Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Spring morning swarm catching

 What better to do on a gorgeous spring day than to catch a low hanging swarm with your friends?

'Twas a smallish cluster, but neatly formed, that swarmed just after lunch yesterday.  They were just starting to swarm when I had to go back to work after lunch.  Found them last night, too late to do anything about it.

Three times we raised a bucket, hooked the branch with another pole and emptied the bucket full of bees into our nuc box.

We believe we caught the queen, and the bees seem to be moving right in.  You can see them raising their rear ends (picture below) to release the Nasonov pheromone to let the other bees know this is home.

Tonight the bees will go home with Dr. Becca to start a new life in her apiary.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Spring Inspection

Last year was not a year for blogging, apparently, but we are still keeping bees. The hive with last year's captured swarm died over the winter, but the two remaining hives were busting at the seams on Sunday.

We overwintered an odd configuration of a super on the bottom and two deeps on top.  Sunday the two deeps of both hives were chock full of bees.  The hive to the left has a mason jar feeder on the top with a deep box around it.  The right hive has had plenty of their own honey and we haven't fed them.

You can see the beautiful "peanut butter smear pattern" of the capped brood on this frame.  The yellow spots around the edges are pollen.  The larger caps on the top left and the bottom center are drone cells, or baby boys.


We got brave on Sunday and made two splits.  We took 3 frames of brood and a frame of honey out of the right hive; four frames of brood and a frame of honey out of the left hive.  If these two new hives successfully make their own queens and survive, they are bound for hives at UNCA.  At the very least, the two original hives now have five frames of drawn out empty comb to work with as they continue to build up for spring.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

A Bubble Off Balance

So, we're back after an incredibly mild winter and an incredibly early spring.  All the dogwoods and redbuds are currently at peak, the world looks like spring time on steroids.

When last we left our two hives, the one on the right had one deep and two supers, with a mason jar feeder on top surrounded by a deep box.  We only fed them some of their own honey, no sugar water this year.

The hive on the left had two deeps and two supers.  Both big honking hives for overwintering.  Humongous.
Crazy big.

While no one may want to model their beekeeping after ours (particularly the way our hives tend to list to one side or toward the front), all I can say is that the girls were going great guns today.  Both hives had a super pretty full of honey, lots of brood, lots of bees.

In our beekeeping for lunatics way, we shuffled things around.  The lower super in each hive had some brood and some honey.  After we determined we weren't going to trap the queen down at the bottom,  we shifted those supers to the bottom of each hive in the hopes that the bees will move upwards, since we really don't want supers as brood boxes.

We added an empty deep to the hive on the right, between the brood box and the honey super.  We added an empty super with drawn comb to the top of the hive on the left, making it even taller, putting a queen excluder below the new super.

The bees have room for expansion on the outside frames....they've chimneyed up the middle of the hives.
We got the hive on the left balanced from left to right, but it is still leaning forward too much.  A job for another day.  Two stings...the assistant got one on the knee.  A clever bee found a way in to my suit (the hole where the zipper meets) and nailed me right on the adam's apple.  Ouch.  (Postscript...some of the baking soda from my poultice just fell down the front of my shirt and I jumped, thinking I had another bee in my clothes.  I really should be braver than this.)

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Benedictines and Bees

While on retreat this summer in Minnesota, I was delighted to learn of the connection between Benedictines and bees.  The abbey church features a wall of stained glass sectioned off into a honey comb pattern.

From the outside, the window resembles a giant Lite-Brite toy.

On the inside the color explodes, and it is easy to spend much of prayer time looking back at the bright liturgical colors.

For the men at St. John's the comb pattern takes on special meaning since honey was one of the things that constituted the diet of John the Baptist, for whom the abbey is named.

Meanwhile, a short drive away, the women's monastery also features the honey comb in their windows, but without the massive size and color.  For the women of St. Benedict's, the honey comb pattern stands alone.

The symbolism is rich for the women as well...monks, like bees, do not live individualistic lives, but focus on community life.  Most of the Rule of St. Benedict, the ancient guideline for Benedictine life, revolves around the ins and out of a spiritual life practiced in the context of the practical concerns of playing nicely together.  The comb of the hive represents both home and sustenance.

My friends told the sisters at St. Benedict's that I was a beekeeper, and the two women who had kept the bees for many years insisted on giving me a tour of their hives. 

It was great fun to swap bee stories, and to hear about the ways their bees have enriched their community sponsored agriculture (CSA) project.   We broke one of the sacred rules and were late to evening prayer, but no one said a word about our late appearance.  When beekeepers and gardeners get together, sometimes the schedule suffers a bit.

My favorite modern explanation of the Rule of St. Benedict is Joan Chittister's devotional book, "Wisdom Distilled from the Daily."  It has helped me deal with the frustrations of working with ornery human beings and the complexities of trying to be community together.  Good stuff.  Not much on beekeeping, but one can't live by honey alone.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Bee Trees

Left to their own devices, bees do not live in wooden boxes.  They swarm, looking for a nice hollow tree.  When the Europeans first brought honey bees to North America, the native people would find that the "white man's flies" arrived a few miles ahead of the colonies of the white men themselves.  The swarming bees arrived first, with the swarming Europeans following behind.

Behind my friend Carl's house grows a majestic bee tree.  You can see the ladder propped behind the tree.  The ladder was useful in getting up close to the bee's main entrance.

Way up the trunk, where the branches all go in different directions, there is a large hole.  Bees come in and go out as they have for years.  Carl says one of his hives swarmed one day, and scout bees discovered a huge hollow in the tree.  They've been there ever since.

They come and go from a couple different places.  We debated for a while whether there is one colony of bees with two entrances, or two completely different colonies in different hollows of the tree.  The bees know.

These days the bee trees in our country have been largely wiped out by mites and disease.  But Carl's bees are perking along, year after year.  Perhaps the surviving bees will soon begin to spread again, bringing their powers of pollination with them.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Tree Plantin' Time

I hear that fall is an excellent time to plant new trees.  If you are thinking about adding some tallish trees to your land, you might consider that here in Western North Carolina, trees provide most of our nectar for honey.  In the spring you'll be wanting Black Locust trees and Tulip Poplars for June honey.  Sourwood trees provide the most sought out local August honey. 

Trees will also provide the bees with resin to make propolis, which the bees use as both glue and as an immune system for the hive. 

Finally, I've also heard that it helps to plant a smallish tree with low branches not far from the front of your hives.  That gives the girls a convenient low branch to land on when they swarm, making it easier for you to catch them and put them in a new hive.  I don't know if it works or not.  My bees seem to like to go to the very highest branch they can find.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Still in the Honey Business!

 The hive that had tracheal mites in the spring ended up thriving.  Not only did we get five frames of honey from them in the spring, but today they gave us 18 frames today for a record harvest.  We left them with one full super of honey.

Meanwhile, the hive that we split in two because it was swarming every day ended up as two healthy hives.  They each have a full super of honey.  The original hive, in the middle, has a second super that is about a third full.  We didn't take any honey from them today, but may check back in later.

I don't know that I ever posted the pictures and jar count of the spring honey.  It was tulip poplar honey this year, something we'd never actually gotten before.  The honey was dark, characteristic of tulip poplar.  The lighter honey we've gotten in the past in the June harvest probably came from black locust trees.

The August honey is beautiful.  I'll post more pics after bottling.  I've dug out the old "how to measure pints based on the level of honey in the bottling bucket formula."  Will also report back on that.