Friday, December 16, 2011

like any other blog..

In each blog's lifetime, there is a lull. Some blogs never recover from this lull, and I'm not making any promises.

But since it's been like 4 months, I'll just give you a summary of bee-related events here at the "farm."

-Housepainting-- lookout bees!

House painters aren't really keen on bee hives, or bee clouds getting between them and their job. So we had to plug the hives, move the hives, and tarp the hives, so the painters could paint.

Most of that was pretty easy. I mean, it involved some serious deep squats that I didn't think I could rise up out of while carrying thousands of bees trapped in a pine box, but here I am, I made it.

The most dramatic part wasn't within the plug-move-tarp sequence. It was only after we de-tarped and moved the hives back in place that I had my most fearful beekeeping moment.
I had to unplug the hives of bees, at night [read: in moonless darkness] and wearing nothing but a t shirt and jeans.
I didn't have to get too near the hives to hear them all vibrating loudly, when otherwise they would have been peacefully resting.
I interpreted this to mean "whoever plugged us up in here for 2 days will PAY for their actions!!"
It freaked me out, so I got some ribbon and looped it around the wooden plugs and walked far back and pulled the ribbon(!)
It snapped. I panicked. I sprinted toward the hives, yanked the plugs and fled into the house like a pansy.
I'm pretty sure a cloud of bees did NOT pour out looking to attack me, but nevertheless I was safe.

-Mucho Honey

Before we did the winter maintenance on the hives, we pulled out gallons and gallons of honey.
And Kevin's coworkers love it so much, it's all been sold.
Gallons have been sold. They feel strongly about local honey.
I think that whole exposé on illegally de-pollenated honey helped our market. Awesome sauce.

-Darn you Rosemary

I had a friend of mine tell me he disliked the "winter 2010" honey batch so much that he just tossed out his whole jar. (he's an apologetically blunt Epicurean) He said it was the strong rosemary/eucalyptus taste. All I could say was "sorry, that's what the bees like in Winter."
So I'm guessing we'll have more pine-sol honey the next time we harvest in January.


Sunday, August 14, 2011

Overachiever bees

I have about 85 lbs of honey in the kitchen right now.

Our bees have been outdoing themselves. The suburbs, I tell ya, we got alot of flowers.

It's overwhelming...we don't know what we're gonna do with all of it (!!)

Even buying 16 oz containers for that much honey is kinda pricey. And we can't sell it at a farmers market because we process it out of our kitchen instead of a designated facility (so we can't get a license).

So it's either lemonade stand style selling or craigslist.

I thought we could combine the two concepts and have a highly publicized honey sale day and try to sell as much as we can.

Sept 17th, I propose. $5 per lb jar. The kids can work the table and earn a little middleman cut of the profits while we're at it.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

with great honey comes great need for containment

So we have a lot of honey.


And Ball jam jars are ugly. Sorry if you don't think so, but I do. I feel like I might as well be putting our honey in old margarine tubs.

Unfortuntely, normal looking jars can only be found online. (Container Store, you have let me down big time).

For our last batch we bought a variety of jars, most spectacular of which were the glass honey bears.

Beekeeping supply catalogs will tell you that plastic squeezie bottles or squeezie bears are fine for honey containment, but they just look cheap. Cheap honey is what I buy at Safeway. If I'm calling the honey mine, it's gotta be well dressed.

So then we have the jars but at home labeling was more trouble than it was worth (think laminated coating and circle-cutting) so I gritted my teeth and ordered from Vista Print.
I have a grudge against Vista Print because they're snakish. I don't think that's a word, but that's adjective I'm going to apply to their business methods.
The free-business-cards they sell are super ugly, and not really free unless you're willing to wait 'til next year to take delivery of them. Their prices aren't the lowest around, and they sell weird stuff like baseball caps and website hosting, and that's just...well, weird.

But gosh darnit if they didn't have the best "small circular sticker" prices, so I placed my order and will wait by the mailbox until these little babies arrive:

It's a simple label in a sea of filigreed flowery labels. Stylistically it's a nod to mandarin orange growers, Fiestaware and London Underground all at once, which happen to be 3 things I like, and relate to honey, sorta (okay, the UK and tea and honey is a weak link, I admit that)

(Rabbit trail note: The bee in the center will most likely appear in permanent form on my upper arm sooner or later.)

Tomorrow we'll harvest some more honey (fingers crossed) and by the time it's done processing, all the new packaging should arrive. Kismet!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Spring harvest, inspection

We pulled 4 frames of honey recently, and last weekend we 'processed' it.

Honey progression.

From this (frames of capped honey):

To this (strained honey):

To this (many jars of honey):

And this (see if you can guess!):

And finally, this:

We inspected the hives today, and found both to have brood, so apparently the frame of brood we added last week was unnecessary. All's well though, they can probably use a few more worker bees.

We also went in initially without smoke, and the bees were a lot more aggressive.. As soon as we started smoking the hives, they really were a lot more peaceful. I suppose that makes sense, but it's good to verify sometimes :)


Tuesday, May 10, 2011

I'm the one that gets stung

Kevin has thicker hair, clearer skin, can hold his breath longer, and beat me in almost every game/sport at which we have ever competed, there remains one biological arena in which I best him: allergic reactions.--

Mosquito bites have little or no affect on me.

I don't have cold-urticaria. (alright that's an easy one, 98% of humans don't)

And pertinent to this beekeeping blog, beestings to me are a minor nuisance.

I've been stung about 10 times now over the past year. I had never been stung by a bee before we had our hive. Stepping on a wasp at age 24 was the first "sting" I ever received. (I'm indoorsy)

I had gotten so lax about the stings, that this last time I was stung (yesterday afternoon) I didn't think much of the stings.

But some combination of factors led my stings to amount to more than tiny purple marks. I have a cookie-size hive at the locations of each sting. (I remember a similar reaction to a fire ant bite when I was a kid)
Was it the new breed of bees I caught and introduced to our hive?
Did I not remove the stinger fast enough / correctly?
Lack of ibuprofen / Zyrtec?
I dunno.
But I don't like the ugly spots on my arms, that's for sure and I'd like them to go away. So I googled and found this interesting article: The Best Bee Sting Remedies from Slate.
Really, click the link, it really is interesting!

(in this re-enactment, the part of "my arms" is played by a purple daisy)

I'm pretty sure more than 24 hours after the stings, alot of those solutions wouldn't really help me. I should just ice them, but they don't bother me that much that I'm going to hold packs of ice on/off my arms for a couple of hours.

How did I get stung this time, you might be wondering?

Well for starters, I was out there (by myself) because we saw that our big first hive had no new grubs (brood) or eggs.
Which means they have no queen.
Which is like bee anarchy.

So we had decided Sunday afternoon, after the honey harvest, that we should swap out a grub frame from the second hive for a honey frame in the queen-less hive.*
Which is what I was doing yesterday when I got stung. I was rushing, and I didn't cover my arms with enough layers to keep out stingers. And when I jacked up a super-full frame of honey, the "anarchists", who were already mad because of not having a queen, stung me through my sleeves. I still had to do the swap and put the hives back together so I didn't immediately tend to my stings.
And now, welts. Boo.

*How does swapping help our the queen situation?
The other hive can magically** transform those eggs into a new queen.

**Magically, seriously?
Um, no, it involves Royal Jelly which I don't like saying out loud because it sounds like knock-off of Dark n' Lovely or an altogether more unmentionable product.

Monday, May 9, 2011

and here the honey is...inside buckets

On Mothers Day (yesterday) this honey was harvested. For hard data, see previous post.

Also, for Mothers Day, my mom got me bee themed salt/pepper shakers (from Cracker Barrel, who knew?)

So I thought I'd couple them together for a portrait. :)

The best part about the honey having to sit n' filter for a couple of days is that the kitchen smells awesome. I didn't expect it to waft around so much, but since it's warmer than it was in December when we had our last batch, it's gettin' around.

For the last few months Kevin has been saving every random jar that passes through our kitchen, in preparation for the next honey-jarring session. I keep tossing out (recycling) the ones with the ugly lids. You can imagine how Kevin feels about that, but I have aesthetics standards-- even for honey that comes from beside our garage.

Which reminds me, I gotta order some labels right now!...

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Honey Raid, Inspection report.

Quick recap of recent events:

* about 18 days ago, we tried to capture a swarm, but they didn't stay in the new hive we built for them. Instead they joined our existing hive. OK, so far so good.
* the next day, that same hive did a practice swarm, where 11 lb of bees left, flew around then came back.
* 14 days ago, we did an inspection, found queen cells, and split the hive. This means we took honey, brood, and some frames with queen cells and put them in the new hive, which we had prepared for the swarm. Handy.
* 11 days ago the first hive swarmed for real. It was a 7.5lb swarm. We tried to capture it, but it didn't go so well. In the end we regained 5lbs of bees, but lost 2.5 lb and the queen. See previous posts for details, if you want.
* 7 days ago we noticed a lot of bees on the outside, and since the weather was warming up, we added a couple supers and vented the top.

Here's the graph showing all the above events from the scale's point of view.

We've pretty much let them be since they swarmed. It takes a while for a new queen to hatch, mate, and start laying, and it takes about 10 days for eggs to become capped brood. Since it's been over 10 days since the old queen left, we know that if we saw any eggs or grubs today, we'd know for sure that there was a queen in the hive. No need to see the queen, just eggs or brood.

So today we inspected both hives. The original hive is now queenless - no eggs or brood. We did see some tiny 'emergency' queen cells, one of which had hatched. Not sure if that was recent, or if that queen will even be viable.

Since it was filled up with honey, we took 4 frames from it. Will have to be sure they don't totally fill the hive with honey before we can get a new queen going.

By the time we were done, they were mighty angry. At least that hive is still full of bees, so we're hoping it's not too late and we can turn things around.

On the other hand, the new hive has lots of brood and seems very happy. So that's good at least. The colony survives!

We decided our best bet is to buy a new queen for the old hive, since it'll take 2-3 weeks for them to make a new one, if we give them eggs/brood today. We may swap some brood frames over to the old hive once we put a new queen in, to keep their numbers up.