Monday, September 11, 2017

The Magnificent Seven

"Adopt the pace of nature: her secrete is patients." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

I'm down to (8) hives; one at the old farm and seven at Dr. D's. However, three of those hives are from recent splits. Given my recent loses, I've been obsessing over these remaining hives. The thought wakes me up at night and I imagine empty hives that look like the ruins of bygone civilizations.

The trouble is that with this project still only a side venture, it's priority often slips down the list. So when I finally got out to Dr. D's this weekend, I was nearly sick with worry. However, it turned out to be the best beekeeping day of the year.

For starters it was a pleasant 85͒ and sunny. Given how hot it's been this year, this felt like air-conditioning.

However, what made the trip so wonderful was how well all the bees were doing.

Hive-A has filled six of the ten re-waxed frames with honey.

Hive-B was full but didn't show any signs of swarm cells, so I added a box of re-waxed frames.

Hive-C.1 had three boxes so I harvested a box of honey, leaving two supers.

Hive-C (like Hive-B) was full but didn't have any swarm cells, so I added a box of re-waxed frames.

Hive-B.1 & Hive-VSH both had lots of activity so I didn't open them.

Hive-B.1.1.VSH, despite previously being overrun by beetles, has snapped back. It has a beautiful queen that is laying like crazy and the bees have filled six frames with brood, pollen, and honey.

All seven hives are doing really well. In fact, next year, I plan to make splits in mid-August since the bees seem to have so much to forage.

Re-Waxing Frames:

I mentioned that I put re-waxed frames in the hives. I've mentioned this before but bees WILL NOT build on bare plastic frames. They have to have a thin coat of wax on them. "How thin?" is the question.

I melted what little wax I had in a metal pan and added two parts water. Then I did my best to stir the mixture as I worked to make the wax as thin as possible. However, I am not sure the water actually mixed with the wax.

The first (13) frames worked out perfectly. Each took just enough wax to highlight the printed comb pattern. However, the last seven frames had mostly water but it gave the frame a slightly tacky feel - Hopefully this was enough wax to get the bees started.

To see if it works, I marked each frame with either "Good Wax" or "Wet Wax". I placed the good frames in the middle of the hive so that the bees could fill these first but hopefully they will fill them all.

End of the year:

I only plan to open the hives two more times this year. This weekend I will go back to Dr. D's and gather all of my hive top feeders. After I caulk the inside of them, I will fill the void with diatomaceous earth and cedar chips.

I will then return to Dr. D's to set the hives up for winter. I will place a feeder on each hive as well as an unscented swiffer pad on each the bottom board. Finally, I will dock the front entrance up so that there is only about an inch of open space. With that, I will say a prayer, and wait for Spring. I'll still visit the hives once a month to heft them and feed them if need be but other wise, the season is over.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Swarm Prevention - I should have added a super

"Fear causes hesitation, and hesitation will cause your worse fears to come true." - Bohdi, Point Break (1991)

My five frame nuc (VE) needed room to grow but I hesitated because I was afraid if I put another super on too soon, that it would cause the beetles to take over the hive.

However, by not putting on a super in time, the hive swarmed. The remaining hive was too weak and the beetles overtook it anyway.

Damned if I did and damned when I didn't - and now I have lost all of my five frame nucs. However, that is not the whole story. Instead of adding empty frames I had planned to add the honey supers I had stored in the freezer (from a previous beetle infestation). I suspect that this would have invited beetles.

The answer is to add empty frames. The empty frames provide room for the bees to grow without giving the beetles stores to infest. I could have added a frame or two of honey but not a full super of honey.


The splits I made at Dr. D's need another super on them as well. I had planned to add them this past weekend but I was sick with a stomach virus and haven't had the chance. So I will do it this Sunday instead. God willing it won't be too late.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Facing Reality - The Hive Count

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

My heart kept whispering that quote in my ear yesterday to keep my brain from acknowledging my eyes. So what had my eyes seen?

Hive-A.1.VSH was empty. The strong, healthy hive that I had harvested from this year and was set to be the mother of all my future grafts was empty. The five frame nucs that flanked each side of the hive were healthy. No signs of beetles. A little moth silk but even that looked like it had come after the exodus. The bees had simply absconded.

I felt gut-punched. After a year of hard work and struggles, all my efforts have had little to no payoff. While there may still be time to graft a few queens for practice, the time to split hives is over.

It is so frustrating knowing how close I am to breaking through and yet to have made so little progress this year.

I went inside and told my wife. Jen didn't say much at first. She knows I'm trying (I wish I could say I'd done my best but, in my heat, I know I could have done more.)

I poured a Coke Zero over ice and flipped on YouTube - despair has set in.

It's funny how sometimes you get just what you need just when you need it. Justine Rhodes, who is doing a farm tour series picked yesterday to remind people that it doesn't matter if things workout or not, "Just Plant."

When the video was over, Jen looked at me and said, "So there you go."

She was right. So I got my gear together and made a full inventory of all three yards.

My backyard was first. VD is still limping along, VE is thriving, and VF is still waiting to receive grafts. Of course Hive-A.1.VSH is empty.

The Old Farm was next. This was actually the first time I had been to the old farm all year - mainly because it is always too muddy out there and because it is (15) miles away. I found just what I expected. The cantankerous hive that had fallen over in 2016 was dead but the other hive had actually thrived and had (4) full boxes of honey and bees.

Then I went to Dr. D's place. All (7) hives are doing great - even Hive-B.1.1 that had previously been infested with beetles. Hive-B.1.1 doesn't have a queen or queen cells but had lots of healthy looking bees - so I placed another frame of eggs from Hive-B.1 in there.

I tried to steal a queen cell from Hive-C but they had already hatched out the queen - a fact I would have known had I done the math. Hive-C's queen was actually due to be out mating yesterday - I hope my inspection didn't cause any problems.

The other good news is that the frames that I re-waxed and placed in Hive-A are being drawn out perfectly. So all of those old plastic frames I have can still be salvaged.

All in all the final hive count is Old Farm (1), Dr. D's (7) and Home (3) five frame nucs.

Am I disappointed that I don't have (100) hives now? Sure - though it wasn't really a realistic goal. However, I don't think I started with (6) since the one at the old farm probably never made it through the winter. So, I turned (5) hives into (8) hives with (3) nucs.

Given all the mistakes I made this year (that I won't make next year) - my gains were still gains. Next year will be better and my gains will be exponential. So bring on the winter, so I can get out in my shop and build some boxes!

So there you go.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Chickens: 107F Heat Index

This weekend was hotter than midget porn - 95͒ F and 60% Humidity.

Summer in the Mississippi Delta is like nowhere else on earth.  It's hard to say what is more demeaning; the way my sweat soaked shirt clings to my chest or how my testicles cling to my knee. Yeah, it's that hot.

Despite the heat, I did manage to build my chicken tractor. It's double wrapped with chicken wire to prevent predators from chewing through. I still need to build a roost inside and add some out rigging to prevent opossums from digging under but the hard part is done.

My wife has fallen in love with our chickens and doesn't want to put them outside but it's getting to hard to keep their cage clean enough to keep them in the backroom. So for now, they will be outside in the pen during the day and in the backroom at night. However, in a week or three, the chickens will have to go outside full-time.

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.