Friday, June 10, 2011

Bee Update (with BeeCam!)

So, despite the fact that my last blog post was about the bee install, in real time, our busy bee ladies have now been in place for nearly four weeks.  In that short amount of time, each hive has built 8-9 lovely white combs.  

Bees are coming in and out, gathering nectar and pollen.  Here's a video of the take off/ landing strip at the front of the hive one evening a few days ago:

Inside the hive, worker bees have been tending to the comb.  Here's some footage from the hive window- there are lots of bees doing the "bee dance," which is their method of communicating distance and direction of nectar and pollen sources. You can see one bee on the lower left hand part of the screen doing her bee dance over and over again.

 Other worker bees are busy filling each cell with pollen, which will be consumed by bee larvae after they hatch.  I haven't been able to see the queen yet, but the fact that workers are bringing in pollen is generally taken as a sign that the queen is in there, laying eggs. Here's a video of a worker bee depositing some pollen into one of the cells (look for the bright orange pollen, in the middle, to figure out which bee it is):

Anyhow, as you can see, I'm enamored with these bees. I find their bee life so intricate and fascinating.

In closing, a bit of bee humor for you (courtesy of co-keepers Joe and Venessa, via Abstruse Goose):


Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The great (belated) Honeybee Install

With all bee preparations done, the weather holding (no rain nor wind), the moment to install the bees arrived and we got to work. 

I removed the "quilt," the insulatory part of the hive.  This box has space in the middle for a feeder, and a piece of fabric stapled to the bottom of it.  It would later be filled with wood shavings, around the edges of the feeder, to provide insulation and moisture management for the hive.
Venessa prepared her beekeeper's hat/ veil. 
The bees patiently awaited their move to a new home.  

I slid the top bars around to make room to hang the queen cage. 

I pulled out the feeder, realizing quickly that this meant the bees were on their way out too!

Phew!   I got nervous, but took a deep breath and focused on keeping calm, moving quickly but smoothly, trying to find the best way possible to transfer these bees without exciting them too much.

I poured some bees into the hive... oops!  Almost forgot about the queen.  Here's her little cage

Here's a closeup of the Queen cage (sorry it is blurry).  Her attendants are there at the top, making sure she is fed and doing well.  You can see where we stuffed a piece of marshmallow in the end, replacing the wooden cork the queen cave arrived with.  The bees will eat through the marshmallow candy and release the queen. 

 After pulling the cork and replacing it with marshmallow, we secured the queen box to one of the top bars.  We were, at this point, also supposed to check to see if the queen is alive, but there were bees crawling all over the queen cage and I chickened out, securing the queen cage in a hurry and hoping that her attendants leave my fingers alone just a few seconds longer.  I guess we'll have to figure out later of the queen is alive.   
 We poured more bees in to the hive.  It was quite incredible and also overwhelming to see so many bees all in one place.  They were not acting particularly fierce, but they were disoriented and agitated. It is easy to see how getting on the wrong side of an entire hive would have a bad ending, especially if you happen to be allergic to honeybees.  It is also astounding, though, how they know intuitively to keep together.  It is almost as though they are separate buzzing parts of one large organism rather than individual beings.

We replaced the top bars, on the hive.....  forgetting that there are still more bees to reunite with their bee sisters. 

 I tipped over the box- and  attempted to shake the bees out.  I shook gently, timidly, not wanting to hurt them.  The bees clung stubbornly to the sides of the package box, not tumbling out the way they did for the guy on the youtube video I watched in preparation. 

I shook a bit harder, then stopped to readjust my grip on the box.  The exploded into busy bomb scene of angry bees- total bee mayhem.  Disoriented bees flew through the air, trying to figure out where their queen has gone and buzzing angrily at me.  I realized I hadn't attached my veil to my helmet correctly when I saw three bees crawling up the veil, on the inside.  I stopped, stepped away, gingerly peeled my helmet and veil off, and asked for some help from Chad  and Venessa to brush off the handful of bees finding their way up into my veil. Note to self- beekeeping is an activity best done in groups of two or more.  Miracously, I had no stings, save for one little renegade bee on my thigh who decided that I was a predator and that my presence merited sacrificing her life to attack me.  I watched her back up and start to stick her stinger through my jeans, but I brushed her off quickly, feeling just a tiny poke.  No stinger left behind.... maybe that little fierce bee lived to fly another day? 

I returned for a few more shakes, then left the bee box propped up next to the hive so that the last few stragglers can make their way back to the nest. 

Phew.  Really intense, but really amazing too.  Venessa posted a great video of it all coming together.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Getting ready for our honeybees

I decided this year to get bees for our garden.  I love the idea of keeping thousands of happy pollinators around, and I'm also excited about the possibility of having gallons of sweet, fresh, local honey at the end of the season.  

I spent months researching different beekeeping methods and finally decided on the Warre method.  The Warre Method is a natural approach to beekeeping, grounded in philosophy that the bees possess inherent wisdom when it comes to best bee survival practices.  The Warre hive imitates a tree trunk- so it is smaller than normal Langstroth boxes, and square in shape.  The hives start out with two boxes, with boxes being added to the bottom of the bee hive as the colony grows and needs more space.  (Langstroths typically "super" additional boxes over the top of the existing boxes).  The theory is that the bees will start building comb and laying brood in the top boxes, then will work their way down as the season progresses.  As the brood hatches, the empty cells will be cleaned and used to store honey.  Harvesting honey, then, is relatively easy- you just take the top few boxes, as most of the bees will have moved down the hive as the summer progresses.  

Anyhow, here's a photo essay on our bee preparations.....