Saturday, May 28, 2016

Catching Up on Inspection Notes

I'm catching up on my inspection notes (5/19 and 5/27) today.

May 19
It was amazing to me how much of a difference 10 days makes. During the previous inspection, I'd thought Buttercup and Persephone looked so-so at best. But they proved me wrong and had exploded. In fact, all the hives looked fantastic. Elsa had so many bars of pollen that I had to remove a few to make room for honey and brood.

A bar from Persephone, I think. Nothing wrong with that!

Bar of pollen

Peach and Persephone were just starting to make swarm cells (queen cups with some eggs in them), so I made two splits from them.

J's split had a queen and lots of eggs. I'll watch the queen for a few weeks, but then it should be ready to pass on to him.

B's split was kind of curious. There were eggs and larvae in there, but there shouldn't be a queen. But the eggs looked like viable eggs that a queen would lay. Not a lot of bees or brood, though. So strange...

The other hives looked like they were going to start swarming soon, too.

May 27
The weather broke overnight this week. We went from endless rainy days in the 50's and 60's, to blazing sunny 90's. Although I'd planned to inspect the hives on Wednesday and then Thursday, something kept coming up. In a way I'm glad. I probably would've ended up with heat stroke. When I finally inspected on Friday, I had to start at 8:30 in the morning in order to beat the worst of the heat.

The hives that have been split (Peach, Hippolyte, and Persephone) are bursting with honey. The other hives (Buttercup, Elsa, and Austeja) are bursting with bees. Buttercup was just starting to make swarm cells, so she got a split as well.

Swarm cell from Peach.
Recently capped so it might be another week or so before the queen emerges.

B's Split
This one has been puzzling me, since I've seen bees coming and going, but there are hardly any bees inside. A quick peek inside showed a teeny cluster of bees that must've stayed behind when the previous install absconded. It also revealed.... brood??? Yep, capped brood, larvae, eggs... What the heck??? Beyond curious, I opened it and found that the bees had raised their own queen. A very sad, tiny thing, but she was there laying eggs. I knew bees were resilient, but wow!

Anyway, I don't think those bees are going to survive without a lot of help, and I just don't have the time/resources to do that. Instead, I communicated with B, and the plan is to pinch that queen (sorry) and install a shook swarm from Austeja in her. Austeja has 2 empty bars left, so she desperately needs some thinning out.

Just what in Sam heck do they think they're doing?

Elsa is not quite at the point of making swarm cells, but she's close. I guess she'll be ready in about 2 weeks. Meanwhile, she seems to be interested in clearing some space out in her roof. There was a huge hole. Not sure if the hole was made by a mouse or bees, but a handful of bees was very busily yanking at the insulation. Michael Palmer says bees hate duct tape, so I used it for "repairs." We shall see.

Words to live by

I should've checked whether Hippolyte had a queen yet, but I didn't because she was so pissy. To calm her down, I've decided split make 3-4 splits from her and give each one a bar with swarm cells.

She has a swarm cell that looks pretty polished, so her queen should emerge any day now. Should have some eggs by the middle of the first to second week of June.

Queen cell from Persephone

What's in bloom?
Black cherries, centaurea, honeysuckle, alliums, strawberries, and buckeyes have been blooming for awhile, and I'm just beginning to see white and red clover. My radishes and spinach are starting to bolt, too.

Black cherry





Overall, the blooms this year have been quite disappointing. The late cold spell we got must have killed a lot of buds. All the gardeners I know have been complaining about a lack of flowers on their trees and shrubs. It's a little frustrating because we had an amazing spring flow the last couple of years, but this is probably why I'm still interested in bees. I can never count on things to work out the same way twice, so they keep me on my toes.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

May Mead

My DH opened a bottle of mead that I didn't particularly like. It was overly sweet and tasted a bit like grape candy, which is quite possibly one of my least favorite flavors in the entire world. Yuck. I'd rather eat lawn clippings than grape candy. (Not that I ever have, but I know what I'm talking about. My kids tortured me last summer with Jelly Belly's Bean Boozled game. BTW, I never got any of the nice flavors. Instead, I ended up with Rotten Egg, Barf, and Moldy Cheese every time. Lawn Clippings would have been delightful.)

Anyway, I had a bit of a brainstorm upon spotting the woodruff in the garden. Instead of making May wine, how about some May mead???

Woodruff in bloom

May wine is pretty easy to make. Just macerate a small bunch of young woodruff leaves in some dry white wine for a few hours. Note, it's best to pick sprigs before they flower. If desired, sparkling wine/champagne, brandy, sugar, etc. can be added to the wine after removing the leaves. I didn't bother adding anything to the mead except the leaves, though. Especially not sugar since it was already too sweet. In hindsight, though, maybe a splash of sparkling water would have been nice.

I macerated the leaves for about 5-6 hours.
Put the mead in the fridge to chill as the leaves infuse the alcohol with their flavor.

Final verdict?

A chef once said to me, "Never cook with any wine you wouldn't drink." Definite food (drink) for thought. If I'd started with a mead that I liked, this experiment might have turned out deliciously well.

As it was, the woodruff imparted a lovely grassy, vanilla aroma to the booze, which increased its interest and drinkability for me. Still didn't love it, though, since it was cloyingly sweet and had that awful grape candy thing happening in the background. Adding some champagne was a brief consideration, but I figured that might simply be a waste of a good bottle of bubbly. Sigh. Even if you put lipstick on a pig, it's still a pig.

Yes, I know there's only one glass in the photo.
Don't worry. Not drinking alone.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Bee-Stung Lips

Yesterday, I was outside and got zapped in the lower lip. Half an hour later, I attempted rescuing a bee trapped in the house -- a good deed that that ended in disaster. Incensed by my clumsy attempt to catch her, the bee shot straight at my face and up my left nostril. Reflexively, I snorted her out, so she plunged all of her venom into my philtrum instead. Still, I'm thankful for small mercies. Thank God she missed my nose -- I wouldn't have been able to breathe.

Of course, before all this excitement transpired, I'd promised to take my kids out for ice cream, and despite my rapidly swelling disfigurement, they refused to let me reschedule our date. Btw, I'm going to take this moment to rant my way down a rabbit trail. I hate it when people are polite and try not to look. Seriously, lips the size of a cantaloupe are spectacularly out of the norm, so pretending not to notice is sort of ridiculous. I'd much rather have them gape outright and ask, "What the heck happened to you?" so that I can tell them it was a chick fight, but "you should see the other gal!"

Anyway, during my research on how to reduce the swelling more quickly, I found thousands -- literally thousands -- of beauty articles on how to get "that enviable bee-stung look." Seriously, I can't make this stuff up.

Irving Penn was a brilliant photographer, and I love this photo.
But is that mouth really sexy? I mean, I like bees, but I wouldn't kiss that.

Of course, this look can be achieved by injecting various chemicals such as toxins or silicon, but it can also be gained (less permanently) through various makeup techniques and creams.
A small sampling of what comes up when Googling bee-stung lips

Of course, my favorite page titles involve getting bee-stung lips "naturally." A quick perusal of several articles shows that these methods involve the use of things like cayenne pepper, cinnamon scrubs, and lip plumpers (which often contain some bee venom). However, I noticed that nobody recommends the most natural way of all... which is to get stung by an actual bee. 

My "engorge-ous" new look 

Monday, May 9, 2016

A Murphy's Law Kind of Day

I feel like this kid today:

We got our first truly sunny day in weeks, so inspections seemed in order. However, I could not have done a worse job. I was a fat-fingered klutzy mess manhandling the bees. Seriously, if something could be broken, dropped, spilled, cut... I did it. It was an awful performance on my part, and the bees let me know it. On the other hand, I wasn't entirely happy with the bees today either.

Good news first...

John's split. I made a split for my friend John a couple of weeks ago, and the bees are right on cue. The queen should have emerged by 5/7. I didn't see her in the hive, but I noticed all the queen cells were broken down, so fingers crossed she's on a mating flight today.

Elsa, Peach, and Austeja. All three are looking really good. I think they may be ready to split in the next couple of weeks.

The bad news...

Buttercup and Persephone. The bars of brood I gave them seem to have boosted their numbers and gotten them building up. However, I'm not loving their brood patterns. They're looking kind of patchy. Buttercup never really did get going last year, but Persephone (nee Bubblegum) was one of my best queens last summer.

In any case, no splits from these two. Instead, both of them will get requeened soon -- maybe next month. I've been wanting to bring in some new genetics, so I'm thinking I'll try to get some cold-hardy TF queens from Vermont or New Hampshire.


Hard to see, but the comb has different aged brood side by side.

Hippolyte & Bill's nuc. Although I haven't done any real inspections in the last couple of weeks, I did split Hippolyte during a short break in the weather on April 30. Bill, a local beek, told me he'd take a nuc using Hippolyte's queen (God bless him!) because he didn't mind testy bees and had lots of space with nobody in the vicinity. So a couple friends came over to look at the hives, and we basically made a package with Hippolyte's queen, but we used Bill's nuc instead of a package box. After my friends left, I also gave them some brood to anchor them, and stapled some 1/4" hardware mesh over the entrance to keep her majesty's poochy tummy inside. Then I crossed my fingers that all was well.

Looking for the queen
Because of the weather, I've been feeding them quickly, not wanting to open up and really look at whatever was going on. Well, today, was very disappointing. I couldn't find the queen, most of the bees were gone, and all the brood looked chilled. They had left. Bugger.

Hippolyte did have some really nice queen cells along the edges of her comb, though so am trying again with a queen cell. I tried grafting a cell like Mangum describes in his book, but who knows how well it's going to turn out. I guess a few days will tell if it worked or if I royally screwed up.

Trying again. Will leave the nuc on top of old hive until this evening to equalize the bees.
Oh, another thing. Hippolyte has a moisture issue in the back of the hive, and I think her roof may be leaking. Sigh.

Ants. Not a hive called Ants. Just ants. Loads of them on top of the bars. Persephone has them the worst. Ants are actually taking up residence in the back of the hive. Sprinkled some orange oil on top of the bars to deter ants, but it looks like petroleum jelly time.


More ants

Enough for today, though. I need a shower. A glass of wine would be awesome, too.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Here comes the rain again...

The past couple of years, we'd have temps in the 70's and lots of sun by this time of year. This year, it seems like April showers are just bringing more May showers. The bees would be buzzing and storing up honey like mad. Not so this year.

Lately, I've felt like Annie Lennox singing about the rain, and it's definitely falling in my head like a tragedy. It will just Not. Let. Up.

For the past two weeks, it's been cold and wet and damp, day after day. This weather has been great for the fruit trees I dug in recently, but not so great for the bees. It's killing me, too, because I'm watching all the dogwoods, magnolias, and crabapples bloom, but the bees won't get any of it.

I hate opening the hives in this weather, so I haven't done a proper check on them in a while. Even worse, I hate feeding, but if this keeps up, I'm going to do both.

If anyone has a no-rain dance, please, do it!