Spring is coming

With all due apology to George R. R. Martin and GoT, spring is on the way. It may already be here, looking at our ten day forecast, with daytime temps bouncing around between the mid-50s and low 80s. Yep, Florida is a weird place during this transition time. The fact that we’ve already see a swarm this early in the season is also a sign, of sorts – it means the queens in the hives have still been laying more or less at the same rate as they always have. In the winter, they generally slow down or stop, so as not to have a ton of bees in the hive that need to be fed and kept warm during the cold. Since Mother Nature is a bit wacky this year, and the winter has been mild, the bees are going full bore. Nothing wrong with that, except chasing down a swarm and trying to stop other hives from swarming.

When the state apiary inspector was here, I noted the two colonies I thought had gone queenless were looking a bit cramped. Checking on them again, it was clear the queen was doing her thing, as the frames in the brood box were full of bees, brood, pollen, and honey – in other words, a very healthy hive. There were also bees bearding on the landing board and front of the hive. In the heat of summer they will do this to relieve the heat within the hive. On milder days, it can be a sign there simply is no room left for expansion. Given that it was also time to check the gear to determine what supplies needed to be ordered, I decided to go ahead and expand both the one looking overcrowded and the one next to it, that was also going strong.

Storing hive bodies, supers, and frames is a necessity. Storing them properly is an even bigger necessity, to ensure critters don’t move in to them and take over, and the ensure wax moths don’t take up residence and destroy the woodenware and any comb that might be on any frames.

Wax moth damage
Wax moth damage

That’s done by stacking them soundly with no entrances available, and using paradichlorobenzene in the stack. What’s that, you say? It’s a kin to traditional mothballs, and smells like them. But regular mothballs you use in your closet are napthalene, and bee folks say use paradichlorobenzenne instead – so that’s what we do. I had put down a couple of sheets of newspaper, sprinkled the crystals on, then stacked the hive bodies on top of them, closed off with an overturned top cover.  That would take care of any wax moths, keep rats/mice from getting in, and also keep Florida wood roaches out. It worked out fairly well, although next time I suspect using a bit more of the crystallized stuff would be better, as it kind of just melts away as time goes by.

Dead wax moth and feces
Dead wax moth and feces

It worked out pretty well,  as you can see from the dead moth on top of that frame (and the poop, but no larvae present). There were some frames I pulled out that had dark comb, as it had been used for brood once and then packed with pollen as the brood hatched. A couple of those had the remnants of wax moth damage, as wax moths lay in dark comb. Those went into a box set out near the shed where I was working. The bees immediately found it and notified a couple thousand of their closest friends to come help gather it and clean.

Cleanup crew
Cleanup crew

There was a bit of fighting going on between bees from different hives as they went about gathering from the frames, but in general, they were well behaved, and completely unconcerned with me – a good thing, as I was not wearing any protective gear.

Eventually, all the gear had been unstacked, examined, cleaned when necessary, or given over to the bees to clear. That left me with an inventory list of what was available, about to be put into use for the two lively colonies, and what needed to be discarded.

Sorting in progress
Sorting in progress

Once this chore was done, it was time to have a look in the hives. That will be a separate post. Stay tuned!

 

 

Beeeeees!

Here in Florida, everyone who keeps bees is supposed to register with The Man. Not everyone does, of course, sometimes because they just don’t know they’re supposed to, and sometimes because they’re some anti-government whackadoodle who doesn’t think it’s any of the government’s beeswax. They should, however: one of the jobs of the apiary inspector is to look for instances of American foulbrood, which is a very nasty business. If foulbrood is found in a hive, the hive has to be destroyed – by burning. That’s how bad it is. I asked bee man how often he sees it, and he says just once or twice a year. Remarkable: consider that this guy and another spend literally almost all their time driving around doing inspections, in beeyards with one hive or a thousands. Finding foulbrood that rarely out of that many hives says that the bees are doing well and that the beekeepers are, too.

I had thought two hives had gone queenless, as they were not ramping up from the splits I had made previously, and I hadn’t found good brood patterns in them. I’ve also not really gone into the hives except to pop the cover and listen for pissed-off bees in about a month-ish, except for one hive from which I made the newest split (that I am not sure actually hatched a queen that mated; there is definitely no brood in there). BUT! Upon inspection, both of the hives I thought might not make it have brood in them. Score! This means they are well on their way to earning their keep here at the ranch.

As some people know, we had a swarm earlier this week – that originated from the hive from which I had made a split trying to forestall that swarming – and the swarm landed in one of the very tall pine trees, about 50 feet off the ground. That was not a swarm that I could safely attempt to retrieve, so I wished them well and just kept checking them every day. I also put out the swarm lure in a nearby tree, to try to coax them into it as a suitable landing place. One day as I was heading out to replace a couple of feeders, a clump of bees fell off the swarm. When I checked later, they had formed a smaller ball on the end of the same branch the original ball was on – but again, in a place it would not be safe to try to capture them.

Initial swarm
Initial swarm

Today, while waiting for bee man, I went out to replace some feeders and check on the swarm. As I was heading into the bee yard, I looked up, and finally, after five days, no bees way up in the tree. I figured the scouts had finally found a suitable space and everyone had taken off. This was not the case. As I shifted my gaze downward, what did I spy but the swarm, reformed about five feet off the ground in one of the hardwood trees nearby. An excellent prospect for capture.

Hello, ladies
Hello, ladies

We have attempted swarm captures before here at the ranch, with no success. Between then and now, though, I’ve done a lot more research, and picked up some pointers on how to get them in the box without them immediately flying right back up to where they were. With those tips in mind, I pulled out four frames we were storing from the last honey extraction and put them into an empty hive body box. Directly under the swarm, I laid down a couple of white sheets, then put the hive box (with bottom board) on those. The next step is the one that is terrifying to some people: using a hive tool, or brush, or just your hand to run along the tree limb, breaking the ball’s hold on the branch, causing them to fall into the box in a giant clump. This also results in a bunch of disturbed bees flying around. When they’re swarming, they are not really aggressive most of the time, because they’re all full of honey. But, if the swarm has been out of the hive for a few days, some of the bees may no longer be so full of honey, and may think your head is a terrific place to target with their asses, where their stinger resides. Luckily, I was completely suited up, and was not stung at all. Some of the bees, disturbed into flying, flew right back to the branch, so it took a couple of tries to get enough bees in the box for everyone to recognize that was a viable home.

 

With a bunch of bees in the box, I put on the inner cover (which has a slot in it) and then the outer cover, propping the edge of the outer cover up with a piece of a branch. This allows the bees to enter from the side as well as the front, and is a good thing, as there were quite a lot of bees on the side of the hive body. With the outer cover propped open in this manner, and with a little luck, the bees will march right into the hive. And that is exactly what they did.

Bees on the box

By the time the bee man made it here (about 4:30), the branch was empty of bees, and the box was full of them. In just a bit, I’ll head out to remove the branch prop and close the cover. Tomorrow, I hope they will still be in the box, and if they are still there by Saturday, I and my bro Chris Abbey​ will be able to move the box back to the hive stand, and I can stick a feeder on them. If all works as planned, this will be our first successful capture of a swarm!

Bees in the boxAll photos and video are courtesy of my mom, who has now also been instructed on the proper way to shoot video (landscape!) from her phone when the needs arises. Thanks, Mom!

Winter. Spring. Spring. Winter.

This is our weather here. We’re northern enough in the state to get a taste of winter now and again – and by that, it’s highs in the 50s and lows sometimes dropping under freezing down to the teens – but southern enough overall that a lot of days during the winter months are more like spring. Yesterday, and now today (after a front blew through, raining and moving along), we are yet again experiencing a spring-like day: some clouds, but mostly sunny, mid-60s temp, and a fair amount of wind. It is a bit like Groundhog Day – appropriately enough, AMC has a little marathon of that movie going today – as we continue the cycle of getting through the months that the gardens are not fully in production, starting flats, pulling weeds, and in general, waiting for our real season to get underway.

Germination!

 

Doing the grunt work

One of the things about the ranch that remains constant is that there is always something to do, either inside or out. This past week, the goal was weeding the back garden area and chopping up the vetch (which, hilariously enough, the autocorrect on my phone wants to correct to “kvetch”) that has regrown, so it can be used both to mulch the transplants when the time comes and so it can compost in place to return itself to the soil for later years. Today: achievement unlocked! The two rows in the foreground need some topping off with fresh soil and manure, and that will be done well before the transplants are ready to go out.

Back Garden Feb 2015

Next target: the front gardens. In addition to the weeding chores, keeping the bees fed and happy during these winter days is also very important, as is keeping a good water supply for them. I do this with a birdbath near the beeyard, with some sticks in it to allow the bees to drink without drowning themselves. Even with this in place, we still have to fish them out of the pool from time to time, but once they dry off, they’re off again back to their hives. I found this one girl hanging out at the edge of the birdbath basin, drinking up.

Bee, drinking Feb 2015

Just another day at the ranch on a beautiful day that felt more like spring than winter.

 

 

 

 

Helpers. Lots of helpers.

After processing out the honey in the extractor and then getting the honey that was in the uncapping tub (and also taking that beeswax out, to be cleaned and stored until we do a melt), the last task is cleaning everything. Fortunately, there are many thousands of helpers ready and willing to do just that.

Uncapping_tub_20150124

It takes a lot of them as there is still quite a bit of honey left, clinging to absolutely everything: extracting honey is not a pristine or entirely clean (hands-wise) process. Like Cecil B. DeMille, we have a cast of thousands.

Helper bees on the rack

The girls can be quite acrobatic when they are searching for every last drop of sweet honey to carry back to their hives.

Cleanup crew

They are also quite focused on their task, which allows Norma Desmond here to be ready for her closeup.

Norma Desmond

 

Let there be honey!

A late season frame pull for honey, as the bees in one hive were starting to approach the honeybound phase: storing so much honey that no cells were available for the queen to lay. Replacing a couple of full frames with empties can hold that at bay hopefully, until such time as we can pull more honey-filled frame and/or split off some of the bees from that hive to create a new hive with a new queen.
Late season honey

Mutants at the ranch

This is what happens when you miss something during a harvest – at least to some things. I had put some carrots at the end of the asparagus row, to utilize the space until I get the remaining asparagus plants dug, separated, and relocated. Instead of laying low for about 60 days, this guy was in there for around four months, give or take.

Giant mutant carrot

What do we do with such a creature? Not eat it, to be sure. At some point, many things will just become too woody to taste good. Okra is a good example of this: if those pods are not cut, they’ll often grow longer than your hand, and turn into something actually resembling wood as they dry and turn brown. Not good eating. If we had any chickens at the moment, we would cut up this carrot and feed it to them, but since we don’t, it goes to the compost pile, where eventually it will serve as nutrient for something else. The circle of life, and all that.

Resting season

A bit of a break from the blog. Too long of one, I’d say, and high time to get back to focusing on the things that matter instead of continuing to surf around only to lose hours of time down a sinkhole that cannot be retrieved.

Even though this is a season of dormancy and rest, it is – and should be – one of regeneration, of restarts. And so it shall be.

A fowl deed

Another chicken down, sadly: mom informs me after she’s collected eggs that one of the chickens is dead (because I am the dead chicken collector). She didn’t take a close look as she doesn’t like to look at them too closely after they’ve died and won’t watch if I have to put one down. So, my sister happens to be here, and goes to dig a hole while I go collect the girl for burial. Through my extensive and sharply honed detective skills, I find the cause of death: the chicken’s head has been ripped off. The most likely culprit? Raccoon. I picked up the poor girl, gently placed her in the hole my sister had dug, and we covered her up. I checked the perimeter of the fence on that side and found a gap in the gate that a raccoon may have been able to fit through, and a section of the wire above the fence that is not as high as the rest but also bowed outwards – something I’ll ask my bro  to address when he’s up next (as well as asking him to walk the full perimeter to check for other gaps/necessary repair locations). In the meantime: RIP, other red chicken.

You can’t spell beekeeping without “hope”

Last month, I created two new split hives. A split, for those unfamiliar with such things, is when you take a frame or frames of brood and bees from an existing, strong hive, and put them in a new hive, either with a new queen (which is what I did) or by taking our brood that contains eggs that were recently laid so the bees will create an emergency queen for themselves.

I also had a third hive I had split previously, without a queen, which was going nowhere, but which had bees in it. So I also added a queen to that hive as well. About a week ago, I opened this hive to find it completely empty of bees: a failed split.

Today I visited the bees to feed them, only to find one of the attempted split hives completely empty: abandoned, including a queen with clipped wings who would be unable to fly. I think this one is on me. Last week, I had removed some frames that wax moths had gotten into but that I had cleared, because the bees were not drawing any comb on them. This change may have thrown a wrench into things and either pissed them off that they drifted to the other hives or they just left, in which case they’re all dead by now, having no queen. So, I’ve ordered another queen, and this time will take two frames of brood from the very large hive, and beyond those two frames pulled from the other hive, the other frames will be brand new. Hopefully that will allow them to build up as we move into winter. If it works, I’ll do the same with the original split attempt. Overall, it’s disappointing this one left. However, the second split I did at the same time as this one is still working itself up: I found the queen, the workers are drawing comb, and I think they will survive. Or I hope. Beekeeping is, at its most basic, a lot about hope.

In other news, the three new package hives seem to be doing fine, and one of them was really aggressive and pissy when I opened it to have a quick peek inside – it was still rather early and slightly foggy, so the foragers were not all out foraging. Full bee suit FTW!

Later this week, I’ll go into the supers on the really string hive, and the second hive that is making a fairly nice go of things, and see if there is more honey to pull. But I’ll bring the smoker when I do, to keep them a bit more sedate than they were today.