Independence Day Inspection – Thoughts on wax

July 6, 2015

We’ve had lots of rain, but also a lot of sunny days, making it perfect bee weather.  I observed the main hive bringing in lots of white pollen, which is different from the yellow-orange stuff I’ve seen the past few weeks.  At least they are still working.

I and my oldest went into the hive, looking at all the frames from the top down.  The top medium super didn’t have any comb drawn at all so I put that off to the side with the intention of replacing it with a shallow super.   I had originally intended on the shallow all along, but I had to put some guides at the top for the bees and bought a few with foundation to help them build right.  The guides are simply some wide craft sticks glued into the top groove.

Basically, I’m getting off of foundation altogether and letting the bees draw their own comb.  There are several other beeks that are doing this for several reasons.  Much of it has to do with varroa control, as well as making sure that the wax is clean.  It gives the bees the option of building the cells to their own size specification instead of the pattern on the foundation.  And the bees have made it obvious to me that they much prefer drawing their own over following the guide on plastic foundation.  Foundation types (plastic vs wax) and whether or not to use any foundation at all can be contentious topics among beekeepers.  The saying goes that if you ask 10 beekeepers for advice on anything you’ll get about 12 different answers.  I read several blogs and follow a few groups on Facebook and the contentiousness is easy to spot, although it’s generally friendly for the most part.

There’s a figure that is tossed around that it takes 8-10 pounds of honey (or more) to make one pound of wax.  I haven’t seen anything scientific to go in favor or against that but it’s generally a figure that is accepted and then tossed around in favor of re-using comb in order to preserve more honey by re-using the comb.  The logic is that bees will make more honey instead of using their energy to make wax.  But when I look more into it, the making of wax is something honey bees of a certain age are going to do and the keeper really has no real say in it.  Sort of like how we grow hair.  We may say that it takes 100 pounds of food to grow 1 pound of hair.  So if I don’t cut my hair I can use that energy to do other things right?  Or, I could cut my hair more often, and encourage myself to grow more and burn more calories, right?  This is how the re-using wax logic looks to me.  Sure, making wax takes energy, but just like growing hair, it’s something bees are going to do, anyway.  The whole reason bees store honey in the first place is for their own energy to do things involved in living and being alive.  If you re-use comb, the bees will still make wax, but they’ll just transport the stuff out of the hive with other refuse.  So we might as well put this good, clean stuff to productive use.

Super medium #2 was the one that was full of honey and it was all capped this time around.  I went ahead and took one frame out, replacing it with the empty I had taken the week before.  In the next super box, there was a mixture of brood and honey, but it looked like it was gradually becoming more honey than brood, with half of them capped.

The brood box had some blank frames, where I had replaced the ones I had taken out for the new nuc.  I had bouaght a few solid black plastic frames, and it’s safe to say the bees really do not like those at all.  They had not done any drawing of those, while the remaining frames had a good mix of capped and open brood.  Once again, the queen escaped being seen but there was plenty of evidence that she was in there, and still laying albeit at a slower rate.  There were a lot of cells with nothing in them at all and  it looked like there was more pollen cells than I remember seeing before.

After putting that hive back together, it was time to check the nuc.

After I removed the sheet and put the screen over the nuc, this seemed to settle the robbing issues from a week ago.  Now as I observed, there were bees going in and out, but it wasn’t terribly busy.  There was a stream of sugar ants working the feeder as I pulled it off.  When I opened the hive, it looked much as it did when I installed it.  No new wax, the honey was still capped and there were bees and capped brood.  There was also one, small, solitary capped queen cell.

Queen Cell

It’s not easy to see, but it’s a single little finger in the middle with a bee on it.

So the future of this little experiment rests upon that one cell hatching, the queen flying out, getting sufficiently mated and then returning.

Evidently, when I caged up the entrance, several of the robbers were in there and when they couldn’t escape, they were forced to become members of the hive.  So it seems I might have inadvertently given the population an unintended boost.

When I checked them today, they seemed really calm and were cleaning up in and around their hive.  The stream of ants were gone and the bees were regularly patrolling that area and putting the run on any ants still wandering around.

Looking at Micheal Bush’s little schedule and primer on bee math, if all goes well I should have a queen within a week and then some eggs within a couple more weeks.

Robbery

July 1, 2015

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In my last post I was feeling pretty confident with my strong hive.  So much so, I thought I might start another one.  So I got some brood frames and honey frames, stuck a few bees into a nuc box.  I stuck a feeder on top, dusted my hands off and thought “That was easy!” and walked away.

Hence “Walk-away” split.

The next day, the hive was not calm– at all.  I knew something was wrong and suspected that it might have something to do with my new nuc box…which I had sat on top of the parent hive.  So I suited up and moved the nuc to a new location some distance from the main hive.  This seemed to settle things slightly enough so I went back into the house and relaxed with a cold drink.

Later that afternoon, I went back out and the bees were still not their docile, domesticated, pussy-cat selves.  And the nuc box was definitely not calm at all.   I knew they would be tense because they were queenless, but that activity there was just not right.  And it wasn’t hard to figure out that the bees were all going back and forth between the main hive and the nuc.  This was larceny on a grand scale.

I had read some blogs about robbing, but like every noob, I didn’t think it would happen with my bees!  But of course it could and it did.  And I knew I needed to get a handle on it immediately, if not sooner.  The first thin I did was grab my dirty sheet off my bed, wet it down and then threw it over the nuc.  If I had another sheet, I would have covered the main hive, too, but I didn’t.  so I got an entrance reducer and put it over their entrance to slow things down.  I then got the door cage that came with my nuc and put that over the entrance of the nuc.

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I secured it with the bungee cord and then put the sheet back.  And then I did what every other guy does after he breaks something and has to fix it.  I went back to read the directions.

You can read Micheal Bush’s article on robbing here.

As it turned out, I was at least on the right track as to the things I had done.   I left the sheet and the cage door on for two days, occasionally checking on them.  They were not happy campers, but the main hive gave up trying to break in and went about gathering up their pollen from whatever flowers were blooming.

Today, I took the door off, removed the sheet and then stapled some screens to the entrance to the nuc thus:

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It looks like a bit of a jumbled mess because I recycled the screens I used from my first harvest and created an overlapping flap.  The bees can go in and out, but robbers will have to make a couple of turns to get in, and if needed I can staple the flap shut.  I left the entrance reducer on my main hive and may put some screens on their entrance as well.  But with so many bees there, it will be a tougher job than it was with nuc.  As soon as I opened the nuc door, they were all in flight, orienting, making it easier to staple the screens.

Leaving the door on for a couple of days hopefully forced the robbers to incorporate with the rest of the nuc, but I’ll need to keep a close eye on them for the rest of the summer.

First Harvest

June 28, 2015

I’ve heard it said that the first year of beekeeping is very political, especially for those starting in their backyard with lots of neighbors.  Generally the recommendation from urban beekeepers is the less fuss made and the less neighbors know the better.  However, at some point, neighbors are going to find out or figure it out.  My hive is in a very isolated spot, well away from anyone’s house, screened by trees and our storage shed.  But once the smoker is fired up, it generates a fair amount of attention from those close by.  Fortunately I’m being found out at a decent time when I can deal with potential issues, even if I have to resort to bribery.

I got my bees very late in the season and most of the nectar flow was spent by the bees making comb and getting their numbers up.  I added one medium box about a week after I installed my nuc and then about 2 weeks after that, added and third box once they had drawn comb in box #2.  I could tell the queen preferred laying in the new wax but she eventually moved back down to the deep box.  Box #3 is all honey, and so yesterday I decided it was time to take one of the capped frames and make our first harvest.  There are several other capped frames in box #3 and I have added a 4th box a week ago, that they haven’t touched.  But I’ll keep feeding, hoping they draw out some more comb.

cut comb

Since I don’t have an extractor, I went to my go-to blog, where Linda describes how to harvest honey without an extractor.  I decided to opt for the jar-to-jar method as it looked the simplest and I could get the boys involved in the process.  After cutting the comb from the frame, I broke it up into a pitcher and then we all took turns smashing it into a sort of mash.

crush1 strain1 strain2

I used the rings to fasten fiberglass screen and then used duct tape to tape 2 jars together.  Then it was just a matter of flipping them over, like a sort of hour glass, and let the honey drain.  However, since I did this at night, indoors, the straining process went really slow.  So this morning, I decided to get a little help moving things along.  I took my truck out of the garage and parked in the sun, and then set the double jars on the dash and walked away.  90 minutes later, we had some full-ish jars of honey!

Finished product

That’s about 1 quart (4 half pints) of honey from a single frame.

One of these is earmarked for my next door neighbor.  The one who rarely ever mows his yard, has never sprayed it and has let it become overgrown with weeds.    I’ve been looking at that yard for years, a bit annoyed that he wasn’t taking care of the place.  But now my tune has changed greatly and I’m never going to complain about his neglect of his yard again!  My bees seem pretty fond of it, and I’m pretty sure there is some dandelion nectar in there from his back yard.

I’ll probably take one more frame and then see how they build out the other box.

I also, on the spur of the moment, decided to try a walk-away split, putting some brood frames and bees into a nuc box.  One problem is my honey frames are all mediums while my nuc box is a deep!  I did stick on frame of uncapped honey in with the brood frames that had both capped and uncapped brood plus a blank frame and have a feeder already set up for them.  It will be really interesting to see how this little experiment works.

There is one other thing I need to note on this last inspection.  I decided to go for the split after already having taken the honey frame,  late in the afternoon.  The bees were really good, but as I got into the brood box, the weather was starting to change and things got much more intense.  It was hot, the humidity was high and even though I wear a fairly light bee jacket, I was sweating buckets.  I was just about finished when I saw spots and ended up on the ground!  Fortunately well away from the hive but that was my first brush with heat exhaustion.  I’m just not as young as I used to be, and I’m probably in the worst shape of my life, thanks to a job that involves almost zero physical exercise.  SO, I just have to take it a bit easier and make hydration a bigger priority.  And get outside more, which the bees do motivate me to do.

 

Post script: In my addled state, I didn’t get the boxes perfectly straight, especially next to the brood box– the bottom one (of course).  So I went out today thinking I could just pry it over with the hive tool, re-aligning and closing the gap.  I at least had enough sense to put on my jacket and veil but didn’t think this would be a drawn-out difficult job so didn’t bother with the smoker.  Big mistake!  I pried up and began to move the box, and the girls came boiling out of every gap and of course several were smash as I set the box down.  They were MAD and were not going to give up the chase!  I ended up firing the smoker up while they charged my veil and got the gaps sufficiently closed and walked away.  I ended up sitting in the yard (far from the hive) for awhile until the ones buzzing around me  finally buzzed off.  Holding my head in front of the AC pump fan seemed to discourage them enough I could get into the garage without pursuers.

Feeding Upgrade

May 21, 2015

The plastic yellow in-hive entrance feeder was giving me trouble as my bottom screen curled upwards, making it impossible to push in without having to hold it down with something else, like my hive tool.  But it was also proving bothersome because the bees would empty it in less than a day, after a bit of spilling when I finally got the thing where it wouldn’t fall off.  So it was time to do some research.

Here are some video links that I looked at:

https://youtu.be/lrFErz3SoVE – this one is one of the best videos on the topic from Brushy Mtn where he explains the advantages and disadvantages of several types of feeders.  As it turns out, I had the one he sends with his beginner hives.  I had bought it on my own before even seeing this, so beginners luck on me!  However, as mentioned above, it wasn’t very satisfactory.

https://youtu.be/oWpqEKT7FuI – This video from Don “The Fat Beeman” is another good one.  Don’s videos are all pretty good, and this is no exception, going through advantages and disadvantages of the different feeders.  Don tends to be a cheapskate; a man after my own heart.  He manages so many hives, he isn’t about wasting time or money.

There are lots of other videos about feeders that I looked at.  However, when I found the one about the Collins Ultimate Feeder, I had a “eureka!” moment.  It’s basically a plastic container with holes in the lid.  It just so happens that I had a bunch of these sitting in my cupboard!  I watched the whole video, and they pretty much show you how to make one with a thumb tack.  They are selling these for around $7.00 each if you buy 5 or more.

I’ve been using my new “Dage’s ultimate Bee Feeder” for several days and it seems to be working exactly as designed.

Beefeeder stick

My ultimate bee feeder

My ultimate bee feeder

Just look at these calm, stress-free bees!

Just look at these calm, stress-free bees!

 

The good thing about these feeders, is that I get free potato salad with each one!  It takes about 3 days for them (the bees) to finish off one of these.  Which is about how long it takes us to finish a container full of potato salad. And in the top two pictures, you can see the level of syrup that is still left.  This makes it really easy to check the level, without having to tear into the hive.  My micro perforations were made with the smallest nail that I had.  I didn’t have any thumb tacks at hand.

I have it in the empty super to guard against robbing, although that is not a huge concern since I only have one hive and the next closest must be over a mile away.  I also have another reason for this configuration.  This summer, the boys and I will be traveling to see grandparents about 1000 miles away for a couple of weeks.  Which means my very nervous and skittish wife might be left to do the feeding.  In order to have any chance of that happening, I need to make the process as easy and painless as possible.  And so far, this might fit the bill.

We have several things blooming in my backyard.   Blackberries, dandelions and white clover.  Up until now, I hadn’t seen much activity from my bees on any of these as they seem pretty happy flying off into the north woods and bringing back whatever they are finding there.  But today, I finally did see one of my girls working over our clover patch by the back porch.

Working the clover

Working the clover

The key thing seems to be getting the numbers up in the hive.  I did a frame-by-frame inspection last weekend and most of the bottom box is built out, with lots of larvae, eggs and brood.  My oldest has named our queen “Elizabeth I” but I’ll probably end up just calling her Lizzy.  She’s been doing a good job so far, laying her eggs and her growing court is doing well feeding and raising the next generation that will eventually graduate into becoming foragers.  I added a super and have been feeding steadily in hopes that they finish the lower story and begin on this second one.

Feeding

May 15, 2015

I’ve *really* enjoyed having these little critters around since I got them.  And we’ve had some dandy weather this week, so not a single day has gone by without at least a visit.  A lawn chair is definitely on my list of things to buy, so I can sit beside the hive in the shade and just watch them zip in and out of the hive.

I did crack open the hive yesterday, just to see how they were doing and to see if it was time to add another box yet.  There are still at least 3 frames that haven’t been touched and they are still drawing comb on the other 2.  The queen has been busy being her queenly self, and the population continues to grow as she makes use of the comb that is already drawn from the initial 5 frames.

My oldest was anxious to wear his bee suit today, so I decided I would familiarize him with feeding the bees.  I don’t wear a suit or veil when doing it, but he’s still getting used to them.  Up until this point, he’s been very afraid of bees most of his life.  so getting up close and personal with them is a very big deal.

joeykeeper Feeding IMG_6940 Curiosity

In the last picture he’s looking inside the entrance as curiosity won out over any fear that he might have had.

Atlanta-Hartsfield Airport is considered the busiest airport in the world with a plane landing or taking off about every 60 seconds or so.  It has absolutely nothing on my hive, where they are taking off or landing in groups of 3-4 every second.  In the first picture above, I’m taking the picture while standing right in their flight path and it was amazing being in the middle of a horizontal shower of bees whizzing by me in both directions, swerving around me at the last second.

I’m not sure what they are working on, since they appear to fly right by my blackberries that are blooming at the moment.  I suspect they are working the tulip trees in the woods north of us, but that’s just a guess.  I didn’t notice much pollen being brought in but there are sources within my backyard and the neighbors’ if they need it, including some white clover and dandelions.

Moving Day

May 9, 2015

Last night it was dark and I didn’t risk shining the light on the entrance on the nuc after releasing the bungi that was holding the screen.  I should have.  So when I went to check them this morning I was greeted thus:

Waiting to get out

Waiting to get out

The girls were impatiently waiting to get out so I managed to knock the screen loose.  It was the closest they would get to being really mad all day.  But they still didn’t get really aggressive so much as they went about the business of orienting.  I gave them an hour or so and then went back to watch them for a bit.

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These are some very gentle bees.   They never got really defensive even when I got inside, inspected the frames and moved them to their new home.  One of my concerns when I initially met them was that they seemed so quiet and low key that I wondered if my box was empty and didn’t have many bees at all!  They seemed so quiet and low key!

However, when I removed the lid, the box was bursting with bees.  They were on every frame, on the floor, on the lid– that box was definitely full of bees.

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I did finally find the queen on the last frame that I took out of the nuc.  She was very skittish and shy but that’s not really a bad thing.  She knows she needs to be kept safe for the sake of the hive and went about making herself scarce.  She wasn’t as hard to pick out among 5000 bees as I thought she might be, being 3x bigger than any of her youngins.  I did pay a bit extra to have her marked and while that made it easier I’m pretty sure I could have  spotted her anyway.

My 16 and 13 year-old boys were luke warm about the bees going into this.  In fact my youngest was wondering if he would be able to ever go outside again.  My wife was also really ambivalent about having bees around.  But my youngest was the one who took the pictures and once he saw how gentle they were, he was okay with being around them.  The first days and year in keeping bees is a bit of a political exercise in getting people okay with the idea that they aren’t always going to be in danger of being swarmed, stung and attacked on a constant basis.  Honeybees are probably the most docile breed of any stinging insect, having been domesticated the last 1,000 years or so.

I did wear a veil, smock and gloves while working them, but it probably wasn’t entirely necessary.   It was hot work, even with the light smock and being in the shade on a day in the low 80’s.

No longer Bee-less

May 9, 2015

They are HERE!

In my backyard!

When I got the email from Buster’s Bees, saying that my bees were ready, there was a lot of anticipation.  It seemed like tonight would never come.

Buster’s bee yard is about an hour’s drive away from my back yard, so when I left I kept wondering how exactly I would get them back home safely.  Put them in the backseat, or let them ride in the back of the truck bed?   I arrived with this on my mind in the early evening just as the sun had set, and there was already a bunch of people there.  Everyone else was there in fact, so Buster’s wife, Fran, already knew exactly who I was.  The operation was pretty well organized with signs and a nice long driveway to facilitate everyone being able to load up and move out.

But before we could get our bees, there was a bit of a wait and so I had a chance to stroll through the modest bee village with all sorts of labelled hives and nucs.  None of the entrances were covered yet, so I was right there amongst all the bee homes as the bees were all milling around the entrances of their hives after having spent the day working.  None of them paid me or any of the other visitors any mind at all and it was easy to go right up to them and watch a few straggling workers fly in and land on their own front porches and great their other sisters who were gathered at the entrance.  On a few of the hives, the bees were crowded outside of the entrances as if they were having a little party before settling in.

Finally Buster decided it was time, and grabbed his smoker and began putting wire coverings over the entrances.  By this time I had already found my little box of little bees.   My bunch were mostly already bedded down.  In fact when he came by my nuc to fasten on the screen door with the bungi cord, he didn’t have to use any smoke at all.  a few were standing just inside the door, but they were already quite settled and ready to make their move.

I opted to let them ride in the bed of the truck with the box strapped down securely with a safety strapped and made the hour-long drive home.  After arriving, I carried the small through a very darkened backyard and set the nuc on the hive I had already set up.  Then I shined my flashlight on the screen door to see a few of them crawling around.  They didn’t appear too awfully agitated after their trip, with only a very modest amount of buzzing deep within the hive.  In fact I had to put my ear to the entrance to really hear that much.   But I waited about 15 minutes before loosening the bungi that secured their door and letting it fall before gingerly walking away into the darkness.

I’m looking forward to moving them from their little singe-wide mobile home to their more permanent housing tomorrow.

The Flow Hive

April 15, 2015

The Flow Hive: honey on tap

This thing is making huge waves in the beekeeping world and so I wouldn’t be much of a bee blogger if I didn’t mention it and say a few things about it.  You can check it out and look at all their pictures, videos and information on their own site here.

I saw their info in early February, before they formerly launched their crowd funding campaign and signed up for their emailing list as well as liked them on Facebook.  as a result I’ve been able to follow the Flowhive folks during much of their exciting journey.  They initially set a funding goal for $70,000 for their kickstarter (which they moved to indigogo right before launching their campaign).  They met their goal within 477 seconds and went on to become the most successful crowd funding project ever.

So what is the deal?  It makes beekeeping look extremely easy and painless.  And their marketing certainly does push this aspect of their product, where you no longer have to put on the bee suit, light a smoker, tear the hive open, take out the frames and then extract the honey from the comb.  Basically you get the honey with only a fraction of the muss and fuss of how people normally go about stealing the honey from the bees.  In fact the bees don’t even realize the honey is being taken from them until it’s already gone.

when this was first announced, the more grizzly old beeks had absolutely nothing good to say about this, and called it the world’s biggest scam.  Many of them on the backyard beekeeping group that I follow thought is was a foolish waste of money and that it simply was not possible for this thing to work as advertised.

However, judging by the response to their crowdfunding efforts, this is not a universal sentiment.  The response has been rather enthusiastic albeit the folks buying into the venture are slightly less vocal than the detractors.  I’ve seen the pictures, the patent application, the plans and most of the videos the Flow hive folks have put out.  I would enjoin anyone interested to do their own research and make their own decisions.  This site has several nice external links about some early opinions on the flow hive.

I’ll give you  my opinion, but keep in mind this is from someone who has studied all about bees and beekeeping without actually keeping a hive.

One of the first things that grabbed my attention is that these bees are not building their own comb at all, but merely inserting the nectar into the plastic cells and then capping it when it is ready.  Even without the Flow technology, this strikes me as a rather big deal since much of beekeeping involves managing comb in the way of frames, foundation, providing guides for the bees to draw along, and making sure it stays straight and facilitates inspection and extraction.  If plastic cells are such a good idea, why hasn’t this been done before?  I’m not talking about plastic foundation, I’m talking about entire plastic cells where the bees don’t have to expend so much energy drawing wax.  Why not just have plastic frames with plastic cells of whatever size and not fool with foundation at all?  All they have to do is fill and cap.  I could find some info hinting at such a thing, but there has not been wide spread adoption of this technology so that limitation might stand in the way of the Flow’s acceptance and use among many beekeepers.

As far as getting the honey easily, it’s hard to argue that this would be a lot less trouble for beekeeper and bee if it truly works advertized.  Many beeks don’t like this as it seems to get in the way of relating to the bees in the way of traditional beekeeping.  And there’s some concern about more less informed and lazy people getting into beekeeping.  There is a very real potential for casual beekeepers to emerge in the early days of the Flow only to abandon it when more work is required.

I can see the revolutionary potential of this invention but can’t say whether there is a net good or net evil to it.  Plus the things cost over $50 per frame or $600 for a full box with the frames installed,  The Australian inventors of the Flow Hives have taken the time to release many education videos about honeybees and deserve some recognition for this.  This leads me to believe it is a bit more than about the money.  But they will have an abundance of it for a very long time as long as their invention works even moderately well.  I have a few friends who have already ordered one and I’m anxious to hear/see how they work.

However I’ll have to wait until next year, since they won’t start shipping until this December (2015) and it’s for this reason, along with the relatively high cost that I’ll wait this one out before investing any of my own money.  Overall, I have a positive impression of the creators of this invention and of the Flow Hive as there is considerable promise of this to change how bees are kept.  I could see commercial beekeepers getting into this, as the way they tear hives up as they extract the honey at the present time can be time consuming and labor intensive. And it can look almost violent at times.  When I saw the way the American Commercial beekeeper extracted his honey from the hives, in More Than Honey, it really did turn me off from any ambitions of going big or commercial I might have secretly harbored.  It was downright ugly and disturbing.

For those who are into raising bees, like the Fat Bee Man, they might benefit from more people buying bees as they get into beekeeping.  You’ll never see him spending that much money on a frame, though.

Australia has a relatively benign habitat for honeybees, where they don’t have mites or Africanized bees.  It will be interesting to see how these hives work in the U.S. and whether the operation of manufacturing these frames becomes scalable enough to bring the costs down.   So while I’m a bit excited I’m also cautious about sinking any of my own money into these.

Meanwhile, there are some other innovations that are already proven that might be a better fit for commercial beekeepers than what they are already doing that might be beneficial either by themselves or in tandem with the Flow Hive technology.

Update on the “No Bees”

April 12, 2015

I did get a response from my email to Buster’s Bees and the news is pretty much this:

I won’t be seeing my bees anytime soon since there are 450 other people ahead of me in the line.  I didn’t pay until March 4th, which is very late for ordering nucs.  I kind of knew this when I ordered, and was actually pleased to be able to put in an order at all since most other places were sold out by then.  It’s a first-come-first-serve sort of deal.  This might actually work out okay, since I’ll be out testing until May 1st and won’t be able to attend them much at all until after then.  Much of my anxiety and worry centered around this two week window of being over 100 miles away and how I was going to manage.  The worst case scenario would be if I got the call to come get them while I was away and have to drive all the way over, then to my house and then back to my testing location and the box having to sit for a few days until I could install them on a weekend.

If I had installed them this weekend, I would be facing a scenario of having them swarm on me while I was away.

None of these are very appetizing prospects.

However, the prospect of completely missing the spring nectar flow is also not very encouraging.  That means having to feed my new bees almost the entire summer, nurse maiding them along until the fall flow and then keeping my fingers crossed, hoping they survive the winter in order to catch next year’s flow and letting them loose on all the stuff that will be blooming in my backyard.

One of the things whoever replied to my email pointed out was that this spring has been very bad for raising bees.  It has rained and rained and then rained some more throughout March and April.  So when the sun does come out, the bees are scrambling to forage as much as they can and probably not ranging as far as they might if there was more than one day of sun.  Even when it hasn’t rained, it has been overcast and bees rely on the sun to navigate to their favorite spots that are any distance away.  This explains why I have not seen many bees of any sort working my stuff.  I’m not sure how far the hardy bumblebees are having to fly but it’ll wager it’s not as far as the honeybees who were working my trees a month ago.

So the bottom line is that I’m going to be waiting at least another year before I get to see the benefits of having my own bees working my own yard.

The single biggest barrier to starting beekeeping has been this: obtaining the bees.  You can get equipment almost anywhere at anytime but getting the actual bees has been a persistent challenge.  Unlike gardening, where you can buy seeds and plants on a whim at any store during the sunny, spring days, getting bees requires reserving them months in advance.  Like December or January if you want to get some in March or April.  The supply of bees remains tight across the country as demand always exceeds the supply, according to the USDA Honey Report.

Finding a reliable supplier of bees is right up there with finding a good mechanic or doctor: it takes time and effort and a lot of asking around.   The uncertainties of climate make it an even dicier proposition.  It’s been frustrating and challenging.  Bee keepers can be a very open, helpful, fuzzy and fun community.  They can also be just as cantankerous, moody and prickly as the bees they keep.

I replied back to the email with a warm and sincere thanks for replying and affirmed that this would somehow work out for the best.

11 April Backyard Update – no bees :-(

April 11, 2015

The lonely hive is still lonely…

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I ordered my bees 6 or so weeks ago and got my confirmation shortly after I sent Busters Bees my $200 check for a nuc that I would be notified when it was ready.  So I’ve been waiting with great anticipation for some sort of notification, indication or update from Buster’s Bees.  I check the website everyday for something– anything.  Some bit of news.

Did the bees all die from the last cold snap that we had?  Is Buster okay?  Were all the nucs delivered and I somehow missed my notification?

The mind is a treacherous thing when a body can do nothing but wait.   I finally did send an email response to my confirmation today, just asking for some news.  I sort of drew some hope for this weekend largely because Linda had posted something on her blog about getting her nuc last year.  Notice the date she got her bees last year.  And the date today.

And last year was a much colder, more severe winter than what we had this year.  In fact, it seems that we were running 1-2 weeks ahead as far as the nectar and bee timeline than 2014.

I attended my first beekeeper’s meeting at the East Metro Beekeepers club a couple of weeks ago and some of the guys had gotten packages of bees from south Georgia already!  I always thought nucs would arrive well ahead of packages, since they are already semi-established hives.  And Georgia generally runs far ahead of the rest of the country but people in the the North are getting bees as well, according to the forums on BeeSource.

It’s always an education in this business.  This is something I’ve been working toward and looking forward to for over 3 years!  So close and yet so far.  In other news…

It was a glorious day today to be outside, filling up the gas tank in the lawnmower so my oldest could get the backyard mowed while I ate peanuts on the porch.

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While you can still see a few bare trees in the neighbor’s yard, most tress are leafed out.  The plums and peaches are done with their blooms for the year and the blueberries are winding down.  On a day like today, I’ll go and scout those plants that are blooming just to see who is pollinating them.  And today, there were very very few out, much to my surprise.  My first peach tree had tons of bees of all sorts but over the season I’ve seen a decline as there are other trees blooming now.  My blueberries were visited by the humble bumble bees but even those are less numerous lately.

I have an apple tree that is gearing up, with just a few early blooms but will be ready next week and then the blackberries will be popping their early flowers.

Sure would be nice to see some honey bees working them!


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