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!