Monday, July 4, 2011

The End of My Naked Bee Keeping Lifestyle.

As many of you know from the pictures I keep very close to the bees when I tend them relying on a minimal amount of safety equipment. Unless I am installing a package, I usually only wear my vail and break out the gloves when I am unsure what kind of trouble I may get into moving frames. I have always believed in the gentle nature of the bees and not being covered in bulky equipment allowed me to judge the temperament of the hive as well as be mindful of all the bees present in order to avoid the estimated average 200 accidental kills during a hive check.

In the past three years as a keeper I have about 19 stings to my credit. About 4 of those have been on my head at various times when I wasn't officially doing a hive check, just poking around near the hive, most of the stings happened on my fingers and arms during hive checks.

This is my very first sting in 2009.

I never considered myself allergic to bee stings. Like typical stings there was swelling around the entry point and a little discomfort nothing more. The stories of the old time beekeepers told me that having your body exposed to the bee venom allows you to build up better antibodies against it, a little bit of the theory of immunotherapy, if you are exposed to trace amounts you eventually develop a tolerance to that which may affect you. How many times have you been told about if you have problem with pollen allergies eat a regiment of local honey to help alleviate them? It is the same principal idea.

Smoke as you may know is the beekeepers friend it sends the bees into a panic mode as they go looking for honey stores to gorge on just in case they need to evacuate the hive. It also disrupts the communication pheromones that would send them into defense mode.
By the sheer number of bees on the outside of the hive, I knew B2.1 was in a desperate need of another super they were over crowded and hot.

There is a reason why bee keepers work from the back or side of the hive, you stay away from the entrance where the majority of the bees are. Yesterday when the bees were smoked they spread out all over the outside of the hive instead of heading inside. This was not an ideal situation since I no longer had a safe side to work from.

I went forward with my work being more mindful of my surrounding and successfully added that 3rd super, with communication disrupted by the smoke it would would take a little while for all of the bees to find their way back into the hive and into their new addition.

While closing up of the hive I didn't want to crush any of the bees so I was brushing the bees off the top cover and that was when I received a sting near my watch band on my left arm. It hurt like you would expect it to, I got the stinger out and smoked the area of the sting to hide the “attack here” pheromone that I had been tagged with. I finished up my hive duties outside put away my bee keeping supplies and came inside to wash up. It had been about 15 minutes since the sting, and it was then I noticed the rash going up my arm.

The sting location.

The rash up to my armpit.
I was uncomfortable, but still feeling alright, thought a shower and some rest on the bed in the cool room might help. Knowing this wasn't a normal reaction, my wife decided to look up bee sting info while I was in the shower on the Mayo Clinic site and seeing the following:
  • Skin reactions in parts of the body other than the sting area, including hives and itching and flushed or pale skin (almost always present with anaphylaxis)
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Dizziness or fainting
Although only the 1st one was really present and the other three were minor, she decided I probably should go visit our local non-emergency care facility, which we did. A shot of steroids there and another 12 day prescription for more, I left with a scolding from the doctor for not using our epi pen when the reaction started, and the knowledge I may now have developed an allergy to bee stings.

I am now left with new tasks to undertake- (a) Finding out if I may be a candidate for real doctor prescribed immunotherapy. (b) Finding more needed safety equipment to begin a new journey as a beekeeper who is allergic to bees, which basically leaves me no other choice, but to do as Barney Stinson would say: “Suit Up!”.

Feeling much better than I did a day ago, for now I'll suffer the "Popeye arm" taunts of my wife who very happily decorated it with the obligatory sailor anchor.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Just Swarmy!

Early today my neighbor greeted me with the news that I had a swarm of bees in my tree that I had missed by an hour. I looked over at the tree where she told me they were and sure enough the tell tale signs of crumpled leaves coated with bits of wax.

I pondered for a moment if they were mine since earlier this year I observed a feral colony in a hollow tree in another neighbor’s yard . I returned from running errands just after 5pm and was greeted by a mass of black airborne insects as I was pulling into my driveway. Wiki here has a picture of almost exactly what I saw. I knew they were mine this time.

A little about swarms: Swarms happen when the hive feels as if they have no more room for growth. The lead up signs to the swarm include “swarm cells” which are peanut like cells hanging on the bottom of the frame. I did witness something that could have been interpreted as swarm cells in my last hive check, but I ignored them because they were in the top super and not in the lowest one like the textbook says they should be. Then again my saga since the last hive check is something else.

The swarm in relation to my hives. (B 2.1 on the left and Club Fergie on the right.)

Short story long, we were about to head out for the evening, a swarm project was not something I could get started with. By mid morning the next day I expected them to be gone.

I had a moment where I felt sad they had swarmed and there was nothing I could do about it, but then I relized that I got into beekeeping not for the honey, but to help the bees and it brought me some solace knowing that my bees were helping to repopulate the local area.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Animal Terrorist or Catastrophic Failure?

Today, I looked over and saw a light colored mass under the hive. I walked over thinking it was a plastic bag or something only to find out it was raw comb.

Since we don't have any bears in the area... wait there was that one... seriously if it were a bear it would have knocked over the whole hive not just go for the low hanging fruit. Then again it could have just been the building of comb on the screen bottom board and one section got too heavy and pulled the others down with it. Most likely it was the work of a skunk who are naturally immune to bee stings.

WAIT! Back up! Why is there that much comb under the hive anyway? It had been 9 days and while the issues of the rear returning foragers hadn't stopped the only solution I could come up with was closing up the back of the hive. I however was afraid that this might encourage that space to be used as a super so I left it alone. Little did I know that is exactly what had been happening. In this picture you can see that they were actually raising brood in that comb. My only solution now is that the mass of bees under the hive was a swarm that didn't get too far.

Knowing that if it wasn't an animal who caused this comb to fall, it was now just an open invitation of them sitting there. I set out retrieving the pieces using a coat hanger and the kitchen tongs. As you can see there was quite a haul for 9 days work. That is a 15" x 10" baking pan it is on.

In the process of collecting the comb I freed a few bees that were trapped in the gooey wax/nectar and returned them to the area near the hive. I am hoping they will clean each other off and be able to fly again. In return one of the girls gave me the sting of my life as I inadvertently trapped her further between my finger and the comb.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

What the Bee?

Yesterday we did a hive check on B2.1 and removed the Queen cage, I added my Ross Round Super to Club Fergie and pulled a frame of honey. Just a quick check and run. Noticed what appeared to be swarm cells on the bottom bar of a couple of frames in the top super. Could they be swarm cells? The cell placement on the frame is correct, but the location in the hive is incorrect being in the top super rather than near the entrance.

One odd thing I noticed was that foragers were returning to the rear of the hive in the space for my screened bottom board. It was odd to see that but then I thought maybe the dance floor at the front was crowded so they had began using the screen under the hive to transfer nectar to the house bees. I changed the entrance space to a larger opening to give them more room to return hoping that would help with traffic.

Today I looked in on them and there appears to be just as many foragers returning to the rear of the hive as to the front. I wanted to know what it looked like under the hive so I took this picture.

Not what I expected to see. I was expecting maybe a a few hundred bees but mostly the screen bottom. Instead my pictures revealed a large mass of bees that may be a swam that didn't get too far. If they are all foragers they will either return home or age will catch up to them.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Welcome B2.1

“B2” unfortunately did not make it through the winter as you may already know.

“Club Fergie” made it through another winter and is going strong. As I observe the foragers daily about every 4th one is returning with pollen. Pollen is a wonderful sign as it means they are feeding larva. Spring is a time for a population explosion to replace the fall and winter dead as well as get the hive ready for the spring nectar flow. More bees in Spring = More Honey in the Summer. When I checked on them a month ago they already had larva and capped brood a great sign of a healthy hive in mid-March in Central Virginia.

Today my wife and I made what is becoming for me an annual trek down to Brushy Mountain Bee Farm in North Carolina to get a package of bees. I was hoping to expand a hive into my in-laws backyard this year but with B2's passing this package is now going to be used as a replacement. Someday I will attempt to make my own nucs, so I can get out of the bee buying business, but until that time Brushy Mountain will continue to be my source.

At Brushy Mountain with my new package of bees.

The werepanda spoke to them in werepanda language, a silent little language the bees can understand.
“Foragers come and foragers go,
Swarms come and swarms go,
Soon you will have a hive to call your home.”

All day we had been fighting with storms while we were traveling, at one point where we had stopped for lunch, a tornado had recently gone through a few miles away. This was the sight that greeted as we pulled off the highway back home. Perhaps this is a good luck sign for B2.1 in hopes that their hive be full of golden honey this year.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Bees at Night

Every so often I get asked, “So, what do bees do at night?”

The answer is simple they go home. Being that it has been much warmer the last few days, I have been finding a large number of bees hanging out at the front of the hive. I talked about the reasons for this in another post over here. One can really see the strength of a hive at this time of day because all the foragers are back from the field.

First up “B2”, it has been almost 4 weeks since the package was installed. That means that this hive could possibly be seeing the first of its new bees hatching. This could account for the small mass at the front entrance. The entrance reducer is still set for the small opening because you can see I am still feeding them. They aren't taking it very quickly, which suggests that there is plenty of better option around the neighborhood for them to feed on.
Next is “Club Fergie” in the link from above it shows what the entrance looked like a month ago at the start up of the Spring hatching season. Now a month later you see what a population explosion there has been. I was planning on moving the entrance reducer up to the next size, but the 10 day forecast shows it is going to be back in the 40sºF at night starting this weekend so I will probably wait another week for that. I am not worried about opening the entrance up because all they have in their feeder right now is plain water to help them with cooling the hive when it gets too hot. Plain Water, is not really the thing that encourages robbing.
This picture demonstrates that the perfect time to do a hive check is not at night. For one, bees don't fly at night very well because there is no sun to orientate them however, they are excellent crawlers which added to the complete hive population being home makes this an equation for a sting disaster to happen.

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Queen is Alive, Long Live the Queen!

All week I have been reading up on emergency supersedure in the hive, but you can see that all is right in B2 today. After opening the hive, I was too busy looking for the supersedure cell from last week that I missed Queen Bingo on the first pass. My expert photographer noticed that she didn't have her “retinue” of workers around her which is something I usually look for, she was also busy darting about.

The blue making tell the age of the queen. Blue is recognized as the standard for years that end in 5 or 0. Yes, a healthy productive queen can live up to 5 years in the best conditions.

Now that the Queen drama is over, let me walk you through the hive check

Smoking the entrance, smoke calms the bees because it disrupts communication, and sends them into a feeding frenzy. They may take in as much as 3 days worth of food during this time, just in case they need to abandon the hive for a new home if a real emergency is happening.

Lifting out the frame for inspection. There was a noticeable difference in the temperament of the bees this week. A sign that the colony is "queen right".

Capped brood and some larva. I really didn't expect to see much this week. I was taken back when I saw this much, because when I opened the hive I was just checking in to make sure the supersedure cell from last week was still ok. I was concentrating on what would have caused this much brood, before I found out the queen was just fine. Based on the number of eggs she produced in the last week I think she is doing just fine.

An example for illustration of queen cell placement and the signal it gives a beekeeper. Both examples are only hypothetical neither situation is currently happening in the hive.

On the top, the large cell would be where a supersedure cell would be in the middle of the frame. This signals to the beekeeper that there is a problem with the queen and the hive is doing something about it.

On the bottom, shows where a swarm cell would be. This signals that the hive is over crowded and that 1/2 or more of the hive is getting ready to leave for a new home. In both cases if a keeper is mostly interested in honey production this would be a sign that the yield will be greatly diminished this year.

I borrowed some frames from “Club Fergie” as I mentioned in another post. The picture on the top shows how dark the comb has become in a years time. Every time a new cycle of bees hatch, the cells get polished with propolis which causes the darkening. The picture on the bottom shows the band of pollen that is usually stored above the new brood on a frame. The larva are fed a mixture of pollen and nectar called "bee bread" from days 3-9 before they are capped for the remaining 12 days.

This big ugly cluster of capped brood are drone cells. A drone is larger than a worker, this is the reason why they have larger cells that are prominent next to worker cells.

At the center of the picture is what a drone in comparison to a worker looks like. A couple of things to remember about drones. They are much noisier in flight and may startle you if you see this large noisy bee flying at you, but remember a drone doesn't have a stinger so the only thing it can do is annoy you.

Because of last week, I believed the hive wasn't “queen right” when I went out today. Not knowing how their temperament would be I brought along my frame grip to assist in keeping my hand just a little further away from the bees.

Here is me playing with the frame grip. Since I was putting another super on the hive I needed to add a frame that the bees were already working to the new super in order to signal to them that it was alright for them to move upstairs.

Here is the next level going on. You can see now why I have begun to date mark the frames. You see that even with a simple hive manipulation one can quickly loose track of which frames were added when.

Finally B2 is back together, a healthy queen right colony that is getting stronger everyday under the watchful eye of the tomten, with a new level added. I will check them one more time next week, then they will be on their own for a few weeks.