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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

What To Do With All That Wax?

So we harvested honey, fed the bees, and got them all tucked away for the winter. Now they should be all taken care of until spring- not much left for us to do except wait. That doesn't mean that we have been sitting idle though. All through the summer we were collecting burr comb from the hives and then then we collected the wax cappings from the honey frames when we harvested honey. We had read that you can use beeswax for all kinds of products from lip balm to furniture polish- but it has to be cleaned up first.

Beeswax, when it comes out of the hive, not not very clean. In fact, burr comb especially, can be quite dirty. It is full of honey, bee parts from any unlucky bees that happened to be in the way when the wax was scraped out, pollen, and sometimes even bee eggs if the queen happened to be close to the burr comb before it was scraped out. Our first attempt to "clean" the wax early last summer was unsuccessful. We threw the wax into a pot of water and heated it until the wax melted and then poured the whole thing through some cheese cloth. We figured that the cheese cloth would filter out any impurities while the wax and water would pass through and cool with the wax solidifying on top of the water. This did filter out most impurities except for the eggs- they were too small and we ended up with wax with a bunch of eggs all through it.

Fortunately, I was surfing the internet one day and came across another beekeeper's blog with a video about how to build a simple solar wax melter that would filter out any impurities. If you want to watch it yourself you can find it here. Basically, it is just a styrofoam cooler with a piece of glass across the top. Inside the cooler you place a plastic container with a little bit of water in the bottom and a paper towel rubber banded across the top. On top of the paper towel you place the wax you want to melt and put the whole thing out in the sun on a hot summer day. The sun melts the wax, the paper towel filters it, and then the clean wax solidifies on top of the water. We built one of our own, but instead of a styrofoam cooler we found an old metal box that had been painted black. We tried it a few different times but the weather wouldn't cooperate with us. This was a cooler and cloudier summer than usual so we were only successful a couple of times. We did manage to finish melting the wax but with a modified solar wax melter in that it was not solar- just a wax melter. We used the same set up but we used a metal bowl instead of a plastic container and put the whole thing inside the crock pot set on "keep warm". It worked just as well but wasn't as fun as using the sun to do the work. We ended up getting about a pound and a half of bright yellow wax.

After the process of melting and filtering the paper towel is saturated with beeswax and all the impurities. This sludge that is left is known as "slum gum". Beeswax is quite flammable so the leftover slum gum has made for excellent fire starter in our wood burning stove this winter.

Alright- now that we have all that wax, what do we do with it? We have already used some of it it to make hand moisturizer. I think I would actually call it a salve- definitely not a cream or lotion. It definitely has hydrophobic properties as it is just a mixture of bees wax and other oils. But- in this dry winter air, it will keep your hands as soft as a baby's bottom. Will we branch out and make other products? Maybe we will wait until next year to attempt lip balm or any other more adventurous recipes.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Bees and Potatoes

Well, it is definitely fall. We had a few weeks of winter back in October. Lows were getting down to the single digits and stayed below freezing for several days in a row. I had fed the bees some sugar syrup prior to the cold weather but was not sure that they had been given enough to build enough stores for the winter. After that time it warmed up for a while so I fed some more and then it got cold again so I stopped feeding. I was thinking that they had been given enough so I didn't continue feeding during this last warm spell.

Now, lets go back in time to remember that Virginia started the summer like gang busters. Later in the summer, however, she started to struggle and we actually harvested more honey from Georgia than Virginia. I actually think that Virginia had decreased in population and hadn't taken much in the way of sugar syrup to build up her winter stores. I had about given up on her and figured I would just need to order new bees for next spring.

It now looks like Virginia realized that she needed a larger population to survive the winter because lately we have seen lots of orientation flights in front of the hive. The queen is either still laying or has been laying recently even though there has been no orientation flight activity in front of Georgia for some time now. I have decided to put the feeder back on Virginia to give them the opportunity to build the stores and survive the winter if they will.

Last week I happened to notice a lot of activity and discovered that the bees were conducting orientation flights while I was working in the garden. The soil on one side of the garden is less fertile than the soil on the other side. I was moving some of the dirt around so the plants on the east side will grow and produce better than they have. As I was doing this, I got to thinking that this was kind of like redistribution of wealth- taking some good soil from some of the potato plants and giving it to others. I thought,"Is this really fair? To take from some potato plants and give to others? How will the potatoes on the west side feel about that?" But then I thought, "Well, I am the gardener and I just want all the potato plants to grow and produce well." Is this any different than what some in the federal government want to happen in our nation today? Don't they just want us all to succeed?

What is comes down to is this: I am the gardener in my potato patch. I know what I want my potato plants to look like when I am finished with them. I can cultivate them the way I want to because they are mine. When the government confiscates property (whether that be land, money, wages, or anything else that rightfully belongs to an individual) in order to transfer it to another individual, they are saying, in effect, that the property rights of some are more sacred than the property rights of others. In doing this, the government can cultivate and mold us into the individuals they want us to be and we become nothing more than a bunch of potato plants. Now, I can do this with my potato plants because they belong to me, but we do not belong to the government. The government belongs to us. Let us all stand up and declare "I will not be a potato!"

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Honey Harvest

The honey has been harvested! This truly was an exciting experience for us. We were trying to not let our hopes get up, but our bees outdid themselves. "Beekeeping For Dummies" said not to expect a honey harvest the first year because you start with such a small population of bees and no preexisting comb- the bees are starting with absolutely nothing. When you think of all that our bees have accomplished in just a few months it is remarkable.


The harvest actually took place a while ago and I have just been to busy to get this blog updated since then. About the middle of September I finally got around to pulling the supers from on top of the deep hive bodies. The question is "How do you get the supers off without getting all the bees inside of them?" We decided to go with a product called Bee Quick applied to a fume board. The principle is that you spray the Bee Quick, an almond oil containing solution, onto the felt covered surface of a fume board. The bees apparently can't stand the smell of almond oil so when you remove the top cover from the hive, place the fume board on the top super with the felt/Bee Quick side down, the bees move down into the next super. In my inexperience I figured that I didn't need to buy a fume board- I could just glue felt to one side of a piece of plywood and use that for a fume board. I soon learned that this didn't work very well. You see, fume boards are made of metal and need to heat up in the sun before applying the bee quick so the bee quick can actually vaporize in the hive and push the bees down. My homemade fume board only pushed about half of the bees out of the supers.


Here are is the ineffective fumeboard on top of one of the hives.










Here are the four supers laid out on the basketball court waiting to be taken inside. They can't be seen in this photo but there were still a lot of bees on the frames. As evening approached and temperatures started to cool a little bit I pulled out each frame one at a time, carried it over to the hives, and shook the bees off in front of the hives. I then had to rush it in the house before any bees landed back on it. With ten frames in each super, this was a long process. We ended up with several bees inside the house as well. I am thinking of getting a bee escape to use next year. A bee escape is a board you put in between the boxes. They are easy for the bees to move down but difficult for the bees to find the entrance to move back up. It takes longer to clear a super of bees but I hear that they are pretty effective.

Once the supers were down in the basement tucked away in the store room, I put the top feeders loaded up with sugar syrup back on the hives so the bees could store up enough food to get them through the winter. I added a little fumigillin to the sugar syrup to prophylactically treat for bacterial infections that can sometimes afflict bees.

We ordered a three frame tangential extractor from Mann Lake which arrived about a week after the supers were removed from the hives. Extractors remove honey from the frames by spinning the frames inside the barrel shaped body of the extractor. Tangential extractors have the plane of the frames running tangentially to the extractor (makes sense) and must be turned around after the first side is extracted. Radial extractors have the plane of the frames running radially like spokes in the extractor and will extract both sides of the frames at the same time. Our tangential model was a little cheaper than the radial models.

We decided at the last minute to extract on a Saturday evening and at about 7:00 set up the extractor in the kitchen. The following pictures give an idea of how things went.
Here I am uncapping a frame of honey. As the honey in the hives is "ripened" the bees cover it up with a layer of wax caps. Those caps have to be removed before the honey can be extracted. You can buy heated or unheated uncapping knives for this job. Unheated knives still have to be heated in warm water or it tends to tear up the comb. We tried using a bread knife heated in warm water- but that didn't work so well so we borrowed an uncapping knife from a friend. The process went much more smoothly after that.





As you remove the caps from the frames you remove a significant amount of honey with them. We attached a queen excluder to the top of a plastic bin to allow the honey to drain off the caps.







Here is the whole set up. The uncapped frames go in the extractor and I crank on the yellow handle on top of the lid. The honey spins out of the comb, runs down the sides of the extractor, and out the honey gate at the bottom.













The honey runs out the honey gate and through a couple of filters to remove the bits of wax and bee parts. It is collected in a bucket with another honey gate at the bottom. The filters have to be cleaned periodically during this process or they clog up and everything slows way down. After about 6 hours of uncapping, extracting, and filtering we ended up with 75 pounds or about 7 gallons of honey.





The final product! The bottling process went pretty quickly. Just hold a jar under the honey gate and fill'er up! We bottled in quart, pint, and 1/2 pint jars. The word got around at the hospital where I work and we sold out in about a week- except for a couple of pints we kept for ourselves and a few gifts for neighbors and family members. Can't wait for next year when the bees have some preexisting comb to work on and are starting with a larger population.
Stay tuned- the year is not over and there is more to learn and do!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Story Of A Beehive That Struggled For A While But Is Doing Better Now

I’m back! It has been a while, I know, and I will admit that initially it was just laziness on my part. But then the computer went down and it took a couple of weeks to get it up and going again. Now it has been so long and so much has happened that I am not sure how to tackle everything in one post. I guess I will add it all in “chapters”.

Back in July and August I mentioned that the Virginia hive was doing a poor job of drawing comb in its super with the queen excluder. I removed the queen excluder and the bees moved right up, started drawing comb, and storing nectar. I didn’t think the queen would move up to the super because she had a ceiling of honey on the tops of the frames in the top deep hive body. In other words she was “honey bound”. At the next inspection though, I found eggs in the center frames of the super. We don’t want eggs in the super because that is supposed to be the honey that we get to steal. I promptly put the queen excluder back in place to keep the queen out of my honey. During a later inspection I found that all of those eggs had developed into larvae and then capped brood. It was just a matter of waiting for them to emerge from the cells and clean them out so the cells could be filled with nectar which would be “ripened” into honey.

While Virginia suffered complications, Georgia’s hive seemed to be really taking off. She has been outpacing Virginia since the middle of July. Virginia was definitely the stronger of the two hives in the beginning and she filled up her deep hive bodies about a week before Georgia did. Starting in July, though, Virginia began to struggle. I mentioned in an earlier post that I destroyed what may have been a supercedure cell in Virginia’s hive. Since that time I have left the bees to do what they wanted. I did see what could have been supercedure cells in Virginia but did not look too closely as I did not want to damage them. They might also have been empty queen cups. In any case, Virginia seemed to lack the activity outside the hive that Georgia was having- that is until a few days ago. I went out to work a little in the garden and found hundreds of bees in front of Virginia taking orientation flights. I had not seen this for a while and I was getting a little nervous. I have theorized that Virginia’s bees did supercede the queen and it took a while for the new queen to emerge, mate with the drones, start laying eggs, and then for those new bees to emerge and start working in the hive. Now we just need to let her build up her numbers and I think she will be good to make it through the winter.

That's probably good for now. I will catch you up with the rest later.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Foragers


This is an alfalfa field south of town. You can see the Pryor Mountains in the background. I am pretty sure that these fields provide the main nectar source for the area.

On the left you can see big blue boxes that house cutter bees- the main pollinators for alfalfa. Honeybees get nectar from alfalfa but do not pollinate it.





Here is a close up view of some alfalfa blossoms from the field. The fields are jammed full of these little things.








Here we have a bee working the blossoms on the broccoli in our garden. Last years broccoli gave us nice big tight heads of broccoli. We must have grabbed a different variety this year because the heads were loose and sparse so we decided to just let it go to seed and see what the bees could do with it. They love it!













We have quite a lot of clover in our lawn. The bees had been ignoring it for the first part of the summer. They are paying more attention to it now.



















Pretty good profile of the bee here sucking the nectar out of the clover.












The wings really reflect the sunlight. When the sun is shining during mid-morning the bees reflect the sunlight as they take of and come in to the hives. It looks like little points of light zipping through the air.











Straight head-on view here. Too bad it doesn't have it's proboscis out to stick down into the clover.


















Honeybee in a red hollyhock. I thought that bees would only use hollyhocks for pollen- they have so much of it. But as you can see this bee is going past the pollen and I assume is sucking nectar from the center of the flower.

The bees were ignoring our hollyhocks as well until a couple of weeks ago.









Finally, a honeybee in a pink hollyhock. This one is dusted in pollen.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Confessions Of A Confused Beekeeper

Well, I have a lot of catching up to do- it has been a while.

As you might recall, back on the post dated Juy 12th I had reported that the bees were doing a poor job of drawing comb in the medium super I had placed on top of Virginia's hive a couple of weeks earlier. During that same inspection I found that Georgia had filled in her deep hive bodies with comb and so placed a super on top of her as well. Well, a week later I inspected the hives again only to find that there were very few bees in the supers and they were still making very little progress up there. Besides that, as I was inspecting Virginia I discovered what appeared to be a supercedure cell. I freaked out a little and destroyed the supercedure cell- I am not sure why I did that, but I did. I guess I felt like if there was a supercedure cell then there was something wrong. No supercedure cell, nothing wrong- so I wiped it out. I asked about the situation with other beekeepers on beesource.com and got scolded just a little for destroying a new queen cell that the bees probably needed. Always trust the bees! They know best!

There were still eggs in Virginia when I destroyed the supercedure cell, so I thought I would give it a few days and reinspect. I figured that if they really did need a new queen they might still have time to make a new supercedure cell from one of the remaining eggs. If there was not time I thought I would steal a frame full of eggs from Georgia and give it to Virginia so there would be plenty of eggs for a new queen cell. Once I got into Virginia for this second time I spotted the queen and lots of eggs but no supercedure cell. Since the queen was still there and there were eggs with which the bees could supercede if they needed to, I left everything the way it was. Yes- I decided to trust the bees. If there are any more experienced beekeepers reading this and are shaking their heads wondering what this newbie thinks he is doing- Please comment and tell me what is really going on and what I should be doing. Thanks!

While I was down in the brood nest the bees got pretty ticked off. I was glad to be wearing my veil and gloves. I couldn't believe how many bees were in the bottom box- they just kept boiling out. Anyway, my seven year old was out playing in the yard (this had never been a problem before), and the bees decided to go after him. He ended up with 3 stings before he made it in the house. I was talking to another beekeeper in town about it and asked why they were so mad this time. He said that if you mess around in the brood nest in the middle of summer they will always get ticked off. I will leave the brood nest alone for the rest of the summer.

Now back to the problem of the bees not making progress drawing comb up in the supers- Some of the other beeks on Beesource don't use queen excluders. They say that bees don't like to cross the excluder and it puts a damper on honey production up in the supers. I decided to pull the queen excluder off Virginia and leave it on Georgia. About 5 days later I went back and just looked through the supers. I found that the super on each hive was full of bees and that both hives were making significant progress- there was some comb on nearly every frame and the center frames had quite a bit. There was even some nectar being stored. From this I have concluded that, at least in our two hives, a queen excluder may not be necessary as the bees in Virginia were storing nectar and there were not eggs, but that the presence of a queen excluder does not hinder anything since both hives seem to be making equal progress. Maybe there was just a lull in the nectar flow which picked back up last week?

I was not expecting the bees to have made this much progress in this their first year so I do not have extra supers and frames on hand. I can see that I will need to provide more space for the bees. I have ordered two more supers and ten frames for each from Mann Lake Ltd. They should be arriving sometime next week. I think I still have time before they run out of space.

The alfalfa fields are still in bloom. I am surprised that the alfalfa to be used for seed is still blooming- this has gone on for quite a while. The other alfalfa fields used for hay have been cut once, are in bloom for the second time, and are just about ready for their second cutting. I had never noticed how pretty alfalfa blossoms are and how many there are. All summer the bees had pretty much ignored the nectar and pollen in our yard but are now all over the hollyhocks, clover growing in the grass, and the broccoli plants we let go to seed. Most of the bees do still take off for parts unknown but I have been able to catch a few photos of the bees on blossoms in our own yard. I will post those photos in the next post either tonight or tomorrow- the next post chronologically but the first post as it appears on this page.

Friday, July 17, 2009

New Sting

I got stung again. The first time I got stung I just wanted to peek under the top hive feeder and look in the hive for a second. The feeder had been glued in place with propolis and by the time I got it off it came up with a loud "CRACK" that set the bees off. One of them stung me on my forhead. I barely felt it and by the next morning it had swelled up in a knot and itched for a few days.


This time I just wanted to peek in the supers to see how much comb the bees had drawn. Chris has told me never to open the hives without my gear on. Why did I do it? I think I can relate to Pippin in The Lord Of The Rings when he couldn't help himself and had to look at the palantir just one more time. Anyway, I lifted off the outer and inner covers and 2 bees shot out of the hive and nailed my on the side of the wrist and the back of the hand next to my watch. They were more painful than the first sting but not horrible and they did stop hurting within 30 seconds. That night they looked like mosquito bites and nothing more. The next day my hand began to swell. Eventually my knuckles disappeared and the swelling extended up my fingers. Below is a picture of what my hand looked like this morning.

By the time this picture was taken a lot of the swelling had gone down, but you can still see some puffiness in the middle knuckles in my middle, ring, and pinky fingers.

Now, I have taken the outer and inner covers off, peeked in the supers, and replaced the covers several times without incident. I think that as the summer heats up and they bees have more honey to defend they are becoming a little more protective of their hives. I think I will leave them alone now and only look in when I am doing inspections with the smoker and all the gear in place.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Adding Supers

I dug into the hives a few days ago. We have had a super on top of Virginia's hive for a couple of weeks now, and I fully expected to see the bees building comb and filling it up with nectar. There has been a nectar flow going on for quite a while since the alfalfa has been blooming. Maybe it hasn't been as strong a flow as I thought because when I looked into the super there wasn't much comb.



Here in this photo you can see the small amount of comb the bees had built on this frame. There were four frames with about this same amount of comb. I was hoping for more.







Once I got through the super I started into the upper deep hive body. I could immediately see that the bees had filled out all the deep frames. The first frame was really cemented in place with wax and propolis. That combined with the fact that it was full of nectar and capped honey, which makes the frame surprisingly heavy, made it difficult to remove from the hive. You are supposed to carefully pull the frames straight up so you don't damage the comb. Well, as I wrenched the frame loose from the wax and propolis, the frame twisted sideways as I pulled it up. Besides this, there was a piece of burr comb on the side of the hive facing the frame. As I pulled the frame out at a crooked angle the burr comb scratched along the honey comb on the frame and pretty well mangled a big chunk of comb. I pulled it on out as it was dripping with honey- I bet a couple cups of honey dripped out. I captured some of the drippings- just enough for everybody in the family plus one neighbor kid to have a taste. Mmmm- Delicious!






Here is a shot of one of the deep frames with mostly capped honey and some open cells full of nectar toward the bottom.











Another frame with capped honey on the top half and some capped brood in the bottom half. When we first started I worried that I wouldn't be able to tell the difference between capped honey and capped brood. The difference is obvious, isn't it?






Once I discovered that there was plenty of capped brood and new eggs in Virginia I figured that the queen was doing well. I don't know what else I could accommplish by going throught he rest of the hive except disrupt the hive operations so I put things back together and didn't bother inspecting the bottom box.
Georgia's hive still had it's top hive feeder and the bees had been taking large amounts of sugar syrup. I removed the feeder and looked down into the the deep hive body and saw that the bees had finished drawing comb on all of the deep frames. As I started the inspection I found that the bees had not filled all of the comb with nectar/sugar syrup, but they were making progress.
As I came across frames with capped brood I saw something I had not seen before. As the bee larvae grows it is capped with wax and the larvae transform through the pupae stage and turn into adult bees. When they are fully developed the worker bees chew away the wax caps and climb out. The drones need help chewing through the wax caps and climbing out of the cells from worker bees. Anyway, I looked closely at one of Georgia's frames of capped brood and discovered two cells where the worker bees inside were in the process of chewing their way out of their cells. I could see little sets of antennae and eyes poking through. I tried to take pictures but, like I have said before, we need a new camera. They turned out way to blurry to post.
After I was done inspecting Georgia I added a queen excluder, a super, the inner cover, and replaced the outer cover.

Here is a photo of the two hives sid by side. They both now consist of, starting at the bottom: screened bottom board, two deep hive bodies, queen exluder which cannot be seen, 1 medium honey super, inner cover which cannot be seen, outer cover, and a brick to keep the outer cover from blowing off.
This is not how the color scheme was supposed to work out. Virginia was supposed to be yellow and Georgia was supposed to be blue but, if you read the very first post of this blog you know that the second hive didn't arrive until a couple of hours after the bees did. We were forced to use Virginia's second deep as Georgia's first and we didn't get a chance to paint Georgia's bottom board before we had to install the packages. Now the colors are all mixed up. Oh well, it gives them character, right?
Hopefully the nectar will continue to flow and they will start drawing comb in the supers. Progress seems kind of slow but if you consider that they started with just three pounds of bees and no comb, they have really done a lot in just 2 months and 3 weeks.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Hummin' Hives

Ok- I know I just gave an update yesterday, but I have to mention what happened this morning. I sometimes like to listen to the hives- that has always meant pressing my ear against the side of the hive and litening to the hum inside. Is that weird? Maybe. But I enjoy it anyway. Anyway, back to the story- I went outside at 6:00 this morning ready to leave for work and decided to go look at the hives really quick. When I got within 5 feet I thought I could hear a low hum. I said to myself "That can't be the bees." I took a couple more steps and listened again and confirmed that it was in fact the bees humming that loudly! I have read about this on beesource.com before and I am excited to hear it myself. It is the sign of a really good nectar flow with the bees in the hive fanning the honey comb with their wings in order to evaporate the moisture out of the honey. Our bees are so cool!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Sweet Honey

Well, there hasn’t been a whole lot of new news with the bees lately. We did inspect the bees last week but there was virtually no progression in either hive, which left very little to blog about. We did peek in the hives yesterday, though and there is a little more to discuss.

To start with, we have been mildly concerned about the Virginia hive. A couple of weeks ago, since she had dawn comb on 8 of the 10 frames, we added a super and removed the top hive feeder. During last week’s inspection we found that there were some eggs and larvae, but the brood pattern was kind of spotty and there was not any new comb that was not there the previous week. In retrospect we can see that we were just a little too excited with Virginia and jumped the gun a little. We should have waited one more week before adding the second deep hive body and should have continued to feed them 1 more week before adding the super. I read somewhere (and any of you who might know better can feel free to correct me if I am wrong) that it takes a pound of honey to make 1 ounce of wax. I think that when the super was added there was no nectar flow going on. With no nectar flow the bees can’t make honey. If the bees are not making honey they can’t build much comb either.

During this past week the bees from both hives have been very active. All day long the bees have been taking off for and returning from parts unknown. The way the hives are situated in the back yard they either have to fly up and over hedge about 10 feet tall across the yard to the east, up and over a hedge about 8 feet tall to the north, or up and over the house to the south west. Consequently they all fly up immediately after leaving the hive. Anyway, when the sun is shining, the bee’s bodies reflect the sunlight. It is a beautiful sight to look toward the hives and see all these little points of light constantly shooting up and coming down.

As we have watched the bees coming in this past week we have noticed that they have been bringing in very little pollen. We assumed that this meant that there must be a good nectar flow going on and they were bringing in nectar instead. This was confirmed when, during yesterdays hive inspection, we discovered that Virginia had very nearly finished drawing out comb in the deep hive bodies and filled them with capped honey. Capped honey, by the way, is the finished honey ready to be eaten. Bees fill the honey comb cells with regurgitated nectar which has been treated with various enzymes used to break down the sugars in the nectar. They then fan the honeycomb to evaporate the water until they have nice ripe honey. They cover the honey with wax caps so they can store it until it is needed. As of yesterday they had just started to draw comb up in the super. I am thinking that if we had just been a little more patient and added boxes and stopped feeding at the right times we might be a week ahead of where we are now.

The nectar flow we are now experiencing must be from the alfalfa fields outside of town. They have all been full of little purplish blue blossoms. It is now time for the first cutting of hay so those fields will be out of commission until just before the second cutting. There are several fields being used for seed rather than hay. I do not know if alfalfa will continue to blossom as long as it is not cut or if the blossoms will dry up as it goes to seed. Does anyone out there know? Please leave a comment and tell me if you do.

Anyway, I did scrape a little burr comb with some capped honey from the top of the frames in Virginia’s top deep hive body. There wasn’t a lot of honey there- just enough to smear on a couple of fingers for Chris and myself. It was a very light mild honey- and quite tasty. Woohoo! Our first taste of Robertson honey!

Georgia, as usual, is lagging just a little behind Virginia. She has drawn comb on 7 of the 10 frames in her upper deep. When I saw this I got excited and just about removed the feeder and added a super. I took a deep breath, remembered Virginia, and decided to feed one more week before adding the super. I am confident that next week there will be a super sitting on top of both hives, and, as long as the alfalfa keeps up, both will be filling up with honey.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Photos From June 12, 2009

The bees started spilling over the side of the hive as we were doing the inspection. When we were ready to put it back together it took just a few puffs of smoke to get them all back inside.












A queen cell hanging off the end of some burr comb on the corner of this frame. The camera (we used a cell phone camera because our other one was missing its batteries) decided to focus more on the hive in the background than on the subject of the photo.








This photo shows a bunch of bees clinging to each other hanging off the bottom of the frame.














Another queen cell pointing downward off the bottom of the frame.


Swarm Cells and Alfalfa Honey

We're back after almost two weeks off. The weather turned south and for about a week and a half it rained almost constantly and rarely got above 60 degrees which kept the bees inside the hives and us out. The weather finally broke and the days warmed back up into the 70's so we finally got back in to inspect the hives last Friday.

During the cold rainy weather the bees couldn't really get out and forage a whole lot. As they were kept inside the hive they really went through a lot of sugar syrup. Since it had been two weeks since the last inspection we weren't sure how much the hives would have progressed (we are never sure of anything) but were hoping that things were moving right a long. We brought out 2 medium supers just in case we needed to add them to the hives.

As soon as we opened Virginia's top cover and removed her feeder we could see that it would be time for a super. Nearly all the frames in the top deep hive body were full of comb. The bees had just started building comb in the second side of the 8th frame. As we moved through the hive we became concerned and more than a little confused. We were finding lots of capped brood, eggs, and larvae all through the upper hive body, which is good, but we also came across four queen cells hanging down off the bottom of a couple of frames. Remember from an earlier post that queen cells hanging off the bottoms of the frames are swarm cells and mean that the bees are running out of room and are getting ready to split the hive in half leaving us with only half of the bees to produce honey. We destroyed those swarm cells and moved on to the lower deep hive body. This is where we really got confused. We found some capped brood and lots of empty cells. The queen had obviously not been down there for a while, but did have lots of room to lay eggs if she just would. So why were the bees creating swarm cells? And how do we prevent them from doing it agin?

Well, we put Virginia back together the way she was and added a medium super. Between the top deep hive body and the super we inserted a queen excluder. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the ins and outs of beekeeping, a queen excluder is a screen-like device with holes large enough for the wokers to pass through but too small for the queen to pass. This excludes the queen from the super ensuring that only honey is stored in the super and that the queen doesn't lay eggs up there. Who would like to be squeezing honey onto their toast in the morning and have a bee pupae pop out onto their breakfast? Ok- that wouldn't really happen. The honey is all filtered after it is extracted and before it is bottled. It is exciting to have added the super- now the bees will fill out the frames with comb and start storing honey! We have been told not to expect honey for ourselves this first year- but we can hope.

We spoke with a more experienced back yard beekeeper today about Virginia's swarm cell situation. He said not to worry too much. Destroying the swarm cells and adding the super were the correct things to do. He also suggested that we reverse the positions of the deep hive bodies. The queen likes to move up but rarely moves down. By switching the deeps we can let her move up into the hive body with more room for egg laying. This combined with the addition of the super should be plenty to prevent any swarming. We will see if we can make that switch tomorrow.

Also- we have removed the hive feeder now that we have added a super. If the bees fill up the super with sugar syrup instead of nectar we will end up with thick sugar syrup insead of honey.

Georgia seems to be cruising along just a little behind Virginia. She was not ready for the addition of a super yet. It seems like about six of the frames in Georgia's upper deep hive body were filled with comb. I am guessing that we will add a super to Georgia in the next week or two.

While we endured all those days of cold and rain I got to worrying that there wasn't going to be enough nectar sources close enough for our bees to forage effectively. I read an article about how far bees will go to forage and decieded that 3 miles would be their effective foraging limit. That article was quite interesting- you can read it here . Anyway, I got on GoogleEarth and plotted a 3 mile radius from a center point at our house. If you are familiar with geography around Lovell, WY you will be able to visualize the following: Three miles from our house goes south into the hills beyond the cemetary, west just beyond Midway Motors, north into the hills beyond the river, and east almost to the junction heading to the National Recreation Area. This is a much larger area than I though it would be.

Back in March I was talking to a member of the family that owns Queen Bee Gardens. He says that most of their honey comes from alfalfa. Well, there is plenty of alfalfa within 3 miles of the hives so I think they will be fine. I found the following interesting as well. I had always thought that honey bees couldn't work alfalfa because when a bee tries to get in the flower it triggers a release mechanism in the flower and part of the flower pops open hitting a honey bee in the head. That is why smaller cutter bees are always used to polinate alfalfa fields. It turns out that honey bees figure out how to stick thier proboscis in the side of the blossom to get the nectar but are not then able to collect pollen from those plants. Honey bees are just so cool!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Ten Apples (And a Sting) Up On Top

I guess I will start with apples. A couple of weeks ago, while the fruit trees were in bloom, the small apple tree in the backyard was covered in bees. The hum of the bees in the tree could even be heard inside the house! Thanks to those bees the tree is now loaded with marble sized apples. I think we can look forward to a bumber apple crop this year. The pear tree, on the other hand, does not seem to be producing quite like the apple tree is. It never had the huge swarm of bees that the apple tree had but it did still have its fair share. Now we can only find a few developing pears in the whole tree. I guess there is nothing left to say about the pears except "Hmmm...."

I did something stupid this week. I was anxious to see how much progress the Virginia hive had made. It was a couple of days before I would be able to do the inspection and I wanted to see if, after the population explosion, Virginia's bees had started building comb on the outer most frames. So, after work when the evening was cooling down, I decided to just lift the edge of the top hive feeder and peek in. I had done this before without any problems, but that was when the population was a lot smaller. Anyway, I went to lift the edge but the bees had stuck the feeder to the hive with propolis (that's bee glue made from tree sap). The propolis broke free with a loud CRACK and the feeder popped up completely clear of the hive. The bees did not like that at all. I don't know how many bees came out of the hive but they all headed straight for me. I quickly replaced the feeder back on the hive as the bees were divebombing my head. As they chased me across the yard I felt the tiniest pin prick on my forehead. I thought to myself "That could not have been a sting, it didn't hurt." It gave me no problems that night so I thought I really had escaped unscathed. The next day it swelled up into a hard red knot and itched for the next four days. If that is all bee stings are made of- I say BRING THEM ON!

The last inspection occurred on May 29th. The hives are making progress filling in the empty frames with comb, but it is slow. In Virginia, we expected to see that she had finished drawing comb on the las three frames of the lower deep hive body and that the bees had moved up to the upper deep. Well the bees did move up but they had not touched the last 3 frames in the bottom compartment. The bees have always been clustered in the hive just to the right of center and had filled up the frames on the right side faster than the left. We were not sure what to do to get the bees to fill in the last three in the bottom or if we should just let them do their thing and they would fill them in eventually. We got some good advice from another beekeeper on beesource.com and will replace the three empty frames in the bottom deep with three frames filled with comb but no brood from the upper deep. We will then take the empty frames from the lower and move them to the outside edge of the upper. Beesource.com, by the way, is an excellent resource for beekeepers. It is visited everyday by hundreds of beekeepers from all over with all kinds of experience. They are always happy and willing to share their expertise and answer any question anybody has, even obvious questions from newbies like us. We recommend it to beekeepers who want to share, new beekeepers who want to learn, or anyone just thinking of starting a couple of hives of their own.

Georgia's bees had set up in the same position as Virginia- just to the right of center. They finally did fill out seven of their ten frames so we added a second deep hive body. Now we will see if they follow Virginia's example and move up without finishing the last 3 frames. In the last post we mentioned a curious cell in Georgia's hive. It looked too big to be a drone cell but not quite right to be a queen cell. Well, it wasn't there this week. Either it was our imagination or it was a drone cell that finally became a drone bee. I dont't think it was a queen cell because the hive didn't swarm and if it had been a supercedure cell I think there would have been more of them. Now we wait for the bees to fill in the deep hive bodies so we can start adding supers to the top. Have I explained what a super is? I'll do it now just in case I haven't. A super is smaller than a deep hive body and is placed on top of the deeps. The queen stays in the deep hives bodies laying eggs and raising brood. The worker bees fill the deeps up with honey and pollen for the hive to use. Any extra honey they produce they put up in the supers. That will be our honey!

Bees always amaze me and I could watch them for hours. Yesterday morning I got up early to weed and thin the lettuce in the garden. The hives are located just a few feet from the garden so I had a good view of them the whole time. Before the sun rose high enough in the air to shine directly on the hives there were just a few odd bees flying outside. As the sun peeked up over the hedge and direct sunlight hit the hives there was a sudden burst of activity and the bees poured out of the hives. It is like they were inside the entrance just waiting for the sunlight to hit. Beautiful!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Population Explosion

Population explosion! That's what we were hoping for this past week. Since it takes 21 days from egg laying for an adult bee to emerge, we were just a few days short of seeing new bees during our last inspection, which occurred at about 22 days after the colonies were installed in their hives. (We figure it took a few days for the bees to draw enough comb for the queens to start laying.) With all that capped brood we had been seeing for a couple of weeks we were excited for all those new bees to start making their way out into the world.


One day last week- round about the 19th of May- we suddenly saw what looked like hundreds of bees outside the hives. It looked like they were all facing the hives flying left and right and up and down. This would be their orientation flight. The first time a bee leaves the hive they have to orient themselves to the hive so they can find it again. Somehow this orientation flight in front of the hive sets the little GPS in their brains so they can fly straight back to the hive even after they have been foraging 2 to 3 miles away. I tell you bees are amazing creatures! All those bees doing orientation flights could not have been the result of new bees emerging from their cells. They must have been bees from eggs that were laid shortly before the packages were sent to us. Bees do not leave the hive until about day 18 if their adult life. Worker bees go through several stages in which they have different responsibilities. You can read more about that here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Worker_bee#Progression_of_tasks if you would like. But, bees have been emerging from their cells and entering the world. It's a good thing too. The hive populations were getting pretty low but they should be growing on a daily basis, now.

As we got in to the inspection we found the old comb, where the capped brood used to be, had been vacated and new eggs were sitting in its place. There still was, of course, more capped brood and larvae in other parts of the comb. The comb that was once white now ranges from yellow to yellowish brown. We are assuming that the color change is from the pollen that the bees are bringing in. We are not sure, however, if they are still producing white comb that gets coated with pollen or if they are actually producing a different color comb from the pollen and nectar they are eating.


Other than more bees, neither Virginia nor Georgia had changed much from the previous week. With such low populations of bees there were just not enough bees to build comb on more frames. So Virginia still has most of the bottom deep filled with comb and a couple of frames in the upper deep and Georgia still has about 5 frames filled with comb in her single deep hive body. We will see where we go from here as more bees are "born".


One item worth noting in Georgia's hive was a peculiar looking cell. It looked a little too large to be a drone cell but not sure that it looked quite like a queen cell. Queen cells are cells in which queen bees develop. They are larger than drone cells and droop down- almost like a peanut. Like this:

We did not take this picture- we borrowed it from drone.cyberbee.net

Worker bees can "make" a queen from any egg (except a drone egg) they choose. They just have to feed the larvae Royal Jelly, a substance nurse bees produce, and viola! A queen is born!

There are two reasons workers would make a new queen. If the bees are out of room and the hive is too crowded, the workers will produce a new queen and the old queen will take half of the colony and "swarm". They will take off and find a new place to live. This would cut our colony and honey production in half. Not a good situation. These swarm cells typically show up on the bottom third of the frames. The other reason they might want a queen would be to replace the current queen. If the current queen is not getting the job done and laying the proper number or types of eggs, the workers might want to "supercede" her. These supercedure cells typically show up on the upper two thirds of the frames.

Now this cell that we saw in Georgia's hive was on the bottom of the frame- I think. This would make it a swarm cell. But Georgia has plenty of room with only 5 frames drawn out in comb. We have wondered about Georgia's queen as she is lagging behind Virginia and thought that the workers might want to supercede her. In any case, if it even was a queen cell, we figured it would still be there next week and we could take a better look and decide what to do about it at that time. But let's be optimistic and, for now, say that it is just a drone cell and all is well.

Last of all- we have found our new smoker fuel! We switched form natural fiber twine to cedar chips from a bag of pet litter we got at the grocery store. We got a few coals going in the bottom and packed in the cedar chips. It smoked well the entire time! When the chips got a little low it was easy to put in another handful. Besides that, the smoke just smelled so good!

We will inspect again later this week and update some more then. Bye.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Photos Of Comb On Frames

So we thought that we would show some progression from an empty frame to a frame fully drawn with comb. If you click on the photos you can see a close up view. Sorry that some are a little blurry- we need a better camera.

Here is an empty frame from the side of the deep hive body. The bees start with the center frames and word their way out.


Here the bees have just started to draw comb on the frame. There is a chunk of burr comb on the edge that was eventually scraped off.

The bees are making progress on this frame.


I thought this photo was kind of cool. You can really see the shapes of the cells. More progress has been made and the cells are deeper on the upper right part of the frame where the bees are clustered together.



A fully drawn frame. It contains capped brood, some pollen, and some sugar syrup stores.




This photo shows some larvae (circled in red) down at the bottom of the frame. I know- we need a better camera.





This photo shows a couple of drone cells (circled in red). Yeah- I know- we need a better camera.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Pollen, Stings, and Double Deeps

People have been asking what has been going on hive-wise, so it is time for another installment in the on-going drama of our relationship with Virginia and Georgia.

We are a little slow with this update as we did the last hive inspection last Thursday the 14th of May. Everything went well. We are getting used to the whole process so there were few surprises.

We will start, however, with a few observations from the week prior to the last inspection. First of all, we noticed A LOT of comings and goings from the hives as the fruit trees in town have been in full bloom. It has mostly been apple and crabapple trees. In our own yard the apple tree and pear tree have been full of bees! We have been told by a few people in our part of town, who were not even aware that we had started keeping bees, that they had noticed a lot more bees than usual in the fruit trees. Yes! Our girls are making the rounds!

As we watched them returning to the hives we have continured to notice different colors of pollen. We have thus far noticed dark orange, light yellow, cream, tan, and white pollen on the returning bees. We have watched the bees foraging on our apple and pear blossoms to see what color they gather from our own trees. The apple pollen looks white and the pear pollen looks like an off-white greenish color. Very strange if you ask me.

We started preparing for the inspection by lighting up the smoker. It has been giving us problems- we can't seem to keep it lit long enought to get throught the whole inspection. We are getting it figured out though, and this time we kept it going for almost the entire time. We start it going with paper and twigs to get some coals in the bottom and then add balls of natural fiber twine. We have researched alternative smoker fuels and have come across a few people who use pet litter cedar chips. We will try that this week and let you know how it goes.

Keep in mind that Virginia had graduated to a second deep hive body the week before, so her inspection took a little longer than it had in the past. After smoking, we got in and inspected the top hive body. The bees had moved up and drawn comb on 3 of the 1o frames, and the queen had laid eggs on a couple of the frames. There were still not a ton of bees here. Most were still down in the bottom part of the hive.

Down in the bottom deep we were hoping to see mature bees emerging from there cells where they had been transforming from larve to adults, but all the brood was still capped. As we thought about that later, we realized that we were getting ahead of ourselves. We counted up the days and it had only been 22 days since we installed the packages. It takes about 21 days after the egg is lad for a mature bee to emerge from it's cell. A little more if the weather is cool and a little less if the weather is warm. Our weather had not been above 65 for most of that time. I'm sure it took a few days for the bees to draw a little comb so the queen could start laying any eggs. We fully anticipate that we will see new bees when we do this week's inspection. Actually, the bee populations should have been at their lowest point during the last inspection. Worker bees have a life span of about 6 weeks. So over the past 3 weeks since the bees were installed bees were dying off withoug being replaced. I suppose that means that the population of each hive had been reduced by about half. Now it is time to start building our numbers back up!

Besides capped brood on the frames we saw lot of pollen- all different colors. As bees fill cells with pollen it looks like they pack it in the bottom until it becomes little pollen cakes. We came across one cell that was empty except for two little balls of dark orange pollen- a bee must have just popped their pollen baskets into that cell and had not yet packed it down or whatever it is they do. We also saw that the bees are capping the sugar syrup we have been feeding them. It doesn't look like they had actually started making honey yet- we were a little disappointed. We thought that with all of the fruit trees we might see some honey in there. Maybe it takes a greater population to gather enough nectar to make a significant amount of honey. We were a little worried that we wouldn't be able to tell the difference between capped honey and capped brood, but after seeing the capped sugar syrup the difference is obvious. Hopefully some of the pictures turned out well enough and you can see for yourself.

By the time we made it through both hive bodies the bees were getting ticked. I guess you can get through one hive body quickly enough to not bother them too much, but 2 hive bodies just takes too long. We found a few attempted stings on my back where bees left their stingers in my shirt and died in the process. Poor little girls- they gave their lives in the defense of their home! We quickly put Virginia back together and moved on to Georgia.

Georgia's bees had drawn comb on a few more frames but still not enough to add a second deep hive body. As we inspected her capped brood we discovered a few drone cells where, obviously, drones were developing into adult bees. Drones are a little larger than worker bees and drone cells are a little larger too. They are very noticable because their caps bulge out forming a dome. Georgia, like Virginia, had lots more eggs and larvae but not much more that was particularly interesting. We closed her back up and are hoping that maybe this week we can add a second deep hive body.

Since that inspection, there has been one exciting event- we had our first bee sting! Some friends were over the other evening and the kids were running around outside. One of the kindergarten aged kids got stung on his finger. From what we could gather with everyone talking at once, he was holding a bee and then freaked out a little. Bees don't like freak outs so it stung right where it was sitting. All is well now, though. It only hurt for a few minutes. Bee stings always feel better when they quit hurting.

It looks like the fruit tree bloom is about over. Dandelions are still blooming (do they ever stop?) just not in such large numbers as they were. We don't know what the next bloom/nectar flow will be. We assume there will always be some sort of nectar/pollen source for the bees. We get a little nervous sometimes, though.

The hive inspection this week hopefully will happen on Wednesday after our niece's wedding. Congratulations Rachael! Provided there is enough time before we have to get ready for the reception that night.

We will try to keep you posted. See you later!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Photos From The Second Inspection

The smoker is going and we are getting ready to dive in.


Inspecting a frame.


A close up of one of the frames. The bees are in the process of drawing comb on this frame. You can see pollen being stored.



Close up of another frame completely covered in comb. The solid area of comb in the uppper center part of the photo is capped brood.



We scraped out just a few bits of burr comb during this second inspection.




Virginia on the left and Georgia on the right. The bees are happily back in their hives. Virginia had drawn comb on 7 of the 10 frams and so had graduated to a second deep hive body.





Burr Comb

The bits of burr comb in these pictures were taken from the hives during the first inspection.

Smallish bits of burr comb scraped from the tops f the frames and sides of the hives. You can see pollen the bees had stored. The shiny stuff inside some of the cells is sugar syrup from the feeder.


The largest piece of burr comb we have come across. This one was hanging down from the top between two frames. The gap between the frames was created by the queen cage we installed when the bees were first put into the hives. Since then we have pushed those frames together. We don't expect to get anymore pieces like this. At least we don't hink we will. But what do we know?

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Inspection number two and other thoughts

We are back.

The weather has been beautiful lately with highs in the 60's most days. Things are really greening up here in the valley but there is still a line a snow across the tops of the Big Horns. Waht a beatutiful view! The apple and the pear trees are just starting to blossom. It should be great for the bees and the bees should be great for the fruit harvest.

Speaking of fruit harvest, we decided to get another apple tree and a couple of cherry trees for the backyard. We had the spots picked for 3 small trees. We bought a Black Tartarian Cherry, a Stella Cherry, and a Honey Crisp Apple. All are semi-dwarf trees so, we thought they would be nice and small- I guess we should have done more research before we got them. After reading about them we found out that they will all grow to about 15 feet in height with a 12 foot spread. Hmmm...Bigger than we thought. We will have to find new spots, but with three big fruit trees think of all those blossoms full of pollen and nectar for the bees. And then all the fruit... farmer's market here we come!

Ok- now for the last inspection. According to "Beekeeping for Dummies" you should do weekly hive inspections for the first 8 weeks. We completed our 2 week (actually 12 day) inspection on Monday the 4th of May. A hive inspection starts with firing up the smoker about 30 minutes before the inspection to give it time to burn down to coals then add more fuel on top so it will smolder and make lots of nice smoke. We have had trouble with the smoker. If handled properly it should keep smoking for a long time. We can't keep it going for more than about 15 minutes or so. Guess we'll just keep practicing

A little more background. Beehives consist of a series of boxes which are open on the top and bottom stacked on top of each other. The bottom 2 boxes, called deep hive bodies, are deeper than the upper boxes and are where the queen lives and lays here eggs. 8-10 frames are stacked in each box. The bees build their comb on each of the frames and use the comb to store honey and pollen and to raise young bees. The queen lays an egg in each cell, the nurse bees feed the larvae, and as the larvae matures the nurse bees cap the cells with wax. Within the capped cells the larvae develop into adult bees, kind of like when a caterpillar develops into a butterfly. Eggs, larvae, and capped pupae are all referred to as brood. Pupae under the wax caps are called capped brood. Smaller boxes called supers go on top the deep hive bodies and are where the bees store extra honey- that will be our honey!

So- when we hived the bees we put each colony in a single deep hive body. As the bees build comb and fill up one box another is added to give them room to expand. We started this inspection with Virginia. We pulled each frame out, looked it over, and put it back in its place. We just needed to see how much room was left and to make sure that they were producing more bees to build up their numbers. We found out the bees had drawn comb on 7 of the 10 frames. Excellent! Time to add a second deep hive body. We also found lots of comb containing stored sugar syrup and pollen. We noticed about three different colors of pollen: orange, yellow, and cream as different flowers have different colors of pollen. The best part, though was seeing how many eggs, larvae, and capped brood there was. I think we are about to have a population explosion. Started with about 15,000 bees in the colony- a well established colony will have 120,000 or more bees. We even saw the queen crawling across one of the combs. We closed Virginia up, added a second deep hive body with 10 more frames, refilled the feeder with more sugar syrup, and moved on to Georgia.

By the time we got to Georgia the smoker was fading. Luckily our bees are so docile they didn't seem to mind the invasion of their hive. Georgia was not as advanced as Virginia. We saw stored sugar syrup and pollen, eggs, larvae, and capped brood, but only 5 frames contained comb and only 3 of the frames had a significant amount. No second hive body for Georgia. We did not see the queen anywhere, but the fact that there were eggs means that she has been around within the last few days. We are sure she was there somewhere.

We were concerned about the slow progress of Georgia. She has always been less active than Virginia. We thought that maybe we had a week queen and that maybe we would need to replace her. After more research and asking opinions of other beekeepers on beesource.com, we discovered that Georgia is about average for the 2 week mark and that Virginia is really taking off. Maybe we should see about getting Virginia into a gifted and talented program.

Now we wait until next week and do it all over again. Can't wait for the fruit trees to come in to full bloom and watch the bees on the blossoms. We are just so proud of those little girls!

Pictures will follow but they will have to wait for another day.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Hiving Georgia

The Georgia Colony in their package. This
is how they are delivered by UPS.





The can inside is the sugar feeder. Gareth is
taking off the lid.

Removing the feeder can.


Lifting out the feeder can and quickly replacing
the lid. This is when we removed the queen
cage. We did get a photo but unfortunatly
our camera isn't the best and it was too blurry to see.



Placing the queen cage between 2 of the frames.
We removed the cork holding her in and replaced
it with a marshmallow. Then we dumped in the
bees and closed up the hive.





Virginia adventures

Bees from Virginia Colony



Caleb had a special day at school the day after
we got the bees and hived them. It was pretty
neat to take pictures and equipment to school
to show his classmates.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

We have bees!

We are the Robertson's. We have bees.

We decided that since we love our bees so much we would share our experiences with the world- or at least with anyone who decides to read our blog. The story actually started last winter (2008) but we are just starting the blog now. This first post will be lengthy as we try to catch everybody up on the story.

For the last couple of years we have been trying to become more self sufficient. We have expanded our garden and have been thinking of other ways to make ourselves independent of the grocery store (that financial drain). We know that we will never truly be self sufficient, but we can try. Last fall we were thinking about starting some mushroom cultivation so we could sell the shrooms at farmer's markets. It soon became apparent that we really wouldn't be able to get much out of that project. After more thought and the seed of an idea from Gareth's mother, we settled on beekeeping. We would be able to harvest honey for our own consumption, to share with family and friends, and to sell.

At first we thought top bar hives were the way to go. They looked simple enough on YouTube videos. But then we discovered that they are prone to swarming and really don't produce a whole lot of honey. And why keep bees if your not going to get a whole lot of honey?

The first step was to read "Beekeeping for Dummies". An excellent book! After reading that book we were more excited than ever! We decided to start with 2 hives for the backyard. By February we were ready to start ordering equipment and bees. The equipment, which consisted of 1 hive, top feeder, smoker, hat, gloves, hive tool, etc., arrived shortly thereafter and the bees were scheduled to arrive on April 21st or 22nd. About a month before the bees were to arrive we ordered the second hive. You would think that a month would have been plenty of time to ship a beehive across the country, but it didn't ship until 6 days before the bees were scheduled to arrive. Needless to say we were getting a little nervous that we wouldn't have any place to put our second colony of bees when they were delivered.

A description of the bees coming from the supplier: Beekeepers usually pick up packages of bees from the supplier if they are within a reasonable distance. Well, there are no bee suppliers wtihin easy driving distance of Lovell, WY, so our bees were shipped to us from Lehi, UT via UPS. We got two 3 lb packages and two queens- that is 1 package and one queen for each hive. There are approximately 15,000 bees in a 3 pound package. The bees are placed in a small screened box with a can of sugar syrup for the bees to eat. The queen is put in a small cage and also placed in the box with the other bees. Since the queen is not the original queen for the package of bees, she must be kept separate until the bees get used to her scent or they might revolt and take the queen out. Not what we want to happen!

Ok- back to the story. Gareth was able to take a week of paternity leave from the hospital starting April 21st in order to be at home when the little girls were delivered. April 21st finally arrived with no bees or hive being delivered. April 22nd came and we anxiously awaited the delivery. At 11:00 UPS arrived. The driver jumped off the truck with something zipped up in a big mesh bag and met us on the sidewalk saying "This ain't good, this ain't good." Somewhere along the line the packages had been dropped or something and one of the corners on one of the packages had been bashed in. By the time we got the bees about a quarter of the damaged package had escaped and was buzzing around inside the bag. That's about 3,700 bees! You could say that we were a little freaked out. So now we have two packages of bees, one of which is broken open and only one hive to put them in. As we were on the phone with the bee supplier and searching the internet trying to figure out what to do with an open package the other hive was finally delivered via Federal Express. Chris was able to borrow a hat and veil from another couple down the street who was also getting bees this spring, and between the two of us we were able to get the open package in the hive. There was another problem. When we went to get the queen cage and put her in the hive, we discovered that the cork keeping her in place had been knocked loose and she was nowhere to be seen. We hoped that she was in with the rest of the colony and that they wouldn't kill her.

We rounded up the needed parts for the second hive and got the other package installed later that day. This one went much more smoothly. The queen cage was put in place with a mini-marshmallow replacing the cork. The worker bees would eat the marshmallow away while getting used to the queen's scent and accept her as their own by the time was released. We placed a pollen patty in each hive and gave the bees sugar syrup via feeders on top of the hives. There isn't a whole lot of flowers to provide pollen and nectar in the middle of April.

We should stop here and discuss how we were going to differentiate the two hives. What would we call them? Hive #1 and hive #2? What could we name two colonies of bees? It finally came to us- Virginia. What else could we name our first colony? The bees are nearly all female and Virginia is a good female name. What could we name the other colony? Georgia- another good female colony name. I guess if we get more colonies we will have to name them North and South Carolina. Or Delaware and Cennecticut?

The next step was to wait a week before inspecting the hives to make sure that the bees are building comb and that the queens are laying eggs. Over the next week we sat and watched the hives for hours at a time. Bees are truly amazing creatures. On just the second day we could see the bees working in their different capacities- some were guarding the entrance, some climbed on top and spread pheremones in the air so the other bees could find their way home, and other bees gathered pollen and brought it back to the hive. We were initially a little worried about Virginia-she was the damaged colony and we were concerned about her queen. But her bees were certainly the more active of the two hives. Georgia's bees on the other hand were hardly ever out flying and we never saw them bring back any pollen. Virginia consumed 6 quarts of sugar syrup in 1 week, but Georgia hardly touched hers.

April 29th came around and the weather was decent enough to enter the hives. Chris sewed together a make shift veil out of some curtains so she could get in on the inspection, too. We only ordered one veil to start with beause Chris didn't want to get tooo close to the hives. After a week of watching the bees, though, her mind has changed. We will be ordering another veil soon. We were a little anxious as we didn't know quite what to expect. Virginia's hive looked really good. The bees had started to build comb on 5 of the 10 frames, had started to store pollen in some of the cells, had filled other cells with sugar syrup, and we found eggs and larvae in other cells. The queen had survived! Whew!

Next it was Georgia's turn. Since she had not been as active as Virginia we were nervous. We found that the queen had been released from her cage, comb had been built on 3 of the 10 frames, sugar syrup was being stored, they had filled some of the cells with pollen from the pollen patty, and we found eggs and larvae. Looking good! Gerogia had also built "burr comb". Burr comb is comb attached to the top or sides of the hive instead of on the frames where we want them to build it. We scraped the burr comb off and are saving it for later. Hopefully by the end of the summer we will have a bunch of burr comb and other bits of bees wax that we can melt down and turn in to hand cream/lotion.

Well, that about catches us up. We will be doing weekly inspections for a while and we will keep everything updated from here on out. Unless we forget to. But we will try not to forget. We have some pictures and we will take pictures of the burr comb. We will post them later- right now it is time for bed.

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