Smoke

Beehive Smoker

Beehive Smoker

I’ve never liked smoking my bees. Smoke calms them down all right, but they aren’t quite themselves for a day or two. I figured a few minutes of bee panic is better than several days of befuddlement.

I’ve never smoked when installing a new package of bees.  It hasn’t seemed necessary. They’ve been more than happy to get out of that dreadful packing box.

Likewise I haven’t smoked when I’ve opened the hive for only a few seconds to feed or stick in a frame or two.

Smoking a Hive

Smoking a Hive

Today I pushed the envelope. Big mistake!

I wanted to switch out frames in a new hive from one deep box to another. Not for a good reason, mind you, but because I liked the paint color of the second box better. It wasn’t going to take very long.

It turns out that from the bees’ perspective it isn’t so much how long the disruption is but how distressing. Moving a frame with the Queen on it is apparently very distressing!

My gentle hive stung me five times through my bee suit and then went after the landscapers working next door. Thank goodness the landscapers did not get stung!

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I quickly closed up the hive and ran inside, followed by a few angry girls. My dog, the Noble Bayard, ate them with gusto. All is quiet now.

I’m going back out shortly to finish the job. Needless to say, I’m going to smoke from now on. It’s better for all of us!!

Doing The Split

I have two hives, one in my front garden and one in my back garden.

My Front Garden Hive

I have Buckfast bees in my back garden, and it’s a very established hive.

It’s also a very tall hive. There are two deeps, a medium and two honey supers.

In the past, when the bees needed more room, I just slapped on another super or two. If I keep on going on the same way, pretty soon I’m going to need a ladder.

But the Buckies seem to love it! They haven’t shown any signs of swarming, and they’ve been very productive.

The hive at the White House is tall, so I figured it was okay.

White House Bees

In my front garden, I used to have Italian bees. This was their first year, and they didn’t make it. It was very sad.

So I decided to split the Buckfast hive. I’ve never done a split before. There’s something intimidating about the concept.

I also have a confession to make. My Buckfast bees are so healthy and happy, I leave them alone for the most part. I’m of the “if they’re okay, don’t mess with them” school of beekeeping.

But my empty hive was making me sad. So I took out my copy of  The Practical Beekeeper by Michael Bush and started reading up.

I decided to do what Michael calls “a walk away split.”  Basically, you do a split without giving the new hive a Queen. Then you walk away and let them sort things out. After four weeks you check to see if you have a laying Queen.

When I opened the Buckfast hive this morning, I realized it was a good thing I was doing a split. The hive was absolutely to the rafters with bees and honey!  They need fewer bees and honey and more room to expand.

Honey extraction was going to have to wait until tomorrow though. Today, I had to find at least ten frames of brood and honey to form the core of the new hive.

I found it in the medium super, which was perfect because the new hive has all medium boxes.

I carefully placed the 10 frames in the new hive boxes, and gave the bees six more empty frames to build on. Then I shut up the hive and crossed my fingers. Split accomplished!

But I still have the problem of not enough room in the original hive.

Tonight I’ll be building frames. LOTS of frames!

And tomorrow I’ll be removing at least half of the honey frames for extraction. I’ll replace them with empty frames, and the bees will have plenty of time to make more honey before fall.

If this works, I may never buy another package of bees again!!

Arrivederci, Italian Bees…

Italian honey bees bearding outside the hive e...

Italian honey bees bearding outside the hive entrance (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I must have had a premonition when I posted about “bee on bee” crime.  I wuz robbed!!

I’m leaving town this afternoon for the weekend, and I went out to check the hives.  My Buckies were flying wildly, but my Italians were strangely silent. Worse than silent. Nowhere to be seen.

Fearing the worst, I opened the hive.  It had been stripped clean of honey and brood.  The only things left were a few sniggering wax moth larvae.  They and the denuded frames went straight into the dumpster.

FAILURE!!

My Italian bees had always seemed a bit too fragile and beautiful for their own good. I didn’t have to smoke them before inspections. They followed me around while I gardened, gentle and curious.

In retrospect, what I thought was aggressive grooming behavior at the entrance to their hive was actually my Buckies subduing their unwelcome adopted siblings. Even though the two hives were nowhere near each other, apparently the Buckies could sense the competition, and were having none of it.

I will have to revise my thinking on robbing situations. They don’t all look like “The Attack of the Killer Bees From Outer Space.”

No, this one at worst looked like “bearding” due to heat. It was a nearly bloodless coup. It probably started the day I installed the package of Italians and fed them that tasty sugar syrup.

So what now?  I called the nearest breeder, but they’re out of packages for the season.

But my Buckie hive is huge!

So I’m going to try an even split.  My first ever!!  If my Buckies don’t want competition, let’s see how they do with creating a second hive by themselves.

More later…

D

Are Defensive Bees Healthier?

Warning!  This is a totally unscientific proposition!

I’m wondering whether defensive bees are healthier than gentler strains.

This is based on my own (limited) experience.

I have two hives:  One very established Buckfast hive and one new Italian hive.

The Buckfast bees are defensive.  No question about it.  I treat them with respect.

But they are incredibly healthy.  I’ve had the same hive for four years, and it is bigger and stronger than ever.  I’ve never seen any evidence of disease.

On the other hand, my Italian bees are sweethearts.  I don’t even bother to smoke them for inspections. But they seem frail somehow.

I’ve seen larvae dumped on their landing board, and the colony isn’t building up as quickly as I’d hoped.  I’ve seen evidence of Varroa mites.

I’m considering taking a frame of Buckfast brood and putting it in the Italian hive.  Maybe the Italian hive will become more defensive.  But maybe that’s what it needs to survive.

I’d be interested to hear what others think about this!!

My Garden Hive – Third Inspection

The Garden Hive

It’s been three weeks since I hived my Italian bees. I was a bit concerned after my last inspection since I didn’t see any capped brood, and there were some queen cups at the top of the frames. Was Queen Maria Amalia laying eggs? Were my bees trying to replace her?

Queen Cups

I shouldn’t have worried. Today when I inspected the hive, there was an almost perfect brood pattern on four of the eight frames. There was also capped honey stores. The bees are coming along beautifully!

Capped Brood and Honey Stores

Next week I’ll remove the sugar syrup feeder, and my bees should have a good start on the summer!

The Garden Hive Groweth

I hived my Italian bees on Saturday, May 12, the day before Mother’s Day.

It’s been 11 days, and the bees have drawn out comb in 5 of the 8 frames.  I don’t like to crowd my bees, so it was time to add another medium super.

Before

After

I’ll add at least one more medium super, and probably two, to accommodate the growing colony. I would be surprised if I harvest any honey at all from this hive this year.

I did a very quick inspection and found Queen Cups along the top quarter of a few frames.

Queen Cup

This may or may not mean something.

Since the cups are at the top of the frames, their presence may mean that the workers are considering replacing Queen Maria Amalia. If they are, the Queen will lay an egg in the cup, and the workers will begin raising a new Queen.

The Queen Cup will then become a Queen Cell, which looks like a peanut.

Queen Cell

I’m not too worried about Queen Maria Amalia though. It’s not unusual for bees to make Queen Cups, and even Queen Cells, this time of year. Some beekeepers consider them a normal part of the “hive furniture.”

I won’t open the hive again until the weekend after next. It’s good to let the bees do their thing with as little disturbance as possible!

Garden Update

Today was an unusual day. It was almost 90 degrees Farenheit. And muggy.

I opened my Italian hive around noon. They’ve drawn out four frames of comb. Tomorrow I’ll add a second medium super.

Around 2:30 pm, my neighborhood’s electricity went out. I didn’t notice it much because I was weeding in the garden.

The lights and air conditioning came back on at 6:30.

Tomorrow I’ll open the other hive. And replace the red ivy geraniums on my deck with pink ones!!

My English Cottage Garden Hive

Deb Weyrich-Cody, a very knowledgeable reader of this blog, sent me a friendly email with a concern about my new English Cottage Garden Hive set-up. She was rightly concerned that my “rattan” hive stand was not sturdy enough to support a hive full of brood and honey.

She made me realize that I needed to explain the set-up in more detail, lest someone out there make a tragic mistake because of poor communication on my part.

Deb writes:

I love your wicker hive-stand and it makes a gorgeous accent piece in your beautiful garden but, well I’m not sure how long you’ve had your bees and there are probably a few things you should know (before it’s too late)…

Your brood box won’t be terribly heavy at this point, however once it’s packed full of brood, nurse bees, pollen and honey and then add honey supers on top of that; the weight will increase exponentially.  A shallow honey super can weigh 50-75 lbs, while a full depth super like your brood box can weigh up to 100lbs and I know that you don’t want to even contemplate the havoc that would result if your beautiful wicker stand were to collapse.

Deb is exactly right, if in fact my hive stand was real wicker. It’s not.

Pier One Hive Stand

It’s an  all-weather ottoman of synthetic rattan over a durable iron frame.  It’s fully capable of supporting a heavy hive. I found it at Pier One.

So, if you want to copy my look, PLEASE don’t use real rattan, or if you do, make sure it is fully supported from below with bricks or a concrete block.

Also, my hive is not a traditional 10 frame Langstroth set-up. It’s an 8 frame “English Garden Hive” from Brushy Mountain Bee Farm, and I’m using all medium boxes. I specifically chose this set-up so that I will be able to lift full boxes by myself.

I also think it looks wonderful!!

And many thanks to Deb for bringing her concerns to my attention. I would hate to be the cause of a beekeeping debacle out there!!

Italian Week – Napoleon And The Bee Room

In 1804,the Italian-born Napoleon Bonaparte was crowned Emperor of France in a coronation robe decorated with 300 gold Bees.

Napoleon at his Coronation, wearing a robe adorned with Bees

The Bee was a hugely important icon of Napoleon’s reign, and his obsession with its symbolism led to his inevitable nickname;The Bee. Napoleon would have grown up with the symbolism of the Bee ingrained in his psyche, for his homeland of Corsica was required to pay the Romans an annual tax equivalent of £200,000 in Beeswax.

The young emperor ensured that the Bee was widely adopted in his court as well as on clothing, draperies, carpets and furniture all across France. By choosing the Bee as the emblem of his reign, Napoleon was paying homage to Childeric (436 – 481), one of the ‘long haired’ Merovingian Kings of the region known as Gaul (which included part of Italy.)

When Childeric’s tomb was uncovered in 1653, it was found to contain 300 golden jewels, styled in the image of a Bee. And of course, these are the same Bees that Napoleon had affixed to his coronation robe.

Sadly, of the 300 Bees only two have survived.

Bees from the Tomb of Childeric I

Except for the ones in my friend Marianne’s powder room.

Of course, they aren’t the real Merovingian bees. But they’re a really good representation. Here are some pictures.

Italian Week – Checking Out My Italian Girls

Beekeeping is so much fun!!

I opened the hive today primarily to retrieve the Queen cage and to see if the girls needed feeding.

I am the worst bee-smoker-lighter ever!!  I swear I followed instructions to the letter, but my smoke petered out after about five minutes.  So, except for a puff or two, I opened an unsmoked hive. The girls were as calm as, well,… really calm bees.  🙂

There are some guys doing construction work at my next-door neighbor’s house. When they saw me in my bee regalia, they expressed concern that I was going to “rile them up.”

When I offered the guys some honey (bad choice of words!!) and assured them the bees were going to be happier when fed, they calmed down too.

I couldn’t find Queen Maria Amalia, but I’m sure she’s there because the bees seem so happy.

They’ve drawn out a few frames of comb, but I don’t think I’m going to open the hive again for a week or so. I’ll just check to see if they need sugar syrup. They did need some today.

More later!!

P.S. I’m going to post on the proper way to light a smoker. Maybe I’ll learn something…