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 the hive in the same way that am 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.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Miller Method - (8) Cells and (1) Virgin Queen

"You can't always get what you want but if you try sometimes, well you might find, you get what you need." - the Stones

I miscalculated the birth of the queens. On my queen rearing spreadsheet, queens hatch at (16) days - however, that is from the day the egg is laid. The queen actually hatches just (13) days after she is grafted/started.

Luckily I realized this yesterday and was able to rescue about (8) cells. There was a beautiful virgin queen milling around on the frame but she had just hatched and had not had time to begin her executions.

There were two opened queen cells but there were still (8) sealed ones. I used a knife to cut the cells out and then placed them in wire cell protectors. I said "about (8)" because I cut one cell a little close and opened the rear of the cell. The queen inside was still white but was moving. I pinched the end closed and then placed her at the far end of the cell bar so I would know which one she was. Maybe she will make it but I doubt it.

The upside is that on July 27th, I should have at least (7) newly mated queens plus the one I left in Hive-VE. Of course I am pleased that the Miller Method worked but I can't count this as a queen rearing victory as it is not suitable for commercial use. Until I successfully start breeding queens using the grafting method, I am still just a hobbyist.

I did place the queen cells on the bottom of the same bar I use for grafting. This kills two birds with one stone: it lets the bees polish the cups while holding the new cells. On Wednesday I will make (9) mating nucs and place the (8) cells in them. I'll make (9) in preparation for upcoming grafts.

I checked Hive-VD (giggle giggle) and it is doing well. It has two frames of bees in it and while there are still beetles, they seem to be held at bay. I did take the time to crush all the beetles I saw - I think this method (though time consuming) is actually fairly effective.

At this moment, I feel like things are starting to come together.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Chickens Day 1

“Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.” 
― Theodore Roosevelt

Saturday I bought five Barred Rock chickens - that's not accurate - I bought five Barred Rock pullets or chicks. This means, that the chicks are so young that they can't go outside for two months.

They have to be kept in the house under heat at 95-degrees for the next four weeks. They must be fed special starter feed. So by the time they are old enough to eat beetles, my hives will have either overcome the beetles on their own or perished. 

What have I done?

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

I'm on the proverbial fence when it comes to Joel Salatin but I like the logic of this quote. I wanted chickens because I think they might help with the beetles but the more research I have done, the more I think that other livestock might be part of my future as sort of an insurance policy against bad bee years.

Of course I live in town, so live stock is problematic. Nonetheless, I need to get my feet wet and, as they say, Chickens are a gateway drug. 

I have a lot of plates in the air already. I work full-time as a Safety Man, I teach part-time, I am trying to get my bee business going... there are also the family obligations of course... not to mention I have two pet projects that I work on when I have time (my next novel and mechanical puzzle that I hope to one day patent)... now I have chickens. Only time will tell if this is a mistake or the first step in a new direction.

Hive-VD giggle giggle
is still alive

My grafts from last Wednesday did't take. However, there seems to be a good reason - It turns out that Hive-A.1.VHS already has a queen in it. I didn't find her but there are four frames of brood in the hive. We made the split on June 7th. So when we first moved the hive we assumed it had a queen but on inspection, there was no sign of eggs. It had only been (21) days so that makes sense. Nonetheless she is laying now.

This is a good thing. Sure I didn't have any successful grafts but I did get some grafting practice. Now this Wednesday, I will get to try it again.

On a side note: This weekend was hotter than midget porn - mid 90's with 80% humidity. Saturday, I worked in my backyard apiary for about an hour then commenced digging post holes for my new mating nuc stand. The roots where thick as a Delta welfare line and by the second hole I had broken my shovel. Tired of the heat and drenched in sweat, I called it a day. 

Sadly, Sunday I accomplished even less. This weekend the heat won.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Third Graft Attempt

"Many of the projects that we do that appear quite successful, it's actually often the second or third time we've given it a try." Dr. Edward Boyden, MIT

Yesterday, I made my third attempt to graft. We pulled a frame from Hive-B.1 and transported it to the house. I left it covered in bees and placed it in a special box that did not allow the frame to move in transit.

I made (15) grafts in (3) different types of cells: JZBZ's green cups with JZBZ mounts, Brown JZBZ cups with waxed wood plug mounts, and wax cups on wood plugs.

The (15) grafts only took me (15) minutes - half the time of the previous two attempts. I also used a German tool rather than the Chinese tool. The last thing I did different was that I hooked the larva from the closed end of "C" rather than the open end.

I mean to say, that the larva forms a sort of "C" shape. Previously I tried to approach the open end of the "C" but found it much easier to do the opposite - as in the picture shown above.

The larva was placed into each cell with only the royal jelly that clung to it. This could cause a problem but I should know tomorrow night when I get home.

The grafts were placed in Hive-A.1.


I ordered (4) baby chicks that will arrive on Saturday morning. I am hoping they will help to break the beetle cycle. We'll see.

For now VD (giggle giggle) is still infected (giggle giggle) - Damn it, it's not funny! Anyway, I mashed all the beetles and larva in VD (giggle giggle... damn it) and added the frame of bees from Hive-B.1 and gave VD... the... (giggle giggle - DAMN IT!) the frame that I grafted from. This will either strengthen the hive or give the beetles more brood to eat.

All the hives at Dr. D's are doing well.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Uncapping Knife Explosion

"The last time I heard a boom like that, Japan surrendered the war." Nelly

I bought an Uncapping Knife last year and just got around to trying it out this week. The first time it worked okay but kept getting so hot that it burned the honey - perhaps that is normal.

What is not normal is that on the second use... IT EXPLODED! No exaggeration here. About three minutes into the process the knife short circuited, blasted a hole in the side of the knife, and began throwing sparks and slag as far as two feet away. It literally looked like fireworks! Some of the slag sprayed out and burned my wife's arm before I could get it unplugged. Luckily she only received minor burns - though she was rattled for a while afterwards. We were lucky - blessed!

Since Amazon won't post my review, here is the link to the product so you don't buy the same one:

HLPB Electric Honey Uncapping Knife Stainless Steel Hot Wax Knife Scraping Blade Beekeeping Tool

Well that was just part of the day. My two grafted queens were, as I feared would happen, destroyed by the beetles. Hive-VD (giggle giggle) had the shiny frames that heralds the death of the hive. I removed all but two frames and manually killed all the beetles and larva I could see.

My chickens will be in at the end of the month and I hope that they can help break this beetle cycle.


The miller frame that I placed in Hive-VE has lots of Queen Cells. I suppose they just needed a day to settle in before they began building them. So I will have enough queen cells to make several splits this weekend.

What happened in both hive VD (giggle giggle) and VE were blessings. The presence of two accepted grafts, showed me I was on the right track. So now that the grafts are ruined, it gives me a chance to try again this week. At the same time, I won't loose any ground on my splits, since VE has plenty of queens to go around.

I made a new grafting frame with three kinds of cups to see if any of them do better than the other.

All and all, it was a good day.

Monday, July 10, 2017

My First Successful Grafts

"The greatest achievement was at first and for a time a dream. The oak sleeps in the acorn, the bird waits in the egg, and in the highest vision of the soul a waking angel stirs. Dreams are the seedlings of realities." James Allen

At least two of my grafts have been accepted. This is that quintessential first achievement that opens the door to all my future successes. I realize this fact. So why am I not more excited?

I made (12) grafts and (2) were accepted - 16% success on my second attempt. Of course I am 200% more successful than I was on the first attempt. So I really am counting this as a huge success.

My joy was a little muted when I found roughly (10) or (12) beetles in each of the hives at my house. I mashed them all - that is my new beetle strategy - manual annihilation. I don't know why there are beetles but the hives seemed okay - well Hive-A.1 seemed to have a little damage to the comb as though the beetles have been eating on it but there was no sign of larva. That was Friday - today is Monday and I will check again this afternoon.

As you can see in the picture, VE is packed with wonderfully docile bees. Yes I found beetles but they were all hiding together in the corner of the lid - obviously being cowed by the bees.

The other joy stealing issue is that other than my two grafts, no other cells were created. Not just on the failed grafts but none on the Miller Frame I placed in VE and none on the VSH frame that I placed in A.1. The question is why?

Did the Miller frame get too dry while it was on my table - did I take too long making my grafts?
Did the frames get jostled too much on the drive home?
Did VE not have sufficient time to settle in before I gave them the larva?
Did the beetles have something to do with it?

Perhaps but I don't know.

All and all, I am very excited about the two new queen cells but the presence of beetles is robbing my joy. I half expect to find the two new cells abandoned and all three hives filled with beetle maggots. I pray this is not the case.

Nonetheless, if the two queens survive, I plan to name them. I'm taking suggestions if you care to leave a comment.

Lucy and Ethel?
Thelma and Louise?
Eve and Lilith?
Cagney and Lacy?
Julie and Julia?
Kate and Ashley?
Emile and Zooey?
Lavern and Shirley?

Well, you get the idea.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

More Queens Than A Cher Lookalike Contest - Graft #2

"Agh, that is bad luck. But grandfather say, 'It never rain everyday.'" - Mr. Kim, The Fifth Element

I've been quoting that line since 1997 (holy shit - I just realized how old that movie is... even worse... how old I am) - actually I've been misquoting it, as the case may be, since I always say, "It can't rain everyday." Either way, I've had two sunny days in a row now and I hope the trend continues.

Yesterday, Noah and I went to Dr. D's to get two frames of eggs. I say eggs because if there are eggs then the adjacent larva is young enough for queen rearing.  While there, we did a few quick hive checks.

We didn't check Hive-A. Until we requeen it, I could do without the aggression - so we moved on.

It turned out that our walkaway split of Hive-B was textbook. The queen actually ended up in the split (Hive-B.1) and is doing really well. So we knew Hive-B would have the queen cells and boy did it. There were at least (12) to (15) cells. There was a lot of bees in both hives and they were all very docile.

Hive-VSH is doing well.

Hive-D.3 is still infested with beetles and there is still about a hundred bees waiting inside for death.

Hive-C looked much stronger. I still need to split it and replace the rotted boxes but it seems to be doing fine.

The last thing we did was to take (2) frames of eggs from Hive-VSH, without taking any bees, and put them in a Five Frame Nuc (i.e. VE). We then shook (4) frames of bees from Hive-B into the nuc. If that doesn't survive the beetles then it is hopeless.

To finish our visit we placed Don the Fat Bee Man beetle traps in all of the hives.

We took VE home and did the following:

One frame of eggs was placed in Hive-A.1.VSH to let them raise their own queen.

The other frame was taken to my shop table where I made my grafts. The queen cups had been in VD (giggle giggle) overnight for polishing and were made from new (chemical free) wax. I also kept a moist towel over the larva while I grafted them.

It again took me (30) minutes to complete my grafts. I would have liked to have gone faster but I'm still learning and it is very delicate work - especially for a guy with Bananas Hands (That's my wife's nickname for me).

When I completed my grafts, I took the remaining frame of eggs and, using the Miller Method, cut it in a zigzag pattern.

The miller frame was placed in VE and the grafts were placed in VD (giggle giggle).

On a separate note: I found about (5) hive beetles in VD (giggle giggle) and a few beetle larva. All of them were on the bottom board and it appeared the beetle larva was eating the Crisco in the FBM traps. I squished all of the beetles but left the larva in the Crisco to see if that kills them.

At the end of the day, the Hive Count is: (8) Hives and (2) Nucs.