Wednesday, December 14, 2011

50% Hive Loss So Far This Winter

It's been a tremendously busy time for me, and I've not been able to regularly monitor and manage the hives as much as I should have. The result was predictable: I had half my hives crash. The reasons weren't readily apparent.

In one case it looks like they were chased out by a massive invasion of red ants. (Ants, both red and black, are probably my biggest problem in this locale; they cause me more work than even the varroa mites).

A couple other hives simply look like they petered out. That may have been due to mites, or a failing queen that didn't get replaced, or even an ill-timed swarm. As I said, I was not able to keep a close eye on the hives since the honey harvest.

I did selectively treat with Apiguard this fall, and it appears I only lost one hive that received treatment. That seems to be a pretty good argument for total treatment next year, to try and keep a handle on the lovely varroa (see below).

At this writing I have 4 strong hives, one fairly healthy hive, and one I just can't get a good read on. Due to our cold weather lately I've waited until mid-day, when the sun is on the hives, to inspect--- and that means the maximum number of foragers are away, so the population within the hives may appear deceptively low.

At any rate, we had a pretty good fall flow of eucaplyptus, lavender, rosemary, and various wildflowers, so I haven't fed any hives yet, and their stores look good. That said, we've been getting some rain, so they'll eat those stores up pretty quickly. I'm planning on feeding all hives in January, to get them geared up for the ceonothus flow in late winter.

If I can hit March with all 6 hives intact, I should have another excellent harvest. Plus, I will no doubt add at least another half-dozen hives through swarm captures, and if I get some March calls those swarmers could easily build up some harvestable reserves by August.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Hive Capsizes

We had some fierce Santa Ana winds kick up after a recent 1-day rainstorm, and it appears one of my hives was a bit top-heavy and took a dive.

Here's a view from the side. Everything was scattered pretty badly, and the robbing was intense due to one free-standing comb full of fresh honey. I had forgotten I left an empty space about 3 frames wide in one of the supers, and they'd made a beautiful comb.

Turns out they had moved their brood-rearing activities up into the middle hive body, leaving the entire deep (at the bottom) empty and light. With the brood and honey on top, and no weight below, the winds just toppled the whole thing over. I did my best to put everything back together, although I took that free-standing comb and set it away from the hive, hopefully pulling as many robbers away as possible.

I rearranged by putting the brood chamber (medium hive body) on the bottom, and the deep in the middle. The honey super--- what's left of it, anyway--- is on top.

The fighting at the entrance was a war, so I also put an entrance reducer into play, using the smallest possible opening. The idea is to give the resident hive a fighting chance at defending what's left of its stores. All in all, I don't think the odds are good for this hive's survival, but I'll follow up after a week or so to see how they're doing.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Honey Harvest Done; Sales Going Well

Been awhile since my last post. We've been super busy around here, but in the midst of it all I harvested about 250 lbs of honey, pulling from just 6 of my 12 hives. I left the others alone because they were swarms I captured this spring, and I didn't feel they had built up enough reserves for me to take their honey right before going into our usual Aug/Sept/Oct dearth.

Sold about 45 lbs at work (I charge a discounted $10/lb) and I'll be selling a couple cases to a small cafe which specializes in all-natural ingredients. Also sold a case at the boxing gym I attend. The rest I'm selling at our new shop, "Bubba's Antiques & Mercantile," which just opened this weekend... the reason we've been so busy!

Here's a shot of the display featuring my honey:

It's been well over a month since I last took a look at the hives, so I'm about to go do that this morning. Hopefully what I find are strongly populated hives with plenty of reserves to get them through the rest of summer and all of autumn--- until the eucalyptus trees start blooming in early winter.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

My First Anaphylatic Reaction

While doing some bush and tree trimming today, I was suddenly hit on the forearm and stung by a bee. Weird, but I figured I must have startled it off of some trimmed lavender or pepper tree blossoms, and it just reacted.

No sooner do I brush away that stinger than another blasts into me, taking no prisoners, and stings my shoulder. I hoof it away from the area, head up to the house to fetch my bee-jacket, and go back down to finish up.

But after bending down a couple times I felt my face getting tingly, and I felt a little dizzy. Not good. I hustled back up to the house and looked in the mirror. Sure enough, my face was bright red, and my lips were swelling. My scalp and ears were itching like mad, too.

I took two Benadryl capsules, shot a couple blasts of albuterol to make sure I kept breathing, and threw an ice pack on my shoulder. My scalp continued to get hot and itchy, so I took a cool shower. By this point my lower lip was looking like a sausage.

It was a scary hour or so, and I came close to hitting the Epi Pen at one point, but things started calming down. I went back outside to do some chores, and eventually the reaction receded to localized swelling (as I write, the one from my shoulder has migrated to the side of my pec, and is itching quite insistently).

Lesson learned here: I have only one Epi Pen, in my swarm toolbox I keep in the car. I'm going to get some more, and put at least one down by the main beeyard, another in my house, and another in the Gator (my ranch utility vehicle). I've never reacted like that before, but they say a bad reaction can happen at any time, and I already swell up so badly from any sting, I don't want to push my luck.

I'll Take Pad Thai and Bees to Go, Please

Got a call from Steve over at the Ventura County Fired Dept in Camarillo, about a swarm that had taken up residence next to a Thai restaurant. The owner followed up with a call to me too, begging me to come get the bees. She told me she'd make me lunch, so we settled on some chicken & shrimp pad thai in exchange for driving out there to get the swarm.

Here's what it looked like from a distance:

Talk about easy! Right there at about chest level... piece of cake. I took a closer look...

Gotta love it when they're this easy. I stuck a box underneath, shook the branch, closed it up and put it in the truck to go home. Ann, the owner, came out with my Pad Thai (unfortunately she hadn't held the peanuts as I asked, and I'm allergic, but oh well) and I was on my way.

It was such a small swarm I put them in a 5-frame nuc. A check today seems to indicate all's well; I won't actually open them up for two weeks, to give them a chance to settle in.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Home is Wherever You Find It

The adaptability of bees never ceases to amaze me. A recent swarm had gathered on a brick planter, and evidently someone swept it off--- because when I showed up, there was an abandoned broom on the sidewalk, and a load of bees here...

I figured the swarm was doomed at that point, so I didn't do a capture. that's my friend John's trailer, and he reported later that they actually started building comb inside the wheel chocks!

Meanwhile, I got a call from Kate out in Thousand Oaks about a hive in a fence. She didn't want to kill the hive, and it sounded like a fairly straightforward extraction (no ladder involved!), so I took my new bee-vac and decided to give it a try (I just bought one; prior to this I used a homemade version--- plans on Beesource.

I took a wrecking bar and pried a few fence boards off the middle 2x4 rail, and here's what I found:

Here's a closer look...

The new bee-vac worked quite well, although I think next time I'll damp down the suction a bit more--- I clobbered a fair number of bees, unfortunately. Still, I was able to rubber band the comb into medium frames, and I installed the crew in a medium with no entrance reducer for the time being, so they can all find their way in.

Noteworthy about this hive: lots of brood, capped and otherwise. But very little food stores, and literally no capped honey in spite of the huge flow going on right now. Leads me to believe this hive is a reasonably recent (within 21 days) swarm who took up residence in the fence and has literally been living hand-to-mouth, without enough resources to build up any reserves yet. Tomorrow I'll probably steal a frame or two of honey from one of my strong hives to help this one along.

All in all a fairly easy extraction, took about an hour total, so I only charged the show-up rate of $50. I do swarm captures at no cost, but I charge for hive extractions primarily because only 50% (at best) actually stay where I relocate them, and those that do stay--- well, it's not a sure thing that I was able to get the queen, while with swarm captures I nearly always get her.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Tremendous Honey Flow On

I haven't posted in awhile, mostly because this is fire clearance time and I have very little spare time to check on the hives. When I do, it's mostly to throw on supers, because thanks to a long rainy season and mild temperatures this spring, we've had a huge sage, yucca, salvia, hollyleaf cherry, and lemonadeberry bloom. And now, the buckwheat is coming out in full force. I'm out of frames; I'll be making a run into L.A. on Tuesday to pick up 40 medium frames, as I've still got 4 spare supers I can use.

One of the hives filled up a shallow super in 10 days! That was a swarm I caught in a swarm trap last year. The other hive that's going super strong is the one that used to be in the community garden; I've got three supers on them right now, and they'll need another soon.

Of the three swarms I've caught this season, two are doing quite well. In fact, I had to throw another deep onto one of them, making them a double-deep hive. The other is kind of stagnating as a small hive; we'll have to see how they do.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Swarm Highway

Clearly the intersection of Moorpark Rd and L.A. Avenue is a popular rest stop for Moorpark swarms. Got a call yesterday from Charlie at the Fire Dept out there (same guy who called me on the swarm down below, the one draped around the small tree) with a swarm about 12 feet high in a shopping center immediately across the street from the previous one.

I didn't take any pix, but Charlie did so hopefully we'll have some. The short story is, they provided me with a 10-ft ladder, I used my limb saw to get rid of a few obstructive branches, and then I put a box under the swarm and shook them in.

Naturally I lost a lot of bees as I climbed down the ladder, before I could tape the box closed. So, I closed one up, waited a few minutes, and went up with another box and captured the sizeable glob of bees that had re-congregated in the same spot.

All in all a good capture, probably 4 lbs of bees or so. I hived them in a single 10-frame deep in my "remote" yard; a neighboring ranch. While I was there I checked in on the newly hived swarm from the chair (see below) which was just around the corner from this swarm's location (near the middle school, at the top of the map). They're hanging in, and appear to be doing well.

It's getting to where I'm getting at least one bee call a day. It's 50-50 between swarms and people calling because a swarm has already set up shop inside their walls, or hollow gazebo roof, or under the Spanish tile shingles... and I don't touch those. Just not worth it, no matter what I'd be able to charge.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Swarm Could've Used Mapquest

So, you're a fresh swarm of bees newly thrown off a crowded hive, and you're out trying to find a nice location to rest while your scouts seek out a new home. You pass parks with nice tall trees, you pass houses and barns with inviting eaves, and instead... your fearless leader (whomever that might be) decides that this is the perfect place to hang out...

Easy enough swarm to catch. I just held the chair over an open cardboard box, did a quick downward snap, and they all fell into the box. Tape up the box, head home, dump them in a hive body (with bottom board, inner and outer cover, and done.

I put them in one of my remote yards, at a nearby ranch. I'll check in a week to see if they decided to stay or if they took off, which sometimes happens with newly hived swarms.

Thanks to Patty in Moorpark for the call, and for her desire to keep the bees alive after they decided to use her patio furniture for a temporary home.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Swarms and Supers

A very bee-zy day today, starting early by taking a look at a swarm that I was called on the night before in Moorpark. the Fire Dept said a swarm was hanging out next to a Walgreen's, and they taped the area off. I decided to swing by early in the morning to see if I could get them before my day got started, but the sun had already hit them and they were too active... not to mention, there was no way to get them into a box, as you can see:

They were literally wrapped around the trunk of this immature little tree, so I wouldn't be able to sweep them all at once or shake them into a box.

I figured I could come back in the late afternoon and vacuum them. In the meantime, I spent the morning supering 8 out of my 10 hives, because the sage flow has started, the hollyleaf cherry is starting to bloom, and the hive populations are VERY high.

In fact, they're so highly populated that one of them swarmed right before my eyes, and headed into an inextricable location high in a scrub oak on a slope. To make it even more challenging, they mimicked the Moorpark swarm, clinging to a thick bough instead of hanging cooperatively where I could shake them into a box.

Interestingly, this swarm didn't stick around for more than a few hours. I checked later in the day as I was brush clearing, and they were already gone. I put a phone call in to the Walgreen's, and that swarm had taken off as well. So... no free bees today.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Splits and Supers

Back in February I decided to do some early splits of three very strong hives. The results: 1 hive perished almost immediately, while three survived the unusual spate of cold snaps we suffered and, as of April 10 when I checked, seem to be going strong.

All of these splits were "walk-away" splits; meaning I went through the strong hives, picked out at least three frames of brood (all ages, most importantly some eggs or larva less than 3 days old), another three or four frames of food, the remainder in foundation frames, loaded them all into a new deep, and shook a mess of nurse bees in. It appears I got lucky and the surviving hives each raised a queen by feeding royal jelly to the eggs all the way through the larval stage (instead of stopping after three days, as they would with worker brood). And my luck held, it seems, as each of the queens successfully completed a mating flight and returned to the hive to start laying eggs.

The sage just started to bloom this past weekend, so this Friday I'm going to super all the hives for honey flow. Woo hooo!

I'm also starting to get swarm calls, although the bulk have been out of my area so far. I'm sure I will soon be collecting some swarms and adding to my second beeyard, one I established (which now only has two hives) at a neighboring ranch.

Finally, I had to remove both of the hives I had in the Community Garden. When I split one of the hives the original bees became very ornery and defensive, and caused a lot of problems for the gardeners. I moved them, but was prevented by bad weather and other issues from moving the second hive for a few weeks. Evidently one of the gardeners ran a roto-tiller near the hive for an extended period, and they eventually got fed up and came after him. So, I went out last Saturday night and moved that hive back to my home yard as well. Both of these hives seem to have adjusted well, and the bigger garden hive (the one I split) has a tremendous supply of garden honey going into the flow, so they've got a great head start.

With all the rain, I'm hoping for a really strong flow this spring and lots of production from all the hives.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Second Swarm- Weirder Still, Dazed and Confused

Got a call about a swarm very near my Community Garden hives, at a condo complex in Thousand Oaks. I took a look, and immediately decided against catching it. It was located about 20 feet up, on the corner of a roof...

The next day, I was called again. Seems the swarm did something very unusual in my experience--- they moved, not as a new-forming hive, but still as a swarm, into an orange tree just below their previous perch.

I shook them into a box, took them home and installed just as it was getting dark and starting to rain. It all went smoothly, so I expected things to go well... but the next sunny day (about two days later) I saw all kinds of strange activity around the hive, and went up to take a look. Turns out the majority of the bees had left the hive and gone into a swarm ball on the ground...

As you can see, others were randomly sitting on the hive. Meanwhile, I was watching bees drop out of the sky and onto my driveway, where they'd spin around in circles, evidently unable to take back off. Something neurologica?

The ball of bees died on the ground, as did all the bees scattered on the hive. I checked the frames, and it appears they had originally started to draw out some comb on the plastic/wax foundation I'd given them. I wonder if there was something wrong with the plastic? I'd temporarily stored some frames in a shed along with some gas cans for awhile--- maybe the fumes had leeched into the wax on the frames?

At any rate, very, very weird.

Monday, February 21, 2011

First Swarm of 2011--- Early and Weird!

Had President's Day off from work, and a good thing--- because lo and behold, I got my first swarm call of the year! Very early, and in the midst of a cold, rainy spate of weather. We get a clear day and this hive was pouring out of a hole in the ground (next to one of those water company meter/access compartments; I suspect they were tired of being wet with all this rain) and attaching to... well, take a look:

I decided the best way to handle this swarm would be to vacuum them with my homemade bee-vac,

but for some reason I wasn't able to get enough suction with it. No idea why, it worked fine last time I used it. At any rate, I ended up sticking a small box down by the tire (fortunately I'd stopped to buy a box just in case) and swept the mass down into the box.

The challenge, as always, was to get the box closed up before too many could escape.

Now, here's what I don't know. I don't know if this group had a queen, because there wasn't the customary ball that most swarms form around their queen. I'm concerned the hive was in the midst of absconding, and the queen hadn't left yet... but time will tell. Here's what was left on the car once I did my sweep...

I put the captured swarm in a deep hive body with ten new frames/foundation, and placed an entrance reducer in front so they can more easily defend their new turf (if they decide to stay, and IF they have a queen).

We'll see...

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Using Deadout Leftovers to Feed Hives

I had another deadout last week--- unfortunately one of my best honey producers, too--- and if was kind of a mysterious one. The queen was on the comb, barely alive, as were a handful of bees on a couple frames. But there were no OLD bees; just young ones. Very typical of CCD; Colony Collapse Disorder, the unexplained malady that has caused such a high rate of hive loss over the past few years in the beekeeping industry.

Also typical of CCD--- there was still capped honey in the hive. So, I thought I'd give my surviving hives a treat, and hung them on this frame hanger I've got in one of the beeyards.

It didn't take long for the gals to find this, and within 30 minutes after I took this picture these frames were absolutely covered.

I also put a couple of other capped frames into one of my weaker hives, to hopefully give them a boost.

It's been a little disheartening this winter--- I've lost quite a few hives in the unusually wet and cold winter--- but I think we're turning a corner. This past week the weather heated up and the white ceonothus just exploded into bloom all over the hillsides, and today I watched a number of bees hit their hive entrances heavily laden with yellow pollen. Good sign--- hopefully the brood build-up for spring has begun!