Monday, September 29

"Bee Spit"

Every time that I refill the jar of honey at work, I like to psyche out my friends by brandishing the jar and proclaiming, "Do you know how many little bee mouths spat this stuff out?"  Hokey enthusiasm!  (Honey is plant nectar which has been digested/regurgitated by bees, and fermented, essentially, in the comb.)  And on that note, here are a few facts about bees and honey.

Bees visit 50-100 flowers during a collecting trip.  

It takes two million flowers to create one pound of honey.

It also takes about 55,000 miles to collect enough nectar for one pound of honey.

A worker bee will produce 1/12th of a teaspoon of honey in her lifetime.

These facts are from pbs!

Saturday, September 27

Sounds of Fall(ing)

I haven't opened up the hive in about a week - and I know there are things that needed to be done - but I did stop by yesterday.  I walked up there just to get an eye on things, since I always like to look and make sure that normal traffic is moving, that there are no robber bees, that nothing has chomped the hive apart.  I saw the cluster of lurking wasps which have become a standard fixture amongst the fallen leaves on the ground below the entry board, lately.  

While I watched them work, dismantling bees who were down for the count, I heard frequent sounds in the dry leaves around the hive base.  pat, pat.... pat...
Things were falling.  Bees were falling!  Flying in and out of the hive and crashing before their destination.  I wondered if this meant the drones were being thrown out - the worker bees physically carry the male/drone bees out of the hive as winter approaches.  When I saw that they were female/worker bees hitting the leaves, I watched more closely.  True, the wasps had gotten some of them, but in many cases it looked like the bees were making clumsy landings.  They were loaded with honey and unable to accurately calculate their landing marks.  
For the first time in a while, also, I saw many bees with visible collected pollen.  I guess it means the fall nectar flow is continuing.

I will hold off on feeding for this week, as I am concerned that an explosion of food will prompt the hive to continue to grow, when in reality, they ought to only be storing and preparing for winter.  I don't want them to get confused!  If there still is a nectar flow, then I am feeling more confident in the bees' ability to gather enough food to sustain them... but I have more investigating to do before I rest with that assumption.

Monday, September 22

Possible Cure for CCD?

My friend Jared sends me links to news feeds and articles about bees, and this, perhaps, is the most interesting and exciting news yet.
An anti-viral medication is being tested to prevent the spread of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) through the use of gene-silencing.  CCD has wiped out thousands of colonies worldwide.  Bees' pollination plays a significant role in over 1/3 of all food production, so it is obvious how critical a threat CCD poses to our planet.
I'm wondering if I can volunteer my hive as part of the testing... I'll look into it!

P.S. - Hello to You

I'm touched to be hearing that people are reading this, and some reading this regularly.  (Terry and Emmi - I'm talking to YOU.)
The hive has seriously affected my life in an exciting way - more so than anything I've attempted before - and I'm thrilled to hear that people are interested in seeing what's up with my endeavor.


I haven't written in a while because I am still reeling from - and avoiding giving any thought to - a horrific blunder I made during a visit to the beehive last weekend.  Quickly said, I dropped a frame.  Not uncommon, but certainly a)something I've never done before and b)visually and factually devastating.

I was knocking a pocket of queen cells off of one frame in the lower deep and looking into it for the first time in a week or two.  (Generally, I assume that if things seem ok in the upper deep, the lower one is in decent shape.  I avoid disturbing them as much as I can, and cracking them apart seems disruptive.)  

The ends of the frame were slimy with propolis (fall is when the bees build up on it to begin chinking up cracks in the hive for winter insulation) and my fingers slid off of the tabs on the end.  The frame hit the ground, trapping bees underneath it in the grass.  I saw nectar rain out from the honeycomb cells and soak the dirt at my feet.  In a whirlwind, bees took to the air around me and writhed in the grass as they sought to get their bearings.

Surprisingly, I did not get stung.  Short sleeved shirt and everything.  And I was prepared to, seeing as I was mad at myself on their behalf and felt deserving of their wrath.

The crushing blow of the whole ordeal was that my view into the hive was cut short by my desire to soothe the bees, and prevent a possible robbing situation now that there was nectar everywhere.  I carefully replaced the frames and spaced them in the box, smoked those bees in and reached for the upper deep.  As I lowered it on, though, the cloud of bees was especially frenetic, and all the smoke in the world would not make them get in and stay put.  It was unavoidable, but I squashed a handful of bees as I lowered the top box onto the bottom one.  Bee heads stuck out at the seem, antennae twitching, bodies crushed between the two boxes, fellow bees hovering nearby and investigating the scene.

I can't even write any more today.  I need to keep feeding them and I need to prop the hive onto a forward angle, and will do that tomorrow, probably.  

Thursday, September 11

Who's there...?

On the days when I visit the hive but cannot interrupt them by looking inside, I sit and watch, soaking in as many minute details as I can.  The way the bees are entering and departing, the different moves each bee makes as it walks around on the entrance board, what other bugs have nestled into the crooks of the hive, etc.
Well, last week as I was sitting next to the hive I noticed something interesting, unrelated to the bees themselves.  Along the bottom of the hive body and stand, there were fur marks imprinted into the mud which has splashed up the side of my hive.  Something has been rubbing itself up against the edge of that hive!  Raccoons and skunks are the most likely mammals to prey on beehives in this area (though bears would also be interested, if they were around) but I not entirely sure that it wasn't a neighbor-cat.  It'd have to be pretty tall and have pretty coarse fur, though... hmm... who's there?

Queen Cells

Today, yet again, I destroyed swarm cells.  Many, many, many.  Above, you can see a perfect example of a swarm cell.  There is a potential queen bee in that puffed out cell.  Also, you can see a few of the milky white grubs which I picked out of other similar cells.  Mildly horrific, but it is important to get 'em before they hatch.  I think - as I am certain that I've missed a few over the summer - that my queen has been fighting off these newly spawned rivals.  I hope she has, and I hope she continues to do so, for two reasons: 
            1.  Her colony is not prepared to swarm, so she needs to keep them home.  Should it swarm now, both the swarm and the vacated hive will be ill prepared for winter.  Neither would survive.
            2.  She's too young to succumb to a new queen!  She's a year old and she's a good layer.

Fascinatingly, after I knocked out all the queens that I could locate, I sealed up the hive and watched as the diligent workers dragged the dead bodies to the outside of the hive.  They tossed them out onto the grass below, and immediately, I saw a wasp close in and devour one of the dead queens.  It was amazing - out of nowhere!  (Wasps are predators of bees and will invade hives, chewing off the wing and leg muscles of the bees before taking them away and eating them.)  Check that out here.

Saturday, September 6


Another post about smells. When I sat down next to the hive last week, I noticed a strange, different odor coming from the hive. It was sweet... but not necessarily pleasant. Pungent, floral (maybe?) but also kind of musty.
Alarmed, I stood up, walked 10 feet away and sat back down on the ground. Maybe it was me? God only knows. Nope, no creepy smell. (Side note: when visiting a beehive, it is always best to smell like nothing. Nothing! No sweat or body odor, but no deodorant, perfumes, fabric soaps, etc. Finding a happy, fragrance-free medium is genuinely a challenge, let me tell you.)
SO. It was definitely coming from within the hive. My first thought was that it could be American Foulbrood. A horrifying thought, as AF means the brood in the hive essentially rot and turn to goo, and the bacteria is so persistent that it can be contagious for up to 35 years. There is only one way to eliminate it: to burn everything. To light the hive, the bees, the woodenware, everything that might have come into contact with the disease, on fire. For obvious reasons, I was concerned.

Then, a hopeful thought crept into my head. I remember when having read Sue Hubbel's book, she discussed a similiar fear. One autumn, she noticed a strong, unusual odor from a hive and considered the possibility of an American Foulbrood infestation. Through her knowledge of regional plants and beekeeping in general, though, she deduced that it was a product of the autumn nectar flow, specifically, the nectar being collected from Snow Asters. The aster is a wildflower. Surely this could be my answer! I have yet to investigate, but I am almost certain that when I drove here to the hive today, I smelled a similar smell when passing an overgrown farm field now full of wildflowers.

When I sat next to the hive today, I smelled the same odd smell, but this time, I forced myself to think of it as a honey smell, and I felt better. I'll find out on Tuesday when I open up again.