Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Keep Calm And Carry On

Yesterday, I couldn't get out to check on how the bees were doing with the temporary zip lock feeder under the outer cover. Mainly because the picture above is what it looked like from 3pm and onwards. There are definitely down sides to having outdoor hobbies in Florida.

It may sound strange to anyone who doesn't keep bees, but I was worried about them! Primarily, I was worried that the occasional fire ant roaming the outside of the hive would detect the spilled syrup and call in reinforcements. I was also worried that a strong wind might blow the hive box off the bottom board. It's a brand new box with only the bare wood for friction, as I left the inner edges of the Deep unpainted, and the bees haven't had enough time to glue it with propolis. I'm invested in them with more than just money. It feels good to help them succeed and to see them thriving, and it would feel equally bad to have been the cause of failure. It's not a mechanical honey factory. It's a partnership, much like falconry. The bees could survive without me, I could survive without them, but we both benefit from the relationship.

Today, on the other hand, had great weather! The sun was shining bright all day, partly clouded, and around 85 for the afternoon. I woke up too late to get any beekeeping errands done before work, but with plenty of time to at least check in on the bees. Even with the great weather there was still some lingering uneasiness about last night's storm and the potential fire ant + syrup pool issue. Pulling into the bee yard I could see the hive lid shining bright. A breath of relief as one worry was scratched off the list. I high-stepped through the weeds, lifted the top cover and...

There were the bees, happily slurping away at what little syrup remained in the bag, and even scouring the sugar stained wood for whatever bits of sugar had recrystallized. Phew! I should have known they could handle themselves. Bees have never "needed" people in their millions of years of existence and certainly know how to keep their hive safe. Today I learned that I should worry less and trust my honeybees. Keep calm and carry on, to use the extremely overused meme. 

As a side note, my little brother came with me to see what honeybees are all about! I bought some mosquito netting to use as a backup veil, so I just tossed that over my bush hat and threw on my gloves. My little brother got armored up in my veiled jacket (that was his condition for coming along haha). He asked all sorts of questions on the way there, while inspecting the hive, and on the way home which was pretty neat. I think he'll get hooked once he tastes some honeycomb. He's always had a sweet tooth and in the future I'd be happy to do a split to get him started.

Upon inspecting the hive it's apparent just how busy the girls have been. I'm going to reference the frames based upon numbering from the left, so the left most frame is 1 and, naturally, the far right is 10. When they were still in their nuc there were 4 frames of brood and 3/4 of a frame of honey, with only one corner of the honey frame being capped. Today upon inspection there was still 4 frames of brood, the difference being that a good portion of the previous capped brood had hatched (is that the right word?) and there were bands of eggs further out from the center. Roughly 1/2 of the previous band of bee bread was now eggs, and the a good portion of the brood frame honey has been capped.

The honey frame (4) that used to only have one corner of capped honey was now super heavy with honey and had a huge area of capped honey. And not just that, but the next door frame (3) had one full side of developing comb filled with honey! In three days they had half drawn a side of frame with comb and filled it with honey. Busy is an understatement! Those random capped cells seem to be drone cells, but I'm not 100% on that.

The one strange thing was that it was the left side of frame 3, the side furthest from frame 4. While the right side of frame 3, closest to the fully honey'd frame 4, had some really wonky comb being drawn. It's like the bees decided that whoever drew up the plans on the right side was an idiot and collectively went to the other side to build. Silly bees! I decided to scrape off the weird comb so they could start fresh.

All in all, as far as I can tell, the hive is doing great. The bees are happy and unstressed as long as I don't keep the hive open for an excessive amount of time. I learned they start to buzz very distinctively when stressed out. I heard the buzz when the empty nuc was fogged out to get the handful of remaining bees out, and heard it again today when I was a bit rough with replacing the second to last populated frame while inspecting. It's a high pitched "something troublesome is going on with the hive" type of buzz. To reinforce this, a guard bee flew over and was loudly buzzing around my face and chest. No actual bumping from the guard or stinging though, and after about 30 seconds she moved back towards the hive entrance.

I also ended up buying a whole case of mason jars... because Publix and Walmart were both out of lids. It would've only been $4 less, so that's not really a big deal. The extra jars will just get used for honey or feeding future hives. A hammer, a tiny nail used for frame construction, a few taps, and presto! A new, non-leaky jar for the entrance feeder! Standard "Dixie" sugar was used for this syrup. All I had on hand was natural sugar for the previous syrups, hence the honey color. The top box feeder is still under construction and I'll do a write-up about it later in the week.

One thing that is a legitimate concern though. If you look at the picture of the hive body you'll notice a black dot on the left side of the bottom board. That's a hive beetle, and he quickly got crushed. It's nice to have an association bee yard for members to use, but I had some thoughts that it'd be a potential breeding ground for pests if it wasn't done right. I figure if someone isn't being responsible with their hive then it could spread problems to nearby hives. Unfortunately, it turns out I was right. My bees are about 4 feet away from the next pallet over which has 4 hives on it, 2 on each side and forming a square. Both hives on the East side seem strong and always have plenty of bees around the fully open entrance, and both hives on the West are dead. I suspected as much last week, but now know for certain that they are. Neither have real covers, they're just political campaign signs thrown over top with bricks to weigh them down. I lifted the sign of the closest hive just a bit to see if I could hear any buzzing, instead I got a crapton of hive beetles and a peek of a very dead hive. Zero bees at the entrance, not even robbers, for the entirety of all visits to the bee yard. Not only that, but afterwards the little buggers were now flying out and over to my hive to try to get in via the exposed inner cover! Oh hell naw! I crushed at least ten of them. That must have been all that got out when lifting the dead-out's lid though. Besides the last one in that picture there weren't any more showing up. All of this is in addition to the two long term dead-outs that had been on the pallet next to this current one problem pallet. At least they were removed within two days of emailing the club.

Needless to say, I'm writing up a short proposal in the morning and going to six nearby farms/nurseries to speak to them about hosting my bees in exchange for pollination.

Hive notes: No apparent varroa, adult hive beetles attempting to migrate from nearby hive (they were summarily executed) and none apparent in hive upon inspection, 4.5 frames of bees (+0.5), 4 frames of brood (E/L/CB/Recently Hatched Brood), 1.5 frames of honey (+0.5, 1/4 frame capped), 2 cups of 2-1 syrup consumed from baggy (entrance feeder reintroduced w/ new jar added 80% full, 1.5-1 syrup)