Thursday, December 1, 2011

Honey (and Craft) sale: Bee Log 67

Honey for sale.

Please join us for conversation, coffee and a chance to do some truly local Christmas shopping. I make the jewelry and my friend (and hive host) Clara makes the soap in her northgate area home. The bees that make the honey are here in Seattle.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Bee Log 66: October 6, 2011

The photos above are dead varroa mites that have been wiped off of a collection board left under the screened bottom board of a hive.

We did not think that we had a mite problem this year. We have been checking drone brood for mites as we worked our hives this summer and saw very few mites compared with other years. We had run a few tests with a drop board under a hive and seen two or three mites after a 24 to 48 hour time period. Other beekeepers in the Seattle have been reporting light mite loads. We did not think we had a problem.

We ran a test. First, we put drop boards in 7 of the 8 hives that we keep at the Urban Horticulture Center. The mite counts after 48 hours were under 10 except for one hive that had a count of 55 mites. 3 hives received Hopguard and 3 got Mite Away Quick Strips and one got nothing. The first product is derived from Hops and the second is a slow release pad treated with formic acid. Neither product is considered a pesticide and both are approved for use while the honey supers are on the hive (our honey collection is done for the year).

The difference in results was dramatic. In the hives treated with Hopguard, there was a subsequent mite drop of from 10 to 15 mites in 24 hours after treatment. In the hives with the formic acid treatment, the mite drop was in the hundreds for all three hives. The six treated hives are in a row and the treatments were alternated. The hives treated with Mite Away Quick Strips were not as active as the other hives so we want to keep the experiment going past the 7 day treatment period to see how the bees fare. The weather during the application period was overcast or rainy with a daytime high in the low to mid 60's.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Bee Log 65: September 5, 2011

Her Majesty was not deposed. The throne is still in the hands (wings?) of the nasty grumpy queen. We hunted all down through the hive-all 6 boxes and 60 frames of angry buzzing bees trying to find her. Then we went back up the whole six boxes looking again. We did not find her. We put the hive back together but took enough honey and empty frames out that there are now only 4 boxes. We will have to try again soon.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Bee Log 64: August 30, 2011

I am not happy today. This is the result of 3 bee stings to the face through my bee vale. I am puffed up like a chipmunk trying to stash seeds. I guess this goes with the beekeeping territory but I wish I did not respond so spectacularly.

We have a grumpy hive. This is usually due to genetics so the cure is to re-queen. That means that we have to go through 6 medium bee boxes (westerns) and find the queen. We are not using queen excluders this year so the queen, bless her non-heart blood system, could be anywhere in the tall,populous hive. That means really upsetting the bees to find her.

Last night we moved the hive after dusk from the host yard to a more remote location. We tried to secure all entrances immediately but the bees poured out a poorly secured top entrance. Then the front entrance plug came part way out. So we loaded a hive that had nasty bees crawling all over the surface. My husband got it in the ankles and wrists and I got it in the face each time my vale brushed the skin. We brushed the bees off of each other, got in the truck with our bee suits on and drove to the remote site. Unloading was as unpleasant as loading but at least we were alone and did not have to worry about the residents. Husband took a few more hits on the ankles. Boy those bees love his black fuzzy socks.

We stopped at a grocery store after all was over and I tried to find meat tenderizer made from papaya. I found some but it had salt in it and that did not sound too good so I bought a ripe papaya. When I got home, I cut off a piece and rubbed it all over my face concentrating on the sting sites. I also took Benedryl and ibuprofen and went to bed with an ice pack. I think the papaya helped.

It is overcast and threatening rain today so we will not attempt any search for the nasty queen today.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Bee Log 63: August 20, 2011

Yes! We have honey! It has been so cold this spring and summer in Seattle that I did not think that we would ever get honey. The bees have been packing it in. We took our first honey August 1 and got another harvest this last week. The result is honey to sell at the Phinney Farmers' Market on Friday evenings from 3pm to 7pm.

Our honey is tasty and unique. We are selling most of the honey by hive location. For instance, we have had a nice lot of honey from 98103, 98119 and 98125 so we sell that honey by zip code. We can only guess at the source of the honey because we know what was blooming before the harvest. I know blackberry is one of the components of the current honey as well as Linden trees and clover. Japanese knot weed will be next along with the little yellow dandelion things (I think a wild aster) currently blooming in yards around us. Each group of hives produces a unique taste. Honey is a bit like wine as each harvest has an individual taste.

We have been busy with our bees. 25 hives has us working about 2-3 days a week this time of year. Some of the hives are more productive than others. And the production in an individual hive varies through the season.

Come see us at the market if you live in Seattle. Phinney Farmers' Market is a smaller, family friendly market with a great selection of fruit and produce and a wonderful set of vendors.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Bee Log 62: July 26, 2011

Honey bee working a leek that has gone to flower

A full frame of honey that is almost ready. Note the whiter area along the top of the frame. That honey has a thin wax cap across the top indicating that the bees have decided that it has been sufficiently dehydrated. We take frames of honey from the bees when they are at least 80% capped. Go bees go!

A family, visiting from California, is watching my husband work a hive in our back yard. We love to educate people about bees when we get a chance.

I got stung on the leg two days ago. My body over-reacts to bee venom. So far treatment has consisted of ice, Benadryl, hydro-cortisone cream, and ibuprofen. I looked up some folk remedies and tried a few but I think I was too late for them to have any effect. Ice seems to give the most relief.

This has been a most frustrating summer for beekeepers and presumably for the bees. We have had cool overcast day after cool overcast day. I look at the weather across the nation and see the temperatures in many parts of the country hovering around a humid 95 to 100 degrees and am thankful I don't have to brave that but on the other hand, it does make beekeeping difficult when the bees can't get out to the flowers that I know are blooming. Our bees are finally able to bring in nectar in excess of their needs. We are seeing a lot of uncapped honey that we hope will be ready sometime this week of next week. The bees put a thin coat of wax over the cells of honey when they are dehydrated enough so the honey doesn't ferment.

We hope to be at the Phinney Farmers' Market on the first Friday in August.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Bee Log 61: July 4, 2011

These seven hives are at the Urban Horticulture Center on the University of Washington campus. The hive on the far right is the swarm hive that was featured in the previous blog. It is coming right along. The hive on the far left is the hive that swarmed. We know this because it ended up without a viable queen. The old queen flies off with the swarm. The remaining hive is left with queen cells (pupa cases) about to hatch another queen. That new queen must go around and kill the other queens about to hatch. If she misses one, then there is often a secondary swarm with an unmated queen. We did have a second swarm at that site so it could be that the hive ended up without a queen. Our last inspection of the far left hive showed that there were no eggs, no larva and no brood (pupa cases). That means no active queen.

Our options were to purchase a queen for $25 to $30, let nature take its course and possibly loose a strong hive with a lot of bees or combine that hive with another hive. We chose this last option combining the hive with a swarm that we caught at one of our host homes. We know that swarm had a queen because of the behavior of the bees as we captured the swarm.

To combine hives, we use the newspaper method. A sheet of newspaper is placed on top of the hive without a queen or with a queen we want to depose. Slits are made in the paper and the hive addition is placed on top. The bees set to work chewing up the paper giving them enough time to adjust to the new queen. If there are two queen, they fight for their throne with (we hope) the strongest, healthiest queen winning.

In the last 3 days, we have answered 4 swarm calls. We love getting these swarms as thay helps make up for all the hives we lost last winter. One swarm was a puny little thing and we combined it with a larger swarm.

We are starting to add honey supers to out hives. Any hive that you see in the above picture with 4 boxes has a honey super. We are hoping to have honey to sell by July 22. That is our target date for starting with the Phinney Farmers' Market. Finally the weather is looking like summer with days in the mid 70's and blackberry blossoms galore.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Bee Log 60: June 15, 2011

This is our Seattle Urban Honey logo on a sign at the farmers' market last summer. Our bees are not yet producing honey that we can take this summer. This might delay the July 1 date that we had hoped would be the debut of this season's honey.

Our bees are hungry. The blackberry bushes are just about to bloom as are the locust trees but they must be waiting for a nice day before they open. The maple and chestnut are finished blooming. The weather is still pretty cool with clouds, wind and some rain so the bees are stuck at home a good bit of the time. We looked through all of the hives last weekend and found that they all needed feeding because they were in danger of starvation. The population is booming in all hives so lack of feed is not a good thing. We did not have honey supers on any hives except the one surviving hive from last summer(in a yard in Bellevue).

We decided that since that hive is so populous and because it really needs feed that we would take this time to make a three way split. (You can't feed bees when there is a danger that the syrup might get stored as honey for human consumption. That is one of the ways that beekeepers cheat.) The bees were filling 4 western sized (medium)boxes. A fifth honey super (honey storage box) was pretty much untouched by the bees. We bought 2 new queens from Corky Luster Of Ballard Honey. We went through the hive and found the old queen in the third box from the bottom. She is big and beautiful. We set her aside along with a box full of bees and brood. She was going to go back on the old hive site. The rest of the hive was split into two roughly equal boxes of brood and bees. There was NO HONEY to divide up. Each box of bees got a second almost empty box on top and a feeder full of 2 gallons of sugar water (1:1 this time of year). The two new hives got a new queen inserted in a little screened box with a hard candy plug. By the time the bees eat the candy plug, they should be used to the new queen's scent. The queen will get fed through the screen.

The owner of the property had been asking for more bees. He had 4 hives last year, 3 of which died so he is happy to see more hives. This split will limit the honey that we could have gotten from such a vigorous hive but at the same time we were worried about the lack of honey and starvation. We should get three good hives and maybe some honey.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Bee Log 59: June 11, 2011

We caught a swarm on Thursday evening. The swarm was from our own bees at the Urban Horticulture Center. I did not think of getting my camera out until we had bumped the swarm into a 5 gallon bucket and poured the bees into a waiting hive. Here the bees on the inner cover of the hive are scent fanning, rears in the air and wings going like mad, to call the rest of the bees to the hive. The queen is inside the hive and the rest of the bees in the swarm are being informed of her whereabouts.

This picture was taken about 5 to 10 minutes after the first picture. Notice that almost all the bees are aiming toward the hole in the top of the inner cover.

It takes time to hive a swarm. We spent about 45 minutes to an hour waiting for the bees to march into their new home.

Almost all the bees are in the hive now. It is time to put the cover on the hive and to place the hive where we want it. The old queen will be in the hive with the swarm. The hive where the swarm originated will be raising a new queen. She will hatch within about 5 days. The new queen will then need a 70 degree day to get out to mate.

Bees in a bird house:

This cute little bird house belongs to friends of mine, J&B. It fell out of the tree where it was hanging and B went to pick it up and was quite surprised (understatement) when bees came pouring out. In general, we do not handle bees for people other than honey bee swarms but for close friends with bees in a bird house we do make exceptions. We were in a time crunch because we needed to be at a high school graduation so my husband with his bee suit on popped the whole bird house into an empty bee hive and left the hive sitting in J&B's yard so the rest of the bees could find their home that evening. My husband described the bees as fat and fuzzy. He knew they were not honey bees but did not have time or leisure for further identification.

After the graduation, we raced back to change clothes and retrieve our hive with unidentified bees. We plugged the entrance to the hive, strapped the hive together, took it home in the back of our pickup and left it there until morning. This morning, we located a place in a tree in our yard for the little bird house, suited up and placed the bird house in the tree.

The bees are a small bumble bee. I am glad that we saved them because we need native pollinators as well as the honey bees. I will try to get a picture of one of the bumble bees.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Bee Log 58: June 4, 2011

The hive on the left is a combination of two weak hives. We piled the one hive on the other with newspaper between. It must have been too late because both hives died. There was plenty of honey. The top box must have weighed 30 pounds or more. The hive on the right is a new hive placed in April. It is doing very well on this first really nice day of the year. The spring has been cold, cold, cold and wet, wet, dreary wet. We are on a swarm list (Puget Sound Beekeepers' Association) and anticipating calls and maybe some excitement!

Yes, a happy hive! (on the right)

A close-up of bees being busy on a really nice early June morning.

Elegy for a dead hive. We had such great hopes for this year but we are down to one surviving hive out of 19 that went into the winter. We did order 18 new boxes of bees which, despite the cold spring, seem to be doing very well. We cleaned most of the equipment that contained the dead hives with the idea that the causative organism for the bee deaths might still be in the hives. We also cleaned out a whole lot of stored honey which at this point is just waste and will go down the drain. I know that we are throwing away potential resources but there is some evidence that bees housed in dead-outs have a high mortality.

Our experiment this summer is placing bees in all new hives and in hives that have been pressure washed and bleached. So far there is no noticeable difference.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Bee Log 57: May 22, 2011

We have a new spot to keep bees. We are so excited to have a spot at the University of Washington Urban Horticulture Center. It is in an out of the way fenced area. I hope these bees do well enough to earn their rent!

Our own bees ready to go in a hive.

One of the members of the Puget Sound Beekeepers invited club members to his place to help install over 100 boxes of bees. Pictured above are some of the boxes waiting to be put in a hive.

We toured the honey house that the beekeeper had built. Notice the bees hanging out on our bee-suits. These bees don't know where they live.

It is hard to keep writing about dead beehives. Finally, I have something to say about nice lively beehives. We got 18 new boxes of bees. This brings out total hives up to 21. Out of 19 hives of bees, 4 survived. Two of those hives were so weak that we put them together as one hive. The queens fight and one queen will remain in that situation.

The new bees are all booming despite the cool weather. It will take a bit of time for them to build up to the place where we can take honey from them. Our first date at the Phinney Farmers' Market is July 1. Last year with a cool May and June we were not able to get to the market until August 1. I sure hope that is not the case this year. Lots of local beekeepers are out of honey. People are asking for it at the farmers' markets and not getting it.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Bee Log 56: April 20, 2011

This is what the bottom board on one of our dead hives looked like. It looks pretty much like the bottom boards of the hives that survive. There are a few dead bees there.

We are getting some new hives ready to receive the new packages of bees that we are expecting.

We went into the winter with 19 live hives. 15 of them have died over the winter. I am not sure that I am such a good beekeeper. What did they die of and when did they die? Only one hive died of starvation. All of the other hives had more then enough stores to see them through the winter. Two hives died in the last two weeks. They seem to be victims of CCD or colony collapse disorder. The bees just disappeared leaving behind a bunch of honey, capped brood and no recently dead bee corpses. Several hives died between February 1 and March 1. It was a nasty cold winter and the bees probably had too small a cluster to begin raising the spring bees needed to replace an elderly population of late winter bees. In those hives we found a softball sized cluster of bees all dead.

What will we do differently? We did not treat for either varroa mites or trachea mites last fall. We need to do both. There are some new non-pesticide treatments out that show some promise. One is based on hops and one on formic acid. We have started with the hops treatment. We are also feeding sugar water and pollen substitute. It remains colder than normal in Seattle and the bees are just not getting out much. They need to raise brood this time of year and they must have pollen or pollen substitute for protein.

We hived 8 new packages of bees over the last weekend. We are trying an experiment based on the hypothesis that winter dead-outs are largely caused by a disease or diseases. We placed 4 of the new boxes of bees on frames that had held honey last summer. 4 boxes were placed on new plastic frames painted with a bit of bee's wax from our own hives. We are following the work of Craig Cella of Loganton, PA who described an experiment in the April 2011 American Bee Journal. Any boxes, bases or lids that were reused were dipped in a 10% bleach solution before the bees came. Our test will be a count of the blank cells in the brood nest. A 20 X 20 cell area is marked out and then the empty cells counted. We are curious whether the reused honey super frames will affect the brood.

Beekeepers have been putting new bees on old drawn out frames for many years. Bees seem to like old comb. This gives the bees a head start because they can get right down to the business of raising a family without having to build the house first. Recently, there seems to be some evidence that diseases or something bad for the bees is harbored in the old comb. It is known that the wax is a sponge for pesticides and that the accumulation of pesticides is bad for the bees. Some disease like American foul brood bacteria spores are known to stay on the wax and infected subsequent hives (such hives must be burned). This is not American foul brood. It is not known what causes CCD but putting bees in hives that have died increases mortality. Perhaps our small experiment can help determine if the honey supers are also harboring an agent causing poor brood numbers.

We enter spring a bit chastened by our loss. We feel responsible. We do want to be able to produce honey for the farmers' market. There are 10 more packages of bees coming. That will give us a total of 22 hives placed in 10 locations around the north end of Seattle.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Bee Log 55; March 8, 2011

Nosema Infected Hive

The hive pictured above is alive after a long and cold (for Seattle) winter. The bees have not been able to get out for a long time and on the first day nice enough to fly made the mess that you see on the front of the hive. Bee poop. The ground around the hives is also littered with yellow and brown spots. I do not know if this is normal because I have never seen so much spotting on the front of the hive before. The bees could have nosema or the bees could have just needed to get out and go. I need a microscope. I need to learn how to diagnose bee diseases or find someone who can. I need to learn to dissect a bee.

Many of our hives have died between the end of January and the beginning of March. We put granulated sugar on top of the inner cover for emergency feed when we took a peek in January but evidently that measure was not enough. We have 7 surviving hives out of 19 at the start of the winter. Ouch! Half of those hive deaths occurred this last month. I understand that this is the new normal in beekeeping. Bees are just not very robust. I do think that we closed down the hives for the winter too late last fall and we did not treat for any of the bee diseases. Our beekeeping needs to end by early September not early October. I don't know what out bees died of so I do not know what diseases to treat for. I imaging that treating for varroa mites would not have hurt the bees. There are some new safe treatments on the market and I need to investigate to see if they are compatible with our low tech, no pesticide philosophy.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Bee Log 54: February 24, 2011

So here we are loading up our pick-up with new bee gear. We have ordered 10 packages of bees and parts for 8 new hives. Some of the bees will be for beehives that are dead and some to increase the number of our hives from 19 to about 26. Some of the hives will go at the Urban Horticulture Center at the University of Washington and some will go on some new sites at private homes. We are still looking for at least one more bee placement site.

February has been too cold for the bees to get much flying time. Last year must have been a bit warmer because I remember them flying a bit. We put a little granulated sugar under the lid on top of the inner cover hoping to give the bees a bit of nutrition in case they are running out of food.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Bee Log 53: February 13, 2011

Take a look at the photo above. It shows the entrance to a beehive that is in our backyard in Seattle. The place where the bees land as they come into the hive is covered in a damp dirty substance. It is probably a mixture of dirt and mildew. This hive is dead. I don't know what it died of but then lots of beehives die in the winter since the verroa mite came into the area. Compare the landing board above to the landing board of the very much alive hive pictured below. The bees somehow keep the landing area clean. I don't know if they clean it or if in and out traffic keeps it clear. (Picture a matronly bee on her bee's knees with a brush and a pail of water!) The difference in the appearance of the the landing board has for me become a pretty good indicator of which hives have died over the winter.

If the hive is alive, the bee landing board at the front of the hive is clear and clean.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Bee Log 52: January 29, 2011

We found the marker commemorating the 200th anniversary of the birth of Lorenzo L.Langstroth (b.Dec. 25, 1810). It is near the Delaware River in the old part of Philadelphia. Langstroth developed the modern beehive with movable frames. We were visiting relatives in the city of brotherly love.

The darkest part of the year is behind us and already there have been days warm enough for the bees to fly. We have visited all of our bee hives except one and removed the sugar feeders that got left on late last autumn. We poured granulated sugar around the top of the inner cover hoping to avoid starvation for any hives that are low on stores. We know that we lost at least 5 hives out of 19. We can't count survivors yet.

We are looking for one more location for our bees in Seattle. We have one new location in Bothell. Our host home in Bellevue is being sold so we will have to move those hives. Also, we did not want to pay the new toll on the Evergreen Point Floating Bridge that we would have faced if we kept the hives there. That was our first host home and a great location so we feel a little sad to leave. We have one new Seattle location near the University of Washington. We are looking for another north Seattle location.

One perspective host home was in the middle of a bunch of town homes. The home owners were so excited about the possibility of having bees but we realized that any bee events like a swarm or a bee war (robbing event) would probably freak out some neighbors. There was just too much people traffic. We felt bad turning them down as a host home.

I look forward to another beekeeping season. I love watching the bees. I love working the bees. I love selling the honey at the Phinney Farmers' Market. I love educating people about bees.