Sunday, February 22, 2015

They're Alive!

Winter has been crazy cold this year.  For the most part, daytime temps have been in the teens. The other day, we actually got up to the low 20's, and it felt like a heat wave. The coldest night we've had so far was -8 deg F, though with the windchill, it was something like -30 deg F. Today, though, we got a freakishly balmy day. The high was 41 -- can you believe it? I feel that number should have fireworks or something around it!

Last night, we got enough snow to cover the entrances on Peach (the nuc on the table), but most of it melted today.
In fact, I'd say about half the snow on these hives is gone. Could spring be around the corner for real?

Between the cold and snow, I haven't checked my hives in about a month. However, with this glorious reprieve in the weather, I had to have a look-see.

The snow is so deep in my yard that it comes almost up to my hips in places, and last night, we got another 6 inches or so. Trekking out to the hives in boots is impossible, so I strapped on some snowshoes to get out there. Imagine my delight when I saw that the freshly fallen snow all around my beeyard was covered in yellow splotches. Poop has never looked more lovely to me!

Don't eat the yellow snow!

Both Austeja and Persephone had bees flying at their entrances. A few even came over to check me out. Maybe, in my white jacket, they thought I was an enormous snowdrop. In any case, we had a lovely time saying howdy.

Hello, Friend!
I didn't see much activity around Peach or Bubblegum, but a quick listen with my DH's stethoscope revealed that they were very much alive. I've been so fretful over my girls these last few weeks. Having confirmation of their well-being is just wonderful.
Finding a heartbeat
Tomorrow night is supposed to get down to -11 degrees, and another foot of snow is predicted for Wednesday. I'm feeling much better about my colonies' cold hardiness, though. Fingers crossed that they make it through this last run-up to spring. 

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Saints Preserve Us!

St. Valentine of Terni

Beekeepers who don't get into the candy hearts and flowers still have a reason to celebrate Valentine's Day as he is the patron saint of beekeepers! It's a distinction he shares with a few other saints, including:

St. Ambrose of Milan

  • Saint Ambrose. As an infant, his father discovered him with his face covered with bees, which was interpreted as a sign of his future eloquence. In fact, he was described as having a "honeyed tongue," and his symbols are bees and skeps.

St. Bernard of Clairvaux

  • Saint Bernard, who bears the epithet "The Mellifluous Doctor." Spiritual sweetness and religious eloquence seem to be a running theme with these saints.
St. Gobnait

But back to St. Valentine, since today is his day. His symbols include roses and birds. (Birds are known for pairing up, often monogamously. In medieval England, Feb 14 was the day that birds selected their mates. Roses symbolize the beauty and fullness of love, but they are also connected with Aphrodite who stepped on one, cut her foot, and dyed them red with her blood.) What's this saint's connection to bees, though? Honestly, I can't tell. Perhaps it has to do with the sweetness of the love that is celebrated on his day. Maybe, his symbolism has absorbed bees since Cupid, who has a strong connection to our little girls, is also so strongly identified with Valentine's Day.

Cupid and bees
According to mythology, the infant cupid stole some honeycomb and was stung. He ran crying to his mother, Venus, who chastised him saying, "My infant, if so much thou feel the little wild-bee's touch, how must the heart, ah, Cupid! be, the hapless heart that's stung by thee!" (quote from Myths of Old Greece By William Adams, 1900.)

The Greek poet Theocritus, tells a version in which Aphrodite laughs and says "Are you not just like the bee - so little yet able to inflict such painful wounds?"

As Eros/Cupid (the god of love) lay fast asleep once, "tawny bees were sprinkling on his dainty lips honey dripping from the comb."1 (Tawny bees, eh? Must have been Italians.)

He was also said to have dipped his arrows in honey to sweeten the sting.

So... Valentine's day... the birds and the bees... It all starts to come together now.

In any case, it's fun knowing that beekeepers have a quite a few saints watching over them especially as there have been a few times when I've felt I could really use some supernatural assistance. Usually after dropping a comb. LOL!

Happy Valentine's Day, everyone!


1 This quote comes from a book called The Sacred Bee and is linked to a free online copy. I actually have a hard copy of this book (quite cheap on Amazon), and I love it.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

To Warre or Not to Warre?

To bee, or not to bee- that is the question: 
Whether 'tis better in the Warre to install
The bees and queens of Southern packages 
Or to resist the waves and tides of haste, 
And by opposing make a better choice. 

I had thought to write this entire post as a parody of Hamlet's famous speech, but I figured that poor dead Shakespeare has suffered enough.

I've been very interested in The People's Hive for awhile, and I had planned to start a couple of them this year. However, I'm now reconsidering that decision.

Looking at this after uploading and thinking that the "Pros" should probably be in the lower end of the scale.
Maybe I was subconsciously thinking of Anubis weighing hearts against a feather.
When a heart was worthy, the feather dropped. Unworthy hearts would sink and be eaten.
I suppose that's not a very promising way to think of a beehive.

The reasons I'm interested in starting Warres are:

  • Footprint. They have a smaller footprint than KTBHs, and my backyard is getting kind of full now.
  • Low maintenance. They require less maintenance than KTBHs. As a mother of three with pets, house, and a consulting business, I've got more than enough on my plate. I like the idea of having less work. Also, Warres would be better for outyards, if/when I get to that point.
  • Honey. Last year, Sam Comfort, who has Langs, Warres, and KTBHs, told me that Warres make less honey than Langs, but much more than KTBHs. While I'm not in beekeeping strictly for honey, honey is nice.
  • Overwintering. Sam also mentioned his KTBHs overwinter better than Langs. However, the real star when it comes to overwintering, he said, were Warres.
The reasons I'm shying away from Warres are:
  • Storage. They require more storage space than KTBHs. The beauty of KTBHs is that everything is self-contained. Like Langs, Warres require space for storing boxes and bars that aren't in use. Clutter is not my friend.
  • Harder to inspect/manage. The People's Hive has bars that are nailed into place, which makes them hard to inspect or manage. Some people but the bars into grooves or use spacers to keep the bars movable, but my understanding is that the bees have a tendency to propolize them into place anyway.  Of course, according to Warre's description of his hive, ideally one is supposed to open the hive only twice a year, during spring and harvest. So this "design flaw" isn't really an issue if you're working Warre-style. However, after last year's swarming fiasco, I'm a bit gun-shy about not checking, particularly since I live in a suburban neighborhood that might not appreciate bees taking up residence in houses.
  • Harder to requeen. This is related to the reason above, but it's also my primary reason for holding off this year. Ideally, I'd like local, treatment-free, small-cell bees, but I missed out this year. As a result, I've been thinking about how to requeen a southern package with a local queen. No matter what option I consider, it seems like a hassle. 
So... that's the current plan anyway. I'll probably be having this same debate with myself, though, next year.