Friday, December 7, 2012

Bee Log #83

I have been making homemade lip balm, lotion bars and mustache wax from the beeswax that I recover after extracting honey.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Bee Log #82

Varroa Mite Test Kit
We heard Randy Oliver speak at the Puget Sound Beekeepers meeting. He urged us to test for varroa mites so that we know our numbers. We put together a test kit from some simple items from our home: Two jars, isopropyl alcohol, a screened top for one of the jars (I used a jar top for growing sprouts), a jar ring, a 1/3 cup (200ml) measure and coffee filters.
We tested the bees for mites by finding a frame with brood (the nurse bees have the most varroa mites), making sure the queen wasn't on that frame and then sweeping bees into the measuring cup. These bees are then dumped into a jar with about 3/4 inch (2 cm) of alcohol in the bottom. The bees die almost immediately as do the associated mites. The bees are swirled around in the alcohol for about 1-2 minutes. The screened top is screwed onto the jar with bees. The coffee filter is fixed onto the other jar with a canning jar ring and the liquid from the killed bees is poured into the filter. The screen lets the mites and alcohol fall through into the filter. The filter allows you to save the isopropyl alcohol so that it can be reused. 1/3 cup of bees is about 200 bees so you divide the number of mites by 2 to determine your count of mites per hundred bees. Randy Oliver says that he does not want to see more than 2 mites per hundred bees.
Powdered sugar could be used in place of the alcohol and the bees would not be killed. In this method you shake the bees with the powdered sugar in a closed jar and then put a screened top on the jar and shake the powered sugar onto a white paper plate. The mites come out with the powered sugar. A fine spray of water dissolves the sugar and allows you to count the mites.
Getting the measuring cup full of bees and then to getting the bees into the alcohol was the hardest thing about the test. The bees don't want to get into the cup and then they do not want to stay in the cup. We did not always get a full 200 bees for a test run. We kept the bees in the cup by brushing as many bees into the cup as we could and then putting the brush over the cup and dumping very firmly and quickly into the alcohol. We estimated the number of bees by how full we got the cup.

Varroa Mites in a Coffee Filter
This is what you do NOT want to see when you test for mites in a hive. We found that we had let the varroa mite population build up to a high level in many of our hives. We need to institute a rigorous program for mite control next season for healthier happier bees through the whole season. For right now, we did treat our hives with formic acid after we tested for mites. This is considered a natural treatment as bees already have formic acid as part of their environment and part of the honey. It is also quite effective in killing mites.

A Wax Moth
I saw this wax moth by some wax that I had taken out of the solar wax melter. There is just a bit of honey still in the wax.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Bee Log # 81

Beeswax: One Ounce Bar

The beeswax comes out of the molds beautifully. I made my first beauty product from the wax, mustache wax! A musician from the Phinney Farmers' Market was complaining that he has trouble buying mustache wax that he likes. I made some for him as a prototype.

Buckwheat Honey and Blackberry Honey

The two jars of honey above were harvested from the same 7 hives about one month apart. The lighter honey is blackberry honey and the darker honey is buckwheat with maybe some Japanese knotweed. We know the bees were in buckwheat because the farmer at the farm where we have our hives had planted buckwheat as a cover crop. We guess Japanese knotweed because it is blooming during August. The dark honey has a rich, fruity, plum like taste. The lighter honey has a clover and melon flavor.

Cooling Beeswax in One Ounce Molds

I invested in some beeswax molds so that I could market the beautiful beeswax that I am accumulating. When we harvest honey, we cut the wax cappings off of the frames in order to extract the honey. The wax cappings go into a solar wax melter (see earlier blog post: Bee Log 44: July 6, 2010 ). The wax is filtered through cheese cloth and collected in metal pans. I remelt the wax in a rice cooker purchased at Goodwill and pour the wax into the molds.

We will be at the Phinney Farmers' Market today, Friday, September 28 and October 5. We will be at the Queen Anne Farmers' Market on Thursday, October 11. Come taste our honey.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Bee Log #80

Those bees! What I thought was going to be almost pure buckwheat honey is really mostly blackberry and clover honey with the lightest hint of buckwheat. You can see from the last post that we should be getting buckwheat honey in the next two weeks. The buckwheat is there and the bees are there so the buckwheat honey can't be too far behind.

Blackberry, clover, buckwheat honey

The honey is pretty- a light amber as you can see from the photo.

We have shared a market stall at the Shoreline Farmers' Market on Saturdays during August with Luke Van Vuren of Van Vuren Farm. The buckwheat is planted at the Van Vuren Farm for our bees. It will be plowed under before it forms seeds to increase soil fertility.

Luke Van Vuren of Van Vuren Farm

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Bee Log #79

Bees on Buckwheat Flowers

We have a new apiary (bee yard) on a farm near Carnation, Washington. The farmer was talking about maybe using buckwheat as a green manure (he plows it under before the seeds form). Now buckwheat honey is a very tasty treat and people have been asking for it. We were so interested in the chance to produce buckwheat honey that we bought the farmer 50 pounds of buckwheat seed to plant.

Yesterday, we were at the farm harvesting. We got about 70 pounds of lovely buckwheat honey. It will not be available for the Phinney Farmers' Market on Friday, August 24, because I still need to bottle it. The honey is sitting in large buckets on the kitchen table waiting for the jars that I bought this morning to get washed. Maybe we will have some at the Shoreline market on Saturday. Harvest time, busy time.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Bee Log #78

Freshly washed jar lids air drying on my kitchen table.

Work is sometimes a pleasure. Preparing to bottle an ample honey harvest is truly pleasurable work. It is the reward for all of the spring labors on the bee hives.

We had another honey harvest on Monday, August 5. We only visited 2 locations with a total of 4 hives but we harvested about 70 pounds of honey. Two of these hives are located between apartment houses on lower Queen Anne Hill near Seattle Pacific University (98119) and two are located in a private back yard near downtown Bothell(98011). Both locations have been exceptionally productive. The Bothell location makes sense but the apiary shadowed by apartment houses on lower Queen Anne breaks all rules of locating bee hives. It is well protected by a fence and a locked gate but it is shaded all day long and the bees have a near vertical take off and landing pattern.

One of the Bothell hives produced lots of honey despite being queenless. We have remedied that situation with a Buckfast Queen. We are trying some survivor bred queens in hopes of getting a better bee hive, a better honey harvest and better winter survival. We had to have this queen right away because when we harvested the Bothell honey, the bees came out of the hive and sat all over the hive about 4 deep alarming the homeowner. She was purchased from Corky Luster of Ballard Bees for $40. This is a high price to pay for a queen but she comes with impressive credentials and we were in immediate need. Queenless hives do not behave in a normal or predictable fashion.

Friday, we are expecting 3 queens in the mail from Oregon bred by Old Sol for gentleness and heartiness ($28 each). The Post Office was not thrilled to hear that we were expecting a shipment of bees but they are cooperating. The last queen we mail-ordered rode around in the mail carrier's van all day. The Post Office is supposed to call when the bees arrive so we can pick them up. She arrived alive at out mailbox and is doing a good job repopulating a queenless hive.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Bee Log #77

I have been in Hot Springs, Arkansas for the last 10 days due to a death in the family. The heat was intense. One day the official temperature in Little Rock was 111 degrees which was the third highest temperature ever recorded there. My 90 year old mother and I had to carefully plan (and ration) our outings because of the danger of the heat and the sun. I got chiggers. I did see honeybees. The honeybees must be suffering from the lack of nectar in the heat and drought. Actually, this will probably be a hard time for beekeepers over much of the southern two-thirds of the USA because of extreme drought conditions.

Here in wonderfully cool Seattle, we just had another harvest of honey. The new honey is primarily blackberry and linden (a non-native tree planted as a street tree in Seattle). Linden honey, a favorite of mine, has a wonderful citrus flavor. We plan to be at the Phinney Farmers' Market on Friday, August 3 at 3-7pm and at the Van Vuren Farm booth at the Shoreline Farmers' Market on Saturday, August 4 from 10 to 3. Our next scheduled visit to the Queen Anne Farmers' Market will be Thursday, August 16 from 3-7pm. Come taste our newest honey.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Bee Log #76

Honey colors

We will be at the Queen Anne Farmers' Market Thursday, July 19 from 3pm to 7pm. The picture above shows the range of colors in the honey that we harvest. In general, the lighter honey is harvested earlier in the summer and the darker honey at the end of August. We have some dark honey for sale(harvested last summer) and some light honey from this summer. Take your taste buds on an adventure-Come taste our honey

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Bee Log #75

The blackberry bloom is drawing to a close. The country bees have a bit of time to wait until the Japanese knotweed blooms. Sometimes when there is dearth of nectar, a strong hive will try to rob a weak hive of their honey stores. The robbers will kill the queen and then plunder a hive if they can. We had our first robbing incident of the year in our Carnation apiary. The farmer noticed bees balling each other (fighting) on the front porch of a hive and called us. We reduced the size of the entrance so that the hive had less area to defend. Sometimes, bees can get into an all out war. I have not seen it but on two occasions our hive hosts have reported large numbers of bees fighting in the air in front of a hive. When we show up, we see large numbers of dead and dying bees in front of the attacked hive.

The bees have stopped swarming (I hope) and are now concentrating on building up lots of honey storage. Robbing is just one of the ways that bees try to collect honey. For the beekeeper, it is not good because the robbers can kill a hive.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Bee Log #74

We had another swarm this past week. This swarm was a little tricky to get because of the structure of the grape arbor that it landed on. We ended up brushing them into a bucket and then dumping the bees into a waiting hive. We got the queen on the first try. We knew we had her because in about 10 to 15 minutes after we put the bees into the hive, a bunch of bees start to fan at every entrance to the hive. The bees have a scent that they broadcast from their Nasenov gland by putting their rear ends up in the air and fanning their wings to tell the bees on the outside of the hive the location of the queen. Pretty soon the air was filled with bees leaving the swarm site headed for the hive. The hive sat on our picnic table until we could move the bees to an apiary that we have recently established in Carnation, Washington (about 25 east of Seattle).

This makes 19 swarms that we have caught this year. Most of these swarms have a pretty good chance to build up enough strength and stores to make it through next winter.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Bee Log #73

We had our first farmers' market of the summer tonight. It rained during the whole market. It didn't just do the Seattle mist thing, it rained. The temperature was about 55 degrees. For me, it was a six layer night. That means a combination of six shirts and jackets. I was warm even if I looked rather round. One undershirt, one short sleeved shirt, one long sleeved shirt, one fleece vest, one fleece jacket and a gortex rain coat.

We actually sold more honey than I expected to sell. We paid the stall fee with a bit left over so not too bad for such a cold wet SUMMER????? night.

Bee Log #72

We had another swarm yesterday, the 18th of the year. It was about 10 feet up in an alder tree and very accessible (unlike one that we got out of a blackberry thicket earlier in the week). The order of the pictures seems to be out of my control. The first picture is dumping the bees into a waiting hive, the second picture is the swarm in the tree before we touched it and the third is placing the bucket under the bee swarm just prior to bumping the branch to get the bees into the bucket. I am hoping that the blogger program is again allowing me to separate paragraphs with the enter button.

We will be at the Phinney Farmers' market today, Friday, June 22, from 3 to 7 pm.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Bee Log 71

We are introducing a new look for Seattle Urban Honey. When you have a designer in the family, these things happen. We liked our old flying jar look (see the previous post) and we like our figure 8 bee. What do you think?

This Friday, June 22, 2012, we will have our honey at the Phinney Farmers' Market. The honey in the picture was harvested at the Center for Urban Horticulture where we currently have 11 hives. What is the floral source? Big leaf maple, black locust, fruit trees, raspberries, chestnut are possible sources. The market is from 3pm to 7pm. Come see us.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Bee log # 70

LOOKING FOR HONEY SOON!!! Shown is a jar of early season honey from two years ago. It is the beautiful, light, tasty honey that we get in Seattle if we harvest before mid-August. (After that we get tasty dark honey.) What flowers is it from? Big Leaf maple trees bloomed in mid-May. The bees were able to get out to forage during that time. The chestnut and then black locust trees bloomed after the maple. Right now the black locust is just finishing and the tulip poplars are starting to bloom as well as blackberry. Our Italian prune tree is loaded with fruit as are the raspberries so the bees were involved with back-yard fruit. The next anticipated bloom is linden sometimes called basswood or tilia trees. This is a non-native tree that is widely planted in Seattle as a street tree.

We have harvested our first honey from some hives on lower Queen Anne hill near SPU. We need to go around to all of our hives to check for honey stores to harvest. As of yet we have not had the weather or the time to do that. In addition to checking for honey when it warms up a little, we need to be ready to catch swarms. It has already been a banner swarm year for us and we expect more in the next week because of the blackberry. Bees like to swarm when they are at the beginning of a big nectar flow.

A few of our hives are not doing well but most are booming. Last night we removed a queen-less hive from a yard near Northgate and replaced it with a hive from our back yard. The Northgate hive must have a laying worker or an unmated queen because we saw eggs and brood but only drone (male) larva. (A worker bee sometimes can lay eggs but these eggs are unfertilized and will therefore develop into a drone or male bee.) We will combine those queen-less bees with a weak but queen-right hive that needs more bees to see if we can get one good hive. Probably both hives will die but they would die anyway and this gives them a chance.

I am learning about hive management through the school of experience. We have had a few hives end up queen-less this year because of swarming and not leaving a viable queen behind. Those hives, if we catch them while they are still full of workers, are better candidates for combining with another hive.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

bee log # 69

What is the state of the hives this summer? Booming. We have captured 15 swarms and have started a new apiary on a farm near Carnation, Washington. If we can just convince the farmer to move his burn barrel a little further from the hives, I think we can get a load of honey and help the near-by vegetable farmers at the same time. It has been warm and sunny just enough for the bees to get out and forage. The black locust trees are blooming right now and the blackberry is just about to come out. The Carnation farmer reported that the bees were all over his locust tree. I have included a few more images of the large swarm that we caught.
Here you can see the bees fanning to let the other bees know where the queen is.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Bee Log #68

Flat Stanley came to Seattle from a young relative in Pennsylvania. He got to visit a bee swarm when he was here.
We were just delighted to get into our hives in late March and find that most of them had survived. This is a good looking bunch of bees ready to go after the first pollen and nectar that they can find.
This was a huge swarm about 25 to 30 feet up in a pine tree. We got this swarm by using a 12 foot orchard ladder and a bucket taped to the end of a 20 foot aluminum painting pole. Those bees can feel pretty heavy at the end of a long pole!
We had lots and lots and lots of swarms in late April and early May this year. They were all from our own hives as far as I know. This was the weirdest swarm. It left the hive on a rainy day and landed on the edge of a garden bed. Our happy news this year is that we lost only 4 out 24 hives last winter. The previous winter we had lost 18 of 19 hives so this was a great improvement. The big loss was probably from colony collapse. This winters losses were from running out of food. Out hives looked really robust when we went through them in March. Some of them were making bees like crazy as we found out when they started to swarm. We currently have 34 hives. We bought 5 packages so that means that we caught 13 swarms. Twice, we caught 2 swarms in one day.