There are certain pursuits which, if not wholly poetic and true, do at least suggest a nobler and finer relation to nature than we know. The keeping of bees, for instance. --- Henry David Thoreau

"Well," said Pooh, "what I like best -- " and then he had to stop and think. Because although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do,
there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn't know what it was called. -- The House at Pooh Corner

Friday, January 22, 2016

Emergency Hive

So I put one of my super-dooper flowerpot bait hive/swarm traps out last spring and promptly forgot about it. (Which is so like me!) When I finally remembered to check it in mid-summer, the hive was full of bees and thriving. It weighed about 20 pounds, hanging on a branch near my tiny apiary. I thought that maybe I ought to leave well enough alone rather than attempt to disassemble the bait hive and put the bees in a regular TBH or a Warré hive. I mean what would you do? Try to move 30 pounds of honeycombs and a buncha bees out of a couple of screwed-together paper maché flowerpots and risk damaging the whole colony?

Anyway, things were going pretty good until one morning in November when the thin rope holding the bait hive broke out of the top of it due to how heavy it had gotten, plus a little rain. The whole shebang dropped about six feet to the ground, but remained upright. Now the bees didn't seem to mind this at all, and they seemed to like the larger hole in the top of the flowerpot, it was a nicer entrance. But the weather here in Oregon was getting cold and rainy, puddles were forming on the ground around the crashed hive. I was in the middle of several other dire emergencies, but I knew I had better find them some better place to live -- immediately. I had no empty wooden equipment for them, and no time to use the table saw to build another Warré. I couldn't get to Glorybee to even buy a Lang box or two.

The next day I headed for my local big-box hardware store and got a large plastic bin big enough to cover the bait hive so that it would be protected from the weather until I could do justice to the colony with new digs. Well, in the middle of trying to fit the bin over the top of the hive, I had this flash of inspiration: If I just laid the bait hive on its side inside the bin and put the cover on it would be a very secure box for them to live in. (I remembered that beek wisdom: "It doesn't matter what kind of box you choose, it's what you put inside it.") Wallah, I had an instant bee hive!

It's been about 2 1/2 months now, the bees seem to like living in their bait hive/swarm trap on its side, The plastic bin is waterproof, snowproof, and protects them; and they are wintering over very healthily. The bees have a nice little entrance at the top of the bin where I made a nice big hole in the depression for the handle of the bin. (It's like the entrance is all roofed-over and has a little interior walkway for takeoffs.) I cut drain holes and ventilation holes in the bottom of the bin which seem to be working out very well. Sure, there's not a top bar or a frame/foundation or anything at all inside but the two flowerpots and a mess of natural-born combs. They are starting to build new combs outside between the flowerpots and the inside of the bin walls. They seem not to mind the haphazard nature of the whole set up. In a few weeks as it turns from winter to spring, I'll ask them if they want a regular hive. I can fix them a Biodynamic Lang or a new Warré by then. Maybe I'll rig it up on top of the plastic bin? Maybe I'll do some kind of fancy Frankenhive idea or combine them with another hive? Who knows?

Anyway, just for now, just during the rest of winter the emergency is over. The emergency hive is successful. I might even patent the idea.

P.S. The bees seem to like to land on the paper label on the bin before they climb into the entrance, or they land on the lid and then crawl down into the entrance gap. I'm considering building them a landing board. The bucket on top is the apiary's rain bucket (filled with corks that float in the water so they have a place to stand and drink.) It secures the bin lid so that storm winds don't blow it off. Yeah, it's a little messy around the hives. I know! I gotta rake up the debris from winter and generally police the area. It's still the middle of winter, this is the first day it hasn't been totally raining, and I'm totally into remodeling the kitchen.
 I religiously tend the Boardman feeders though, rain or shine. The bee gals are bringing in lots of Alder pollen right now; and with fair arriving earlier and earlier each year, we can look forward to lots more nectar soon.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

We're Baa-ack!

Just took this picture of my home "bee yard". It's booming, the bees are extremely active. The state of the bee yard kinda sums up my life at the moment. It's a little fuzzy, overgrown in spots, cluttered and junk spread around the edges. But the tree is pretty, n'est-ce pas?

Now that it is May and the flow is in full swing, here's a bit of a report:
The winter was hard. a bit colder than last year. Not that it was a terrible awful winter, but it was very wet, had snow and cold snaps at exactly the worst times. A couple of days in mid winter were sunny warm, fooling the bees onto making some hygienic runs and scouting forays. I'm afraid the cold and rain and wet caught them outside a couple of times. I started feeding all of them in January, as they were getting very light in stores. Alas, we lost about half of the colonies. The two original horizontal (kTBH) hives at the Eagle's Rest garden died out or absconded. When I opened the hives they showed traces of a massive wax moth invasion. I have removed them from the location and started cleaning them up and sterilizing them; melted down the empty combs - saving the wax for a future cosmetics project by my daughter Jenn.

Karen and Maria's 48" kTBH came through the winter just fine. (They fed them in January and February.) They have acquired another "mentor" who set them up with a Langstroth; so I am setting them free to do their own thing now with two diverse hives -- maybe more as the season wears on. (Of course, if anything exciting happens, I'll report it.)

OTOH, Jenny's biodynamic Lang on her property died out, despite trying to keep it fed. I retrieved the hive and cleaned it up along with the Eagle's Rest boxes. In a somewhat uncoordinated manner, I got the small blue kTBH transferred to the same spot in January. Those ladies are industrious and really active right now. Jenny's garden will be well pollinated. I'm hoping to catch a new swarm any minute now and restore her bio-Lang to its original location.

Here at the home apiary, everyone came through. They are all out and about and really active. The hives boxes are getting stuffed. The Hard Luck Warré is now four boxes tall and ready for another "nadir". (In a Warré operation one puts the new ... um ... 'supers' on the bottom as bees naturally want to build down, not up.) These guys are those pretty golden Italians. They're proving to be tough, prolific and not hard to work with.This year the bees are a little darker in this one hive -- I assume they are hybridizing because of some illicit mating flight that resulted in some feral DNA being added? (I really should pay more attention to our queens)

The same golden bees inhabit my original bio-dynamic Lang, and they are truly light yellow gold and so pretty. Now in its third season, the hive itself was at first struggling and slow to grow. I had trouble getting the bees to move up into the first super I put on. After many false attempts and several suggestions from the bee forums (unsuccessful), I simply took a page from the Warré book and put the super on the bottom, under the brood box. Wallah -- they moved right down and filled the box. I put another super on top in March and they have now proceeded to start inhabiting it too. No, I dunno why they decided it was now okay to move up.. Perhaps it's because I put those Pierco frames in this one super, rather than the starter-strip frames I usually use? Hmmmm.

Last, the Redwood Warré is growing rapidly.   It has the swarm of the Golden Italians that came from the bio-Lang. (remember the other one I let go away?). They were the first bees out and active as spring began, and they continue to be ahead of the rest of the hives. It's now three boxes tall and ready, I think, before long to have another box. I might even take some honey this year. I really like this little hive, all natural and unfinished. I  put a modified square roof on it, from an idea I got from David Heaf.

Okay, that's about all the bee news. I'm gonna clean up the junk and clear the weeds back from the home hives, don't worry. Ed has moved his main Eagle's Rest Garden operation to a new property over on Lost Creek. I don't think I will put the two kTBHs back, should my swarm traps catch more bees. I'm gonna re-roof them (stay tuned for a report on refurbishing these horizontal hives) and set them up here at home for awhile. I'll either move the Redwood Warré or the Biodynamic Lang over there very soon. He'll need the bees for pollination right away.

End o' report. How are your bees?

Friday, March 16, 2012

2012 -- Watch This Space

There's been a lot going on. I've been distracted. Things get in the way.  Stuff happens, not always for the best. But I haven't abandoned the blog. It's just  ... um .... "under construction".

Stay tuned.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Perfect Swarm Avoids Capture

One of the decisions I made with Ed when we set up the bees in the Eagle's Rest Garden was that we'd let most of the swarms go feral. After all, his garden sits in the middle of a wooden area, there are forest tracts over the fences in every direction. Lots of hollow trees and natural structure for colonies to inhabit. Here in the middle of the third year of those original hives, I think I've only captured one swarm from them; the rest have taken flight on their own terms. The idea is to repopulate and build up locally adapted honeybees in the surrounding woods who will then be there to pollinate. It's part of that 'save the bees' idea that got me started in the first place.

Now I know there is a lot of discussion pro and con about this, and frankly ... we don't care. You're either on the bus with restoring feral bee colonies, or you are not. A link to the feral bee projects is here, and I don't have a link to those who oppose it. [smile] There's currently a bit of a discussion about the idea on the Warré group, too. You can easily find all the talking points of the issues if you look on the net.

Anyway ... I harvested about 5 swarms in the last couple of weeks, including three that originated from my own hives here behind the house. One other swarm that issued forth was from my Biodynamic Lang, full of those pretty golden bees. Here's the swarm as it first began to settle in a tree just over the fence from the hive:

Well ... aside from the boat, there's a big dog over there, just outside of camera range ... and the fence is tall ... and at the time I didn't have an empty hive ready to put them in  ... and there was this little voice coming from somewhere close to being perched on my shoulder, "Hey, let 'em go." I was all set to pass up this swarm and let them become feral repopulator/pollinators. Yet it got harder when they eventually settled into this clump, about four feet off the ground, just beyond the fence:

Now who could resist such a nice cluster??? Imean, all ya gotta do is slip the bucket up under them, bang on the branch (or even just snip it off!) and .. wall - ah ... you got a swarm o' pretty golden bees.  The dog isn't mean, Molly and I feed him cookies all the time. The fence opens pretty easily. The bees could live in the bucket until I got another hive ready. What if they decided to settle in that guy's boat? Now the little voice was saying "GET THEM!!!"  I decided that if they were there in the morning, I would.  But that evening I began to question my 'save the bees' principles. Imean, if you've decided to increase the ferals in the local neighborhood, these are prime candidates. I should. I should let them go if I'm gonna be true to my values. [sigh]

Okay, they were there the next morning, even though the temp had drifted down to 34F just before dawn. But so was a swarm in a horse park over by the filbert groves. I went and collected those bees first, since the horse owners were panicked. Late that afternoon, the golden swarm was still on that branch. By now the little voice was ambivalent. Sometimes it was "Go", sometimes it was, "Get them."  Procrastination is our friend.

By the next morning, they were -- indeed -- gone.  I'm sure they found a nice oak somewhere between my fence and Parvin Butte , less than 1000 yards away. 

And hey .. I learned a lot just watching them for 48 hours.

Bumbling On The Edge ...

Looks like it's not just honeybees who are endangered.This article just came to me via the Pollinator Partnership. It's from January, 2011, but in light of the current findings about neonicotinoids, it makes sense to pay some attention.  Anyway, 'saving the bees' is not just a concern limited to honeybees any more. Now it's bumblers, and yeah, pretty soon Mason bees and other pollinators will exhibit the same sort of endangered status, I expect. Check it out: <>.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Finally: A Place to Keep Records of Our Hives

I kept meaning to choose one of those on-line hive record-keeping sites, or download somebody's software or something. That way I could get out of those spiral notebooks and actually have something I could use quickly and easily with the computer. When I first got started logging in my experiences and records, I tried using a couple; but they either cost money (too much, in my humble opinion) or they were just plain too complicated. There were difficult log-ins, or the format was somebody's idea of something that just wasn't practical. Most are oriented just about exclusively toward commercial operations. I gave up pretty early in the attempts.

So now, I discover that some actual beekeepers who know how to design software have recently put up a free site that is simple, easily accessible and has just about every feature and record you could use to keep track of your hives, your apiary locations, and the weather (yep the weather pops up automagically!). Seems as if they have only started it in the last year, so it's prolly not very well known. It took me just a few minutes to load all my hives into the system. Pretty nice.

They're doing it as a "service to the beekeeping community" which I think is just absolutely great -- and needed. You can donate something to them, if you wish, there's a link for that at their site.

Anyway, check 'em out. (They're on Facebook too!) >br>

Monday, February 21, 2011

Swarm Capture Redux

It's getting close to the time when early spring swarms will be issuing, so I thought I'd update a little of the methodology I have been hypeing.

Notices: I got my little flyers out and all tacked up on local bulletin boards; and gave a few to the volunteer fire departments (they were real happy to meet me, as they get a bunch of calls this time of the year and usually don't know what to do.) And remind the folks that you met last year when you captured their swarms, they may get more and they will tell their friends too.

Flowerpot Swarm Traps - I've noticed that the area where the two pots meet rim-to-rim is not always uniform enough to eliminate gaps along the centerline. This may irritate the bee gals enough to abandon the trap, or cause them to start spending too much time filling the gaps with propolis. Our old friend Duct Tape can come in handy to seal the rims.

Carol in the comments section was thinking of installing top bars so as to limit disruption when transferring the swarm into a permanent facility. I think that it would be hard to make top bars for a round space. Besides, I'm thinking that just monitoring the traps closely will allow you to move the swarms and shake them into your hive before they have built much comb. In my first flowerpot swarm foray - where my  mentor friend took the bees - I got to the trap within a day of their occupying the trap and there was only one saucer-sized comb inside. My friend shook the swarm onto a sheet and the bees just docilely marched in to their new home.

Other Traps -  the guys over on the Warré Beekeeping Group have tended to talk in terms of more permanent wooden boxes strung up in trees and rooftops, etc. along with various methods for utilizing them. The UK  beekeeping locations are less prone to having feral swarms, I gather; not like my Willamette Valley location which has a lot more ferals and escapees. This means they have to put up a trap for a long time, I guess, and tune it to weather a much broader range of conditions. If I was going to go for top bars, I'd probably design something like a Warré box as a long-term swarm capture method. Put a flat board for a floor and one for a roof. Pretty bulky and not something you'd want to stand under for very long; but prolly worth it in some situations.

Bait - I'm still using my first bottle of Lemongrass Oil, along with a chunk of old comb sealed into the interiors of the traps. Even in my small apiary, the bees are always attracted to the small empty kTBH I have there, just because of those lures. I'm sure that as swarm time approaches the scouts will look there for a space to occupy. 

Stuff I learned from capturing the swarms - 
 1) Take your time. The swarm isn't going to go anywhere in the next 10 minutes; and even if it is, you can't do anything about that. Plan your moves, scope out the situation.

2) Wear those gloves. Even though most swarms are docile, there's always a couple of bee girls who didn't get the word. They want to sting you! Just because.

3) Yes, leave the trap there for the stragglers you din't catch at first and come back at sundown to get 'em. Don't be overly chagrined if some get away. All the old beeks I know say they will eventually go back to the original hive. This may or may not be true, but I'm going to believe that it is true. Just because.

4) The bees are not going to suffocate in the time it takes you to seal up the box, put it in the car and drive home. Don't worry about "air holes". Your basic cardboard box will have enough ventilation to allow them to breathe unless you are the seam-tape queen. If you have made yourself a fancy "Bee Bucket", you already made a screened ventilation system.

5) Speaking of being the seam-tape queen, tape the goddamn box edges! Really tape them good. The bees will definitely send out some angry scouts and they will find you when you are behind the steering wheel driving down I-5 at 66mph. Oh yes, they will.

6) This is a way cool idea. Way cool. Boom! Straight into a nuc!

7) I'm kinda on the cusp about using a spay bottle and water. I've captured swarms both with and without. If the swarm is densely packed, you can't get the interior bees wet enough. If it's spread out, sometimes spraying the little clusters will aid you in getting them all. You choose. Also - don't forget your bee brush. It helps a lot in persuading those same little clusters to get with the program.

8) After you put them in a hive, give the swarm some time to adjust to the new home. Don't be opening the hive every day to "check". They will abscond if they get too much attention from you. Oh, ... and wait a couple of days before you stick a feeder anywhere. They might need it, but then again if there are lotsa blooms they won't bother with a feeder and it may attract pyrates. Theoretically they gorged on honey before they left home, so they'll be okay. Here's where you gotta use your best judgment.

9) Take lots of pictures. And keep a little notebook so you can remember stuff you did.

10) It's prolly too early in the year yet for martinis after you get them into their new hive, so ... warm up with this.