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.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Meditations on a Catastrophe

Well friends, our Russian bees have arrived.

Yesterday evening, Rob and I took a lovely drive down to Middlebury in the pouring rain to meet Kirk Webster and secure our final nucleus colony of bees, the ones I've been dying to get our hands on - the Russians. The drive was, for the most part, uneventful. After we fueled my car up in Shelburne and paid an immoral amount of money for gasoline (no political comment here), Rob got some snacks in the store and became giddy on the drive south. I can't rightly say exactly what substance (sugar, endorphins, adrenaline, ???) was influencing Rob's behavior on the drive south, but he was notably activated, fidgetting, singing and yelling very loudly into my right ear. It was quite a sight to see. He then made fun of my music, calling Phish and Paul Simon "grey-haired hippie music." I explained to him that I didn't have any rap music (his musical preference) with me. At this point, his mood became so sullen and dejected that to ameliorate his suffering we resorted to listening to the radio, and discussed how General Hayden and his Merry Men were probably tracking all of our calls. And that describes the drive south.


Kirk and pals were set up on the side of the road, clad heavily in rain slickers and galoshes and standing next to the beeyard. The operation was quick and easy. Pop the trunk, the nice gentleman puts the 8-frame nuc in the back of the car, and you hand over the check for $150. They were all very nice people, but we didn't really stand around to chat too long. We were in and out in less than 10 minutes, easy come, easy go. Rob got a great picture with the keepers. Kirk is the bright yellow gentleman, and the two people on either side of Rob were helpers - both equally cool people.

So we got the nuc back home and put it in the mud room. The rain was nasty and the bees were probably stressed as it was, so we opted to move them out of the nuc box in fairer weather, which came this morning. Well, a lull in the deluge, at least. In any event, it was time to move them.

So, I got the bees off of the porch and marched them around back. As I did this, I arrived at an unfortunate observation - apparently, this nuc had an unsecured bottomboard, which suddenly slipped open, unleashing thousands of unhappy and disoriented bees on a veil-less and gloveless Michael. Now, how this happened I do not know. I guess we assumed the deep box (the nuc) with the bees in it was stapled to the modified bottom board. We had it in the car and on the porch exactly as I was carrying it, but no separation happened. As far as I can tell, the sheer weight of the deep (and probably some propolis) must have kept the two pieces of wood together for the trip and internment on the porch. In any event, walking to the yard, this attachment slid away and I was mobbed. So I had no choice but to drop the sucker and run for the door a few feet away.

Luckily I only recieved a few stings. Our dogs got...well...a few more.

Eventually, the bees did get transferred and put next to the others. With all the trauma of the last 24 hours, though, it was probably not a good idea to check on the queen. In the event of too much trauma, sometimes the hive will blame the queen and kill her - exactly what we don't want to have happen. These bees were understandably VERY UPSET. So, long story short, the Russians are in their new home now, but the weather and the circumstance kept us from a real inspection of our new friends. But one thing is for sure. There are a LOT of them!

Friday, May 12, 2006

The Home Hive

On Thursday, Michael and I opened up the hive on my parents' property. The bees were incredibly docile and productive. It was amazing that the hive has built out almost two frames and the queen has laid lots of eggs on one of them. In addition, the other five frames were full of honey, pollen and brood. So far the queen has performed very well and the hive is well on its way to an incredible first season. The apple blossoms and dandelions are in bloom and the crabapple is just about ready to flower. The nectar flow is very heavy and the bees have lots of resources to use in the creation of wax and honey. The pollen is also quite high and as I watch the foragers return with pollen baskets full of yellow and orange I know this harvest will become bees in a few short weeks. I’m really looking forward to the rest of the spring and summer.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

More Pics + Update

A few pics from the pick-up drive down south, and a quick update!

Ladies and gentlemen, friends and cohorts, websurfers and fellow dweebs - a new, exciting chapter has just begun in our lives. Not only did our bees survive the pick-up and transplant, they have been extremely productive in the last few days.

The air traffic near the guesthouse has been impressive - even with the the gooey 1:1 sugar syrup the bees have been recieving, foragers are plenty busy leaving and arriving at the hive carrying even more nectar, or heavily laden with thick gobs of multicolored pollen. We simply could not have recieved the bees at a better time in the year...the apple trees in the orchard behind us have just begun to blossom in the last few days, and the ground is thickly carpeted with dandilion stalks and new flowering plants. A brief jaunt down the street reveals pear trees and crabapples awaiting pollination, and flowers and blooms litter the landscape. Vermont's mud season is over and Spring seems to have officially sprung. It took a while, but now it's here.

The hives have been strong and busy enough, and weather has been nice enough for Rob and I to take several quick peeks into the hives to see how everything is going. Now, before you post and tell us what bad beekeepers we are for not letting them sit undisturbed for a little while longer, let me assure you that, by my assessment, these are two very healthy and very happy colonies of bees. By two days after we transplanted them into the new deeps and put them in their new homes, both hives were acting as if they had been there for years. So...we peeked in. And what did we see...?

The bees are going absolutely crazy in there, and have already drawn out 1/2 of a whole new comb foundation that our mystery queen has already laid eggs in. A quick check on the brood production and cell arrangement on the other frames revealed a nice tight pattern, and eggs and pollen EVERYWHERE. It seems as if we are going to have a lot more bees very soon.

Today we are going to ride over to Bob and Marley's to check on the second hive and make sure that everything is going well. Because the nights have been a little chilly, we've been keeping the reducers on to help keep in the warmth in the hives...during the day, however, the bees have been busy enough, and demonstrated enough strength to defend themselves that we have gone ahead and left the reducers off during the day. We're going to keep feeding the sugar water, however. They love the stuff.

Will post again soon with more pictures, this time of OUR hives.

Oh yeah, and this is my mom (love you, Mom!):

Monday, May 08, 2006

One Small Step

Friday afternoon Michael, his mom and myself loaded up the truck and headed down to Orwell, Vermont to pick up two nucs from Singing Cedar Apiaries. The afternoon was beautiful and the drive down Rt. 22 was picturesque. The fields were turned over, and the dandelion bloom had begun. Riding over the hills of Vermont you could feel spring and the potential of the land to feed the Champlain Valley and much of the rest of the state. I got lost only once and had to ask directions in a diner outside of Addison. I only wish I could had stayed for a good New England boiled dinner. Like all real Vermont towns, one of the old timers knew exactly where Singing Cedars was.

Singing Cedar Apiaries is located at the end of a dirt road in Orwell. The apiary is located near the house and Roland Smith came out to greet us when we arrived. He was already installing some nucs for another couple of beekeepers. I wrote a check out to Mrs. Smith, took the receipt out to her husband and we loaded up our nucs. There is no doubt that Rev. Smith is a good and righteous man, but while we ordered Carnolians we did not get them. Instead, we got something quite different, a hybrid queen. Frankly, I don’t really care about genealogy of the queen so long as the breeder knows what the genetic makeup of his queens. Genetics and artificial selection are important tool for creating mite and disease resistant, but it is important to know what traits and genomes your working with and keep good records so that you can keep track of the strains that work and those that do not.

After loading the nucs on the truck. We drove home and placed one of the hives behind the cabin in the back yard. Then we placed the feeder on top and circled it with cinnamon to prevent ants from raiding the sugar. We followed the same process in a field near my parent’s house. In both places I marked the level of the sugar water so that we could keep track of their feeding. It was a beautiful day and quite exciting to think that after all the months and planning I had become a beekeeper.

On Sunday afternoon, Michael and I opened up the entrances and checked the feeders. Both hives had taken about two cups of one to one sugar water in the past 36 hours. We started off working on the cabin hive. Looking in the bottom, we noticed a lot of dead bees. I examined them for Varroa none were to be seen. Our guess is that the 25 or 30 individuals were killed in transit or were just old and about to die anyway. One interesting thing about this hive was the presence of some large back bees mixed in with the others. They were not drones. We left the entrance wide open with the idea that bees would clean out the hive.

After a quick drive to other hive, Michael thought it would be a good idea to open up the hive and check for the queen. When we picked up this nuc we did not see her. The inspection told us that the hive was really strong and the after a little searching located the queen. She was a huge gold beast. Then we opened the entrance about two inches and left. There are lots of fields surrounding this location. The flowers are already in bloom so I think that we will have no problems so long as this hive remains disease free.

When we got back to the other hive, hundreds of bees were performing orientation flights and some were even returning with pollen clearly visible on their legs. It was a bit disconcerting especially to my wife. While we have fenced off the apiary to keep our kids and dogs from stumbling into it. The distance from the fence to the hive is about 20 ft. The bees leave the hive and travel upward about ten feet and then zoom off in the direction of their food. I don’t anticipate any problems, but I will keep a close eye on the flyways.

Since Leah and not gotten a chance to work with the bees, I gave her my suit and she and Michael opened up the hive. This hive is also incredibly strong. When they checked on the frames, the bees had even started building foundation on the other frames. I suspect that it will be just a couple of weeks before we need to add another deep. When they looked at the frames they quickly identified another strong queen with good laying pattern and plenty of pollen and caped honey. We were even able to sample just a teaspoon on the liquid gold. Most importantly, Leah loved it. Now my idea of keeping bees in the backyard does not seem so crazy.

We have separated ourselves from the land and the labor necessary to produce food. The only crop that most of us raise today is the grass in our yard. I have taken just a very small step in producing food for my family. Lets hope that this small step leads to others.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Homo mellifera loco


This article from the BBC indicates that a certain beekeeper in Korea is nuts. While I commend the use of the bees to make a political statement the analogy that that beekeeper uses to defend his nation state is not a good one. Please prevent your fellow beekeepers from engaging in such behavior. It makes the rest of us seem even geekier then we really are.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Just a Few Pics from Intervale!

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

The hives arrive Friday...

I just got a call from Mrs. Smith of Singing Cedar Apiaries. I’m to pick up the ladies on Friday at 6pm. Finally, the bees are arriving and we can begin the catalogue of their activities. Needless to say I can’t contain my enthusiasm. I'll let you know how it goes with the installation oSaturdayay.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Beekeeping Workshop at the Intervale

It has been a busy couple of weeks at our house. I apologize for the lack of posts. Now I’m back online and hope that you find the next couple of articles interesting.

On April 21st, Michael and I traveled to the Intervale in Burlington, Vermont and attended a beekeeping workshop by the Vermont Beekeepers Association. About twenty people attended on a cold spring day to learn about nuc installation from Mr. Lang. He was a very knowledgeable beekeeper who put up with a lot of annoying questions from the audience. More importantly, he actually installed a couple of nucs from Kirk Webster’s Champlain Valley Bees and Queens.

Mr. Webster’s (the honorific should be used when addressing a master in his/her field) nucs were incredible. These eight fame beauties were full of bees and great brood patterns. More importantly, the numbers indicated that a very healthy colony was already well established. Watching the ladies perform their work was moment of gnosis. Clearly, our decision to by nucs from this practitioner was the right move. More importantly, the bees were a clear reflection of the care and knowledge that this gentlemen has obtained a high level of understanding of his craft. The other bees were from Mr. Lang’s nucs. They were also equally interesting and strong. However, they were just four frame nucs. Still his two were also strong and vibrant. Watching the installation was the first time that I had gotten to handle bees. Again, it was an incredible experience and one that I will not soon forget.

I spent a lot of time watching the beekeepers and observing the various kinds of people that are getting into keeping a couple of hives. I realized that this sub group of Homo mellifera is pretty interesting. Most of these beekeepers were in their late 30’s and 40’s with disposable income and an environmental commitment. Most were clearly not the popular kids in high school or college. I watched with certain amusement as one dude in particular asked for permission to take pictures and clearly got in the way of everyone. I would also say that most had a slightly science fiction bent to their personalities. Could it be that they were fascinated by these social insects as surrogates for their own repressed feelings involving the Queen Borg from Star Trek: Next Generation? There was something creepy about the suits and veils covering everyone’s faces that made the get together feel like a convention of uber geeks. A couple of people were busy taking notes, and one male in particular asked some very technical questions involving chemical control of mites. In the end someone shouted, “Vote Pedro!” and ran off.

After the workshop finished, Michael and I packed our bags and went to Al’s French Fries for some greasy food.

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