Monday, August 8, 2011

Moving the suitcase

Did you ever see the episode of "Everybody Loves Raymond" where Ray leaves a suitcase on the stairs and Debra decides she is not going to move it or say anything about it and just see what happens. So it sits. And sits. And sits. Kind of like this blog.

Anyway, a lot has happened over the course of the past 11 months. My bees made it through a very tough winter. I left them plenty of honey but I didn't wrap the hives or close the screened bottom boards. Rather, I simply put in metal entrance reducers to keep out the meadow mice and tilted the hives slightly forward so that any condensation would hopefully drip harmlessly to the front of the hive instead of straight down on the bees.

During the winter I checked the entrances a couple times to make sure they were not blocked by dead bees. I'm glad I did. Galway must have gone into the winter with too many bees because in January when I checked the entrance there were thousands of dead bees piling up on the bottom board. I thought I had lost the colony for sure. It was too cold to open the hive and check the cluster. I cleared the entrance using a long screwdriver and hoped for the best. I was relieved to see lots of bees making cleansing flights on the next (relatively) warm day.

As winter progressed I wondered if Clare wasn't leaning a bit. I thought it might be my imagination or perhaps the angle I was viewing it at from inside the house. I finally walked out into the deep snow in the yard and looked at it head on. It looked like it could topple at any moment. The 2x4 legs on the downhill side of the stand had sunk further into the soil, either before the ground had frozen, or as a result of a frost heave. In spring the clay soil would get spongy, those legs would sink further and the hive would certainly fall.

I bought some ratchet straps from Home Depot and put a pair of them around the hive and stand and ratcheted them tight. I then pushed on the side of the hive as hard as I could and managed to raise the legs a bit. I made a makeshift wall between the legs of the stand from a cinder block and a large, flat rock and rested the top rail of the hive stand on it. This would get me to spring.

I watched it very closely as the spring thaw came and my cinder block "wall" did not shift. Clare made it through. But I knew I had to rethink my hive stands.

We had decided to expand the apiary to 4 hives in 2011 so it was a good time to reconsider the hive stands. Instead of individual hive stands, I thought a "table" arrangement might work well.

We ordered all the extra hive equipment in December to take advantage of a free shipping offer from Brushy Mountain. We also ordered three packages of bees from Brushy. Two for the new hives we were putting in and one just in case Clare or Galway didn't make it. I figured I could sell the extra one if I didn't need it -- at least that's how I sold the idea to Maureen. A 5th hive was in the back of my mind.

Maureen painted the new hive bodies and added splashes of color with butterfly, flower and bee drawings on them. I built and painted the new stands. We were ready for the bees. A couple days before we were to pick them up I got a call from Brushy Mountain. Their supplier could not deliver. The bees were honey bound. (Honey bound is a situation where the bees have filled the brood space with nectar/honey and there is not enough room to raise adequate brood.)

So we didn't get any bees. Galway came through the winter very strong despite the thousands of dead bees I had cleared from the bottom board during the winter. I could split Galway for one of the new colonies. Clare was doing ok but nowhere near the strength of Galway. It was not a candidate for splitting.

I decided I'd split Galway right after I finished a weekend beekeeping course at Cornell University in Ithaca. Great class. Lousy timing. Galway swarmed (half the colony left with the queen to form a new colony) while I was away at class.

I positioned the new hive stand directly in front of the old ones at the same height and then just moved each colony onto the new stand. This gave me additional clearance behind the hives. And the table arrangement works great for providing level work space.

So we still have only 2 hives but the good news is that both Clare and Galway are doing great. So far this year we have harvested over 80 pounds of honey and there is plenty more that is almost ready for harvest. And with the fall flow coming soon (the goldenrod is already blooming) I won't be surprised to get 300 pounds in total this year.

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