Sunday, July 30, 2006

Stupidity Meets Varroa, Part 2 of 2 (finally)

Jeez these weeks have been busy. Just for fun, try running 4 squads of 8 rats in operant chambers for about 8 1/2 hours a day, while afterwards attempting to maintain enough mental clarity to do anything more than have a semi-coherent conversation after your drive home. It doesn't work out. At least for me, in this stage of my graduate school career.

Anyway, we had a story to finish, right?

Well, there wasn't anything earth-shattering that needed to be revealed in Part 1 of this post - but we did find varroa on quite a few of our Russian drones. Further exploration into capped drone cells revealed that yes indeed the little monsters had infiltrated the hive and had set themselves up nicely inside these cells, all the while happily draining the hemolymph from our girls. It is ironic that Rob earlier posted a nice little blurb on the scourge of varroa, as it has now made its way into our backyard, as well.

Varroa are parasites that very few beeks have not experienced firsthand. If you keep honey bees, sooner or later you're going to run into the little devils, and for a small colony or a hive that is reduced in numbers (such as in winter), the parasites can prove to overpower the girls. Luckily, we've got no population problems right now - far from it! So, we'll medicate our babies in the fall after we're done with the honey collection, and give them a helping hand in fighting these pests over the winter months. Generally speaking, if you've got one hive that has varroa, its usually a safe bet that the one next to it will have it also. Interestingly, however, we haven't spotted any on bees in either of the Carniolan hives (as of yet - knock on wood). Could these little suckers have hitched a ride in the nuc, and been in the frames all along? Who knows. Who cares? They're here now, and we'll take measures to circumvent the demise of our hives.

Now, the "stupidity" part of the last post, for those among you that are curious, just involves the fact that for "light" inspections, I prefer to wear only a veil...no clumsy gloves or hot cotton to weigh me down and make me sweat. I find that when I go gloveless, I concentrate more, am more careful, and become very focused and sensitive to the demeanor of the bees. Well, I wasn't expecting to go into the brood chambers that day, but we did anyway. Bees can be very defensive about this area, and are less mellow than when they are feasting on honey. In any event, its not a place that I feel comfortable going gloveless, but I did anyway like a moron. And so, predictably, I suffered a few stings, whereas Rob, the smarter of the two of us, when in with full regalia. The end. Great story huh?

Saturday, July 08, 2006

In China

While this is not exactly about beekeeping I thought you all might be interested. I'm in China on a business trip and here are my impressions after the first day.

Rob Skiff
July 7, 2006
Somewhere over the North Pole


It takes quite a while to fly to China. Right now I’m 30,000 ft over the Greenland cursing Continental Airlines’ movie selection. However, I’m also thinking about the possibilities that this trip has for the school. I’ve got a good feeling that if we can come to some type of understanding between Nanjing AV and Vermont Commons that this marks a start of a wonderful relationship.

At the airport I met a Chinese who worked at the National Bank of Canada. I presented my card and got into a polite and interesting conversation about econometrics. Piper entered the conversation and switched to Chinese and charmed the hell out of him. It was a brilliant example of how important it is to have a smart intelligent and dynamic Chinese language speaker on your team. One of the reasons that America is falling behind is our lack of second language skills. The opportunities in this world belong to those that are intelligent, creative, skillful and have the ability to speak in another foreign language like Spanish or Chinese. If your also able to synthesize and see connections then you have a chance at influence. Don’t forget your mastery of math and science. Without that nothing else is possible.

The trip from the airport to the hotel is the first impression that an area gives to a guest. The Bejing Airport is modern and has the anywhere world atmosphere of all places directly connected to the world. Piper as usual guided Pete and I through the process of finding a cab and getting us to the hotel. Our cabby was 35 years old and has a son who is ten. We asked him about Tienamen and he told us that everyone remembers and that the democracy movement is just bubbling under the surface, but the government keeps a lid on it. People so not have access to the quality that they need. He also thinks that the education here in China is not good and that learning English is essential. The road from the airport was lined with trees, everywhere there are advertisements for renewable energy and green building. Pete told me that the leaves show clear indication that they are not getting enough light because of the smog, and we are encased in a think has where even the location of the sun is not visible.

After checking into the hotel, we took a walk to the Forbidden City and Tienamen. This area is huge and the people were well dressed with some funky clothing. The younger the kid the more they resembled their contemporaries in Ecuador, Vermont and the rest of the world. For them globalization is already here and the world has already knit itself into a global culture. To get to Tienamen we walked though Bejing’s version of Church Street with thousands of people walking around. I did not get one stare of look, it was as if I was just a normal piece of the environment. Piper could not believe the changes that had taken place. She remarked that the people were much more sophisticated and that the city was clearly using the Olympics as a motivator to do a massive program of urban renewal.

Walking into Tienamen was amazing. The buildings are massive and Mao’s tomb opposite the Forbidden City created quite the impression. The Forbidden City was the home of the emperors for a very long stretch of Chinese history. It was forbidden for any ordinary citizen to enter the Emperor’s presence unless they were a member of the civil service. The closer you got to the center of the city and the presence of the emperor the greater the power and honor. Watching thousands of people walk in and out of the city made me realize the power of communism and how much a symbol of reform opening up the city must have been. Now the people were the center. However, old cultural forms don’t die they just become integrated into the new cosmology. Mao’s tomb outside the gates, with his portrait on the its mail wall has clear significance. It is now the square that is the symbolic center of the Chinese world. That is why the democracy movement gathered here to build the statue of liberty, and that is way the party cleared it with tanks and a lot of blood.

After hanging around, we walked into some back allies and saw some beautiful courtyard homes of the party members. Their wealth is shielded from prying eyes, by an architecture that replicates the philosophy of the forbidden city in miniature. They are beautiful buildings. The art galleries, restaurants and smells all seemed more familiar to me as what I remember from Thailand and Indonesia. We got into another cab and talked to the driver. This guy was not as open. He asked it we were Americans and we said yes. He said he liked the American people but did not like our government. Piper answered “We don’t really like our government either. That means were just like you.” He laughed and then quickly changed the subject.

The noodle shop where we ate dinner was great. A tour group from the south of China came in and ate. The waitress, who was from Bejing was clearly horrified by their manners. They were country people, just like me. I liked them from the beginning. They are another part of China that I know very little about.

China is so massive and diverse that it cannot be described with any easy analogies. It is not the red horde, but a massive cultural identity struggling to make sense of the world within some very clear ecological and economic constraints. There is a lot of optimism on the streets of Bejing, like some great positive change is about to happen. Wireless is everywhere, the cell phones are out and people are walking around. China has 1.3 billion people. I suspect that they will have 300 million people that we would describe as middle class quite soon. 1 million ultra rich and 1 billion lower class rural and urban workers. This part of China is the one that party is concerned with and the whole world needs to pay attention to. How they react to globalization will determine the success and survival of not only China, but the rest of the world. Imagine feeding 1.3 billion people a day, taking care what comes in and what goes out just boggles my mind. Ecological restoration needs to start and end in China and India.

Time to go back to watching the world cup and surfing the web for ecological groups to connect with.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Stupidity meets Varroa, Part 1 of 2

Greetings everyone! Sorry for the delay in posts these last two weeks. Before you get mad at us, I must explain that a number of things have kept us from updating the webpage
in the interval of time since we last posted.

Firstly, the weather has been, for the most part, abominable - which has delayed our inspections on a regular basis. Nasty little rain storms have been frequently appearing unannounced, sweeping in across Lake Champlain and ruining afternoons. Good news is, our gardens are doing very well, but the recent inclement weather patterns have not exactly been conducive to letting us get into the supers and therefore relay blog-worthy developments to all of you. Further compounding this more natural impediment to our web-progress are several other notable factors. Because the weather had chosen to not be cooperative, we were forced to stay indoors and play video games. Rob recently the mistake of buying an extra XBox controller (I only had one) so that we could play Halo against one another whenever time allowed. Alas, to Rob's chagrin, his 20 dollar investment has only led to the many deaths of his character at the hands of mine in multiple instances across numerous fields of battle. Only time will tell who is the true Halo master (but I have a strong feeling that it will be me).

In any event, our lives have been filled with distractions and powers beyond our control for the last several weeks, but we are around again now, and promise that our recent posting hiatus was not in any way, shape, or form indicative of a loss of interest in this site or to our commitment to those of you who so fervently follow our exploits.

Ok, that's over. We have some news to catch you up on. Huzzah!


On Sunday morning, Rob and I had a chance to take a peek into the guesthouse hives (for those of you not keeping score, that would be "the mystery hive" - supposedly Carnolians, but possibly Cordovans, and then, of course, our Russians). Actually, to be fair, we only got to the Russians - explanation to follow.

Anyway, we had recently put an excluder and a shallow on the Russians (pictured here on the right; NOTE: in this earlier picture, both hives were still recieving sugar water, hence the extra supers and the inner cover separating them). A week or two back, upon inspection we noticed that the Russians had surprisingly already drawn out the whole extra deep that we had given them, and were capping brood and storing honey very busily, so we added the excluder and the honey super so that they could get started making surplus that we could extract later on. But Rob noticed a little while afterwards that the bees seemed to be ignoring the shallow all together. When we cracked open the lid and inner cover, sure enough - there were no bees working on foundation, despite having what looked to be noticibly cramped quarters below.

Now, for you newbies out there, an excluder is a thin sheet of metal with vertically and horizontally bisecting grid which worker bees can traverse through without much effort, but the fat-abdomened queen is too large to squeeze through. The result is that workers will cross over and begin drawing out comb in the new foundation of the added shallow as normal, but the queen cannot access this area when laying eggs. The space will soon be allocated for surplus honey storage, which we can later uncap and extract without having to worry about having larvae mixed up in our honey. A simple and effective design.

But the bees hadn't made it up there yet. Could the excluder possibly be too restrictive and the bees not be able to get through? Or were we just rushing things?

Well, I came up with an idea that, in retrospect, seems pretty freakin stupid. If we brush away all of the bees on the outside of the hive and bottom board and send them into the air, we could lift up both deeps (one at a time, of course), slide the excluder under the bottom brood chamber, and reset things. Then, once the bees had settled down after a few minutes, we could tell if the bees could squeeze through the excluder by whether or not any exited the hive after we put the device in place, right? It was pretty stupid, in my opinion, as there are many better and simpler ways to have done this (which I realized in hindsight, of course).

PART 2 of 2 TO COME SHORTLY....STAY TUNED!!

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

A Short Report

Here is a short report on all the hives. The weather is excellent here in Vermont and the afternoons have been sunny and warm. The apple blossoms are gone, but they have been replaced with lots of other flowers.

Mom’s Hive: Carniolan. They have built out eight frames so I put another deep on the top and removed the sugar water. The hive was very healthy and the bees had an excellent temperament. While I could not locate the queen, the brood pattern and pollen harvest were excellent. While working with my nephew, I got stung for the first time. I’m pretty pleased that I did not have a reaction. Everything is in place for a great season.

Carniolans (possibly Cordovan?): This hive has built out almost seven frames. They are also quite productive with lots of brood and honey capped. I was unable to locate the queen, but everything looked really good. Michael recommended that we not put on another deep. He’s the expert, so I will defer to his judgment.

The Horde (Russian): There is really no other word that can describe this hive. They are huge. After placing another deep on top of the brood chamber these beasties have built out 4.5 frames. While they have not filled them with nectar, pollen and brood they are just waiting for supplies. In one week, that amount of work they have accomplished in amazing. The buildup of population is happening very quickly. It almost makes me think that we will be able to put honey supers on by the middle of June. During my session with the Horde I decided to take off my gloves for part of the work. Working without gloves is much better, but you must keep your wits about you.

May was a great month as it ends I look forward to the promise of June.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

A Beautiful Day

Today was the first sunny day in a long time. The temperature was in the low sixties and the sky was blue. In front of my house is a crabapple tree in bloom. When I walked outside in the morning the tree was full of the Russians and the hybrids. It was a nice sight to see after so many days of train. Later on I walked into the back and saw the hives with about a hundred bees forming a cloud above the apiary. They were traveling in and out loaded down with pollen. When the bees left the hives they headed straight to the apple orchard nearby or the crabapple in the front yard. Michael removed the entrance reducer from the Russian. However, we are still going to keep one on the hybrid hive. The Russians are clearly the stronger of the two and so the weaker hive must be protected.

There is something wonderful about the fact that these creatures are sampling from the environment around them, coming up with a unique flavor of the landscape around my home. Honey is truly the most local and honest of all flavors. I’m really looking forward for what the rest of the summer has in store.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The Russian Queen lives

It has been raining here for the past two weeks. The National Weather Service has announced that this is the wettest month on record. Even still, Michael could not resist opening up the Russians to check for the Queen. While I would have waited he made the correct choice. After searching through about six frames, Michael spotted her. We were both a little nervous that she might have been crushed with the nuc was dropped. I took several pictures of the hive through the glass window our undisclosed location. The Russian Queen is almost double the size of the Carnolian/mixed hybrid subaltern. Beemaster Webster certainly produced a healthy nuc with a bunch of bees and a great laying pattern. Although it set us back $150 so far I think it was worth it. We are guaranteed healthy bees and they only need to expand into another deep and then we can start talking about the honey harvest. Tomorrow is the first day of good weather and the temperature is going to be in the mid 60's with sun. It is the perfect opportunity for the bees to harvest pollen and nectar from the apple orchard near by. I'm excited to wake up and check to see if they are out working.

It time to leave them alone for a while and let them settle in. This weekend some relatives are coming for a visit. I'm excited to take my nephew out to inspect my parents hive. Hopefully, I can get him hooked and he can start his own down in New Jersey. It would be the perfect project for a very smart and precocious young mind.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Shoka and the Bees

As Michael wrote yesterday, it was an interesting installation on Saturday. I decided to let Leah and our son Austin to work with the bees. Austin has been asking to get into his bee suit for a while and Saturday seemed the perfect opportunity. Frankly, I was unsure if the weather was going to cooperate. It has been raining here for the past eight days. Everything is wet including the hives. The ground is completely saturated, so at any break in the rain, you need to go out and do work. I was planting in the back yard, Leah and Austin were all suited up and Michael dropped the hive. It was not his fault. I was about twenty yards from the accident and ran to the door. Leah and Austin kept their cool. Michael ran inside and then the everything went to hell.

Shoka is a mixed breed Shepard/Beagle. When the nuc box fell, Shoka decided to investigate and was reward with a cloud of bees running after him. I tried to brush them off, but it was to late. He had been hit by at least ten bees. I rushed Shoka to the vet. Luckily there was no reaction, the vet told me that dogs do not go into anaphylactic shock. Rather they just swell up in the areas that they are stung. So give them a benadryl to control the itching. It was a real relief to get Shoka back home and find out that Leah, Austin and Michael had everything well in hand. The Russians were safely in the hive and rain started again.

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