Friday, April 30, 2010

Apple Blossom Time

It's the first really beautiful day for the bees and I was delighted to see lots of action at the hives. I went looking for the girls in action in the meadow and was surprised that they were so difficult to find. You'd think that with about 25,000 bees that every flower would be covered with them.

I found that it was easier to listen than to look for them. They are quite loud in the stillness of the meadow. It was very relaxing, dare I say spiritual; the birds singing and the bees buzzing about.

I noticed something else. I was walking more carefully being more observant of where I was stepping. I am beginning to see a benefit to beekeeping that I hadn't considered - a deeper appreciation of the life around me.

I did manage to find some action in the yard and was very happy to see the bees had found my apple blossoms.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Inspecting the Hives

Late this afternoon I performed my first full inspection of both hives. I started with Clare and then moved on to Galway. Yes, I decided my second hive which is north of Clare should be named Galway.

I was hoping to see a thriving colony when I opened Clare. I was very disappointed. There was little foundation drawn and it seemed the most extensive comb in the hive body was barely attached to the top of a frame. It was not drawn from the foundation rather it was flimsily attached to the top bar. It was at the location where the queen cage was suspended. I think we left too much room between frames when we put in the queen cage and the bees decided to create their own comb rather than build on the foundation on the frame.

Again, this was a situation I was ill prepared for. You can read and read and watch Youtube videos galore but there's nothing like the real world to quickly show you how little you know. Should I pull that comb and push the frames together forcing the bees to draw out the foundation? Maybe. But maybe the bees could attach the comb more securely and work with it as it was. This after all was a brood chamber. I wouldn't be trying to extract honey from that frame. I decided to let the bees have their way for the time being and I would seek more advice from the experts. Maybe I can get an expert out to check on this hive which has thrown me 2 curves in 2 visits.

I verified that the queen was released from her cage then pulled the cage, pushed the frames as close together as I could get them without crushing any bees then closed up the hive after adding more syrup to the hive top feeder. On to Galway.

Everything seemed more like I had studied when I opened Galway. If you recall, this colony was installed 4 days after Clare because the original queen was dead on arrival and I had to wait for a replacement queen. I checked the queen cage. She had been released. I pulled the queen cage from where I had it pressed against the foundation with a rubber band. The foundation wax came with it leaving a gash for the bees to repair (photo at top.)

I pulled each of the frames and examined them closely looking for eggs in the wax cells the bees had created on the foundation. There will come a time when I marvel at such a sight -- but for now I was more relieved that it seemed me and the bees were getting things right. I couldn't find any eggs in the drawn foundation -- but not to worry. I was only at day 10 with this colony. It can take the queen a bit of time to get going. I'll check again in about a week.

Hopefully the warm weather is here to stay. Upper 70's tomorrow. Dandelions everywhere. It should be bee heaven. Maybe I'll get a little luck of the Irish for naming the colonies Galway and Clare. Then again, Murphy is Irish as well and I am all too familiar with Murphy's Law.

If you'd like to see all the photos from today's inspection check out

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Opening the hive

Last Friday I opened the hive we have decided to call "Clare" (after the county in western Ireland.) We haven't named the queen yet, because we have yet to confirm that she is performing her queenly duties.

It was windy on Friday and there should be little or no wind when you open the hive. So why did I open it? I was going away for the weekend and wanted to make sure there was enough syrup to keep the bees well fed.

I was surprised to find so many bees clinging to the underside of the inner cover. I expected the bees to be down on the frames. My first week as a new beekeeper and already a circumstance that I was unsure of how to address. I decided not to open the hive any further thinking the bees may have moved upward in the hive because of wind and low temperatures. Matt poured more syrup in the feeder and I replaced the cover.

The low temperatures this week have kept me from re-entering the hive to check on the queen. I did discuss the circumstances I found at the hive with a couple of experienced beekeepers and they said the bees looked strong and that they may already need a 2nd story on the hive. They said to just remove the feeder and brush the bees from under the inner cover down on the top bars of the hive and remove the comb they had drawn on the inner cover.

That's what is on the agenda for tomorrow weather permitting. I will also be making my first inspection of the other hive I installed last Tuesday. I haven't decided on a name for that hive yet but I'm leaning toward "Kerry." I'll name it upon it's first inspection.
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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The New Queen

I contacted Brushy Mountain Bee Farm on Monday about the dead queen I received with one of my packages. Joan called me later that afternoon and told me they had sent a replacement queen via express mail and to contact her when I received the package to ensure they were alive and well ("they" being the queen and her attendants of course.)

At about 10:30 this morning I get a call from the postmaster at the main post office in Binghamton asking me if I was expecting a delivery of live bees. "Yes, I am!" I told him. "Well, they're here. Do you want us to deliver them or do you want to pick them up?" "I'll pick them up and save you the trouble."

I didn't know what to expect when I got to the post office. How do they ship a replacement queen? I was surprised when I got to the window and they presented me with a standard express mail envelope with some holes punched in it. "I hope they're alive." I remarked to the woman at the window. "I won't be opening them to check!" she replied with a smile. I opened the envelope as soon as I got outside. Uh oh. All the bees seemed crammed at the candy end of the queen cage. And nothing was moving. "Not again!" I thought.

But wait a minute ... a little warmth, a little sunshine and the bees started moving. All occupants of the candy plugged cage seemed alive and well. I put the cage in my shirt pocket and headed for home.

I had been keeping the package of bees in my basement while awaiting the replacement queen. Twice a day I'd spray them down with a slightly above room temperature simple syrup mixture to keep them calm and well fed. They seemed in good shape when I retrieved them from the basement and headed up the hill toward their new home. I asked my son, Matt, to grab the camera and photograph my first solo installation of a colony of bees.

It was a beautiful day with a temperature in the upper 50's -- a far cry from the near freezing conditions on Saturday. The installation was a breeze. Matt did a great job of capturing the action which I captioned and posted in an online album.

A perfect day. Two healthy and happy bee colonies. The dandelions are in bloom. Life is good!

(I just discovered that you can embed a slideshow right in the blog. Below are Matt's photos)

Monday, April 19, 2010

Busy bees

So it's about 53 degrees this afternoon and the bees are very active. I'm not used to this, so I am a little concerned to watch for a situation known as "robbing" which happens when other bees home in on a weak colony and raid their food supply (in this case, the sugar syrup I am feeding the colony.) I watched them closely for a few minutes and although they were very active, there seemed no sense of frenzy, no fighting that I could see which is evidence of robbing. Perhaps they are orienting themselves to their new home in the meadow.
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Sunday, April 18, 2010


It came late and it didn't warm things up much, but things finally started looking up on Sunday afternoon. The temperature did reach about 50 and I did see some activity at the hive entrance -- the first activity I'd seen since installing the package yesterday afternoon.
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A New Beekeeper

Today I am a beekeeper. Actually, I kept bees for the 1st time yesterday. That's when I drove to New Columbia, PA, about 2 hours southwest of me here in upstate NY and picked up 2 packages of bees. A 'package' consists of 3 pounds of bees and a queen. They come in a little screened in box all clumped together around a can of simple syrup suspended from the top of the box. There are small holes in the can which allow the bees access to the life-sustaining syrup until they are installed in their new homes -- in this case, 2 brand new garden hives in my backyard.

When I put the bees in the backseat of my car and started the drive home I was surprised at this awareness that came over me. There were living creatures traveling with me. These bees were in my care. It was a strange feeling.

When we arrived home, it was time to install the bees. Bob, an experienced beekeeper from Kirkwood was there to assist me. We opened the first package and removed the queen cage (the queen is in a separate box inside the main box.) Bob examined the queen cage and gave me the bad news. "This queen is dead." It doesn't happen often, a package with a dead queen, but it happens. We closed the package up and moved to the next package. This queen was alive and well and we installed the bees in their new home. The other package with the dead queen we took back to the house. It's in a cool, dark place in my basement and I've sprayed it down with some sugar syrup a couple times. I left a message with the bee supplier and will contact them again on Monday to make sure they expedite getting a new queen to me.

It's been cold since yesterday. I wonder which colony has it worse -- the one in their new home in the backyard or the one in the warmer spot in my basement? Time will tell. But when I awoke this morning, I was thinking about and caring for my bees. I guess that truly makes me a beekeeper.