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 biobees.com.

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.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The swarm settled right in to it's temporary wax coated cardboard nucleus.

Of course, the bees knew what to do.

Me,however, had to mess with them.  Instead of leaving them alone to take care of themselves I had to  poke my nose in and see what they were up to.

In the space of five day they had built some beautiful comb hanging down from the inside cover of the temporary nucleus.

I removed the comb, upset the bees big time, added some
more frames with foundation, and generally screwed things up. 
I woke up about 2:00 am and decided that I had done
it all wrong.

Friday, June 11, 2010

I decided to put a honey super on Demeter yesterday, and as I was doing that I pulled a few frames from the upper brood box.  There were hundreds of cells with larvae in them!  This photograph is a bit fuzzy but the larvae are plainly seen.  The capped cells are worker bees so I'd imagine that the larvae in the uncapped cells are also workers.

How exciting!

Isn't the comb beautiful - it is so structurally sound.

I'm worried about Artemis - as you know she swarmed on the weekend.

I wanted to see if there was a queen present so I opened Artemis after placing the honey super on Demeter.  I looked and looked for a queen but didn't see one.  There may have been one and I just didn't see it - I hope that's the case.

I did find something odd - a bee with white eyes!  It's a bit difficult to pick it out of the crowd - it's the big bee in the center of the photograph, head pointing up.

This a another photograph from a different angle.  Too bad it's fuzzy!  There it is - big white eyes!

 Has anyone else found such a bee?  Maybe it's an albino?

Thursday, June 10, 2010

I have captured my first swarm!

A cluster of honey bees settled in a maple tree down the street from us, luckily it was only about seven feet up.  It was easy to get to using the 5 gallon bucket David had bolted to a pole.  I held the bucket and he snipped a couple of small branches and, bingo!, we now have three hives!

We brought them home and I poured the bees into the waxed cardboard nuc I had bought from Brushy Mountain Bees.  The bees who did not fall directly into the nuc walked right up and into the front door, attracted to their friends and the two frames of foundation with honey that I took out of Artemis.

With the home owner's permission I left a box with a frame of foundation in it in the tree for the stragglers.  I retrieved that one later in the day and placed it on top of the nuc. 

You can see how I set them up... chimney flue liners, aluminum tray, nuc box with lots of bees, box with a few bees, aluminum tray (to protect them from the rain, which is back with a vengence).  When I have some time this weekend I'm going to open both boxes and see what we have.  I also have to go in search of queen cells.  My bee teacher said that eliminating queen cells will greatly reduce the chance of my hives swarming.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

How fun can it get?

Melting a pot of beeswax and painting the wax on brand new honey super frames and listening to the soundtrack to "Topsy Turvy"!

I'm going to put a honey super on Demeter this weekend (after peeking inside and making sure the upper brood chamber still looks as good as it did on Sunday). Instead of using the black plastic foundation that came with the frames I've poured a bit of beeswax into the channel that the foundation slips into on the underside of the top bar and then painted all of the bottom of the top bar with more wax.  The plan is that the bees will draw out their own comb in the way they want to and not in the way the pre-made foundation makes them.  I could be totally wrong, of course, but I'm going to give it a try with Demeter, the stronger more vigorous of the two hives.  I'll let you know how it turns out!

Monday, June 7, 2010

This is as sweet as can bee!

This is a worker bee pictures just as she's hatching!  The cap of the cell is flipped open like the lid of a garbage pail and there is the little bee!

Her antennae were waving about - see!  Here I am!

Bless you, dear little sweet bee!

Thank you, Nathalie for taking the photo!

If you look closely at this photograph you will see two more bees hatching out - along the left side of the photo about half way down and way down along the bottom edge of the photo.  Two teeny little bees!

I know we should not have done this, but..

If you just can't resist, pull out a frame heavy with honey, take just a little bit on a spoon and have a taste.  Still warm from the hive, it's like eating sunshine.

What an amazing thing!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

One  thing I like about living in the Upper Left-Hand Corner is that the weather is different every day.  You can never tell what you may wake up to!

Imagine having warm and sunny weather every day!  Wouldn't that be boring?  Wouldn't it?

This morning brought the beautiful moon on her journey across the southern sky.

This close up is a bit fuzzy - not as sharp as the night time moon photo I posted a week or two ago.  Some shadows are visible and I'm going to have to experiment with binoculars as makeshift telephoto lens.  If I held one side of my binoculars up to the camera lens would it make the image larger or just messy.  I'll give it a try and post my results.

I'd like to go to Australia some time and see the moon in the northern part of the sky.  That would be sooo cool!