Comb

05/12/2011

 
Back from our trip.  The bees were hungry and went through two quarts of syrup, but they were well taken care of.  Beth's parents took good care of them and even gave them some tulips to try out.
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There's lots of bees in through the window.... and comb!  Finally got a peek at the construction inside (the bit of yellow showing here).

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Here's a closeup.  These look like new bees to me.  Their wings are in good shape, they are nice and shiny, and the fuzzy backs are still fuzzy.

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The building continues.  Here's a look in the window.  They have started a new comb about the size of a thumbnail.  I've gone ahead and opened the hive up by moving the follower board all the way to the end.  The bars on the end are spaced a little further apart also since I'm hoping they will be filled with honey and honey comb is wider than brood comb.

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The main combs are almost to the bottom now.  They are spaced apart just enough for the bees to squeeze in between and there about 5 to 6 good sized ones. 



 
 
Well, maybe happy pupation day.  It's been about three weeks since the hive went on-line.  Worker bees take about 21 days to fully emerge from their cells.  They start as an egg, then eventually pupate, like a moth or butterfly, and then finally hatch out as a fully formed bee.  And they go straight to work cleaning out their cell so another egg can be laid.  Since I've had a lot of questions on "bees", here is a good WikiPedia link on bee life.  The new worker will go through many jobs before finishing up as a forager.  But at three weeks, we should have some new bees starting.  Perhaps a bit later, though, since we've had cold weather delay things.

I've also had some questions on the hives.  Unlike the "traditional" box type hives (called Langstroth hives), these are Top Bar hives, or more specifically, Horizontal Top Bar (HTB) hives.  They are popular in Africa due to their simplicity and inexpensive construction.  Again, WikiPedia has some good info - Top Bar.  In the US, they are becoming a common choice.  I decided on the design because I could easily make it and, unlike box hives, I can manage it without lifting heavy boxes full of bees and honey.  TB hives are also supposed to be better for the bees as you disturb them less when checking in on them.  My particular design comes from Christy Hemenway of Gold Star Honeybees, a company Christy started to promote Top Bar Hives.  Her design, and the fact she works in a similar northern climate (Bath, Maine) looked good to me, so I ordered the plans.  Thanks Christy!  Do check out her site and videos.  They were a lot of help and encouragement for me :-) .

As for the bees, they are hanging in there for more cool rainy weather.  They have been draining about a quart of syrup a day!  Yesterday, I fired up the wood oven for the first time since installing the bees.
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I had been holding off on that as I didn't want to disturb the bees with smoke before they had settled in.  The oven is not close to the hives, but the smoke can blow that way on occasion.  Yesterday was not a problem, though as it was blowing the other direction. 

Things should pick up this week.  We will be in Portland to get a visit with Jess at one of her meetings, but the weather here is supposed to peak out in the 70's.  I'm sure the bees will be hopping!  I've noticed several patches of trillium and other wild flowers blooming down the road, so I hope they'll find them.  Plenty of dandelions anyway as I can't cut the lawn with all the rain we've had :-)

Think Bees!


 
 
Back from my trip.  The bees have been busy.  Beth had to feed them for me twice while I was gone.
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I took some pictures this morning and there is a lot of pollen moving in.  I noticed three types: Light yellow, orange, and a darker brown.  Not sure about the last one or the yellow, but I'm pretty sure the orange is dandelion.  They are pretty abundant in the yard right now.

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Here one of the girls loaded up on a dandelion.  They will pack as much pollen on their legs as they can hold, which is quite a lot.  Pollen will provide them with a protein source, while nectar is an energy source.

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Once she is loaded up, it's off to the hive where she'll hand off the cargo to younger bees.  The bees here are the oldest in the hive, having worked their way up through bee hierarchy to the final, and most risky, life stage: foraging.   After two to three weeks, the wings will start to give out and she'll pass on, hopefully to be replaced by another up-and-coming sister.

So, for now, the hive is busy doing what it should.  I'm hoping they will slow down on the sugar syrup soon, which will indicate there is enough natural food around for them to sustain themselves.  I'll need to crack open the actual hive structure soon, too, to see what exactly they are up to and to make sure they are healthy, But that will be another day .....

 
 
 
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Ok, just kidding!  Must have just been a dream. :-)  The weather's felt this cold the last week, and it did spit some snow yesterday, but, no, it was not like this .......

We had a lot of rain and cool weather.  Very windy.  The bees seem to be hanging in there, though, probably doing a bit better with some food in their bellies and no extreme cold.  I am at work during the day (when the sun has briefly popped out), so I can't tell if they've been out at all.  At night when I check them through the window, it seems like the cluster hanging from the top is spreading out a bit.  They are just covering about 5-6 bars now, which seems like more than before.  That could mean they are building comb out, but I won't know until I see them during a warmer day.  Unfortunately, I will be heading out of town early (3:30 AM!!) Saturday for a conference next week, and will not return until late Wednesday.  I will have to wait to find out, I guess :-(.  Need to put a WEB cam in there :-)

Last weekend when they were flying, I spent a lot of time watching what they were up to.  Most were hovering around the entrance in a cloud extending about 5 feet out from the hive.  Occasionally, one would peel off, flying in circles out about 20 to 50 feet from  the hive, then it would return to the cloud.  I did not see any bees foraging.  I believe what is happening is the bees are orienting themselves, training essentially, to where they are and what is around them visually.  We often think of bees scurrying about, running off to flowers (up to 3 or miles away), and then coming back home with their pollen and nectar booty.  When they do that, however, they use visual clues or markers, to find their way.  Until they have that down pat, they stick close to home.  Eventually, they make wider and wider circles, moving further and further from the hive.  In their travels, they may come across some flowers and check them out.  If they are good, then they will head back to the hive with a sample and spread the word.  Right now, my babies are still taking their, well.... baby flights, getting used to the environment.  We'll need more warm weather for them to get the ol' bee Google maps up and running!  Until next week, thanks for dropping by and think warm thoughts :-)



 
 
Today was another nice sunny one.  The bees were out and about again.  Early this morning, I got out before the bees were up, and cracked the lid.  The baggie feeder I had put on top of the bars earlier was completely dry.  They were obviously pretty hungry.  I took that out and closed up the top of the hive to force them to use the feeder inside the hive.  That feeder is an inverted jar with sugar syrup.  It has holes in the lid and works like a humming bird feeder, dripping when they eat.  I checked earlier this evening and the pint Mason jar was about gone.
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After Easter dinner with Kara and Trevor, it had cooled down and the bees were quiet.  We got Kara suited up, just in case, and we went to put in a new jar.

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The feeder sits on one end of the hive in a rack.  Kara had a few "hangers on" after we pulled out the old one.  I put a full quart in this time, as we are expecting cooler weather and rain.  In all the flying yesterday and today, I haven't seen the bees bring much in to the hive, so having food available will be a requirement for a while.  I also left the heat tape and wrap off tonight.  It is going to get cool, but not the "winter" type cold we've been having.  I'll add back the thermal protection if it looks like it is going to get colder.  Until then, I need to learn to trust in their abilities more :-)  They've certainly proved themselves this last week.

 
 
Another cold night.  27.  I checked the hive window this morning before coming to town to pick up some bark for the yard.  Things looked pretty dismal.  Many bees had fallen off the cluster and few moved when I bumped the hive.  I headed to town with Wendy, wondering what else to do. 


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I have wrapped a plumbing heat tape around the hive in the area where the bees are gathered, and covered that with a thermal blanket at night.  I took off the blanket this morning since it was supposed to warm up and be sunny today.  I figured some sun on the hive couldn't hurt.  I was finishing up my errands in town when I got a text from Beth ...

Bees flying!

What's this!?  Maybe some hope after all! 

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I hurried home.  The hive was really buzzing.  You could hear it from the back door.  They were very active.

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They were at it all day, everywhere I went in the yard, I could hear them buzzing over head.

So, there was some resilience in those girls!  We'll check in tonight when things cool down.  At least they had a chance to eat today, and they'll need it as rain is coming next week .....

 
 
:-( ........

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I'm in my office when someone passes by and sticks their head in the door.  "What do you think about this?", they ask.  "About what?", I reply.  I've been lost in the virtual world of probability distributions and bootstrap estimations on the screen in front of me.  They nod toward the window beside me.  I turn to see a full white out snow storm over the parking lot outside.  Uhhg!  Spring in Idaho.
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We had a covering of snow this morning.  The snow isn't so bad, but the cold is.  We've been hitting 25-28 degrees every night and the forecast, while sunny at times, is for continued cold, at least at night.  Winter has been very reluctant to give up its grasp this year.

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It's always a gamble in Idaho, but knowing that doesn't make it any easier.  The bees are still clustered up where they were last time I looked.  A few have succumbed to the cold on the outside of the cluster.  They have not been active that I can tell.  Of course, they would need to endure our winters eventually, but right now they don't have the advantages of stored food and more numbers.  They haven't even had a chance to draw out comb yet.  So, it's a waiting game.  Not much we can do, except see if they make it.

I have had a bout of second guessing as to where the hives are as well.  I'm a bit concerned about being too close to the garden, etc for people and dogs.  Wendy got "popped" on the cheek the other day and was very upset by it.  I'm not sure who initiated it (probably her), but it did point out the potential.  I've debated trying to move them to the orchard where they would be more secluded, but that will require fencing the area off to avoid wildlife (raccoons and skunks mainly).  It is feasible, but would be a disturbing move for them.  I was all gungho to get on with it last night and Beth had heard every argument, for and against, at least a dozen times.  It's a wonder she's able to still tolerate all that after nearly 30 years :-)  I also kept thinking of my Dad, who's been in my mind many times during this project.  Two things I used to hear from him:  "Sleep on it" and "Difficult problems have no easy answers and the solution is probably in the middle". 

I checked things out this morning (in the cold!).  The hive entrances are pointed towards the garden, which puts the "flyway" to the hive right in the path of people.  I now think we will turn the hives 90 degrees so the entrance faces East, towards the back of the property.  That way the main part of the yard and garden will be less "in the line of sight" to the front of the hive (and guard bees at the entrance). They will still get the morning sun to warm them, and it may help mitigate the hot summer sun we get in the summer. This small move should disturb them little during this delicate stage.  At the same time, I will think about clearing an area in the orchard to have ready in case I need it or decide to expand the number of hives.  We'll see how things go.  I can initiate a move to there later, but will wait to see how much of a problem we have first.

Somewhere in the middle ......... I hear you Dad :-)

 
 
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Suited up and ready to go.  Well ... I did forget to put my hood up until the last minute when Beth reminded me :-)  That would have been a bad start!



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I put the package in the shade while we got ready.  This morning when I got up, they were very quiet.  By the time we were moving them, they were very active and loudly buzzing.

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We had a few supplies set up.  A spray bottle with syrup to keep the girls busy.  Tools to get the can out of the package, and a baggie full of syrup to feed them once in the hive.

The idea was to pull out the can and quickly cover the opening until I could get the queen out.

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She is in her own miniature cage in the package.  I was able to extract her, but she was covered in bees.  We tried to carefully brush them off.  There was a cork in the end of her cage that I needed to remove and replace with a small marshmallow.  The idea is to not release the queen too quickly, but eventually, in a day or two, they should be able to eat through the marshmallow and let her out.  I pinned the queen cage to a bar in the hive so it is hanging from the top.

Next come the bees!

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After knocking the package on the ground to collect the bees at the package bottom, I dumped them into the hive.  They were .... well, not real happy with the operation :-)  Lots of flying bees at that point.  Fortunately, these jackets work really well and neither of got stung, although it wasn't from lack of trying!

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After all that, we put the bars back into place.  I put the baggie full of syrup on top and cut a few slits in it so they can access it.  This is only temporary.  we'll take it out later.

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After that, we closed up shop and moved away to brush the bees off of us.  We've kept a far eye on them most of the day.  They were flying a lot at first, but then they quieted down as it got cooler.

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All closed up!

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We peeked in the window just before dark.  Everyone was clustered up around where I put the queen. 

Now we need to let them sit for a while and see what they do.  So far they are doing well.

 
 
This morning it was drizzly and gray outside.  Beth stayed in bed getting over a cold while I dragged myself out and up to get ready.  Some hot tea and I was mostly ready.

In the car, U2 was trying to convince me it was a "beautiful day" over the static filled radio .  It sure didn't look like it, but at least the spirit of Jess thought so :-)

The drive to Spokane is a couple of hours.  No problems on the way and the weather was breaking a bit further north.  When I arrived at Tate's Honey Farm, the street was full of parked cars and trucks.  Evidently, I wasn't the only intrepid one out there.  Outside the building people were gathering.  I was told the bees had not arrived yet, but would be there soon.  I checked out the store, bought some gloves and paid for the bees and then went out to wait with the crowd.
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Several new beekeepers like me were there, along with the old veterans.  Soon the truck and trailer drove up and we all watched with anticipation as the packages were unpacked.  The bees are packed pretty tight in the screened packages, but a few must get out somewhere, and they were buzzing all around.  After a short while, we lined up as the owners at Tates yelled out orders.  Young and old, we all quickly jumped up to get ours when called, happily carrying off the humming boxes.  I picked up just one, but many people went off with several.

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Back at the car, I got them settled in.  The package was gently humming and buzzing.  Driving back seemed to take forever.  In Oaksdale, I stopped for a bit and the package in back was buzzing really loudly.  I realized I had turned the heat up a bit and the bees were getting very active back there.  I turned it down and opened the window some to cool them off.  A few minutes later when we all got to Garfield, they were quiet again.The can on the top is food for their time in this box.  It will get pulled out when we install and the bees will be dumped out into the hive.  The queen is next to that toward the top of the box in her own cage.  That's why they are all clustered up there.

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By the time I got back, the weather here had lifted, but it was quite windy.  I decided to give the girls a break and set them up in the back bedroom for now.  They had been riding in trailer or car for many hours (they came from Northern CA), so some still and quiet couldn't hurt. 
I've sprayed some sugar syrup on the screen to keep them eating and busy.  Tomorrow we'll take the big step and introduce them to the hive.  Until then, they are resting, quietly humming to themselves.........