Monday, June 24, 2013

Top Bar Hive Progress

I opened the hives two days ago and was shocked to see how much nectar / honey the bees have been stock piling. I've been feeding with the boardman feeder. I hived these both hives April 25, and have been feeding them 1:1 sugar water. They drink the syrup inconsistently, I'm sure their intake depends on the number of bees and what flowers are blooming. Typically, when they are drinking the syrup these quart jars lasted about 2 days, when they slowed down they would last over a week before being empty.
Upon opening the hives this weekend, I decided they don't need supplementary food any more.  So far I have fed them 30 lbs of sugar mixed in as much water (15 lbs of sugar per hive). $ 6.50 for a 10 lb bag of C&H cane sugar from Walmart. I have left the feeders on the hive but now they have straight water (to drink and cool the hive).

Yes, the bees are doing exactly what they should be doing, but I was still surprised to see how much furniture (comb) they had built. The brood nest is where the bees raise their young. It is located near the front of these hives. The brood nest is presently about 8 bars of drawn comb. The first bar, nearest the front of the hive is almost all pollen filled, then the next 8 contain the brood nest. In examining some of those bars it seems that there are a lot of the cells in the brood nest bars that have nectar or uncapped honey in them. I think this is somewhat normal as the nurse bees keep some nectar / honey close to feed the young. But I worry that there is too much up front and that the queen is running out of space for young. This is called honey bound. When that happens, swarming can happen. I'd rather error on the side of conservatism so I added an empty bar (no wax) in the brood nest area for the bees to draw out (build comb).
One of the shocking things I discovered was that the bees attached all the honey combs to the side walls of the hive. This meant that I had to cut each comb to remove and inspect it. This was a complete mess. Honey everywhere. Everything sticky, bees not to happy and yes stung hand (1 sting).
Here's a picture of a bar mostly full of honey (sun burst for effect). The bees cap the cells when the cells are full of honey whose moisture level has been reduced. (The other side looks the same). Notice how the cell for the most part are nowhere near the long edge of the bar, this is good. Also notice new pvc lined gloves (sting proof)!

 You can see comb near my hand (blue glove) and on the left. It was attached to the next bar, and hive wall. I cut it loose two days ago. There was only minor attachment today, so the hive was much easier to work with.

You can see the comb getting close to the edge of this bar. That trouble and leads to it being attached across bars. It makes the bars hard to get out one at a time and when you try you tend to rip the comb, leak honey and annoy the bees. My remedy was to squish it back.

Yes this also mean honey on you fingers (gloves) and less than happy bees.
Here is a picture into the hive.

Capped honey near the top of the bar. On the right you can see remnants of wax attachment (brace comb). On the left wall near the bottom you can see broken comb. This is what happens when you try to remove a bar that is attached to the wall. This was a nice break in that it is very small. Here is a close up.

They clean it right up.

This is a different piece, in the above picture. I scrap out all I can and move on with the inspection. You can see they are still are fond of the honey.
Here is where I placed the empty bar, right between #12 and #5. You can tell, by the numbering of the bars, that I have been placing bars in the brood nest. This spreads it out and hopefully prevents swarming. The adjacent bars (#12 & #5) have really straight comb so by placing and empty bar between I'm almost guaranteed that the bees will build straight. The bees on top of bars 6 - 10 are sucking up honey drips. You can also see the spray bottle. Its filled with water and about 10 drops of lemongrass oil. This is supposed to settle the bees down. It smells better than smoke. Two days ago when I did more cutting of the comb to unstick the honey bars I ran out of scented water and the bees were already agitated so I had to resort to smoke from the smoker.

Here are the bits of wax (oops and a squished bee) that I scraped from the sides of the hive. Two days ago I cut out about half a bowl full of crocked comb, brace comb, cross comb. So not too bad this time.

I did find this fella, He's a drone (male bee) he is a little bigger than the girls and his eyes are really big and almost look like they touch one another. All the better to find the queen!

Friday, June 21, 2013

Cucumbers and Yard Long Beans

Its almost summer, well past the date to start planting and I am finally getting to plant cucumbers and yard long pole beans.
I've got a spot where I planted tomatoes, last year, that didn't do well. I think it was the classic case of planting too soon after applying manure. The tomatoes mostly burnt up in June, so I planted cover crop plants in their place. After all I couldn't leave it bare. The first "cover crop" I planted was nematode control marigolds from Burpee I read that they can help control bind weed if the plants are dug back into the ground after grown. I am not sure if that experiment was successful or not. Last year it got really hot in early July 100+ F for several / many days in a row. I think that killed the marigold seeds that had germinated. I did get marigolds but I think it was different seeds that germinated after the big heat passed. And the disturbing but expected outcome there is still bindweed to beat the band. While the marigolds were growing near the front of the bed, I planted alternating rows of hairy vetch, fava beans, and oats behind them. The fava and oats sprouted and the hairy vetch came in a little later in the fall. The oats and fava winter killed (froze) and the hairy vetch went dormant until spring, when it came back to life. Fast forward to late June and here we are.

Bumble bees like hairy vetch. The flowers are shaped similar to snap dragon blooms so honey bees have a hard time forcing open the flowers to get at the nectar, where it seems the larger bumble bees can force their way in. Hairy vetch is a legume, meaning it forms root nodules with symbiotic bacteria to fix nitrogen from the air. When the plant is turned in this nitrogen becomes available to the next plants. Although the vetch looks daunting to clear, it is actually pretty easy. I simply start at one side ripping it out of the ground by hand and rolling it up as I go. As I mentioned there is still bindweed mixed in so I wanted do as much damage it its roots as possible. I have done this by hand with a turning fork, but even this small area would take many hours to get done using that method. I do have a secret weapon that works wonders.
 Six horsepower of magic. I've read that tilling disrupts the soil organisms, earthworms and the like, but I'm hoping they recover faster than the bindweed.

So here it is after being tilled. My drip irrigation just pivots out of the way. You can see the big round ball of hairy vetch at the top of the walkway.

Here is what it ended up like. Fencing bent into semi circles for the cukes to grow up. I use 4 ft pieces of rebar to stake the fence in. I used the hairy vetch as mulch around the cucumber seeds, Seeds of Change Marketmore cucumbers. I used the pine tree branches in a teepee fashion as a trellis for yard long beans (see March "Magic Beans" post. The I moved the sprinklers back in place and watered everything in well with the hose.
It was hot work. I did this after work about 7pm till dark (~9pm) the temps are in the high 80's still and the mosquitoes are out in force. My saucer full of water dries every second day, bone dry so I think the mosquitoes are living and breeding in the soil.
Here is an update picture from Aug 25, 2013.
Aug 25, 2013

 The cukes are taking over, I planted them too close to one another (too many seeds). They are producing very well, but its hard to get in to pick them.
The yardlong beans really didn't do too well. I picked my first pair of bean pods Sept. 18th.

Here is a picture of the girls bearding while I was finishing up. They do this to keep cooler, its cooler outside than inside the hive. The bottom of my hives are covered in 1/8" screen, but otherwise completely open. The only opening is a 1/2" slot near the bottom of the beard.
Hive #1

Hive #2

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Fresh Strawberries

We are well into June and the strawberries have been plentiful this season. They are a June bearing variety (vs everbearing) and they pretty much have been ripening since the beginning of the month. First, just one or two a day and now close to a dozen ripen each day. We have seen the robins carrying a few away, and even worse, are the strawberries that they only eat half and leave the rest.
June 13th about quarter sized

Home grown strawberries don't need to be as red as store bought strawberries to be ripe, although the above are fully red. Usually when they are this red the robins will find them, however since there are so many the robins leave us some.

The berries were planted two seasons ago in the box on the right (5 plants). They have taken over that box completely and moved into the next box (and everywhere in between) via many runners.

You can see in the close up how many berries are still in the baby stage. We hope to have fresh strawberries for the whole month.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Bee Hive First Month

I picked up bees a little over a month ago. I purchased the bees from a contact at the Boulder County Beekeepers' Association, actually Miles the president. He's a warm hearted fella who picks up a trailer full of packages in California and brings them back to Boulder County. I purchased 2 packages 3 pounds each.
Each package contains about 10,000-12,000 worker bees, a queen, and a can of sugar water to keep them feed during transit.
Three pound bee packages April 26th

As a new beekeeper it was a little unnerving driving with 20,000 bees in the seat next to me.
I pulled the can of sugar water out and dumped the bees into the hives one at a time. The queens arrive in a small cage suspended in each of the packages. In the photo above you can see the small metal tab, to the right of the cans, which suspends her cage near the top of the package. I left the queen in the her cage, but moved that cage into the hive before dumping in the bees. With the queen still caged the bees are more likely to stay in the hive rather than fly off somewhere. These bees in these packages aren't "daughters" of the queen but just bees that the company who packages bees dumped in with a newly mated queen. This means that the bees aren't necessarily acquainted with the queen and may kill her as she smells different than their mother. A few days alone in the hive with the new queen takes care of this and gets them used to her smell. After a few days pass the queen is released into the hive, the queen cage removed. The queen cage has a small corked hole, but by removing the cork and squishing a marshmallow in hole the bees can chew through and release the queen in a few days. I chose this method rather than removing the cork manually after a few days, but I still needed to remove the empty queen cage from the hive.
The problem that I had was that even though the temperature was in the low 80's F when I got the bees. Several days later it snowed several inches and I didn't want to open the hives in the cold.
Queen cage with fresh comb and pollen

When I did open the hives a week after dumping them in, both colonies of bees had built significant comb. The comb was attached to the queen cage and in attempting to remove the queen cage I damaged the comb. In the first hive, I didn't realize what was happening until it was too late and one of the combs dropped to the bottom of the hive. This caused a stir to say the least.
I closed the hive to regroup. I quickly developed a plan and built a "broken comb holder". After about an hour I opened the hive and picked out the broken pieces of comb and put it in the "holder". I was worried about this for a couple of reasons. First, I wasn't sure if maybe some bees got trapped under the comb when it fell in the hive. Oh no maybe the queen! And secondly, the bees were just starting out and I wasn't sure if they would be put back by stealing their comb and food when they had so very little.

Comb holder

 Above is a picture with two of the bigger pieces of comb. The wax is soft when it is new and broke fairly easily. The dandelions are in full bloom. That's what the orange pollen is in the wax comb. I also think that is why the wax is yellow colored. The majority of the pollen is from dandelions, but there are some other flowers with different colored pollen, red, black, yellow, light green.
Its surprising how much wax 3 pounds of bees can produce in a little time. 
It is important to check the hive shortly after hiving the package. The main goal is to make sure the queen is okay and is laying, otherwise the colony is doomed (unless another queen can be gotten). As a new beekeeper it is hard to find the queen, however it isn't necessary to actually see her, the beekeeper must simply see evidence of her presents. 
Here is one of the top bars 14 days after the bees were "hived". All of this wax was made by the bees since their hiving.
There are plenty of capped cells, but as a new beekeeper I wasn't sure if this is capped honey or capped brood (baby bees). But upon closer inspection I found uncapped larvae.
After I saw the little curled worms I had a better idea of what was happening. The queen starts laying eggs closer to the top and center because the wax comb starts there, the bees start building from the top down. as they build cells they build them from the top center both downward and outward. The queen fills the cells in the same order. So the capped cells in the center are older larvae that have been capped. 
On each of the top bars that the workers had drawn comb on, 6 so far (in two weeks). There is about an inch of nectar near the wood top bar, then just below that the next inch of darker colored comb is pollen. then the rest is capped and uncapped brood.
Eggs hatch and turn into larvae. They are feed and in 8 days the workers cap the cells. The larvae continues to develop into the pupa stage, then they emerge from their cells as bees after 21 days from the egg hatching.
After closer inspection I did find eggs too. They are very small and hard to see in new comb. I've drawn black lines around two cells where the eggs are "easier" to see.

Bee eggs in cells
 The queen should be filling all cells leaving very few (or no) empty cells.

My good deed caused me some grief. The comb I rescued and put back into the hive got attention from the bees as you can see below. They started building it out in every direction attaching it at all skewed angles. I ended up taking this rescue comb holder out because the bees started attaching the comb and rubber bands to the adjacent comb which nearly caused more broken comb.

 The next thing I saw that I wasn't expecting was drone cells. Most of the hive is comprised of worker bees. Typically 10's thousands, 50-80,000 at peak season is what I read. At that time there is usually a couple hundred male bees (drones). They are a bit larger than worker bees. They are raised in larger cells called drone cells. These cells in addition to being larger are also capped with domed lids.
Its hard to tell without a reference of worker cells, but this whole comb is built with the larger sized worker cells. I'm holding it upside down in this picture. Like the other bars the bees put nectar at the top (near the wood) then some pollen, then the eggs / brood. The capped (closed) cells near the wood is honey. Honey is nectar whose moisture level has been evaporated to about 18%. The bees cap it for storage. The dark cells are a combination of pollen and nectar. I didn't realize all the colors that pollen came in.
A view from inside

More to follow...