Thursday, August 29, 2013

Link to an Article on the Amazing Shelf Life of Honey

Honey is such an amazing thing. Once it's capped, it never, like never, spoils. For example, I think that sealed honey was once found in Israel. It was something like 3,000 years old, and it was still good. When my kids heard this, their little brains were blown away.

Honey also has a anti-microbial properties, so I've started putting it on cuts and scrapes. The kids run when they see me break out the jar because they don't like the stickiness, but I have no problems using it (covered with a bandage, of course).

A friend of mine sent an article knowing that I'm obsessed with all things Apis. Although none of the information was new to me, I really enjoyed the article because it does such a great job of explaining the science behind honey's miracle-working properties. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did. :-)

Link to article:

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Abeilles à Québec

We just got back from a short vacation to Quebec. One of the highlights for me was a trip to Intermiel, an apiary located in Mirabel Saint-Benoît, Quebec.

The tour began with a quick history of the apiary, which was begun about 30 or so years ago by a French couple by the name of Macle who immigrated to Canada back in the 60's. Passionate about bees, they began an apiary which now has over 5000 hives.  It's quite an operation!

This was followed by a viewing of the inside of a Langstroth hive and a close-up look at bees in the biggest observation hive I've ever seen!

Check out that observation hive!

Next, we got an overview of the harvesting process and got to taste some of the amazing products that this apiary produces.

Of course, the machinery Intermiel uses is way bigger;
it has to be for 5000 hives!

In addition to all the various types of honey Intermiel makes (well, the bees make actually), the apiary produces creamed honey (which also comes in cinnamon, citrus, and one other flavor that escapes me) and my favorite -- a honey & chocolate spread, which you can have plain, with nuts, or with lavender.

The tour was in French, but it wasn't a big deal. The info was pretty basic, so I was able to follow along pretty easily. Plus, our tour guide, Elise, was très charmant. She spoke some English, but mostly I liked her animated way of speaking. She reminded me of a young version of one of my aunts.

Our guide. I need a hat like that!

Of course, my favorite part of the tour was when all the kids got shuffled into a room to play with some toys (completely unsupervised -- I love it!) while the adults headed off for a wine tasting.

I always imagined mead as some kind of medieval brew that was probably kind of yeasty, heavy, and unrefined. However, the honey wines we tasted were anything but. Some of the meads we sampled included a semi-dry wine made with apple blossom honey, a sweet one made with goldenrod honey (hands down my favorite), and a very sweet wine made with wildflower honey. They also make a number of honey wines flavored with fruit. The cassis one was fantastic. Elise also provided excellent information on how to serve each one.

Additionally, the Macle family has a sizeable apple orchard and sugar maple grove, so we got to sample some of those beverages as well, including ice ciders and maple liquors.

I'm not the only one who thinks their beverages are delicious.
We tried pretty much most of their line there in the tasting room, so it's a good thing we had such tiny cups. Otherwise, I doubt anyone would have been able to walk out.

Afterward, we took a walk about the farmyard, where the kids got to play and pet some ponies, goats, etc.

Best day ever.

Red and Yellow, Black and White... and Green

In the BB (Before Bees) era, I thought pollen was always yellow. Now I know that it comes in a rainbow of colors. Lately, as I watch the bees carrying their harvest home, I feel like I'm in a children's song. The pollen coming in is red and yellow, black, and white... and tan... and olive green.

The black pollen really surprised me when I first saw it. I know tulips make black pollen, but they're a springtime flower, not something one sees in August. I think I've figured out the source of this mystery pollen, though -- purple loosestrife. There are a number of fields and marshy areas nearby, and it's in bloom right now.

Cool, right?

See the black pollen?

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Finally Found My Queen & Weird Evidence of Bees Shirking Their Responsibilities

Today's inspection started off great. Gorgeous weather. Bees were nice and calm. Lots of honey being stored at the back of the hive. (Yes, my bees have finally got it together -- brood at the front of the hive, honey at the back. They are no longer backward.) Then I got to the 7th bar from the entrance, and I got really excited. I found my queen for the first time ever!!!
Isn't she lovely? Isn't she wonderful?
(Yes, I'm singing like Stevie Wonder.)
I removed the bar and put it on my new top bar holder so that I could take her picture (say cheese!) and admire her for a bit. Well, by the time I was ready to put the bar back into the hive, it seemed like half the bees had followed their leader out and were lounging all over the top bars. To make matters worse, I didn't even have a lit smoker. I was using a spray bottle with water and some peppermint oil to keep them calm, which worked great for the most part. However, it just wasn't cutting it when it came time to encourage so many ladies to go back indoors.

After squishing a lot of bees (ugh, that "crunch" noise is going to haunt me tonight) and ticking the rest of them off, I finally conceded defeat and started the smoker. After a few puffs, they all made a beeline (har, har) back into the hive.

There was one other weird thing I noticed. Look at this bee just right of center in the photo below. I don't know what happened to her, but she seems to be embedded in the honeycomb. See her leg? It's actually going through one cell into another. Bizarre.

Reminds me of an image I once saw. It was a dead raccoon or 'possum on the road, and a street crew had painted double lines over it. Guess someone said, "Not my job." At the risk of being accused of anthropomorphizing, it appears that bees sometimes aren't all that different from people. 

Top Bar Holder

About 10 days ago, I asked my husband for some pieces of scrap wood to make a holder for my bars as I inspect them. The next day, I went out for a few hours, but when I came home, this was waiting for me.

Such a lovely surprise! I have to say, he did a much better job than I would have, too. In my mind, I was picturing something made of scrap wood and coat hangers. This is so much nicer.

I used the holder today, and it made life so much easier in terms of being able to take photos. Thanks, honey!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Trying to ID a Tree

Does anyone know what kind of tree this is? I have a bunch of them in my yard. In the spring they had white flowers (sorry, no photos), and honeybees were all over them. Now they have little berries that start off red and deepen into a luscious purple color. Just wondering what they might be.

Out of curiosity, I bit into one, and I haven't gotten sick or dropped dead, so whatever it is, it's not poisonous. It tasted a little sweet, a bit astringent, and it had a pit, kind of like a cherry.

Thanks in advance for any ideas!

*** Update ***

I've been told this is a black cherry. Cool!

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Long live Queen Austeja!

A hive inspection on 7/18 revealed:
  • Lots of queen cups (but nothing in them -- at least I didn't see anything, though obviously I missed something important as you'll soon read)
  • Very little capped or uncapped honey
  • 16 bars chockablock with brood, both capped and uncapped, in all stages 
  • Some eggs -- they looked good, like my queen had laid them as opposed to a laying worker 
Given the masses of queen cups (we're talking anywhere from 5 to 10+ per bar), the lack of space for laying eggs and the drone comb, I thought they might be getting kind of crowded and swarmy, so I added four empty bars (between nice full bars) in the brood area. However, because of the lack of honey, I also gave them syrup so that they could continue to build comb/not starve.

Fast forward 13 days to 7/30. I did an inspection and this is what I saw:
  • The bees do not appear to have swarmed. I think I have even more bees than I did 2 weeks ago. 
  • The bees have not built any comb on the empty bars though they were starting to form little daisy chains on them. A few weeks ago, they were building like gangbusters, and I had expected even a palm sized bit of comb on them, so that surprised me a lot. 
  • Masses of queen cups (like 5-10+ per bar). I didn't see eggs or anything in any of the queen cups.
  • Two queen cells. There was one small capped queen cell (but definitely not a drone cell -- much bigger and more "peanutty" looking) and one that looks like it might have been opened from the side.
  • 14 bars that had been packed with capped/open brood are mostly empty as a result of bees emerging. Although there is still a fair amount of capped brood, there were no eggs/larvae replacing the ones that have hatched in the last two weeks. 
  • Two bars had eggs and larvae in all stages. The brood pattern was good, but there has definitely been a reduction in the amount of laying going on. 
  • The cells with eggs looked good (egg standing up nicely in the bottom center of cell), but I noticed one cell with 2 eggs, which could indicate a new queen. 
  • Some uncapped honey, but nothing significant (no full bars or even half bars of honey -- just some across the tops of the bars and between brood) 

Looks like a queen cell
that's been opened from the side.
Sorry so blurry -- it's hard to take a
pic with my phone while holding a
bar with one hand.
So I've been trying to diagnose what has happened in the last two weeks and how to proceed. Here are some thoughts that occurred to me:
  • Given the lack of a swarm and two queen cells, I suspected a supercedure. However, with a supercedure, I would have expected a break in brood rearing for about a month.Why am I still seeing eggs and larvae? Could I have two queens? (Unfortunately, I'm rubbish at spotting the queen, and I've never found her.) 
  • What should I do with the queen cell that is capped? Should I make a split? Or if I leave it in the hive, is the new queen more likely to get killed or swarm?
  • Can I stop hyperventilating and breathe normally?
  • Small queen cell.
    Hard to tell from this angle,
    but it's definitely bigger
    than drone a cell.
I posed this question on a forum I follow, and the response I got leads me to believe that Queen Hippolyte has indeed been superceded. I was advised to just leave the remaining capped cell alone and let the bees sort it out.

Apparently, old queens can coexist with the ones superceding them for up to 5 weeks. Most likely Hippolyte is still in the hive with the new queen, which is why I'm continuing to see eggs.

Long live Queen Austeja!

There's no accounting for taste

In case anyone was wondering, it turns out that honeybees will work Cheerios.

One of the kids put some out for the squirrels, but this is who we attracted instead.

Hmm... now that I think about it, they were the Honey Nut kind.

Image from: