Thursday, March 30, 2017

How Many Stings Does It Take?

Last night I divided 1 ½ gallons of 1:1 sugar syrup mixed with 3/8 cup (90ml) of Don’s Brood Builder between the (4) hives at Dr.D’s place. I went out after work with just a veil so I got stung... again. However, unlike last Friday when I got stung(4) times or Sunday when I got stung (9) times (on my arm which swelled up so much that I had to remove my watch), this week there is almost no swelling - nor was there any real swelling on my chin where I got stung the day before.

This begs the question: How many stings does it take to build up immunity?
I found the answer on the New Scientist website:
"High doses of bee venom early in the year block a normally potent immune reaction for the remainder of the season, says Mübeccel Akdis, an immunologist at University of Zurich in Switzerland, who led the study."
It also says, "After an average of 13 stings a week, beekeepers quickly desensitise to the bees’ barb, which delivers a large dose of several venoms, including a membrane-busting protein called phospholipase A."

The study concluded that the immunity wears off in the winter and so the cycle is repeated each year.
So here is an update on my Hives:
I ordered one VSH Queen back in January from Johnny Thompson in Philadelphia, MS. He was very nice in my first emails and agreed to let me pick the queen up so I could bend his ear (Pickup was scheduled for the first week of April). I scheduled a day off from work for March 31st to get the apiary ready. However, I sent him two emails over the past couple of weeks to confirm the time but he never replied.
I only ordered one queen so I knew I was a low priority but not responding was just rude. Nevertheless, low and behold, I got a phone call from Philadelphia last night. Johnny apparently hadn’t gotten my emails and was calling to let me know he had three extra queens and that if I wanted them I could pick them up Friday (the 31st).

So now I can make three easy splits – one of which I will be taking to my home in town. This will be my breeder stock. Having a hive at home will make grafting queens much easier. I am sure I will screw up a lot but this will allow me to practice every few days – and practice makes perfect.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Honey Bound - Lots of bees but no brood

I've begun taking before and after pictures
so when I am at home trying to figure out
what the hell went wrong, I have a better record.
Honey Bound: The term refers to a hive that is so full of honey and pollen stores that the queen doesn’t have any place to lay eggs.

So yesterday I went out to split hive (A) that I was sure was on the verge of swarming due to the beard hanging on the front. However, when I got there, the beard was gone. So I entered the hive to see how bad the swarm had hit the hive but to my surprise, the bees were still inside.

Nonetheless, I came to split a hive and so a hive was going to get split! So I started looking for eggs. But there were no eggs. That was when I realized that the only brood was a half of frame of capped brood. The more I looked, all I could find was honey – every frame was filled with honey.

At the time, I didn’t know what to think. The hive was packed with bees (see Pictures) with very few drones but there was no eggs or larva.

I went to hive (B) and it turned out, it was the same thing. I spent two hours inspecting these two hives but all I found was honey and pollen.

Current Apiary Setup (X's are empty hives)
On a side note: Both (A) & (B) were very calm and gentle. There is still about a quart of sugar syrup in hive (A) but hive (B) had eaten all of theirs. Hive (B) has nice large teardrop patches of comb on the foundationless frames I put in Friday, while hive (A) has a couple of small bits of comb – several spots in (A) also had new bur-comb but not much.

So at sundown, I closed the hives back up and headed home. I was perplexed to say the least and I felt defeated. Why were there so many bees but no eggs? Had I actually overlooked the eggs? Was the hive queenless? Was it possible that the queens just had not started laying? (I know that last one seems stupid but I was spiraling.)
No drown feeder with
drown bees in hive (A)

Still, by the time I reached my house, I had a come to a peaceful notion: “A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor.”

I still had other hives and, whatever the problem was, I could pull eggs from one of the other hives to fix it. With that, I relaxed, went inside, and got on the computer. Thankfully my problem was not unique and with a few tries at Google, I found the answer.

Google question: “My hive is full of bees but no eggs”

The Answer: My hives are “Honey Bound”

I’ve already checkerboarded the top two boxes of both (A) & (B) giving them an additional 10 frames each. So as soon as they draw out the comb it should be fine.

I will double down on my prevention plan by adding more sugar syrup tonight, then Friday I will add two frames of foundation to each as well as a frame of eggs from one of my other hives. Whatever the issue is, these three things should cover it.

Monday, March 27, 2017

First Inspection 2017 - Trying not to screw the pooch!

Hives (A) & (B)

On Friday, March 24th I took my nephew Zack with me for the first hive work of the year. I went to my (4) hives at the doctor’s place and I couldn’t have been more pleased. The hives are strong and healthy. Since I didn’t gather much honey last year, the super count on the (4) hives goes like this: Hive A had (2) supers, B had (2), C (3), and D (4).

I “checker boarded” A, B, and D with new foundationless frames adding a super to each. On Hive C, I added last year’s empty plastic honey frames. I also added FBM type Hive Top Feeders with 1:1 sugar syrup treated with FBM Brood builder essential oils. 2 quarts was given to each hive.

On that note:
Don the Fat Bee Man has carved out a wonderful niche for himself as a teacher. I love teaching and I think Don is a very smart beekeepers, so good for him. That being said, his YouTube videos are filled with errors. I can’t figure out if they are intentional or accidental. I left comments for clarification but he doesn’t respond – so I suspect they are intentional.

Two things I’ve been very interested in are Brood Building and Mini Mating Nuc’s. This is where I found the most frustrating of errors. His nuc dimensions don’t add up and in his recipe for Brood Builder, he uses one oil while saying the name of a different one. I guess he wants you to join his class to get the accurate info.

I would love to join such a class but to be honest; MOST of the beekeepers on YouTube have such huge egos! I’ve been half-ass beekeeping for about a decade now and while I have learned a lot, there is still so much left to learn. I would love to get in with a group like Ditchdoc 129 on YouTube – they are learning together without egos and doing a great job.

Still there is a certain pride in being self/book/video educated. I’ve spent all winter watching YouTube videos and on Friday’s visit to the apiary, I felt a 100 times more confident about what I was looking at. It was as if I had watched over the shoulder of countless beekeepers for 10 years’ worth of inspections.

Anyway, I digress. So here is the brood builder recipe (I got this from Don’s videos but clarified it with several other YouTubers):

  • 1 teaspoon Tea Tree Oil
  • 1 teaspoon Wintergreen Oil
  • 1 teaspoon Spearmint Oil
  • 5-10 drops of Lemongrass Oil
  • Mix it with 1 quart of water. Then add ¼ cup of mix to 1 gallon of 1:1 sugar syrup.

Now I should point out that I’m an idiot! I didn’t look for the queen in any of my boxes. I just wasn’t thinking and in doing so I may have endangered Queen “A”. There was brood in the upper box so she might have been on the frames I checker-boarded. I pray I haven’t killed her.

Of the four hives, “A” is my most gentle. It is also the one that has the beard on it and I fear it may be about to swarm. I don’t think it had a beard before I began working on it Friday but it has one now – another reason I worry I may have done something to the queen. I went back out on Sunday and it is still there. I sat arguing with myself over what the beard meant and whether or not to split.

Everyone keeps telling me not to split them until after the Easter Cold Snap but on Tuesday, I plan to do it anyway. I also plan to bring the “A” queen and half of the hive to my house to be my breeder queen and use her for grafting.

Drier Sheet after winter -
Hive beetles are now under control.
Last Note: I got stung 9 times when I attempted to inspect Hive C without smoke – or suit. I had actually only meant to go out on Sunday and inspect the hive top feeders but I accidently bumped it… or maybe I thought I might take a quick look… truth is that once the attack began, I got very fuzzy on the details!

However, I refused to kowtow to those little bitches and so I went and got my smoker and made them behave. When I had checked all the feeders and put cinnamon powder around the hives, I sat down amongst them – meditating and worrying about what to do next.

With the start of bee season, I am sick with worry. This is the year it could all work out – as long as I don’t screw the pooch!

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Mini Mating Nuc - Blueprint

Mini Mating Nucs may be the most wonderful part of modern beekeeping. I say this, because so much of modern beekeeping has become completely standardized - yet there doesn't seem to be any standardization of the mini mating nucs. This gives the beekeeper a chance to experiment and discover without reinventing any wheels.

As I plan to breed queens this year, I looked online for a set of mini nuc blueprints but I didn't find much.

The Beekeeper's Workshop (TBW) had very nice plans for a four chambered mini nuc. You can find these plans on their website and on YouTube. I do plan to give these a try sometime but for now I wanted single nucs.

Don the Fat Bee Man has a great design as well (see his YouTube Channel) but in his video, the dimensions don't add up - and the plans are for a medium deep nuc (which might save a lot of wood).

Mann Lake sells a Styrofoam mating nuc but they cost $20 and are very small.

What I like best about the TBW four chamber nuc was that it could be stacked on top of a standard hive super. What I like best about Don's mini nuc was that it is made from scrap wood. I also like Don's better than TBW because it uses a half size 9 1/2" frame rather than 9 1/4" - this allows you to place two end-to-end in a full-size hive to draw out the wax. (You can do the same with the 9 1/4" but it makes a bigger gap.)

In my first attempt I divided the length of a full supper by half, I used 1x4 material, and used TBW 9 1/4" frame but this made the inside dimension of the nuc too short and didn't leave room for bee-space.

On my second attempt, I used the same outside dimensions but I used 1/2" lumber on the two ends (still used 1X4 material on the sides) and then I was able to use Don's 9 1/2" frames with just the right amount of bee-space.

I'm building these out of scrap wood. I use (3) - 1X4 on both sides (These are of course 3/4"X3 1/2") and I use (4) - 2 1/2"x1/2" boards on the front and (4) on the back (I ripped these boards from some 2 1/2"x3" stock I had). The staggered pattern locks all the boards together and makes a pretty solid box. I also use nail and glue on all my joints.

Now some beekeepers will freak out because all these little boards leave gaps and cracks. Relax! I found that if you brush each crack with a thin layer of glue and then just rub sawdust over them and into them, it all seals up tighter than Dick's Hat Band - I didn't invent this process but I like it!

So here is my blueprint - I drew it with Microsoft Excel and then imported it to Paintbrush so you will have to play with your print scale if you want it to be to scale. Otherwise, here you go:

If you have any problem viewing these plans, leave a comment and I'll email you a better copy.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Queen Cell Cages

There is an old episode of Frasier where Daphne gets the tune, "Flesh is burning... dana-na-na-nah... Flesh is burning... dana-na-na-nah..." the thought came to mind as I bobbled my soldering iron and could smell my skin burn before I even felt the pain - smelled like burning hair!
Nonetheless, if you are going to raise queen bees, you will need Queen Cell Protectors. These can be bought but you will need a lot and, if you are like me, I have far more time than money. So I am making mine.
There are two really good YouTube videos on this:
One is by Ralph Jones III - who I enjoy just listening to for the accent! He has a lot of other great videos too.
The second is The Beekeeper's Workshop. The Beekeeper's Workshop has lot's of great videos and a lot of blueprints on their main site as well. I've watched all of their videos and I get a kick out of how much they sound like Sheldon Cooper's Fun With Flags videos.
I have found a couple of things that work easier for me.
For starters, you should use lead-free solder. Ralph said he had a problem with this but TBW's video advised using flux and that seemed to make it work great for me.
Ralf also suggested getting a plug cutter to make the wooden ends. However, 3/4" plug cutters are really hard to find and they only cut 1/2" deep. Now I have to shave down a 1x4 to 1/2" to get the plugs. A wooden dowel may have been easier.
The other thing is that TBW twisted little "U" shaped wires to hold the cages closed before soldering. I found that if I wrapped the wire around my dowel and then rapped a single wire around the whole thing like a bread tie, then I could solder it on the dowel and then reuse the wire over and over. Those "U" shaped wires didn't work well with my big banana hands.
Oh and on the subject of wire. Every video I watch says "Just use #8 Hardware Cloth" as if you can find it at any feed store - YOU CAN'T. I went to every store in a 90 mile radius of the Delta and no one sold it. I eventually bought it from (Wal-Mart also had it Online).
The last thing I learned was to build a stand for your soldering iron so you don't have to hold it. This gives you two hands free and prevents burns - a problem I solved a day too late.
I can make about 5 of these an hour while I watch TV. That gives me 10 a night. I figure I will need about 600 for next year and so I should have no problem getting that many done.
So here is what you do:
Step 1 - Cut a 3"x3" piece of #8 Hardware Cloth. (that is 24 squares by 24 squares).

Step 2 - Roll the hardware cloth around a 3/4" Dowel. I made two 5" dowels and rounded off one end of each with sandpaper.
Sep 3 - Wrap a wire bread tie around the wire to hold it in place.
Step 4 - Dab flux on the two spots you want to solder and then solder the cage together. Make sure to let solder get down to the second layer.
Step 5 - At one end snip the wire 4 squares up every 2 or 3 squares. Then fold them in onto the end of the dowel. I use my second dowel to mash the ends tightly closed.
Step 6 - Add flux and solder the end to keep it from opening back up.

Pretty Simple. So give it a try and let me know how it works out for you.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Edge of winter 2017 – Time to try again

So this is my woodshop. Ain't it cool?!
Sorry for the huge laps in blogs, I will try to do better and at least blog once a month, if not more often, from here on out.

When last I blogged, things were going bad but then they got worse. My father-in-law, Dale (who was my best friend) lost his battle with cancer. The cancer was discovered shortly after he had the heart stent put in. It was a long fight and my wife and I never left his side. It’s been 9 months since he died and we still miss him greatly.

I did eventually find a job working for a well-known casino back in 2/1/2016 (I won’t say the name due to corporate policies). After my first year I won rookie of the quarter, Team Leader of the Year, and got promoted to Regional Safety Compliance Officer. The pay is mediocre but I am home 6 days a week and I get all the pallets I want.
So that brings us to beekeeping:

As I mentioned in my last post, my big plan was to build hives from old pallets and to catch wild bees. So since December of 2016 I have been doing just that. It turned out to be far more work than I expected but I’m sticking to it. I’ve built 12 supers and 120 deep frames so far using nothing but scrap pallet wood.

Aside from the huge investment in time, there are two major problems with using pallets for hives:

1.       The wood is not standard width or length… or thickness! The last one being the worst part. I’ve overcome this issue by building my hives using the inside dimensions rather than the outside ones – since that is the part the bees use anyway.

2.       No matter how I dismantle the pallets I waste wood.

a.       If you cut the nails with a saws-all then the wood that still has nails embedded in it becomes unusable.

b.      If you pry the wood apart then, without fail, half of the boards break. Nonetheless, this seems to be the best method. After dismantling nearly 50 pallets, I am still working on reducing the amount of broken boards.

What about my bees:
As of last month I have 6 very strong hives. 2 are at the old farm and 4 are at the doctor’s place. (The Beast died last winter and it was a relief not to have to deal with those cantankerous little bastards anymore). The unusually warm winter has me biting at the bit to begin my splits but all prudent advice says I should wait until after Easter. So I am waiting. I have also purchased a VHS Italian Queen due to arrive at the first of April. My bees are strong but a little aggressive and I'm hoping the new queen will help to calm down future offspring.

Of course I had a setback:
Last year, I did three stupid things.

1.       I harvested too late. I usually harvest my honey around September 3rd. However, it was freaking hot! So I thought to myself, “Self” that’s me… I said, “Self, bees fly just fine when it’s 70 degrees out. Why don’t you wait until October and get the honey when it’s not so damned hot?” So I did – and that is when I found out why you harvest when it’s hot. The bees are fine at 70 degrees but the honey is thick and took forever to drip from the frames. 10 frames took a week to drip using my gravity flow extractor. Lesson 1: HARVEST IN THE HEAT!

2.       The second stupid thing I did was that I collected 2 supers of honey when I only have a 10 frame extractor. So the other super got robbed before I could get the honey out of the first one – and it happened FAST! Those neighborhood bees were like piranhas on a cow carcass. Lesson 2: Only harvest what you can handle.

3.       The last stupid thing I did was hurt my back and this changed everything!

In the book Beekeeping: Practical Advice for would be Smaller holders, by Andrew Davies, it says that there are two conditions that can prevent someone from beekeeping: Anaphylaxis and a bad back. I have the latter. So when I attempted to shake the bees from a full deep super, I reinjured my back. I realize everything about that sentence is wrong. Why am I gathering honey in deep supers? Why did I try to shake bees out? Why was I doing any of that with a bad back in the first place? For all those answers please reference the title of my blog series.

Just the same, it made me reconsider beekeeping altogether and, somewhere in that deep contemplation, I decided to focus on Queen rearing rather than honey production. So for the past six months I have been studying books, blogs, and videos. Hopefully before this month is out, I will try my hand at my first grafts. I am also using the rest of this year to split my hives, master my grafting technique, and practice producing queens on a schedule.

I’ve designed and built my first mini mating nuc using scrap material – I’ll give details and post a blueprint in upcoming blogs. I have also begun making queen cell cages at night while I watch TV – it only took two nights before I fumbled the soldering iron and branded my hand... I’ll also post that story as well as ways to prevent it from happening again.

Well this blog has gotten pretty long so I’ll end it here. See you soon.