Sunday, December 20, 2009

Winter bee update

As 2009 draws to a close, I have two full hives and a nuc that I am attempting to overwinter. One of my hives died out in November (I think mites got them, but I'm not too sure. A family of mice quickly moved into the hive and I don't have the heart to evict them since it's so cold.)

We just got about 15 inches of snow. I made sure there was adequate ventilation in each hive, but there's not a whole lot more I can do. The over-winter fate of each hive is pretty much determined in the fall. They either have adequate food and are mite free enough to make it through the winter, or they are not. Hopefully, all three of my hives will make it.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Slideshow of White House bees

Here is a link to an interesting slideshow in the New York Times featuring the White House beekeeper. Pretty cool.

It's totally awesome that anarchist bees are living on the grounds of the most recognizable symbol of our republic. Yay anarchy!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Harvest time!

I harvested two medium supers of honey from my carnies. They made three supers of honey this year, but I am leaving them with one super for winter. The two supers I took yielded about 4 gallons of honey, which weighs about 50 pounds.

I used a honey extractor which worked pretty well. Some people prefer to use the "crush and strain" method, which boggles me. To me, that is akin to destroying the greenhouse to get out the plants. The most valuable asset a beekeeper has is drawn comb, so crushing the comb to get honey seems a little strange to me. By extracting, I can use the same frames with already drawn comb to give my bees a jump on storing nectar next year.

The worst part was getting the honey from the bees, mostly because it was a hot July day and it was no fun to wear a bee suit. I used a combination of a fume board and an air compressor to blow the bees off the frames. Both of these methods worked well.

I drained all the honey into a clean bucket, and I will filter and bottle it later. Yay!

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Necar flow drawing to a close

The main nectar flow in my area is just about over for the year. I had a pretty good year, as I have at least 3 medium supers full of honey and I captured a swarm from one of my hives which is doing great. The second swarm that I captured appears to have absconded.

My Carniolans have done especially well this year. I have two full supers of honey from that hive and added a third super of foundation which they are drawing out. That hive is on a scale and I take daily weight measurements. One day they gained 17 pounds! That is quite a lot of nectar. They have had lots of other days in which they gained more than 10 pounds. During the month of May, they gained about 100 pounds (that 100 pounds is adjusted to account for the weight of stuff that I added like the super bodies, frames, etc., so it represents only the weight of what the bees have collected from flowers). They did not swarm and have worked hard all spring.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Another swarm!

My Italians swarmed again. In fact, they threw off two swarms at the exact same time, and I was fortunate enough to witness the entire thing. In fact, I was able to capture one of the swarms, but the other was much too high up in a tree.

Below are some pics of me capturing one of the swarms. I am fresh out of spare hives to put any more bees in, although I do have an order from BetterBee for two more hive bodies and plastic frames that shipped the same day I got this swarm.

Hopefully this swarm will not get too restless in a cardboard nuc box, which is their home for now.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Swarm is queenright!

I inspected the swarm that I captured earlier this week, and I located the queen. She is not marked, which surprised me because I thought she would be this queen. She is laying lots of eggs already (some can be seen in the photo of the queen below), and I am sure this is going to be a great hive.

The swarm is not drawing out the plastic frames at all. However, these particular plastic frames are not coated with beeswax which makes a big difference in how well the bees will draw comb on them. The reason there is drawn comb in this photo is because I put some frames in with my swarm that were already drawn. Today, I added three wooden frames with beeswax foundation. I'll be curious to see how quickly those get drawn out.

Monday, May 11, 2009


As I was afraid of, my Italians swarmed today. The good news is that I was able to capture the swarm and hive it. I don't have any pictures of the swarm, which is kind of lame, but it was a large one. Since my hives are scales and I take note of the weights everyday, I do know that my Italians dropped 6 pounds since yesterday. Most or all of that was attributable to the swarm.

The swarm landed on the ground which kind of surprised me. I basically started scooping them up and putting them in the box. I had some drawn comb in the box which they seemed to like. I didn't see the queen, which I know is marked. I'll do an inspection this weekend and figure out what's up with the queen.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Time to super up!

I saw dandelions on the way home from work! In my area, that is a sure sign that the nectar flow is starting. My Italians are already supered up with foundation (as opposed to already drawn comb), and earlier this week I finished putting a thick coat of beeswax on some more plastic frames so I can super my Carnies as well. The third year might be the charm for a surplus honey crop!

Just look at my Italians. They are kicking butt and taking names. If they don't swarm, they are going to collect tons of nectar.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Bat fungal infection

This is not bee related, but it is interesting. A fungal infection called white-nose syndrome is wiping out bat populations in the Northeast. I put out my bat house, I'll be curious to see if I can attract some bats this year.

As creepy as some people find them, bats play important roles in plant pollination, seed dissemination and pest control. One little brown bat can consume 1,000 mosquito-size bugs in an hour. Their appetite for pests spares U.S. farmers an estimated $1 billion a year in crop losses and insecticide costs.

White-nose syndrome first appeared in 2006, in a cave near Albany, N.Y. Hibernating bats were found with a white substance on their faces and wings. All were emaciated; many were dead.

Some were clustered near the cave entrances or flying nearby long before they should have left hibernation and before enough insects had emerged to sustain them.

Genetic analysis revealed the fungus to be an unknown member of the cold-loving Geomyces genus. A similar fungus has been seen on bats in Europe, but it has not killed them, Haskew said. It's possible the fungus was somehow transported into North America and began spreading among native bats that have no natural resistance.

The fungus is not known to affect humans, and scientists are only beginning to learn how it affects bats. Some suspect it is an irritant that causes them to awaken frequently during hibernation. A Bucknell University study found that infected bats were waking every two to three days. Disease-free bats rouse every 10 to 18 days.

The frequent disruptions apparently cause the bats to burn too much body fat. They leave the cave too soon in search of food that isn't there, and they starve.

By 2007, the contagion had spread to more caves in upstate New York. By late winter 2008, it was devastating hibernation sites, or hibernacula, in Vermont, Massachusetts and Connecticut. Hundreds of thousands of bats died, 90 percent to 100 percent of each colony.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Trex Bottom Board

Of all the parts of a beehive, the bottom board takes the hardest beating. This is one of the reasons that most people paint the entire surface of their bottom boards (as opposed to just painting surfaces that are exposed to the elements). Surprisingly, I have not seen any bottom boards made of anything more durable than wood.

Therefore, I am toying with making a screened bottom board out of Trex. Trex is an extremely durable product that is made from wood and plastic fibers. It is a very popular material to make decks out of because it holds up so well outdoors, but I have not seen any beehive components made from Trex. Trex is pretty expensive, but I was able to salvage a few short pieces from a dumpster at a construction site last summer. I already used some of it to make a pretty cool Trex birdhouse. Below is a pic of a rough prototype. I can't wait to finalize assembly and throw it under one of my hives.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Can CCD be prevented by supplmental protein?

There was an interesting article in The Economist this week that struck me as a bit dismissive of Colony Collapse Disorder. There may be merit to the argument put forth, but that is for the scientists to decide. The article suggests that feeding bees supplemental pollen that is rich in protein may significantly combat CCD. In other words, CCD can be mitigated by a healthy honeybee diet.

The evidence offered is that almonds have a low protein content, and more than half the hives in the USA end up in California performing almond pollination each year. CCD meant that there were not enough bees to pollinate the almonds and contract prices went from $35 per hive to about $200 per hive. This caused many beekeepers to feed their bees supplements to keep them healthy to chase those higher fees. The protein supplements introduced into the bees' diets appear to have led to a surplus of bees available for this year's almond pollination.

This year’s Californian bee glut, then, has been caused by a mixture of rising supply meeting falling demand. The price of almonds dropped by 30% between August and December last year, as people had less money in their pockets. That has caused growers to cut costs, and therefore hire fewer hives. There is also a drought in the region, and many farmers are unlikely to receive enough water to go ahead with the harvest. Meanwhile, the recent high prices for pollination contracts made it look worthwhile fattening bees up with supplements over the winter. That may help explain why there have been fewer colony collapses.

The rise and fall of the managed honeybee, then, owes as much to the economics of supply and demand as it does to the forces of nature. And if the nutrition and disease theory is correct, next year’s lower contract prices may see beekeepers cutting back on supplemental feeding, and a resurgence of CCD.

Again, I can't speak to the merits of this "diet centered" argument, but it does not seem completely absurd to me. My bees have had no CCD related problems, but in Maryland we have really good pollen sources.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

First inspection of 2009!

Since we had some decent 60 degree weather in central Maryland, I was able to inspect both my hives for the first time in the new year. My expectations prior to inspection that hive #1 would be fine, and hive #2 would be nearly dead. After all, hive # 2 was knocked over for an unknown amount of time, rained on while knocked over, and was very light (i.e. low of food stores) when I put it back together. I did notice some activity, so I knew that hive #2 was not completely dead, but I figured it was just a matter of time.

Much to my surprise, both hives are doing extremely well. The stronger of the hives is hive #2, which as a fair amount of honey left (although don't ask me where it came from). Below is a shot of a frame from hive #2, showing the queen.

My gut at this point is that hive #2 may throw off an early swarm. Therefore, I am hoping just to use them to draw out comb this year, and get my first honey crop from hive #1. I guess the third year is the charm!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Beeswax Lip Balm

For my birthday, I received this lip balm kit. It comes with all you need (even the beeswax) to make 24 containers of lip balm. 12 of the containers are the "lipstick tube" type and 12 are small jars.

So far, I have made four containers worth (two of each type). It was really easy and it only takes about 10 minutes or so to melt the wax and carefully pour it into the containers. You don't need a fancy wax melter, I just used a queenline honey jar and a saucepan with some hot water. Then you just have to wait for it to dry into its solid form. It comes with a variety of flavoring oils so you be creative.

This time I made a peppermint flavor, and it turned out really cool. I am really looking forward to making some more lip balm with wax from my own bees!