Happy New Year!

With an amazing snow day on Sunday, and a few days off for the New Year holiday Josh and I were able to made a candy board for the ladies.

Sadie found a post on the Beverly Bees blog that shared details of how to construct such a thing – and as a result – found a solution to getting us out of making fondant!

So… with a 50 lb. bag of sugar* – some handy work in our woodshop in the basement – and 24 hours of dry time – the board was made (and yes, Bow, Wow, Wow’s I want Candy was our soundtrack – I highly recommend listening to this while looking at the following images!)

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Josh cutting up some pine for the edging

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Cutting the pieces on a 45 degree angle

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Measuring against the inner-cover

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Wood glue on the ends of the board

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Lucky to have this handy dandy corner brace (perfect for making frames – and now candy boards) – Josh nailed each edge after he glued the ends

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Screwing in the queen excluder to the pine edging

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Making a 5/8″ hole in the board so the bees have an upper exit hole in the hive, as well as added ventilation for the hive

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50 lbs of sugar…  I only used 16lbs

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Quite a sight…

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The make-shift lab:

board frame – check

mixing bucket – check

vinegar – check

trowel – check

3 cups of water – check

wax paper – check

4″ x 5″ block – check

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We’re ready!

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Mixing in 3 cups of water with three tablespoons of white vinegar*

The vinegar does two things: it raises the pH of the sugar (making it easier for the bees to digest) and it helps prevent mold.

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Packing the sugar in the board. I lined the queen excluder with wax paper from my foundations I bought last year.  Some make boards with or without – I chose to use them this year – if it’s messy later in the season I’ll rethink this.

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Packing in tight and smoothing out with the trowel… that’s 16 lbs of sugar packed solid!

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Testing how dry the board is after 24 hours – it’s pretty solid (and heavy)!

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Ready for transport

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The bees!  It was such a treat to peek in and see my ladies  – I missed them!  They look good!

But didn’t want to get them too cold – so I moved fast… I lifted the inner cover, put down the candy board, and then sealed her up!

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Snug and well fed… one can only hope Mavis survives the rest of the winter!

I hope this finds you snug and well fed!  Enjoy these snowy days – and think spring!

Today was bitter sweet as I finished ‘winter prep’ for Mavis.  I will miss visiting the ladies and anticipate their survival!

It was just warm enough to consolidate the two hive bodies to one, clean out the bottom board of any bee debris (and I saw no signs of chalk brood – hooray!), and screw on the metal mouse guard.  The ladies looked great – healthy and vibrant, clustered and defensive – all good signs. Sorry so few photos – I was acting quickly!

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My next visit will be during thaw in early January when I’ll feed them fondant.  But even in that scenario I won’t really see them – I’ll just maneuver as fast as possible to give them a good batch of feed that will hopefully last until the nectar flows in early spring.  I anticipate the first thorough inspection of the new year in March.

winter hive 2012

I debated whether or not to wrap the hive – as some beekeepers in cool, wet climates do.  The main killer over the winter months, besides starvation, is moisture, not cold. Some beekeepers feel it necessary to cover the hives to prevent moisture from seeping in – while others suggest letting the hive breathe – I’m following the lead of the latter. We’ll see how it stands up to the elements!

The winter months, while quiet in the field, will be busy inside with next year’s planning.  I plan to build new frames to replace some rickety ones, and will melt down some wax to create my own foundations.  I’m building up quite the library of beekeepers books and journals and I just finished Sue Hubbell’s a book of Bees (thank you, Leslie!).  She lists so many references that I’ll follow up on during the deep dark days.

I’m also planning on transferring ‘bee-mail’ to a blog – that both Sadie and I will manage – and post to.  Keep a look out for an announcement with a link!

In February there will be a two-day Bee Extravaganza:

OVERWiNTER w/ APiSOCIAL SATURDAYS  2/9 & 2/23 – where Sadie, Kathleen Richards and I will host a panel on beekeeping at the garden.  Both days are chock-a-block with amazing programs and I encourage you to attend!  Here’s a link: http://festooning.wordpress.com/events/

AND – last – but most certainly not least – The Leland Community Garden is hosting their annual Solstice Celebration of Friday, 12/21.  This ‘not-to-be-missed’ event is a long held tradition with candles, hot mulled cider, caroling and a beautiful community celebration of winter.  Activities begin around 6:30P and go on well in to the night.  I hope to see many of you there!

What an adventure!  It’s been an extraordinary 8 months of learning, observation, frustration, awe, and even drama!  It has been such a pleasure to share this with all of you! Thank you!

Have a beautiful holiday season – and I will write again in the New Year!

What a gorgeous afternoon to spend at the apiary!  It was wonderful to share it with Sadie and her partner Waylon, Kathleen Robinson and my friend Andrzej (who took some amazing pics – see at bottom of post!) and his family (all the way from Arlington!).  It’s always a curious adventure and we were not disappointed with the findings –- some good, some not.

Andrzej and fam, Sadie and Waylon

First the highlights:

I have a small but healthy hive– I’d guess about 40,000, with decent honey reserves in the top hive body, and some pollen and brood as well.

The bees were active, healthy, and no sign of the varroa mite (wheh!) or wax moth!

happy, healthy ladies

healthy honey reserve - double-sided

This is good!

BUT – Now come the low points…

As I was rearranging the hive bodies I had a chance to inspect my screen bottom board (the bottom of the entire hive structure) – and noticed what appeared at first to be small pebbles.  How did those rocks get in there – by an intruder (i.e. rodent?)  Nope… Sadie came over and told me it might be chalkbrood… urghh… really?!?

stonebrood

So… what is that?  Well – the little pebbles are actually mummified larvae that the bees clean out of the comb – called either stonebrood (hard pebble like larvae – caused by the fungi Aspergillus fumigatus and Aspergillus flavus – which is what mine were) or chalkbrood (more chalky/crumbly larvae – caused by the fungus Ascosphaera apis) – both are caused due to a high moisture content in the hive.  I am guessing it was my late autumn feeding that contributed to this as I introduced an insane amount of moisture with my syrup (usually having a minimum of 6 24 oz. jars in the hive at a time).  Considering I stopped feeding a while ago the moisture levels may have returned to ‘normal’ – because I didn’t notice anything amok in the hives – and there was only a small amount of the pebble/mummified larvae.  I’m a polyanna, though… and think the best.  But – there is nothing I can do about it – supposedly it corrects itself if it is a strong hive – and I trust my ladies have everything under control.

I am also a little concerned about the lack of honey reserves and activity in the bottom hive body – there is a lot of empty comb… ripe territory for an intruder or pest.  So I switched the hives – and placed the heavy healthy one on the bottom and moved the light /empty one to the top.  I’ll go out in a few weeks to see if the top is still empty (and by that time looking a little more sinister).  If so, I’ll just consolidate the hive to one deep frame for the winter and keep a close look out in the early spring (February) – when the queen starts actively laying her eggs again and will need more room to expand.

By mid-December I plan to feed the hive fondant.  I’ve never made fondant before… so I anticipate the ‘cooking party’ will be chock-a-block with ridiculous mishaps – and, of course, chaotically fun!

Enjoy these last few days of beautiful weather!

Andrzej’s photos:

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This is my favorite time of the year as I welcome the crisp weather, the start of sweater season, and all things apple!

Mavis is bracing for the cold as well!  I just had a quick inspection on Sunday and sure enough – with my supplemental feeding – the honey supply is being replenished.  It’s not at the capacity I’d like – so I will continue to feed the 2:1 until it gets too cold for liquids – and then it’s on to fondant!

I am happy to say that there was no more evidence of the wax moth!  That’s a sign of a strong hive – and the ladies look really healthy!

I will be visiting the hives more frequently as I need to keep an eye on their honey production, intruders and pests, and general well-being heading in to the winter.  These visits will be quick – especially if it’s cold – as I don’t want to disturb the temperature of the hive.  At some point I’ll do a major fall inspection and winter prep – and if you haven’t been to the hive this might be the best time.  I’ll keep you posted!

Lastly – a side-note: I am happy to say Sadie and I will be part of a Bee-Extravaganza at Boston University this winter as part of the curated program of the Inflatable Beehive (http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1481227913/festooning-the-inflatable-beehive?ref=email) in the exhibit Alternative Visions/Sustainable Futures.  Other participants will include Dean and Ramona of Bee Unto Others (and the apiarists at the Victory Gardens), Ron Breland and his dodecahedron hives (http://www.microecofarming.com/html/natural-beekeeping/natural-beekeeping-dodecahedron-hive.htm), the BU Beekeepers Club, SkyHive, and a few others!  Dates tbd – but it will be sometime in late February/early March!  We’re looking forward to representing The Leland Community Garden!  More info to follow!

In the meantime – stay warm – and be well!

There is an autumn chill in the air – and a whole new season for the hive.  Let the planning and preparations begin!

When I visited the hive on Saturday I found extremely low reserves of honey.  This was surprising as weeks ago there was capped golden sun aplenty.  Either they are being robbed (by other bees – it does happen) – or they are depleting their supplies due to their activity with the new brood.  I really have no clue.  What I did know, though, is that I had to act quickly to supplement their food source – and that meant feeding with syrup.

In the spring – with the new hives – I fed the bees for about a month with a one-to-one sugar:water syrup (with a splash of white vinegar to alter the pH to be more like nectar).  Each hive was set up with 3 24 ounce mason jars that they went through every few days. 1:1 is A LOT of sugar – and it has to be pure cane sugar – white and processed (not organic or raw).

For the fall leading in to the winter the ratio is 2:1.  And, gosh, I thought 1:1 was a lot…  Today I bought six 4 lb bags of Domino Sugar from my local Stop and Shop… that certainly made for a fun conversation at check-out.

Two bags yielded 5 jars of syrup.  I figure they’ll be done with it in a week or so.

I’ll go back next Saturday because I also have to monitor for pests looking to settle in to the warm hive for the winter.  I spotted a long, gross 1” white worm wriggling around in one of my frames.  Oh, the horror! It was the larvae of the wax moth – urghh – a dreaded beast that can seriously damage the hive.  Thankfully I caught this early – and it wasn’t an ‘infestation’ per se – as I didn’t notice frass or webbing  –  but this is another thing to fret over!

My hive seems strong enough to protect itself – but I did take some extra measures.  I consolidated and moved hive bodies around.

rearranging hive bodies

I pulled all the frames with empty comb out, put the hive body with healthy brood on the bottom and the hive body with pollen and honey on top.

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I put back my entrance reducer and added the super for the syrup.

fall syrup

It’s so strange to have a set-up so similar to what I started with 5 months ago!  What a game of musical hives: from the independent Mavis and Sally, to the combined mega hive, to a modified hybrid, back to just Mavis (Sally is empty and will be prepped for a new package next spring)!

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As the season gets cooler there will be more hive preparations, concoctions to be made and of course a myriad of unanticipated happenings!

Stay tuned!

I HAVE EGGS!  While I thought my Queen was acting a little ‘lazy lady’ – she is finally doing what she does best…laying eggs.   And I love her for it!  I was so worried – two weeks w/out eggs – but I have learned there’s a gestation period – and she must have just returned from her virgin flight when I photographed her on 7/28 – after she mated with god-only-knows how many drones (some Queens mate with up to 15!) – and now she’s filling up the comb!  Wheh – looks like I will have a fantastic fall season after all!

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The eggs look like rice – and the queen places them perfectly in the center (see attached) – they’re hard to spot at first – but once you know what to look for it gets pretty easy!

some highlighted eggs

Sunny thoughts on a warm summer day!

As always a hive visit is never just a standard, straight forward inspection.  It is often filled with mystery, anxiety, confusion and wonder – and yesterday did not disappoint.

Something was amiss in the royal hierarchy of Sally – I can guarantee my original queen is no longer – whether she was succeeded by the newly reared queen from Mavis many weeks back, or there was yet another mutiny, one will never know .  BUT there was a ‘changing of the guard’ shall we say – as evident by an extremely productive work force – but limited if any –  new brood.

I know the queen slows as the summer days wane – but it was certainly alarming to not see any larvae or little eggs.  There is an insane abundance of honey – all of which I’ll leave for the hive to winter over – but – to not see eggs?!?

can you spot the queen

Observing in the field is no easy task.  Burdened with long-sleeved clothes and heavy protective gear (unbearable on hot days), battling the foliage around (in my case thorny rosa rugosa), and hoping not to get stung (which I always do – right under my right arm – without fail – they LOVE that spot) – I tend to sometimes overlook the obvious.  I took a bunch of photos in the middle of my meddling and it was only this morning that I noticed… hmm… what is that?  Is that an unmarked queen?  It is!

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here she is!

That could mean a few things 1) she has just returned from mating, 2) she’s just hanging with the girls and not really laying right now; or 3) I have no idea.  But in any case – I am way more hopeful I will have eggs by next week’s visit.

I also modified the hive a bit – consolidating from four hive bodies to three.  When I first combined the hives there were a few empty frames (frameless) that I was expecting the bees to build on.  But over the last six weeks they didn’t – so I removed 10 frames scattered throughout all the hive bodies (boxes) – and it’s fantastic – it’s so much easier to manage!

One of the frames I took was partially built with a small amount of honey –oh,  what a treat!  It wasn’t capped – so it wasn’t fully developed/aged –and its very light – but from a small chunk of comb I managed to fill a small jam jar – and it’s delicious!   I’ve heard many beekeepers refer to sun caught in a jar – and now I truly know what that means –

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the comb from where the sun came

I will be out again next Saturday – probably at the same time (2P)– as it was nice to not have the older ladies (the foragers and more wiser of the bunch) defending their hive – they certainly were less aggressive (or defensive if you prefer) – than in past visits!   You are always welcome!  Sadie and I were excited to see Mary and a new friend at the garden – curiously watching (at a distance!) –

And- again – I am plugging Queen of the Sun – I just got the dvd and rights – so it’s a definite!  Friday, 8/17, 8:30P at the garden!  Various list-servs and friends will also be posting event details (i.e. Urban Homesteaders, The Boston Beekeepers and Follow the Honey in Cambridge)

Greetings friends, gardeners and beekeepers!

It has been quite some time since my last dramatic bee-mail update! I know some of you have been waiting on the edge of your seat to know if there was a battle of the Queens… Did the combining hives survive… Will I have a super hive… ???

Well – I am happy to report – no news is good news – and that means my bees have been doing brilliantly well – combined – into one mega hive! I had bee-guru Jean Claude come out to visit and inspect the monolithic structure (see attached) – and the Mavis/Sally combo is GREAT!

Back Camera

He and I doused them with powdered sugar (a preventative measure to protect against the Varroa mite) – and then I left them alone – for awhile… BUT I am planning a major hive inspection this Saturday (7/28) at 2PM – and would welcome anyone should you be curious! I may even wrangle you to help out, too – as the hive bodies are extremely HEAVY – ladden with late season brood and honey. So – come on by!

Also – please mark your calendar for the weekend of 8/17 – 8/18!
Sadie Richards (the other apiarist) and I will host an outdoor screening the documentary Queen of the Sun (http://www.queenofthesun.com/about/trailer/) at the Leland Herb Garden on Friday, August 17th at 8:30PM to kick off National Honey Bee Day – And on Saturday, 8/18, The Leland Herb Garden will have their own Honey & Herb celebration – a 15 year tradition where the gardeners and beekeepers share tales and wares – from 1 – 4PM.

I hope you are all well!

Look forward to seeing some of you soon!

All my best,
Addy

Hello beenthusiasts!

Wednesday afternoon’s visit to the hives with 6 high schoolers from Boston Day and Evening Academy went well (greetings from Deborah, then an intro to plant & bee sex discussion, followed by thorough hive inspection and honey tasting). Bees were hatching/emerging from their cells (having metamorphosized from pupa into adult insect) as we watched (quite a sight to see!), but the hive we went into had signs indicative of the queen having died (absolutely no eggs or larval bees). There were numerous capped queen cells, however, so the bees are well on their way to raising a new matriarch!

Some facts you my find interesting: It is the worker bees who decide which eggs become workers and which become queens. Both are genetically identical, but queen bees are distinct because they have complete reproductive organs, which comes to pass simply because she is fed a nutrient-rich diet (called royal jelly) for her entire larval development (and the workers enlarge her “cell” so that it can accommodate her larger abdomen). The first queen to emerge (within 6 days of her cell being capped, which happens at the end of her larval stage and beginning of her pupal stage) will start making a piping noise by reverberating her body against the comb. The other queens that the workers have raised (they always raise numerous queens when something happens to their old queen, or when she is laying poorly and the workers decide they should replace her) will begin “quacking” in response to the first emerged queen’s “piping” The one emerged queen will then typically proceed to sting and kill the remaining queens who have not yet hatched. The new queen will then spend 7-10 days going on her nuptial (mating) flights (she never mates in the hive). Once she has mated with ~half a dozen drones from other colonies (who die in that process) she returns to the hive and begins to lay (she stores the sperm from her mating sessions in an organ called a spermatheca, and can decide when to lay a fertilized egg – which will become a worker or a queen, depending on what the workers feed her (both are female) or she can lay an unfertilized egg which will develop into a drone (aka male bee). Yes, that’s right, all male honeybees develop from an unfertilized egg and are thus haploid clones of the queen’s genetics.

Anyway, I hope you all enjoyed reading my rambling update and learning a bit more about honeybee life. I am optimistic about the future of this hive, but because of this changeover of queens it will be imperative that I continue to feed supplementally through the summer and not harvest honey from that hive (it already has much less drawn comb and honey compared to her sister hive).

Below are a few photos from the trip.

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Sunday’s inspection gave me quite the scare!

Sally is doing great – thriving – in fact – and making the most beautiful straight combs – I couldn’t be more proud. This is exactly what I was hoping to find!

Sally new comb

But when I went over to Mavis all was quiet and still – with only a handful (about 3,000) of recently hatched brood. I was heartbroken – where did my bees go? It was not a collapse – as I thought it could be – but either a swarm, an absconsion or I killed the queen in Mavis when I added a new hive body a few weeks ago. In any event the hive was weak – and I thought it was a goner.

But I was too distraught to inspect carefully – and waited until Monday night to go back with a second pair of seasoned eyes.

My apiary-mate, Sadie, and I discovered a supercedure cell (meaning a number of things – but basically an emergency queen reared from a per-existing worker egg) –

AND – in addition – we found THREE queen cups – hatched – meaning the original queen left (or died) and the ladies got right to work replacing her.

Mavis - empty comb

more queen cells found in Mavis

supercedure

But there was still no sign of a queen – no eggs – and the 3000 recently hatched bees were directionless. I knew there was a virgin queen out there – trying to mate – and trying to return to her hive – but I had to think of the larger unit – and think quick – so I combined the remainder of Mavis with Sally.

close up Mavis queen cell

newspaper method

You can’t just pour the bees in to another hive – the stronger hive would kill (in defense) the intruders. It takes about three days for the new bees to acclimate and have their scents/pheromones merge with the others – so some genius discovered that if you put a few sheets of newspaper between the hive bodies of differing hives it takes about three days for the bees to eat through the newspaper and merge. The bees from Mavis are trapped in this hive body until they can break through so I supplied some syrup – and I go back daily to make sure all is right in the apis mellifera world.

combined hive

This isn’t a ‘done deal’. I could have made a grave mistake IF the new queen was in the old Mavis hive body when I combined (and I just didn’t see her), then all hell will break loose and the two queens will fight it out to the death. This will surely upset the beautiful rhythm of Sally’s progress and I will most certainly have even more of a mess on my hands.

BUT – best case scenario is that the hives merge – are healthy – and I have one strong super hive for this season which can possibly mean a stronger hive going in to winter (barring any infestations of mites or other disease).

AND I will learn how to split a hive next year and purposely rear a new queen! (maybe)

The bees certainly know how to take care of themselves – it’s the human intervention that screws things up – and I have never felt so amazed, helpless, lucky and awestruck at the same time – beekepping is blissfully humbling and I’m so glad I can share this with all of you!

I will return to the apiary for a full inspection this Friday (6/22) after work – around 6:30P – if anyone would like to join me!

Happy solstice!