April 2014
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Bee School, Day 7

Today was the final day of bee school – the one Alexa’s been waiting for!   The entire crew came to the class, though that didn’t work very well, as the lights were dim, and Will was rummaging through Legos, making far too much noise, so Margaret and Will ended up in the hall reading and playing.

The talk tonight was on nectar & pollen producing plants in Massachusetts.  After the break they raffled off some prizes donated by various bee vendors, and we went home with a bag of  honey bottles.  The big prize of the night, though, was Alexa getting a ‘graduation’ certificate for bee school.

Bee school was a terrific way to learn about beekeeping, and a great way to meet some local folks that will have the answers to any questions/problems that might crop up along the way.  Having been the President of a large volunteer run group, I know all too well the time and effort that was needed to put on such a great program, and for that, we’re very thankful to all who helped make it happen.

We look forward to some of the regular meetings coming up where we’ll be meeting outside for some ‘hands on’ programs!

 

Alexa's 'graduation' certificate from bee school

Alexa's 'graduation' certificate from bee school

Whoops! Or…Huh, Who Knew?

This morning, I went out to check on the bees – no activity outside, but I put my ear up to the hive, and could hear the telltale buzzing going on inside, so all was well…

The bees that were left in the box were declared dead – or extremely sleepy – but to be sure, I knocked the box on the ground to jar the bees off the top of the lid – no life at all.  I brought the box back to the house, and since Alexa was interested in looking at the bees more closely, I left the box on the steps for her to see before she went off to school.  The bees looked pretty cool, as they were really all just frozen in time, some walking, some hanging on other bees, etc.

Alexa, Margaret & Will checked out the dead bees while waiting for the bus, and Margaret & Will went out to run some errands.  They were gone for a couple of hours, which apparently was enough time for the bees to turn back from the light, and decide that they were still interested in being bees!  So, the bees were flying all around the door to the house!

Fortunately, Margaret had been emboldened by the ease of the package installation, picked up the still buzzing box, and moved it back to the hive area.  However, due to the bees inability to find their way back to a hive that’s been moved even a few feet, they spent quite awhile looking for home once she moved it!

So…who knew bees were just good at playing dead?  Not me, I’ll tell ya that!

Week 0 – Things are Finally Abuzz!

Bee Day is finally here!  I’m excited, the kids are excited, and it’s finally time to install the package of bees in the hive.  Mike graciously offered to pickup my bees from Autumn Morning Farm in Barre, MA, so I could go to work.

After work, I met him at his home in Brimfield, and he came over to help with the installation of the package.  The 3 pound package contains about 10,000 bees along with a ‘marked queen’ – this year she’s got a green dot of paint on her -  so we can find her more easily in the mix of bees wandering around.  Below is a picture of the bee package that we received.

3 pounds of bees, please!

3 pounds of bees, please!

Mike & I decided to wait a bit for Margaret and the kids to get back from Alexa’s dance class, as I knew the kids (and Mom!) would want to see the installation.  We got our gear together and sprayed the bees with sugar syrup so they’d be ‘happy bees’ when we poured them into the hive.  Once they were in the hive, you could see them licking the syrup off each other to clean up a bit for the big ‘open house’.

Installing the Queen cage

Installing the Queen cage

Because the bees have no home to defend, and they are jacked up on sugar, they are pretty docile, and they basically pour out of the box like water.  A few stragglers hang on to the box, and they’ll eventually see the light, and walk into the hive.  Those that don’t are likely dead or dying, and will be removed in the morning.

Pouring bees into the hive

Pouring bees into the hive

Things went pretty well according to plan – no issues.  I did find it interesting that while Alexa is very interested in the bees, she kept her distance, and Will, of course, was right in the thick of things, with his veil on – no fear at all.

After the bees were put to bed, I did end up getting stung, as a bee on the ground decided to walk up my leg – and when I went to let him out, I apparently squished him more than he would’ve liked.  Lucky for us,  Alexa has a microscope camera, and was able to get a good close up of the stinger!  The bee, of course, died, but at least he died in the in name of education!  You can see the venom sack, though the barb is not discernible.

Ouch!

Ouch!

We added the hivetop feeder – filled with some yummy, sickly sweet suguar syrup – and put the top on.  Now we have to wait about 5 days to let the bees get used to their new home, and the new queen.  I’ll keep an eye on the feeder to see how much sugar syrup the bees are eating, and open up the hive to check on the queen sometime this weekend.  A 4 minute video that Margaret shot is below, if you’re interested in a little more action!  Will’s narrative in the first minute of the movie is worth the price of admission!

Link if Internet Explorer isn’t embedding video properly

Bee School, Day 6

Since we had family visiting from Muskegon, MI, this week, Alexa and I skipped out on Bee School, Day 6, which I believe was to cover spring/summer management and honey extraction.

However, we were lucky enough to attend Friday’s regular WBCA meeting which was a potluck dinner and featured 6 speakers whom were each relatively new beekeepers who shared their stories of struggles and troubles they faced with their first year or two of beekeeping.

All in all, it was a great program, the speakers were all excellent, and their stories quite hilarious.  We heard about mad bees, a bear destroying a hive, swarms, moth infestation, a package of bees killing off their queen, and hundreds of pounds of honey being harvested.

The people we sat with were very knowledgable about beekeeping – we talked a lot about getting an observation hive, and the first year of beekeeping.  We had great food, lots of desserts, and Alexa partook  in her first Shirley Temple.  We deemed this our favorite WBCA event yet.

The beehive is finished, and ready to go.  The bees come in on Monday, and hopefully we’ll install the package later Monday afternoon/evening!

will-blue-hive

Hive Building Progress Report

With the impending arrival of the Vaughan Clan from Muskegon tomorrow, Alexa and I had to get most of the hive building out of the way, as the bees arrive one week from tomorrow and we didn’t know how much time we’d have to devote to the hive building this coming week.

Yesterday, I had primed the hive, and today I painted the ‘oops’ blue final coat that Alexa had picked out from Home Depot last week.  While white is the traditional color of a bee hive, it’s somewhat customary for beekeepers to take pot luck, and pickup a can of exterior paint of whatever ‘mistake’ cans the local paint shop has on hand.  There weren’t many choices, but Alexa did find one she liked, and since she’s the artist in the crew, had the final say.

 

Painting the hive bodies

Painting the hive bodies

We also decided that we’d better make a trial run with the smoker.  I’ve read that more than a few first year beekeepers have had their smokers go out when they needed them most.  Boy did that puppy get a workout from the kids – and of course, now we all smell like smoke too, but it was fun – we had it running for several hours, courtesy of a bunch of pine needles from the morning’s raking of the side yard.  I also have a 5 gallon pail of extra smoker fuel – never thought I’d get anything out of that pine tree, but the needles do work well!

Alexa and I also worked on the hive location – we moved the 12 pavers from next to the bulkhead to the edge of the woods – we put down some landscape fabric, and then added the pavers.  We needed a place to put the pavers, as their old location was to be the home of our new garden – we’ve been container gardening, but wanted a little more space, and the ability to water when we’re gone as well.

Lastly, I also built a 2nd hive stand out of cedar, this one to be used with the screened bottom board/varroa tray.  We should be in pretty good shape for the bees’ arrival.

Bee School, Day 5

Bee School, Day 5 was supposed to be on hive management, broken into two different talks, spring/summer and fall/winter, however due to an absence, the first talk was switched to next week’s swarm prevention and queens.  Gus Skamarycz has talked before on sources of bees, and while he’s very well versed in all things bee, his talk is often filled with way too much technical jargon, and not enough info for the beginner beekeeper. 

As a beginning beekeeper, I don’t really need to know the latin names of all the types of bees (covered in both of his talks), and I don’t need to know the history of each type of bee.  This information would be much better suited to an advanced class.  He did bring in a dozen or so queen cages with live queens and workers, which was pretty interesting to Alexa and me, having never seen them before.  I do like the fact that Gus promotes non-medicating beekeeping, and he’d be a great resource for any questions a beekeeper can come up with.

The second half of the program was on fall/winter managment and was very good, and lots of good information was covered, including the answer to my question “when do you swap out your screened bottom board for the regular bottom board” – to which the consensus was “never”.  Most people were happy to leave the screened bottom board in all year ’round.

The Building Begins

I finally put up the last cabinet door on Saturday, and today was rainy, so we decided to get going on putting the hive together.  Will started by helping glue the supers up while I put the pieces together.  Alexa and Will both helped nail the supers together.

After we put the brood supers together, Will was off to take a nap, and Alexa decided that crafting was better than bee hive making, so Dad was on his own.  Nailed up the two honey supers, and got to work building frames – that takes quite awhile, as there are 40 frames to build.  Once they’re put together, you add the beeswax foundation – once I got rolling, it took about 3.5 minutes to nail and glue a frame together, and another 2 minutes to insert the wax frame and staple it in.

I finished 30 of the 40 frames, but still need to ‘wire’ the honey super foundation to give it extra support during the extraction of the honey.

 

30 completed frames

30 completed frames

Replacements Arrive

We received our package from BetterBee – replacing the damaged cover and screened bottom board.  Will was anxious to get to putting the hive together, so we went downstairs and put one of the honey supers together.  Hopefully after the weekend, the shop will be cleaned up and ready for some hive building!

Bee School, Day 4

After a visit to the dentist, Alexa and I got off to an early start for bee school.  Alexa decided that dinner would be at Denny’s for some pancakes – one of her favorite stops.

Tonight’s program was on protective equipment and hive assembly.  I’m still up in the air whether I need a jacket – but I’m pretty sure I’m going to go without, and just use the veil.  I figure if I die from 500 bee stings, at least Margaret will know enough to by a jacket when she takes over the beekeeping.

The hive assembly portion was presented by Armand Provost – an older gent with 30 years of beekeeping experience, and a budding post retirement career as a stand-up comic.  His delivery was excellent, and entertaining.  He really just showed how to assemble the crimp-wax frames and how to wire them properly for support.

Since we arrived early, we had our pick of seats, and Alexa chose the seats right next to the refreshment door, so we’d be first in line!  It was nice to sit next to Fla and Mike, our local geocaching friends and beekeeping mentors, as I got lots of questions answered during the breaks in the program.

I’ve added a few more items to the ‘should I get ?’ list: frame perch, bee brush, frame grabber, bee escape and 2nd hive tool.

Alexa only needs to attend one more class to earn her diploma!

Notes:

Armand gave us a good recipe for ‘sugar candy’ that we can make, save and use to feed the bees over the winter.

Bee Sugar Candy
by Armand Provost

15lbs. sugar
3 bottles Karo syrup
1/4 t. cream of tartar
4 cups water

Heat mixture to 240 degrees.  Then cool to 180.  Stir vigorously.  Pour into styrofoam plates.  It should be hardened and ready to use in 2 to 3 hours. Makes 14 8-3/4″ pie plates of sugar candy.

The Hive Arrives

UPS dropped 75 lbs of wood and assorted bits and pieces of beekeeping material on our doorstep this morning.  We opened it up, and took inventory – a little damage – we had a broken screened bottom board and a chip out of the cover, but those items can be remedied easily enough.

Looks like a lot of nailing/gluing and an all around good time!  I definitely recommend going with the unassembled kit – otherwise you’d miss out on all of this:

Will is ready to tackle some beehive construction!

Will is ready to tackle some beehive construction!

Nail part B143 to A152, then find C12…blah, blah, blah – this is livin’, baby!  Will tried on the veil, but decided he couldn’t eat dinner with it on.  Alexa’s more interested in the smokah…

Something called the kitchen cabinets are taking up my work room right now, so until I get the final coats of paint on the cabinets, the bees are in a holding pattern.