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Saturday, March 4, 2017

Post 66: ow to make a bee hive angry, Part 2


Third Step to turning gentle bees into aggressive ones.

In the last post, I described how I had decided to treat my hives for Varroa Mites on the hottest day of the year.  I'd put a bee gate between the brood box and the bees stores of honey.
Wife and I left for the evening, allowing the poor bees to swelter in the heat of the evening.  When we got home there was a really big Bee Beard hanging around the outside of the entrance to the hive.

I pulled out all of the equipment I thought we’d need, including our ancient battery that I had charged earlier that day.  It was hot, so I just put on our bee jackets over our jeans and tennis shoes.  I lit the smoker, and wife smoked the hive.

I pulled off the supers that we didn’t want vaporized and wife put the telescoping cover over the top of the broodbox.

I donned my respirator, zipped up my hood, checked that the rear of my bee jacket was pulled down, and tugged my bee gloves into place.

There were hundreds of bees on the front porch, and I had to move the vaporizer very gently into the entrance, trying not to rile up the bees or squish any of the girls.  I threw a towel over the entrance, waved Wife back to safety, and attached the clamps to the old car battery. 

I watched.  Wife timed.  The instructions say that the Oxalic Acid should be fully vaporized within 2 ½ minutes.  When I timed it earlier in the week, it took a full seven minutes.  So, I waited for seven minutes, then asked Wife to time for another 15 minutes to let things settle down.  I remembered seven minutes later that I was supposed to unplug the vaporizer!  I unhooked it from the battery, and waited out the remainder of the time.

When wife said time was up, I carefully removed the clamps from the battery and carefully pulled the vaporizer out of the hive.

The acid had not vaporized!  I quickly went into the workshop and backed my lawn tractor around to the hive.  I had to close off those poor bees for another 22 minutes during this sweltering night.  I slowly put the vaporizer back in the hive and covered the entryway.

This time, I connected to the lawn tractor’s battery.

This time, I could tell something was going on inside.  Bees started pouring out of the hive.  The had made a path around the cloth.  There were a lot of bees crawling around the outside of the hive, and they sounded mad.

I remembered to unhook the battery after 7 minutes, this time.  After another 15 minutes, I pulled the towel off the entryway and was met with a lot of upset bees.  I pulled the vaporizer out and set it down.  I walked around to pick up the supers that had been removed, and that’s when I took my first hit.

I had succeeded in turning perfectly calm, peaceful, and gentle bees into angry, aggressive, stinging bees!

I got stung on the shin with that first bee.  There was an immediate rise in volume from the hive after I got stung.

I took my second sting on the left forearm as I was sliding the first super onto the brood chamber.

I got the second super on and the inner and telescoping covers on before I got my third sting.  This time, it was on the neck.

Wait!  My neck?  I had bees inside my bee jacket with me.  For the second trip into the hive, I had been careless.  I hadn’t pulled the bee jacket all the way down, and they were making their way up the jacket to my arm and neck.

I know you are supposed to stay calm in times like these.  But I had now been hit with bee stings three times, and I was new to being stung.  I’m an allergic kind of guy, and I didn’t know how my body would react to multiple stings.

So, I walked very quickly into the workshop, removing my hood to let the bees out.  I got out of the workshop and onto our driveway before I got my respirator and gloves off.  I left my bee jacket in the garage and stepped into the mudroom of the house.

I immediately heard buzzing, and looked around.  Two bees came in with me.  I looked down, and found I had a small swarm of bees on my pant leg.

I stepped back into the garage and knocked the bees off my leg.

I went back into the mud room and dispatched two angry bees with an electric fly swatter.

I went into the bathroom and heard more buzzing.  Three bees had followed me back into the bathroom.  More death was handed out courtesy of the electric flyswatter.

Well, I was successful in showing just how aggressive my bees can be.

Fortunately, they seem to be pretty forgiving girls.  I was able to walk out to the hives the next day peek at the Freeman beetle trays to count mites (17).

I think that now that I know they can get aggressive when they want to, I’ll try not to aggravate them this badly in the future.

I’ll probably want to wear my veil and a long-sleeved shirt the next time I mow and weed-eat, too.

Just in case they are only pretending to have forgiven me.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Post #65: How to make an angry beehive, Part I


As I talk to my friends about my bees, they are always amazed at how gentle my bees are.  They look in awe as I tell them I mow close around the hives and use the gas powered weed eater to trim grass around the hives that the lawn mower can’t reach.

One fellow beekeeper came out to help me do a hive inspection several weeks ago.  One of the Guard Bees took it on herself to greet him as we walked out to the hive, stinging him on the leg.  Nevertheless, he commented on how gentle my bees were.  Once we started the inspection, the bees largely ignored us as we went through the hives, frame by frame.

“What is wrong with my bees?” I wondered.  “Why can’t they be aggressive like everyone else’s bees?”

It took a lot of thought, but I finally came up with a formula to help my bees get a bit more aggressive.

I wanted to do a Mid-Summer kill of the Varroa Mites that might be infesting my hives.  I did a 24 hour check on both hives, using clean soapy water in the Freeman Traps below each hive.

My strongest hive had 16 mites in the tray.  The weaker hive had only 6.  So, I decided to treat for the mites using an Oxalic Acid Vaporizing treatment (OAV).

Here is my first step in turning my bees into aggressive bees.

From my readings on the internet, I knew I didn’t want any of the supers with honey to get the treatment, because it might ruin the honey for human consumption.  To get the bees out of the supers, and keep them all in the brood nest, I installed a bee gate.  The bees could leave, but they could not get back in.  I inserted this gate between the two large hive boxes.  Brood on the bottom, honey on the top.  I did this first thing in the morning.

I did this on the hottest day of the year.  It climbed to 100 degrees that day.  It must have been awfully uncomfortable for all those bees to be confined into one box.

Here is my second step in turning my bees into aggressive bees.

When I separated the two deep boxes to insert the bee gate, I broke some honey bearing comb loose.  The bees had started building comb between the two boxes and filled it with honey.

I scraped the honey soaked comb off of the top bars of the brood chamber, and put it on top of the inner cover of the hive.  The bees could go up to that space, pull the honey out of the comb, and install it in the proper comb on their way down, before they left through the bee gate.

With fewer bees in the upper boxes, and the scent of fresh honey in the air, the local ants found their way up into the box with the honey, and began feasting and stealing the honey.  I didn’t realize this until late in the afternoon.

I frantically renewed the diatomaceous earth around the hives and then spread Amdro ant bait.  I was relieved when I checked on the hive a bit later to find that the ants were no longer streaming into the hive.  There were ants crawling around dragging large hunks of Amdro, so there was hope the ants would soon be gone.
Bees were beginning to get a bit agitated with me.  But I hadn't made them truly angry ...
.... yet!

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Post #64: My First Cut-out, Part 3



Friend, Homeowner, and I had worked for several hours on the day before, trying to get a hive of bees that had taken up residence in Homeowner’s rafters.  We had ripped apart the soffit of his house, sucked up a ton of bees, and installed the honeycomb and bees in a new hive that Friend could manage.  All that was left was to hope that we had captured the queen and that the remainder of the bees had left the building, and were now making a new home for the queen and her brood.

The question was, is the Queen still in the rafters, or did we suck her up into the vacuum?

We showed up the next afternoon at Homeowner’s house.  I had wanted the bees in the rafter to crawl out of the rafters and fly into the hive we’d placed under their former home.  Unfortunately, most of the bees had left the hive and had flown back into the house.

So, I vacuumed some more.  Friend was like Scotty on the Enterprise in Star Trek:  “We need more suction, Captain!”  Friend pulled several things off of my vacuum in the belief it would help, including the filter.

I was down to the last cluster of bees when the vacuum quit sucking.  Friend checked, and the motor was full of bee guts.  Since there was no filter to keep the vacuum from sucking up the bees, the motor had torn apart the bees and let their little bee guts clog up the works!

It was getting dark by this time, and we could no longer see what we were doing.  We poured the bees that had survived back into the hive and put a screen across the front so they couldn’t abscond overnight.

Friend and Homeowner would not be available until late the next day, a Sunday.  Friend wanted to wait until after church to take his hive to its new home on his Dad’s property.  Friend called me Sunday afternoon to tell me most of the bees were dead.  I suspected they died from the trauma of getting vacuumed up twice.  He thought it was because it had become too hot in the hive.  We were probably both right.

Friend took the surviving bees to his dad’s place out in the country.  Later in the day, he called to let me know there was a fire ant problem.  He was going to put down some fire ant poison.  The next morning I got a call from Friend.  His Dad’s neighbor was complaining about a swarm of bees in a tree on his property.  Friend had told his dad they couldn’t be his bees.  I asked if he was sure they weren’t his bees.  He assured me the swarm was too big to be his bees, but he was going to go back and capture the swarm, anyway.  Friend had already asked Homeowner to build him an extra hive.  So now he had something to put in his new hive.

The following morning, we showed up to vacuum up any bees that might be lingering.  I didn’t expect to find any bees.  I was right, the bees had enough of our antics and moved out of the home.

While talking things over, Friend got a call from his Dad.  The fire ants had taken over the hive.  There were no bees left in the box.  So now Friend had two hives and no bees.  He decided to drive to his dad’s property to retrieve the swarm.  What he didn’t realize was that the swarm was 40’ up a tree.  He didn’t get the bees.  I didn’t know trees grew 40’ high in South Texas.

I’m pretty sure they were his bees, and we had caught the queen.  She was just smarter than we were.  Homeowner was happy to have the bees removed and that the family had fresh local honey to enjoy.  Friend was frustrated because he now owned two hives, but had no bees. I was disappointed that we had not managed to save the colony.  Despite my suspicion that the bees swarmed into the neighbor’s yard, I don’t know for sure what happened to them.  That is probably more my fantasy than the reality.  It is possible that we killed the colony.

We all learned from the experience.  There was satisfaction in trying to solve the puzzle of the best way to remove the bees without excessive damage to the house or the bees.  Despite losing the colony, the adventure was exciting.  We worked as a team to eliminate a problem Homeowner had.  And that was really the number one priority.  Saving the colony was secondary.  If we had managed that piece of the puzzle, I probably would have gotten myself in trouble by offering my bee swarm removal services to others.

We all got to experience something new.  The bees were amazingly calm.  The yard was alive with the sound of flying, buzzing bees.  The bees were landing on us and staring in at us through our veils.  We all were wearing protective equipment, and no humans got stung.  We were destroying their home, and there was little the bees could do about it.  Sadly, Homeowner’s dog was stung multiple times as the dog was the only available target.  Dog had to be taken to the vet and treated for her injuries.  Fortunately, Dog survived and is doing well.    

An update: 

Remember that I had agreed to tear apart, but not rebuild?  And remember how I was assured that would not be a problem, because both Friend and Homeowner were experts in the rebuilding field?  Well, I ran into Homeowner’s wife recently.  She was happy to see me, which was a relief.  It was also a surprise considering that the corner of her house we had destroyed had not yet been repaired.

Yes, the bees were smarter than I.  They are also much better carpenters.  I imagine in my mind that the swarm that left Friend’s hive are now living in a nice cozy attic they found near Friend’s father’s property.  I can see them buzzing in and out of a tiny hole in the soffit, and deep inside there is precisely built eight sided cells housing the new eggs and larvae, with nectar and pollen stored nearby.  The comb is all lined up in neat rows, attached to the underside of the room.  The queen is busily laying eggs and a new generation of bees are out pollinating the farmer’s crops.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Post #63: My First Cut-out, Part 2

Friend had enticed me to help remove a colony of bees from his friend’s house.  It took about a week to prepare things for the removal.  Friend had his new bee equipment.  I’d built a make-shift bee vacuum from a cheap shop vac and spare plywood, and homeowner had braced himself for the onslaught of our good intentions!

We got to the house early one morning with all of our equipment on hand.


The home owner didn't think there were many bees.  I knew better and told them so.  No one believed me.

When we peeled off the wood, Friend and Homeowner believed me.  There was a lot of uniformly built comb going back deep into the house between the rafters.

I began to scrape the comb off of the underside of the roof.  Friend cranked up my make-shift bee vacuum and began to suck up the bees.

Things were going slowly, and Friend thought there wasn't enough suction.  He got off his ladder and kept fiddling with the bee vacuum, despite my protests.  He was patching up holes and making other minor improvements to increase the power of the suction.  While he was doing this, I couldn't help but think of Tim Allen in the old “Home Improvement” television show, where Tim was always looking for “more power.”

We managed to recover all of the comb.  We used rubber bands to hold the comb in place on the frames for the beehive.  We added comb with young larvae as well as comb with honey into the new hive, where we hoped the bees would make a new home for themselves.  Some of the comb honey remained in an ice chest for Homeowner and his family to enjoy.

After getting the comb squared away, I went back on the ladder and began sucking up the remaining bees.  We had sucked up a lot of bees.  But there was a cluster of bees way in the back that we couldn't reach with the vacuum.  The space was over a sauna someone had built, and Friend wanted to rip the ceiling boards out of the sauna to get to the bees.

I didn't want to see that much destruction, so I suggested we stop for the afternoon, and see whether or not we caught the queen.

We poured the bees out of the vacuum into the hive that we had prepared.  The hive was set on a ladder close to the old colony.  If we had the queen, then all of the bees that were still in the house would fly into the hive.

It was getting late and it was time for supper.  We decided to leave for the day and finish things up the next afternoon.  If all went right, four things would happen:

1)      The queen was in the hive and the bees left in the rafters would find their way into the hive with the queen. 

2)      We would then have a working hive that Friend could manage on his father’s property. 

3)      Homeowner would be bee free.

4)      Homeowner and Friend could rebuild the corner of the house that we had destroyed.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Post #62: My First Cut-out Part 1


So now I am a beekeeper!  I have two hives.  I’ve read several books.  I belong to a couple of beekeeping forums.  I even went to a one-day Beekeeper School.  I must be an expert!

At least my friends seem to think so.  In reality, I know there is a whole lot I still don’t know.  I still don’t even know if I can keep a hive alive through the dearth months of the Summer, much less the Winter.

A somewhat hyperactive, maybe even impulsive Friend, called me one evening in July.  His friend had a colony of bees lodged between the roof and ceiling of his porch.  The Homeowner had called a local bee swarm remover.  The professional wanted $300 plus to remove the colony.  Homeowner had felt that the fee was too high.  Friend assured Homeowner that I would be glad to help them get the bees out of the house for free.

As I listened to Friend’s story, a small voice inside me was saying “NO, don’t do it.”  But a louder voice was saying “What an adventure!”  Of course, the louder voice won out!  After all, I was an expert now, wasn’t I (see above)?  I had even watched several YouTube videos of people catching swarms, so I should be able to handle this.

I agreed to get the bees if Friend would help and would keep the bees.  I also advised Friend that I can tear apart, but not put back together.  I have had a lot of experience over the years taking things apart.  I’ve also had a lot of experience attempting to put things back together.  I am definitely better at creating chaos than at creating organization.

Not to worry, Friend reminded me that he has good carpentry skills, and Homeowner is a cabinet maker.  The two of them will make sure everything is rebuilt and in good order once we have removed the bees.

Friend found an online store and bought his own beekeeper's outfit and starter hive.  We waited a week for everything to arrive and for Friend to build and paint the hive.

In the meantime, I built a bee vacuum out of surplus plywood I've got lying around.  I'm not a carpenter, and the bee vacuum looks like it.  There are at least two different thicknesses of plywood.  The suction hose does not fit tightly, and there are a few gaps along the edges. 

The key to a bee vacuum is that you want just enough suction to pull the bees in.  Too much suction and you damage or kill the bees as they bang against the hose or land hard in the box.  Hence, my lousy carpentry was an asset in this instance.  There were lots of air leaks.


I was ready for this new adventure.  Soon, I would add the title of Bee Swarm Remover to my resume!  Tomorrow I would venture out and rescue Homeowner’s house from a colony of bees that had invaded their home.
But for now, it was time to rest and wait for dawn.
 


Saturday, December 17, 2016

Post # 61: Still trying to Buy Bees


It is now January, and I’ve just learned that I have to wait until April to get my package of bees!  I’m practicing patience, and starting my journey into bee knowledge.

Almost immediately after clicking the “order” button at RWeaver, I bought some books, found some online Beekeeper Forums, and started doing the research.  Almost everyone suggests you start with two hives.  That way, if one hive gets weak, you can call on the resources of the second hive to help rescue the weak one.

OK.  I needed to change my order.  So, I waited until the following Monday.  Mondays are the best time to talk to the RWeaver Lady.  When Monday rolled around, I called the RWeaver Lady.  I asked if I could change my order from one package to two packages.  She agreed that two packages would be better.  She advised that I ignore the invoice she was sending, and she would send out a new invoice.

More reading, more opinions about the best way to start a hive.

Another term I had never heard of emerged from the pages: “Nucs.”  Short for Nucleus. 

A Nuc is like half of a hive.  Instead of the standard ten frames of comb filled with 50,000 bees or so, it has five frames, filled with 20,000 bees or so.  The frames already have comb built on them.  The queen is already working and laying eggs, the bees have already stored honey and pollen.  It is a working mini-hive.

Another Monday phone call.  The RWeaver lady knows my name by now.  I’m pretty sure she just rolls her eyes and digs out a new order-form every time she sees my phone number.  I asked about Packages versus Nucs, and what she thought.

The advantage, of course, is that the bees in nucs don’t have to do as much work to get established, and so they have a better chance of “Surviving the Winter.”

It seems that the number one concern for the beekeeper is to help their hive survive the winter.  Winter is hard on the bees and seems to be pretty hard on the beekeeper, too.  I mean, it is January, I don’t even have any bees yet, and I’m already worried about getting my bees through next winter.  I’ll get gray hair worrying about these bees and the next winter.

Oh yeah.  My hair is already gray.

“Please change my order from two packages to two Nucs.”  She again advised me to “ignore the invoice that she just sent …”

“… and you’ll send out a new one” I finished for her.

Well.  The bees have been ordered.  It is still January, and April seems like forever getting here.  I didn’t call the RWeaver lady anymore.  I admit that I sent her an email in March, letting her know that I’d be willing to pick up my nucs if they happened to be available sooner.  She politely let me know she would keep that in mind.  Of course, we both knew that wasn’t really going to happen.

During this long wait, I kept occupied by ordering woodenware and tools and bee-related gadgets right and left. 

Did I mention we’re doing this because Wife wanted bees for her garden?  It’s not about me.  No, really.  It’s not. 

It’s for Wife.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Post # 60: Buying Bees 25 years later


With my first bit of research, I learned that I wanted to buy a “Package” of bees.  I had bought my queens from Weaver Apiary back in the 1980’s, and so I had some trust in the name (see posts 49 & 50).  Well, actually, it was the only place I knew of that sold bees.  I hadn’t really researched other options.

The Weaver Apiary had, like bees often do, swarmed and split into two or three different apiaries.  There was BWeaver and RWeaver in Navasota.  And I think there is a third Weaver in Arizona. 

I went online and researched the new apiaries.  I settled on the one that was the direct descendant of old man Weaver; RWeaver.  When I bought a queen back in the 1980’s, I bought a queen who was supposed to be calm and friendly.  The last thing I wanted was a cranky old bee.  So I bought a bee that was from the “Buckfast” line of bees.

Well, fast forward a few decades, and we now have bees that are so intermixed, it is difficult to know whether the bee is truly from one line of bees or another.  Apparently queens are not picky when it comes to choosing mates.  She may go out on a mating flight only once, but when she does, she mates with a lot of different fellas.

In recognition of the wanton ways of queen bees, RWeaver has named one of their lines of bees the “All-American” bee.  I pictured her wearing Superman tights and a red white and blue cape flowing down her back.

I went to Package Bees, selected the All-Americans and got set to click on the Order button.  There were options.  When would I like to get my bees?

Well, today of course!  I’m ready right now.  It was January when I was looking at the site. 

I clicked on the drop-down box and the earliest date available was …

April. 

Really? 

I had to make my first phone call to RWeaver.  I quickly learned that everybody at RWeaver works with the bees.  The receptionist was out in the field and asked if I could call her back on Monday, when she’d be in the office working on orders.

I waited until Monday and called: “Are you sure I can’t get my bees any sooner?” 

“No, they won’t be ready.” 

“Sigh, ok.” And I hung up.

Being the impulsive guy that I am, I went back onto the computer and ordered the package of bees.

“OK,” I thought to myself, “this gives us some time to dig into research and learn everything there is to know about beekeeping before they arrive.”

If only it were that simple!