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!


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 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.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Hive Location - A tip for the beginner

I cut a 1" hole in the cheese cloth this morning
to let Hive-D.3's foraging bees slowly enter.
I swapped Hive-D with Hive-D.3 yesterday. This segues into today's topic - Hive Placement.

Most books will tell you that the best location to place a hive is in a sunny area, with a windbreak, and an easterly view... and they are right. However, what most of them seem to leave out is that the hive should be placed in a location that you can drive fairly close to.

Now of course, when you have to put hives on other people's land, you have to take what you can get. But keep in mind, a deep hive can weigh over 80lbs and a 5 gallon bucket of sugar water can weigh as much as 60lbs. That's a lot of weight to carry for 100-200yards. Even with my hand cart, the process of driving out 15 miles into the country, swapping (2) hives, and checking the other (4) in that yard took a few hours - when it should have only taken minutes.

So whenever possible, place your hives in a convenient location for hauling equipment.

So back to my hive swap. The biggest hurdle I had to overcome was old equipment. Some of this equipment has holes in the corners where the bees freely move in and out. Not bad for ventilation but not so good for transportation.

The solution... Cheese Cloth. I bought a pack of cheese cloth and wrapped the hives up tight. This let air in and out while keep the bees inside. I kind of expected them to get caught in the cloth like they do in dryer sheets but they seem to move on it quite freely. I also considered plastic wrap but I worried it might make the bees too hot. In the end the cheese cloth worked perfectly.

New Apiary Map
So Hive-D (the same hive that gave me 60 stings a few weeks back) is now tranquilly sitting in my
back yard. The new queen (a highbred of Broke-T's VSH queen and the survival stock of my apiary) has calmed the hive down splendidly.

Hive-D.3 on the other hand is much more aggressive but not so much it is hard to deal with. I placed a frame of young brood from Hive-D.2 into Hive-D.3 and hopefully it has a few viable larva in it to requeen with. I'll check it Saturday if weather permits.

Sadly, D.1 did not survive the hive beetles. The hive was abandoned and with all of its stores robbed, the beetles had left too.

So of the (3) VSH Queens I bought, only one survived. This is not Broke-T's fault. Hive-D.1 was overcome by beetles and I am sure that Hive-D.3 lost the queen due to my careless manipulations the day I checker-boarded the hive.

Not to worry though as Hive-D now has the queen I wanted. This highbred should be stronger and calmer than any queen I've had before and will become the mother of most of my future stock.

New Hive Count: (8) hives - (2) mini nucs.

Monday, May 15, 2017

No Queens - What to do?

I finished up teaching classes on Saturday and so Sunday I finally had time to check my backyard bees -- The two Mini Nucs and Hive-D.3 -- sadly not one of the three had a queen.

That being said, I suspected the queen was gone from Hive-D.3 as soon as I opened it because when I gave my first puff of smoke the hive began to roar with the sound of flapping wings. I also got stung (6) times - those queenless hives are cantankerous.

The last time I checked D.3, I couldn't find any young larva or eggs but there were (3) frames of brood. I told myself that it was just late in the afternoon and it was too dark to see - but it wasn't. The queen was gone and now there is no brood left in the hive.

The two mini nucs are building comb but there is no eggs, larva, or brood - so no queens either.

I think I have reached a turning point because none of this bothered me. Not because I don't care but because I am sure I can fix the problem.

Wednesday is my beekeeping day and so I think I will bring home a hive from Dr. D's and take Hive-D.3 out there. If Hive-D has a new queen (Which I pray it does), then I will bring it home (assuming it has now calmed down).

If that goes according to plan, then I can start grafting queens right away from Hive-D.

As for Hive-D.3, I will place a frame of eggs from Hive-D.2 into it and let it re-queen itself.

While I have a queenless hive and two queenless nucs, I am still leaving my count at (9) hives and (2) mini nucs.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Mating Nucs and Self-Loathing

I try to leave my personal business out of this blog but so much of my life is intertwined with my bees. Such was the case this weekend.

I accomplished fuck-all. I was just exhausted. I've been working my day job and teaching at night... that combined with the 29lbs I have put on since Lent started (I gave up diet drinks)... well I am just exhausted.

The whole point of this story is that I didn't do anything this weekend but sleep... except I did check the mini nucs at the house for eggs. Of course I only did this at the very last minute (6:00pm last night) and by then there was not enough light to see if there were eggs or not.

I didn't see the queen either which makes me think I might need to redesign my min nucs. At present they are designed like deep supers (9 5/8 deep). With the boxes being deeper than they are wide it made it hard to see if the queen was on the bottom or sides. I may redesign them as Mediums.

So in conclusion, I am weeks behind on my schedule and not gaining any ground. I think this is really where success is made or lost - this is where life tries to take over the time set aside for dreams. Some obstacles can't be overcome... exhaustion and time management are not those sorts of obstacles. I can do better - and I will.

FYI, I started a diet today - that should help with my energy levels.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Beetles - My Arch-nemisis

I'm still struggling with the Mating Nuc Concepts. The idea to leave one of the nucs closed up with tape worked out pretty well. Except for the one that I didn't keep closed  absconded.

Abscond is a beekeeping term that gets used to say the bees left. However if you look it up in Merriam's Dictionary it says:

past tense: absconded; past participle: absconded

  1. leave hurriedly and secretly, typically to avoid detection of or arrest for an unlawful action such as theft.
    • (of someone on bail) fail to surrender oneself for custody at the appointed time.
    • (of a person kept in detention or under supervision) escape.

      "176 detainees absconded"
    • (of a colony of honeybees, especially Africanized ones) entirely abandon a hive or nest.

Great word but anyway... The bees left the opened hive.

You can see the beetle larvae on
the drone brood.
Noah and I inspected them on Saturday only to find that the bees in out first nuc (M1) were thriving, our previously closed nuc (M2) were doing fair, and the third nuc (M3) was empty except for a shit load of those damned beetles (insert fist shaken to the heavens).

I took the infected - is it affected or infected? Beetles are a F***ing curse so lets go with afflicted! I took the afflicted frame out and placed it in a gallon size Ziploc freezer bag (perfect fit) and put it in the freezer to kill everything in it. I'll place it in M1 later this week - no reason to waste the comb.

After that, Noah and I checkerboarded Hive-D.3, making it two boxes deep. I say boxes because there seems to be a lot of different words for the same terms. The bottom boxes are brood chambers and the top boxes are honey supers but all my boxes are the same size, so screw it, I'm saying boxes to keep down confusion.

Checkerboarding is another term that has different meanings. Here in the south it means that you placed a new frame between each drawn out frame in a box. I saw a YouTube video with a guy in Canada who had been chastised for using it in this manner but here in the south, that's what it means.

Again... ANYWAY... now that the hive has two boxes (or brood chambers) it should be ready to graft from in about two weeks. The box already had three good frames of brood and was packed with bees. I only wore a veil, gloves and an untucked shirt, so I got stung about 5 times.

Lastly we poisoned all the poison ivy in the yard (it was everywhere) and, as we did a, a rogue bee accosted us. First it bumped Noah's head, then it buzzed mine, and before we could do anything, it skewered my little buddy right in the face... that's when we called it a day.

Hive Count: 9 hives and 2 Mini Mating Nucs

Thursday, April 27, 2017

I Have No Idea What I'm Doing... But I'm Doing It!

Noah and the (3) MMNs ... and poison ivy
all over the damn fence!!!!!
The new Mini Mating Nucs (MMN) we made the other day aren't doing well.

For starters, they had dysentery as could be seen from the brown streaks on the front of each box. At first I thought it might be Nosema but after doing a little research I concluded it might have come from my sugar syrup.

Why the sugar syrup? Well a couple of reasons.
1. I didn't measure my sugar to water very accurately. It turns out that too much water in the feed can cause the solids in the bees stomach to swell and that could give'em the shits.
2. I mixed too much sugar water the previous time and let it mold - or whatever that slime is called that it produced. Then I rinsed the jug out with dish soap but didn't really disinfect it. So the water could have been tainted that way.

At the end of the day, I concluded it wasn't Nosema since the parent hive seemed healthy. So I made fresh syrup, treated it with Tea Tree Oil as is a natural remedy for dysentery, and then discarded the old syrup.

The next problem I had with the (3) MMNs is that all the bees went into a single MMN. That is great for the winner but the other two MMNs failed to keep their queen cell warm. Real shame.

So Noah and I decided that the best course of action was to skip splitting hives and just correct our MMNs.

This time we decided to cut the queen cells and the adjacent comb out and rubber band them into MMN frames. This way the brood and the queen cells were together and would encourage the bees to keep both warm.

This turned out to be best as half of the queen cells had already hatched - or at least had been opened by the first queen to hatch. Only (4) viable cells were left.

So we did as planned. Queen Cells from Hive-D (which actually came from Hive-D.2s eggs) and then we took bees from Hive-A.

Hive-D was as vicious as I've ever seen a hive. I accidentally bobbled one of the cut outs (which might cause the queen cell in it to fail) but when I did, Hive-D swarmed me so completely that I almost couldn't see through the onslaught. Luckily my suit did it's job. I still got stung (15) times but I had more than (20) or (30) stingers in the chest of my suit. Hopefully the new queen will mate and then calm the hive down.

Noah got stung (3) times.

We then took nurse bees from Hive-A. They too were on the cantankerous side. Possible due to all of the pheromones radiating from the stingers in my suit. However, we shook a few frames of bees into the (2) MMNs and then closed them up. 

Note the brown streaks
I closed the entrance holes with duct tape. Then, once at home and on their new site, I removed the tape from one of the MMN and left the other closed to ensure they don't all go to one nuc again.

Mabel eating cheese dip
Lastly, my dog, Mabel was stung on the ear and it swelled to about three times its thickness. I felt terrible - not that she seemed upset by it. My wife and I spent the whole night feeding her treats and loving on her. We also gave her 25mg of diphenhydramine and by this morning the swelling was much better. If my backyard bees continue to cause her problems, I will have to move the hives back out to Dr.D's place. 

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Mini Mating Nucs - First Use

Yesterday, shortly after 5:00pm, Noah arrived and we headed out to Dr. D's.

Hive-D.1 is still full of hive beetles. All the traps were empty. But a frame of wax had (20) or (30) beetle larva that I could see and I killed about (20) additional beetles.

This time I cleaned the bottom board and removed the infected frame - I left it laying in the sun for the bees to clean up. I placed a foundationless frame in its place - giving the bees less wax to protect. Then I closed it up and said a prayer.

Next I took my (3) MMN and set them on top of Hive-D.1's lid. I then shook bees from Hive-B into the MMN.

There was a frame of drone brood in Hive-B, so I cut it out and, using rubber bands, put them into (3) MMN frames. Then I placed one of these in each of the (3) MMN. That worked great as the nurse bees were drawn to the brood.

Several sites say to put about a cup of bees per MMN but I think I got about twice that in each.

Then we opened Hive-D. They were ferocious! Luckily I have a new bee suit and so I was safe and sound - mostly. I did get stung once or twice on the chest - though had I had on my rope vest on, I wouldn't have gotten those stings.

Noah got his first sting of the season (actually 2) though his jeans. He took it well.

The colored text indicates tomorrow's planned splits
The new Queen cells were in great shape and there were (11) of them in all. Using a small kitchen knife, I cut out (3) of the cells and placed one in each of the MMN. We set them on the bottom of the MMN - I'm not sure if that is okay. We should have pressed them into the comb but I didn't think of that until this morning. Once again my knowledge was foiled by my lack of experience. I'll do it right the next time.

Well after removing the (3) cells, there were still about (8) left. So the plan is use them Wednesday to make splits if it doesn't rains - which is a good possibility. Best laid plans of mice and men and all those sorts of things.
Total (9) Hives and (3) Mini Nucs

Monday, April 24, 2017

The Hive Beetles - I went all Yoko Ono on thier asses

Wax flakes left after the hive beetles chewed through several frames
Well I didn't get back out to Dr. D's place until Saturday around noon. I'd like to say it was because I worked late but truth was, I was just exhausted by the time I got home from Vicksburg on Friday.

Anyway, Saturday was pretty rainy but it let up for a few hours around lunch - though it was still very cloudy. The bees weren't flying much, which was good, because it let me see just how many bees were still in hive D.1 - one solid frame worth.

About (8) or (10) bees were huddled around the queen cage. When I let her out she rushed down between the frames - I hope due to labor pains!

The bees had eaten about half the sugar syrup, which I took as a good sign. Had it all been gone, then I would have thought robbing and if none where gone, then I would worry they weren't feeding.

Of course the real news is that the hive was still infested with beetles. I bet I mashed (50) or (60) of them with my hive tool. Then I scraped the larva into a puddle hoping to drown them - in retrospect I should have scraped them into my smoker. Just like Yoko, I didn't stop until there were no signs of the beetles left.

I then scraped off the end of my Fat Bee Man traps (and shook them by my ear to make sure the powder was loose - it was). Then I placed (2) dryer sheets on the top bars and (3) beetle buster traps filled with mineral oil. If that doesn't break up the group I may have to get some pesticide.

I got stung just once - not bad given it was cloudy and windy.

That was Saturday... I spent the rest of the day doing fuck-all. I'm ashamed that I wasted a whole day but I did.

Sunday, I realized how far I was getting behind and spent the whole day in my woodshop. I cut out (40) Hive lids and (80) Mini lids. Trimmed (15) Mini nucs to 9 5/8" and primmer coated them all.

Then I made (12) Mini frames. I didn't make them like the Dadant style with all the fancy (TIME CONSUMING) cuts. Instead I used a bunch of scrap bottom bars 3/4"x3/8" and quickly cut, clued, and stapled them together. I also glued wax coated popsicle sticks to the center of the top bar, since these are foundationless frames. All (12) only took about 30 minutes. If I had a Jig, I probably could have made (100) an hour.

Of course spacing them will now pose a problem but I would have to attach 5/16" shoulders to the each side to make them look like Dadants. I'm still working on that problem.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Attack of the Small Hive Beetles

Brood Comb destroyed by Small Hive Beetles
Wikipedia: "The small hive beetle (Aethina tumida) is a beekeeping pest."

Now there is an understatement. I've always had issues with hive beetles. For the most part I have used dryer sheets with a fair bit of success (though I am trying Don the fat bee man's traps with less success). However, when I split Hive-D, Hive-D.1 was very week.

In my last blog I tried to add a frame of brood to strength Hive-D.1 but it proved disastrous. The extra frame of brood and not enough bees to cover it gave the hive beetles a chance to spread - and by God they did.

The hive had a stagnant water smell but given all the rain we have had in past couple of days, I assumed I was smelling the wet ground. I also noticed all the larva was gone. Not just the frame I placed but all the larva my new VSH Queen had laid on the new comb... and the beetles were everywhere.

Then I saw the beetle larva but I mistook it for wax moth larva. There were only (3) of them when I banged the empty frame onto the lid of an empty nearby hive - though I think there might have been a lot more but the others were very tiny. (later when I was home, I YouTubed Wax Moths and realized the larva was not the same and so I checked hive beetles and confirmed my diagnosis).

The hive was nearly empty - no more than 50 or 100 bees and my precious little VSH Queen. I knew it was a matter of time before she either left or died so I decided to act. I placed the queen in a plastic queen cage with one attendant. Then I took the top box off of Hive-A and banged it onto Hive-D.1 filling it with bees. (I honestly did not look for the queen but I will before I release the VSH Queen tomorrow.)

Then I fed all the hives and went home. However, knowing I had to go out of town for work on a (48) hour overnighter, I worried that the queen might starve before I could release her. The more I thought about it the more I realized I needed to make sure she had food.

So I drove back out to Dr. D's and pressed a chunk of honey comb against the side of her cage and put her back in the hive. BTW, this was about (2)hours later and the hive was still packed with bees. I am hopeful the hive will now recover.

On Friday, I plan to use mineral oil traps I got from Mann Lake - that with dryer sheets and Don's boric acid traps should overwhelm the beetles. If not, I may have to consider some sort of pesticide or research other alternative methods.

As for Hive-D: I placed a frame of eggs in it on Sunday and by yesterday I had (5)to(7) new queen cells. I plan to cut all but two out on Monday and split Hives A,B,C in half with them.

I got stung 9 times through my suit in the shoulder, on the ankle, and on the ear - all on the right side for some reason. For what ever reason, Hive-A has become more aggressive with me, while completely ignoring Noah who is only a couple of feet away observing. (7) of the stings came from Hive-A but with the pheromone already on me, Hive-D instantly attacked when I opened the supers.

Hive Count: (9)

Monday, April 17, 2017

The Best Easter Eggs Of All – Queen Eggs

My biggest hurdle of beekeeping is not mites, moths, or beetles – it’s self-doubt. It took all my resolve to go out to the bee yard at Dr. D’s.   Actually, Noah wanting to go with me is what tipped the scales.

I would have gone anyway, but it might have been later Saturday or even Sunday – hell I might have waited until today! It’s like having a workout partner – some days you don’t feel like it but you go to keep from letting your partner down.
So I went. And it was wonderful! I swear that kid is good luck. All the hives are doing well.
This is the order I checked them:
Hive-D.1 is weak but the queen is laying eggs now.
Hive-D.2 was much stronger with two frames of brood.
Hive-B had several frames of brood and had drawn out nice straight comb on the foundationless hives.
Hive-A had a little brood. However, when I handed Noah the frame of brood so I could continue my inspection, he found the biggest, fattest, orange tailed queen I think I have ever seen.
Hive-C is doing well but I haven’t opened it for a proper inspection given that it has anger issues.
Lastly, Hive-D is slammed full of drones – obviously queenless.

So here is what I did:
Hive-A was fed but then left alone (Though this would have been a great time to split it since I had the queen in hand).

Hives at Dr. D's
Hive-B was fed and I took out one frame of uncapped brood and placed it in Hive-D.1 (in retrospect, Hive-D.1 is so small they may not be able to keep that whole frame of brood warm enough.)

I took a frame of eggs out of Hive-D.2 and placed them in Hive-D so that they could raise a new VSH queen.

Then I topped off the sugar syrup in all the hives and called it a day.

I got stung three times – once through my suit into my chest and twice on my neck though my veil. Two of them left no lingering signs. However, one of the ones on my neck still had the stinger in it when I got back to the truck and looks like a mosquito bite this morning.

Hive Count: 9

Friday, April 14, 2017

The Lord Giveth and Swarm Taketh Away

Truthfully, it wasn't a surprise that the swarm was gone. In fact, I was almost expecting it. So when I opened the new hive and found only (3) little bees flying around in it, I wasn't surprised - but I was greatly disappointed.

The feeling was sort of a numb feeling. One of the worst parts was having to tell my wife - not that she would be anything but supportive. The night I caught the swarm, I sent her the video clip and she sent me the text you see here. She deserves better.

Maybe it was because I left the Lemongrass Cotton Ball inside the super. Maybe I should have captured the queen in a cage. Maybe I should have put a queen excluder over the exit. Was there something wrong with the pallet wood I made the super out of? Maybe it was just bad luck. I don't really know but I will try the queen excluder next time.

You ever notice how when good things happen it's a blessing but when bad things happen it's just bad luck - and there in lies my real disappointment. Yesterday, I thought God had sent me a good omen. Today, I wonder if he is paying attention at all.

I don't mean to sound so petulant. I'm trying to have faith. Actually my prayer this year, isn't that nothing goes wrong, but that when things go wrong, God will teach (or at least lead me to the answers) and make me a better beekeeper. Maybe that was what this was about.

Me and Zack painting hives back in 2006
Today actually marks the 11th anniversary since I bought my first bees. I'm not actually sure of the exact date (being that Easter moves around the calendar) but it was on Good Friday 2006 (I had to actually make a timeline to figure the year out).

I can't believe how much has happened over those years. Losses and Gains (notice the order of those two - obviously I'm a negative person). Finding my wife - losing Dale. Fortunes gained and fortunes lost. My heart attack, my mom's stroke, my daughter's sudo-tumor. I published my first book. I traveled to the Canada, the Artic Circle, Ireland, Mexico, Bahamas, Malta, and back home. All of that actually happened in just the past 10 years - It's been quite the decade and Jen was there for all of it.

By the way: the hive count is back to (9).

Thursday, April 13, 2017

A Swarm Is Like Manna From Heaven

I caught my first swarm last night and it was like God just handed it to me.

But first... I’ve decided not to post so much about my personal life on here. I imagine if you are reading this, it’s because you are interested in bees and not in me. That being said, I have to tell this part before I tell you about my swarm:

On January 25, 2017 a collection agency accidently froze my bank account for a bill I had paid in full two years ago. They’ve admitted their mistake but my account is still frozen while they take their sweet time sorting it out. IT'S CRIMINAL. Yet when I called Morgan and Morgan (for the people law firm) to file a lawsuit yesterday, they said my case was "too complicated" for them and then wished me luck.

I can’t believe someone could do something like this without some sort of legal ramifications. Nonetheless, I was surprisingly not that upset - I think it might be because I feel conflicted about suing anyone.  However, I still think these people should be held accountable, whether I benefit or not. So I prayed about it and then emailed a local lawyer. That is the end of that story for now.

Now back to my swarm story:

“So there I was,” (You ever notice how often redneck stories seem to start with that line and end with, “hey - watch this”). Well anyway, there I was sitting at home feeling sorry for myself when my sister-in-law texted me that she had a friend with a swarm of bees.

I have never caught a swarm before so I didn’t know what to expect. I mean sure, YouTube makes it look super easy but I've also see YouTuber’s working their bees without a veil and I call horse shit on that too.

Just the same, I grabbed my gear and headed after it. It turned out the swarm was only a block from my house and, to my surprise, was only about twelve feet in the air.

Well I got my veil and gloves on and climbed up a ladder. Then, using my bee brush, I just swept the bees off the limb and into my box. It couldn’t have been easier! Of course half the bees went back up to the limb, so I repeated the process, this time using my gloved hand. Then, Bibbidi-Bobboidi-Boo, I had a new bee hive.

The two greatest parts of this story are:

First... at the very moment I felt like God wasn’t listening to me, he sent me this swarm of bees like a low hanging fruit. It felt like God was giving me a little nudge on the chin.
The second great thing about this story is that I caught the hive in one of my new beehives that I made from a repurposed pallet. That means I actually have a hive that cost me ZERO dollars.

So just like that, I now have 10 Hives. Hey - watch this... video. :)
p.s. sorry for the vertical video. :(

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

A Walk In The Clouds

This is a short one... not the kid, the blog.

I imagine everyone has a vision of what the perfect life would look like. For me, it's the movie A Walk In The Clouds. In fact, it is the very reason I became a beekeeper - as I mentioned in a past blog.

While I doubt I will ever own a vineyard, I still have this fantasy of the whole family coming home for the big harvest (Honey Harvest in my case). The whole family working together in the fields all day and then having a feast that night (of course everyone would share in the profit too). I know the whole thing sounds ridiculous and it is - and I am sure it will never happen.

Nonetheless, beekeeping is a good job - an average beekeeper makes upward of $70k a year. So I am encouraging my oldest nephew, Zack to learn the beekeeping trade (since on the ill-advice of his mother, he has dropped out of school at age 18). And I am hopeful that in a year or two, I will be able to employee him full-time or maybe he might even just work for someone else.

Of course, I'm not forcing it on him but I am encouraging him to help me out from time to time so he can learn. This is purely for his benefit, since he slows me down to a crawl when he is there. Just the same, yesterday I invited him to help me prep some supers for paint - partly because I felt guilty for spending all weekend with Noah (age 22) who was a genuine help. (Side note: Noah and my daughter are both graduating with a BSN from nursing school this coming Dec).

Yet when I went to pick Zack up, he had a scowl on his face. When I asked him why, it turned out that he didn't want to go. So I gladly left him. In retrospect, I think I need to sit him down and explain that this work is not for my benefit but for his. Then he can decide what to do on his own.

Anyway, a few minutes after I left, Zack's little brother, Zane (age 11) texted that he wanted to come and help. So he came down and we did a little beekeeping. It was a nice bonding experience and it definitely sparked Zane's interest. Who knows, maybe that big family harvest might happen after all.

Monday, April 10, 2017

No Eggs and the Night Dreads

My daughter’s boyfriend, Noah is interested in beekeeping and so he spent the weekend helping me – which was nice since I enjoy his company. I did my best to work on interesting projects and to allow him to observe the bees without getting stung. Nothing squelches a new beekeeper's enthusiasm quicker than getting stung repeatedly.

BTW: I got (6) stings this weekend but they were all well deserved for doing stupid shit.

I'd like to point out that I have a vast amount of beekeeping knowledge. I’ve studied beekeeping books and videos for years and I can answer most questions people ask. I’ve also gained a lot of experience through my own screw ups and I’m pretty good about only making the same serious mistakes once. That being said, there are so many times I look into my hive and feel as dumb as a dog looking at a doorknob.

We did manage to find both of the new queens out at Dr. D’s place but no eggs. At (43), I may need new glasses but I couldn’t find any eggs and I doubt all three of the new queens are just not laying. They may also need more time. Either way I felt defeated.

Once all the bees were fed, we called it a day. At home I did my best to waterboard my disappointment with a couple of bottles of Rascato but with very little success. So when all else failed, I went to bed.

The night dreads – that’s what I call it when I wake up in the middle of the night and begin imagine the worse case scenario for my life. It's not just empty thoughts; I think about sick family members, money issues, work problems and so on but I also obsess about all the things that could go wrong. I know the whole thing is compounded by the fact that I'm half asleep but it’s hard to tell if I’m insane or if I’m just really stressed out. I constantly worry that one day I’ll flip out like Leonardo Decaprio in The Aviator and my wife will just find me in front of the mirror muttering, “It’s the future… it’s the future… it’s the future… it’s the future…”

Nonetheless, at 4:00am Sunday morning, I woke up and began thinking about my beekeeping plans. Even if I could build (10) mini-nucs each weekend, I could still only get about (500) built in time for next spring. To make matters worse, at the rate I am splitting hives, I won’t be anywhere near (100) full size hives.

That was when a thought came to mind that I have rarely ever had about anything: “Maybe I should just quit.” It seems silly to think of it in the daylight but at 4:00am it seemed like a good idea – for about a half of a second anyway.

I can’t give up – this is my Plan G!

Plan A was Architecture but after designing a couple of dozen houses I got tired of designing other people's dreams. Plan B was when I became a fireman but the pay was so bad, I gave that up after about (4) years. Plan C was paramedic but that job is what sparked my anxiety issues. Plan D was offshore life but that dried up. Plan E was to become a writer but so far that hasn't panned out either - though I would gladly do that full-time. Plan L is to finish my degree and become a full-time teacher (I already teach part time). Around Plan Q is becoming a standup comic but my wife doesn’t think that shit's funny at all. And Plan Z is to keep doing what I’m doing as a Safety Man but that is far from a desired option.  (Note: I'm only kidding about my wife not being supportive - she actually supports anything I want to do... she is awesome! It sounds like pandering but she doesn't read this crap.)

So giving up on professional beekeeping is not an option. Of course reaching my goals this year doesn’t seem realistic either. That only leaves the third option; do what I can and be content “if” I do my best.

So my goal is still the same: Master grafting, create (750) mini mating nucs, and create (100) viable hives. However, that is my overall yearly goal. I need to set more obtainable, short term goals. So I made the following spreadsheet for this month and will do the same each month that follows for as long as it is helpful.