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.

Part 3 of 3 - Beetles, Chickens, and Mead

"I have never seen mead enjoyed more in any hall on earth." Beowulf

If you keep bees and have never tried mead then you have missed the point of beekeeping. Mead has as many variations as wine or beer but has it's own unique identity.

Since I live in Mississippi, the only mead that seems to be imported into the state is from the oldest meadery in the country, Chaucer's Mead. Not a highly rated mead but it comes with a spice bag that can be added to a heated batch. This warm spiced mead has now become a family tradition for the past five or six Christmas's in our house.

Since I have always had a fantasy of owning a winery, owning a meadery seems almost as romantic. Therefore I have been experimenting with home mead making for the past year or so. My first batch was okay but a little dry.

However, while harvesting honey this year I had an idea. Each year I have a lot of wasted honey that never quite comes out of my cappings. It gets heated when I melt the wax and tastes a little off - sweet but off. I've heard of people using it to make barbecue sauce but I thought, "Why not Mead?"

So this year I harvested (8) frames of honey. I don't have much honey this year, as I have been focused on making splits. Just the same, I took the cappings after they had drained and I put them in a tin pan with (1) cup of water. Then I melted the wax at 200͒ F. I then let it cool and lifted the wax off the top. What was left was a dark mix of water and honey.

I poured that into a measuring cup and had (1.75) cups of honey mixed with (1) cup of water. I added some fresh honey and made it an even (2) cups.

The Recipe:

(1) part Honey
(1) part hot water
(2) parts cold water
(1) packet of yeast.

Heat the honey and hot water on the stove and bring to a boil. Then remove and add cold water. I then placed the pot in a ice bath until it was cool to the touch (about 75͒ F). Then add the yeast.

I placed this in a (1.5) litter wine bottle (I poured the remaining (2) cups down the sink) and placed an airlock on it.

Now it is bubbling. There are a lot of recipes but this seems to be the simplest by far. I'll let you know how it comes out in a couple of months.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Walkaway Splits - Right & Wrong

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

All of my hives at Dr.D's are spaced 18" apart in all directions


Work and weather have stifled my beekeeping but it hasn't stopped me completely. Saturday, my wife and I went out to Dr. D's place and split Hive-B.1 & Hive-C. This gives me (10) Hives and (3) Five-Frame-Nucs.

However, while making my splits, I wasn't thinking and therefor I made two different kinds of Walkaway Splits.

Hive-B.1 was split by taking the top box off and placing it on the new location. Then I made sure that box was filled with eggs, pollen, and honey. Of course a lot of the bees will return to the original location, so I shook (10) frames of bees into the new box in hopes that at least half of the bees might stay. This will probably do fine but it is not the best practice (in my humble opinion anyway).

Hive-C was split perfectly. I moved the whole hive to the new location and then placed a box filled with eggs, pollen, honey, and two frames of nurse bees on the old location. All of the field bees will return to the original location and that will ensure there are enough bees to fight the dreaded Small Hive Beetles. That is, in my opinion, the best practice for making a walkaway split.

All four of the hives were given eggs, pollen, and honey so that no matter where the queens ended up, the other half of each split would have everything needed to produce new queen cells.

Also, if you notice in the graph above, I did not use the VSH eggs in these splits. Hive-C is my oldest and most resilient hive, so I wanted to keep that genetic stock in my yard.

Hive-B was a swarm that just took up residence in an empty box in my apiary but that queen has proven over the past couple of years to be resilient and gentle - again, good genetic stock.

The VSH queen is the mother of all of the hives at my house and will be the root stock of most of my grafts but it is important to keep diversity in breeding and so that is why I chose to make my recent splits without VSH eggs.

The last thing I did was to shake 5 frames of bees into a Starter Hive (Hive-VF). The Five-Frame-Nuc has a screened bottom and no exit. I also placed a hive top feeder on it and then made brackets so the lid could be secured in place. At the end of the season I will give this box a queen and enough resources to survive the winter.

So with this addition and the (3) hives at my house, I am now equipped to graft at will -- well as soon as the rain stops.



Monday, July 24, 2017

The Queen Is Dead - Long Live The Queen

"Death is but a doorTime is but a window. I'll be back." - Vigo the Scourge of Carpathia, Ghost Busters II


I got up early Saturday morning to find all the caged queens had died - though there is still the sole survivor in Hive-VE that I didn't cage. Given each queen cost about $30 (if sold), I lost $240 worth of queens. Oh well.

Time is marching on and as of now, I figure I have about (9) weeks left till the end of the bee season in the Delta. I think that is still enough time to master my grafting technique.


It has now gotten too hot to work much in the afternoons. However, I still need to go to Dr. D's and get a few pounds of bees to start my mating nucs and to bolster my Starter Hive-VD giggle giggle. I'll force myself to do that on Wednesday (if my truck is out of the shop by then.) Once that unhappy task is done, then all of my grafting can be done at the house.




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 to the hive the same way that a 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.

BEES:
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.

CHICKENS:

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 GOOD NEWS:

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.


Hive-VE
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.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

A New Hope and a small harvest

"We seem to be made to suffer. It's our lot in life." - C3PO

Maybe a little dramatic for an opener but it has been an up hill battle with these beetles. However, yesterday it appeared that I have finally gotten the upper hand.

"Great, kid! Don't get cocky." - Han Solo

I only found (1) beetle in Hive-VD... (VD - giggle giggle) and about (5) beetles in Hive-A.1. There were about a dozen in the Beetle Buster trap (none in my home made one - though there may not have been any in VD... giggle giggle... to get in my trap).

"Not a bad bit of rescuing, huh? You know, sometimes I amaze even myself." - Han Solo

The reason for the low beetle count could be that I took all the infected frames out but I am hoping it has more to do with Don the Fat Bee Man's beetle traps. I'll make a dozen more and put them in all my other hives today and then wait and see.

"Your eyes can deceive you; don't trust them." - Obi-Wan Kenobi

I got a half of a day off from work due to the 4th of July and I used it to harvest some honey. (8) frames of honey yesterday and (3) on Sunday - (11) in all. Not the largest harvest ever but it will give us a little to put back for ourselves and maybe a little to sell.

"You needn't worry about your reward. If money is all that you love, then that's what you'll receive." - Leia

For now, Hive-A.1 has been reduced to a single story box and Hive-VD (giggle giggle) has five frames - both are packed with bees. Today I will go to Dr. D's place and bring home another Five Frame Nuc with two frames of eggs - one for the bees to make queens from on their own and one for me to graft queen cells from.

"Maybe you'd like it back in your cell, your highness." - Han Solo to Leia

Last night I also prepped a grafting frame and placed it in the hive to be polished. So I am hopeful that today will bring a new hope.

"Don't underestimate the Force." - Darth Vader

Monday, July 3, 2017

The Beetles Kill Another Hive

The bottom board of Hive-D

"I don't believe in Beatles, I just believe in me," John Lennon... but then John never kept bees!

I was sure that all was well in my home apiary. I had strong (though queenless) hives and minimal comb. So you can imagine my surprise yesterday afternoon, when I went to check my hives and saw beetle maggots dripping out of the front of  Hive-VC.

I quickly went to the shop, donned my veil and lit my smoker. VC still had all the bees I left in it but they had given the frames over to the beetles. I had only put (3) frames in VC but they were destroyed.

I took the hive apart and put the beetle larva in the sun.

Close-up of Hive-D
I then checked Hive-A.1.VHS only to find that it was queenless. Luckily the hive didn't have any signs of beetle damage.

Lastly I opened Hive-D and found that beetles had already begun to destroy seven frames. The hive had (20) frames in it but some of them were either empty comb or bare plastic. So I stripped the hive down to just four frames of honey and one frame of empty comb. I then added the bees from VC - Creating Hive-VD.

I also made a few of Don the Fat Bee Man's sign traps. The ones I made before using Borax didn't seem to work. This time I made them using straight Boric Acid that I bought off Amazon.com.

Don had remarked that the only reason these wouldn't work is if they were filled too full. So I took one and cut it in half to check - it was correct. I then placed about (4) on each bottom board. I also set one Beetle Buster in Hive-A.1 and my home made Beetle Buster in Hive-VD.

I took a total of (10) frames and put them in the freezer. The other (2) didn't seem to have any beetles on them but I left them in the sun just the same.

I harvested three frames of honey from Hive-A.1 and will continue to harvest through out this week until I get the hive down to just (10) frames.

Wednesday, I will go to Dr. D's and bring home some VSH eggs to graft.

In all I have lost (5) hives to beetles this year - or to be more dramatic (33%) of my apiary has been lost to beetles.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

A Good Day to Make Splits

"Five hundred. … five hundred fights, that’s the number I figured when I was a kid. Five hundred street fights and you could consider yourself a legitimate tough guy. You need them for experience. To develop leather skin. So I got started. Of course along the way you stop thinking about being tough and all that. It stops being the point. You get past the silliness of it all. But then, after, you realize that’s what you are." Vin Diesel, in Knockaround Guys

After a long (very hot) afternoon of beekeeping, I came home and jumped in the shower - that's when I saw them. Four stings on my forearm. I knew I had gotten a couple of stings; one on my back and one under my arm but that was it. That's when I realized I had come to a turning point. I quit counting stings about a month or so ago (right after the day I got those (60) at one time). It stopped being the point... and I got past the silliness of it all.

This may be as much to do with the calmer hives I have begun to breed. At present I only seem to have one cantankerous hive left at Dr. D's place. Hive-A is still fairly aggressive but Hive-A.1.VSH has become as calm as a Hindu cow.

All and all it was a great day of beekeeping. Here is what we did:


Hive D.3.VSH has succumb to the hive beetles. In fact it has also begun to have Wax Months. There was still about a cup of bees in the hive but the beetles had destroyed all the wax. For now we just left it but I will retrieve it this weekend.

Hive A.1.VSH was dealt with next. We opened the top and found it full of bees. No further inspection was needed. We stapled #8 HW Cloth over any openings and ratchet strapped the whole thing tight. We then loaded it up and took it to the house.

Hive B was then split. I did this in the walkaway split style. First I moved the top two boxes of honey to the new location. I then placed the brood chamber on top. From there I split the brood chamber in half, making sure to put eggs and stores in both. I then used the frozen frames (after they thawed) to fill in the open spaces. I then placed the single box with about two frames of nurse bees back on the original location.

When complete, I had a new hive... Hive B.1 I didn't put a VSH egg in this one because it was already calm and I want to keep some genetic diversity in the apiary.

VC was last. VA and VB are the two five frame nucs that the beetles destroyed. I've decided for now just to keep the letters running in order. VC was filled with two frames of brood, eggs, & bees from Hive A and one frame of just eggs from Hive VSH. We then took it home with us. At home, I took the mini mating nuc full of bees and added them to VC. I also took the VSH frame of eggs and placed them in Hive D.VSH.

I would have like to have done more but the heat was pretty bad and my suit was stifling. Saturday I plan to do more. Nonetheless, it was a great day of beekeeping and I felt confident in all of my hive manipulations. It is late in the season but I think I still have time to make some gains.

Hive Count: (9) Hives and (1) Five Frame Nuc

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.