Monday, June 26, 2017

Schrödinger's Cat and My Bees

"Now he found himself lying in his rumpled bed and wondering if this was how you came untethered from the real, rational world. If this was how it started when you lost your mind." Stephen King - Four Past Midnight.

I held my breath while I searched the hive but it was for nothing - the queen was dead.  Perhaps I should write all of my blogs like I am writing a horror novel - it would be fitting.

I pulled the infested frames from the freezer on Friday in preparation for the weekend. I had planned to make a couple of splits and to gather honey but after I checked Hive-D.VSH at my house, I couldn't bring myself to keep going. The queen was dead. I did find two queen cells but one was very small and the other seemed damaged on the end.

Frozen Beetle Larva
On the upside, the two beetle blaster traps were filled with about (50) dead beetles in each. I still saw (3) or (4) beetles on the frames but that seemed manageable.

There are (6) hives at Dr. D's place and (2) at the old farm. However, all but (3) of them seem to be in some sort of struggle.

Hive-A may have swarmed since I didn't give them much room to grow when last I was there.
Hive-C seems weaker than I've seen it in the past though it is still doing fair.
Hive-A.1.VSH has (3) boxes on it and, though I witnessed a fair amount of bees in them, I fear that the beetles may have taken them over like they did to my nucs.
Hive-D.3.VSH was struggling against the beetles when last I looked. I did remove frames and put in a beetle blaster and (5) drier sheets but the beetles are formidable.
Then there is the hives at the old farm that fell over last winter. I secured it but it might have absconded anyway.

Schrödinger's cat was meant to explain quantum mechanics (if you are like me, you leaned that on The Big Bang Theory) but it is also a brilliant way to describe why people freeze and fail to move forward - paralyzed by fear.

I think that is what happened to me this weekend. As long as I don't go to Dr. D's place, all of my hives are still alive. I completely get the insanity of this - however, realizing you have irrational fears doesn't make them go away.

I used ever excuse I could think of. It wasn't hard, since this was the first anniversary of Dale's death and my wife needed my attention more than the bees did. Then Sunday morning after working in the yard all day Saturday, my back went out. Of course the price of oil is down and the planets aren't in alignment either.

Believe it or not, I am actually thankful for all that has gone wrong this year - I have leaned more about bees this year than I have in the past decade. However, I am almost to the point of no return. That point where this year is lost and I have to begin thinking of next year. I am almost looking forward to that point in time. I will become a professional beekeeper eventually, of that I am positive. The only question is when.

So last night I put the frames back in the freezer and vowed to try again Wednesday. Who knows, maybe that's the day it will all start to turn around.

Monday, June 19, 2017

The Harvard of Bee Yards


If "failure is the best teacher" then my bee yard is the Harvard of bee yards.

This weekend proved to be heartbreaking. The two Five Frame Nucs I made have both been destroyed by hive beetles.

Out of the two nucs, one was filled with lots of bees from Hive-A. It should have been a strong hive but I didn't secure the bottom of the feeder properly and it left a hole for the bees to get in. Half of them drown while the other half got trapped in the feeder box leaving the hive defenseless.

The result was an inch thick layer of muck and beetle maggots on the bottom board. The infestation was epic. The fowl smell emanating from the boxes distinctly resembled a hog pen.

The other nuc was also infested and destroyed but not like the first one - though dead is dead.

I took all the frames out and brushed the bees into the air over a Mini Mating Nuc - letting them fly down to the box that I placed in the location of the infected nucs. I then placed each frame on the ground (not the best move but I was scrambling). When I was done, I took the (8) most infested frames and placed them in a trash bag that I put in the freezer - I tried to fit all ten but I didn't have room. The other two I put in the sun.

I finally went for the nuclear option in hopes of preserving Hive-D at my house - I used Diatomaceous-earth. I spread it in a 4'x4' area under the hive and then covered that with cedar chips.

This was the last thing I wanted to do but my bees are in dire straights. My way of thinking is that the beetle larva will burrow into the ground beneath the hive to pupate and when they emerge the beetle will pass through the Diatomaceous earth and die - while the cedar chips will keep the bees from being exposed.

I am also looking into getting some chickens. This option is only possible at my house but I'm going to try it out. However since I can only seem to find baby chicks (rather than grown birds) it will be a couple of months before they are old enough to be of any use.

Tractor Supply sells them by mail but you have to get (10) and I only want about (3). That being said, here is a quote from the website:
Egg Production Rate: Females ONLY; Ranges from 264-285 eggs/year

You just know they had to put that "female ONLY" part in there because some jackass called complaining that his roosters just weren't laying.




Monday, June 12, 2017

Split Update



This is just a short update on the recent splits.

Hive-A.1.VSH has two queen cells. It is also fairly populated with bees. I was worried that the bees may have all returned to Hive-A but it turned out to be a fairly even split.


Hive-D.3.VSH did not make any queen cells and is showing a lot of beetle damage. There was also no sign of a queen. Therefore, I placed another VSH frame of eggs in it and then placed a beetle blaster trap and 5 drier sheets that covered the top of the frames completely. I'll check on it Friday as I have to work in Vicksburg Wednesday and Thursday.

The Five Frame Nucs I took home are doing okay so far but the queen cells in them must have been damaged on the ride home and have now been discarded by the bees.

sketch: homemade Beetle Blaster trap
I have to do something about these beetles. I think I will try using the diatomaceous earth under them this weekend. I will only do it under two or three hives and see if it makes a difference.


Thursday, June 8, 2017

The Good, The Bad, The Splits

“A misery is not to be measured from the nature of the evil, but from the temper of the sufferer.” -    Joseph Addison

I have another cantankerous hive - though stings don't bother me as much as they once did. Just the same, Hive-A has become as vile as Hive-D was a few weeks back but it obviously has a queen as seen by all of the brood I found.

Ironically, earlier this year, I spent an hour in this same hive in nothing more than a T-shirt and Veil. I can only assume that on that day, I either clumsily killed the queen or I simply wore out my welcome for the year and am now marked for death by her highness.

It's hard to say how many stings I took yesterday, though I am guessing about (15) - almost all of which were through my socks. My suit, for the most part, did it's job.  But I'll get back to all that in a minute.

Before I start, Let me explain my updated Hive ID System.
The Updated Hive ID System

Since I started with Hives A, B, C, & D at Dr. D's place, those are my parent hives. When I split a hive, I add a number (i.e. The first split from D became D.1).

Since I bought (3) VSH queens and only one survived, I have named that hive VSH as that queen is now my main egg donor. So now when I requeen a hive I add VSH to the end to signify where the queen came from (i.e. Hive D.3.VSH was originally the 3rd split from D but was requeened with VSH).

Subsequently all Five Frame Nucs will be given the letter V at the start as in Roman Numeral V. As these will become Parent Nucs, I am starting them off with letters rather than numbers (i.e. The first Five Frame Nuc that I made is VA and it has a VSH queen cell so it is VA.VSH)

If you are confused... well... read the damn chart... I'm moving on!

WEDNESDAY:

Noah and I accomplished a lot.

We Split Hive-A, requeened Hive-D.3, and filled (2) Five Frame Nucs with bees and frames.

The plan was to take the queen from Hive-D.3 and place it in one of the nucs. However, there was no queen in hive D.3... or eggs... or brood - but there was (2) open Queen Cells with larva and royal jelly.

While this was a mystery yesterday, today (after reviewing my notes) I realize that the hive may have had a new VSH queen in it but that she would have just completed her mating flight. The hive was very calm - so it all makes sense. Nonetheless, we placed a frame of eggs from VSH into D.3.VSH. If they don't need a queen they can just use the brood to build up their numbers.

The (2) queen cells were removed and placed in VA.VSH and taken home. VB is queenless and it too was taken home.

Lastly, we split Hive-A. To do this, we placed all but the bottom box onto a new stand (We checkerboarded one of the box since it was mostly honey bound.). This put (3) boxes on the new location and (1) on the old location. In the bottom chamber of A.1, we placed a frame of eggs from the VSH queen as well as a couple of frames of brood from Hive-A.

The marked VSH Queen
Hive A was left with a lot of bees and the vile queen. On Saturday, I plan to reverse these two hives to let the field bees populate the larger half of the split.


We split Hive-A last. We had intended on splitting B & C as well but after taken such a beating from A, we just checked B & C and called it a day. Being repeatedly stung, whether you are used to it or not, is demoralizing. Noah managed to stay back and unstung... sort of... as we were leaving he was stung twice - I think the bees were just saying goodbye.

Total time spent was about (3) hours at Dr. D's place.

New Hive Count: (9) Hives - (2) Five Frame Nucs - and (1) barely holding on Mini Mating Nuc.

Monday, June 5, 2017

The Return of the Queen - Long Live The Queen!

These days I am much more reluctant to use the word "Miracle" when curiously great things happen. It seems lately every time I do, the next day it turns to crap.

That being said, I was amazed to find the queen that had flown away last week had returned. It turns out that it really isn't that uncommon. In fact, when I looked it up this morning, the question came up quite often. This is what Michael Bush said on Beesource.com back on 5/14/2011:

First let’s look at what to do if the queen flies. The first thing you do is stand still. She will orient on you and probably find her way back. The second thing to do is en-courage the bees to guide her back with Nasonov pheromone. To do this, take a frame out that is covered in bees and shake them back into the hive. This will cause them to start fanning Nasonov. Third, if you don’t see the queen fly back in (be watching and you may) then wait ten minutes with the cover of the hive off so she can smell the Nasonov. If you do these three things the odds are very good she will find her way back.

If you didn’t do those things, there is probably a little better than 50/50 chance she will find her way back anyway.


So dear friends, sometimes, they come back. However, I'm still worried that my queen might be damaged from the hairclip squish I gave her last weekend. Time will tell.

Moving On:

It only violates Child Labor
Laws if I pay them. :)
This weekend I finally managed to paint the (15) mini nucs I built a few month back. It is a pitiful accomplishment considering I need (750) of them to meet my goal.

Nonetheless, I invited my nephew Zane over to help me. I did this on a whim - I think subconsciously I was trying to share the misery with anyone who would be gullible enough to help. He in turn, invited his friend - probably for the same reason. However, since I'm not a complete dick, I decided to make it as fun as I could. So first they had to paint the boxes with primer and paint (I did the last coat to make sure all the spots were covered)... then I let them finger paint the fronts.

They actually seemed to enjoy the whole process.

I didn't take any pictures of the ones they finger painted but to be honest, they all look like shit. Of course that was after I had to shoot down several of their 11-year-old ideas. The top ones included, homages to their favorite famous YouTubers, a picture of a hand giving the finger, and other general curse words. Silly me, I expected cartoon bees and flowers rather than belligerent graffiti!

Luckily, they actually enjoyed painting the boxes solid more than finger painting and so they only defaced five or so of them. The rest I painted with different solid colors as originally planned.

That was Saturday. Sunday I built five frame nucs. That isn't totally true. I actually spent most of the weekend playing video games. I am sure Joel Salatin (Author of You Can Farm) would take great joy in chastising that epic waste of time. He would be right. If fact, despite the fact that I love video games, I rarely play them for fear of being sucked into them for days on end. I've since asked my son to keep his damn video games in his room since I can't be trusted!

However, the five frame nucs were actually a revelation. The evolution of my pallet repurposing project has made a huge breakthrough. The sides of my hives are now built with (3) 1x4's (which are actually 3/4"x3 1/2" wide) - that makes the side 10 1/2" tall. Then I make the fronts out of (4) one-by strips that I have ripped down to 2 1/2". This locks all the boards together. When the finished product is put together, I trim it down to 9 5/8"on the table saw to give it a nice flat bottom.

The best part is that I ripped all of the material out for (5) nuc boxes in about an hour and could assemble them in about (15) minutes. That sort of production could make it possible to manufacture all the hives I need in just a matter of days rather than months.


As I mentioned in my last blog, I am considering going to all (5) frame nuc boxes rather than standard (10) frame hives. Don the Fat Bee Man promotes this idea and I can see the benefits - the lighter boxes not being the least of these.

Wednesday, Noah and I will be heading out to Dr. D's place to do several walk away splits, as well as fixing up a couple of five frame nucs to bring home. I will also be transforming Hive-D (the one at my house) into a triple stacked five frame nuc. This will give me (3) separate nucs rather than just one hive at the house. This will give me more options for my breeding activities.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Before you win big. you have to lose big...

"If you want to win big, first you have to lose big. So what are we doing now? We're losing big!" Some Kind Of Wonderful, 1987. It was odd line that has always stayed burrowed in the back of my mind. Yesterday it seemed to fit more than usual.

My queen grafts didn't take, so Noah and I both agreed that we should remove the excluder and give the queen more room to lay. However, since she is so hard to find, we also agreed we should mark her with a yellow dot. See how I am allocating half the blame to Noah - that's what friends are for.

We had already captured the queen in a hairclip cage but needed to move her to a marking cylinder. Nervously, we started to open the cage but I stopped everything and said, "Wait! Lets do it over the hive just incase something goes wrong we won't lose her."

Good thinking, huh?

So we moved over to the top of the hive and slowly opened the cage. In a flash, the queen flew out and landed on Noah's arm. I lurched for her but in an instance she was in flight again.

Even now, I can see it so clearly in my mind as if I were flying right behind her in a CGI movie. The bold rust colored queen soaring in a straight line towards the emerald backdrop of ivy that covered the fence. My heart pounding and the slow motion "N_o_o_o_o_o_o_o_o_o" ringing in my ears.

I told Noah to stay put on one side of the fence while I rushed to the other side... yet there was no sign of her and, like so many other redheads in my life, she was just gone.

I've been fervently praying for peace in my heart and I am beginning to think that God is answering that prayer... by sending such an elaborate excess of equine excrement that I am simple ceasing to give a fuck!

Anyway... we drank wine.

Moving on:

(15) Grafts (0) Success. I really felt like I did everything right. Nonetheless, possible things I may have done wrong:

  1. The wax I used to make my cell cups came from an old hive that I had used Maverick mite chemicals on. This chemical could have been impregnated in the wax.
  2. I put all of the brood in the cell builder side of the hive. I doubt this was the issue since the bees didn't draw out any of the other cells either.
  3. I did a poor job grafting my larva. Possible but I really think I did a pretty good job. The larva was very tiny and adjacent to the eggs. I took my time and made sure not to flip the larva.
  4. I took too long. It took me (26) minutes to make the (15) grafts. It was a very warm day (about 80degrees) so I don't think the brood got chilled.
  5. I didn't give the hive enough time to feel queenless. I segregated the queen at 5:00pm Saturday and placed my grafted cells around 7:00pm Sunday. (26) hours should have been enough time but if it was, then why didn't the hive draw queen cells from the larva I didn't graft?
I have a new plan. I plan to make a starter colony out of a (5) frame nuc and place it next to my grafting hive. I will keep the starter hive queenless and give it a new frame of brood every two weeks. I will use the grafting hive as my finisher hive and place the cells in that hive once they have been capped.

I was really hoping to do the cloak board method but I think a more traditional setup might work better.

I'll sort this out Saturday.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Grafting - Attempt #1

Each day I become more and more convinced that success is 30% preparation through study, 30% perspiration through long hours of work, and 40% determination as in never giving up. The last being the hardest. I think this applies to everything in life.

Ross Perot once said, "Most people give up just when they are about to achieve success."

Grafting - Attempt #1:

I have watched countless YouTube videos on grafting and queen rearing. My favorite way to do this is by the Cloak-board Method - it seems to be the most bee friendly method. Indian Summer Apiaries made a great video on how to do this.

Step 1: Picket the queen (4) days before you plan to graft so that you know where the eggs and young larva are. I didn't do that but I probably will in the future.

Step 2: (24) hours before you graft, segregate the queen from the rest of the hive. You do this by swapping the bottom box (brood chamber) with the top box (usually a honey super) and placing a cloak-board between the two.

A cloak-board needs to have an exit in it so the bees can still come and go. I used a second bottom board for this. The exit on the cloak-board faces 180degrees from the original hive entrance. This way all the field bees will return to the bottom (Queenless) box and make it feel crowded. This is supposed to put the bees in mind to rear a new queen.

One thing I did wrong was to place all but one frame of brood with the queenless box. This may cause the bees to draw out queen cells that I didn't graft. If so, so be it. This will give me a few extra queen cells. Had I picketed the queen I would have done this correctly but since I couldn't see the eggs I just put all the brood in the queenless box.

Step 3: Graft the youngest larva (those next to the eggs). Then place the grafts into the queenless half of the hive.

This part had me really stressed out and that anxiety caused me to procrastinate. The hive at my house is in a very shaded spot - as is most of my yard. Because of this, it is very hard to see the eggs despite my very good near sight. So I took two frames out of the hive - each had very young larva in it and I wagered that there would be eggs and day old larva very near by.

Once in the shop my wager paid off and I found a quarter frame of eggs and so I grafted the adjacent larva. I feel very confident that my grafts were done correctly. I used a Chinese grafting tool. It didn't go as quickly as it did in the video - the girl in the video made it look easy. Instead, I fond that if I pushed back one of the cell walls, I could get the proper angle to retrieve the larva. I'm sure I'll get better and faster as I go.

My wife assisted me in finding the eggs but actually spent most of her time taking photos and fawning over the (4) or (5) bees that were hatching out of the second frame I took into the shop. While she was absolutely no help whatsoever, she was incredibly cute!

Step 4: (24) hours after you place the grafts, move the brood box with the queen back to the bottom of the hive, place a queen excluder between the two so that she can't destroy the new grafts and the hive is restored back to a queen-right position.

We now have queen cells... I hope. I will complete Step (4) tonight.

The bad news:

On Step (2) I was able to find my new queen (the hybrid from my VSH and survivor stock). She is a laying machine - (10) frames of brood. When I found here, I caged her in a hairclip looking cage I have to keep her safe.

However, when I had finished setting up the hive, I decided to take a few picture (she was so red and beautiful). Well I got my camera phone out and ready to take the picture as I let here out but just as I did, my camera switched views. distracted, I released the spring on the queen cage which pinned the queen around the abdomen. The spring doesn't have much pressure but it may have been enough to damage her. When I released here she ran quickly up my glove and then into the hive... I am guessing she ran into the hive since I couldn't find her on my person.

I am just sick about the thought of killing this amazing egg laying machine. I looked for her yesterday but didn't find her - that doesn't mean she is gone, as I often overlook the queens. I will know by Wednesday, as she has a lot of open frames to lay in and if there are any new eggs, then she is okay.