Archive for April, 2007

Entrance restricted

April 29, 2007

I dropped by my hives this morning to reduce the entrances.  I left them fully open yesterday afternoon so that the bees had an easier time finding their new home.  I didn’t want to leave it open too long though because I didn’t want to have any robbing problems.  When I got there at about 10:30 or so, there was plenty going on at the hives.  There were a good number of bees both at the entrance and flying around the front of the hives.  I watched them for a bit and didn’t see anything that looked like robbing (fighting, etc).  Maybe the flying around was orientation flights, I’m not sure.

I put on my full jacket, veil, and gloves this time when I went up to the hives.  I figured that they might now feel like the hive was home and feel more of a need to defend it.  In addition, I was going to need to be messing around at the entrance.  There should be guard bee there and me messing with my entrance reducer (and bolt) might bother them.  As it turned out, I was just fine.  Once again, no stings (to either me or my gloves, jacket, etc.).  I did have to keep moving bees away from the entrance so that I could swing the reducer into position.  Even my pushing them around didn’t seem to bug them too much.  In addition to the opening, there is also a 1/4″ hole (for a larger opening setting).  As soon as I move the reducer into position, a few bees came popping out the hole.  They fit through a 1/4″ hole, but it looks like a reasonably tight fit.  It looks a little humorous watching them pop their heads out, then pull themselves through.

Here is the hive with the reducer in place.

The bees are in!

April 28, 2007

Today was the big day. I started as a future beekeeper who fiddled with a couple of future hives, and ended as a beekeeper. Do I get to call myself that yet? I got the bees, but haven’t really “kept” them yet. Who knows…I had fun anyway.

This last week I got in contact with another new beekeeper from here in Chapel Hill who was also going to Brushy Mountain to pick up bee packages. We were able to carpool which was nice. Car trips always seem shorter when there is someone to talk too. I hope I didn’t talk too much. We headed out pretty early this morning (about 7:45). We were not sure how long it would take top get there, and wanted to make sure we were there in time to see a demonstration of how to hive a package. You can also find lots of videos on the web of similar demonstrations of hiving a package (a really quick search found this, this, and this, there are others I am sure). We made it in plenty of time for the demonstration which was at 11:00. We had time to look around and check out the store there. Its an interesting place, and a beautiful area. There were definitely lots of people there to get packages.

The Demonstration was interesting, but not to surprising after having seen some videos. The guy doing it explained that while he had made packages (shook them out), he had never actually hived one. It all went fine though. I don’t even thingk anyone got stung. After we watched the demo, we got our packages and headed home.

When we got home, I gathered all my stuff and the bees and headed out to my “apiary”. Yesterday I had made up about a gallon of 1:1 sugar syrup to feed the bees to help them get started. Before I did anything else with the bees, I filled my feeders and set them up inside the hives (sticking through the follower boards). I decided to give the bees 13 top-bars to start with and set follower board up directly behind these 13 bars. Hopefully 13 will be a lucky number. 🙂 Here are the two packages sitting off to the side as as I was getting ready. Before moving on to any of the next steps, I used a spray bottle to spray the bees down with some sugar syrup (1:1). This should keep them from flying too much, and give them something to eat/drink.

I have to apologize for the pictures. I didn’t get a lot of great shots, and no action shots. I was hiving the packages by myself and couldn’t very well play cameraman while holding the bees. I tried to get some pictures though.

The next thing I had to do was get the queen cage out and fix it to a top-bar. The queen is not actually from the same hive as the bees, so they would kill her is she was simple added to the package. She is kept separate in a small “queen cage” which is plugged with a small bit of sugar candy. The idea is that the bees will slowly eat the candy and free the queen. After they have all been together for a couple of days, the bees will accept the queen. They have been together about 24 hours now, and a waiting a couple more days before releasing the queen would be the safest. I remove the queen cage from the packages and carefully used a nail to make a small hole in the candy plug that is keeping the queen in. The small hole will make it a little easier for the bees to start chewing away the candy. I had forgotten to bring anything to attach the cage to a top-bar, so I had to improvise. I used some paper clips that I bent to wrap around the cage and over the top-bar, but was worried that they might not hold. To make sure that the cage was well attached, I used a grocery bag to make some ties (cut a few strips out and twisted them to make a “cord”). I use these to tie the cage to the top-bar. They were held in pretty well with the ties and the paper clips.

Now for the fun part. Leaving a few bars out so there was an opening, I turned the package over and shook out as many bees as I could. They all seemed pretty calm, so I did this on the first hive with just my veil on (no gloves and just in a t-shirt). Everything went fine, and though a good number of bees flew, they didn’t really bother me at all. I did have to do lots of brushing though to get them all down in the hive. It was hard to get all the bees out of the package, so I ended up completely removing one side of the box so that I could shake them all out better. One interesting thing that I noticed what that when the bees were all dumped in the hive, they very quickly spread out. They went from a pile at the bottom to coating the whole inside of the hive. It looked like a living film of bees covering the inside of the hive.

Using my bee brush, I tried to clear the away from the edges and added the missing top-bars to close up the hive. Before adding the last one, I brushed all the bees from the top down into the hive. There were still a good number flying about, but most were inside.

After putting the cover on, I decided to open the entrance up (I had it closed down to a small entrance). I wanted the flying bees to have a larger entrance to find when looking for a way in. I also decided to start with the removable bottom board in. It seemed like with all that “open” screened area, the bees would try to get in there and miss the actual entrance. I plan on stopping by tomorrow to close down the entrance and remove the bottom board. I’ll give the one afternoon to find the way into their home before doing anything that might confuse them.

The second hive went about the same. The only difference was that attaching the queen to the top-bar was a bit harder. Since there were a number of bees flying form the first package install, as soon as I took the second queen out they came over. Instead of just being able to deal with the queen cage, I had to deal with a bunch of loose bees trying to hang onto the cage as I was trying to attach it. Since they were also crawling all over my hands while I was trying to work, I decided to put on my gloves. I lost a little dexterity, but wasn’t worried about offending a bee and getting stung. Other than that, the second install went just as well.

I made it through without a single sting. 🙂 I don’t think there were even any attempted stings (no stings to my gloves or cloths). I also think I did pretty well with the bees. As far as I know, I only accidentally smashed one (while trying to put in the last top-bar in the second hive).

Here they are, all installed. They seemed to be finding the entrance ok, and there were bees fanning to get the scent out so others could find their way to the new home. You can’t see it in the picture, but there are still a good number of bees flying around the front of the hives (in addition to the bees at the entrance).

Bee Stings

April 24, 2007

One of the questions a lot of beekeepers say they get often are variations of “Do you get stung?” and “Does it hurt?”. No one has asked me yet, but I figured I would preempt it and start a sting count and discussion.

One of the nice features that provides is the ability to make pages in addition to posts. As posts get older, they go further down the list and get harder to find quickly. Pages will be listed at the right of the page and will be easy to find. I have a few things that I am planing to make pages for. For example, I figured that when I get around to it I would set up pages for the hive plans, the method for making top-bars, and the construction of the hives. Right now, those topics are covered in the posts, but they are spread over a a bunch of posts and aren’t organized. By making pages, they should be much easier to find. The first page however will be for stings (not counting the “About Me” page).

Ok, back to stings!

First of all, a lot of people call anything that stings a bee and because of this if they get stung they call it a bee sting. I can’t claim to know any statistics on the matter, but I would guess that many of the “bee stings” people get are actually yellowjacket stings or wasp stings. Ignoring bees kept by beekeepers, honeybees almost always build their nest in cavities and are often out of our way. I have yet to find a feral bee colony in my life. Yellowjackets however will build their nest in the ground and I found four of them within 1/2 mile of my house last year (and I wasn’t even looking for them). Three of the yellowjacket nests were within a foot or two of a well used jogging trail. Since their nests can be easily stumbled upon and they are often more interested people food than bees, I have run into yellowjackets more than any other type of flying, stinging, insect. I remember they always seemed to show up at our picnics when I was young and seemed to like lunch meat. I particularly recall watching one slice off small pieces of ham and carry them off while my family was eating lunch at a rest area while on a road trip.

Aside from two stings I got while visiting a friendly beekeeper’s apiary last year (more on that later), I remember two stinging incidents in my life. The first was with yellowjackets. The first was one summer while I was young (6 maybe?). Yellowjackets made a nest in the ground nest near some stairs in our backyard. It was discovered when I and a couple of my sibling ran down those stairs and were stung. I don’t remember it all very clearly, but I remember it hurt. My poor mother had to deal with three children with stings I think. The second incident was with what I believe may have been some type of wasp. I was maybe 7 or 8 years old, and they were building a paper nest under a trailer parked beside our house. I think this time it was me that was interested in them and probably held some of the blame for the interaction. That sting hurt too.

For the most part, honeybees stay out of peoples way and are relatively non-aggressive. A bee will sting in defense of its hive or its life. Other than that, they will generally leave you alone. I think most peoples interactions with bees are with foraging bees, away from their hive. Unless you accidentally step on one or swat at it, it will most likely ignore you completely. I don’t remember having ever been stung by one in my life until last year, and I was always the type of kid to check out any animals or bugs I could find. My first bee sting was after I became interested in beekeeping and visited another beekeepers apiary. We had opened a few hives with no incidents (I was simple wearing a spare veil, jeans, and a t-shirt). The third hive however wasn’t so happy to see us and I was stung twice on the right hand (on the back of the hand near where the thumb bone connects). I remember looking at the two stingers embedded in my hand, knowing I should remove them as soon as possible, but not knowing what to do with the camera that was in my other hand. I would describe the stings as about as painful as an injection, but not as bad as getting stuck to donate blood. The pain was pretty quick and much decreased after a few seconds. If it wasn’t for the good reasons to give blood, I would rather be stung than giving blood (I never like having to sit there with a needle in my arm). Giving blood has a purpose though, getting stung doesn’t really for me. The worst part of the bee stings came later. As is common, I had a local reaction. My hand swelled up a bit. It didn’t really hurt, but the tightened skin itched. The swelling showed up a few hours later, and took a number of days to go down completely. I have been told that such localized reactions tend to decrease the more you get stung (your body can build up a tolerance to it). A localized reaction like this is not usually threatening and isn’t really an allergic reaction. It is distinct from a systemic reaction which is much more rare, but serious. If some one is stung and has any of the following reactions, you should seek medical attention immediately!

  • Hives, redness, or swelling distant from the site of the sting
  • vomiting or nausea
  • dizziness
  • wheezing or difficulty breathing

If you do get stung, the first thing you should do is remove the stinger. Bee’s stingers are barbed and can remain in the skin with the venom sac still attached. It can continue to inject more venom if left in the skin. For this “feature” the bee sacrifices her life when she stings. To avoid being stung in the first place,

  • Don’t pester bees near their hive (they may feel the need to defend it).
  • if a bee approaches you, its probably just looking for flowers, don’t swat at it or make sudden moves. If it doesn’t leave on its own, calmly move away from it.
  • Try not to accidentally step on bees (if you are going to “Tiptoe Through The Tulips”, wear shoes)
  • Avoid wearing sweet or fruity smelling things if you know you will be near bees.
  • Avoid wearing bright colors or flower like patterns if you know you will be near bees.

If your curious about how much a bee sting hurts, or how it compares with other insect stings, you can check out the Schmidt Sting Pain Index, created by an entomologist named Justin Schmidt. There is also a very interesting article from Discover magazine about him and stings in general you can read called “Stung: How tiny little insects get us to do exactly as they wish“.

I figure that just for the heck of it, I will try to keep a sting log and a running total in a page that should be listed at the right.

Ready and Waiting

April 23, 2007

Well, after a whole lot of fiddling with them, the hives are ready and waiting for their bees. My wife can be happy that she no longer has two large beehives on our back porch and I will no longer spend my evenings playing with them.

As I think I believe I have explained, we live in a condo in Chapel Hill, NC and there is no possibility of keeping my hives at our home. Luckily, when I asked the Orange County Beekeepers Assoc. for help finding a site for keeping bees I got multiple offers and found a place not too far away and in a beautify location. Today, the landowner was even nice enough to help me transport the hive to their new home.

The hives are in a beautiful wooded area. We placed them where they will get partial sun. There is some evidence that hives in full sun may do better fighting varroa mites and small hive beetles, but TBH have to worry about comb collapse too. Since the honeycomb is built free hanging (not in frames like in Langstroth hives), if the hive gets too hot or the comb gets to heavy, it can collapse. Newly built comb is the most vulnerable and it will get stronger as if gets older. If some honey comb collapses it can make a very large mess and set the hive back a good bit. Here in NC, the summers can get pretty hot so keeping the hives in partial shade seems like a good compromise. Hopefully the bees won’t have to work as hard keeping the hives cool, and as an added bonus I will get some shade while working with the bees too.

THe hives also need to be level so that the comb will be built straight down. The place where we were putting the hives was on a slight slope so we leveled the hives by digging and placing some cinder block pieces under the legs. After putting everything together and in place, the hives are not ready to have the bees added after I go and get them on Sat.  🙂   I’m excited!

Design Change and Finishing Touches

April 21, 2007

Well, with only one week until the bees should get here, I made a design change. It wasn’t a big one, but it made the work I talked about in my last post irrelevant.

Before I get tho that though, I finished the follower boards. When I explained what I still had to do in the previous post, I promised a picture so that it would make more sense. The idea is to have the feeder stick through the bottom of the follower board (much like it does through the wall of the hive). This is so the feeder can be used when the bees don’t have access to the back of the hive because of the follower board. I simply had to cut a 5″ long slot in the bottom of the follower board. I also have a scrap piece of thin plywood to place under the feeder to spread its weight out more since its just sitting on the hardware cloth screen.

On of the additional finishing touched I needed to do was to make a cover that would close of the slot for the feeder (at the back of the hive) when it was not in use. Along with this, I wanted to have a way to reduce the size of the entrance if needed. Looking around my house for possibilities, I found some leftover slats from some blinds we had installed a while ago (you remove the slats on the bottom to get the right length for the blinds). I figured they would work, and first painted them to match the hive.

I could then cut them to the length I needed and use bolts to attach them. I decided to embed the nut into the 3/4″ plywood of the hive. This would keep me from losing the nut, and would mean that I wouldn’t need to use a wrench on both the nut and the bolt. I pre-drilled a 1/4″ hole (the size of the bolt), and then on the inside of the hive drilled a little bit in using a bit slightly smaller than the nut. Then I just tightened the nut and bolt until it pulled the nut into the hole (and it was flush with the surface). I removed it, added glue, and put it back in again. Here is what it looks like:

After cutting the slat from the blind to a good length and dripping a couple of hole in it, I had my entrance reducer. Notice the second hole. that can be used for a still reduced but slightly larger entrance.

I did a similar thing for the feeder slot, except I have a bolt hole on either side of the slot and completely cover the opening.

Now for the design change…

I had originally put the slot for the feeder above the cleanout door. My last post shows some pictures. I realized that this causes part of the feeder to extend into the hive a few inches, about half way between the bottom and top of the hive. It would actually stick into an area that could in theory be occupied by honey storage comb on the last top-bar. Even worse, since it is a bit up above the hive bottom, the bees could possibly build burr comb off of the bottom of the feeder. That would be annoying. I’m not sure these things would be a problem, but they could be.

I decided to patch the current feeder slot in the back of the hive and make a new one in the clean out door. I marked on the door where the bottom of the hive was, so that I could cut the slot to be even with it (so the feeder was at the bottom). I removed the clean out door from the back of the hive, and used the table saw to make the cuts. I did this just like I did originally, but made it 1/2″ wide and 5″ long this time. I again squared it up using a hand saw and chisel. Here is a picture of the clean out door, with the feeder fit through it:

I cut a small piece of 3/4″ plywood to fit in the current feeder slot. Using staples, I attached it from the inside of the hive and used wood paste on the outside to smooth it off and fill any cracks. Here is what it looks like with a clean out door reattached (with the slot covered and with the feeder in):

After the wood paste dried, I sanded it smooth and painted over it. You can now hardly notice the patched hole from my changing the design. 🙂

I think the hive is completely done now. All I have to do it get it to the place where I will keep the bees and then wait the last week for the bees. The legs can be removed for transport to make the hives take less room. I’m excited to get going and start beekeeping instead of just building hives! 🙂

Entrance Feeders

April 19, 2007

One of the things I got from BetterBee was a couple of entrance feeders. They are called entrance feeders because you are supposed to stick in the entrance of the hive. For normal, Langstroth hives, this is at the front of the hive at the bottom (you can have entrances in different places though). A lot of beekeepers seem to prefer other types of feeders over entrance feeders (there are many types). As far as I have seen, the biggest complaint about entrance feeders seems to be that they can promote robbing. Robbing is when bees not from the hive come and steal honey store to take back to their hive. Weak hives (like ones just starting out) are more at risk of being robbed, and can be overwhelmed. Once robbing starts, it can quickly escalate. Since entrance feeders are right at the entrance, it may be either easier or more enticing for potential robbers. This is why I designed my hive to take the entrance feeders at the rear of the hive. The only access to the sugar syrup will be from inside the hive. This way any robbers would have to enter the hive and move all the way through it in order to steal any syrup. I think it should not induce robbing this way.

I didn’t yet have the feeders when I was building the hives, so I wasn’t exactly sure of their dimensions. They were described as ‘Designed for 3/8″ bottom board entrance, but can be used on a 3/4″ entrance with a wooden insert‘. I therefore cut the slot for them to be 3/8″ thick. I guessed that they might be 4″ wide. When I got the feeders, it turns out they were 5″ wide. This was no problem, I could widen the slot in the same way I had squared it up (with a hand saw and a chisel). The bigger problem was that they were not 3/8″ thick. They were actually a slight bit over 1/2″ thick. With the hives already assembled, I couldn’t make the slot thicker using the table saw (like how I originally made the slot). The best way I could figure that I could thicken the slot was to use a rotary saw that I have. It’s like a RotoZip. It looks like a drill, but the bit is designed to cut sideways. You can plunge it in like a drill, then cut sideways. Its useful for some things, but I was a little worried because in my experience it had a tendency to catch and jump while cutting (leaving a nasty gouge). I wanted to get a nice straight line, and would rather not screw up my hive at this point. I couldn’t come up with a better idea though.

I took of the clean out doors so that I could clamp a scrap piece of wood on to act as a guide. I did my best to hold the saw steady and started cutting. Happily, I did a pretty good job. 🙂 I enlarged the slot and reattached the clean out doors. The feeders now fit, and there are no nasty gouges in my hive. 🙂

Follower Boards

April 17, 2007

One of the “accessories” that I wanted to make for my TBH’s was a follower board. They are useful in limiting the space a small hive has. This can help because the small hive would have less space to heat or defend. With a Langstroth hive, people can use a nuc or a single hive body when a hive is small (larger hives often take multiple hive bodies). Since I won’t be able to just add hive bodies as the hive grows, the follower board will allow me to avoid starting my bees in too big of a space.

I had some scrap plywood sitting around, so I used that. It is just a hair over 1/4″ thick so I would guess it was sold as 3/8″, but I am not sure. I started by cutting out a piece the shape of the hive. I made it taller than the inside of the hive so that I could attach two 19″ long strips at the top (these strips will sit on top of the rails that the top-bars sit on). The angles on the hive sides didn’t end up exactly on, so the piece I cut out for the follower board didn’t fit exactly flush with the sides. To fix this I used some of the 1/4″ thick strips that were leftover from ripping the brood bars down to 1 1/4″. With the follower board in the hive, I held the strip up to the wall of the hive and marked along its edge on the follower board. I then glued and stapled the strips in place. Once this was done one each side, the follower board fit nice and snuggly without any large gaps. I am guessing that this doesn’t really needed to be this “tight”, but I figured this way I could also use the hive as a double nuc if I really needed to (a different hive on each end, each with their own entrance). I also glues and stapled the 19″ strips of plywood to the top of the follower board. They will sit on the top-bar rails and also provide a little more space between the follower board and the adjacent top-bar (bee space).

I had been wondering about feeding the bees when I first installed the package. I set it up so that I could feed from the back (to help avoid robbing). With a feeder board in place at the start however, the bees would not have access to the back of the hive. What I decided to do was to cut a slot to fit the feeder at the bottom of the follower board. This way I can have the feeder inside the back of the hive (sticking through a slot in the bottom of the follower board). This way, the feeder is still only accessible inside the hive and I can have the follower board in place. Once I cut the slot, I will take a picture showing what I mean.

A little more on the bees

April 15, 2007

Just a little more info on the bees. In addition to giving us a call, Brushy Mountain Bee Farm they also sent a letter apologizing for the 1 week delay. It was a nice touch. It also had some additional info on my “bees to be”. I had assumed that Brushy Mountain was getting the bees from another supplier, but never asked them where. At the time I put the order in, it was a little later than might have been good and I was just happy to be able to get some. Anyway, the bees and queens will be from Wilbanks Apiaries in Claxton, GA. It also seems that they are busier doing bee things than piddling around on the web like me (no website). I did find this however on another website:

Wilbanks Apiaries, in its fifth generation of family ownership, is among the largest commercial beekeeping concerns in Georgia, with 6,000 honeybee colonies. They are a major supplier of packaged bees.

Brushy Mountain spoke highly of them in their letter, and explained that they continue to use them because they feel that they provide a good product. I also did a quick search on the BeeSource forums, and it found mostly good comments about Wilbanks. I’m looking forward to trying out their product. 🙂

Now I just have to wait… I guess that gives me more time to try out my smoker.