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I Blame it on Monday.

HOLY COW, I really don’t think there could be a more incompetent set of beekeepers in North America than us.

Robin hasn’t been to the bee yard for a couple of months due to work commitments. Mark has been carrying the load, supering and generally taking care of the place.

The nuc we started in early June with queen cells gathered from our colonies went bust. No queen appeared to be home as no eggs could be found. We knew it was time to wave the white flag and buy a queen. Then, Lily von Shtupp appeared to go queen-less last weekend. In early June we tried gathering up queen cells from other hives that were planning a swarm and switched them in with a frame of brood. It didn’t appear to be working.

Two queen cages.

Two queen cages.

So, today we drove over to Mt Vernon and picked up two new queens. You know, $56 worth of queens and came home to install. And I’ll be danged, we opened the nuc and found eggs. And then we opened Lily and I’ll be danged again – also found eggs. So then panic sets in – we bought these queens, WE HAVE TO USE THEM. Arrrgggggg.

So there we are, opening up the hives that we thought were going gangbusters, to swipe some brood and honey to start new splits and I’LL BE DANGED AGAIN, they were now queen-less. Hey, good news – we just happen to have a couple spare queens laying around.

Ultimately, we put a new queen in Ole. And then we made a new split (which shall remain nameless until it proves itself) with the other new queen. – I know, it’s like a weird Who’s On First game with the queens.

At some point in time I seriously considered just just lying down in the prairie and weeping from all the ridiculousness. But, on the upside, I didn’t get stung (for once) so no shots needed. And Mark managed to wander around the bee yard for half the day with his hood/veil entirely unzipped and he didn’t get stung but we realized the oversight when he suddenly declared there was a bee in in veil. Following us around is like watching a Far Side cartoon come to life.

The beeyard.

The beeyard.

MEAD UPDATE. We have our bottles ready to go for the State Fair. Check-in is next weekend. — Well,  unless we just drink it all before it gets to the fairgrounds. 

One of THOSE days

The top box goes to the bottom and the bottom to the top!

The top box goes to the bottom and the bottom to the top!

It was supposed to rain later in the day on Sunday. So, early in the day we tore out to the bee yard to flip hive body boxes. What do I mean – well, you break the two hive bode boxes apart and put the bottom box on the top, and top box goes to the bottom. Bees have a tendency to like living in the penthouse. In the spring they’ll crowd the top while there is room down low, so we trick them.

Things were going well, we dumped out the old sugar syrup, rinsed out the feeders and gave the girls all new tasty syrup. We did a little spring housecleaning, cleaned off the bottom boards and putting everything back together. And then we got to Lena, and possibly you remember my past rumblings on her temperament … well, that’s when the bees really took issue with our activities. Badda-bing, two bees shot up Robin’s veil while Mark got off scott free. It was one rock solid sting and a second sting that was more of a grazing. So, we got everything done, packed up and headed to town for a shot in da butt. And some more antihistamines. And then a long nap.

Are you happy now? You're dead, in my veil and yet I am going to smash on you some more.

Are you happy now? You’re dead, in my veil and yet I am going to smash on you some more.

And, we  officially declared Thor to be passed on to the bee afterlife. She is clearly queenless and the comb is very dark. The remainder of the bees in Thor were spread among the other thriving colonies and all the comb is going in the trash. We’ll try our hand at splits again this spring and see if we can whip up a new batch for the three empty hives in storage.
— Also, three dead mice in Thor. Which made me wonder, what is the record for number of dead mice in a hive?!

So, five overwintering hives became four, putting our 20% loss right in the ballpark with what I’m hearing from others.

And then there were four.

And then there were four.

Come On Spring!

This weekend we hopped out to the bees and ‘unwinterized’ and fed the girls. Ole, Lena, Thor, Lars, & Lili Von Shtupp all had live bees, tho Thor is on the slim side. All the hives had put a good dent into the patties I fed a few weeks ago. And, today we filled the feeders with 1:1 syrup as it is warm enough during the day for the bees to fly, but there is no pollen nor nectar for them to hunt up and bring back to the colony.

Busy bees.

So, the insulation came off and was hauled back to town.

3-22-15 unwinterized

It’s the adult version of pick-up-sticks, but with insulation and boxes.

Murphy’s Law rides again … at the very end of chore time, and minute after I took off my gear, an angry bee decided that my cheek was an excellent place to plant her stinger. Ug. She barely got me so  no shot, just see if I can grit my way through it. Did Mark get stung? Of course not – his gear was also off, yet he escaped yet again.

And now for something completely different. Saw great beaver damage not too far away from our bee yard. Aren’t beavers amazing creatures?

CAUTION: Beavers at work. (Are they on coffee break right now?)

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Check out the size of just one beaver chip. Amazing!

Amazing lumberjack skills. They know exactly where they want that tree to fall, and they pull it off flawlessly.



Momma Said There’d Be Days Like This . . .

The weather guy predicted a high of 40 today! The reality was more like 33, but that’s close enough, and besides that, the only moderatly-viable time in the foreseeable future to feed the bees. So, Robin was flying solo and figured she could knock this task out in 45 minutes.  Phhbbbbbbbbbt.

The path to the bee yard wasn’t as bad as I imagined, but 4WD was very handy.

[reevvvvvvv] Let’s do this!

A sight for sore eyes! Hives still in place!

We’re still standing!

Uh yahhh, suit up, even in the winter, because I’m a sting magnet. And true to form, Lena was a royal nag and the net was a good thing.

2-15 RP net

Safety first, safety always … or a shot in da butt.

All five colonies were looking good! Didn’t want to leave top off for more than a few seconds, to conserve heat, but here was a quick photo of calm bees after I threw a few winter patties on the dinner table.

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Dinner is served.

And then there is Lena. Lena is grumpy even when I bust my tail to tromp out in the snow and feed her troops.

2-15 Lena

“WE SHALL BOIL OUT OF THIS WARM HIVE, TO CERTAIN DEATH, TO ATTACK YOUR GLOVED HANDS! ARRRGGGGG!”

And here is one of the ~20 bees from Lena that decided by gloved hands MUST DIE.

2-15 sting

“TAKE THAT YOUR CRUMMY POLARTEC GLOVE … OVER TOP OF A LEATHER GLOVE!!”

Yep, the mice are still enjoying the insulated confines of the winter hive set-up.

Rodents.

It’s always good to see live bees guarding the breathing tubes.

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Bees in da tube.

So there I was, only about 30 minutes into my task, feeling good about seeing many bees in healthy-looking clusters. Time to pack up and go home!  But wait, my spider senses tell me that something is amiss here…

2-15 flat tire

[insert profanity here]

And here is where the beauty of small town Iowa comes into focus. While stranded in the middle of a prairie a couple miles away from town, I put out a ‘ahhhh, I’m in a bind out here‘ Facebook post, and a short time later the calvary rides over the hill and saves the day!

My hero! Brent Smith gets free honey! (Assuming the bees decide to make honey in 2015…)

Here ends the story of winter feeding. And everyone lived happily ever after – including the tire-fixit guys at Trickles.  *sigh*

 

Better Late Than Never!

Whoops! Guess we failed to keep the blog up to date in 2014. So, let’s recap.

I don't remember why I was taking a picture of the back of the truck, but there was one persistent bee that really, really wanted to be in the picture.

I don’t remember why I was taking a picture of the back of the truck, but there was one persistent bee that really, really wanted to be in the picture.

The beginning of the year looked promising. Our worker girls came through the polar vortex in fine form – didn’t lose a colony. We made a couple of splits, one survived, we named it Mongo. And then it started to rain. And rain. And more rain. And it appears that we lacked blooms/nectar and by September, Mongo starved out. Starved out! Unheard of! And ultimately, we harvested zero, zip, nadda, honey. It appears the more-established colonies (everyone other than Mongo) could gather enough nectar and pollen to subsist but surplus was not to be found, meaning the bipeds (Mark and & I) did not get honey. So, we cooked up sugar syrup and more sugar syrup and intensively fed the bees before winter set in. We haven’t been able to open any of the hives this winter, so we’re hoping everyone is still alive. The next time it gets up to 50° we’ll do our best to get out there and throw on more bee food.

Mead! Beautiful, tasty mead!

Mead! Beautiful, tasty mead!

MEANWHILE, the mead we started in 2014 was bottled around Thanksgiving. And, we immediately started drinking it because, well, why not. We now have ~24 gallons perking along in the basement – orange spice, blackberry and cyser are aging nicely.

Winter bees 1-2015

A November 2014 drive-by showed live bees in all five hives.

And so we wait. We wait for winter to pass and spring to be sprung, and then we do it all over again. But hopefully this time we harvest honey!

 

Nuc Installed!

Last Sunday we installed the surviving nuc, making a new colony named Mongo. We’ll let the pictures do the talking.

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Mark is setting the bottom board for the new hive.

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The nuc has five frames it, so to complete the first hive body, five more empty frames are installed to give growing room to the colony.

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Mark prepares to remove the five bulging frames from the nuc and put in the middle of the hive body.

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See the little white eggs? Eggs!

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Mark, very seriously, looking for eggs.

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The last of the bees dumped from the empty nuc on top of the new hive body.

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Mongo LIVVVVVES! And the empty nuc with a few hanger-on bees will stay there overnight to allow them to escape and find their way into their new home.

 

 

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No truer words have been spoken – Mongo DOES like candy.

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Time to refresh the hive names as winter faded them.

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The expanded yard.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Quick Check-in at the Prairie

We’ve been bad beekeepers. Haven’t been to the hives in about 10 days due to a tight schedule, rampant illness and rain. Lots of rain.

The bad news is that one of the two nucs we started did not make it. RIP.

The good news is that Ole re-queened herself. But, the semi-bad news is that when the queen came back after her mating flight it appears she zoomed right into the honey super instead of staying below the queen excluder in the brood boxes. So, we we sacrificed that honey super and put the queen excluder above it, and dropped on another honey super on the toppy-top.

So, how did the queen get above the queen excluder? When we put the honey supers on, we offset them just a bit so as the workers are bringing in nectar they can fly right into the penthouse/honey super. If you check out the picture taken the day we supered, you can see the offset honey super on top. Badda-bing – everything weird happens to us.

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Example of offset honey supers (top narrow box), taken a couple weeks ago.

And then it started to rain. Again.

Well, that was weird…

6-1-2014 bearding

It’s hot! Bees bearded on front of Ole and Lena.

Thursday night we rushed out to the field to kick off the entrance reducers, add the first honey supers of the season, and check to see if the new queen had started laying eggs in Thor. Man, it was hot and muggy and we were greeted with lots of bees bearding on the front of the hive boxes. And, the ladies were grumpy. So yes, Robin was stung yet again. (I swear bees only sting those that don’t react well to such things.) On the upside, we found eggs in Thor, so that particular queenless mess is behind us.

Queen cell on the right, newly emerged queen on the left, under Mark's hive tool.

Queen cell on the right, newly emerged queen on the left, under Mark’s hive tool.

Today, we went out early and crawled through each hive, looking at every frame for queen cells. Capped queen cells = swarm is quite possibly eminent. Our goal was to pull out frames with capped queen cells in drop them in nucs which are essentially small hive incubators. We filled our two nucs, so we were wrapping it up and checking the last few frames for queen cells. We found one last queen cell so Mark pulled it off. It came off pretty much intact so he set on top of one of the hives in case I wanted to take a picture. A couple minutes later I looked at it and HOLY COW the queen was chewing her way out. Panic ensued! We didn’t want her to take off, mate, and then have a swarm go on the lamb. So we made a split-second decision to snuff her out. Was it the right decision – heck, we don’t know. But, that decision was the same as setting $25 on fire.  😦

It seems like we’re on a weird roller coater where we either have too many queens, or not enough.

Fie hives & two nucs.

Fie hives & two nucs.

All Hail the New Queen.

It’s been two weeks since we had an opportunity to check on the bees. Last weekend the weather was the pits, and there was simply no way we could open the hives in the rain and cold weather. So, we wondered what kind of mess we’d find this weekend. Did the bees go a little stir crazy, cooped up during the rainy and cloudy days, and start to build queen cells in preparation to swarm?

We did not find capped queen cells, so that was good news – the girls aren’t feeling crowded. But, not finding capped queen cells was also kind of bad news because if we found capped queen cells we were going to pull the frames out and make a couple new colonies.

The bad news of the day was that one hive, Thor, is queenless. And, apparently lacking a queen for a good length of time as there were no eggs or even brood (baby bees). So, today we hopped down to Perry and picked up a new queen. We got home in time to put it in the hive. We also pulled a couple nice frames of well-developed brood from Lena and Ole, and put it in Lars, so that bees will be emerge soon, bolstering Lars’ population. Fingers crossed! We’ll check the progress on release of the queen in the next 24-48 hours.

This is what it looks like when you get a queen bee in the mail.

This is what it looks like when you get a queen bee in the mail.

5-14 queen cage box

The queen is in the cage, with a hard candy plug in the bottom. Once accepted by the colony, the bees will eat the candy, releasing the queen. The queen’s attendants surround her on the outside of the cage.

We pulled two frames of capped brood from other hives (thanks Ole & Lena) and placed them in Lars, with the new queen.

We pulled two frames of capped brood from other hives (thanks Ole & Lena) and placed them in Lars, with the new queen.

If you look close, the queen is in the right end of the cage.

If you look closely, the queen is in the right end of the cage.

The queen cage is installed between the two frames of brood. Bees immediately clamored onto the cage and tongues were immediatly evident - a good sign as acceptance.

The queen cage is installed between the two frames of brood. Bees immediately clamored onto the cage and tongues were immediatly evident – a good sign as acceptance.

 

Un-Winterizing the Bees … and a basement booze update

We saw a 65+ degree day today in Iowa! (Of course, it may snow later this week too…) But today is a great day to get out to the bees (in a truck this time, not sledding across a field) and take off the insulating layers we put on last fall to help the bees survive the winter.

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Bees in flight.

It was a beautiful sight, seeing so many bees in the air when we arrived. We fed more patties, as four of the five hives had mowed the last batch down. And, we flipped the hive bodies around, moving top to bottom, and did some general spring cleaning of the bottom boards. We saw lots of eggs and larvae, so that means they’re ramping up their numbers for the growing season. We didn’t take many pictures because once the hives were opened up there were thousands of bees in the air and Robin didn’t think running around with her glove off was in her best interest.

One mouse was living between the insulating black box and the hive body. It shot out and ran across both of our feet in a flash. When something runs across your foot in a flash, everyone gets pretty excited for a few seconds.

–  –  –  –
Saturday, we racked a bunch of mead (honey wine) that we started last fall. As you may remember, racking is moving the mead to a new bottle, leaving the layer of dead yeast, lees, behind. OF COURSE we taste test everything as we rack. Hic. In short, we liked everything, but it all needs a bit more mellowing. The cysers (apple cider + honey) were smooth and sweet. We added spices to a cyser that was previously unspiced, after comparing it to a spiced version. Cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and orange peel. We have two versions of cherry + honey. One started with a ‘Juicy-Juice’ kind of base, and the other with the more expensive cherry juice concentrate. Both were good, but naturally, the expensive cherry starter is much better. Once racked, we added a bag of whole tart cherries to each bottle and put them back in the basement to further mellow. We have a 3-gallon bottle of spiced orange cider + honey perking along, and it is DELICIOUS. Robin likes sweet drinks and this one is right up her alley.

Hard cider bottled up!

Hard cider bottled up!

And finally, we bottled 11 bottles of the hard apple cider that we started last fall. We put a carbonation drops in a couple of bottles, and added molasses to a couple bottles in an effort to back-sweeten it. It will be interesting to see what the fruits of our labors taste like when we open the bottles the best couple of months.