There are times when I go out to the beeyard just to watch the activity at the hives. The girls zipping in and out, guards on the landing boards (along with drones, hanging out, drinking honey and talking up the girls), the occasional midair collision that harms no one, the (at times) clumsy landings and then crawling over other bees….it’s all a day in the life in the yard. The bees I see foraging today will be dead by next month, having worked themselves to death, and will be replaced by newly graduated foragers, heading out into the world to find its bounty and return it to the hive for the benefit of all. Have I mentioned I’m a writer?
I captured this with the new camera (a Canon Powershot SX730 HS as my pocket camera to replace my Fuji FinePix, which is good, but very old). I stuck it on a tripod in front of the mega hive (#8) while I went and had a look at the second split from that hive (#11). It’s very relaxing – so much so that the other night I almost fell asleep watching it. I should keep that in mind the next time the insomnia is really bad. (Of course, it could also be because I was sick, on meds, and had been doing some things outside that absolutely had to be done when I should have been resting. Who knows?)
No, I’m not framing up walls so they can move in to the house here. I’m building frames for the hives that need to go to the beeyard so they’ll be ready when the new bees arrive on Wednesday. I’ve been sick most of the week, which scuttled my plans to be building frames during that time and making sure the new setups were ready to go. Such is life, though.
I also did some cleanup of bee gear, which was rather unpleasant in some cases, as I’d let frames hang out in hive bodies on the driveway until I could get to them. And I never got to them, which is how this saga happens. Both wax moths and small hive beetles love it when you do this, because it allows them to go in, undisturbed by bees, and create messes in the unprotected frames.
You can’t really see it in this image, but when you open a hive and get hit with a sickly-sweet, rotting sugar kind of smell, you’ll know there have been wax moths and small hive beetles in the box. Then you pull out a frame.
This is web and cocoons of wax moths. They like the dark comb where brood have been, and will invade it if the hive is not strong enough to fight them off or – as in this case – the hive bodies are just sitting around outside, empty.
This is a closeup of some of the crap: some webbing and dead cocoons. The larvae will eat into the wood of the frames and the hive bodies. The moths will happily go right into the carveouts the larvae have done and lay more right in them. It’s a nasty business cleaning up damaged gear and sometimes just not worth it.
Some of the frames in the hive bodies had honey in them – good honey, not honey rendered worthless and useless by small hive beetles and THEIR larvae. The bees will find the good stuff, go to the frames, chew open the capped honey, and start transferring it back to their home hive. The bad honey that has (or had) small hive beetle infestations they will not take. We also do not take it: it goes in the trash.
All those open cells that make sort of a rainbow above the bottom middle have been painstakingly chewed open by the other bees in the yard, and their content transferred just as painstakingly back to their home hives. Here’s a closeup of how ragged it looks afterward.
The edges are jagged and you can see some of the cappings inside the cells. normally, were this just a frame of honey that for whatever reason we wanted them to take – in this case, we wanted the beeswax from this rainbow area, because it was lighter in color and that is what we want for our beeswax melting – we would wait for the girls to do their thing, then put the frame into a hive. The bees would then clean this up, taking out the debris and repairing the outer edges. This frame, though, had hive beetle-contaminated honey on the other side and was trashed. On this side, I scraped the wax off into the bucket where we hold our wax that is to be melted so it can be turned into whatever it will ultimately be (lip balm, candles, and so on).
I wound up making about 60 frames today, and between that and what I’d already done pre-sickness, we are now ready to give the newbees their spaces. I have a video of some of that process on my youtube channel, and I’ll put it here in a post tomorrow. There are videos dating back to a few years ago, before chronic pneumonia and hospitals became my besties.
Until next time, peeps: be well.
We may finally be heading toward fall here at the ranch.
The maples have discarded most of their leaves, the water oaks are following suit, and the wind from the north carries with it the promise of our little piece of the planet cooling down just a tad.
(Two days later…)
Our forecast stands, thankfully: cooler weather will definitely help me get the gardens pruned back of weeds and covered for the next few months. And by “me”, I mean I’ll be pulling weeds and my sister will be putting the weedblock down. She hates weeding. And that’s okay, since I’m having her do the heavy lifting – I’ve done something to my shoulder and either damaged my rotator cuff or the labrum. I’m leaning more toward the rotator cuff, because of the clicking and popping and it hurts pretty damned badly to raise my arm. My right arm, I should clarify: my good arm, since the surgery from the (fuck you, cancer!) cancer removed muscle and nerve tissue from my left arm and while I can carry stuff with that arm, mostly, I can’t raise it up over my head like a normal person would. So, two damaged arms. One from surgery. The other probably from throwing the ball for the puppy without being warmed up sufficiently each round. The round where it popped was apparently the one that was trying to my attention and tell me to stop doing the stupid thing.
Cooler weather also brings in the time for making (which sounds like something out of fantasy novel, and who knows, that may very well be somewhere in the fantasy trilogy that’s bouncing around in my head). I can make a huge batch of hot sauce made from tabascos – obviously I can’t just call it “tabasco sauce”, since McIlhenny would probably sue me to death, so I need a name for it. But that’s a thing that needs to be done with all the windows open and fans going, and I still have to wear a mask while making it. The upside is that once made and stored properly, it will not lose a lot of flavor as it ages. It won’t go bad – there’s just vinegar, salt, and tabascos in it, so it’s by far the simplest thing I make as far as processing the harvest goes. But if it’s stored in a warm, hot place, it can lose some flavor.
The other item: some more coffee roasting. We’ve decided that really does have to be done outside, because some of the roasts are darker – I made an absolutely miller batch of columbian/sumatran been mix, roasted dark – but it does smoke a little, making the smoke alarms go off, and the whole house smells like a coffee processing outfit. The latter is not so bad, but the former is annoying. Since the weather is agreeable, I’ll be roasting up some combinations for my taste testers to do some trials. I did a medium roast on some Indonesian beans that my mom really liked, so that will also be on the agenda. Want some? Drop me a comment here, or drop me a note via email (clients: in a ticket is fine, it will reach me). It won’t be packaged in anything fancy, like an actual coffee bag, but we will vacuum pack it. Specify whole beans or ground – I recommend whole bean if you have a grinder, as whole beans retain their flavor longer than ground, but the ground version won’t be so much that you can’t drink it in a timely manner.
Meanwhile, in the beeyard, the swarm I caught last season swarmed away, and one of the new hives had to have killed the queen, made a new one, and absconded. In the newer hives, the queens have one wing clipped so they can’t go anywhere. And since I’ve been ill pretty much constantly this year, including three times in the hospital, I’ve not been able to pay attention to them as I would have liked. But, I did get out there the other day, and did a few quick inspections. Most of the boxes are bursting with bees (yes, I do like some alliteration), with one that’s straggling pretty badly, and I’m thinking that next season I’m probably going to have to commit some regicide and put a new queen in that box.
I also picked up, courtesy of the vast intarwebz, an idea for controlling small hive beetles. These little assholes get into the hives, poop everywhere, go through the comb, ruining the comb AND the honey in it, and are generally a royal pain in the ass. Specialty food/bar prep towels, cut in squares, and laid on the two back edges between two hive bodies has done more to keep the small hive beetles under control than any other non-chemical way I’ve used. The towels are thicker than usual paper towels, and have some tufting to them. The bees will pick at it, because it’s a foreign item in the hive and they want to clean it up and get it out, but more importantly, bees herd the beetles into corners on their own. When they do that without anything in place, the beetles are still alive and they will break themselves out when the beekeeper removes a frame. With these towels in place, the beetles get stuck, very much like velcro, because they have barbs on their legs. Leave the towels in for a couple of weeks, and then change them out for a fesh set. I thought I had a photo of some of the beetles caught in a couple of the hives I tried it in, but I can’t find that, so I’l just take some new pics on my visit to the beeyard tomorrow. I’ll be inspecting a few more hives, feeding the ones who need it, and generally getting them ready for “winter”, such as it is here.
Enough of the almost all word dump that doesn’t even do justice to anything. Until next time, peeps: be well.
It’s the humidity. And also bee swarms that emerge from a brand new package installation because there was a queen in the bees the provider shook into the box in addition to the (marked) queen they put in the cage. What’s the big deal, you ask?
Like the Highlander, there can be only one. Either the bees, happy with the original, unmarked queen will free the marked queen and then kill her, or they will free her and the other queen will take a bunch of bees with her and swarm out.
The latter is what happened today: a very humid, extended round of wrangling to get that swarm out of a tree branch about 10-12 feet off the ground. In the end, I wound up simply lopping the branch as trying to shake them from that height was not working after a couple of tries. After cutting the branch and setting it on the hive I’d set up, I left them for a bit, to calm down and get themselves sorted. There were a handful of bees flying around where the branch had been, looking for their landing site.
I gave them about ten minutes or so, went back out, and managed to find the queen in the box. Hooray! Now, the question is: will they stay? That question is unlikely to be answered today, as it’s overcast and we’re on our way toward dusk. The other question, which also will not be answered today because the couple hours spent working on that swarm in our humidity sapped me of everything I had left in the tank – no lunch in that tank, either – is to determine where the original marked and caged queen is in the hive from which that swarm emerged. Both questions can and by necessity will have to wait until the morning.
Thinking of keeping bees? Think on it deliberately, and don’t make an instant decision. It isn’t for everyone.
I went out in the bees today, to swap out the feeders on the new hives and to make sure they’d released their queens.
All three had broken the queen out of her cage, and I found the queen in all three. The weakest hive, in which I had put a frame of brood and honey from an existing hive, had queen cells on the bottom, which I’m guessing they started before the caged queen was released, not understanding that they had a queen already. Since the new queen is young and strong, if any of those cells do produce a queen, the existing (and now released) queen should be able to take her out. Survival of the fittest! All three have begun to drawn comb, and the first two are storing pollen.
This is the queen from the first packaged hive – she’s the one with the red dot on her back, just to the left of center. She was busily making her way around the frames.
None of the queens are laying yet, as there isn’t anywhere for them to lay until the worker bees get a bit more done. For now, I’m happy with their progress, and happier that the third hive looks like it will make it.