Saturday, March 24, 2012

Splitting the Porch Bees

Thanks to some TLC and a warm winter, the porch bees needed more room.

Porch Bees: Before

Splitting a hive is basically an inspection that results in dividing the frames with food and brood. The queen is left in the "old" hive or moved, and the group that doesn't get a queen must have a frame of freshly laid eggs to create a new queen.

We suited up and had the cushy accommodations of the porch chair for Mark and shade for me during this process.

We were surprised to see nearly every frame was filled with brood or food -- the queen really needed more space to continue her work!

The drone brood is at the bottom of the frame, poking out a bit.

The Pollen Smorgasboard
 We never saw the queen, but we saw plenty of evidence that she is a fabulous, busy lady, so we're hopeful the new colony will convert one of her eggs into a new queen. Each deep super with frames from the original colony was topped with a deep super of empty frames.
Porch Bees: After

Friday, March 23, 2012

Know Your Local Bees: A Cautionary Tale, Episode II, Part 2

When we last left this Cautionary Tale, a voice was heard saying, "If you'd have asked me, I'd have told you those bees have been there three or four years." Fortunately, Part 2 of this episode has a happy ending. (Whew!)

Just down the road from the swarm/tear-out/pesticide debacle is a 100+ year old house surrounded by all kinds of trees and plants.

In the 100+ year old house lives a much younger-than-that lady, who is a lover of bees. She kept about 15 hives up until about 2000-2001, as best she can recall. Her name is Hattie. I think she is one of those people who loves the bees, but hates the honey harvesting process. It's work, people.

She gave Mark some old bee boxes, which he cut down and repurposed into a swarm trap. He's been reading Swarm Traps and Bait Hives by McCartney Taylor, who blogs about beekeeping at Learning Beekeeping. From that book, he's refined his approach.

On Saturday, after we left the Other House, we stopped by Hattie's to set up a swarm trap.
She has a couple of colonies in old equipment, but she's ready for Mark to take over their management. "I don't really manage them, they're just swarms that come in and go out," she said.

The metal on the entrance discourages mice and birds from going in, but allows bees.

I saw her pan with sticks where she pours out honey every day for the bees. She likes to watch where the bees fly off to after they visit her honey dish.

In theory, the swarm will come in and build on the frames but have a cavity big enough to convince them to stay.
"If you sit in a chair, you can see them go over into the woods, or over that way," she said, pointing toward the neighbors. She could name several neighbors who had bees in various parts of their houses or barns (not the best places for bees!). Including the lady who had a "swarm" in the ash box of her fireplace . . .

I bet they didn't know that their bees had likely originated at Hattie's, swarms from her colonies!

She talked about having Mark set up a bee yard there at her place -- not for her to manage, but so that she could watch them make honey for us. Today he got a call that she'd reconsidered -- the rain had made things too boggy, and she'd be tempted to fool with them more than she should.
The trap is on her front porch, where she can keep an eye on it.

She still wants him to take over the colonies she has, and she wants to have a swarm trap to watch, she can catch us some bees.

She showed us bee tree near her driveway -- the hole is low to the ground, so Mark may try to trap them out. She took us to the neighbors' house, but the bees have been in her eaves for years, and it looks impossible to trap them out. One of her dogs kept flopping down on its back by my feet, begging to be rubbed. It was pretty funny. 

When we finished, I was famished, so we stopped at Pop's Barbecue on Hwy. 45. Delicious brisket. If you're ever out in Columbus and want a tasty meal, Pop has a steak special -- 2 ribeyes for $30 with baked potato and salad. And Delores makes a mean hot fudge cake. But really, the brisket rocks, so get that.

Starkville Garden Expo Lunch Lecture: Bee Gardens

Audrey Sheridan, an entomologist at Mississippi State University brought an observation hive to Book Mart in Starkville as part of her lunch lecture on how to garden for bees. The "hive" holds 2 frames and has a space for a feeder, to keep the bees happy.

I took lots of notes, but the primary thing I'm doing right, when it comes to gardening for bees, is to grow herbs and allow them to flower. My sage and chives survived the winter, my bee balm has bounced back, and my parsley is about to bloom. If you're not sure about what to plant to attract pollinators, start with some hearty herbs. Bees like blue and white flowers best. The main thing to remember is that one can't plant enough flowers to sustain a hive, but choosing plants that will extend the nectar season helps provide a diverse diet for honey bees and other pollinators.

After her thorough presentation, she kindly took questions about bees, since Mark and I were two of the 7 people in attendance. Mark got to ask some things he's had on his mind, so that was good.

It was also a good thing Mark was there, because the site didn't have an extension cord, so he went to his truck and got his. It's so nice to be married to a man who is handy!

I came home with a renewed enthusiasm for planting . . . to find my raised beds overrun with weeds and ant hills. Yuck.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Know Your Local Bees: A Cautionary Tale, Episode II, Part 1

Saturday, March 17th, did not bring me the luck of the Irish.

I started out without my gloves (they're still lost) and got a sting on my bare left hand. Ouch. Yes, I'm a whiny baby.

At about 8:15 a.m. Mark's phone rang, and since he was out busting beaver dams, I picked up the call. A swarm out in the Steens area, in a 91-year-old granny's ash box on her chimney, right by the front door. Now, those of you who know me understand I have a soft spot for grannies. Apparently the bees were causing enough of a problem for her going in and out of the front door that her granddaughter wanted them gone.

After lunch, we loaded up the truck for a 2-part adventure in beekeping. Part 1 ended up being so dramatic that Part 2 will have its own post.

Yes, friends, it's time for the next installment in "Know your Local Bees: A Cautionary Tale."

Imagine a brick house with a yard surrounded by blooming trees and shrubs: dogwood, wisteria, red bud, azaleas, camellias. "If I were a swarm I'd come here," I said to Mark. "This place is bee heaven."

Little did I know it was far from heaven . . . in the opposite direction of heaven, in fact.

We thought it was a swarm. They said it was a swarm, that it had been around back the day before and had ended up out front.

Mark got set up for a swarm removal.

We had to remove the Guard Gnome to get to the bees.
 Mark got his bush clippers and cut back the bush so he could get closer to the action.
Mark set a hive box close by for scooping bees into.

Unlike last year's cautionary tale, this time he brought his smoker!
As soon as Mark opened the door . . .

he said, "This is not a swarm."

And was he ever right.

But there was a 91-year-old granny sitting on a chair behind her glass door watching the proceedings while eating her lunch. "Move over so I can see," she said to me at one point. So it's not like we could just close it up and tell her to call an exterminator.

Beekeeper Yoga ensued.

My wonderful husband proceeded to carefully remove several large pieces of comb from her ash box, all the while vacuuming bees.

I thought the brood pattern was shaped like a pear. Did I mention it was hot outside?
Once I started cutting the comb and attempting to put it in the hive box, propped between frames, my gloves got so nasty the photo-taking stopped.

Yes, we attempted to vacuum up bees. The first transfer saw them all boiling back out of the hive box, which was reminiscent of last year's debacle. On the second attempt I sprayed them with sugar water while he transferred them, to deter their flight somewhat.

We worked for over two hours, I think. it was over 90 degrees out when we drove away. We left two hive boxes facing each other, with hopes that the queen was in one of them, and the bees would find her. It's unlikely we got her out of the ash box, but we tried our best. If we didn't get a queen, we'll newspaper combine these bees with a strong hive that has a good queen.

The granny said, "You're not going to leave that mess, are you?" (Of course not!)

So we found a hose and sprayed all the dead bees and honey drips from her sidewalk, cleaned up our equipment, and drove away.

Part 2 begins with her neighbor down the road saying, "If you'd have asked me, I'd have told you those bees have been there three or four years."

When will we learn?

An update on Monday afternoon.: the granddaughter called Mark to come and remove the boxes. While he was en route, she called and said she'd sprayed everything down with pesticide. Including our equipment, which will have to be burned. Including the drawn out frames of comb, which are like beekeeper's gold.

All ruined, because she wouldn't wait 20 minutes for him to get there.

All that work for nothing, and the money wasted to boot -- deep boxes, bottom boards, tops, screens -- several hundred dollars worth of equipment ruined.

We're both just sick. So sad.

This bee season is not off to a very good start.

Heritage Academy Art Project

We are *so excited* about the fantastic works created by the artists at Heritage Academy. Mark wants to do some sort of contest, voted on by followers, and guess who is supposed to figure out how to make that happen? Yes, that would be me.

In the meantime, here are some photos of the hive boxes they painted. Bear in mind that many of them have 4 completely different designs, one per side. Our thanks to the students at HA, and to their teacher, Cary Haycox for a job very well done. The Ducks Unlimited box is already promised to Guy Ray, the host of our Delta bee yard, and we put one of the boxes out with the new swarm Saturday morning.

Don't worry, each side has a different team.

I love this flower so much!

Serious blending skills!

Love these bubbles! Excellent shading, too!

Flowers make me happy!

I wonder if Mr. Haycox looks at these and says, "Someone was actually paying attention when we studied Jackson Pollock!"

Very, very cool.

Hi there! Welcome to the front porch!

The more, the merrier!