Thursday, April 19, 2012

Looking good, ladies!

I went out today to visit my girls and see how the comb construction has been progressing. I've stolen a few sneak peeks over the past week, but today marks the first true examination of the hive. I'm simply amazed at how much has been accomplished in such a short time period. They've completely built out two frames and are pretty far along on 4 others. The four frame farthest from the center had a few stragglers doing some minor wax-work, but for the most part were untouched. I anticipated the initial build-out would take at least a month, and a little less than a week in they've definitely surpassed my expectations.

It's truly mind boggling how fast they work. So fast, in fact, that they've begun building a second layer of comb between two of the frames. Seeing two frames mended together is...well...interesting. They came apart very easily, but I don't think they were especially appreciative of the fact that I'd done it. While separating the bound frames, a small (approximately 1.5" x 2") piece of comb broke off and fell to the bottom of the hive. I managed to get my hand down there and grab it so they wouldn't fill it needlessly with any precious resources. To my amazement, it actually already had several cells of uncapped honey. And let me say that fresh, uncapped honey is the "bee's knees". I marveled over the comb on my desk and found myself in awe...what a remarkable genetic trait, the ability to build such a geometrically perfect structure. Humans take years of practice (and often a ruler) to draw straight lines, yet bees have perfected sacred geometry within weeks of their birth.

I'll go back and visit more often from here on out. Hopefully I can figure out a way to stop them from needlessly building comb where it doesn't belong. Or maybe I'll just appreciate it as a source of awesome chewing gum. Who knows?

Friday, April 13, 2012

Talk about a clown car...

If anyone had asked me six months ago if I'd ever find myself in a car with several thousand bees, there was very little chance I wouldn't have laughed them right out of the room. Yet today, I drove with ten thousand (give or take) bees for more than an hour in a compact sedan--in the front seat, no less. I picked them up from a place about 70 miles away. I arrived not entirely sure what to expect, half way thinking I might chicken out at the last minute and take off running. There they were, placidly hanging out in a box, waiting for me to take them home. I couldn't let down 10,000 beautiful ladies, so I set aside any lingering fears I had that they'd somehow escape their confinement and teach me how to practice the "stop, drop and roll" technique. They were very courteous passengers, I don't think they asked me to slow down once! You'd be amazed how powerful the incessant buzzing of these ladies on the seat next to you feels. It truly gives a new meaning to feeling "buzzed". (I couldn't resist throwing out at least one pun...)

When I finally arrived home, I had a very brave volunteer come and take pictures of the goings on. Tons of photos were taken, but my gorgeous wife and I selected what we thought were the best ones. I put the assembled frames into the hive body, suited up with my veil and gloves, and gathered up all of the things I thought I'd need to bring to the party. I carried everything down to the hive's new home. The photographer hesitantly came along, even though he had no protection from the wrath of the colony. I had previously watched a few videos showing how to "install" bees (like this one), so I had a general outline of how the whole thing would go.

Everything went according to the plan (roughly). The ladies only got slightly riled up, so it was a pretty cool experience moving (dumping, really) thousands of live bees from a small box into a place they've never seen. Eventually, a few of them discovered that my pants weren't sealed at the bottom, or my hoodie not quite tight enough around the waist, or the place where my hair wasn't completely under the veil (and left a pretty wide open door to my face). I sustained a few stings, but nothing too significant.

There she was, well protected as promised. I brushed off every one of these ladies twice before the left photo, but her guards were adamant about not leaving her side and returned almost immediately. I left her in her chamber after removing the cork blocking her exit. Her servants will do the rest (I hope). I bid them farewell, put the top cover on and went about my day. I'll come back to visit in a couple of days.

Phew, I think I'm over the hump. I think the realization that getting stung only hurts for a second (and supposedly gets less painful over time) really relieved some tension. I can't wait to come see how the decoration is going! Normally I wouldn't be able to resist going tomorrow, but I've got herb class all weekend, so I literally have no time check for a few days. I think that's probably best... I don't want to disturb them too much.

We'll visit the hive in a few days to see how it's going. Come on back now, y'hear?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Ready to Go!

Over the past two weeks, I've spent time assembling, painting and weather proofing my hive. Tomorrow I am picking up my bees and will have lots of photos documenting their introduction to their new home. Until then, here are a few things that I've found helpful thus far:

  1. Assembling the Frames

    I managed to find a series of videos on YouTube which helped me come to my own way of putting everything together. I'm a big fan of doing what makes most sense to me (and not necessarily anyone else), so I watched many videos and read numerous blog posts about this topic. In the end, I used a beeswax foundation secured by monofilament fishing line as suggested in this video by FatBeeMan. While I thought his idea of using bobby pins as the side braces was inventive and probably fine, I didn't like the idea of using painted metal with plastic tips, so I used some heavier stainless steel brads instead. I feel like they came out really well.
  2. Painting and Weather-proofing

    Ross Conrad mentioned in Natural Beekeeping that bees can be sensitive to chemicals in paint and that oil-based paints will not only cause immune issues in the colony, but also crack and eventually allow water to settle between the paint and wood causing it to rot. His suggestion was to use a light colored outdoor latex-based paint. I managed to find an "eco" brand of latex paint and slapped on one nice, thick, uniform layer.

    I didn't feel that the paint would be sufficient weather protection (and might still bother the bees), so I did some more research and found that some people have had success in coating the exterior of their hive in an oil-beeswax mixture after painting. I had some pure beeswax pellets on hand and some grapeseed oil which hadn't been touched in a while and decided to give it a shot. I mixed 1:3 beeswax to oil, heated it in a double boiler, then started painting it on. I quickly noticed that the paint brush was giving me more hassle than help, so I tossed it aside, dipped my hand in the waxy mixture and started finger painting. That was definitely the way to go...who would have thought that this would be such a fun process?
We're almost there, and tomorrow, the bees come home! Stay tuned...

Monday, April 2, 2012

They're Early!

Saturday, I started putting all the pieces together to transform the pile of various wood pieces into a functional hive. I had my beeswax foundation sheets laid out next to me and had just began dry-fitting the pieces when a honeybee came to visit. She flew away and came back a few minutes later with 3 friends. Then they left and came back with even more... I was convinced that they'd take over the hive before I'd finished the first frame!

There was a bit of a hiccup on the bee acquisition front. I'd scheduled to pick up a nucleus colony (nuc) from a local beekeeper, then reconsidered after realizing that the bees in his care had probably been treated with Apivar or another of the many common mite or fungus prevention chemicals on the market. It's important that, staying in line with my views on doing this as naturally and organically as possible, my bees don't come from a factory farm-ish operation and have not been treated with chemicals of any sort. Unfortunately it seems that the vast majority of bees people are selling, whether as nucs or packages, fail to meet these criteria. I've got an alternate source lined up with some untreated (but also non-native) bees and some feelers out as well, but I'm truly hoping to entice a local swarm to move in on its own. I'm currently researching the best way to do so, and would welcome suggestions from anyone who has experience in this arena.

Next up: Construction continues. Stay tuned for more!