Sunday, June 8, 2014

Sam Comfort & Queen Grafting

Saturday was absolutely glorious -- perfect for an outdoor meeting of the Connecticut Beekeepers Association!

I always look forward to our meet-ups. It's a great time to see old friends, and a wonderful opportunity to make new ones. Everyone gets to swap stories about swarms, stings, and experiments they're conducting with their hives. Plus, people bring the most amazing dishes for our potluck lunches -- we have some truly talented cooks in our bunch!

This month's meeting was especially awesome since beekeeper extraordinaire Sam Comfort of Anarchy Apiaries was our guest speaker! Whoo hoo! For the morning session, he began his talk with a song (hooray!)

I like how he gives his performance his all. Of course, one would expect no less from a person with the coolest skep and honeycomb tattoo that I've ever seen.

The tatt is kind of hard to see, but it really is pretty cool.
It may also explain why Sam doesn't seem bothered by bee stings.
Then he shared his story of how he got into beekeeping and how he got to where he is today -- running about 500 treatment-free, mostly top bar hives (KTBHs and Warres) in the Hudson Valley, though he also has hives in Florida.

I didn't take detailed notes because he has given similar talks, which can be viewed online, for other beekeeping groups. Even though I'd heard most of his talk before, I still enjoyed listening to him in person. He has an energy and vitality that doesn't come through fully in YouTube videos. Plus, he's got a wonderful sense of humor and great presentation skills. In fact, every other line would make a terrific soundbite. If he ever gets out of beekeeping, he should do something that requires lots of stage presence, I think.

If you'd like to hear a presentation similar to the one he gave for our club, you can watch the video below. (It's actually a two-parter. The second part includes Q&A.) Additionally, he gives a Beekeeping Bootcamp, and he said you can go to his website to find info on that. He also mentioned that he will be giving some classes through the Hudson Valley Bee Supply Company this summer.

I did take a lot of notes, but since you really can get most of what he said from the video link, I'll just share some of my favorite quotes/ideas of the day.

On stings
  • On recounting his first day working with hives, "I started picking the stingers out of my neck and waited to see if I was gonna die."
  • "Getting stung is one of my favorite parts of beekeeping. If you don't get stung, the honey doesn't taste as sweet."
On diversity
  • [In beekeeping,] "I don't see right or wrong, good or evil... I see diversity and monotony... Bees like diversity."
On bees dying out and PCD
  • "PCD is People Collapse Disorder. People Collapse Disorder is the rift between our society and its control and how bees work.
  • Bees are not like cows. They haven't been messed with until the last 150 years. Beneath their exoskeleton, bees are wild. "Bees don't need beekeepers."
  • He described how beeks feed pollen substitutes to their bees but many won't use soy because of GMOs. Instead, they use brewer's yeast or eggs. "Think about animal protein in a hive. That's so freaky... They're like Frankenbees."
On bees and DIY hives
  • "Bees are very forgiving of poor carpentry."
One of Sam's collapsible nucs. Notice that it's painted baby blue.
He also has pink nucs. :-)
Photo by K. Sumner

On the difference between packages and shook swarms
  • Packages have a bad rep because people buy bees from Georgia, and the queens are caged too young. Bees from Georgia are cheap and early, and you get what you pay for.
  • "A shook swarm is like a bunch of friends all going on a road trip together. Everyone has the same interests, the same goals. They get along. They all want to do the same thing. The decide to start a collective farm and grow their own food... A package is like a group of strangers on a bus that breaks down in the middle of nowhere, and they have to grow their own food by the side of the road."
  • In Europe, when there's a swarm, people have a party. They celebrate. In this country, people start freaking, fire trucks come out and shut down the road.."We have a long way to go."
On queens
  • "A queen you make in your backyard is the best you can get."
  • "The queen is everything. She affects temperament in the hive, honey production, winter survival, mite resistance... The queen is everything."
On Warres
  • He keeps Warres and digs Warre's philosophy. His one caveat was that he doesn't think Warres are a good choice for brand-new beeks because one is supposed to set up them up and then leave them alone. He recommends that new beeks get a hive that allows them to go in frequently and learn from the bees. 
  • He mentioned that he has modified his Warres so that they are shallower than Warre's design (6" deep) and get less comb attachment as a result.
  • To harvest, he takes off the top box and places it upside down in front of the hive. Then he gently drums the sides of the box to get the bees out. (An old practice that has been documented back to the 1800's.)
A modified Warre nuc
Photo by K.Sumner

On nucs
  • I believe he said that one should have lots of nucs -- 3 nucs to every full-sized hive.
On catching swarms
  • "Catching swarms is like fishing. You never know what you're going to get."
  • You'll get the best bees, "bees you can't possibly buy."
On the future of beekeeping
  • "For your own well-being, bring a young person the next time you go into a hive."
During the afternoon session, Gil (our association president) showed how to clip and mark a queen. (The idea behind clipping is that if a hive tries to swarm, the queen won't be able to fly far.) I have to be honest, though -- I've seen videos of queens being clipped, but I just couldn't bring myself to watch a live demo. People say it doesn't hurt because there aren't any nerves in the wings, but to me, it just looks like the mutilation of a beautiful, fascinating creature. And since none of us have ever experienced life as a queen bee, I can't see who is to say that it doesn't diminish her life in some way or that the other bees don't treat her differently as a result. It's possible I'm a granola-eating wuss, but I simply couldn't stomach it.

Everything you need for making queens,
though those scissors make me shudder.
Jumping off my soapbox now. Moving on, Gil and Sam also gave a demonstration of how to graft queen cells. It was a great learning experience for me. The idea of grafting queens has always seemed so daunting to me, but they explained it quite well. So now the idea is still daunting, but at least it doesn't seem impossible.

 The first thing we opened up are these adorable baby nucs. These are prepared several days in advance of putting queens in them. To prepare them, worker bees (no drones or queens) are shaken into a box and made queenless for about three days. Then a cupful of bees are put into these baby nucs. Capped queen cells are placed into the nucs until they are mated and laying. But how does one make those capped queen cells?
Baby nucs

Check out the comb from a baby nuc. It's so mini!

Sam and our Gil showed how to select a frame of brood with very young larvae. ("They're the right size when they're too small to see.") The larvae (not eggs) are scooped out of their cells with a grafting tool and placed into a bar with lots of cups on it. The bar is placed into a queenless hive to be capped.

Scooping up larvae with a Chinese grafting tool.
Frame with queen cells
After the bees have capped the queen cells, the cells are slipped into a queen cell protector to keep the bees from chewing them down. The cells are then placed into a frame of comb in the baby nucs to mature and mate.

Here is a video of Sam scooping out the larvae. Sorry for all the extraneous chit chat. I'm no videographer, and there was lots going on that day.

It was about 4:00 by the time I got home. By then, I was pretty tired, but also feeling very refreshed and excited. Naturally, the first thing I had to do was go play with my bees! :-) 

1 comment:

  1. Wow, what a treat that was for you. Thanks for sharing!


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