Monday, May 2, 2011
Monday, April 25, 2011
like many other beekeepers (both experienced and non-) this year, our bees died. they somehow managed to make it through the hardships of winter with plenty of honey and pollen left over, but their population just wasn't enough to keep the colony afloat.
it is very sad to look into one's colony to see a tiny number of worker bees valiantly surrounding a dying queen as she does her best to keep laying.
it's hard to not take personally. these photos show the last cluster, the leftover honey, and eggs and larvae in various stages of maturity.
the queen and workers:
what the queen and workers had been trying to do:
so, who know what happened. we had questions about this queen during the summer. perhaps our gut instincts about her were justified--perhaps she was not a very good queen. we didn't treat for varroa mites--maybe that was it. maybe dr spivak was right, and all of the university of minnesota's bees overlapping territory provides just too much competition. we don't know, and probably never will.
oddly enough, we found out about the status of the colony the day after another bee class with some of the best bee people in the country. so it goes.
Saturday, March 19, 2011
It's been a few months. In that time:
It snowed a lot.
Christmas Cat brought cheer.
XC skiing was attempted and likely adopted.
This guy or girl discovered the resident cockatiel and spent 20+ minutes trying to figure out a way to enter the house and eat him.
The little yellow bird's perspective from inside the house. Imagine a cockatiel-about-to-die death scream as a soundtrack.
To get a colony of bees to survive a long and cold and snowy winter in Minnesota you first cover the brood boxes with a black cardboard box. The box has a waxy surface to repel water and at the top is a special board for wicking away moisture.
And to keep the garage roof from collapsing and the bee entrance clear, heavy equipment was required.
Beyond that, leave them enough honey to eat (we didn't harvest any this year) and they'll vibrate in a bee survival ball within the hive until it's warm enough to...
Take a big *#! or go on a "cleansing flight" on the first day warm day in the new year. Bees are hyper hygienic and don't excrete waste inside the hive. During the cold winter months that must get uncomfortable. After not hearing or seeing peep from the bees for 2+ months we expected the worst. Then on a warm day in February they came out firing. Imagine a few thousand little insects projecting, what looked like tobacco juice, into the snow surrounding their home. And also their dead friends, or more like colleagues for the common cause, had to leave the hive as well.
Again, it was a big relief to see our that our insect friends had survived the winter, this far at least. Many checked out the snow and returned to the hive.
Now that it's late March and the temps are up it's not uncommon to see a bee or five out for a flight. We added some granulated sugar over wax paper to supplementary feed in February (just in case their honey reserves were low). They were probably fine but it's like being over protective of a first child. It looks like snow, but this is their sugar pile. It looks like they're enjoying it.
Today we un-winterized
checked the honey reserves
and added a pollen patty for some food to last until things start growing around here.
It may be morbid or borderline cruel at times, but being hygienic the bees were busy bringing out the dead.
Flowers for the next post.
Monday, October 11, 2010
and you thought this blog was dead. but it's not! things have happened, but as always, probably not enough things to warrant much of anything at all. this entry will be about bees, the next will be about our new love for space-age foam, 50's-era green, and post cards.
we are quintessential new beekeepers. we're (okay, i am) pretty sure something is always ready to go wrong. my instructor from the U, marla (who just won an amazing MacArthur Grant) told me that it was likely that the bees wouldn't produce much honey, due to competition from the U of M's bees (which are in relatively close proximity). sigh. she was right. she knows her stuff.
but before that, we were SURE that we had lost our queen. we didn't see any eggs or larvae in any cells. in fact, it looked like nothing much at all was going on.
so, we ordered a hot babe from california:
who garnered lots of interest from various parties:
and so, we did all the prep work. opened hive, blah blah blah. guess what we found? right. plenty of new brood. and the queen all fat and sassy:
we had a decision to make. to "dispatch" the old queen (think "liquidate". can i make that joke yet? probably not.) and hope that introducing the new queen would be a success, or to stick with the old queen (who was now laying really well) and find a buyer for the new queen was NOT a cheap endeavor). well, long live the queen. we kept snooki and found a guy to buy our new queen. everybody wins.
then, it came to our attention that the colony wasn't making much honey, so per jim's suggestion we consolidated our three deep hive bodies into two, removing mostly empty frames. one frame we removed had some brood ready to hatch, and because we are soft newbie beekeepers, we kept it in the garage and as the girls emerged, we dropped them at the entrance of the hive.
anthropomorphism is exhausting.
after the consolidation and queen drama, things have been seemingly alright. we did some supplemental feeding of 2:1 sugar syrup earlier this fall, but stopped because we didn't want to encourage more brood rearing this late in the season. we bought some nosema mite treatment, but made the executive decision to NOT treat this year. our fingers are crossed that with this nice weather, the bees have been able to put on some weight. we'll winterize the colony when the weather becomes cooler.
in the meantime, they've been enjoying the pond:
and making good-quality, if low-quantity, honey:
here's a video of a worker bee being "born" on one of our frames that i took a few weeks ago.
the cats, as always, really really REALLY care about all of this:
as does the city of st paul, via riverboat:
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
(the primroses are totally kicking this year, by the way)
we have actually spent a lot of time doing other typical spring yard things. cleaning, planting, staring at tiny green things in anticipation. however, we have been totally mesmerized by the girls. snooki's girls. it's typical to open up a hive and check things out about once a week or so.
first check, a week after putting in the package. in this check we're looking to be sure that snooki is seemingly present in the colony, and most importantly, laying eggs. eggs look like tiny grains of rice in the bottom of the cells. here's what we found that day, one week after the last blog entry:
bees under the lifted sugar water pail. good. eating. women love their sweets.
we provide what's called a foundation in the frames. this is a plastic molding of the classic beehive shape we're all familiar with. bees add their own wax to this, making the cells longer and deeper. if you click on this picture you can see that the bees have started to draw out this comb. there are also eggs on this frame, but mostly impossible to see in the photo.
girls on top of their busiest frame. they were calm for this inspection, which seems unseemly behavior for any jersey girl. but we'll take it.
pollen-gathering machines. check out the cankles:
second inspection happened about a week after this. here we're checking for a couple of things. first, that the girls are gathering pollen (their protein source) and nectar (which will feed the bees and some of which will eventually become honey). pollen is in the dark cells, and nectar is the more liquid delicious filling.
again, looking for eggs, but this time, also larvae and capped brood. it takes 21 days for a worker bee to go from egg to larvae to bee. when larvae are ready to be capped so they can develop into bees in peace, they give off a pheromone that alerts their sisters to cover them up. girls appreciate some privacy, even if they do use bump-its. this is a great photo showing cells with larvae of various stages and covered brood.
third inspection is more of the same. is pollen being gathered? nectar? is there brood? but, more importantly, is the brood hatching? yes, it is. look at the center of this photo and you can see a new baby chewing her way out:
here's another image, showing empty cells from which young bees have already emerged. the first of many jobs the workers rotate through is to clean out these cells in preparation for the next egg. also, this photo shows bees of different ages. unlike us, bees darken as they age. if you look at the bee the third down from the far right side of the page, notice her cute light fuzziness. we were shocked to realize that bees, in fact, have baby faces.
in this inspection, everything was so far, so good. bees being born, more foundation being drawn on more frames. there was some occasional burr comb (bees adding comb where it really doesn't need to be), but nothing to fret about. we just removed it:
but what was nice about this inspection is that we're starting to calm down a bit. the bees are busy (of course), but mellow. they just keep doing their thing as we rip apart their home (without damaging, of course. like if paul bunyon ripped off the top of your house and you continued to cook dinner as he commented to babe the blue ox how cool humans were, and what little ecosystems they develop).
so, we decided to look for snooki herself. and we found her without too much hassle at all. she's too fat with eggs and general good condition now to fly, so no fear of that. can you find her? because if you can't find a queen bee in this picture you may not be able to tell a dandelion from a tree:
and, again, more snooki. can you find the really young bee by her? she looks like an ewok. like, if i could pick her up and give her a hug i would totally do that:
so, that's the bees. they are awesome, and we're so glad to have them around. hopefully everything continues to go well.
we do have the gardens going:
but this picture is from two weeks ago. things are looking much better now.
and above is the arbor, where fierce oriole fights have been happening on a nightly basis.
lastly, a moment of fern zen:
Saturday, April 24, 2010
do you know how much fun writing a blog entry with another person is? not much. but i thank wine for putting me in good spirits, and summit for tempering the man's verbal taunting. anyway, the bees arrive. it is traditional to name a queen and her hive, and we have named our girl Queen Snooki and her Guidettes. we've only seen two episodes of the jersey shore, but that was enough to permanently burn a bumped hair-do, sausage-casing-as-clothing, and "italian"-ness in us forever. and, since our bees are of the italian strain, it only seemed rational...
sugar-water to spray the bee package with, sugar water feeder, and pollen patty--what keeps bees going during a normal april. with the back yard in full bloom, this is not a normal april but we're keeping with protocol anyway.
the package itself, around 20,000 worker bees (all females, if you didn't know), and a queen safe in her little itty bitty condo.
the prepared hive, complete with entrance stuffed with grass. the grass is to inhibit the wanderlust that the bees may have after being driven a thousand miles, sprayed with sugar water, bonked around savagely a few times, and dumped unceremoniously into a fully non-furnished pre-fab home. these bees got rid of the grass in about...an hour.
spacesuits are essential for the full bee-handling experience:
(in the above picture, neil armstrong carefully removes the can of sugar water that satiated the colony until their arrival in st paul. gravity is an issue, unlike the moon.)
or, conversely, it is common to also dress in minnesota athletic wear for those "oh crap we really need to fix this and why are we so confused about a bunch of insects" times:
then, the bees are sprayed with sugar water to keep them from flying off. somebody did not spray them enough (that was me), so quite a few were flying around, confused and alienated, which was a lot like our clients at our day jobs. but most bees were shaken into the hive body (no pictures. 20k in bees kinda brings on a....rush, you know?)then, removal of the queen in her box:
just before adding the queen:
we unfortunately have no pictures of the queen release. this is for two reasons: she did not allow for photojournalists, and she was also incredibly feisty and all concentration was needed to be sure she didn't leave for greener hives.
ready for the top cover and feeder:
and the girls get used to their new digs:
after the condo-developers who also run this blog finally sat down with appropriate drinks to celebrate the new tenants, old friends flew over our heads and landed in the yard:
and in short order decided to visit the bee open house for themselves:
bees were installed thursday early evening. today, even with all the rain, many worker bees were returning to the hive with pollen on their legs. in a few days, we'll check for queen acceptance, and hope that snooki has decided to grace us with her brash italian presence.