posts tagged with 'beekeeping'

Hive work

On Thursday (May 30th for my records) I opened up the hive to do some major work. The bees were not building comb down from their top bars as some crazy hippies said they would, so I replaced single top bars with full frames, still without starter foundation but with cardboard strips covered in beeswax to jumpstart the process. I did this for two frames in the hive body and eight frames in the super. (The rest of the space in the hive body is working comb, and the extra space in the super is holding the sugar feeder.) If this doesn't make any sense to you that's fine, I'm only trying to keep a record for later years so I can look back and laugh, "What on earth was I doing??? I was the worst beekeeper in the world!"

In my imagined future I have an increased level of competence and/or humor.

The part I was most worried about was scraping off the ill-placed comb that the bees had built up rather than down. You can see it as big mounds in this picture.

Leah in her beekeeping suit removing messed-up comb from the hive

what are you doing, any of you?>>

The good news is that beeswax is rather soft, and the comb came off with the sharp end of my hive tool. You can see it cutting in the next photo. What you can also see in that photo is smoke pouring out of my smoker. One of the reasons this hive inspection went so much better than the previos one is that 1) I didn't drop my smoker, and 2) I did it on a hot sunny afternoon. There were way fewer bees in the hive and they were way less angry at me than the last time I came.

a close-up of the comb, many bees, and some smoke from the smoker

smoking makes them calm

So theoretically the bees should be doing what they should be doing now, making comb correctly and filling it with honey. Though what they're really doing inside there is anybody's guess. Today what they're doing in the 90 degree weather is pouring out of the hive onto the running board and buzzing around like they're absolutely crazy. Which is basically what my kids have been doing, so I'm not going to freak out about their behavior YET. (I saw some of them sleeping outside this morning and confronted Dan in bed, at 6am, asking whether he thought I should buy another hive body for space. He looked at me like you should look at a mad woman holding a baby and asking for fifty discretionary dollars at 6 in the morning. He told me to calm down and wait until the heatwave is over.)

I'll do another inspection in about a week when I get a new fancier sugar feeder and another super. The cost of these bees has just jumped by $100, to $450 so far. They'd better give us A LOT of honey.


a new sweater

Fourteen new frames are ready to be added to the bee house tomorrow. They're all assembled and prepped with wax starter strips, an effort which took several hours over the past few days. In the two weeks since I got these bees it seems that I've done absolutely everything wrong short of killing the queen. The hive is an absolute mess inside, and they are building comb willy-nilly and attached to the feeders. To rectify the situation, I will need to take the hive apart, insert the new frames, and remove the two feeders. Removing one feeder last week killed 50 bees. Tomorrow's job will be about 30 times more difficult. I am... how do you call it? stressed.

So can I change the subject and talk about something I'm good at for like half a second here? I recently finished a sweater.

This is a do-over of a sweater I made last year and then ruined. Because I tried to wash it on a hand-wash cycle in the machine. Because I 'm lazy. Shit, this was supposed to be a feel-good post where I don't look like a moron... oh well, I guess that's not true to life.

This new sweater is knit out of superwash blend, which means it can go in the washer and dryer and all that'll happen is a bit of pilling and maybe some un-raveling in the ends of the colorwork. Which is a fine trade-off to washing by hand and drying for three days every time somebody pukes on me.

Meanwhile, if anyone with narrower shoulders than me wants an all-wool sweater that's kind of maternity puffy in the middle on account of the hip flare shrinking up to sit over the stomach? I have just the thing for you. If you want to trade for beekeeping assistance, that's even better.


at the very least it can be a lesson in failure

the placement of our hive... bees moving too fast to be pictured

It is 1:30 in the AM and I am up on the computer, looking up how to clean excess honeycomb off the top of frames. I tried to replace the bees' sugar water last night, and not only did I find them building comb all over where they're not supposed to, but I dropped one jar of syrup onto the pavement (crash) and I dropped my smoker just when they were all flying up at me, and I killed about 20 bees trying to get one empty jar out. Most beekeepers do not work atop ladders, true, but I seem to be particularly inept. In the mean time, it looks like they have enough food for almost a week of yucky weather, and before week's end I need to build fourteen new frames with starter strips, cut off the misplaced comb (how? will they kill me?) and also try to add another jar of syrup hopefully without covering the ground with glass shards and dead bees. I don't think this hobby suits me.

the new tenants

We now have a colony of bees living next to our bathroom window. I put them up there this evening. We purchased a 'nuc,' which is to say a pre-started colony with a queen and several frames of brood and workers, from an apiary just down the road in Billerica. For months we've been preparing for the bees: small things like buying the tools (which Leah handled) and some big things like painting one side of the house, assembling a beehive, and designing a platform to put it ten feet off the ground and away from the kids (all Dan). You'd think all that would have psyched me up for the idea, but I drove to Billerica this evening in abject terror. I'm going to put bees in the car? I thought to myself. BEES in the CAR???

To distract myself I turned on the local college radio station. It was some kind of kids' programming, and the song that was playing, this is no joke, the song on the radio went: "It's just you and me, bumble bee. Just you and me. Buzzzzzzzzzzz."

I found the apiary on a winding farm road, after calling Dan twice to help me with directions. Not being able to follow printed directions is typical of me in panic mode. But I finally found the place, and I gave the woman my name, and two minutes later there were bees in my car. BEES in my CAR.

Okay, so the bees were in a box sealed with screws, and the box was in a bee-proof bag, and the spanish dude who put it in my car did it with his bare hands. But still. The box was buzzing.

I got home, opened the trunk of the car, and listened to the buzzing. It sounded like A LOT of bees.

I put on my hazmat-looking suit, lit my smoker, and cut open the bag. Dan showed me how to use the drill to unscrew the lid. Some bees were already flying out, so Dan quickly hopped away and stood watching from the vantage point of the porch. I used the drill and took the lid off the box.

Dear Lord there were so many flipping bees in there.

It took me at least three minutes just to get the first frame out of the nuc. I've read a lot about bees this past year, but the people who raise bees and write about bees are pretty used to bees. They do not find it particularly terrifying to stick a crowbar in a box of bees and pry out a big sheet of bees covered in bees. I, on the other hand, find this runs against my instinct of self-preservation. Even in my giant suit and canvas gloves I did not want to put my hands on bees. But it was go forward or wait for the bees to get more mad, so I prayed hard and extracted the first frame. I took it up the ladder and into the hive, and then the other four frames came easier. Meanwhile my smoker went out, and I forgot my bee brush and Dan had to throw it to me from inside the house. Then I tried to shake the extra bees out of the box into the hive and they just flew everywhere. There I was with bees crawling all over me, the air thick with bees, and I had the same thought I had once when I was getting ready to jump out of an airplane. Am I insane? Is this a really bad idea?

Dan yelled from the porch, "Do you see the queen?"

I see the last few months of my life flashing before my eyes, but NO I do not see the queen. I hope she's in there because I'm closing the lid.

The ideal outcome of this project would be the bees stay up high, don't bother the kids, and give us honey. There are many less ideal outcomes I can imagine, but I'm trying not to focus on them right now. Right now I'm going to leave them alone and give them time to move into their new home. In a few days I'll check again to see how they're doing. Maybe the adrenaline will wear off by then.