Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Free at last, free at last

We went out right after breakfast to do a check to see if the queen had been freed from her cage. It was cool and damp with the forecast to only become wetter the next couple days, so we decided we would do this as quickly as possible. We didn't take smoke, since I figured the coolness would subdue them enough. The plan was simple--take off the lid, remove the feeding can, take off the box surrounding the feeding can and set that on the ground. Take off the top of the two hive bodies, with inner lid in place and set it on the empty box on the ground. Then lift up the bottom hive body from the base to have access at the queen cage. This would interfere much less than removing frames. We figured when we saw the cage it would either be covered with bees and we would have to try to remove the candy ourselves and free her or it would be empty.
Success--it was empty. We didn't risk bothering them any more with the cold to try to locate the queen--save that for a warm day a week or two from now. Otherwise, things looked good, and even with the cool weather a steady stream of bees was flying in and out, so they look like busy little bees. Which reminds me of an ad my mom saw on The Weather Channel about Billy Bee honey. I check out the Billy Bee web site, which is a Canadian company making honey. Funny little jingo, and watch what happens to your cursor when you go to their page. Cute. Check out the video ads.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Waiting and watching

Not much going on as the bees are just taking some time to get used to their new digs. I think they like it ok. The weather has been cool and rainy at times, but when it warms up a bit they are enjoying getting out and the entrance to the hive is a busy, buzzing place. We're giving them several days before we interrupt them again. The next thing that needs to be done is verify the queen has chewed through the marshmallow door to her cage and is being well tended by the nurse bees in the colony. We will need to remove the cage, jsut check that all is well and let them alone again. We will probably do this on Friday.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Installation Installment

The weather for our bee installation was not quite ideal, or maybe it was. Cool and misty, with intermittent periods of light rain. We arrived at Indian Creek Nature center around noon. We met in one of the smaller buildings there. We were dressed in our white outfits--pants with long-sleeved, over-sized white t-shirts, and carried our gloves and hats with veils. There was a big stack of bee boxes in one corner of the room, giving off an easily discernible hum. At least a dozen bees were flying freely around the small room. Better get used to that, I thought. Bob, our teacher, went through some of the diseases bees experience, describing symptoms and suggesting treatments. He said we would need to get a small packet of medication before we left with our bees. This was to be applied in two parts, right after installation and the other half in 3 weeks. It was treatment for prevention of American foul brood, a nasty terminal disease that is easily recognizable by the odor produced as the larva die, hence the name.

We then went out to their hives. He pulled one apart to demonstrate queen recognition and to examine a healthy hive, with capped honey cells, eggs and capped larva. He smoked the bees prior to opening the hive, and they were very well behaved, though we right away had to get used to bees crawling on us, just being curious I hoped, and crapping. They crap a lot, leaving little brown smears all over the nice, clean white outfits.

After spending awhile examining the hive, he demonstrated the installation. The bees come in a rectangular box, about 18x8x8 inches, with screen on the two long sides. On the top is cut a hole about the size of an 28 oz. vegetable can, with a slit cut in the wood about two inches long going toward one end of the box. Sticking through this slit is a metal tab, attached to the queen cage which is inside the larger box. The can holds the sugar water that has been feeding the bees while it was shipped. Here the tab holding the queen box is being unfolded so you can grab onto it, remove the feeding can, slide the tab to the opening so you can pull the queen box out, then quickly replace the can so the bees do not fly out. The queen will need to remain in this little box, even in the hive, for a couple more days so the bees get used to her and accept her. In one end of her little cage is a hole with a cork. You need to remove the cork, place your finger quickly over the hole, take a marshmallow, then stuff the candy into the hole. This will be eaten through in a couple days, freeing the queen if all goes well. Then, the queen box is placed in the bottom of the hive, after removing about 5 frames, in a back corner away from the opening to the hive. At this point, you take the bee box, smack it down firmly to knock the bees down, remove the feeding can, and dump the bees into the hive. Now, all instructions say to spray the bees down with a sugar water solution before this step. Our instructors did not do that, since it was so cool and damp which really slows the bees down. More on this later.

After dumping the bees into the hive, they spread them out on the bottom, making sure a number were around the queen cage, and then replaced the frames and closed up the hive. They did this demonstration with four more hives. We felt pretty confident about things at this point, went back to the small building where the bees were kept, got our box of bees, chemical and marshmallows, and headed home.

Of course, it didn't go quite as planned. We decided to go right ahead and install them as soon as we were home. We suited up again, got a screw to remove the cork in the queen cage and headed out to the hive with our bees. It was still cool and misting. The queen cage part went flawlessly. We were worried about this since one queen temporarily got out while making the cork--marshmallow exchange but Bob was quick and grabbed her bare-handed and got her back in her cage. So we were ready to dump the bees in. I gave them a smart smack down to knock them down, Kathy pulled out the can and I began to dump them. However, unlike the demonstrations, ours did not just fall down into the hive. Many took flight, buzzing angrily as we tried to shake them out of the box. We didn't hear those sounds at Indian Creek, though there were about 20 people around and many bees flying. Needless to say, we got a bit frantic. We decided to quicly close the hive up, let them settle down and try to finish in awhile.

After about an hour, we went back out, this time with the smoker, and tried to get more bees in the hive. There were still about 1/3 of them in the box. No luck--they were still very aggressive. I got one up inside my veil, sounding very pissed. We retreated again. I called Bob. He said smoke will not work since there was no honey in the hive. Just let them chill down some more, then try again. We did but took the sugar water with us this time. We sprayed them down, which immediately made them manageable, and got almost all of them in the hive. We put in a fresh feeding can and closed it up. Success.

The difference between our experience and that of the ones at Indian Creek were that those had been kept outdoors in Bob's truck and were already quite cool and damp and much more easy to handle. Ours had been kept warm and dry in the building and in our car on the way home. Had we used the spray to begin with, I know we would have had much more luck getting them in and keeping our spirits high. Chalk it off to a lesson learned.

The "bee" girl

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Hive location April 23, 2009

Ok, here is a picture of our site for the hive. It gets a.m. sunlight and afternoon shade. Good drainage. We'll need to keep the weeds down. You can see it is tilted slightly forward, which keeps water from running into the hive. The bees will enter/exit from a small opening near the bottom, which I have blocked off now to keep unwelcome guests out. Things are beginning to bloom here in eastern Iowa, so hopefully the bees will find this a good locale.
We may try to get some video of the installation this Saturday--stay tuned.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Beginnings April 22, 2009

Hi. Jessica decided that since we are taking up beekeeping, we should keep a log about the experience. Probably not a bad idea. So, here goes.
Where are we now? Bees will arrive ready to be "installed" in 3 days. Hives are built and ready to go. We need to make the sugar water to feed them after they are put in the hive. They need this since they have no honey reserve yet and there are not many flowers around at this time, since it is a late spring. The sugar water is also used to spray on the bees as we install them into the hive. This helps keep them from flying.
The hive is in place (picture hopefully to come tomorrow). I'll try to take some pics of the installation process, too. Not sure about all this--we'll see what happens.