Monday, October 29, 2007

Honey Anyone?

I can’t wait till next year when I will hopefully have some answers to all of my beekeeping questions.

Questions like - When is the bee population going to start declining for winter? It is a little nerve racking to see so many bees, and then come to a conclusion that the hives peak populations are during springs and summers!!!!!!

My goal yesterday was to smoke the hive with more tobacco smoke, part two of my Varroa treatment. I also wanted to check the honey stores on the top medium super and take a look at the deep hive body.
This is the hive without the top. I rearranged again and removed another frame. This time I took out a plastic frame to give the bees even more room to draw out another wooden frame. By all estimates, there is enough honey to take the hive through two winters. The picture shows my current super configuration. The plastic frames are drawn out and capped from 60 to 80%. The inside wooden frames are drawn out and capped 100% percent. The outside ones are currently being worked on.

Then here is my deep body. I pulled just one frame out of it; by the time I worked my way down here the bees were working themselves into a wild frenzy. A frenzy created by all the spilled honey from frames pulled apart for inspection, and from spilled honey out of bur comb that I cleaned off. I cleaned bur comb like the one in the picture below. It also happens to be Frame 9 of the hive body with more capped honey.

After removing the medium super, I placed it on my frame storage container (trash can). My hope was to keep any honey from falling to the ground and attracting ants. A lot of honey did drip on the lid. I decided to leave it all for the bees to clean. At first the bees seemed to be glad the inspection was over. They were more interested in repairing my damage, salvaging the spilled honey,

and stepping out of the top entrance for some fresh air. Within 20 minutes it turned into a mad feeding frenzy. I need to take note of this when I have multiple hives. Open feeding by the hives is definitely not a good idea. The weakest hive is going to get robbed. Regardless, I couldn’t have done a better job cleaning the mess. Only thing left was the bur wax, which by the time the bees moved off the ants moved in. Darn things were trying to make off with my wax!!!!! I’m collecting all this bur wax for future uses such as coating the top bars in the Top Bar hive (TBH)
Good inspection and good picture day. The link will take you to my favorite pics from yesterday. I counted four Varroa mites in the trap. I last inspected for them on Wednesday, so I have a great average of 1/day. Florida threshold before chemical intervention is 60/day. The Small hive beetle count is down to about 10 per week, if you don't count big mama here. Look at the size of this so call Small Hive Beetle.
Next week is step three of the Varroa treatment. More tobacco smoke with out an inspection.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Varroa Mite

Well, I can now say I have seen mites in my hive. Bee lesson for today, assume every hive has mites. I think this is one beekeeper experience I could had done with out ……… it’s a little depressing. On my previous blog entry I described how I smoked the bees with tobacco smoke. By the way, I smoked them at 5PM and went to bed at midnight still feeling the nicotine head rush. I’ve never been a smoker, what can I say.

I came home from work today and went to check the drawer of my hive stand. The suckers are small and my eye sight is not what it used to be. I took some pictures of the drawer after pulling it out.

This is what I saw; the macro lens is my microscope.

My next step was to pour the oil from the drawer, along with its contents over 3 paper towels. I picked out the suspicious shapes and took some more pictures.

This is a digitally enhanced version of the same picture. Compare then to the shape of the Mites in this picture from Wikipidia They can't be anything else but mites.

At least the Small hive Beetles are disappearing…just 8 in the trap for the whole week. That was how many would fall in a single day a month ago.

Six mites total. The purpose of a screen bottom (like I have) is to allow any mites to fall out of the hive that may lose their grip or get groomed off. Since I really never looked for them in the drawer, and they are hard to spot; have there been mites in the trap all along or did they fall off due to my tobacco smoke?? I will try and monitor the drawer daily for the rest of the week, and continue my planned treatment. Most keepers use a sticky paper to trap them but I left a shallow layer of vegetable oil to drown them.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Take Ten, and Smoke Them if You Have Them

The last few days have been somewhat overcast with light on and off rain sprinkles, and it appears the fall honey flow is over. Therefore the hive appears to be business as usual at a lower pace. I decided today would be a good day to start my four step Varroa treatment because there should be a lot of bees staying home.

I have not seen any signs of Varroa in the hive, but all the beekeepers recommend a yearly treatment. It seems that they all assume that there will always be some level of Varroa infestation.

My organic treatments consist of smoking the bees with tobacco smoke on three separate occasions (once a week), followed by dusting confectioner’s powder sugar all over the hive. This is most likely an impossible treatment method for a beekeeper with hundreds of hives, but perfect for the casual organic beekeeping hobbyist. Here are a few picture of my now storage/honey house/tobacco drying shed located in my bee yard. On the left my second hive for next spring, and spare suppers. In the middle a new trash can holding my frames. 10 deep plastic frames, 10 medium plastic, and 10 wooden with starter strip frames. Next weeks tobacco leaves drying in the rafter. Why smoke it with tobacco? The nicotine in the smoke should make the mites dizzy, like a teenager smoking his fist cigarette, and hopefully loosen their grip and they fall off.

Why three times?? To allow any mites in capped cells to emerge and get at least one treatment

Why the powder sugar?? Is the equivalent of the mites trying to walk on marbles, slipping and falling out of the hive via the bottom screen. The mess it creates should trigger a thorough house cleaning from the bees, and trigger self grooming for the bees. Either one should help reduce the mite population if any. The sugar also feeds the bees.

The video below is while I smoked the bees. I had a hard time keeping the tobacco leaves lit, so the hissing sound you hear in the video is me stepping back and blasting the smoker with the blow torch. The smoker sounds out of the picture is while I'm blowing smoke in the top entrance. I’m not sure there is an easy way to be 100% positive that this, or any treatment works. I mean if the hive never succumbs to a mite infestation, there is no way to be positive that my treatments are the reason. Could be there are no mites in my area; the bees may be a good Varroa resistant breed; or just pure luck. One thing is for sure, if Varroa symptoms appear, my treatments didn’t work.

Is the idea of using tobacco solid??? I think so. Notice the bees at minute -1:15 come out to groom each other, and they fall off the landing board as if they were drunk. Oh let me just say it, I’ve been dying to. It’s as if they are STONED. BUT trust me; it is simple home grown tobacco. No worries, the bees flew back in. Also, I’m feeling the effects of the tobacco. I feel like the kid that gets caught smoking by his Dad, and Dad makes him smoke the whole pack to teach him a lesson. If the tobacco smoke affected the bees and me, most likely it did the mites too. OK, let’s just hope their symptoms went away faster than mine did, and there are no permanent effects.

During dinner my wife commented it was like sitting next to an old cheap cigar. I felt like one too, so a shower followed.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

What a Mess

Unfortunately, I lost the best pictures of my inspection. I knew the memory stick in the digital camera was acting up. I made a point of getting a new one, but I didn't use it. I just didn’t want to give up on the old one. I'll have to explain what I observed this weekend. First, I noticed a lot of idleness from the hive.

I don’t know if the bees prefer green, or if the bees were fooled by the kids painted flowers. I came out at 10AM to inspect the hive and this is what I saw. It sort of proves my point about the hive being too idle.

I pried off my new wooden home made top cover. If it has any draw backs, I would say it is it’s weight. It may just be that I'm use to the Beemax heavy as a feather components.

Looking down into my medium supper, I started to realize why the hive is idle. The hive is, I believe, honeybound (Full of Honey). The top medium super has alternating plastic frames with plastic foundation, and wooden frames with a small wooden starter guide. The bees worked their way up drawing comb on the middle plastic frame. Then jumped out to the adjacent wooden frames, and drew out their own natural size honey combs. The natural comb was violating the ever so critical bee space. In other words, the combs on the wooden frames are big, so big that the adjacent plastic frames were too close to build comb on them. So with the supper 80% full, technically there was no space to store anything else.
I did some quick thinking, and recalled reading beekeepers sometimes space their supper frames out to fit just nine. So my solution was to remove the outer most wooden frame that had not been worked on yet. Leave the supper with just 9 frames and then spread the remaining frames so the bees can utilize both sides of the remaining frames. I decided that a picture is worth a thousand words. (see graphic explanation) My next inspection should reveal even more honey, and a heavier supper. My plan in two weeks is to simply remove the supper (nothing but honey by then) by pass it and do an inspection of the hive body. Today's lessons are: Fact 1 - with no cell guide (plastic foundation), bees will draw out a cell size they seem fit for the job. Fact 2 - Natural Honey storage cells are larger. Conclusion : plastic or not, foundation or foundationless, bees will draw anything out. Mixing frames types may not be such a hot idea.

Compare this picture to the first one in the post. The increase in space reflects the increase in activity. Notice that more bees seem to have gone out to work this morning. More honey stores give the colony a better chance to make it to spring with minimal intervention from the beekeeper.

I'm still puzzle at the lack of activity out of the top entrance. I see maybe one bee per minute coming and going from it.

Found this spider not too far from the hive, very cool looking Black and Yellow Argiope female

Fall Management

Is mid October, and the Florida Bee Forums are finally talking about getting the bees ready for winter. The Fall management steps will ensure a healthy and productive hive come spring, and the survival of the hive during winter

  1. Re-queen if necessary. – The hive did an emergency supercedure a few months back (raised a new queen). From the egg laying I have seen, I’m sticking with her. She may technically be a mutt (not breed by an expert for desirer qualities), but is my mutt and is from a proven local stock.
  2. Varroa mite treatment – The mite is a very dangerous parasite for bees, and the main source for a pronounce impact on the US bee industry. As an organic beekeeper, my goal is to knock/kill the mites off the bees with out chemicals. I should have very little to worry about this year. A broken brood cycle is one of the best mite control methods. Inadvertently, the hive had a broken brood cycle while it was raising a new queen. I have also observed a very good grooming behavior from the bees. In the weeks to come I will implement two organic Control methods. I’ll smoke them with tobacco (isn't nicotine a chemical ?? Oh well), and sprinkle the hive with confectioners powder sugar .
  3. Sufficient food stores – the bees must collect enough food to last them till next February. 80% of the medium supper is full of honey. Good stuff too. I couldn’t help having a taste when I broke some cells as I was doing my inspection.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Great Weather if you are a Duck

But not so hot if you happen to be a bee. Florida has had a different sub tropical depression spinning off the Atlantic coast, one per week for the last 3 weeks. Sub tropical depression is just a lot of rain and wind coming from the ocean. I’m just glad it’s not more hurricanes. The weekend was overcast with winds at 20mph, gusting to 30mph. Needless to say the bees were not out and about much. Below is the hive at 3PM on Sunday. I have never seen it like this early in the afternoon. The entrance was crowded and any sudden movement was sending them off into a momentary frenzy. I guess this is probably bee cabin/hive fever. NO WAY was I opening the hive this weekend.
It’s been a few weeks since I replaced the top cover and created a top entrance. I still have never seen any bees come in or out of it. Guards are on duty by it, but no one uses it. This picture was taken moments before the previous picture of the bottom entrance.

Here is my usual four day Small Hive Beetle collection - all drowned in vegetable oil. The lure is made of ½ cup apple cider vinegar, ¼ cup sugar, one cup water and ripe banana peel cut up fine or ground. Combine and let ferment before placing in the trap. I think every beekeeper down south knows this recipe by heart now. Up till now I was just turning around and dumping the contents of the trap by the hive. Big mistake, the ants were having a good old time feeding on all the dead beetles, and what ever else falls out of the hive into the tray.

I figured that no matter where I would dump the dead beetles, the ants and what ever else would find them. Didn’t really want to dump all the vegetable oil in my trash can, suddenly it occurred to me. Feed them to the egg laying garbage disposals. Chickens will eat anything. I made the mistake once of feeding them left over rice on a paper plate. I returned 30 minutes later to pick up the plate, and they had completely eaten it too. Boy was I right; the chickens love the beetles, the vegetable oil, and what ever else happens to be in there. Finally making some use of those darn annoying SHB.

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