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.


Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Swarm outcome, sort of.

We are apparently bad as a couple at swarm capture

I climbed a ladder, cut the branch with the swarm on it





Got the branch down to the ground.

Then i found the queen in the swarm and just had to get a closer look. She crawled on my clippers and then she flew away

That's right, she flew away.

So for the uninitiated, when the queen flies away, the bees go find her. or go somewhere else, but they don't stay where you put them.

In this case it doesn't seem like they went to the new hive (but it's hard to tell), but at least 4-5 lb of them rejoined the current hive, so it wasn't a total loss.

Perhaps the rest landed in the new hive we set up. No scale on that one so it's hard to tell :)

This graph tells the tale:

You can see the drop where they leave, a couple hours of normal nectar delivery, then a faster increase in weight where they start rejoining. Just at that point is where the branch was tapped to dump the bees on the new hive.


Gosh darnit, bees!

On Easter afternoon, we had scheduled to extract the eastimated 50 lbs of honey from our hive (according to Kevin's bee scale data).

But no! When we opened the hive, we found in frame after frame, the bees had mixed their brood (baby bee grubs) and their honey! So we couldn't get any of it! All messed up!

I was so depressed about it that I took out the one and only frame of honey without grubs that I could find. And Kevin told me not to, because it was old and wouldn't taste very good. But I wasn't leaving that honey store without honey, so I took it! Even if it does taste funky.

And now, 3 days later, after we tried to spread out the frames and new queen cells to the new empty hive, the bees swarmed anyway and are amassed in branch near our driveway. A very tall, hard to reach branch. Arg!

...stay tuned for the harrowing outcome...

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

sometimes you gotta carry bees home in a Civic

Well it's swarm season. Or maybe I should say "swarm season's greetings."

And this afternoon, at my work no less, there was a swarm-- just confused and clustered on a bushy tree.

Perfect opportunity to try my hand at swarm capturing! *DING!*
I got a 5 gallon bucket, a "lid" (not really a lid, but it worked), some branch clippers, gloves n' hat and my "dress whites" and drove back over to the office.

Kevin expressed concern, to say the least, but gave his partial blessing, and let me go [solo].
You know, the bees could be a not-so-friendly breed, and could mess with our hive, etc.

But I'm not known for my calculated caution, so I got on the step ladder, clipped some branches, dropped a branch of bees, scooped up said bees, thwacked some more bees off into another bucket and loaded them into the backseat of the Honda.

There were still some bees left, but I didn't have alot of time to hang around and get every last bee, so I left some. If they're still there in the morning, I'll get the rest.

I brought them home, unsure whether I got the queen or not.
I mean, it's really hard to tell where the queen is when I'm looking at our neat n' tidy hive.
In a buzzing ball of swarming bees, it's pretty much impossible.

So I have no idea if we have the queen. Some of the bees were doing what I call "treadmilling" (flapping wings, but not going anywhere) that is what they do when the queen is near, so I think that's a good sign. But then Kevin said the fact that there were still bees stuck back on the tree when I left is a bad sign. So it's a draw.

When I came home and dumped the bees into the empty hive box that Kevin prepared, they seemed fine.
However, he just checked on them (hours later) and they are back out and hanging around the which he said "you gotta find the queen and put her in the hive."

Great....I gotta get a flashlight and find one bee out of 100,000 bees in the dark...fantastic....

UPDATE: mission locate queen: fail. I got stung twice (because *someone* said I didn't need to put on the full get-up. *squint*). I did dump more bees back in the empty hive and put a glob of honey inside, so they'd have a snack and stay awhile.
Now I have to sit and wait until they calm back down so I can put the lid back on. oye.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

not bees, but they eat bees

*NOTE* Kevin thinks that a post about chickens doesn't belong on a bee blog. But I'm not making a separate chicken blog, that's crazy.

In January we ordered our chicks from the internet. And then they came express mail a couple of weeks ago. Yes, in a box. Chicks-in-a-box. Not to be confused with this.

That morning I had a conference to work at and I had planned out my day just-so, when my cell phone rang. It was the postmaster, and the chicks had been in transit an extra day(!)

I drove over at 7am and they handed the peeping box to me.

Expecting certain chick death, I was surprised to see all 5 chicks were alive, see below.

Unfortunately, two chicks met their doom in the following days, despite our best efforts. RIP Lemon Chicken and Rosemary Chicken.
I took Lemon to the vet (like an idiot) thinking that they would say "just do this simple thing" or "sorry, she's a gonner." But they fully diagnosed stress-induced dehydration and kidney failure. Sheesh, it's just a 4 dollar chick, people. No need for all that, it's not a horse. They were disappointed that I didn't agree to an overnight fluid IV treatment for $200.00. (Sockswithsandalsland is filled with animal-kooks!)

The surviving three chicks are, in order of size: General [Tsao's] Chicken, Funky Chicken and Butter Chicken. Butter Chicken is the people's chick-of-choice.

Kid R with Funky Chicken.

I'm also somewhat surprised no chickens have been mortally injured by our kids (less we forget the Accidental Butterfly Massacre of 2010, woe!)

In this little 4H-suburban-edition experiment, I've noticed that the chicks are much like other babies: they eat, sleep, poop and cry. They get big fast and they make a mess.

Kevin fed them a worm yesterday and this morning and scrappy little Butter won the prize every time. Hooray for the underdog.

We have their little barn-coop waiting for them to get big enough to move uptown. Right now they have a studio [cardboard] apartment in our dining room, complete with heat lamps and roosting stick.

Here's the barn, mid-way through the build (I'm too lazy to get up and go out back in the rain and take a pic of the finished coop).

It now has an egg-door up top in the "hayloft" and a roof, etc.

When they move in, I'll have a roost-warming blog post and show it off...

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Weekly graphs: March 20, 2011

I'm going to post graphs weekly for now. We'll see how it goes

This week's theme: Bees don't like rain, or at least they don't gain weight when its rainy.

Note this graph is actually for 8 days.

I tagged thursday night with 'Maintenance': I was working on some outlets and the computer that is monitoring the scale lost power. When it was fixed, it read flat all night till i kicked it. All was restored come morning. Data seems to be inline with expectations, so i'm calling it the same.


Monday, March 14, 2011

A week in.

The scale has been under the hive for a week now, and i thought i'd post a couple of updates:

First, some graphs:
Last 24 hrs:

Last week:

The big spike on tue was due to some imbalance in the scale, possibly caused by settling or something. I think the data before it is usable, but if not the data after certainly is.

Also the scale has some temperature fluctuations and is probably accurate to +/- 1/2 lb. The resolution is much higher, but do to the temperature effects and compensation, between any two points could be up to a lb off.

The daily pattern seems to be:
* bees wake up and get flying around 9am
* hive gains most weight between 11am and 3pm
* weight peaks around 6:30pm
* weight tapers off during the next 6-8 hrs, presumably due to evaporation.


Thursday, March 10, 2011

Ups and downs.. evaporation?

There was much discussion about whether all the weight gained by the hive was nectar, and how much would subsequently be lost by evaporation.

Turns out to be quite a lot.

Nectar is reportedly 80%+ water, whereas honey is typically less than 20% water. So in theory you will lose 6/10ths of the volume before it's honey. I was curious to see how long it would take the bees to evaporate the nectar into honey, and sort of expected it to take place in warmer weather.

Nope. Apparently the night time is the right time for evaporation. At least that's my best guess as to what is happening.

All the bees are in there flapping their wings to keep the brood warm, and it seems they are evaporating at the same time. Hive weight seems to peak around 5:30pm right now, and steadily decreases throughout the night, leveling off around 5am.

[ update, did some math, and by weight the nectar to honey ratio is about 9:4, eg 9 lbs of nectar becomes 4 lbs of honey ]

I think i'll start using the weight at 5am as the reference point for how much was gained that day, since the hour-by-hour haul during the day varies so much, and the evaporation seems to continue through the night.

Oh, you want a graph? of course you do:

The purple line on top is today's readings, pink is yesterday, and the light blue is the day-over-day difference between the two. The day-over-day was offset by +100 to get it to all show up on the same graph.

So the net from yesterday (as tabulated at 5am, after most of the evaporation) was about 1.5lbs, and today remains to be seen, but it looks like it'll be around a pound. It's hard to tell what will happen; the weight peaked earlier today vs yesterday, so i'm hoping they got a head start on the evaporation.. We'll have to wait till 5am to find out.

I think I'll wait till 8am or so ;)

busy bees, either way.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Chubby bees

We have data!

So far, the hive seems to have gained around 2lbs today! Will see how it goes by evening, but it's following the general pattern i expected:

[update! looks like almost 3lbs]

* morning: hive weighs less as foraging bees leave
* 11am-3pm hive gets heavier during peak foraging hours

the little ups and downs are probably artifacts of the imperfect temperature compensation, and its affinity for even numbered values. There's probably a mathy way to fix some of that, but it'll have to be post-processed. Maybe i'll just have to get a real temperature sensor installed.

the way it gets lighter in the morning may just be a compensation artifact, and may indicate that the foraging bees really don't weigh that much.

updated graph:

Monday, March 7, 2011

We're watching what they eat

I love data. graphs. trends. love it.

So when we started keeping bees, harvesting honey, etc, i had a need to know more about what was going on.

I was initially going to try and make a bee-counter camera, but it turns out the little computer i have isn't powerful enough for that. Too bad.

Plan B: Weigh them. Lots of people weigh beehives - heavier in general is better, and there are lots of ways to find out how heavy a hive is: tip them, put bathroom scales under them periodically, etc.

But i need more. I want to know how much it weighs all the time. I want a graph of this data. Know anywhere that sells scales made for beehives? That let you make graphs and check every minute or so? Me either.

So i built one! I made a scale for my hive which reports data whenever it is asked, which is currently about every minute.

* a bathroom scale ($20 on ebay)
* a microcontroller (like an arduino, an attiny85) which i could talk to via USB.

I took the scale apart and used the strain gauges and analog bits from the scale, an opamp/instrumentation amp to amplify the tiny voltage that the scale provides, and hooked it into the ADC on the microcontroller. That all connects to a little 4 watt computer in the garage, which relays the readings to another computer which stores the data.

It's now sitting under the hive and making nice graphs. So far the hive hasn't changed much in weight in the day and a half it's been running.

A couple pictures:

The scale is the yellow thing at the very bottom. Under the white base.

a graph:

The thick purple line (at the bottom) is lbs, and the other lines are used to calculate that one. The uptick at the very beginning is charlie replacing the plastic cover and the brick that holds it down.

The readings from the scale/microcontroller vary proportional to temperature, so i added some stuff to compensate for those swings. It's mathy so i won't go into it here. It works pretty well though :)

So, that's my hack for this week.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

New year, new bees

We opened the hive up for the first time this year to see how they are doing.

I didn't write down the date, but I think it was around Jan 21 or so.

Not much changed in the hive between Christmas (when we pulled honey), and that inspection.

Charlie did all the hands-on work, and I took notes and watched. We got some gloves for christmas, which she used. Good thing too, a bee stung the glove.

There were 3 full frames and 3 medium frames that had brood (i assume, they were covered in bees, which typically means they were keeping the grubs warm), so that shows that they're gearing up for the spring. This breed (carniolans) typically overwinters with fewer bees than italians, so having a small amount of brood is not terribly concerning at this stage.

Didn't see any hive beetles like last time.

Watching the entrance to the hive, they are quite busy, so that's good.

We pulled a black plastic frame that had BLACK wax on it, and was all funky looking. Wax tops were all wavy and there were rarely any bees on it. I let it sit in the garage for a day or so, and it smelled BAD. I threw it out.. didn't even want the bees eating the honey that was in it. I have a pet theory that it was the reason the bees didn't like that side of the hive, and that they will start thriving now that it's gone.

We had prepared a new super (box of frames) to put on the hive, and even though there was no new honey, we put it on anyways.

Here's how the hive is laid out now:

Hive body: 10 frames, all brood or honey (for insulation), active capped brood in 6-8.

First super, not painted:
1: F, capped honey (insulation)
2: Fresh foundationless frame added
3: FL, with fresh comb about the size of 2 hands
4: FL 80% drawn, some honey
5: FL with 2 tiny slivers of wax drawn
6: uncapped honey
7: brood
8: brood
9: Fresh foundationless frame added
10: F, capped honey (insulation)

Second super, painted with bees stamped on it
1: F, capped honey (insulation)
2: blank
3: some drawn some capped honey
4-9: FL, blank
10: Capped honey (insulation)

Top super:
1: F, capped honey
2-8: FL? blank
9: F, capped honey
10: FL, blank

No pictures this time, my phone got wiped :<

We moved the insulating honey frames around a bit so that all 3 boxes would have at least one frame of insulating honey on each side. Fresh frames were added next to the insulating ones in hopes that they would build out fresh comb there and fill it with honey. We'll see how it goes.