae and capped cells at the bottom.

   Casterly Rock thoroughly built up all 4 frames and will be getting their last 6 frames in the morning. 

   The Dothraki have also moved into a full size hive! They're doing very well ever since their new queen began laying. Something interesting was noted since they were also given two frames of comb from a cut out that I did. More on that with the next post though!

    I was also only able to do a quick observation on the Wildling hive due today's weather delay. No real update until tomorrow. They are happily going about their business though!

Fun Fact: Galleria mellonella may have the highest hearing sensitivity of all animals. They can hear ultrasonic frequences up to 300khz.
   If you haven't seen a wax moth before, this is what a wax moth looks like. Specifically, the Greater Wax Moth (Galleria mellonella). It belongs to the snout moth family, so it looks like they have little stubby "snouts" on them similar to a dog's snout shape. These things are bad news! If they gain access to a hive that hasn't built up to fill their living space then these moths can cause some serious havoc. Their larvae will hatch, eat comb, and leave a messy, silky mess everywhere. No bueno! This one tried to Solid Snake itself in when I was checking the Widlings. Thankfully I noticed a dark shape on the underside of the new frames, which wasn't there before, when putting the inner cover back on the Wildlings. Shame that they're so nice to look at... it got squished.

I'm going to keep this entry short, since it's just a summary, and there's a good deal to write about the cut-out and how-to's of the honey extracting! Expect the cut out entry to post tomorrow morning. I'm going to write it tonight, but I'm dedicating some time every night to learning HTML5 and CSS for building Zeekeeper.com. So it'll probly be a little too late for most people to read. Blog posts made good morning reading over coffee anyhow. Lots of HD pics will be included as well :)

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

It's Been Really Beezy!

Hey guys! I just wanted to give a quick update and to let you all know that "things" are happening. Exciting "things"! The last few weeks have been incredibly busy between school, expanding the hives, and building new bee equipment. The next post will be an update on the bees, followed the next day by a tutorial on building a simple, but very sturdy and visually appealing hive stand for only a few bucks. No need to spend $50+ on a pre-assembled stand when this $2.50 one is so simple! Not to mention, it's very satisfying to put something together yourself and see that your hands made something awesome.

I'm also in the process of establishing my online business presence. A domain was registered today and I'm in the process of putting a Facebook page together as well. Stay tuned! Thanks for bee-ing patient!

Monday, June 3, 2013

Hive Inspections: Queens, Queens Everywhere (And Rain)

   It's been raining... a lot. For anyone not in Florida, I don't think you can truly grasp our levels of rainfall. We may as well have had a tropical storm sitting over this part of the State for the last week. Normally that's not a big deal. It's nice to stay in and read a book to the relaxing sound of the rain. However, it wasn't so fun now that I'm keeping bees. The girls were rearing and ready to go each morning, stretching their wings while clustering at the hive entrance and zooming out over the lake.

   However, almost like clockwork, at 10am it would start drizzling. The foraging bees would all start returning, and soon enough there was heavy rain coming down. During the worst of the flash-rains there would be bees flying through rain so thick, and consisting of such giant raindrops, that there wasn't even 100ft of visibility. Occasionally some would get shot down only a few feet from the hive, and one day I scooped at least 30 bees off of the ground and surrounding puddles. I'm sure they could get out on their own, eventually, but I was there to help them so I figured "why not?". Their delicate wings would get stuck to the ground by the surface tension of the water, so I picked them up instead of letting the toads have a buffet.

   Eventually, the rain would slack off or stop for short periods of time throughout the day. However, I'm sure the bees can sense the change in barometric pressure and know that the rain isn't finished yet. So at every opportunity they would just swarm the feeder jar on top of the hive. Both patio hives went through full jars of syrup in 48 hours, and, one particularly rainy day, the larger of the two patio hives chugged 3/4 of a jar in one day!

  This was a pretty normal sight for every afternoon, bees all over the jar lid and others walking around below picking up any spillage. On the day that they chugged 3/4 of a jar, this entire area between the wood bars was practically swarmed by the bees. If they couldn't forage, then by golly they were going to do their best to empty that jar!

Casterly Rock

   Speaking of the patio hives, I've decided upon a name for the most recent feral hive, Casterly Rock. These are the girls that I had cut out from the giant tree pot, and this is their queen! She's a beautiful, dark scarlet and practically blood red. What a badass. If it wasn't for pulling frames of brood for the Dothraki to make a queen from, they'd be my #1 hive in terms of frames filled out + number of bees. They're definitely still #1 in population, but a bit behind Winterfell due to the frame borrowing. I have no doubt that they'll surpass Winterfell as soon as the constant rain slacks off. It probably helps that whenever they're out of syrup, I'll go and make them a fresh jar. Winterfell on the other hand is not being fed very often, and I've actually stopped feeding them, for the moment, in order to pull a frame of honey in the near future.

   If you're wondering why I'm so confident with Casterly Rock, just take a look at this frame. This is a thing of beauty right here! That whole top row of white is finished honey, the row of orange underneath is pollen/bee bread (a fermented mixture of nectar + pollen + bee enzymes) that is used to feed the young, the entire rest of the frame progresses from eggs in the empty looking cells, to young larvae, to mature larvae, back to young larvae, and then finally more eggs. I can't wait to see this frame all capped up. It's going to be an almost solid sheet of capped honey, filled cells of bee bread, and capped brood.
Pests: none, Brood: 5 frames (Eggs/Larvae/CappedBrood/Drone, another frame given to Dothraki) with solid laying pattern, Honey: 2 frames (Honey only), Syrup: 3 mason jars in one week


   FINALLY, the Dothraki have a Khaleesi (queen)! I knew that virgin queen from the other week had been stung to death! Doubts were starting to creep in that maybe she hadn't been stung, that maybe she was their victorious queen, but had been injured/gotten sick while on a maiden flight. Nope, that virgin queen had indeed been on the losing side of the May 2013 Khaleesi Thunderdome.

   Sorry for the poor picture quality by the way. I'll get a better picture in two weeks. I'm going to leave them as undisturbed as possible, that way the new queen will feel secure and be confident going full steam with egg laying. I didn't see any eggs today. However, queens start out laying slowly, and ramp up their rates of egg laying as they mature. I also didn't inspect her frame (the last frame actually) all that thoroughly, because I didn't want to spook her into flying off.

   Lots of honey built up by these girls, lots of pollen stored away, and lots of drawn out comb (mostly thanks to pulling from Casterly Rock). Funny thing is that two days ago I had pulled a full frame of brood + eggs from Casterly rock to give to the Dothraki. I had inspected this hive for a queen and hadn't found one. So apparently she must have been out on her maiden flight or I simply hadn't found her. No clue. I was extremely surprised to see her today!

   The Dothraki are set to start exploding in productivity. I did see three hives beetles in there however... I attribute that to having low numbers until only recently. Two of them were crushed, and the third one escaped behind a frame before I could put down the frame that I was inspecting. I'll get that little bastard next time.

Pests: Three hive beetles (two dead, one escaped deeper into the hive), Brood: 4 "Super" frames (Larvae/CappedBrood), Honey: 1 frames (Honey and Pollen), Syrup: 2 mason jars in one week


She thinks hive inspection day is great. It means at least an hour of hunting lizards and running around. Time for another nail trim too!


   These girls are doing really well. They've been stockpiling honey and pollen for entire time that their queen was maturing. Pictured above is a "free form" Super frame of 90% capped honey. It's tempting to steal a small piece to try it, but it's not worth setting them back at all. Not to mention that they've been fed syrup pretty regularly, so chances are it wouldn't taste very strong in comparison to legit honey.

   Speaking of feeding... I'm going to have to build a real hive stand for the bee yard. I noticed that they were draining their feeder rather quickly. Upon closer inspection there were some ants walking around near the entrance. After pulling the feeder jar out I could see a good twenty or so fire ants on and around the feeder. Argh I hate ants! They weren't invading the hive since there were cracks in the plastic feeder that they could fit through, so no problem there, but that's food for MY bees, not you ants!

   So how to fix that? It's pretty simple. I'm going to have to go pick up some 2x4s to assemble into a long frame with six legs (two on each end, two in the center), and sit each leg in a can of water & motor oil. That way the ants won't be able to cross the liquid and climb onto the legs of the stand. It's just going to take some elbow grease to make it happen.

   The Wildlings have also been drinking again (typical Wildlings), and have gone to work drunk. Look at this crazy comb that they've built. Pretty awesome to look at, not so awesome in terms of functionality and organization. I had to scrape it off with my hive tool and set the pieces at the hive entrance for them to clean out the collected nectar. Other than that though, great looking hive! I set them up with a Deep as their second stage, the first stage is a Super. Once they start filling out the top then I can change around the order, with the Deep on bottom and the Super on top. THEN I can move the queen into the Deep, with the queen excluder on top of it. That way the brood comb can hatch out completely, and the queen can continue laying down below. Once the brood comb in the Super is completely hatched out I can remove it completely, and put a second Deep on so that it goes Stage 1: Deep, Stage 2: Deep, and they'll have their full strength hive body. Everything else on top will purely be for clean honey production. 

Pests: One hive beetles (crushed), Brood: 5 frames (Eggs/Larvae/CappedBrood) with solid laying pattern, Honey: 2 frames (Honey only), Syrup: 1 mason jars in one week


   Winterfell has drones! How cool is that?! The one in the center of the picture with the fat abdomen, larger wings, and eyes similar to house fly is a drone. Just think of those massive eyes as the goggles of a fighter pilot. Their whole physiology is based around mid-air acrobatics in order to be the first to link up with a virgin queen. Even if afterwards their whole "situation" gets ripped out of their bodies. Afterwards they'll die... still a better love story than Twilight.

   Their feeder was removed from inside the second Deep and replaced with the last three frames. Other than that, I didn't bother them too much. They had spread well throughout the second Deep and had a good amount of surface area covered when I took the inner cover off. It seems the feeder encouraged them to start moving through the queen excluder too, since there was a bit of wax buildup on a few second stage frames. They still have three frames in the first stage to fill out, so I'm not too concerned about it. The main purpose of the second stage being put on this soon is to inhibit swarming. 

   Swarming is when the original queen takes off with half the hive to start a new hive, while the remaining bees raise a new queen to continue the original hive. Swarming will occur when they run out of space to expand, and feel "cluttered". So to avoid that it's best to add another Deep or Super on top when they've reached 7 frames. That gives the beekeeper plenty of leeway instead of waiting an extra two or three weeks, and then it's suddenly critical that the next stage is added immediately.

   I didn't do a thorough inspection of them, since that would require taking off the lightly populated second stage, taking off the queen excluder, and then going through the first stage. There is already one dead hive directly across from this one, on the next pallet over. That one has pretty much just been a beetle farm from the looks of it. If the covers are kept off for more than ten minutes then I'll start getting beetles flying over to land on the lip of the hives, it's disgusting. I'll be moving all of my hives to a different area of the property once the stands are finished. 

   Winterfell is strong enough now that there isn't much to worry about with them, outside of ant infestation and varroa. So they'll be fine to go for another week without invasive inspection. I did, however, see one beetle land at the entrance after placing a piece of nectar/honey-filled stray comb at the entrance for the girls to clean out. The smell must have attracted the beetle. Winterfell proved it's mettle though, with the guard bees blocking off the beetle from the entrance and chasing it up the exterior of the hive. I grabbed it as soon as I could and crushed it. 

Notes from gazing down through the queen excluder:
Pests: One hive beetle (crushed, attempted to enter by the front entrance, was blocked by guard bees and chased up the side of the hive box where it met it's fate), Brood: 6 frames (Eggs/Larvae/CappedBrood/Drone) with assumed solid laying pattern, Honey: 2 frames, possibly 3 by now (Honey only), Syrup: 1 mason jar in three days

   This has truly been an excellent week for the bees. Two new queens in two weeks, second stages added to both Wildlings and Winterfell, Dothraki having massive stores of bee bread for the new babies, and Casterly Rock being ready for a move to the bee yard where they will receive their second stage. I can finally sleep completely soundly without any stressing over queenless hives falling behind.

   Not just that, but a good friend of mine has decided to help me out with a logo for the upcoming wax products (lip balm, etc) and honey. I can't wait to show her design off! Exciting stuff! 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Hive Inspections Pt.3: Trailer-Home Cut-Out & Winterfell Is Stacked

   This cut-out was actually done the day before the hive checks, and I wanted to cover it before going into the bee yard bees. Mainly because it involves hive beetles, a pest that's very relevant to my bee yard bees.

   Mike contacted me in the morning to see if I could help him out with a cut out involving a trailer home. He had a job to do in the morning, and would be starting the trailer home around the time that Algebra was finishing up. It was also right down the street from my house, so it was a perfect opportunity for more experience. My face was still swollen pretty hardcore, but everything I've read says that heat is a great treatment. So if anything, sweating it out in a bee jacket under the Florida sun would be healthy. 

   Upon arriving at the trailer, Mike joked about how I'd gotten lucky, and that it was only a small hive. Brendhan (owner of Bee Barf Apiaries, the primary removal contracting company) had mentioned to Mike that it'd probly be a good "learning experience" due to just how massive trailer home jobs usually are. Apparently the last one they'd done had been half the length of the ENTIRE TRAILER HOME. What a jokester haha. 

   The bees were quite nice, even with how rough I had to be in order to cut away the insulation they were behind. Now, normally removal is done with a full suit. That way there's a minimum of seams for the bees to crawl into. I don't have a full suit, just a jacket with attached veil, and when things are in turmoil bees naturally want to crawl into small, dark spaces. That includes jean legs. 

   As a matter of fact, one got up my jean legs and climbed as if she was going up Everest. There was no backwards motion at all, even when I blocked her off by closing off her vertical progress by gripping my leg. She was on a treasure hunt for some valuable jewels and there was no way to get her out without the jean material pressing down on her, which would make her sting me anyways. So, unfortunately, I ended up having to slap her, hoping that she'd only get a light sting in. Nope, that stinger got buried to the hilt in my knee. Granted, my face was already swollen up from the previous days sting, but this one ended up not being too bad. I also got stung through one of the seams in my glove's finger joints. However, Neither of them swelled at all, and, again, the stung hand was very free of stiffness. It was nice!

   Here you can see the length of the stinger, it's the red line pointing downwards. Those little swords are retty impressive huh? It must run lengthwise inside for about half the length of their abdomen. I'll have to look up the layout of their internal abdomen anatomy. Stingers are actually two separate serrated-edged "blades" that are positioned side by side with a channel between them. The venom is pumped down that channel and into the wound. Contrary to old wisdom, recent research has shown that it's prudent to just pull out the stinger immediately. Use your fingers or nail to scrape/pinch it out, it makes no difference whether the poison sac gets compressed. It's going to keep pumping, like a little heart, the entire time you scramble around for a credit card to scrape with. The amount is so minuscule that it's going to empty out in the time spent searching.

   Anyhow, back to the cut-out. Overall they were healthy! The laying pattern was nice, and there was a minimum of hive beetles. However, take a look at that picture. I didn't notice it at first, but do you see all those larvae with dark heads? Those are Small Hive Beetle larvae, disgusting little bastards. Due to the insulation being just inches from the hive, and being a nice loosely packed, moisture-holding medium it was perfect for the beetles. These little buggers would pupate into a ton of hive beetles, and those might be enough to start sliming up honeycomb with more larvae. Once the comb is slimed, the bees want nothing to do with it. They'd eventually either move to a larger compartment underneath the trailer, or evacuate completely. So it was a good thing for these bees that we got called in!

   This is another reason to make sure there are oil-filled trays under each hives screened bottom board. That way the bees can toss the beetles to their oily death, and the beetles can't lay their larvae in the ground directly underneath the hive. Beetles can fit through the grating, so without an oil tray it's just one massive entrance.

   The cutting out of the comb only took about 30mins, after that it was a matter of finding the queen. In such a tight space it was pretty impossible to move around enough to check all the bees. Mike made the call to vacuum them up. His vacuum has been modified so that the inside of the vacuum tube is smooth, minimizing injuries from bumping around, and the vacuum itself has a suction control. That way he can set it to the minimum level of suction needed to suck up the bees, also minimizing the friction. Instead of an open chamber and filter, they're suctioned into the above box. We knew we had the queen when the remaining bees started to cluster around the screening. That meant they smelled the queen's pheromones and were trying to stay with her. 

   After that we packed up and Mike took the bees of to their new home in his bee yard. Couldn't have gone any smoother without having secured the queen in a clip!


   Now we move forward again to Thursday, which has been the most exciting "bee day" yet. Winterfell is finally ready for a second hive body! 

   I arrived at the bee yard, cleared out more brush on the way to the hives, and this is the first image I saw. At first it was a bit concerning, since it was actually the day after they were meant to receive their new hive body. They'd been looking a bit crowded the week prior, but I just hadn't been able to take a long enough break from school and work to properly paint a new Deep box with multiple layers of primer.

   Thankfully though, upon giving them a look, it was just normal bearding. As you can see, they have an entrance reducer (wood bar with different opening sizes cut into it) and they simply didn't have enough entrance real estate to spread out along the entire thing. This is just typical "bearding" behavior, where a portion of the bees hang out on the exterior of the box in order to cool off and help maintain internal hive temperature.

   I should have taken a picture prior to putting the queen excluder mat on (gridded grey square) the top of the hive. The whole top surface of the bars was covered in bees! It was awesome! These girls are busy, and definitely need this new hive body! Now, they'll start storing honey above, and gradually transitioning out the honey frames below. This way way the queen will fill out more and more of the bottom box's frames with brood, while the bees move their honey storage to the above box. The excluder will keep, or exclude, the queen from the top box. That way she'll fill out the bottom box and I can pull a couple frames of honey from the top box once it's finished. I can't wait to taste it!

   I didn't check the hive over in depth. I saw a few eggs and lots of healthy comb from just pulling the frames up by only a few inches. The queen is still doing her thing and the colony is very happy. No stress buzzing from these bees. They were also so busy that only two guard bees came by to inspect me.

   All in all, I couldn't be happier with these Italian-Carniolans and would definitely recommend any beginner to purchase their nucs from Steve over at Bee Healthy Honey Farms. He's a great guy, cares about his bees, and these girls are definitely proof of his hard work!

The Wildlings

   There really isn't anything to cover about the Wildlings this week. I'm leaving them alone until Thursday. They had queen cells last week and they should have hatched out by now. I don't want to risk accidental damage to the new queen, and I don't want her to get spooked. Everyone I've spoken to has recommended leaving the hive untouched for at least two weeks as well.

   There was some crazy vine growth leading up to their entrance, so I cleared that and took their empty feeder jar to refill at home. Sugar syrup is being chugged like mad, so they're definitely keeping busy! I'm not all that concerned about them to be honest. They're a good starting size and, if need be, I can pull a frame from Winterfell for them to build new queen cells. 

   Most would just say "Hey Charles, why don't you just buy replacement queens?". That would be the easy thing to do, but my main goal is to breed hardy, hygienic bees. Feral bees are healthy, proven bees that are able to thrive so well that they reproduce. Remember that honey bees reproduce on a hive level. Any wild swarm is, usually, led by a successful queen that has survived varroa mites and other pests without any "help" from humans. Those are the bees we want as beekeepers. On a large commercial scale, honey is a secondary product of successful bees, while pollination is the primary "product". If the Wildlings and Dothraki can be guided to full health that will be two more hives that can each be split twice in the next twelve months, creating a total of eight hives from just those two!

   That sums it up for this week's hive inspections. Pretty busy, huh? All of this with full time summer classes and working part time, as well as making sure my Kai Ken puppy (Ren) gets all of the attention she deserves. It's a lot of work, but very rewarding. Especially beekeeping, it's part therapy, part physical workout, and part meditation. It's very mind-cleansing to work in agriculture. It gets you back in touch with a part of life that a lot of people are missing out on, and that's the connection with our roots as Earth dwelling mammals. The woods and nature are part of us, and many studies are showing that without we get very stressed out. 

   If anyone reading this thinks that they might like beekeeping, then you should definitely give it a try. It's as involved as you want it to be. Set up a self-made "top bar hive", get some bees, and let them do their thing. Check on them every two or three weeks to make sure there aren't pest problems, and let the bees do their bee thing. They'll make you happy, make your garden a lot more productive, and you'll be doing a good thing for wild bees as well.

   See you next post!