Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Bee Escape

In trying to decide how to go about removing the bees from the frames when we go to harvest the honey, we looked at options such as the fume board, brushing, blowing or shaking bees off the frames, or using a bee escape.  We've chosen to try the last option.  The fume boards work quickly, but we didn't like the thought of "fumigating" our bees or the honey.  My experience with brushing bees off the frames has been that it does not make them very happy.  I like to keep them happy.  So we decided to go with the bee escape method.
There are a number of bee escapes available commercially and there are also plans for building a variety of bee escapes.  Most of the commercial bee equipment outlets sell a simple bee escape that is oblong in shape and fits in the opening of a standard inner cover.  It allows the bees to move from the honey super to the hive body below.  These are quite inexpensive, costing only a couple dollars. You can also buy, from Dadant, a board which incorporates several conical bee escapes for about $17.00.  We opted to build our own, using a plan for a variation of a triangular escape known as a vortex.  Dave Cushman has a great website explaining a variety of "clearer boards", including plans for building the vortex.  We made ours from 1/2 inch plywood.  We did add the variation that includes using 3 CD roms.  The CD's, being slick, help prevent bees from clustering underneath the bee escape and blocking the exits.  Here is a photo of one using the CD's:
This shows the underside of the bee escape.  The bees come down from the honey super above through the central hole, then have to wind through a bit of a maze to exit through an opening under any of the corners of the triangle.  A screen covers the escape so they have to go through the maze to exit.
I did a bit of searching for a video showing a bee escape.  Andy's backyard is a series of 5 homemade videos showing how he harvests his honey.  He removes the bees by using a triangular bee escape, which he shows.  He places the bee escape below the two honey supers and returns the next day to collect the supers, sans bees.  Seems to work pretty well.  Since our hives are just out back on our property, it is not a big deal to put them in place one day and go out the next to collect the frames.  Hopefully it will go as smoothly as it appeared for Andy.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Honey!

As we get involved in the routine management of our bees, we almost forget one of the reasons for having them--honey.  So when we opened the hive yesterday to check on the progress they were having in drawing out the comb in the super, we were very surprised, after having checked only last week, to find practically every frame drawn out and filled with white, capped honey.  I put another super on, this time choosing to use the 10 frame initally as the newsletter from Dadant had suggested (done so the bees will draw out more regular comb, later to switch to a 9 frame box) and headed in to start looking at options for extracting.  Should we try to use a centrifugal extractor, use heat, buy equipment, use the equipment at the nature center, etc.  These are things we had only briefly talked about and considered and now we need to make some definite decisions.  Not that it needs to be done immediately--the nice thing about early season honey is we have time.  It will stay in the hive just fine, so no real rush.
So, we went to the catalogs and internet.  Kathy found a vintage, classic crank extractor on ebay for $75 starting price, with no bids.  The photo and description indicated it has a few dings, has some definite rust spots but apparently the crank works ok.  We looked at newer, smaller models at some of the beekeeping supply houses. Dadant has a metal, 2 frame job for about $150.  We also could use the equipment at Indian Creek Nature Center in Cedar Rapids, where we are members and where we took the year-long course in beekeeping.  We also looked at uncapping equipment and thought about ways of getting the bees off the frames.  I found plans for a bee escape I can make called the vortex escape.  Put that under the super, the bees think they are cut off from the rest of the hive and go through the escape but it is very difficult to get back.  In several hours or a day, you can take the super off with few or no bees in it.  Right now we prefer this method to using a chemical.
Later, I remembered that a former colleague of mine, Beth,  and her husband, Jim,  had kept bees years ago.  I called them and Jim has given most of his equipment to his son, who is also in his first year of beekeeping.  They would be happy to let us borrow their old extractor, though Jim gave the caveat "it's a lot of work!"  I think we figured that would be the case having seen the extraction demonstrated at Indian Creek.
So, we're pretty excited with the idea that we indeed will have honey this season, maybe quite a lot actually.  I'll take a better look at the frames next week and we may be doing some extraction in the next several weeks.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Enlarged opening

Rain and more rain, and, did I mention humidity?  With quite a little gathering of fanners on the apron, I decided to go ahead and open the hives fully by removing the reducer, which had been placed in the larger opening.  You can really smell the honey coming from the big hive, and I can imagine they are working hard to get things dry in there.
Bees are still all over the spiderwort, of which we have plenty, and are now seen on the white clover.  There are still so many things in bloom that they should be getting plenty of pollen/nectar, provided they can get out.  We have not had as much rain as folks in southern Iowa but still have had well over 4 inches and we're only mid-way through the month, with rain forecast 5 of the next 6 days.
I had an interesting experience the other day.  My aunt, Paula, wrote saying that Kelli, her daughter, had a squirrel nest (actually a wood duck house) full of bees and wondered what to do.  I'm not to the point yet where I want to do extractions, so I looked on the state apiary registry for someone nearby in that county.  I chose the person with the most hives and called him, explaining the situation.  He was a bit puzzled how I got his name and number, but I explained that and he was more than happy to oblige.   It actually is his son's "hobby", which he began when he was in kindergarten.   Dad has been his "assistant".  His son is now 12.  They did go to my cousin's where they confirmed the bees were indeed honeybees.  I did not go, since this is over an hour and a half away so heard the story from my aunt.  The nest was 12 feet up on a tree, secured with lag bolts.  They brought an extension ladder and the son climbed up.  Unfortunately, about the worst possible thing happened--the nest, heavy with bees, comb and honey, came loose much faster than anticipated and dropped to the ground before the boy could secure it.  You can picture it--bees all over the place.  They did manage to get the nest back up and on the tree, with the hope that most bees would return to it.  They decided to leave it alone and did go back and retrieve it the next day, wrapping it in canvas.  They hoped the queen survived but planned to order one if she didn't.  The boy now has 8 hives, I believe, with plans to have 16 by the end of summer.  Quite a project!