May 14, 2012 Hive Check

May 15, 2012

Yesterday I decided to tackle some of my beekeeping “stuff” that I’d been putting off.  I saw that it was going to be a nice warm day and needed to look in my beehive and make sure that my bees were doing the things that bees need to do.  It had been 29 days since I’d opened the hive after installing my new package of bees to remove the queen cage.  I had planned to check on them 10 days after that, but with all the cool and damp weather we were experiencing here, I thought it best to just let Mother Nature take her course and leave them “bee!”

I also put on my list a few other tasks that I needed to check off.  One was getting my course of study plan into my department at the University of Florida.  With the completion of my Apiculture class this spring, I am officially half-way through my Entomology masters degree program.  Strangely enough, I am also more aware every day of how little I know.  Seems like you go to graduate school to acquire knowledge about your area of study, but I am constantly reminded of the things I still have to learn.  We are all on a journey and there’s much in life to discover…

So, with my course of study outlined and submitted, I began my next task…filling out my official Washington State Department of Agriculture Beekeeper registration.  I am going to send in my $5 fee plus a late fee of 16 cents and Jenny at the WSDA will send me a “license” for my bees.  About that 16 cent late fee though….The late fee is assessed when you send your registration in after April 1.  Something just seems amiss when I have to pay a late fee and I didn’t even get my bees until April 11.  Jenny was apologetic and very nice.  She said to write to my representative to see if they can change the RCW’s on the books.  She even emailed me those RCW’s so I can reference them when I write to my representative!  Kevin Ranker…you’ll be hearing from me soon.  I want my 16 cents worth of representation 🙂

Going down my list…the sun was high in the sky overhead and my bees were active.   I decided to grab my bee suit and get the smoker going and take a peek.

I’m so glad I finally received my new bee suit.  I ordered it from Blue Sky Bee Supply and used my $75 gift certificate that I won in their Haiku poem contest on Facebook.  Quirky as usual, I ordered mine in Lavender.  My next one is going to “bee” yellow though.  I think that if I painted black stripes on it, then it could double as a Halloween costume.

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With my smoker going (I’m getting better at this), I zipped up and got my gloves, hive tool, and my camera.  Surprisingly, I find myself to be extraordinarily calm around the bees.  I was more gentle with my smoker this time.  In the month of bad weather we had, I used my time to read some great beekeeping literature and found out that puffing the smoke too close to the bees can actually burn them.

After a puff or two at the entrance, I cracked the top of the hive just a little and gently puffed a bit of smoke in.  Then I carefully removed the top and laid it against the house (yes, I put my bees right under my teenage daughter’s bedroom window).  I puffed another bit of smoke at the opening of the inner cover and then removed that carefully as well.  I was especially gentle as I leaned it against the top cover since there were a few bees clinging to the inside of the lid.

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Next, I removed one of the outer frames.  I don’t have a frame rest yet, so I leaned it carefully in the box I carried my camera and bee tools outside in.  There were only two bees on this frame, so before I set it down, I gently brushed them back in with the others.

Removing the outer frame gave me room to slide the other frames over so that I could remove one near the center where all the activity was.  I pulled one out and looked it over on each side.  There were sealed cells and the brood pattern looked even.  I didn’t see the queen and think she may have been on the next frame over.  The frame I was holding was covered with bees and surprisingly, they were extremely tolerant of my intrusion into their domain.  I snapped a few photos and then decided against looking further when a yellow jacket (THE ENEMY) flew down and tried to land on the frame.

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After closing the top, I noticed that the bees quickly resumed the tasks they were busy with before I interrupted their day.  I came inside amazed at how organized they are and how the very last thing on my mind when I was in their midst was getting stung.  Even with my suit on, they weren’t the least bit angry with me and I am beginning to understand the intriguing dynamic that exists between a keeper and her bees.

Yesterday, I was one with the hive…

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Today’s Daily “Bumble!”

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(Yellow-Faced Bumble Bee or Bombus vosnesenskii)

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(Yellow-Faced Bumble Bee or Bombus vosnesenskii)

My walk yesterday left me pondering some things about the Bumble Bee.  As I took a slow hike up the Young Hill Trail at San Juan Island National Historical Park, I noticed this Yellow-Faced Bumble Bee or Bombus vosnesenskii on the ground.  She was, without a doubt, busy excavating the substrate beneath last fall’s cast off Maple and Madrona leaves.  I watched her for a few minutes as she would use her forelegs to dig away the soil and then back her abdomen into the small cavity for a moment before half-hovering, half-walking to another spot and beginning the process again.

What was perplexing to me about this behavior is that while Bumble Bees do lay their eggs in the soil, typically they use something like an old mouse hole or small animal burrow that is already there.  I checked carefully after she had crawled out of one of the small crevices and looked for any evidence of an egg, but didn’t see anything.   It didn’t make sense that she would lay one egg here and another egg somewhere else, so I’m not sure at all what this Bumble Bee was doing, but I did see some other Bumble Bees along the trail that appeared to be carrying on the same behavior.  Definitely sparked my curiosity and I am going to put it on my list of things to find out more about.

As I walked back down the hill, I did some thinking about something else.  What happens to the Bumble Bees and other pollinators that nest in the soil when we treat our yards and farms with chemicals?  Undoubtedly this has been one aspect contributing to the decline of native pollinators and something important to think about.  Greenhouse growers rely heavily on Bumble Bees for pollinating plants such as tomatoes and there is an active agricultural trade in Bumble Bees for this purpose.  Many things can cause additive effects that result in diminshed populations of these pollinators.  They are facing not only loss of habitat, but lack of genetic diversity with commercial breeding and trade. Of course, the harsh chemicals and fertilizers sprayed onto soils on our lawns, gardens, sports fields, farms, and golf greens compound their struggle to survive.

Something to think about?  I Bee-lieve so!

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(Yellow-Faced Bumble Bee or Bombus vosnesenskii)

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(Yellow-Faced Bumble Bee or Bombus vosnesenskii)

 

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Bumble bees are important pollinators too!

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                                Bombus mixtus ~ San Juan Island, WA

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                                   Bombus mixtus ~ San Juan Island, WA

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Tattered Wings

 

As I sat in front of my beehive taking photos this afternoon, I had a kafka-esque moment wishing I could enter the queen’s domain, compelling me to shrink myself into a tiny, winged molecule of this superorganism.  The activity around me was surreal.  Bees buzzed over my head and around my face.  The hum was hypnotizing…and I felt the mesmerizing intrigue of being one with the colony.

 

My intent was to watch for the bee with tattered wings. Image

                                                  April 28, 2012

I photographed her on several occasions over the first three weeks I had the hive.  She was darker than the others (honey bees lose their furry hairs as they age and their body color appears to darken when in fact, they’ve always been that color underneath).  This bee with tattered wings made me curious.  How many visits in and out of the hive had she flown, carrying nectar to sustain her fellow workers?  Her wings were indeed ragged.  The wind off the bay has been cool.  We’ve had all these wet, spring days….did it hasten the end of life for this dedicated little worker? 

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                                         April 28, 2012

 

I didn’t see her today.  Honey bees typically only live for 5-6 weeks during the nectar season.  Weary from her foraging trips, she may not have had the strength to return to the colony one evening before dark.  Her contributions were not insignificant though.  Silently, as I sat, I thanked her for all her hard work. 

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                              2nd from left at top ~ April 30, 2012

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                                                    May 2, 2012

 

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May 5, 2012 ~ This Morning’s Rescues

May 5, 2012: This morning’s rescues…
I check my hive in the a.m. for any little bees that might have not quite made it back into the hive the night before. Sometimes they get back late and can have trouble navigating in the dark, ending up on the ground in front of the hive instead of inside where it’s warm. If they get too chilled, they can’t move and will eventually die. The lucky ones that I pick up in the morning get a drop of honey water on a toothpick and when they warm up, I put them back in the hive. Check out the little bee’s tongue (the one on the right) stuck out to get the honey water.

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These two were lucky! Bzzz…..❀

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Yard and Garden Products Can ‘Bee’ Harmful

Yard and Garden Products Can ‘Bee’ Harmful

Here’s my editorial in the San Juan Journal….

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More Weather Delays!

I was really hoping to be able to get into the hive today.  The weather has been my most uncooperative friend and I am sure my little bees are not happy with with the overcast skies and chill in the air either.  Today is the 15th day past my last hive check when I made sure my queen had been released.  If you’ve followed my updates, you will see that I have been postponing my latest check because of the weather.  The bees have a hard enough time as it is without sending them out of the hive to catch their chill in 50 degree weather.  I also finally got an update on my bee suit that got confiscated by customs in New York.  My replacement is on it’s way.  Actually, it is the 3rd replacement because they failed to send the 2nd one via FedX.  Hey, I’m not complaining!  They emailed that I’m getting a free pair of gloves as a thank you for “bee-ing” patient.  Did I mention I ordered a Lilac colored suit?  Hmm…will post photos when I get it!

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Housekeeping!

Housekeeping!

cleaning house means carrying debris up to 40 yards out of the hive!

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My letter to the editor today…Yes, bees are affected by products we use in our yards and gardens!

Ongoing reliance on pesticides and herbicides has created serious implications for terrestrial and marine habitats.  Many of us are aware of these implications and conscientious of the need to make changes.  Today, the urgency for these changes became personal to me as a beekeeper when I noticed my dying honey bees, possibly exposed to a neighbor’s herbicidal lawn treatment.

 

Early spring is challenging for bees.  With cool, wet weather and few nectar sources available, they may be competing for the rights to those dandelions blooming in your front yard.  Something as innocuous as a weed may provide the first drops of sustenance for worker bees to bring back for the queen and larvae.  Today, I watched several of my bees return to the hive with difficulty.  Some seemed disoriented and were grooming excessively, as if trying to clean an unseen substance off their bodies.  Although there is no way to know with certainty what caused this, I became concerned it was from a chemical exposure.

 

Honey bee workers forage from 28-79 square miles.  Encountering the most risk at this stage of their life, they set out to collect pollen, nectar, and water on their venture outside the hive.  During these flights, they may encounter environmental toxins the beekeeper may never discover.  Some toxins cause direct and immediate mortality, while others accumulate over time in the wax as the bees collect tainted food supplies, storing them in the hive.  Pollen and nectar brought back are fed to the queen and larvae.  Eventually the entire colony may weaken and die. 

 

I’m calling on anyone who cares about protecting our natural resources, including our bees.  Products you use in your yard and garden can “bee” harmful.  Safer alternatives exist to chemicals that contaminate our environment.  Ask the county council to defend the Clean Water Act and its protections for our water. Become involved in the Critical Areas Ordinance and Shoreline Management update because our food and water ecosystems are at risk. 

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I was planning on checking my hive yesterday.  It has been ten days since I opened it up to see if my queen had been accepted by the colony and released from her cage.    If you are unfamiliar with how this works, the queen is reared from a different colony than the bees she is shipped with.  If she had not been contained separately in the shipping process, the bees in the package would recognize her as an intruder and kill her instantly.  Keeping her in her own little “chamber” makes sure she’s safe during transport and gives the other bees a chance to become familiar with her pheromones, hopefully accepting her as one of their own after a few days in the hive.

My queen’s special cage has a name if you want to use correct beekeeper terminology.  It is called a Benton cage – a small wooden block with wire screening and a short metal strip attached to it.  One end has a little circular hole that is plugged with a cork.  This cork will need to be removed to release the queen.  So, on the day I received my bee package I carefully removed the cork at the end of the queen cage, keeping my finger over the hole to prevent her escape.  Then, I replaced it with a squished marshmallow.

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                                Benton queen cage with marshmallow candy

It fit nicely and this way, after I used the metal strip to hang her over one of the frames in the hive, the rest of the bees were able to eat away the marshmallow in a day or so, releasing her for me.  So, when I checked that day, my queen had been released without incident and I carefully removed the empty cage and secured the hive inner and outer covers leaving the bees to do what bees do!

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Benton queen cage hung over frame with metal strip

Back to this week’s visit…yesterday I planned to open my hive to see if the queen had started laying eggs.  It had been ten days since I checked on the queen’s release and this would let me take a look to make sure everything was going okay.  The weather was cool and we had light drizzle.  My bees weren’t out flying, so I thought long and hard and decided to wait.  This morning, we had more cool, wet weather, so again, I decided to delay things a bit.

Another factor in my choice to delay is my missing bee suit.  I ordered it LAST month.  In March!  Is it here yet?  Nope.  No such luck.  I finally found out from the shipping company yesterday that it was confiscated by customs while making it’s way to New York.  That’s what I get for ordering a Lilac-colored suit with a fancy hat….from ENGLAND.  It’s replacement should arrive in about three days, so check back and I promise to post very “bee-stylin’” pictures of me opening up the hive and checking to see how things are going.  Hopefully my queen will be laying lots of eggs!

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