Monday, April 23, 2018

2018 The Future Looks Bright

"Never pet a burning dog," - movie quote from, A Good Year.

I do my best to keep this blog purely focused on my beekeeping but something strange happened last week that I don't want to forget - so indulge me and then I'll tell about my extraordinary beekeeping year thus far. Or just skip down past the italic part.

On Wednesday, 4/18/18 I woke up singing the 90's song "If I had  a Million Dollars" by the Bare Naked Ladies. I like the group so that's not really odd. 

However, the first thing I heard when I got to work was a conversation that had this line in it, "You got me F***ed up talking about what I would do with a million dollars." Not an unusual conversation given I work in a casino.

Then I went to Walmart after work and the overhead speakers were playing... "If I had a Million Dollars" by the Bare Naked Ladies! So I drove to Arkansas and bought a lottery ticket - and, of course, I didn't win. 

The time between when I bought the ticket and when the numbers were drawn were filled with pure childlike daydreams. I imagined all the things I would buy, the way I would invest, the people I would help, and those I would shun. I also thought how empty all of my future achievements would be and how lonely my wife and I might end up. In the end, I wasn't even disappointed not to have won the lottery.

I've spent a lifetime looking for signs and have never found one. Nonetheless, if this year proves to be an epic success, then perhaps I'll look back on this day and say, "All the signs were there."

What a great bee year so far:

It has been three weeks since I made my splits and they are all doing well... no, they are all doing awesome!

I didn't realize it had been three weeks until just now. I don't have a great excuse, other than the weather has been fairly cold and rainy. Not to mention that last week, Dr. D's father died - I keep my bees at his family's country homestead.

However, that is all spilled milk. Saturday, I went to Dr. D's and my bees were busting at the seams and about to swarm.

I moved 5 frames of queen cells to a new hives with nurse bees (Hive number 14). I would have split 10 of my hives but I didn't have enough lids and bottoms to do it.

In the other hives, I did my best to cut the queen cells out. This is always risky, as you might miss one.

Queen Cells
I then went home and got more boxes and frames and added a box to the 10 overly full hives. The other two hives were doing well but still had two empty frames each - so I left them single stacked for now.

If all goes well, then Wednesday I will make lids and bottoms and Saturday, I will make 10 more splits.

Hive Count: 14 Hives.

BTW: I had a heart scare two months ago and so I have been meditating in the mornings before work to lower my blood pressure. Well, the bees were fairly cantankerous at first on Saturday but then I took a minute to control my breathing and meditate, the bees calmed right down. I suspect my agitation was putting off pheromones and once I relaxed so did the bees.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Queen Cells: If at first you don't succeed.

"In our response lies our growth and our freedom," Victor Frankl

Yesterday's hive inspections couldn't have been worse (well anything can get worse but it was bad).  The sky was sunny but the temperature was a cool 56F degrees with winds around 20mph. The weekend will been even colder and with lots of rain, so it was now or never.

As one can imagine, the bees were quite cantankerous, to say the least. In fact, they were down right pissed. Given that it was so cool, I put my Carheart jacket on, thinking it would be a fine bee coat given its elastic waist and cuffs. I was wrong!

The bees seemed to know right where to attack. They actively targeted my wrist and waist in droves. I could actually feel them rolling my sleeves back and I am fairly certain I heard battle cries and a little laughter.

Well, I knew they would be that way, given the weather and the fact they were queenless, so I should have worn a full suit. Oh well.

Only one of the three Queen Cells I placed Saturday seemed to have made it - and even that one is questionable. I had cut the three cells from a plastic frame and in doing so, I had opened the back of the cells and not left enough surrounding wax to attach the cell to the new frame.

Two of the cells were just gone. The third cell was laying in the bottom of Hive-E and the bees had secured it to the bottom board.

The solution was to leave Hive-E as it was and see if the queen emerges. Hive-E had a lot of bees and honey, so if this doesn't work, then I will just place more eggs in it in a week or so.

In Hive-D, we placed a new frame of eggs from Hive-L (Hive-L is the smallest hive and therefore, the easiest to find eggs).

Hive-A got a Queen Cell from Hive-G. This was a very good cell since it came from a wood frame and I could cut a big chunk of extra wax to help secure the cell in the new frame. Though I mashed a lot of worker larva - ick!

Now the bees will be given a week to do what they do. We'll see what happens. Nonetheless, all the hives are packed with bees and doing well.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Checking the Walk-Away Splits

"Success in not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts." Winston Churchill

Let's skip the suspense: 13 Healthy Hives but 3 did not make queen cells.

All the splits are full of bees. Three made Queen Cells and Three did not.

Now last year, I labeled the hives A,B,C, etc and then labeled splits with A.1, A.2, B.1, C.1 etc. However, that could get confusing for the reader so I have relabeled them below.
The colored arrows indicate the original location of the hives
and then where the hive-queen was moved to during the
walk-away splits.

Black arrows indicate queen cell moves.

I cut queen cells out of Hive-B and put them in A, D, & E. This would have been a perfect correction except that when I removed some of the queen cells, the wax opened on the backside. I immediately placed the cells into their new location but I don't know if the introduction of air into the cells will have harmed the larva.

I'll check them Wednesday. If the Cells look okay then I will leave them be. If not, then I will remove eggs from one of the parent hives and try again.

My beetle traps didn't catch any beetles but there were beetles in the traps. The drier sheets just didn't snag the beetles. I will make some new ones with Swiffer sheets inside and set them Wednesday when I inspect the queen cells.

All and all, my splits look really healthy and the bees seem to have made a fairly even split.
All the hives were full of bees
Hive-D made 3 frames
of new wax
Queen Cells

Sunday, March 25, 2018

First Split of 2018 & Big Bryan's Beetle Box

"Necessity if the mother of invention." - Plato

I am an inventor at heart and given my beetle problems last year, I have been trying to build a better mousetrap (beetle trap). Beetle Busters are great but they can get expensive. Fat Bee Man's political sign traps seem reasonable but I still have beetles when I use them. Of course dryer sheets work really well but they seem to kill one bee for every two beetles.

So here is my latest invention. Big Bryan's Beetle Box.

It is a simple and cheap beetle solution. It's a 3/8" thick #8 hardware cloth box with a dryer sheet inside. This way the beetles can get to the dyer sheet but the bees can't.

I put my first prototypes in the hives yesterday. There were not a lot beetles since all of my hives are so strong but there were still a few. I placed 7 traps in seven hives - 3 of them I poured Apple Cider Vinegar on. I'll let you know how they work next week.

"He also divided the two fish among them all." - Mark 6:41 

I split (divided) the six hives at Dr. D's place into twelve. Of course this isn't the first time I made splits but this is the first time I did it with complete confidence.

If you've been following my blog, then you know that last year I made a lot of splits that ultimately failed. But in the words of Thomas Edison, "I haven't failed. I just found 10,000 ways that won't work."

So here is what we did yesterday.

First, we cleaned the apiary up and leveled our concrete blocks.

The next step was to decide on the location of each split. We did our best to put the split as far from the original location as possible - though this is really not that important since the nurse bees will stay with the move and all the workers will go back to the original location.

With the locations decided we began the process. We started with "F" and worked backwards to "A" since "A" had been our most cantankerous hive last year. "F" was also the only hive with only one super.

I moved the whole hive to location "F1" and then placed an empty supper on the site of "F". I placed 2 frames of eggs, larva, and nurse bees on the "F" site. Then I added a frame of honey and pollen. The rest of the frames were empty waxed frames. I added some empty frames to the "F1" site and closed them up.

Now I never found a single queen in any of the hives yesterday but I made sure to leave eggs in both hives just in case the queen ended up on the original location.

We repeated the steps for each hive. Since it was very cloudy, it took a long time to confirm eggs were in each frame. The whole process took us 3.5 hours.

Despite the clouds, the bees were fairly docile. Noah got stung 5 or 6 times and I got stung about 7 or more but that isn't really too bad considering the weather.

I will check the splits next Saturday and make sure there are queen cells in all of them.

Now I know you shouldn't count your bees before they hatch but I'm going to.
New Hive Count: 13 Hives

Monday, February 26, 2018

2018 First Inspection of Spring

"In winter, I plot and plan. In spring, I move." - Henry Rollins

Is there anything more daunting than the first hive inspections of spring? This was the harshest winter since I started keeping bees. Yet, I am happy to report that I only lost one hive. It was the VSH Hive that was full of drones at the end of fall - of course it was expected. What was not expected was how much honey is in my hives.

The VSH hive still had several frames of honey but was being robbed by the other bees, so I took the 20 frames of wax and honey and divided them between the surviving hives.

On hives A, B, C.1, and B.1: I added a super with five frames of wax/honey and five unwaxed plastic frames. I didn't want to give them too much comb to defend against wax moths and beetles.

Hive-C and Hive-B.1.1 were both very healthy but still had some empty frames. So I replaced the empty frames with waxed ones.

At home, I moved the fence surrounding my bee yard and, in doing so, doubled the area to about 30'x60'. I plan to move my chickens into this area as soon as it dries up a little - as well as some bees.

The Plan:

The plan is to make a lot of splits this year. The question is, when to start? The weather looks warm and favorable but there is still the Easter cold snap to consider. Nonetheless, as soon as I see drones, I will begin the splits.

I also plan to do hive removals this year to help increase my apiary size.

The Goal:

100 Hives by winter. It's a lofty goal but that's how many I need. The remaining 7-hives will most likely split into 28-hives. The rest will have to come from the bee removals. I, of course, realize the flaw of my goal - but "a man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what is heaven for?" -Robert Browning. 

Given how much honey is in my hives after this long harsh winter, I am confident, that I only need one super per hive to survive next winter. I actually feel excited by the thought.

Hive Count: 7-Hives

Monday, February 12, 2018

The Pallet Beehive

"Art is making something out of nothing and selling it," Frank Zappa

I have been making beehives out of old pallets. I've built about 14 now. I had planned on building 100 but the process is just too time consuming.

However, if you are broke and want to get into beekeeping, then this is a way to build something great out of something free.

Now before I get started, there will be a lot of naysayers who will start talking about poisoned pallets and the such. This is not a real issue. In fact, I have used the unpainted type of pallets and have not had one ill-effect from them... well other than possibly Hive Beetles but I fixed that too.

The only three things you need to do to use pallet wood is:

1) Stagger the joints on the front vs the sides. I do this by simply cutting one of the side boards in half longways, and then placing half at the top of the box and the other at the bottom.

2) Fill in ALL of the gaps. I think failing to do this might have contributed to my hive beetle problem last year. Since the pallet boards are roughly 3.5" wide, it takes three to make one deep box. If done poorly or if the wood is not exactly straight, then there will be cracks. Simply fill these with glue and sawdust.

3) Work from the inside dimensions. Since the thickness of pallet wood is notoriously inconsistent, you have to work from the inside out. This is easier then it sounds. I cut the front/rear boards 14 3/4" long (this ensures the short side is correct).

Then I cut the long sides 19 7/8" - however, when you assemble the box, adjust then end boards to a space of 18 3/8". You may have a little wood sticking out past the ends but it won't be much and will help to keep the stacks even as you add supers later.
Mabel got cold but refused to quit

By the way, I already had all my pallets taken apart, so it only took me 2 hours to build 3 deep suppers.

As for me, I think I am going to just start buying lumber. I have a little more money this year than I have had in the past, and so the expense won't be too much of a burden. The time saved will be more than worth it.

The most important thing about this blog, is that I finally got back in the wood shop and back to working towards building my bee business.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Taste Test Sept Pear Mead

"The wine in the bottle does not quench thirst." - George Herbert.

Hello All,

This will be very short. On January 31, 2018, Noah and I tasted the September Pear Mead. It wasn't ready yet and tasted terrible.

It was very dry and smelled a little like beer - however, the acidic finish that I tasted at the bottling is gone. This is how the wonderfully sweet Christmas Mead we drank tasted right after I had bottled it, so I think this will be fine when it matures.

We still have two bottles left. We will try one at the 6 month mark and save the other for Christmas.

Like I said... this is a short one, so - The End.