Sunday, April 25, 2010

And the Bees Just Keep On Comin'...

After spending all day Saturday at an Earth/Arbor Day Event--- I had a booth there for my fund-raising company, E-Waste Fundraising--- I got a call from Kim, who heads up the Los Flores Community Garden where I've got a hive (see post below).

A fellow garden member had called her saying there was a swarm of bees that had settled in her compost bin, and could I please come get them? There was an hour or so of daylight left, so I grabbed a nuc box (a small, five-frame hive box; same size as I have in the community garden) and motored over for some free bees!

When I got there, the homeowner had left the lid of the bin on top of her other trash can. Seems she'd opened the compost bin, was a bit surprised by the horde of bees inside, and beat a hasty retreat without replacing the lid. Here's what I found underneath:

If you said, "Hey, that's not a swarm, that's a brand new hive!" you'd be right. You can see the beginnings of comb there in the middle. The homeowner was sure the bees hadn't been there for more than a day or two, so they were working fast. Bees love compost bins, presumably because they're dark and warm and well-protected from the weather.

Anyway, I treated them like a regular swarm. Just picked up the lid and shook it over the nuc, with several frames removed. I waited a bit for all to settle, and then put some more frames in. I scooped up by hand any globs of congregating bees that had missed the box, stuck the top on (I had the entrance blocked with hardware cloth) and went home.

The whole operation took about 15 minutes, most of which was spent waiting to give all the bees a chance to reorient from the trash can lid. To help that out, I actually leaned the trash can down onto the open hive box, so they could sense the queen inside and would walk in on their own.

I brought 'em home, left them for the night in the back of the truck, and put them on a hive stand in the AM. I checked a couple times today; they were orienting themselves and doing very well.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Cupola Cutout

Well, in spite of the imminent threat of rain I headed over to Newbury Park today around 4:30PM to remove a hive that had ensconced itself in a cupola (an architectural flourish to add character to the roofline; in this case basically a little triangular projection above a window).

The homeowner, a former fire chief and a current carpenter, was a huge help. He built a platform for me to stand on, and had already removed all the nails from the sheeting on the front of the cupola. Plus, he had an extension ladder in place. So, all I needed was:

- The bee vacuum (see my log removal video to view this in action)
- Hive tool (for cutting away comb)
- Smoker and additional smoker fuel
- Bucket with a cover (for the comb)
- Veil and jacket
- Thick rubber gloves
- Flashlight

I pulled away the sheeting, and here's what I saw:

Here's a closer view. Doesn't look like too big a hive from here, does it?

Suffice to say there's more than meets the eye. The hive was six combs deep, with a good-sized population hiding away from me on the opposite side of each comb. I started by smoking them thoroughly, although I have to say that this was an extremely docile hive throughout the procedure, even when my smoker petered out due to user neglect :-)

Anyway, after smoking I started vacuuming, and as I cleaned each comb up I'd reach in, cut it free, and carefully transfer it into a bucket. Each comb had a good mix of capped and open brood of various ages. You can see the multi-colored pollen on that foremost comb in the photo above; there was also a decent amount of stored honey--- all in all, a very healthy hive.

When I finished, here's how it looked:

I hurried home with a boxful of bees and a bucket full of comb, trying to beat the oncoming darkness and rain to get these gals hived. I strapped their brood comb into frames, like this:

I added some regular frames of foundation, and got them hived just as the rains started. As I write this it's really coming down; wind is howling, and absolutely pouring. I know there were some stragglers when I hived them; I'm sure they got caught by the rain and probably didn't make it into the hive. I scooped as many as I could by hand and put them in, and I made sure I didn't see the queen wandering around anywhere before I closed them up. Hopefully she's in there; you never can tell with a cutout, because there are inevitably a number of "leftover" bees and plenty of casualties. I never actually saw her, but I was careful to vacuum any "glumps" of bees in particular, thinking that they may be crowding around the queen. Time will tell.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Winter's Honey Extraction and More

First, I'll follow up on the hive that I placed at the Community Garden (see below post). It's doing very well. I opened it up and took a look; a solid two frames of bees, and they immediately started drawing out the foundation-only frames I'd put in there. They're going to do just fine. I'll give 'em a couple more weeks, and then I'll move them into a full-size 10-frame hive.

Now, on to the subject of this post: honey extraction. One of the best things about beekeeping in the SoCal climate is that we actually can get an "end-of-winter" harvest. We had some nice rains in Feb., and the combination of Ceonothus, Eucalyptus, various Rosemary strains, and Lavenders led to some excellent build-ups in a couple of my hives.

Here's a shot of one of the frames from a 10-frame super; every frame on the super looked roughly like this. You're looking at capped honey, and along the sides some uncapped but perfectly extractable honey.

Here's another frame, this time immediately after I uncapped. I just use a serrated knife, which I dip frequently into very hot water, and slide it along the bottom bar of the frame to slice as thin a layer of cappings wax as I can.

When I pulled the frames from the hives, I use Fisher Bee-Quick, a natural repellant which I spray on a special "fume board." Here's the video I did last year, showing how that's done:

Which all looks and sounds great in theory. Unfortunately, sometimes you run across supers that have some brood in the frames, and the bees are very reluctant to leave. That's what happened in the case of one of the hives, so I had to use a "bee brush" (a soft paintbrush works well too) to brush bees off the honey frames prior to putting them into a tupperware container. You don't want to leave the honey frames out in the open, or you start a robbing frenzy when the other bees in the yard get a whiff of the honey.

All that brushing makes them mad, and I learned something: if you wash leather glvoes enough, they eventually lose that sting-proof quality that made them so desireable in the beginning. I got nailed THROUGH the glove; which meant the poison sac was actually outside the glove, and the doggone stinger was puncturing my hand again and again as I moved around inside the glove. I had my hands full, so couldn't remove it.

So here's my regular, unstung hand:

And here's the other one, about twelve hours after I finished pulling the frames:

Finally... I got a call today from a guy that has a beehive in a kind of soffit under some gables--- they're entering through an opening in the roof. He's going to build be a platform I can stand on while I pull this hive out tomorrow. I'll post some pix--- wish me luck! :-)

PS- By the way, the honey is friggin' delicious! I extracted a total of 16 frames from two hives, (ten from the hive I did a split on just a few weeks ago!) and I'll weigh all that to see what it comes to, pound-wise. The purple sage flow is starting, so I wanted to clear all the supers in preparation.