Posts Tagged ‘bees’

Moving Day(s)

September 12, 2010 4 comments

My goodness. Make yourself a cup of tea (with honey)–I’ve got lots to tell.

A few weeks ago, I realized that the bees were rapidly increasing in number and making it a bit challenging for all species to enjoy our postage-stamp-sized backyard. I started asking folks in our local bee group if they knew of any alternate sites. (Last year at this time there weren’t any good options.) Miraculously, the perfect opportunity presented itself. It turned out that an ideal apiary site, very close to our home, had room for another hive. Our boisterous bees have moved into new digs. And you could certainly consider the relocation a step up:

Our colony is now located on the gorgeous grounds of Arden Wood, a 12-acre Christian Science nursing facility that opened in 1930. The folks at Arden Wood, both staff and residents, have been very welcoming–and I and the bees are delighted. Here’s the apiary, pre-move:

“Move,” however, is really too small a word to describe the ordeal of transferring 60,000+ bees from one location to another. Here are some of the unanticipated highlights:

  • A full medium super can weigh close to 50 lbs. Our Tower of Beesa was seven boxes high, so the total weight of the colony was over 300 lbs. I therefore had to remove the honey supers (and brush thousands of bees off the frames), so we could carry the boxes separately.
  • In order to close up the hive with as many bees as possible, the transfer has to take place at night, when they’re all home. At around midnight, my beekeeping mentor and I started the final preparations. (I can only imagine what the neighbors must have been thinking.) My mentor snuck up behind the hive, quickly plugging the entrance with cardboard. He ratchet-strapped the brood boxes together, making sure they were securely fastened (!). We carried the boxes of extremely peevish bees into the back of my minivan. I tried to ignore the shocked expressions on folks in other cars as I (in full bee suit and veil) gently drove the bee colony to its new home.
  • After arriving at the new site, we set the hive on its stand and then my mentor pulled out the entrance plug. He warned that they’d exit en masse and be madder than hornets. That turned out to be an understatement.
  • The next day, about 30 bees were clumped in our backyard, right in the spot where the hive had been. I felt bad for them, so I scooped them up and drove them over to their sisters.

A few days later, I stopped by to see how things were going. The bees seemed to be doing very well. Here’s a picture taken before we added the honey supers back on.

Whew. I’m hoping this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.


From Hive to Jar: A Honey Odyssey

August 21, 2010 7 comments

At last, the long-anticipated honey harvesting day arrived (on August 11). The day before, I’d added a bee gate (a one-way exit) under the top two supers. When I pulled off the boxes, there were almost no bees in them. We ended up with 11 frames of beautiful, capped honey.

I quickly brought the frames into the kitchen, before the honey cooled too much. (The inside of the hive is typically a balmy 85 degrees.) Using a warm extracting knife, I removed the wax caps on each side and placed the frames in the extractor.

And then, the spinning began–fun for the whole family. I love the new extractor. It works beautifully. We hand-cranked the frames and the honey spun out, gathering on the inside of the extractor, and dripping down the sides. This is one of the best uses of centrifugal force I can think of–well, this and kids getting to push into each other when they’re in a car that’s turning a corner. Here’s another extractor view. Shiny.

After we’d spun the frames for a few minutes, we were treated to the wondrous sight of the first bit of honey coming out of the gate (and flowing through a cloth filter into a five-gallon container). We ended up with 32 lbs. from our first harvest. After letting the honey settle overnight to get rid of bubbles, we bottled it in 72 glass hex jars. The only thing left for (geeky) me to do was design our Fog City Bee labels.

Here’s the original watercolor:

Here’s the final product:

Thank you, bees!

A Hive away from Home

August 6, 2010 3 comments

We’re just back from a wonderful family trip to Portland and Seattle–by sleeper train. It was hard being away from the 60,000, but I consoled myself with glimpses of country hives along the railway. A too-brief visit to the Pacific Science Center yielded additional nostalgia opportunities:

(True dedication–doesn’t she get hot in there?)

And, then, while the boys rushed to assemble a 3-D Tyrannosaurus Rex puzzle–I put this together. Good times.

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Lucky 7

July 20, 2010 2 comments

Today my wonderful mentor stopped by for another hive inspection. It was foggy and quite cool. (I’m sharing the weather report in an attempt to excuse the behavior of the bees, who ungraciously stung him six times… He’s the kind of natural beekeeper I aspire to be–he only uses a veil, no gloves or bee suit. But today didn’t offer much incentive to change my haz-mat approach.)

I’m so happy to report that everything’s going really well. We spotted Latifah in the middle brood box. The whole brood area was doing nicely–lots of eggs, larvae, and capped brood, but still room for more. It looks like three medium boxes is the perfect number for us, allowing for rotation of space through the frames, as needed, for egg laying and brood raising.

Above the queen excluder, the three supers have been filled beautifully. In about a week, I think we’ll have two supers to extract. That means the rush is on to buy jars, design labels, and, surprisingly, buy and build another super and frames. Yes, the hive’s going to be seven boxes tall. Please join me in thinking stable thoughts.

Happy 4th (and sixth)!

July 5, 2010 7 comments

We were away at a wonderful family camp near Yosemite (Camp Mather) over the past week. Each passing bee reminded me of our (probably 60,000) little ones back home. So it was with great excitement that I opened up the hive yesterday.

The weather has been warm for the last several days, so there’d clearly been much activity. Also, I guess a work force of 60,000 can get a lot done. The two honey supers were completely drawn out and filled with nectar. About one third of the frames already had capped honey. I’m still swarm-phobic, so I went ahead and added another super to make sure the bees have plenty of room to do their thing. A sixth box! (And still not a word from the neighbors…)

I took the Boardman feeder off. The bees are clearly bringing back a lot of nectar and pollen, and I’d rather keep the front landing as large as possible, given all the traffic.

Mystery of the Vanishing Queen Cup

June 25, 2010 2 comments

I raced home at lunchtime today to do a hive inspection. It’s been very cold, windy, and foggy, so I wasn’t able to check on that troubling queen cup I saw on June 12. Since today was a bit warmer, I decided to take a quick peek. I was a bit rushed, so I didn’t get a chance to look closely for Latifah, but there was a lot of capped brood and larvae. And, intriguingly, the queen cup had vanished… So, that stuff about queen cups sometimes being part of the normal “furniture” of a hive seems to have applied here. Maybe the bees chewed it up to make tiny ottomans.

Amazingly, the super I’d added 12 days ago not only had all of its frames drawn out, but was also already full of honey! (Click for a larger, undistorted view)

6 of the 8 frames were fully stocked and partially capped. I added another honey super below the top one. We’re now up to five stories of bees.

The bees in the two upper supers were docile and charming; those in the brood boxes seemed unusually peevish today. Did my stomach growl when I saw the honey? I think they’re on to me.

Replaced the empty bottle of diluted sugar water with plain water

Update on 6/13 Hive Inspection

June 14, 2010 1 comment

How did I forget these two important bits of information? (The San Francisco one-day-of-summer-weather must have distracted me.)

1. I found a queen cup at the bottom of a frame in the second brood box. In the worst case, these can become swarm cells (cells prepared by the workers to grow a new queen). Since there was no egg in it–and the colony has a good amount of extra room–I’m hoping it’s just some creative wax building on the part of the workers. Some folks call this type of queen cup “part of the normal hive furniture.” Sounds good to me. [Update from my beekeeper mentor: “Queen cups are normal, but I knock them down so I can tell whether they’re new. If they have royal jelly in them (hence larvae), it indicates time for action.”]

2. I remembered last night that I’d added the honey super to the top of the stack (after swapping out three frames of honey from the super below it). I’m pretty sure each new super is supposed to be placed under the one currently on top. Oops. [Mentor update #2: “New supers with foundation should be put just above the brood chamber, because it is the nurse bees (age 7-9 days) who produce the wax chips. If you use an excluder, you could move a few frames of brood above the excluder to get the bees interested in going up there. The more finished honey always goes at the top.”]

[I see a quick hive opening in my immediate future.]