Sunday, May 31, 2015

Looking Ahead to First a Honey Harvest

It's grey and a bit blustery today, but tomorrow it's supposed to rain and we think we're ready to harvest some honey.

So today we went over and traded the two honey supers (the lower one was largely capped last week) and put an exit board in between them so the bees in the super we want to harvest will leave the super, but won't be able to get back. This should result in a bee-free super.

I have a bee friend with a honey extractor who has offered to let me use it, so I have an appointment for 9:00 Tuesday morning.

In the meantime we swapped mini hives with my bee friend in Cents. Today we moved those frames out of the styrofoam mini box and into a wood DN box. There were five frames in the styrofoam box. We put them in the middle with five other frames with foundation. We did not see a queen, but we saw bees bringing in pollen. There was some capped brood, including a few drone cells (5 or 6 … not many). We think the small number of drone cells suggests that there's not a worker laying, although we didn't see a queen. That doesn't mean there is no queen.

We left the empty styrofoam box next to the new little wooden hive. The few bees who were still outside were walking into the new hive as we left. We will go back later tonight and take the styrofoam box away so it doesn't blow away.

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Monday, May 25, 2015

Reader Mail

Loyal Reader Will B asked me to explain a few terms, which I am happy to do. It reinforces the material for me, and I always like bringing others along.

Question 1: What Is Brood?
In a hive we can find a variety of things. There are bees (a queen, worker bees, and drones). There are varroa mites. There is wax comb (which the bees can build free-hand or on wax foundation provided by the beekeeper). The wax is composed of cells that the  worker bees put things in and may then cap (cover) such as pollen, nectar, and honey (which is nectar in cells that has been capped and dried a bit). The queen bee puts eggs in cells. The eggs and resulting larvae/pupae/bees are referred to as the brood.

A beekeeper can tell by looking whether a cell holds a future worker bee, a drone, or a queen based on the size and shape of the cell. While the queen is the one who determines the sex of the bees, there are those that say the real power to determine the makeup of the hive belongs to the worker bees, as they are the ones who create the cells into which the queen lays her eggs.

Question 2: What Is a Honey Super?
There are many different hive systems. I happen to use a Deutsche Normal (DN) system, but there are as many ways to house bees as there are beekeepers. Typically, beekeepers use the same system as their mentor or teacher, but that doesn't mean people don't experiment or create their own methods. Beekeeping is equal parts apprenticeship and trial-and-error.

This is a long way to say that the boxes that make up a hive can come in a variety of shapes and sizes. There are some rather funky ones--for example, something referred to as a top-bar hive. There's a good explanation of top-bar and a couple other hive systems here. Of the three systems described in that link, the DN is closest to the Langstroth hive.

But basically all hives have a few boxes full of brood (where the queen is laying her eggs) and at least one box above all that where the bees are storing honey. Those boxes of honey are called supers. Many beekeepers (including me) put a screen called a queen excluder between the brood boxes and the honey supers to keep the queen from laying eggs there.

In some hive systems the honey supers are half the depth of a brood box. The advantage to that it is easier for the beekeeper to move those smaller supers. Honey is surprisingly heavy. DN hives have honey supers that are identical in size to the brood boxes. The advantage is that you can use a box for either brood or honey. The disadvantage is that you might want a helper when it comes time to move your honey supers around. Beekeepers seem to cultivate back problems.

This does not mean that there is not honey in a brood box. There is. The bees eat it. But out of a brood box with ten frames, maybe two have some honey on them (and these will be the outermost frames). Moving towards the center of the box you will find pollen, and then the brood, with the queen likely hanging out in the middle portion of the brood box.

Question 3: Why a Water Source?
Simply put, bees need water same as we do. Beekeepers like to provide a water source for their bees as this keeps the bees from visiting the neighbor's pool or bird bath. And this is one of those small things anyone can do to help bees and other pollinators. Look on the internet for water sources for bees or here to find ways to provide bees with drinking water. The key is to prevent drowning. Take a saucer from under a potted plant, and fill it with rocks or marbles to give the bees a way to access the water, but not get trapped in it (they aren't swimmers). At my hive, I have a small catch basin under a downspout. I put wine corks and pine cones and sticks in there. No Drink-N-Drown at Honey Bunny Hives, please!

Sunday, May 24, 2015

In the Beginning

This blog is for documenting my adventures in beekeeping with notes and photos.

I became interested in bees about a year ago when I attended a hive visit here in Luxembourg. Long story short, I am now involved in a local English-language beekeeping group and have my own bees. My darling husband and oldest daughter are also fond of bees (my youngest daughter is horrified), and are now my partners in this project.

I am using the Deutsche Normal (DN) system, which means my brood boxes and honey supers are the same size. They have ten frames in them. DN frames come with support wires because they are intended to be used with foundation. I would like to move away from prepared foundation, although these frames will likely require something at the top.

I acquired a hive (and by this I mean a FULL HIVE) of Carnica bees at the beginning of May 2015. I was not expecting to jump in with so many bees -- I thought I was going to begin with a few frames, and nurse them along for the season. This has been a blessing and a curse, as I have already had to split the hive once, and I think we are going to have to do it again.

Some photos:

The bees arrived on 1 May 2015 in this green and brown hive. It is plastic or styrofoam, which makes it light and easy to move. There is an advantage to that.

I have an arrangement with a local business park to keep my bees on their property. It is a rather ideal location as the bees won't bother anyone, but the setting is east-facing, appropriately sheltered, with a water source, and completely left alone. I'll add some photos next time if I remember.

A few days later (4 May 2015), we transferred the frames into my hive (I'll call it Hive 1). I have a wooden hive which I painted with linseed oil. As you can see in the photo, there were three boxes to start: two boxes of brood (on the bottom) and one honey super (divided with a queen separator).

The following week (11 May 2015), we finally found and tagged the queen, who I refer to as Charlotte after the Grand Duchess of Luxembourg. We knew she was there based on the activity of the bees (bringing in pollen, etc), but until then we just hadn't spotted her. It's difficult to pick out an untagged queen in a very full hive.

At the same time, we pulled out three frames of brood and put them with two empty frames in a small box. We took these bees over to a friend's hive location, the idea being that they would all go back into the big hive if we kept them at my site. If all goes well, this group will create and raise a queen, and result in a small second hive. For clarity, I'll refer to this as the Cents Hive for now.

Yesterday (23 May 2015), we went back to visit Hive 1. The honey super was largely full of frames that look like the one in the photo below:

We checked all the frames (found and destroyed unoccupied queen cells), added another honey super above (eight frames of full foundation and two frames of partial, just to see how that might work out), and went home.

But some things were bothering us. In Box 1 (the first or bottom brood box), there was little brood: it seemed to be largely pollen and nectar. Box 2 seemed full with honey in the outer frames and brood in all the others. Oddly, there were very few drone cells.

At home we mulled it over, watched a beekeeping video on swarm management (Demaree method), and thought some more. We were suspicious that the queen didn't have anywhere to lay eggs, and that if we didn't do something else, she would lead a swarm.

So we went back and opened the hive again. This time we moved six frames. Bear with me, as this is sort of complicated to follow.

Starting the Box 2 (brood), we took frames 1 and 10 (all honey) and moved those into Box 4 (the new honey super).

We took two frames of just new foundation from Box 4 and put them in Box 1.

We took two frames from Box 1 and moved them into Box 2. These frames were largely drawn comb, but with little else happening on them other than pollen. We thought this might give the queen more places to lay eggs, but we don't think this solution will last long. We are thinking, weather permitting, that we will go back tomorrow (Monday), and perform some sort of a hive split. We are still debating exactly what we want to do:

Do we want to create a total of three hives (Hive 1 and two small hives)?

Or a total of two hives (Hive 1 and a second hive that combines bees from Hive 1 and the Cents Hive)?

That is the question.