Sunday, May 26, 2013

Hive Inspections P.1: Bee Punched

  Things have been so busy with three summer classes + managing four hives. I've been preoccupied getting the "needs" taken care of, and haven't been updating as much as I like. Mostly that was from having to write my first essay of the semester (who knew that a comma before "and" isn't necessary anymore) and studying for a four chapter Intermediate Algebra test in the same week. Going back to school after several years away is challenging! As a result, this and the next post will cover about a week and a half (instead of the standard week).

   It's also been quite a challenging week with the honeybees. The biggest hurdle this week didn't even have anything to do with them directly!


   Florida is known for it's mercurial weather, and this week really lived up to that reputation. Storming one day, crystal clear the next; torrential rainstorms for 2 hours and then perfectly clear only fifteen minutes after the rain stops. It was like that from Sunday through Wednesday. The bees couldn't get much foraging done, so they were supplied with as much sugar syrup as they could drink. And boy were they thirsty! The new feral hive chugged a full mason jar (about 3 cups of 2-1 sugar syrup) in only a day and a half, while the Dothraki nano-hive killed a jar in 3 days. Pretty impressive for the Dothraki only having four Super frames of incomplete cut-out comb.

  The Dothraki had hatched out all of their queen cells last week, so I didn't want to bother them at all. They did their thing and I didn't inspect until this past Thursday night. I'm not completely convinced of having seen the virgin queen last week, and if I did she may have been unhealthy. The one thing I noticed about her, if I did indeed see her, was the classic queen thorax. However, her abdomen seemed abnormally small, so I wasn't quite sure what to make of the strange looking bee. In the end, the hive was closed back up and undisturbed, outside of changing the syrup.

   The new feral hive, which has yet to be named, are just absolute badasses. They are SO busy it's crazy, and there are just so many bees! At night the entire entrance is covered in bees. The queen is also the most primal, fierce looking queen I've yet to see. She's got the largest abdomen of all of my queens, almost completely jet black with gold crescents/stripes on her abdomen, and gold fur that points away from her body as if she had a gold aura. Awesome. I'm going to have to get a picture of her some time.

   Both of the above hives are temporarily housed on my patio, and, honestly, I'm not too worried about them. There are only a very few hive beetles that hitch hiked in with the comb from the cut-out, and the bees are doing a very good job of keeping them close to the top of the hive. Mainly, I was concerned about the Wildling and Winterfell hives. The weather had been very rough and I can't walk outside to the check on them every morning in the same way that I can with the new ferals and Dothraki.

The Bee Yard

  It had been a good week and a half since checking on the bee yard hives and... it was completely overgrown. The yard is on the outskirt of a farm, on the other side of a berm, and untouched by farm workers. So the only people who have any reason to visit this area are beekeepers and Department of Agriculture inspectors. Upon pulling in and parking, it was very clear that I'm still the only keeper that visits their bees.

   WEEDS, EVERYWHERE. You may be thinking to yourself, "What's the big deal? I have weeds in my yard, just walk over them.". But you'd be wrong. So very, very wrong. "Why would that be?", you ask.

   Oh no, these are not fields of dandelions. These aren't fields of clover. This is a giant field of shoulder height, overgrown, dense weeds. The stalks are the a solid inch thick on each plant, and each plant branches out into dozens of shoots.

   The torrential downpours of the last week were like Red Bull for these plants. They shot up from waist level to head and shoulder level, and they didn't just grow upwards. They grew to the sides.

   This picture was from three and a half'ish weeks ago, from an earlier blog post. Notice how the ground is mostly sandy dirt? Only a few vines/runners are scattered across the ground. There was a nice sandy path from the parking clearing out to the bees.

   This photo and the title photo are what the lightly winding 125-150ft path has become. I ended up having to go home and retrieve my machete. Then it took another half an hour to clear away enough brush to make it over to the hives. All of which was done under the burning, midday Florida sun. Not only did I have blisters across my hands from not wearing gloves with an old, dull machete, but it dehydrated quite harshly. Two massive fire ant nests sprang up in the path too. Thankfully I saw them in time. 

   In the picture above, the "table" with the aluminum topped hive is mine. Not pictured is the Wildling hive. The rest of the hives are association member hives. Right after taking this picture I got targeted by one of the non-Z bees who followed me 100ft back to my car, continued to buzz angrily after I'd "frozen", and then tried to kill the back of my hat.

   I was using my phone to try to locate it, since all I could hear was furious buzzing coming from right side of my head. Unfortunately, I was too worried about just locating it for the image to register. To recognize that the bee was actively attempting to sting my hat. With breath held (to avoid the bee homing in on my carbon dioxide) I wished it away. But unfortunately, that bee was pissed and suddenly swung around to punch straight into my face. Directly above my right eye.

   That red dot over my eye in the left side of the photo is after pulling the stinger out. New research shows that so little poison is actually dispensed, that it's better to just immediately pull out the stinger. It comes down to scraping/pulling it out immediately with fingers and squeezing the venom sac vs taking the time to locate an appropriate scraping utensil and carefully scraping the stinger out. It's pumping venom in while all of this is happening. So I actually just pulled it out with my fingers. There wasn't really much pain involved. The sequence of a bee sting is pretty much "OW you little douchebee!" and initial shock that something stung you, followed by 10-15 seconds of residual "Man, that stung", then about two minutes of mild burning while the venom takes effect. After those two minutes there really isn't any pain, just a mild throbbing at the sting site. 

   After ten minutes of rehydrating and gearing up, I then headed back over to the bees to get some work done. And honestly, it was my fault for not wearing a veil while machete'ing anywhere near unfamiliar bees. 

   As far as I can tell, the only visit from anyone else was to remove a dead-out that I reported. The other dead-out is still there, three weeks later, on the first pallet. Needless to say, those bees are stressed out. I took a peek into them to make sure there wasn't beetles pouring out, but they've all pulled back to the bottom boxes. I'm not going to touch other people's gear, but with how aggressive those bees are I'd say they're pretty stressed out.

   Now, with my bees I can do just about anything and they won't get riled up. Not once have they attempted to sting my jacket. But, upon getting behind my bee "table", yet another few bees came over from the other hives and were angrily buzzing around my veil. They even landed on my veil and were sticking the tips of their abdomens through the netting, trying to sting me! I can't help but feel bad for those bees. They're putting up a fight for survival, and I wouldn't mind helping them out. But unfortunately, I have no idea if there are any sickness and it could spread to my hives if I did manage both the association hives + my own. 

   I did what I could and cut down the tall grass that had completely grown over several hive entrances, but that's all that could safely be done for them. Just one of the down sides to an association bee yard. At least it gives ones self the "opportunity" to really think about if they really want to do this. It was a crappy experience, but I'm more dedicated to my bees after it. As the saying goes, "A calm sea does not a good sailor make".


   No one wants to read an entire book in one sitting, so that's why this post is being split into two parts. The first part being punched in the face by a bee, and the second part will be the actual inspection of the bee yard hives + the really interesting going ons with the Dothraki nuc. It involves virgin queens, re-re-queening, and an even more swollen picture of my face from the day after. Stay tuned... and wear your veil!

(The right side is my normal face... thanks for asking if the right side was the messed up side Danielle)

P.S. Thoughts on starting a new health craze? Beetox, an organic alternative to Botox?