We just had an almighty deluge come down like it was going to wash us all off the face of the planet. Aside from some flooding in the basement and porch, a wet husband and some wet chickens, all is well down here. Not so for the bees in the exposed nest up high in the tree. What were they thinking?! They’re a sodden mess, and half the population must have been washed away. Incredibly, the wax comb – six “frames” of it by now – looks intact, but I doubt the contents (brood, honey) did so well…
They hung out on a tree about 60 feet up, still on our property, for days. Then I thought they were gone, and I stopped checking on them. My neighbor, however, has a much better vantage point from his property. Yesterday evening he alerted me that they’re still there, and making a nest.
No way, I said. Out in the open, in the place they swarmed to? Usually they’ll hang out outside while the scouts find a suitable new place, then they’ll come to a unanimous decision about what is the best place – which is what honeybee swarms do, following what bee-guru Thomas Seeley calls a true democratic process. Then they’ll fly off there and start filling what is usually a cavity in a tree or wall with comb, honey, brood, and live and hopefully prosper.
In this case, I guess, the scouts found nothing suitable, or they couldn’t come to that unanimous decision, and settled with the place they had swarmed to: 60 feet high on a tree, exposed to sun, wind, rain and, in a few months, frost. Their changes of surviving the winter are near to zero. But that’s what they did.
Waiting for the wind to whip some of the intervening branches out of my line of sight, I took these images. As you can see, they’ve already built three honeycombs and it is dripping with honey.
One of the friends coming to help with the honey extraction yesterday shot some great pictures. Here they are, for your viewing pleasure! Thank you, Doug!!
And lastly, he is the only photographer who managed to penetrate the leaf cover and take a shot of the swarm way up high:
It’s been a roller coaster with my two hives. Good thing I expect that now!
They are both first-year packages, installed end of April. One has been so-so, with a queen laying very little in a spotty pattern, then nothing at all. When I couldn’t find her, I put in a frame of eggs from my other hive. Going by the open queen cells, it looked like they may have hatched a queen from those, but I couldn’t fin her or eggs (as yet). It was hot when I went in, and the bees got quite upset, so I had to close up. That hive hasn’t been strong enough to start on a super. A clear sign of that came when I put a super on with just extracted frames dripping with the honey: they cleaned it out and moved the drippings into the brood nest – which is also a nice service, thank you!
The other hive, well! Over a month ago I put a friend’s box with dripping frames on it and they started filling it up. So I pulled that and put on my own super and they filled that up in a week. I should have know and aggressively split them, but by the time we came back from Panama, it was clear they had swarmed. Then, yesterday, they swarmed again! That swarm is hanging out in the notch of a tree about 30 feet up, in the middle of a dense copse too. We’d need a crane to get those. What irony, especially since we’ve been craving swarms for the Haven project. But what excitement watching them swarm, with rooting by Amie and me for them to land on a nice, low branch. No dice. I put a swarm trap on my neighbor’s property, a small chance but the best I can do.
Today I went in to see if there is still a queen or any queen cells left in that hive. Usually, an afterswarm leaves with the new virgin queen or several virgin queens and can leave the origin queenless. I knew which frame had all the queen cells before and pulled just that one. There they were, three of them still intact. There is no more capped brood, so I hope the bees still left will hold out till the new queen ecloses, flies out to mate, returns, lays eggs and those eggs hatch. Hopefully the new queen will have the best of her mom’s genes, and give me more honey come fall.
Yesterday I pulled the full super off that strong hive – easier to rob when there aren’t 70.000 bees protecting it – and honey extracting being a party, friends came over to help me extract over three gallons of bright Spring honey (I didn’t weigh it, but there were eight full frames which I’d estimate made about 38 pounds)
Then we extracted the frames from the winter-killed hives. These are frames with half capped honey, crystallized honey, and dead bees, so not honey I would eat, give away or sell. So I will make mead with it.
Lastly, a month or so ago Amie did her first hive inspection with my friend Tom.
This is one of my favorite times of the year: the first harvests are coming in. For greens, we are eating kale, lettuce, chard and good king Henry, New Zealand spinach, mache, minutina, and celery. All the herbs – parsley, rosemary, sage, etc. are ready. The malabar spinach is almost ready and it’s a lovely climber that is colonizing the trelises that the unfortunate peas never climbed (we had only a pound or so, the bunnies ate the rest). The potatoes – from organic potatoes I bought at the supermarket – are growing like weeds. So are the tomato vines. No ripe tomatoes yet, though.
I’ve also started putting up. Yesterday I made a pile of basil from my garden, our CSA and the Farmers Market and made 8 jars of pesto (to freeze). I assembled rhubarb from the garden with some from the Farmers Market and red currants from a friend’s garden and canned 8 jars of rhubarb-red currant preserves. I’m tasting the white currants in my garden every day to get them when they’re just ripe. There are also grapes growing, lots of them, but those will take longer. If all the little nubbin figs on our one remaining tree make it, we’ll have twenty or so figs.
The chickens are laying four eggs a day. And there are four of them. Toothless, who got injured and started limping, then getting pecked on even more ruthlessly, went for a spa at my friend Katharina’s place while we were away. I didn’t want my intrepid chicken sitters to have to deal with a bloody, or worse, chicken. Toothless has her own little coop there to relax and recover.
Tomorrow I plan to go into my hives and take a full super off the strongest one (which swarmed during the week we were away!). I almost fell over when I lifted it off: full of honey! I’ll add a new super to that one and also one to the less strong hive. Both hives are making new queens.
Speaking of honey. I am enjoying the raspberry melomel I made a little over a year ago. It is mellow and tasty and not too alcoholic.
But where were we all last week? Hanging out with this crazy bunch…
… in the rain forest of Panama!
More about that in some other post. I need to go water the garden, because it’s dry here.
Finally, a couple of fully sunny days. In the morning I feed the chickens, move the chicks into their mini coop, then set up the solar oven and the wax. Here’s how I do it (with thanks to LDSPrepper).
Bucket of wax, rinsed several times to get most of the honey off. This is a mix of brood, honey and burr comb:
Pan with an inch of water:
Put paper towel on top, this is the filter:
Add the wax:
Set in homemade solar oven:
Wait all day, turning the oven to the path of the sun once in a while. It goes up to 200F in there. Till you get this:
And underneath it, beautiful yellow wax:
Now that I know that it works, I need to scale this up. We got a lot of wax from the beekeeper but it all needs more filtering if we’re going to make candles out of it. I’m on the hunt for the largest pan that will fit that old kitchen cabinet/solar oven.
Yesterday was a bee kind of day for me. I write “kind of” because I didn’t actually get to work with bees, but almost the entire day was related to them.
In the morning Katharina and I (accompanied by her two so well-behaved, understanding-beyond-their-age youngest daughters) met at the deCordova Museum. Our mission was to entice the bees, most of whom were still stuck in the transfer device (since Tuesday), to move into the Haven.
Katharina – who also blogged this too – climbed up the ladder and squirted some honey and lemongrass essential oil into the top entrance of the Haven.
Nothing happened. Then she smoked the bees.
No change. I snapped pictures and stood by with my smoker, wickedly smoking that glorious-scented sumac berry smoke.
Then the four of us got in the car and drove to Tyngsboro to buy some more bee equipment and chat with our bee mentor Rick, who always has a good bee yarn. Once he was at the Topsfield Fair and a couple of teenage girls asked him: so what’s the difference between a drone and a worker bee? Rick answered: “It’s the difference between you and me.” “You mean young and old?” was the reply. He laughed saying he had asked for that one! As we pulled out of his driveway, hundreds of free nursery bees who were taking care of fifty caged queens in a cardboard box on the wall, billowed out. Rick came out, smiling. “They do that every day,” he said with such fondness for these bees. “They swarm but the queens don’t follow, so in half an hour they’ll all be back.” We also met a bee removal carpenter who showed us his nifty home-made bee vac. Never a dull moment!
We drove straight back to deCordova. Still no change. Katharina had been on the phone consulting with Jarrett, the artist, and others, trying to find a solution. If these bees were stuck in the transfer device, they’d surely perish. Jarrett then suggested Katharina climb up there and pry off the small panel on top.
So, the smoker was lit again, the school groups at the museum settled down on the lawns to watch, and Katharina climbed up, but not before I “blessed” her with smoke, thinking it might keep the bees off her if they got angry. But when she got the panel off, the expected riot didn’t happen. The bees slowly walked out and up the Haven front face to the top hole.
By evening they had all climbed in. We’ll return tomorrow to take the transfer device off so we can examine it for signs of what might have happened, and (if it seems okay) to fix it so we can use if for the next swarm. Swarm season, so rumor has it, has begun!
Today I got a call from fellow beek Katharina, who had gotten a call from Haven artist Jarrett Mellenbruch, that a swarm had been caught in Beverly, MA and was on its way to the deCordova Museum. (Read how I got involved in this project in the first place. here)
I gathered my equipment and suit and jumped in the car to meet them. I arrived having missed the pouring of the swarm from the bucket into the transfer device (Katharina has a picture of this on her blog), but was in time to see the bees in that box brought up to their Haven.
The device has a nifty 3D printed top part (purple) with a funnel that fits with precision into the slot in the Haven box.
Brian, who had caught and brought the swarm, climbed up the ladder to install it. Katharina belayed. The museum had already closed, so there was a small audience.
We stood around waiting for the bees to move in. So far the cold weather had worked to our advantage, making the bees cluster and walk around a bit stunned. It helps to not have them fly all over the place. But now they were clustering inside the device. It was also getting darker.
Here is Katharina checking whether the bees are moving into the Haven.
We had hoped they’d crawl in pretty fast, but then it started raining and the device didn’t seem to empty out. So we decided to leave it there and come back in the morning.
Here’s Jarrett’s plaque:
And here’s Katharina, waving hello:
I’ll update tomorrow. Hopefully these bees will like their new home. Also, now that swarm season has started, we’ll hopefully have a second swarm soon to put into Haven no.2.
Seems like ages ago when last year in August I harvested all those plump sumac berries from our Town’s Dump. I cut them up, then put them on screens in my storage attic, and forgot about them till last week. I went up there and brought the berries down.
I was worried the berries weren’t dry enough, until I lit them in the smoker. They were easy to light with the help of some paper.
With only a few puffs and no reloading, they smoldered and smoked for a good 30 minutes. The smoke also smelled great (better than burlap, my usual go-to fuel), and it was thick but cool.
I’ll be harvesting more berries come Summer!
About a month ago a man calls me up on the phone. “You’re a hard person to find!” is the first thing he says to me! “So how did you find me then?” is the first thing I say to him (after “hello?”). “Librarian.” So I knew it was about bees.
Bob is an elderly gentleman who is about to move out of my town after decades of living here. He also used to be a beekeeper, until about ten years ago. Now he was cleaning out his basement and wanted his bee equipment to be used instead of tossed. That’s where “the bee person” came in. That’s me.
I went to his house and it took me two trips with a fully loaded station wagon to take away what still seemed usable. Some of the boxes and frames we had to put aside, since there were too rotted away. But most of it was saved, including gallons and gallons of old honey. It still smells fine, but Bob couldn’t tell me what chemicals he used in the days of that honey, now 10 to 15 years old. I took it, and I’m still trying to decide what to do with it…
But here, in the meantime, is the stash, which is our beekeepers’ group’s treasure, not just mine.
The collection in my carport before sorting:
Three top feeders; all of it will need a thorough cleaning:
Two shallows with honey-in-comb-frames. Bob also gave us the containers to store them in:
Box full of unused medium frames (no foundation):
Two mediums with more foundationless frames:
Four screened bottom boards, some with bee escapes built in:
Plastic bin extractor:
Antique metal extractor – I need to find out what the drum is made of:
Many good-sized chunks of wax (with regard to the dirty fingernail, scroll down one post):
Bob even gave us three cartons of ball jars and two cartons of these plastic honey squeeze bottles:
Gallons and gallons of old honey: