Thursday, August 12, 2010

When I put the honey super on Demeter I wanted to see what the bees would do if I used foundationless frames only.

They knew exactly what to do and had a jolly good time building beautiful comb.  The only thing that went "wrong" was that the bees did things their way - comb every which way instead of straight up and down and parallel.  "Wrong" from the honey harvester's point of view, and perfectly natural to them!

I puzzled and worried over this for quite awhile and even asked my Backwards Beekeeping friends in Los Angeles what they would suggest. I woke up at 2.00 am on Monday and thought "bee escape"!  The folks in LA suggested that as well!  On Tuesday I went to Harvard Robbins' Honey Farm and purchased two Western supers (also called honey supers), frames, plastic foundation, and a frame puller.  Mr. Robbins, who could be anywhere in age from 75 to 85 and has a nice "down home" accent, loaned my his bee escape.  He made it about 30 years ago and it's the type with a triangular maze on the underside of the escape.  He has a great shop, full of beekeeping supplies and is as fascinating as a great bookstore!

These are the bits and pieces before assembly.

These are the parts needed to make the frame.

Top: the top bar. Center: the bottom bar.  Center right: the end pieces.  Bottom: the nice waxy plastic foundation.

The frame of foundation all put together with the joins reinforced with little brads to help hold everything together.

I glued each dovetail with waterproof wood glue and used my rubber mallet to pound the joints tightly together.

Then I used the battery powered drill to make pilot holes for the wood screws.

I used a different, heavy duty battery powered drill with a Phillips screw head to screw in the 1.24" wood screws.

The supers after two coats of cream colored exterior paint and a pretty bee stencil in black, a frame of foundation showing how the frame pulling tool is applied.

Next: the bee escape!

Monday, August 2, 2010

"Well now, Rosie.  You just listen to me.  We know way more about this beekeeping thing than you ever will, so when we tell you to quit messing with us, do it!  Duh - why do you think they are called "honey supers"?  Because that's where you take the honey from!  NOT anywhere else!  You don't even have to look in anywhere else.  We're doing just fine without you poking your nose in!"

Yes, "Momma Queen", I hear you.  I'm sorry.  Please remember that I am a dense human being and not only that I know zip about beekeeping.  I promise that I will keep my hands off your brood boxes and will only peek into the honey supers when absolutely necessary.  You all have "first dibs" on the honey and if I really need some I can always buy some from Gary.  Sorry, sorry...

My learning curve shot straight up today!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

On the way to the local farmers market...

The Avenue is quite pretty with it's big maple trees.  Wouldn't it be nice to get rid of the signage?

The local branch of the public library.  It's been expanded and remodeled and is the most used branch library in town.

The post office.  Gotta love those power poles?

The local movie theatre.  It's owned by a group of local merchants and shows films just at the end of their first run.

"The Prince of Persia" at 7:00 PM Monday through Friday with a matinee at 4:00 on Saturdays.

Fire Station Number 13.  Years ago horses were used to pull fire wagons and the stables used to be where the engine is in this photo.

There really is a brass pole that the firefighters use to slide down from the top floor to the bottom floor.

One of the two grocery stores.  This one is like the Neiman-Marcus of the local food scene!

And yes, that is a Starbucks.

The local farmers market.

My bee teacher, Gary Violette, at his stand selling some of his bee's wonderful honey!
This is my first harvest of lavender.  I had to leave some for the bees!  I also grow white lavender - isn't that odd "white" lavender?

Thank you daughter Katie for taking the photograph!
I grow a lot of lavender.  Our soil is fairly infertile and that seems to agree with lavender.  So far we have twenty lavender plants in the garden on the north side of the house.  They are not planted too close to the house because, being in the Northern Hemisphere, they wouldn't get enough sun otherwise.  During the Summer Solstice the only area in that part of the garden that isn't in the sun is around the corner from the front porch where we grow Shasta daisies and ferns.  Works out quite well!
"Look out lavender!  Here I come!"

By shear luck I happen to catch a bee in mid-flight, ready to harvest some nectar from the lavender we have growing in our front garden!  You will see that her tongue is out and as soon as she lands she will start taking in lavender nectar.

Imagine a field of lavender, hives, and the bees flying about feasting on lavender nectar!  I want to replace my entire front lawn with lavender - can't have bee hives in the front garden due to city regulations but I think they would be able to fly over the house.
Thank you, Viv!  You are so kind - working with bees is very fascinating but also very "what am I doing?"!  The bees know so much and I know so very,very little!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

This is beautiful, gooey propolis in the top bar hive Minerva.  Propolis is great stuff!  It smells so good - like tree sap (which it is).

The human brain retains smell memories.  Sometimes I smell something that reminds me of the salt water of Puget Sound.  Sometimes I smell something that reminds me of burning leaves when I was living in England.  Propolis reminds me of the scent used at the department store "Frederick and Nelson" during the Christmas holidays.  Christmas trees, pine needles, the forest!  Frederick and Nelson no longer exists but sometimes, like when I open a hive and catch a whiff of that delicious propolis fragrance, I remember...
This is a view of Mount Rainier as seen from the top floor of our house.  It was taken in the evening as the mountain turns pink.

Mount Rainier is 14, 411 feet high (you Brits don't have mountains!) and is a dormant volcano.  I live 235 feet above sea level so if it ever erupts we should be safe from the lava, rocks, and lahar!
I am so inept!  I try to do right by my bees but it seems that I just mess things up!

This is Demeter, the stronger of my Langstroth hives.  Following the example set by the Backwards Beekeepers in Los Angeles I put empty frames in the honey super.  I thought the bees would have a great time building their own comb and, while I'm sure they enjoyed it, the comb is every which way in the super! 

So what am I supposed to do now?  My intent was for the bees to make enough honey to overwinter but I was sure looking forward for a tiny bit to harvest.  Should I leave things as they are?  Should I harvest this honey (most of it isn't capped yet so I'd have to wait awhile)?  Should I removed the frames one by one and replace them with frames that have plastic foundation in them?  Help - you beekeepers who know so much more than I do!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Yipee!  I have five followers! And I invited only one (Thank you Santiago!).

I haven't been adding many new posts lately - busy with the flower beds and have to cook and do laundry every so often.  I'll get back in the swing after my husband and I have a little anniversary vacation.  Thirty five years!  Will I survive the flight on the float plane? 

This is a photo of my fish buddy, Scuba (who is known to float tummy up on occasion).  He and his tank mate, Blubber, are having their summer vacation from middle school in our kitchen.  The students think they're really fun!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Wow!  So much has been happening lately!  I've been working in the garden and tending to the bees and have some more photos to post.

Bee gymnastics?  I've heard that this is how bees measure spaces in which to build honeycomb.  Or maybe their are measuring for new curtains?

This big hornet was flying about the kitchen today and I really wanted to photograph it without killing it.  I trapped it in a glass and put it in the refrigerator for a few minutes - just until it quit buzzing around in the glass.  Camera at the ready I put the hornet on a piece of paper, removed the glass, and took about half a dozen photos.  Then I replaced the glass, took it out side and released the hornet.  It took off after warming back up for a moment. 

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Our dear sweet Emma died today.  She was fourteen years old and had a long and happy life with us.  We adored her.  Her heart was giving up and we faced the hard choice of having to put her down this afternoon at 4.00.  Her death was very peaceful.  Her ashes will be scattered in the forests at the base of Mount Rainier.

She brought much happiness to our family and to many friends as well.

We will miss her.

We encourage all who wish to bring a dog into their life to go to the local animal shelter and find your friend there.  Adopting a homeless dog, as Emma once was, is a special moment and it will stay with you forever.

OXOXO for Emma.  "Good dog!".

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

I took a break from digging the new flower boarder to see how the bees are doing.

This is the interior of the top bar hive - now renamed Minerva.  Showing are the inside of the sloping sides, the screened bottom (with remnants of grease patty and leaves from the tree we found the swarm in), and a whole bunch of bees on their very own made by bees comb!

Getting into the hive is really easy - take off the roof and slide the follower board to one side and then slide each top bar.

This view shows the bees walking about on the inside and on their comb on the third top bar (they have seemed to congregate towards the right side of the hive space).  I started from the left side so the first two top bars were free of bees.

The bees were very calm.

I removed the top bars and found beautiful, beautiful comb - all made by the bees themselves.  As you can see the comb is very clean and translucent.

This is a close up photograph of the comb.  It is such fantastic stuff.  It may be difficult to see but there is nectar in the cells turning into honey.

Of course, the big question is where is the queen.

There she is!  And, just by sheer luck, this photograph shows her laying an egg in a cell!

With my tiny experience with Langstroth hives and top bar hives, from the beginner's point of view, I think I prefer working the top bar hive.  It's so straight forward and easy.  We'll see if I still feel this way next Spring!

Oxfam America: Sweet as honey

Sunday, June 27, 2010

I came along an ant colony while I was weeding.

There were thousands and thousands of teeny, tiny ants busy with something.

They came up out of this hole between rocks placed along the edge of the pavement.

Ant colonies always remind me about the part of "The Once and Future King" when Merlin turns Wart into an ant.  I'm glad I'm not an ant.

This ant measures about 3/16 of an inch long in life size! It's big head and mandibles cause me to believe that it's a worker/soldier ant.
Blue sky!

We are reducing the amount of lawn area in the front garden.  The soil is as hard as concrete and full of rocks so the "grass" doesn't do so well.  One of my summer projects is to make two new borders along both sides of the pathway from the pavement to our front door.

I got out my favorite edging tool, made slices in the turf and removed 1,300 pounds of sod!

Then I began digging over the soil.  I like this  spade because I can take up a narrow deep slice of soil.

I found rocks, rocks, rocks!

This is the largest single rock.  This part of Washington State is known for it's excellent gravel and I could open my own mine!

For those of you who are interested in such things the gravel in Steilicoom, Washington sets an international standard in excellent gravel.  "Steilicoom grade" gravel is great stuff!

The next day it was time to get down on my hands and knees to break up the soil and remove... more rocks!

The robins were keeping an eye out for worms.  You can just see one to the right of the wheelbarrow.  This is a particularly interesting specimen because it has no tail.

Nothing - not even a little tuft of feathers.  It seems to be able to fly normally.

It really welcomed the worms.  I'd find some big juicy worms and toss them onto the pavement and the robin would take them in it's beak, pinch up and down the length of the worms (to immobilize them, most likely) and fly off with about three or four of them.  It also ate some, snarfing them right down.

So after four hours or so of digging and rock throwing and picture taking it was time to put my feet up for a bit.  David (who also dug and threw rocks) brought me a chair and a glass of wine.

So, this is our little house.  We've lived here since 1984.  Our children grew up here.  We love it.  Our neighborhood is nice - we live within walking distance of the shops and the library, post office, and the farmers market (where Gary the Bee Guy sells his honey).  It's a long commute for David, forty-five minutes or so if the traffic isn't too bad.  Fifteen minutes for me to get to work at the very most.

I made a "house flag" last Monday.  It's my version of the maritime signal flag for the letter "H".

OK, time to get back at it!  Let's get those tools out and get back to work!  Enough of this sitting around!  Forget it - I'll wait until tomorrow.  I'm having way too much fun now!

Monday, June 21, 2010

I do wish it would stop raining.  A bit of sun would make everyone happier: me, the birds, certainly the bees, even the dog.  And today is the Summer Solstice!

I have several summer gardening projects is mind.  First I have to rid several flowers boarders of grass and weeds.  Then I'm going to remove some turf on both sides of the pathway up to the front door and plant more lavender, santolina, et cetera.  Our goal is to make the lawn area in front of the house (the shady side here in the Northern Hemisphere!) much smaller.  I'd like to have a thyme lawn or wildflowers.  It will be a lot of work but should look very nice when it's done.

This photograph shows the gate from the front garden to the back garden.  The little sign says "chien bete et mechant" which means "look out for the silly dog".

It seems that the birds prefer having their feeder in the front garden - away from the bees.

There are several young finches who have been at the feeder recently.  I can get quite close to them before they fly off.  Birds are so much fun to watch.  I like them all, even the crows.

On the day of the hive building David and I saw a "murder" of crows chasing a bald eagle away from their nests in the trees at the university.  That was great!  Not too long ago you'd never see a bald eagle, not even in the wilds.  They have made an incredible comeback.  The honey bee needs to make a similar comeback.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

When I was trimming back the Kiwi vine last week our neighbors Ava, Carly and their mom Shyla came up the alley and I invited them in to see the bees.  We watched the bees coming and going and we sampled a bit of honey from a frame of foundation I had pulled out of Artemis a week or so ago.  Ava is five and Carly is three.  They weren't too sure about scooping honey out of the comb with their finger but after mom and I had a taste they gave it a try and deemed the honey to be yummy!

When their dad, Ryan, came home from work the girls brought him over to see the bees as well.

Today I heard a little knock on the door and there they were bringing me the sweetest picture!  Ava had cut out a photo of a bee and then drew a cat and some flowers.  It says "To Margaret from Ava".  We immediately stuck it on the fridge door and I traded them a picture of the moon I took (it's posted earlier on in the blog).  Shyla said Ava's been telling everyone about her friend with the bees!  I love it!  Thank you, Ava!
The new hive has a name!  I've called her "Thuja" which is Latin for cedar - the hive has a cedar shingle roof.  This photograph was taken about five days after they were installed in the hive showing the top bars from the inside (showing some wax) and a lot of bees!  When I was transferring the bees from the nuc to the hive I would swear that I saw Artemis's original queen.  She did have a bright blue dot on her!

From June 1st through the 16th 2.22 inches of rain has fallen in Seattle.

It's wet and gloomy today and I'm back to feeding the bees.  They are very disinclined to go out and forage.  Feeding the top bar hive required a bit more carpentry.  David cut out another follower board with a notch cut out of the bottom edge.  The tray of the Boardman feeder slips through that notch and into the hive.  It seems that this will work quite well and "foreign" bees won't be able to get to the food without actually entering the hive.  I used a Boardman feeder with Artemis and a baggie feeder with Demeter.  I'm going to try making my own Boardman type feeder.  I know that a lot of beekeepers don't like that style of feeder, thinking that it encourages robbing.  I like them because I don't have to open the hives to replenish the syrup.

I also gave each hive a homemade Varroa mite grease pattie.  Gary the Bee Guy suspects that Varroa mites are causing some of the bees to have "K wing" (the wings on each side separate and the bee can't fly well or fly at all).

When the sun does come out they are all over the place, zooming about and making up for lost foraging time.

June 29th - I've changed the top bar hive's name to "Minerva" - much more appealing, and I have to keep with the goddess theme.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

This is a worker bee from the hive Artemis.

I really like this photograph.  At the original size this bee is teeny.  Just one amongst many on a frame of foundation.

A little editing makes her stand right out.
It is confirmed!  Artemis does have a new queen!  I opened the hive this evening and found her on a frame of foundation in the bottom box.  I used a flash so there is quite a bit of reflection.  It's amazing how the queen really stands out even when she's among a mass of busy bees.

What a relief to know she really is there!
We solved the "what to do with the swarm" problem!

David and I built our own top bar hive on Sunday.  We based our hive on the plans that Philip Chandler has posted on his site

With a little sawing, and drilling we have a very nice bee hive in about four hours!

I had a lesson in proper skill saw usage.

This is the basic shape of the hive.

The legs are easier to attach if the hive body is turned upside down.

This is the hive now standing on all four legs, with follower boards and top bars temporarily in place so we could fit what will become the base of the roof.

Seen from a different angle.

The inside of the roof showing the lath and the cedar shingles.  It's not too heavy.

I melted some bees wax and used it as glue to stick on pieces of comb taken from the inside of the lid of the waxed cardboard nuc, the swarm's temporary home.

I shouldn't have taken that comb away from the bees in the first place so this is my way of trying to make it up to them.  I hope that using their own comb will make the hive smell like a proper home.

We used stock 1x2s for the bars.  They might be a bit too wide.  We shall see.

David with the finished hive!

You can see the three holes I drilled for the main entrance.  They can be stopped up with wine corks as needed.  On the other side are two more openings, one on each end.  It is possible to have more than one colony in the same hive and they need separate entrances.

The hive placed in the garden.  The entrance faces north but the hive still receives quite a bit of sun throughout the day.

Installing the bees was another beginner's disaster - more on that later.