Sunday, April 21, 2013

Feeder Fiasco

Last night there was quite a thunderstorm down here in Palm Beach County. At least a good two hours of off and on rain and thunder, followed by an overcast night and more rain in the morning. The only thing that tripped me up yesterday while transferring bees was that the entrance feeder was really really temperamental. If I didn't move it whatsoever then it was fine, but while holding it in the air it leaked like a faucet. It also leaked while moving it into place at the entrance, then stopped while completely still again. So I was worried that it would leak overnight or the storm would knock the feeder out of the entrance entirely. The problem with that being that I had it flipped to the full size 4 inch opening. Which is fine for a fully populated "deep" box, but these girls have the box 45% full.

It was still overcast and had some heavy looking clouds here and there, so I quickly mixed up about a cups worth of 2 to 1 sugar syrup, poured it into a zip-lock, and hustled out the door. Along the way I picked up a sweet pair of dairy boots ($20), so that I don't have to constantly be hopping into my high top hiking boots, and a pocket mosquito netting for your head ($4), so that it can just be tossed over a brimmed hat and used as a veil. It can be a pain to fully lace and unlace my hiking boots. Not to mention they tend to stay wet on the outside for quite a while, and pick up burrs like you wouldn't believe. Nice thing about the dairy boots is that pants can just be tucked straight into them. Yeah bees may be able to crawl or fly down into them, but this field is way overgrown and I got at least 6 mosquito bites last night from mosquitoes getting under my pant legs.

Turns out I was right as the top picture shows. It had leaked all night and there was an obvious trail of where it had leaked out from the seams in the bottom of the plastic feeder, down the side of the bottom board, then off the lip of the plywood surface. There was a dark residue along the front edge of the cinderblocks where it had pooled, and there were fire ants having a buffet along the entire thing. A few of them crawling up the cinderblocks towards the hive, and even one here and there on the hive itself. It seems the bees are able to fend them off just fine though. When an ant would crawl up onto the front surface of the hive box it would get chased off by a bee, the method being flying close while buzzing loudly and buffeting it with air from it's wings. The air was strong enough that the ant would visibly be pushed in the other direction with it's body no longer centered over it's legs. Ants are pretty strong so that was some serious wind! How cool is that? I watched for about ten minutes to make sure there weren't any ants that were able to get into the nest. It didn't seem like they could, so I crushed any that I could find on the plywood or hive body. Fire ants are jerks.

I figured that if it turned out the feeder had leaked overnight that it would leak whatever else I put in it, hence the zip-lock. I don't have any other feeders so this was the back up. I lifted the top cover and laid the bag down over the inner cover, cut a slit in it, and watched to see if any bees would come over to it. The idea with this is that the surface tension of the plastic against the syrup will hold against the weight of the bee, leaving them able to drink the syrup from the slit in the bag without it collapsing and drowning them. After a while of zero interest from the bees I closed the top cover and went back to the car to give them some time to find it. After ten minutes I came back and lifted the lid, still no bees. BUT I did notice there was syrup on the top cover. Oops, the bag was too full and the slit was making contact with the "ceiling" of the outer cover.

I repositioned the bag so that it was on the same side of the lid as the entrance was. That way it was on the bottom end of the decline that the hive is set on. Then snipped a tiny hole in the corner of the bag facing up the incline and coaxed a few drops out to make a trail leading to the vent in the center of the inner cover. Once there was a nice little trail I also spread some around the entirety of the vent and tempted a few bees with syrup on my finger. It's pretty cute how they point their antennae towards whatever they're focused on then use their front legs to hold on. After a few seconds I would slowly move my finger, with bee in tow, to a small bubble of syrup on the rim. Once they'd drink the small drop from my finger they'd move over to the larger puddles on the vent.

On the down side... apparently this miniscule hole + the syrup's weight was enough to get a flow of syrup started out of the bag. There ended up being a 4" by 2" puddle of syrup at the bottom of the inner cover. Doh! There is, however, enough space between the inner cover and outer cover for the bees to walk through. So I left it like, figuring (hoping?) that once the bees figured out where the bag was that they would also follow the syrup trail to the larger puddle. Right now I'm hearing Archer in my head yelling "Oh is that what you want? Because that's how we get ants!".

Other than that though, there was a steady, low, and seemingly content buzz coming from the hive. No stressed guard bees shooing me away and the ones that did come by barely spent any time time inspecting me. Seeing as how it was 6pm, the ants had been there for a while sucking up that spilled syrup. If it'd been that long without any trouble to the hive then I'm thinking they'll be ok cleaning up that puddle up top. I didn't use a jacket, gloves, or veil today seeing as how it was just going to be a non-intrusive syrup swap.

P.S. I named this hive Winterfell. Future hives will get named after other Game of Thrones rulers/kingdoms based upon their personalities. This was mainly because any queens that aren't playing the "game" well get pinched and replaced + some hives will be "civilized" hives and others will be feral hives. Oh and because the book series is awesome. Anyone reading this should read the books and not just watch the series, and if you don't... you're bad and you should feel bad.