Thursday, August 17, 2017

Procrastination and bad weather

"Procrastination is like masturbation. It feels good at first but in the end you are only screwing yourself." - Author Unknown

While I have a few readers out there, the truth is that this blog is as much a journal to myself as it is meant for others to read. So today's entry is just a reminder to myself.

The summer is quickly coming to an end and I am getting so little done. It's a lot like that feeling you get when you can't sleep - that minute to minute rationalization/compromise where you tell yourself, "if I go to sleep right now, I can still get six hours sleep." An hour later you tell yourself, "if I can just go to sleep now, I can still get five hours sleep." And so on and so on until the unforgiving daylight breaks into the room like a nuclear alarm clock.

The past two weeks have been one rainy day after the next. When the sun does shine, I have a million things I need to get done of which I only seem to ever get a half of a million of them completed.

Yesterday was no different. I got off work at noon, came home, changed the steering pump in my son's car, and then I ran out of steam. I had planned to make some grafts but I was give out.

Noah was over at the house, so we did manage to walk out to the apiary in the backyard. We didn't get dressed or take a smoker so we didn't open the hives - well sort of. We noted that Hive-A.1.VSH had about (20) bees on the landing and Hive-VE had a lot of traffic too.

Hive-VD (giggle giggle) only had two or three bees on the landing so I dared to open the lid. It was just a quick look but this is what I saw:
  1. There are not a lot of bees inside.
  2. The bees have begun to build comb from the lid - because of the beetles this hive only has two frames in it.
  3. There was brood. It was a quick look but it did not look like drone brood. Could it be that the hive has a queen? Could one of the virgins from Hive-VE have flown into the wrong hive and set up shop? I'll give it a closer look this weekend.
Well it's late but I might still have SIX weeks of summer left... the nuclear alarm clock is ticking. 

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Part 1 of 3 - Beetles, Chickens, and Mead

"Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new." - Albert Einstein

It is never my intention to spin my mistakes into a positive light for the sake of my ego. Nonetheless, Saturday's splits have taught me a valuable lesson.

When performing a walkaway split, with a strong hive, in the same bee yard, it is best to always do as follows:

Move the entire hive to the new location - the distance between the old location and new location doesn't matter. Then place one box on the old location. Ensure that both hives now have a frame of eggs (with nurse bees), a frame of pollen, and ample honey. Now all of the young bees will stay at the new location, while all of the field bees will return to the old location.

I did this with Hive-C and it made a perfect split. The hive on the old location now has about (8) or (10) new queen cells and both hives are full of bees.

HOWEVER, on Hive-B.1 I did just the opposite and only moved the one box to the new location. As a consequence, the new hive was destroyed by beetles. All of the brood was killed and two frames were completely infested with beetle larva.

In an attempt to fix the problem, I removed the infect frames. I also removed any empty frames and replaced them with undrawn plastic frames to reduce the area the bees would need to protect. The hive had about two heaping frames of bees still so it is not a total loss. I then took a frame of eggs from Hive-VSH and placed it in the effected hive.

If it lives, then great. If not, lesson learned.

Now on to Part-2...

Part 2 of 3 - Beetles, Chickens, and Mead

"What is best in life?" 
"Crush your enemies. See them driven before you. Hear the lamentations of their women." - Conan the Barbarian, 1982

Clockwise: Amelia Egghart, Bernice, Melba, Marsala,
and Spot is off camera. 
Part-2: The Chickens and the Beetles:

I like my chickens and my wife loves them but I have questioned my decision to get them since the day I bought them. Not because they are not a joy to own - they really are. But because I bought them to eat beetles yet they will not be big enough to go outside until bee season is over.

However, when the beetles infested my new split, Noah had a capital idea. "Why don't we feed them to the chickens." And so we did!

It was like throwing my enemies to the lions. The larva infestation was epic but my minions feasted on those unholy spawns like a pack of Velociraptors on tar-pit trapped Brontosaurus. Jen, Noah, and I all stood cage-side, watching the carnage with gleaming eyes of satisfaction. Though it was inaudible, I like to believe that the beetle larva were wailing as they were being devoured and I hoped that somewhere in my bee yard, a tiny tear was rolling down the face of a mother beetle.

Part 3 of 3 - Beetles, Chickens, and Mead

"I have never seen mead enjoyed more in any hall on earth." Beowulf

If you keep bees and have never tried mead then you have missed the point of beekeeping. Mead has as many variations as wine or beer but has it's own unique identity.

Since I live in Mississippi, the only mead that seems to be imported into the state is from the oldest meadery in the country, Chaucer's Mead. Not a highly rated mead but it comes with a spice bag that can be added to a heated batch. This warm spiced mead has now become a family tradition for the past five or six Christmas's in our house.

Since I have always had a fantasy of owning a winery, owning a meadery seems almost as romantic. Therefore I have been experimenting with home mead making for the past year or so. My first batch was okay but a little dry.

However, while harvesting honey this year I had an idea. Each year I have a lot of wasted honey that never quite comes out of my cappings. It gets heated when I melt the wax and tastes a little off - sweet but off. I've heard of people using it to make barbecue sauce but I thought, "Why not Mead?"

So this year I harvested (8) frames of honey. I don't have much honey this year, as I have been focused on making splits. Just the same, I took the cappings after they had drained and I put them in a tin pan with (1) cup of water. Then I melted the wax at 200͒ F. I then let it cool and lifted the wax off the top. What was left was a dark mix of water and honey.

I poured that into a measuring cup and had (1.75) cups of honey mixed with (1) cup of water. I added some fresh honey and made it an even (2) cups.

The Recipe:

(1) part Honey
(1) part hot water
(2) parts cold water
(1) packet of yeast.

Heat the honey and hot water on the stove and bring to a boil. Then remove and add cold water. I then placed the pot in a ice bath until it was cool to the touch (about 75͒ F). Then add the yeast.

I placed this in a (1.5) litter wine bottle (I poured the remaining (2) cups down the sink) and placed an airlock on it.

Now it is bubbling. There are a lot of recipes but this seems to be the simplest by far. I'll let you know how it comes out in a couple of months.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Walkaway Splits - Right & Wrong

"If a job is worth doing, it's worth doing poorly first." - Joel Salatin

All of my hives at Dr.D's are spaced 18" apart in all directions

Work and weather have stifled my beekeeping but it hasn't stopped me completely. Saturday, my wife and I went out to Dr. D's place and split Hive-B.1 & Hive-C. This gives me (10) Hives and (3) Five-Frame-Nucs.

However, while making my splits, I wasn't thinking and therefor I made two different kinds of Walkaway Splits.

Hive-B.1 was split by taking the top box off and placing it on the new location. Then I made sure that box was filled with eggs, pollen, and honey. Of course a lot of the bees will return to the original location, so I shook (10) frames of bees into the new box in hopes that at least half of the bees might stay. This will probably do fine but it is not the best practice (in my humble opinion anyway).

Hive-C was split perfectly. I moved the whole hive to the new location and then placed a box filled with eggs, pollen, honey, and two frames of nurse bees on the old location. All of the field bees will return to the original location and that will ensure there are enough bees to fight the dreaded Small Hive Beetles. That is, in my opinion, the best practice for making a walkaway split.

All four of the hives were given eggs, pollen, and honey so that no matter where the queens ended up, the other half of each split would have everything needed to produce new queen cells.

Also, if you notice in the graph above, I did not use the VSH eggs in these splits. Hive-C is my oldest and most resilient hive, so I wanted to keep that genetic stock in my yard.

Hive-B was a swarm that just took up residence in an empty box in my apiary but that queen has proven over the past couple of years to be resilient and gentle - again, good genetic stock.

The VSH queen is the mother of all of the hives at my house and will be the root stock of most of my grafts but it is important to keep diversity in breeding and so that is why I chose to make my recent splits without VSH eggs.

The last thing I did was to shake 5 frames of bees into a Starter Hive (Hive-VF). The Five-Frame-Nuc has a screened bottom and no exit. I also placed a hive top feeder on it and then made brackets so the lid could be secured in place. At the end of the season I will give this box a queen and enough resources to survive the winter.

So with this addition and the (3) hives at my house, I am now equipped to graft at will -- well as soon as the rain stops.

Monday, July 24, 2017

The Queen Is Dead - Long Live The Queen

"Death is but a doorTime is but a window. I'll be back." - Vigo the Scourge of Carpathia, Ghost Busters II

I got up early Saturday morning to find all the caged queens had died - though there is still the sole survivor in Hive-VE that I didn't cage. Given each queen cost about $30 (if sold), I lost $240 worth of queens. Oh well.

Time is marching on and as of now, I figure I have about (9) weeks left till the end of the bee season in the Delta. I think that is still enough time to master my grafting technique.

It has now gotten too hot to work much in the afternoons. However, I still need to go to Dr. D's and get a few pounds of bees to start my mating nucs and to bolster my Starter Hive-VD giggle giggle. I'll force myself to do that on Wednesday (if my truck is out of the shop by then.) Once that unhappy task is done, then all of my grafting can be done at the house.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Queen Cages: (4) living (3) Dead (1) Stillborn

Just a note: The Queen Cells I caged Monday have hatched. As stated in the title, (3) are dead - the cause of death is unknown but I suspect starvation.

This has been a hard year filled with ups and downs. However, I take these setbacks, not as failures but as lessons. This lesson is easy: Queens are fragile and, no matter the weather or life conditions, the queens must be systematically dealt with.

I knew I should have checked the queens on Tuesday but I let the heat keep me inside. Yesterday it rained and I took that as an excuse to again avoid the extreme heat (92 degrees - 60% humidity - 105 heat index) - though I did at least check the queens.

Of course being a better beekeeper doesn't mean I have to have a heat stroke. If queens are fed, they can be kept caged for a week before mating them (They must be introduced to the hive the same way that a mated queen is introduced). Yesterday I dripped a little honey on each of the four remaining queen's cages - Noah is going to do the same today while I'm out of town. Then Saturday, I will get up early and get my beekeeping done before the heat sets in.

The two lessons here are:

1. Pre-plan all queen rearing activities.
2. Regardless of the weather, the show must go on.