Thursday, October 24, 2013

Does Anyone Know What This Is?

I was going through my photos today when I saw some images of this plant/shrub.

I remember seeing it in bloom a few streets over around late August, and my bees were all over it. I've been thinking about what to plant next year, and this might make the list -- if I could only figure out what it is.

Does anyone have any thoughts? Thanks in advance!

*** Update ***

I've been told this plant is called Fallopia japonica or Japanese Knotweed. The World Conservation Union lists it as one of the top 100 most invasive species. So I probably won't plant any, but my bees sure do love it. (sigh)

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Snug as a Bug in a...

The forecast for this week predicts daytime temps in the 50's and evening temps in the 30's. Friday is even supposed to get down to 27 degrees F. Brrr....

So I decided that I should probably start insulating the hive. This weekend, I plugged up two entrances and added some styrofoam on top under the roof.

There is a gap between the windows and cover, so I also put some styrofoam in there as well.

I will definitely strap the roof down and maybe wrap a tarp around it to cut down on wind. However, the bees are still coming and going, bringing in orange and red pollen, so I haven't done it yet because I like to peek on them. The styrofoam is easy to pop out of the windows if I want a look.

Recently, I watched a video (below) of Sam Comfort from Anarchy Apiaries talking about the top bar and Warre hives that he keeps. At one point, he shows a hive that he was prepping for winter (somewhere around the 0:52:00 mark.) He does very, very little to prep his northern hives. His approach seems to be if they make it -- great. If they don't, he doesn't want them anyway.

In theory, I suppose that I agree with him. The only way to get survivor bees is to breed survivors, but when I have only one hive, the philosophy is a lot harder to put into practice than to say. So to my bees, I say, "Stay warm and toasty, girls!"

Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Wasp-Kickers

The cooler weather and lack of forage means that all the Hymenopterans are getting a bit desperate for forage. As a result, the hive has started attracting lots of unwanted attention from yellow jackets. However, my girls are more than up to the task of defending the hive. They guard it with such ferocious vigilance that I almost feel bad for would-be intruders because they haven't got a chance.

Here is a short video I took. A yellow jacket tries sneaking into the hive, but guard bees quickly take it out.

My Conversation Pieces

Before setting the hives up this spring, I checked with my immediate neighbors to make sure they were ok living so close to bees. I checked with them again a couple times over the summer, too, to make sure they weren't being pestered. They all gave me an enthusiastic "thumbs up."

Recently, though, I've run into a number of neighbors out for walks. Turns out that they've all noticed the hives from the street, but they weren't sure what they were. One person thought I might have been raising guinea pigs.

Once I explain that I'm keeping bees, everyone becomes very interested. Most of them strongly encourage "saving the honeybees." My favorite comment came from a visitor who told me, "Now when I see a bee in my yard, I will know it's yours and say 'hello' to it."

Nearly everyone wants to take a peek at the bees, and they're all extremely impressed by the hive and how prolific the girls are. Also, one thing people seem to really respond to is the natural comb. People who've seen hives are used to comb built on foundation. This type of comb has to fit the pattern machine-printed onto the foundation. As a result, it's very regular and orderly. By contrast, natural comb takes whatever shape the bees want to build, so it has a more organic, sculpted quality. At any rate, everyone who sees it is amazed by the bees' ability to build such beautiful, straight comb all on their own without any "help."

Large-celled comb that will be used for drones or honey

When I decided to keep bees in suburbia, one of the reasons I chose a KTBH was that it doesn't look like a hive. It looks like some sort of birdhouse (or guinea pig cage, apparently). I figured this hive style would be less likely to freak out passersby. Turns out that I was worried for nothing. Instead, the bees have turned into a great way to meet the people in my neighborhood and spread a bit of good honeybee PR.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Newest Feeder Experiment

If you've been following along, you know that I've played with a few feeder designs. Some of them include a bucket feeder (below, white container), some are just inverted jars with holes poked in the lids.

Of all the feeders I've tried thus far, the bucket feeder
has been the most popular, and it doesn't kill any bees.
All the others have had minor to major casualties.

I also tried a jar filled with grass/plant stalks like some people I saw on YouTube. I didn't like that at all. Drowned way too many bees for my liking.

I filled the jar with lemongrass and lavender.
It was like an irresistible siren call
drawing the bees to their sweet, sweet deaths.

Here is my newest experiment. I made a hole into a piece of wood that would accommodate a canning jar. I didn't have a hole cutter that big, so I used a drill to make holes around the edge of the circle. Then I pounded the wood out with a hammer and sanded. Next I stapled #8 hardware cloth onto the underside of the board.

#8 Hardware cloth is really hard to find. I eventually found it on Amazon.
The downside is that you have to buy a huge roll.
But I plan to use the rest of it building nucs.

Originally, I had planned for three jars (a quart jar in the center, and two pints alongside). In the end, though, I made only one hole because I felt that the wood might not be able to stand up to all the hammering.

The feeder took up four bars in the hive, but I have plenty of space right now, so that's not a big deal. An inverted quart jar of syrup sits in the hole. The jar has a plastic lid drilled full of tiny holes to let the syrup out. You can get plastic lids for canning jars in the canning section of a store like Walmart or your grocery store. I like the plastic lids because you don't have to mess around with tops and bands, and they don't rust. 

The screen holds up the jar; it also prevents bees from flying out, which makes replacing the jar very simple. One of the problems I had with using inverted jars that were raised by sticks or pieces of wood (to give the bees access to the drip holes), is that the bees were everywhere when I tried to replace the jar. It was tough not to squash them or drip all over them.

The gabled roof of the hive fits perfectly over the jar, so it's protected from the elements.

I still have to trim the ends of the feeder board, but it works.
The weather has been super chilly (mid-30's to low 40's at night, 60's during the day), so I'm not yet sure how well this feeder will work. Even the bucket feeder, which is usually swarmed with bees, had only a handful of girls on it, so it could be that they're just not interested in foraging much right now. However, I peeked through the observation window yesterday, and noticed that the new feeder had some takers. We shall see.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Save the Scraps!

I must have a dozen quilt books with ideas for using up the leftover bits from sewing projects. But now I have a new reason for saving scraps -- smoker fuel!

I enjoy sewing, and lately I've been trying to catch up on a number of quilting projects. What I've found is that leftover batting scraps make terrific smoker fuel. Batting is a layer of cotton used in quilts to provide a bit of insulation. The particular batting I use is 100% unbleached organic cotton, so it doesn't have any nasty chemicals or dyes that would harm the bees, and it makes a lot of nice, cool smoke.

I know that a lot of people have their own preferred smoker fuel ranging from sawdust, sumac berries, and pine needles to dried forest pony dung. However, I don't have a steady source of pony poo or sumac. I've tried pine needles, but they burn a bit fast for me. On the other hand, once I'm done with a quilt, I have a ton of cotton batting scraps. I used to compost them, but now I'm saving them for inspection days.

Smoker and scraps of cotton batting

P.S. Often, quilters use a spray-on adhesive to sandwich their quilt layers together before they do the actual quilting. If you can find a quilter to save her scraps for you (sorry if that was sexist), make sure any scraps you put in the smoker are glue-free.

Nuts & Honey

I first found Tangiers last December when my oldest son, after watching The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, decided he wanted to try Turkish Delight. Since then, it has become one of my favorite spots in West Hartford.

In addition to the tastiest falafel, Tangiers sells a wide variety of Middle Eastern groceries. This particular display always catches my eye when I go in. Isn't it beautiful? These are jars of nuts soaked in honey.

These stripey jars contain crushed nuts and seeds in honey.

Maybe this time next year, I'll be making my own jars of honey-preserved nuts. Fingers crossed.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Drone Strike

I titled today's entry "Drone Strike," but I think that's inaccurate. The reality is that the hive is striking -- against the drones.

Today, I peeked through the observation window, and it seemed significantly less crowded inside. My guess was that the girls have been kicking the boys to the curb this past week. In fact, as I peered through the hive, I actually saw a worker latched onto a drone's leg and trying to pull him out. He seemed desperate to get away.

Although I'm still seeing goldenrod and asters by the road, they seem to be winding down. I guess the bees want to save their resources.

The comb must be quite full and heavy because there was lots of new attachment comb, and one bit of cross comb connecting a couple of bars. I suppose getting those two apart in the spring is going to be a mess, but I'll deal with it then rather than risk losing two bars of honey now. Hopefully, this decision will not turn out to be a monumental mistake.

One other thing I noticed is that the sound of the hive has changed. Their buzzing is normally quite loud. Today, the sound was a low, almost purr-like, hum. Don't know what that means, but it seemed noteworthy.