Sunday, June 30, 2019

Keeping My Cool

Bees are awesome! Keeping bees is amazing! Sweating buckets during hive inspections is NOT. But when one tends a creature that likes hot weather, it's inevitable that one is going to spend a lot of time in the heat.

Although summer is my favorite season, the older I get, I find I'm not able to tolerate mid-day heat as well as I used to. Since I don't have a ventilated jacket, I've adopted some tricks to avoid overheating. For those who are similarly challenged, I thought I'd share my Top 4 Tips for Keeping Cool. 

Tip 1. Inspect in the Morning

  • This tip is kind of a no-brainer. Avoid inspecting during the heat of the day. If possible, I like to finish up inspections before 11 am.
Tip 2. Keep inspections brief

  • Unless I actually have to look at every bar/frame for some reason, I don't. I check just enough to make sure that things are going well, and then I close up. If possible, I try to keep inspections under 15 minutes per hive. 

Tip 3. Wear baggy / light clothes
  • A lot of beeks wear jeans during inspection, but personally, I find them unbearable in hot weather. Instead, I opt for really baggy linen pants. If the bees are gentle, I'll don an oversized cotton dress shirt and veil instead of a jacket. Natural fabrics like linen and cotton are light and breathable, and the bagginess of the clothing keeps stingers away from my skin. (Ladies, you can easily raid your husband's closets for a big shirt.)
Tip 4. Get some cooling gear
  • A couple of years ago, I spotted a cooling cap and cooling neck tie in the athletic section at Walmart. I was skeptical that they would actually work, but it was the end of summer, so they were on clearance. I think I got them both for under $5 -- cheap enough to take a risk on them. Basically, the necktie is a fabric tube filled with water beads. (If you have kids, you'll know them as Orbeez.) The cap is also filled with some kind of water absorbing polymer pad. Like Orbeez, but in pad form. Anyway, you soak them in water for 5 or 10 mins and put them on. The brand I have is called Misty Mate. I've seen other products online like cooling vests, and if I lived in Texas or Florida, I might try them. But so far, these two things have been sufficient for me. They won't win me any fashion awards, but I'm so cool I don't care. 

So what about you? What are your secrets for beating the heat?

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Breathing a sigh of relief

Pollinators have been doing their job. In another month, we'll be picking wild raspberries!

During the last week of May, I discovered that Katya had swarmed, and Theodora was getting ready to swarm. To head that off, I made a split with her queen into a TBH. She then received a frame of Katya's swarm cells so she could make a jumpstart on making a new queen. But that also meant both of my Layens hives were queenless at the same time, which was not a great feeling for me. I'm not happy not having a solid Plan B(ee) in terms of available back-up resources.

Bee math indicates that it takes 16 days to for a queen to emerge. Allow a few days for her to murder her rivals in their beds, attract some lovers, and then start a dynasty.... Altogether it takes about 19-34 days for a queen to go from egg to laying eggs. 

On Day 20, I opened the hives with bated breath hoping to see queens or eggs. Nothing. Ok, that's a little early for eggs, no need for alarm just yet. But then it rained. Not just a sprinkle. We're talking deluges that poured out of the sky nearly every day for the next two weeks. 

Yesterday, was Day 34. If the hives still didn't have queens or eggs, I'd have to order some. An inspection was in desperate order. Fortunately, Mother Nature finally cooperated with some sunshine. 

Hello, Bumblie!

Upon opening each hive, the bees were calm and quiet. My heart began to hope. Could it be they had queens? Yes, they did! It was the royal jelly in Katya's cells that I first noticed. The larvae were so tiny they were nearly invisible, but the copious royal jelly was liquid and pearly white at the bottom of the dark comb. Then I spotted her majesty. I got only 3 frames into Theodora before seeing eggs. I don't know when they made their mating flights, but I can breathe again.

As an aside, if you don't listen to your bees, definitely start. Their sounds can tell so much about their mood. There is the gentle quiet hum of bees who are happy and going about their business and the angry buzzing of when they've had enough of my monkey business. Then there is the quacking of piping queens and the distinct roar of hives that have lost their queens... I wish I knew all their sounds better, but I digress. 

I missed capturing the event, but this little patch of milkweed was covered in monarchs the other day!

The catalpa is nearing the end of its bloom time, and for me, that's pretty much the last of the spring-blooming trees. I imagine white clover should be done in a couple of weeks too. In CT, that always happened around mid-July, and things seem to be about 2 weeks ahead of CT here. Lilies are opening now. Milkweed and Queen Anne's lace are just starting as well. These signs all signal the summer dearth is here, and since my hives are queenright, my inspections will likely slow down a bit. However, rather than coming to a full-stop, I may check every 2-3 weeks just to see how foraging conditions differ in my new location. The scenery here is quite lush. There is a state park within a mile of my house, and the area is full of horse stables and sheep, which gives me hope that there isn't too much chemical use in the vicinity.  The variety of flora in wild spaces along roads and undeveloped areas is encouraging as well, so my fingers are crossed that the summer is less severe here than what I've been accustomed to. Come on girls. Make some honey!

Does anyone know what this is? It might be elderberry, but not 100% positive.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

You win some, you lose some...

Roughly two and a half weeks ago, I tried splitting Katya with just a divider board in the hive, but I failed miserably. When I checked a week later on May 18, the bees had failed to make queen cells. It turns out the transfer frames had some small gaps at the top & the ventilation spaces at the ends of either side of the hive meant bees were just going back and forth.

On May 18, Katya was pretty full to bursting. Knowing she was going to swarm, I ordered two more hives. I was hoping they'd arrive within a week, but alas, they did not. On the next check (May 25), Katya was full of capped swarm cells. They probably swarmed on Sunday when we were at the movies. Those sneaky bees must have started making queens pretty much right after I'd closed the hive because I hadn't even noticed any queen cups on the 18th. Yikes!

queen cell

Theodora was looking like she was going to start making swarm prep, too, but without those new Layens hives, I decided to make a "shook swarm" into a TBH nuc rather than lose another swarm. Of course, now I'm on edge because I haven't got any queens in either of the Layens hives. Fingers crossed.

So I lost some bees, but I also caught a small swarm last week.  My daughter came along, and she did a great job getting those bees into a nuc. The bees were in a shrub in a condo complex, which meant lots of people walking by to stop and watch. My social butterfly of a girl was in her element teaching everyone about bees and passing out drones for them to hold. Yay! She's my queen bee-in-training!

small swarm

my bee charmer catching a swarm

Meanwhile, the spring flow is fully underway. Locust trees and wild raspberries are blooming. Clover is everywhere. While out walking last week, I also found a small mulberry tree on my property, and can't wait for it to grow!

wild raspberries

rolling in clover