Thursday, July 04, 2013

Of bees and beards

It was quite steamy and humid today, and my bees were letting me know it...


This behaviour is called bearding, and I've talked about it before on my blog. Now, I like beards on men, but on hives? Not so much. It means it's too hot in there and the girls can't work like they want to. Yesterday I put bee escapes under honey supers ( supers are smaller boxes full of frames to be filled with honey)  on two hives. I'm planning on extracting honey in a couple of days, and my favourite method of getting the bees out of the supers is to use these boards. They are like a little bee maze. The girls go down through the hole and out through a triangle maze into the super underneath. But they can't go up again because of the convoluted nature of the escape!

I usually wait three days for most of the bees to clear out.  Of course, emptying supers with a bee escape means that the hives suddenly had less room for bees. Add that to today's heat wave and you've got...


... bee bearding!


In the photo above, you should be able to figure out the two hives I put escapes on. Lots of bees hanging out front! I decided that I'd better add empty honey supers to them to reduce congestion, so I went out this afternoon, sweat my butt off, and put empty honey supers on the two hives in question (the leftmost hive, and third from the left.) The empty honey supers went under the bee escapes, of course, because I want the bees to have access to them.

I was trying to hold off adding new honey supers to these two hives, because I'm almost out of supers and frames! My bees are just going nuts this year. I'm going to the bee supply place (three-hour round trip!) on Saturday for more supplies (and lunching with my friend Deb from Just Cats!) Today I decided to deal with the most immediate bee needs. My four new hives need second honey supers very soon, but they can wait a little longer. The main nectar flow has just started and I don't want my huge, healthy hives to run out of space for honey!

I have NEVER, since I started beekeeping in 2009, had more than four honey supers on a hive at one time, and even that is a lot for me. But as you can see, the hive on the left now has two deep brood boxes and FIVE honey supers on top of those.  Right now I've got 17 honey supers on my hives! And more to come.



A couple of hours after I added the empty supers, the bearding had pretty much stopped, so I'm glad I did it.

I've been having all sorts of fun putting together frames for the hives, because Gordon taught me how to use his nail gun. I am IN LOVE with the nail gun! I can't believe I've been hammering in dinky nails for the last few years when I could have been using the NAIL GUN. And I'm almost as in love with the ratchet driver I was let loose with last week. Power tools are awesome! But you'll never catch me using the table saw...

I am developing some biceps this summer from all the manual labour I've been doing around the farm: hauling buckets of water, shovelling loads of poultry poop, working on the beehives. Yesterday I had to take off and put back on several full honey supers, which can weigh up to 40 lbs each. I can lift more than 40 pounds, but lifting it carefully to the level of my head and gently placing it on a beehive is tough. If you just slam the thing down, the bees get pretty ticked off! It's becoming quite the workout to add supers to the really tall hive, because I bottom super, meaning I put the new, empty honey super under all the full ones. The girls are more likely to use it this way. But it means removing and replacing all those boxes when it's time to add on!

I've noticed that all this physical labour is a lot easier since I started running. So I guess I'd better keep it up! My lower back problems have also pretty much disappeared, which I attribute to the running, yoga, and the extra abdominal exercises I've been doing after my runs. I'm glad I can lift those boxes without injuring myself.

It looks like it's going to be a great honey year. Fingers crossed. Last night, I listened to a beekeeper on CBC radio's As It Happens. He lives in western Ontario and has lost TENS OF MILLIONS of honey bees to neonicotinoid poisoning this year. The pesticide really needs to be banned. You can listen to him here. Yesterday I found a few poisoned bees in front of my hives. Fortunately for me, not hundreds or thousands or millions. I hope that never happens to my bees. It would devastate any beekeeper.

PS: Happy Fourth of July to my American friends!



19 comments:

  1. It sounds like you are doing something right with your bees. It's scary when you hear of bee deaths.

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    1. I can't imagine coming out to find my bees all dead. You get surprisingly attached to these little insects!!

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  2. How can you tell if the bees have been poisoned? I'm with you about power saws, my husband tries to get me to do my own board cutting with his table saw now and then but I'm just plain scared of the thing. Not crazy about garbage disposers either! But power tools are kinda fun aren't they? Sometimes it seems the guys get to have all the "building things" fun LOL!!

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    1. RObin, you will see dead and dying bees in front of the hives. In bad cases, there will be thousands of dead bees. They often die with their tongues out. If still alive, they can't fly, will lie on their back twitching... it's very sad. They become incapacitated. :( Bees will full pollen baskets (where they carry pollen on their legs) fly back to the hive and bring the poison in via the pollen, too. :(

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    2. PS I'm with you on the table saw!

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  3. I'm looking forward to seeing your extraction process. Will it be a specific flavour honey?

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    1. Cro, it does vary a bit from year to year. I never quite know what the bees are getting into around here. There was a LOT of alfalfa in bloom at the farm across the road last year, and the bees went to it and it was great! Mostly I just call it wildflower honey! The early honey usually has basswood in it which is my favourite. Sometimes I taste mint, because I have about 12 varieties of mint in my garden.

      Once our native grasses/wildflowers start growing on the 21 acres, I suspect I will get a more distinctive honey from all of that, because it will be one huge area for them to forage on, and they may spend less time elsewhere. But you never know with these bees!

      Usually I just say my honey is wildflower honey, because it's such a mixed bag of flowers around here!

      The late honey is always goldenrod, which granulates more quickly.

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  4. I can honestly say, I've enjoyed every drop of your wonderful honey you sent last year. I wish you a prosperous harvest and hope your bees are not harmed. XOXO

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    1. So glad you enjoyed it Susan!! THanks you for the good bee thoughts.

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  5. It looks like a bee fiesta!
    We as people obviously learned absolutely nothing from DDT!
    Jane x

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    1. I know! It's DDT all over again, with the focus on bees instead of birds!

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  6. Table saws are awesome! If you have all the safety gates in place, and you never, ever stand directly behind the piece of wood you're cutting, you're totally safe.

    I love power tools, too! (I used to work as a student supervisor in the sculpture studio at York U. - I miss the welding torches, radial arm saw, table saw and bandsaw.) :)

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    1. See, I used to cut myself with the Xacto knife all the time, when I was doing pre-computer graphic design. So I fear what I'd do with a table saw. :) But welding sounds fun!

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  7. I'm delighted your hives are doing so well. It's really scary to hear of massive hive failures when bees are so terribly important to our food supply. I have found that exercise helps my back too. Stronger muscles can take the strain off the joints and make everything easier!

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    1. Glad exercise is helping your back too!!

      The bee deaths are really dire and worrisome...

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  8. Woah, looks like it's going to be a good honey harvest for you this year! I like those bee escapes and think I'd want to use them if we ever get to harvest any honey haha. David was lifting one of the brood boxes the other day and said it was so heavy and he didn't think I'd be able to lift it. So you are one strong woman! I heard about the beekeeper from Ontario and it is just so horrible. Aren't those pesticides banned in Europe? The US and Canada need to follow suit!

    PS - Our queen is ramping up egg laying again, so that's a good sign! David worked on the hive the other day and we're going to check it again soon to see how she's doing.

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    1. Took off three supers this weekend, have 19 on the hives right now plus a box for comb honey. Holy moly. I hope you and David get some good honey this year!

      I can lift brood boxes if it (a) isn't autumn (when they are full of honey for winter) and (b) if I don't have to lift them up high. But they are frigging heavy! :) I bend my knees.

      Neonicotinoids ARE banned in Europe and they should be banned in North America too! Argh!

      SO glad your queen is going well.

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  9. In spite of my abhorrence of bees, I do enjoy your posts about them.

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  10. You brave man! :) And I bet you like honey!

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Thank you for all your comments, which I love to read!