Monday, February 22, 2010

Bee Log #13: February 22, 2010

We lost 40% of our beehives to CCD (colony collapse disorder). We are trying to think what that would mean if we were chicken farmers. Nearly half of our chickens would die. If we were ranchers, 40 of 100 cows would die. When you start the winter with 5 live bee hives (had a swarm in July) and loose two that does not seem like too many but if you think in terms of scale, it is a lot.

One of our conclusions is that we need to treat bee maladies more aggressively. I don't mean going after every chemical on the market. We are trying to use herbal remedies that have scientific backing. Thymol is an extract from the thyme herb. We had a dose for solid crystals but were not able to find them so we purchased thymol as an essential oil steam distilled from the herb. The literature described dissolving thymol in rubbing alcohol but that is either isopropol alcohol which is a poison to humans or ethanol which has been denatured with something nasty to humans. We purchased a small amount of vodka to use as a solvent. It did not work as well as hoped. There was still an oily film on top of the vodka and then on top of the sugar syrup. We will try to remove the feeders before the bees take all of the sugar syrup so that the bees don't get a concentrated last sip of essential oil. (I used 1 ml ((scant 1/4 teaspoon)) in 1 oz vodka to put in 3 quarts 1:1 sugar syrup)

I think it might work better to put the thymol in grease patties either with or without the wintergreen oil. The essential oils should easily dissolve in the Crisco. I will repeat the recipe that I used last fall with wintergreen oil only.

Grease patties: wintergreen oil (1 tbsp) Crisco (2 cups), white sugar (3 cups), honey (1 cup) and mineral salts ground fine (3 tbsp). I mixed this together and put an ice cream scoop full on top of the top frames in the brood box.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Bee Log #12: February 19, 2010

I did my first bee inspection of the year yesterday and again today. It was about 52 to 55 degrees and sunny both days. Bees were flying. Hive 1 was the most active and appeared to be robbing another hive. That hive may have been lost this winter. I took off the inner cover of the hive being robbed and saw that there were no bees clustered at the top of the frames as there should have been at this time of year. Yesterday, I tried to take out the frames but the bees had the frames glued in really well and the temperature was low enough that the propolis was hard and unyielding. I took off the top deep which was really heavy (indicating lots of honey stores)and peered in the bottom deep. There was not a cluster there either. There is little hope for that hive. I put an entrance reducer in to limit the opening so that, if there are bees, they can more easily defend their honey. If we did loose this hive, it is classic CCD (colony collapse disorder) with the bees disappearing while honey stores are still sufficient. That hive went into the winter as the strongest hive we owned.

Today, I got the frames out of the hive suspected to be dead and found as I thought that the hive had died. The third picture above is what I saw. There was plenty of honey around what appeared to be the last stand of the cluster (Cluster's last stand?). Notice the moldy bees in cluster formation. The cluster must have been very small. There were some dead bees in the bottom of the hive but not beyond what is normal in an overwintered hive.

One other hive also died in the same manner. We took the honey that was stored in those hives and put it in the healthy hives. Our loss this winter is 40% to CCD. Last winter it was 25%.

The other two pictures are of normal hives. I did not pull out frames in those hives. Notice in the one picture the bees clustered around the grease patty. It is a Crisco, honey, sugar, mineral salts, wintergreen oil mixture. The recipe was listed in a posting of November of 2009.

When it is just a little warmer, I will do a full inspection checking for eggs, larva, adequate honey and pollen stores and visible mites. I will switch the brood boxes so that the cluster is on the bottom instead of the top and clean off the screened bottom board. I will medicate for nosema if there is evidence of bee dysentery. If one of the boxes is free of brood and honey, I will replace it with two new smaller sized boxes (westerns). We are going to switch to all western sized boxes because the deeps are too heavy when full of honey.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Bee Log #11: February 9, 2010

My husband and I have become apprentice level master beekeepers. This means that we have passed a test given by the Washington State Beekeepers' Association. We can now start working on the much more demanding journeyman beekeeper certificate if we so desire.

Our plan to put hives in 5 yards in north Seattle is on track. We have ordered the boxes and the packages of bees. We still need to order frames, bottom boards, hive tops, queen excluders, inner covers and feeders.

Our current hives are getting a bit of flying time almost every day. They are bringing in a lot of pollen. I still have not looked inside the hives yet. I will wait for a day that is at least 60 degrees to avoid chilling the brood.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Bee Log #10: February 2, 2010

The above pictures were taken at the Washington Park Arboretum January 15, 2010. The building shown is the Graham Visitors' Center, meeting place of the Puget Sound Beekeepers' Association.

I am happy to report that we have recruited 5 homeowners located in north Seattle that are very interested in having bees placed in their yards. Thank you to those homeowners. We are hoping to promote bees as a wonderful hobby that can be pursued by the average person and to increase our honey harvest.

My husband and I will be placing 2 hives each on 4 of these properties and one hive on the remaining property. We have ordered 8 packages of bees and will use one hive from our current stock. This is as big as we wish to get this summer. It is important that we not expand beyond our capacity to manage our bees since they are placed in an urban environment. All of the bee-placement homeowners are very enthusiastic and I aim to keep it that way! They are hosts of living creatures and we are responsible for the care of those creatures.

We have decided to use western size brood boxes with plastic frames for the interior. The western boxes are 6 1/4 inches high and much lighter than the standard deep box especially when full of honey and brood. The plastic frames come as one piece and don't require assembly or wiring. We also won't have problems with broken wires or frames coming unglued when we try to pull them out of the hive. The bees are said to do fine on the plastic.

I have gotten my apprentice beekeeper certificate through the Puget Sound Beekeepers' Association. My husband is currently studying for the required test.

The weather has been unseasonably warm (a record for January in Seattle). The bees have had opportunities to fly for a few hours each day. They are bringing in pollen of several colors! Many plants are blooming including the earliest plums and crocuses. One of our hives is especially active. Another hive is showing little activity (I know it is still alive and has sufficient stores of honey). We will see what this means for those hives later on. I do not have enough experience to do more than guess. I will wait for a few weeks to do an inspection of the interior of the hives as it not warm enough to risk chilling any baby bees (brood). Warm is a relative term in Seattle! The temperature has been in the low 50's rather than the usual mid 40's.

We are hoping to return to the Phinney Farmers' Market in early July. With more hives, we should be better able to keep up with the demand for local raw honey.