Monday, December 17, 2012

LAF: Weight Check down 8+

See all that medical equipment. It might easily be what I walk into at work on any given day. I know exactly what to do with it and within a short time I will have hooked up all of it to a single patient or two. It is complicated, sophisticated and serious business.  I can't get it wrong!

And this, this is the face of a treadmill and for the life of me I can not determine exactly what I am looking at. To make matters worse I can hardly start the treadmill without a great deal of effort. I am a firm believer that if equipment is spitting out data then it must mean something. But this, this little track with all its colorful blinking lights, for the life of me I can't figure out what it is telling me or what its value is. Go figure.

It only starts here, my trouble with equipment in the gym. But I am going to save the rest of my equipment woes for another day. Today I only have a minute to report in and then I am leaving for some sunshine.

Lucky for me I am a stick with it kind a gal and even if it takes me 10 minutes to get the treadmill moving I hang in there. Today marked the beginning of my fourth week of working out at LAF. Now if I were to say I love it, or even like it, that wouldn't be telling the truth. I am tolerating it. I do love the swimming, but then I am really really good at that. I do feel better and I have dropped 8.65 pounds. When my trainer asked me what my goals were I said "weight loss".  "Great, anything else?" "Yes, weight loss and more weight loss." I tend to focus on single issues. Maybe once I loose some weight I can consider some other benefits of this rigorous plan of mine.

I was so hoping to be down by 10 pounds at this point. You see I have some really lovely bathing suits I'd like to fit into starting tomorrow. While packing today I was grateful that at least one in my collection of four fits. I am just going to be grateful for that and keep my chin up. I  have 10 days of personal training with my wife to look forward to which is more than most girls get in a life time.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Musings From The LAF Training Room

My wife is the best ever. Monday morning I had my first training session. I came home and by Monday evening I could hardly move. It really wasn't just a matter of hurting. I simply couldn't conduct the activities of daily living. I was a little pissed off to say the least. I had a "free training" session last week, part of the deal when you join LAF. After reviewing the training costs when I first joined I decided they were cost prohibitive. After my free training session the training manager said he could offer me something more reasonable.

I came home and contemplated the offer and decided to give it a try. The training manager had taken me through an upper body routine. I was surprised I was able to do anything and while I hurt for the next day or so it wasn't god awful and I could carry on in my other activities.  My usual MO is to go at these things alone and since I suffer immeasurably from the disease of addiction that usually gets me in trouble. It seemed like a smart idea to have a professional teach and guide me through the strength building aspect of this endeavor.

So on Monday I had my first session with "a  trainer".  He had me do three sets of Goblet Squats with boxes and a 35 pound weight, 12 rotations each time and taking one of the boxes away each time. By third set I was practically squatting to the floor. Then I did three sets of one minute planks, three sets of leg presses 12 reps each time with 70 pound weights, three sets of ball curls 12 reps each time and some sort of cable hold with 20 pound weights.  By the time Paula and I got to the bee yard I could hardly get out of the car and by the end of the day I was completely incapacitated. Seriously people, a girl should be able to sit on the toilet to pee. Period.

I knew something wasn't quite right with this clearly over zealous routine. I don't mind hurting and I am not going to pay for training only to slack my way through it. But for the love of Christ I am a 54 year old women who has never lifted a weight. What was he thinking? By Tuesday evening I hurt so much I couldn't sleep.

Getting back to my wonderful wife. I had a scheduled fit test Tuesday morning. I am not sure who's idea it was to schedule a fit test the day after my first day of training, seems to me it should have been scheduled the other way around. Anyway, I got to the gym and discovered a really sweet card in my bag. Buoyed by her encouragement I carried on and completed the fit test with startling results. To make matters worse I was told I would gain weight before loosing weight. Hard to stomach when the primary goal is weight loss.

I am getting a new trainer, no more young men who have been fit all their life and have no idea what it is like to be a 54 year old female who is completely out of shape and has never lifted a weight in her life.  I will work hard but I am not willing to find myself in a place where I can't even function for two days because I hurt so bad.

My musings may give the impression that I am miserable. I am not! I am feeling better, even after only 10 days. Lucky for me that little issue with addiction makes it really easy to establish new routines. If I do something twice it becomes a routine.  I have now put together 10 days of  a new routine with one day off. I am walking 2-3 miles a day. I am riding a bike for 3 miles a day and I am swimming, every day which I love. Swimming is my reward. I am only going to do the weights 2 or 3 times a week for the time being.

I will admit I was taken by surprise at the results of my fit test and my measurements. I did a little more damage during my year of sabbatical that I realized. Right now I am going to take some lessons from my program of recovery "one day at a time". And, I am going to come up with some daily goals so I can get those rubs from my wife every single night!  In the meantime I hope you all stay on board and cheer me on. It makes a big difference.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

New musings at Sweetpea's Bees

The Flight of The Turquoise Bee Apiary and Sweetpea's Bees have gone on hiatus. We are making our last trip of the season to the bee yard on Monday to remove all the combed out frames inside The Turquoise Bee. After having mice take up house in Crazy Comb I don't want to leave a single frame in an empty hive. December 1st I will order three packages of bees and then we are free until early March. In the mean time I am launching "Updates from LA Fitness" for my off season musings.

Beyond bees and honey we had an over the top year last year. We are on an academic calendar around here so when talking about a year in review I am talking September to September. Tina was on sabbatical and we had way too much fun. Too much fun led to too much eating. Too much eating led to too little exercise. Too little exercise led to too much weight gain and too much weigh gain led to a very unhappy camper. I wouldn't take the year back but I do wish I had not eaten my way though it like there weren't any consequences.

Once upon a time, not too long ago I was an avid walker, 10 miles a day, every day starting at the crack of dawn. I am one of those people who get up to watch the moon set. I loved my walking. Rain, shine or 30 below zero I left the house at 5 am and logged 10 or more miles. It was a routine I took for granted for the past 15 years. When we vacation in Florida I often put in a few 20 mile days. I guess you could say I am/was a distance walker. When I had my first bone density scan the endocrinologist who read my scan actually wrote in my report "bone density of a postal worker". I was flattered and relieved since Celiac Disease can lead to osteopenia. I am no stranger to extreme fitness adventures either having completed the Chicago Marathon in 1986 in under 4.5 hours and riding a three speed bike from St. Paul to Chicago in five days in 1996, I am quite capable when I set my mind to it.

 About a year ago I stopped walking and took up space in a chair, in our kitchen. A leather lazy-boy like chair. I monitored the news like it were my job and I planned one fabulous trip after another and one fabulous meal after another. We traveled well and we ate well. Now all I have to show for it, other than some really good memories, are 30 plus pounds right in my middle. I am not much for appearances. I could really care less what I look like but the fact of the matter is that I don't feel good. My clothes don't fit and I don't have any energy. The idea of going outside for a walk is more than I can face.

Once upon a time, a long time ago, I lost 100 pounds. This isn't a new problem. I kept it off, most of it for 10 years.  The I started jumped up and down 10-15 pounds, moment to moment. It was just that easy to gain 15, lose 10, gain 5, lose three. You can see that eventually  the math started gaining on me. So when this particular episode got underway I was probably up by 10 from my baseline and then went on to add another 30 pounds. My usual methods of dropping 15 pounds simply aren't going to work this time around.  I've considered just getting back out there walking again but it hasn't come easily. After contemplating my options I finally decided the routine was so off kilter it would need a real jarring to fix.

 I decided join a fitness club which admittedly makes me groan. I hate health clubs. I hate paying money to do something I can do outside on my own. I hate how they smell. I hate all the skinny girls running around in skimpy outfits. I hate spending time getting there and getting home. I don't like "working out" and I don't like exercising with other people. I don't share space very well. All that and I haven't even mentioned the equipment. I loathe exercise equipment including weights.

I am smart. I operate very sophisticated live saving equipment at work. I program pumps to deliver complicated medications. I hook up all kinds of monitoring equipment. Hell I can even calibrate a scale to weigh a diaper. But turning on a damn treadmill is so complicated it takes me 10 minutes. I am dumbfounded by how difficult it is to simply program the treadmill to go for 40 minutes and a certain pace. I am not a quick study so once I finally get it going I have no idea what particular combination of buttons I pushed actually made it start so when I return the next day it is like starting all over again. If the treadmill isn't mind boggling enough let me tell you about the recumbent bike. That little stinker isn't even programmable until you actually start to pedal. Seriously, how I figured that out I'll never know.

I decided to join LA fitness for several reasons. Most importantly I can pay month to month. I didn't want to be locked in for a year or more. It is close to home, another important feature. When I visited the facility I was impressed with how clean it was. I also love to swim and there is a lovely lap pool. So I joined and have been going for three days in a row.

I wish they had some handout on fitness club etiquette. I like to know the rules. For example since everyone else seems to have on headsets can I just go ahead and sing out loud. I don't really like music except for Christmas music which is all I have loaded on my ipod. I just want to belt out the lyrics but I am not sure that's a good idea. This morning I was very troubled to find the only treadmill open was in front of the TV stuck on fox news. I can't actually get the sound but just the idea of exercising to Fox news was disturbing. I tried to distract myself, following along to the fake track of multicolored blinking lights in my "dashboard" but that only amused me for so long. Then I got a little excited about my next door neighbors reading material "Making your way to sexy curves" only to realize she wasn't reading about highway 1 in CA. So I came back to the blinking track pondering why there were three different colored lights blinking at different intervals. So boring. My reward, after 40 minutes on the mill and 10 on the bike is 10 laps in the pool.

I am nothing if not determined. My goal this week is to just get another routine going. We are entertaining Tina's colleagues from Budapest tonight. Crab cakes, smoked porterhouse, Minnesota wild rice with chanterelle mushrooms, green beans with gremolata and creme brulee. Starting tomorrow food is going to look very different around here until I get these 30 pounds reined in.

So, jump on board and cheer me on. I need all the motivation I can get. I'll be musing here every once and awhile about my progress so stay tuned. Hopefully by the time the new girls arrive in April I will be back in shape.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Uninvited House Guests Take Up Residency in Crazy Comb

You can't imagine our surprise to find a nest of mice had take up house in Crazy Comb. Thank goodness we had removed all but one box and all of the frames three weeks ago. Otherwise the mice who moved in would have had a hay day with our beautiful comb.

We went down to the bee yard today, hoping to pull all the frames out of The Turquoise Bee. It was a warm sunny day 60 degree, very unusual for the end of November. We were hoping to find a pile of dead bees inside Turquoise and we thought it would be easy, just pull out the frames and load everything into our car. It was to be our last visit to the bee yard. We would say good night to the girls and be done for the season.

We we so confident we headed into the yard without any of our protective gear on only to find a flurry of activity coming from Mr. Abbott and The Turquoise bee. Katran'a Drone Den seemed quite but not dead with a few bees flying about. We had one box standing from the demise of Crazy Comb. Last time we came down we pulled all her frames and all but one box. I was perplexed, why had we left a box in place. Paula wanted to make sure it was indeed empty, that we hadn't left a few frames for some reason. When she opened the lid we both took a step back as about 7 mice looked up at us. Whoa, what a nest they had made. I actually had to admire the work and the determination and wondered where in the world they had gotten the beautiful ornamental reddish orange feathers. They stirred a bit and Paula quickly put the lid on. How in the world had they gotten in, the mouse trap was in place. Then Paula noticed the cork was missing from the hive hole that we usually plug and had plugged weeks ago. Some how the cork plug was dislodged and was laying on the ground next to the hive. I quickly ran to the car to get my camera to capture some images of the little critters before kicking them out. I don't like mice and yet these little pile of rodents sort of captured my attention. I tried to visualize them haling in all that stuff to make their next, almost wishing we had a video camera pointed on the hive so we could watch this kind of activity.

We suited up and tacked The Turquoise Bee. We had two boxes full of frames and when we opened the hive I think both of us were surprised by how many bees were still there. We got the first box emptied but the ill tempered girls were giving us a run for our money so we closed her up after pulling the top box and decided we would have to come back in a few weeks for the last box. We have never gotten a good idea of how strong this hive really was, I guess the population was much stronger than we thought. A few more weeks should take care of the rest of them. We will have to get down there and pull the frames before mice decide to move in. I would be sick to loose a box full of drawn out comb and pollen to field mice.

Back to the mice and giving them the boot. Oh so sad but they had to go. Paula dismantled the box, pulling it off the hive stand which was covered with maggots. Ew, how gross! Before Paula turned the box onto its side so the mice could scamper out she asked how I felt  about mice running a muck, even up my leg. Well, I wasn't keen about the idea but I knew they had to go. So I just said go for it. The mice scampered out, ran about a bit and then took off so we  dumped the nest and stacked the hive stand behind Katrina's Drone Den, hoping rain might clean off the maggots.

We packed up the car and skipped our good byes knowing we will have at least one more visit in the next few weeks. I guess it was a good thing we found the mice now and not in the spring when we might have just had an infestation. Seven mice is enough for any beekeeper, a box full of mice would be too much!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Some Girls Have all the Moxie

I am coming down from my relief about Colleen's Royal Ruckus, disappointed yes, but the relief that I don't have AFB is just tremendous! Finally I can focus enough to get our winterizing plan mobilized.

At the last Minnesota Hobby Beekeeper's meeting a beekeeper asked for donations to a research project. He was looking for weak hives, less than five frames of bees that probably wouldn't overwinter. I thought of Mr. Abbott, our little divide from The Turquoise Bee.  Although they seemed to be making some momentum they would fit his criteria. They didn't have any honey and probably wouldn't make it through the winter. I gave the beekeeper a call, offering the bees but said I needed one more week to make a final check on them. I was actually worried they wouldn't make it through the week and didn't want him to get his hopes up. I just can't wrap my mind around what these girls are working off.

Paula and I headed down to the bee yard early with a brilliant sky blue pink on the horizon and barely a chill in the air. We had more mouse guards and winter covers for the hives. I was curious about what we would find. Would more hives have absconded? Would Crazy Comb be dying off without her queen? Would The Turquoise Bee behave so we could inspect her? Would we find a great deal more honey in Drone Den from robbing? If was full of questions.

We moved all of our gear out of the car and down to the bee yard. Paula couldn't get the smoker light so we just move ahead without smoke.  First things first, get the mouse guards in place while there wasn't a bee stirring. The hammering would surely rile the bees and we couldn't wear gloves while getting the nails in place. It would be easier to get them in now before any activity from the bees. We did a cursory inspection in Katrina's Drone Den. I do think these girls may have robbed Royal Ruckus. They have great honey stores, more than I remember and seem strong. Note to self, we should probably keep better records of our frame inventories in each hive. We would have been wise to do a powdered sugar test for mites. Doing so would tell us our mite load which would be a good predictor of surviving through the winter. After the vanishing act of Royal Ruckus I am starting to rethink our mite management. I am not contemplating treating but knowing mite loads could help us make other decisions about how we manage wintering and maybe even help us figure out how many new packages to order. Food for thought. We fitted Drone Den for her cover, made a cut out for the bees and placed the moisture board in place. One hive tucked in for winter.

Next we looked through Mr. Abbott and found a robust group of bees. true grit and spirit to boot. These girls have some moxie to be sure! I started wondering about their genetics. The more populated they got the more they acted like The Turquoise Bee. I wondered if we could figure out their lineage. Brood and bees moved from Turquoise but a new Queen would reset the genetic make up in any hive but we had two queens running amok in Mr. Abbott for at least a month. Did the unmarked queen come from Turquoise Brood?  I told Paula I was rethinking the donation. But without any honey it didn't make since to keep them.

I was anxious to see how Crazy Comb was doing without their queen. When we open up the hive it was clear the population was declining and they had a fair amount of honey. Paula suggested we move frames of honey over to Mr. Abbott and try to keep her going. I agreed it was a great idea. We had two boxes to go through and could pick out the heaviest frames to move. As we started sorting I noticed we had queen cup after queen cup. Holy mother of Apis these girls are fixing to re-queen themselves. We took our time and removed every single queen cup and agreed, we would need to come back next week to check on them. After taking out the queen it would be something if they re-queened. I don't know if a queen could actually take a mating flight at this time of year but I didn't want to risk it. We painstakingly removed every queen cell we saw. Paula had some news paper in the car so instead of brushing the bees off the frames of honey we wanted to move we placed newspaper between the old and new box. By the time the bees ate through the newspaper they would be attracted to their new queen and wouldn't have a brawl on our hands. It was a lot easier than brushing bees even though there weren't that many bees. As we worked I noticed that the bees from Mr. Abbott seemed riled up and I reiterated my concern about their lineage. We put her winter cover on and moisture board in place. Two hives tucked in for winter. I'd have to call David, the beekeeper hoping to get some bees from me and tell him no go.

Finally we decided we had to check The Turquoise Bee, it was now or never. We have not dealt with those renegade girls in months. We had to get a better idea of what was going on in that hive and hopefully extract the queen. As always they were agitated beyond measure. There was a reasonable amount of honey and a fair amount of brood. I immediately caught sight of an unmarked queen. When had Snow White been replaced? How long had this queen been at it? I'd have to go back in our records and see when we last saw her. I took her out, swiftly! These girls have to go, no matter what. I was delighted with myself for locating her and doing the deed with such precision. That being said there is a tun of brood and probably some eggs in the hive leaving the girls plenty to work with to re-queen themselves. We will have to watch them like a hawk for the next three weeks and remove any attempts they make.

Our work is hardly done. We will have to return weekly for the next three weeks or so making sure Crazy Comb and Turquoise Bee meet their demise and then pull the boxes and store the frames. Anything with honey, well we might be begging for some walk in freezer space to store it. Nothing would be better than a few frames of frozen honey to slip into an over wintered hive in the spring. We loaded Paula's minivan up, throwing in our workbench and headed for coffee. I was was pleased with myself and my queen spotting skills and had to brag a bit on the way home.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Anxious Bee Keeper

Bee with Varroa Mite, that red dot on the head of the bee.

I am an anxious person. I fret, I stew, I worry. It is who I am. Half measures avail me nothing so I do it well and I do it with enthusiasm. Colleen's Royal Ruckus has been the object of my worry since we last went to the bee yard. After reading and consulting as many folks as possible, I just couldn't get AFB out of my head. Experienced beekeeper after experienced beekeeper weighed in. They all said Verroa. It was unanimous. Not a single bee keeper suggested something other than demise from the mighty mite! I meant to bring some of the frames from Royal Ruckus to the Minnesota Hobby Beekeepers meeting earlier this month but I was so preoccupied with Marla showing up as the guest speaker that I forgot.

To make matters worse, Gary, Marla's side kick and beekeeper extraordinaire decided it would be a good night for show and tell and brought in some frames with AFB. "Can you smell that?" he asked the group. The telling sign of AFB, its stench. I moved closer to the desk to inspect and smell the frames. Damn they smell and look like my frames. Gary started pulling out the scales left on the bees from the AFB spores and used an ultraviolet light to show them to us. I started to panic, my heart was pounding.

I was sick, really. It was like discovering I had sexually transmitted disease. I felt dirty! All of my equipment would need to be burned to the ground. Nothing short of that would stop the spread of the disease. I imagined my next trip to the bee yard finding more hives gone. I could hardly listen to Marla. I wanted to get home and look at my frames again. I "borrowed a UV light" thinking somehow I might see the scales Gary showed up. Mostly the sweet stench of the frames stayed in my nose.

I inspected, smelled, inspected, smelled some more, watched ytube videos, read and looked at those frames until my anxiety completely consumed me. Finally I got up the courage to email Jim. Before I got my bees from Kentucky I ordered bees from Jim. He emailed back immediately. "You are more than welcome to bring the frames to me to look at but your bees left because of Verroa" I stewed all day until 4pm and then packed the bee mobile with my over sized Tupperware containers filled with frames from Royal Ruckus. I had to know for sure. When I got to Jim's and started unloading containers from the car, all three of them he laughed. "Verroa, Verroa, Verroa".  I explained that after Gary's show and tell at the last meeting I just couldn't get AFB out of my head and that the smell of my frames was just like the AFB frames Gary had. Jim opened the Tupperware. "These smell fine, that's just the smell of dead brood. Your bees had Verroa." He looked through the frames, opened a few caps and then commented on how much pollen and wax there was. "These will be great in the spring, just spray them with sugar water and put them in a new package. You will have honey in June." He also confirmed that robbing had taken place. I more or less knew that from the torn open cells but since I had never seen it before I showed him some of the super frames that were all torn apart.

Before I left Jim advised me to put the frames out in the cold and make sure they get frozen through and through. I could have small hive beetle or wax moths in the frames and the only way to kill them is to freeze them. As soon as it is cold enough leave them outside until they freeze through, he told me. I sort of figured I should do this but I can use all the help I can get! It would be just as shameful to loose all my comb to wax moth as it would be to have AFB. Well maybe not just as shameful but it would be really sad and wasteful especially since I can prevent that.

Beekeepers are the most generous folks in the world. I continue to be amazed by their generosity. I can show up anywhere any time at a hobby bee keeping meeting, send out emails to bee keepers I hardly know and they always respond quickly and with insight. They offer to look at anything, come down to my apiary, what ever might help to solve my delima. They offer up suggestions and ideas, never hiding behind the family recipe for success. They genuinely want everyone to be successful. I still feel like a novice, heck I had never seen comb torn up by robbing before and had to have someone look at my comb to tell me that is exactly what I was looking at. Right now my email box is hardly filling up with requests for help and no one is seeking me out at the meetings for an opinion but some day I hope to return the generosity and be there for that novice like myself who doesn't know the difference between the stench of dead brood and AFB.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Grim News: Royal Ruckus Has Vanished

I am too puzzled to be sad.

It has been cold here in Minnesota, last weekend there was snow up north and this weekend we had a hard frost in the cities. During our last trip to the bee yard, three weeks ago, we didn't really do any winterizing. It was 80 degrees that day. While it isn't quite time to cover up the hives it is time to put in mouse guards, plug up any openings and make some last minute calculations about survival. So Paula and I headed down to the bee yard yesterday morning, hammer in hand and boat load of news to catch up on between us. We gabbed the whole way down, didn't bother playing our theme song and then mapped out our plan. I had not really prepared so we were short on mouse guards but at least we could get the entrance reducers in.

The yard was quite. I expected this as it was chilly and early.  I found a few piles of drones in front of two of the hives, a good sign that the girls are getting ready to hunker down. When the weather changes the bees and the beekeeper get ready for winter. Worker bees kill all the drones and throw them out of the hive. They don't do anything other than consume honey stores so the girls just get rid of them. The queen slows down and eventually stops lay. The bees form a cluster and starting at the bottom of the hive they work their way through the winter stores moving up as they need. By spring time a happy beekeeper will find a cluster of bees still eating away at the honey left in the hive, usually in the top box. An unhappy beekeeper might find a dead out, bees that died of disease or starvation.

Winterizing for the beekeeper includes looking for evidence of disease, evaluating food stores and preparing the hive for winter. We looked around the yard. Typically we don't see any evidence of disease but we don't check to hard since we are not going to treat the bees. The most common disease is nosema, a condition that affects the intestinal health of the bees. You can usually catch this disease by very distinct markings of bee excrement on outside surface of the hive boxes. Basically bee diarrhea. It is more prevalent in the spring but we have a box or two that might have some of the characteristic markings.

 I started plugging holes and checking hives while Paula worked on the mouse guards which were too big and needed to be bent to get them in place. I felt foolish for not having ordered enough to go around and not having the right sizes for the smaller hives. Mice love to burrow in the warmth of a hive box during the winter and will destroy all and any comb. Paula worked long and hard to make sure we had adequate protection against these little rodents! Anything to protect our precious comb. I would be devastated to have all our comb torn apart by mice!

I was a little dumbfounded to find Mr. Abbott still thriving although there is some evidence of nosema outside her top box. I am confident they won't survive but it is really quite something to watch them just carry on.  The Turquoise Bee was her usual angry self and we couldn't really get in to check her out. We opened up Crazy Comb, found her Queen and "took her out".  I am really feeling guilty about it but it had to be done. Katrina's Drone Den seem to have more honey than I remember her having and like Crazy Comb, The Turquoise Bee and Mr. Abbott the bees all seemed to be clustered in the top box. I wasn't too happy about that as I think the bees should be in the bottom boxes going into winter. Could be a sign that they don't have enough honey to survive. Time will tell.

Then we went to check on Colleen's Royal Ruckus. Nothing in the top box at all, well maybe that was good and they were all in the bottom box. Nothing in the middle box. I starting wondering where all the honey was that was there three weeks ago. We put both boxes aside and then discovered there was nothing in the bottom box. NOTHING! No bees, no pile of dead bees at the bottom of the box, NOTHING. We started to rifle through the frames to see if we could figure out what happened. There was some scant patchy brood, nothing substantial at all. Bees won't abandon a brood nest ever but what was left hardly constituted a brood nest,  just patches of spotty brood here and there on about half the frames. There were some dead emerging bees, no evidence of disease save something weird looking on the outside of the middle box that looked sort of like nosema but not really. We looked closely at the frames, all the honey was gone, every last lick gone and the comb in some areas but not all seemed to be torn apart like it had been robbed out. The frames did seem full of pollen.

What the heck? Is this what colony collapse looks like or is this just old school absconding? I don't really understand the difference to be honest. Absconding usually happens when conditions in the hive just are not right for survival. A desperate hive leaves with all the bees, queen and everything else except the honeycomb. Our honey was gone but the pollen was left behind. Colony Collapse Disorder is characterized by honey and pollen and brood all being left left behind and usually  the queen and a few nurse bees are left. Its all to weird and confusing to me. Some of the frames are torn apart like they were robbed but there was a patch of honey on one frame left undisturbed. When I got home I read threw my books and poked around online. For a fleeting moment I worried about American Foulbrood a disease that would mean burning all of our equipment and I mean all of it. It would mean starting over. It one point I even tried poking a match stick end into the brood to test for ropiness but who knows if the brood was past the point of maturity for this particular indicator.

I am going to my monthly beekeepers meeting tonight where wiser minds prevail. My other girlfriend Marla is the guest speaker so I am going to have to work extra hard to pay attention, focus. Hopefully I can get some answers about what may have happened to the hive from the more experienced beekeepers. I may just throw a box of the frames into the car and bring them in for those wiser minds to inspect and postulate over.

Monday, September 17, 2012

The work of Fall

It took three trips to the bee yard to collect all of the boxes and frames we needed to remove before fall. Yesterday, after a weekend of funeral events for Tina's father I couldn't have been happier to head to the bee yard with Paula. It has been awhile since we were there late in the afternoon. We tend to do our work in the morning. It was hot and the bee yard was full of activity. We were a little dumbfounded to find the bees completely unwilling to part with the cleaned out boxes. Hundreds of them clung for dear life to both the boxes and the frames. We used brushes to get the off the frames and placed the frames in our heavy construction bags getting tuns of bees trapped in the bags.

They weren't necessarily agitated just clamoring to stay on the frames and boxes. We decided to go ahead and do two full inspections starting with Royal Ruckus. We easily spotter the Yellow Lady in the top brood box. There wasn't much brood, the colony seems to be downsizing although we didn't find a pile of dead drones outside any of the hives but they have clearly moved into a fall mode. The queen  seemed to be sort of wandering the frame, not laying a thing during our watch. We kept her out for several minutes just watching her move about. The other bees didn't seem to interested in her or her activity. We also found our unmarked queen in Crazy Comb in the top brood box. Again, not much brood and she just seemed to be wandering around aimlessly. We don't want this hive to over winter and probably should have done away with her but neither of us had the heart in the moment. I am just still so unsettled about how to manage things.

Once we moved our bags and boxes up to the car it was very evident we had a huge problem. Bees, everywhere! Hundreds of them milling about the car, the bags, the boxes, the equipment. We have had bees follow us up to the car before but not more than a handful and always milling about us! There wasn't a prayer we were going to get the equipment back into the car without getting bees in the car. We finally decided to leave the empty boxes, get the bags into the car and we kept our bee suites on, turned down the windows and drove to a nearby parking lot to reassess our situation. Most of the bees had blown out of the car, enough that we felt comfortable taking off our suites and continuing home.

We returned this morning hoping to finish pulling everything and inspect a few more of the hives. It was a very cool morning with a light mist, darker than usually as the days are getting so much shorter. The bees were quite and docile and we didn't have any battles at all. It couldn't have taken us more than 30 minutes to get our work done and pack the car. Lesson learned pulling empties is much easier in the cool dark morning than a hot fall afternoon. We will have to remember this for next year.

We won't go back for a few weeks. In the mean time I need to do some home work and figure what we want to do in terms of over wintering decisions and management. Paula's daughter is interested in having a hive or two so we may just gift her some used equipment and keep our fingers crossed. If we end up with too many hives in the fall we can give some to Kristen and not get to worried about it right now.  I have the bags of frames siting on the back porch. I am going to wait a few days before opening them and getting them stored for the winter. All the empty boxes need to be scrapped and it is just too cold to tackle the job today. Besides the bags are full of bees right now and our bees suites are in the laundry after a misty muddy morning.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Getting Stung Sucks Big Time

This is what I aspire to. I want to be the kind of beekeeper that is simply fearless and unwavering in confidence. When I began this endeavor I imagined I would be one of those beekeepers who worked the hives maybe wearing a veil, maybe not. Who the hell wore those bulky bee suites?

This of course if Marla, my other girlfriend, entomologist and beekeeper extraordinaire. She makes me weak in the knees and when she speaks I come undone.  Let me reassure my readers, Tina is the love of my life this is just a silly junior high like crush, I am sure we all have them.  Besides, Marla doesn't give me the time of day.  I don't think she even noticed when I was one of about 10 in a crowd of 200 that raised my hand when asked who had a good harvest this year during the Minnesota Hobby Beekeepers Meeting last night. Seriously Marla? I was one of a handful, don't you want to know what I did to get 20 gallons of honey? I may not have imagined donning a bee beard but I surely expected to be opening up hives with my bare hands, unencumbered by additional protective clothing. Then I got consumed by the idea of getting a tic, deer or wood, didn't matter and I went into full combat mode and ordered the bee suite, the veil, gloves and then some.

Well things have not panned out as I imagined.  For awhile I convinced myself I was just protecting myself from the tics. Then I started getting stung and the protective gear got a little more, well shall we say complicated. Now I can not imagine going into the bee yard without my veil, bee suite, gloves and today I am kicking myself in the butt for not putting on the calf high boots I usually wear.

My stings seem to get worse and worse each time I get stung. I would have expected them to temper over time but no such luck.  Paula and I had lofty ideas today, hoping to pull all of our empty boxes, 11 of them. We started with Mr. Abbott, the smallest and weakest hive. Good golly can you say population explosion! The bees had made their way up four boxes and while they did do some cleaning they mostly capped off small bits of honey in two full boxes of frames. Its all patchy and there isn't a prayer we could extract it, nor is it enough that it would be worth moving to another hive. It just isn't worthy of winter food stores. So we got started and dang if those girls didn't get agitated beyond measure. Paula got stung first and left the bee yard while I made a fleeting attempt to carry on but then I got stung and by the time I got to the car Paula got stung again. I got stung in the exact same spot as last time, right over the medial aspect of my ankle joint. I know perfectly well that by tomorrow morning my ankle is going to be so stiff and swollen that I won't be able to walk for a day or so. Paula, well she got stung in the same place on both of her ankles. Typically she doesn't react like I do but both of us felt like we got a hefty dose of venom.

We quickly regrouped and considered our situation, the bee yard now loaded with warning pheromone would not be too welcoming. We'd only pulled two out of 11 boxes. I suggested we go at this piecemeal and take it a hive a visit. Paula agreed but when we got back into the bee yard we decided to try to pull a few more boxes. All in all I think we pulled five which is a good start. The bees did an excellent job of cleaning the frames and the boxes. They are dry as a bone.  We put all the frames inside  four or five large construction bags and just tossed the boxes into the car. When we got in the car we sat in silence for a moment or two, listening to a few bees trapped inside the bags buzzing away. It is such a lovely sound in an odd sort of way.

During our ride home we tried in earnest to talk about the pros and cons of wintering and not wintering the bees. It is such an ethical dilemma for me personally. How can we not try to overwinter all of them? How can we deliberately compromise their ability to overwinter? I am not going to get into the merits of this conversation today, trust me it is a hard one to have. A beekeeping peer of mine likened it to feeling like the sorcerer's apprentice in that Mickey Mouse cartoon from Fantasia in which the brooms kept multiplying and Mickey kept falling further and further behind. Coming out of last winter with two hives that became five. Going into winter now with five could mean 10 in the spring and going into the following winter with 10 could me 20 in the spring and so on and so forth. You can see the problem at hand I am sure. I just want to be a four colony hobby beekeeper, nothing more, nothing less. How do I accomplish that in a way that is responsible and ethical and economical?

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Jarring is a job!

It took the better part of the day and it didn't make a dent in the honey supply. When I was finally done I think I had 70 jars of honey. I love packaging and while my labels are not ideal they work and I like them. It was important for me to have the name of the apiary on the jars and a little explanation about the Turquoise Bee on each jar. Mission accomplished.

Colleen's Royal Ruckus
I also wanted to highlight the hard work of my dear friend Colleen who has come down to the bee yard on countless occasions to help us out, especially covering for Paula when she was on vacation this summer. Beekeeping is physical labor, the boxes are heavy and it really takes two of us to lift boxes and work the hives. Colleen and another friend Katrina both won the hive naming contest so each of them are getting jars that have special tags with the names of their hives on the jar. Hopefully they will enjoy gifting honey from "their hives" to friends and family.

Katrina's Drone Den
It was a sticky mess. The 5 gallon bucket with a honey gate dispensed the honey to fast and in too thick a stream to go from bucket to jar. So, I had to dispense honey into measuring cups and the pour the honey into each jar. Of course dribbles and spills ensued and it was particularly hard to get the jars cleaned afterwords. I am mailing a fair amount of honey off to friends around the US and in France so then there was the job of packing the honey for mailing.

Each jar was wrapped in tissue paper and then went into a cellophane bag before going in the box which then got put in another box for mailing. I am still working on getting everything in the mail but I got a good start and all of my Rosh Hashanah honey should be delivered in time for the New Year's tradition of dipping apples in honey for Rosh Hashanah!

Finally I am going political!  Anyone in Minnesota getting a jar of honey is also going to get a plea from the beekeepers to VOTE NO on the homophobic marriage amendment going on the ballet this fall. This amendment is very personal for me. Not only am I opposed to the amendment but I oppose using the constitution as a vehicle to create policy and law. For crying out loud we couldn't even pass the Equal Rights Act for women in this country through a constitutional amendment. 

Paula and I are headed back to the bee yard tomorrow to pull the frames and boxes the bees have hopefully cleaned up and hatch our plan for wintering. I am hoping to get some good tips tonight at the Minnesota Hobby Beekeepers meeting for wintering and "not wintering" colonies as we only want to winter two of our hives.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Clean Up

It was a great party. By the time my head hit the pillow my feet were pounding but I felt completely satisfied! We had pulled off the best honey extracting party ever and while we sent everyone out the door with one or more bottles of honey we are sitting on at least 15 gallons of extracted honey. Once the house cleared Paula and I finally got a change to sit down, eat and recap. It was a great success and a fabulous way to spend Labor Day. Everyone seemed to really enjoy learning about the bees and seeing the process of getting the honey from the frames into the bottles. Fortunately kids loved cranking the extractor and kept it going for four full hours.

The clean up, well that is another story! It took the better part of Tuesday morning for me to get the honey room clean up. The extractor went into the shower and took about an hour to clean with hot water, dish soap and more cranking to agitate the sticky mess covering the inside of the tank. While bagging the boxes full of frames I dropped two boxes on my shin. A bloody mess ensued. Tashi Losar found his way into the honey room and got his paws stuck in a puddle of honey and stared running amok. It was a comical scene to say the least. Blood pouring down my leg, sticky honey hands trying to catch and sequester Tashi . . . By noon I had everything under control, cleaned up and the boxes ready to go back to the bee yard.

I wanted to start bottling honey but there are still way too many air bubbles from the extracting. It takes a week or more for the air bubbles to rise out of the honey and it is worth the wait! Clear golden honey in a jar is much nicer to behold than cloudy bubbly honey. So I am waiting patiently hoping I can get my Rosh Hashanah honey delivered in time for the Jewish New Year in a few weeks.

Paula and I went down to the bee yard today to return the empty boxes and frames to the hives. The bees will clean up the frames and the boxes in no short order and we can pull them off and store them in Paula's garage over the winter. It had been several weeks since we checked on the bees, too long for both of us. The bees, well they probably appreciated the break from our poking around but we missed them and we missed being in the bee yard. I am happy to report all five hives are healthy, thriving and queen rights. They all seem to be bringing in some nectar, and we saw plenty of golden rod along the road driving down but no nasty locker room smell in the bee yard. Typically golden rod sticks like athletic socks. There is some new capped honey in some of the hives and all had good brood patterns. We weren't looking for queens just some evidence that the hives are queen right.

We will go back next week and pull the boxes the bees clean and check on them. At some point we will have to shore up our assets, determine if we need to feed them syrup to help build up their winter stores and eventually put them to bed for the winter. If we have an Indian Summer the bees might just keep pulling in golden rod nectar and we won't need to  feed them at all.

In case you missed the video show casing our activities here it is again:

Monday, September 3, 2012

It's a Honey Harvesting Party! Don't Miss The Fun!

I have been planning this party for no less than three years. It is almost like checking an item off the bucket list! We have never really harvested enough honey to showcase our little hobby. Finally, after three years we HAVE HONEY! Oh we have gotten honey in the past, just not enough to host a party showing off our packed and capped frames, demonstrating how the extractor works and offering little bottles of honey to anyone who comes.

I didn't really know this year would be different but I was hopeful. After all, we managed five, count them, five hives. How could we not not get a bumper crop. For years I have been telling Paula about my friend and beekeeping mentor Patty who got 20 gallons of honey one year. Neither of us could really wrap our minds around that until we started pulling frames in early August. Five full boxes, one a brood box, 50 frames in all. Then we knew, we had a bumper crop and the party was on. There wasn't much planning to do after all  I have planned this party in my head for three years. Now it was just a matter of executing the plan.

First up, get the honey blessed! Another bucket list item. I spent days getting the honey room ready, ordered an electric uncapping knife to make the job easier, collected five gallon buckets to store the honey, ordered little jars and labels for the honey . . . endless activity. I roasted two 12 pound turkeys to make pulled turkey sandwiches, made a few gallons of Chipotle corn, black bean and tomato salad, a double batch of sun dried tomato dip, and bars, bars, bars. The food will be good. The company will be fab and the honey will be front and center.

I am sure a sticky mess is about to ensue. Tashi Losar and Ziva Jane are not invited. I don't need little cat paws full of honey running amok but they sure helped with the preparations, stalking the turkey and trying to get into the brownies and making sure the tables are to their satisfaction!

If you can't join us at least you can enjoy the little video Tina made for me showcasing our beekeeping.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

A Photo Essay

Photo by Sue Vruno
My friend Sue is a photographer, and a very good one. I invited her down to the bee yard mid summer to capture some images of the bees. I am somewhat spellbound by what she captured. The detail in her work is captivating. Fortunately our trip was during a major nectar flow so the bees were very docile. Sue was able to take photos while the bees were completely consumed with tending to the brood, bringing in nectar and capping honey. Below are a few of the stunning images she captured. It was a fun day and I am grateful to have such amazing photos of the bees at work. Thanks Sue!

Crazy Comb Photo by Sue Vruno
Sticky business Photo by Sue Vruno
Moving Wax? Photo by Sue Vruno
Photo by Sue Vruno

Capping honey Photo by Sue Vruno
Capping Honey Photo by Sue Vruno
Packing in the Honey Photo by Sue Vruno
Tending to the Brood Photo by Sue Vruno
Photo by Sue Vruno
A Pile of Bees Photo by Sue Vruno

Friday, August 31, 2012

The Full-Moon Honey Offering and a Blessing

I have told the story before but I am going to tell it again. Buddhists from India and Bangladesh celebrate a special full-moon observance, Madhu Pumima during the month Bhadro (August/September). It is celebrated as a joyous day of unity and charity to the temples with the giving of honey and fruit in remembrance of Buddha's retreat into the Parileyya Forest to reunite two monastic factions who were locked in a heated debate. The disciples could not be reasoned with so Buddha went into solitary retreat as subtle encouragement for them to work out their differences.

While in the forest Buddha was attended to by an elephant who fed him fruit each morning. A monkey saw the elephant serving Buddha and brought a honeycomb to offer. Buddha received it but did not eat the honey, so the monkey took back the honeycomb and considered it. Seeing bee larvae inside, he took them all out and then took only pure honey to offer. This time Buddha accepted it and ate the honey. The monkey was so excited he began jumping from tree to tree and fell to his death.

The monks, who had split into two groups agreed to make up their differences and make peace and sent a representative to Buddha to invite him back to the city. The elephant was so heartbroken to see Buddha go and died right then and there. The elephant and the monkey, after dying were reborn as devas in the Tavatimsa heaven.

To commemorate the events of the forest Buddhists bring honey and fruit to local monasteries and celebrate unity and peace. So it was particularly fitting that we held our blessing to coincide with this traditional festival.

 Minnesota is home to the second-largest Tibetan exile community in the U.S. and is also home to a traditional Buddhist monastery. Gyuto Wheel of Dharma Monastery, the first western branch of Tibet's Guyto linage was created under the guidance of His Holiness the Dalai Lama with a two-fold mission. In addition to daily practices in meditation and mindfulness, including the often-recorded multiphonic chanting and creation of elaborate butter sculptures and sand mandalas, the Gyuto monks share instruction passed on directly from the historic Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, while also preserving the unique traditions of the Tibetan monastic life preserved in Exile. In addition to offering teachings the monks will preform traditional Tibetan Pujas, or blessings for any number of occasions.

So last night, in observance of the Blue Moon which will come to its full phase this morning, we  invited the Monks to come and bless our honey crop and enjoy an offering of honey from our 2012 crop. I had originally planned a Puja in the bee yard back in June but something came up and the event had to be rescheduled. Now that the bees are in a more agitated state with little to no nectar flow and robbing by bees and humans I thought it would be best to spare the Monks a possible sting.

Paula and I picked up the monks at 5:30, along with my good friend Pema who served as a translator and cultural ambassador, making sure I had the Khata's folded properly and guiding Paula and I through the blessing.

We gathered in our "honey room" where stacks of boxes full of frames packed with honey stood front and center. I spent hours cleaning and organizing the honey room not only for the blessing but our extracting party on Monday as well. The Gyuto Monks are gifted in chanting prayers, blessings and mantra's. The unique and powerful multiphonic chanting fills rooms, activating the body and mind to transcend mundane discriminative thought and bring about an integrated state of enlightenment. The transcendent beauty of their chants, combined with the dramatic power of traditional monastic dance serves to heal, inspire, and transform. Our little honey room was filled with harmonic chanting! For me it was a visceral spiritual experience.

When the blessing was done we did a short extracting demonstration for the monks so we could offer honey right off the frame for them.

 We made an offering to the monks to take back to the monastery and eat as well as a little jar for their alter.  I  also gave them a candle Paula made from wax we collected  during our first year of bee keeping. We also showed the monks a wonderful slide show Tina put together show casing our bee keeping activities and then sat down to a traditional Indian dinner which I have to say was over the top and they loved it. Tina brought Ziva Jane and Tashi Losar out to meet the Monks and they were a big hit as well.  To end the evening we had our exchange of Khata's and the Monks gave us each a set a Tibetan prayer bead and filled two of our honey jars with blessed water from the Puja.  The blessed water can be taken down to the bee yard and sprinkled on our hives to extend the blessing for healthy bees, healthy land and forgiveness from the bees for robbing them of their honey.

When we dropped the Monks off at home they took Paula and I into to see their prayer room and alter. I have been to the monastery a few times but I am still in awe each an every time I enter this sacred place. To top off a perfect night on our way home we were guided by the nearly Blue Moon, high in the sky, nearly full, shining brightly and talked about how wonderful the evening was. We both agreed, this is a must do for every harvest. As I sit writing this the now full moon is shining low in the sky right outside my window and I am filled with a since of contentment, peace and joy. I am just a little closer to  the spiritual part of the bee keeping that drew me to this place to begin with. I am grateful to have my bee keeping partner Paula who loves this as much as I do and grateful for my connection to our Tibetan  American Community. I want to extend a special thank you to Pema for all her work in helping make the night go smoothly and my friend Nancy who helped coordinate the Puja.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Extracting: Take One

Finally we get to use the extractor. We have enough honey this year to make good use of this fun piece of equipment. We have five full boxes of honey to pull, some deeps and some shallows. Since we are hosting an extracting party on Labor day we wanted to have a dry run today. Mostly I wanted to pull from the the uncapped frames or minimally capped frames to check our moisture content. I have had the boxes in a closet for a few weeks with a dehumidifier trying to lower the moisture content. When I checked it two weeks ago it was about 18.9, not low enough for my comfort. Today, so far we are measuring between 15 and 16.5. I couldn't be happier. I can tell too, the honey is thick and slow, not thin and runny.

As you can see I am nearly giddy. I got a new electric uncapping knife and it is the bomb!! So much easier and faster than the knife we have been using which is a standard uncapping knife that has to be heated in hot water every time you take a swipe. This just pulls the capping off and it drops down into our uncapping tank. There is a fair amount of honey in the caps so we will let it drain for a few days, strain the honey and the wax capping debris and then freeze the wax for candles later in the fall. Paula was much better at uncapping than I was. It isn't as easy as it looks and you don't really want to go too deep with the knife. Below you can see a frame Paula is working on that is really dark. This frame is from a brood box and is full of pollen! The honey has a slightly more robust taste to it as well, based on the finger full I took.

Once we had three frames completely de-capped we slipped them into the extractor. We have a tangential crank extractor that is basically a centrifuge with a cage inside a drum to hold the frames and then spun round to throw the honey out of the cells by centrifugal force. The honey runs down the inside of the drum and is drawn off into a container through a gate at the bottom. Both the electric knife and the extractor help preserve the structure of the combs so they can be replaced in a hive after extraction. It saves the bees a great deal of work! We will also return the extracted frames to the bees so they can clean them up as well.

We like to strain our honey and I think most people appreciate that. So the honey leaves the extractor and goes into a five gallon bucket that has a series of mesh strainers. The honey passes through the strainers but the bits and pieces of wax, comb and bees stay behind. The five gallon bucket has a gate  from which we can dispense honey into jars. I must say, we have a nice little operation going here. The cats stayed out our our business and we finished about a box and a half in less than four hours. It was a great dry run.

 I did a few things to make the process run smoothly. Since our honey room is essentially our back room in our condo I  cleaned everything out but our extracting equipment. I set up a long table with all of our supplies, pales, strainers and equipment including a crock pot set on the keep warm mode full of steaming water and a pile of wash cloths to help keep our hands clean. I covered door knobs in plastic wrap and put newspaper down on the floor, keeping a stack of newspaper handy to cover any honey drippings. The last thing you want is to track honey through the house on your shoes. We made far less of a mess than our previous two years and crock pot was pure genius.

I am glad we are having a party, mostly to get some help with the labor of extracting the honey but also because it will be a really fun way to end the summer.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Deep down in Katrian's Drone Den

It is a busy week for me. With almost 15 gallons of honey to harvest I have to rearrange my canning schedule. The last two week of August, when I usually start my canning routine will be completely consumed with the honey harvest. So in addition to trying to get down to check on the bees I am in full gear with the caner and over my head in tomatoes. But I love it. There isn't much work to do in the bee yard per say but we do need to inventory the hives so we can plan for overwintering.

I've heard rumblings of a goldenrod nectar flow. Can I just say if indeed there is any goldenrod nectar coming in I am glad we pulled our frames early. Goldenrod honey sticks like wet sweat socks. As far as I am concerned the bees can keep that nectar for themselves. Driving down, I did notice the the yellow bloom along the ditches but I also noticed plows out mowing the ditches depriving the bees of any last minute sources of nectar from the goldenrod. I know, the ditches are an eye sore, people are allergic . . . but seriously people the bees need the pollen and the nectar even if it is stinky! My hives don't smell and my bees are angry as all get out so I don't think they are bringing in any goldenrod at all.

Paula is out of town this week so our back-up beekeeper Colleen came along. Colleen is a good worker and fearless. August can be a hard month to inspect the bees. When the nectar flow stops and beekeepers are taking honey the bees go into a guarding mode. They are very aggressive and difficult to deal with. Since we have pulled as much honey as we are going to take the inspections now are to determine what honey stores are in each hive and where we need to move honey to for wintering.

On this particular visit I wanted to go deep into Katrina's Drone Den and see what kind of stores she has and try and spot her queen.  The bees were very agitated and annoyed with our snooping and somewhat combative against our helmets and veils. I get a little uneasy when they are like this,  recalling the 15 stings I got last August. I don't need another National Geographic Photo op!

We made our way all the way to the bottom brood box. Three queen cells, lots of brood, no queen sighting and maybe two frames of honey. I was looking for a marked queen which was probably narrow minded, maybe this was the hive that swarmed back in June and re-queened herself.  I went ahead and removed the queen cells and a tuns of really crazy comb and brood formations off the frames. I will admit, I was a little careless. The hive appears to be queen right, has plenty of room and obviously not enough honey for winter. I am not sure what the queen cups are all about and I hope we are not headed for a late summer swarm. Regardless we will have to raid either Crazy Comb or The Turquoise Bee and move some frames of honey over if we want to over winter these girls. I guess we were a little greedy in our harvesting.

Next week we will do the same in Colleen's Royal Ruckus, go deep and assess her honey stores. We saw her queen last week so it will really just be a matter of determining how much honey she has and needs.

After that I'd like to think about combining Mr. Abbott with one of the two hives we are going to overwinter. She just isn't mounting any sort of population and without any honey her bees starve to death over the winter. Might as well strengthen another hive rather than loose the bees. It would me sacrificing a queen however and god knows I hate that!

The hard work will be getting to the bottom of Crazy Comb and the Turquoise Bee at just the right time to take honey from them for the other hives without creating a situation for robbing. We will have to think that one through.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Mission Complete All Our Frames Are Pulled

Five full boxes! Barring some miraculous capping action in the next few weeks we are done pulling frames of honey. Paula and I went down to the apiary today to size up what was what and decide how much more we could afford to take. I still feel like we are missing honey but we really don't have any evidence of robbing so my detective hat remains on.

Our over all game plan is to over winter Katrina's Drone Den and Colleen's Royal Ruckus. They are both new this year, well tempered with healthy queens and good honey stores. In fact, we caught a glance at The Yellow Lady in Colleen's Royal Ruckus today. It was really nice to see her. We took a brood frame or two of capped honey from each of these hives and slipped in frames without foundation to replace them. We didn't take much from the supers of either since there wasn't much other than comb and some nectar.

We also went down to the first brood box in Crazy Comb and took another two brood frames full of really nice dark capped honey. The population in Crazy Comb seems less than robust with obvious evidence of major hatching and no eggs. We do have some brood so the hive has been queen right until at least two weeks ago I am guessing and may still be queen right, who knows. We are not going to over winter Crazy Comb so any more frames of honey will be moved before winter to Royal Ruckus or Drone Den. No point in wasting good honey. I am still speculating that this is the hive that swarmed the end of June and obviously re-queened itself (for the second time).

We peeked in Mr. Abbott as Paula wanted to see what was going on. Nothing new with this Ferrell like bunch of girls.

Finally we went down as far as the first brood box in The Turquoise Bee. I am so ready to put these girls to bed. While I didn't get stung they remain an ill tempered group of girls who have no idea I have poured my heart and soul into their very existence. We took two frames of honey from the brood box and a few super frames out of her as well. She has a box full of nectar sitting on top that the bees simply won't cap. They can have another three weeks to work but that is it. Any honey left in The Turquoise Bee will get moved over to the hives were are overwintering.

 Last August the bees really didn't cap anything so I am doubtful they will do much more. If they do bring any more nectar it is bound to be golden rod which stinks like hockey socks and the bees can keep that for themselves. Right now, I think we have our crop and it is a beauty! Most of the capped honey is a nice pearl white but we do have a few frames of really dark yellow. I managed to scape about a cup of honey from the bottom of the Tupperware box that we used to transport the frames home. Just enough to tide me over until we start extracting.

So now we move onto the extracting phase of season. It is going to take some labor to get our crop jarred. Get your muscles in order we are having a party!  I am still working on a Tibetan Blessing with our local Monks. In the mean time its all about getting ready to extract. I finally decided we had enough honey to invest in our own refractometer. By the time I would be done running back and forth to Stillwater every time I want to check the moisture content of the honey I would have paid for the darn thing in gas. So tomorrow my very own hand held refractometer should come in the mail. Takes me back to the early day of my nursing career when I had to test a certain body fluid for specific gravity on a routine basis. At least I will know how to use it.

Monday, August 6, 2012

6 Legged Robbers???

Hum, I am not sure what is going on in our bee yard. It has been about 10 days since I last checked on the bees. I went down then to remove the bee escapes I put on too early. I remember taking somewhat of an inventory. We had at least four supers full of honey that were well on their way to being capped off,  maybe 65% and at least three boxes full of uncapped honey.

I went down this morning to do a cursory check and see if it was time to put the bee escapes back on in anticipation of pulling more frames on Wednesday with Paula. I was a little dumbfounded to find what seems to be far less honey in the boxes, all of them. I was hoping to find the top boxes completely capped in which case I was going to put the bee escapes on just below the top boxes. Instead I found the boxes to be much lighter than they were 10 days ago. There are a few frames of capped honey in one or two of the boxes and some honey but nothing compared to what had been there.

Bees will try to rob honey from another hive. Robbing is usually seen in the spring before a nectar flow or in late summer with the nectar flow has ceased. When there isn't another source of nectar bees will look for other sources. Usually stronger hives will rob weaker hives.

What makes me really pause here is that I don't see any significant evidence of robbing behavior. There isn't a frenzy of fighting outside any of the hives. Wrestling at the entrance is a good give away but lack of fighting isn't proof that you don't have robbing going on. It could just mean the robbers have over come the guard bees. I have not found piles of dead bees in front of any hive, another indication a battle has taken place. Most importantly I don't see capped honey torn open, another telling sign. All our hives are strong but one. The strong hives all had plenty of honey,  and it seems like the bloom is good which would mean reasonable nectar sources. I can't see any reason for the bees to go out scouting for alternative sources of honey. We do have a week hive, Mr. Abbott's Little Bee but there has never been any honey in that hive to begin with.

That being said we are down honey, no doubt about it. It is very puzzling. Of course we could have robbers coming in from another apiary, who knows. Bees can be very sneaky which is why I don't see much evidence of anything suspicious. I am going back with Paula on Wednesday and hopefully she will have some insight after she sees the situation. Until then, keep your fingers crossed that more honey doesn't disappear between now and then.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Honeycomb Another Gift From The Hive

We collect it all summer long. Honeycomb, the hexagonal wax cells the bees build on the frames of foundation we place inside the hive boxes. It is here that all the action takes place. In the brood boxes the comb contains the larvae, pollen and stores of honey. Actually the bees will build it, frame or no frame, and they will build it just about anywhere we leave space for them. I will admit, we are not tidy beekeepers and we have yet to master the "respect the bee space" rule. Our bees, they build crazy comb, in fact that is how one hive got its name, Crazy Comb. Every time we would do a hive inspection in Crazy Comb her first year we were dumbfounded by the amount of crazy erratic comb the bees kept building!  Technically it is called burr, bridge or brace comb.

Bees secrete wax to build comb and it takes about 8.4 pounds of honey to secrete a pound of wax so really, it is a very precious commodity. The color of the wax comes from pollen and the cocoons embedded in the cells and the tracking of many bee feet, called travel stain. That is why brood box comb is darker than the wax in supers where the bees are hopefully just storing honey.

I am not going to get into the geometry of the comb. I am a beekeeper not a mathematician. Suffice to say it should be considered one of those wonders of the world.

Burr comb is comb that is placed in globs or bumps or connecting sheets perpendicular to the main frames of comb, or in any small space and is great for drone cells. Burr comb is also called brace or bridge comb. It clogs up hives and makes a mess and good beekeepers remove it to keep the hive tidy and manageable.When we inspect our hives, especially Crazy Comb we try and clean up the mess but it can be tricky. If the burr comb is in a brood box and we can't find our queen we don't want to go poking around with a hive tool, removing comb that a mess of bees are working on. After all Her Majesty might be lurking around and god forbid we remove her, hurt her or worse, freeze her to death.

What wax we do collect all goes into Ziploc bags from week to week.  It gets to be a sticky mess. Periodically I go through the bags, remove dead bees and other junk and transfer the wax to a large Tupperware that goes in the freezer. Our first two years of beekeeping we didn't have more than a frame or two of honey to harvest. The only way to get the honey was to pull if off the frame with our hands which destroyed the comb. Of course we kept it, several pounds total,  froze it and several months later Paula showed for dinner one night with a tiny little tea light candle she had made. I was slightly dumbfounded all that wax had been reduced to two tiny little tea light candles but squealed with delight. This year we have enough frames that we can save the structure of the comb on the frames by using an extractor, basically spinning off the honey in a centrifugal fashion. The combed out frames can be stored over the winter and put back in the hive in the spring giving the bees a huge jump start.

We will cut the wax capping off the frames and combine them with our summer scraps and hopefully  Paula will do her magic sometime this winter turning the mess into a candle or two. People eat comb honey as well. I am not a fan but my friend Patrick prefers his honey with a chunk of comb so I try and cut a chunk of frame comb for him. I am just not a fan of having a mouthful of wax to chew on and eventually spit out when enjoying my honey. To each their own I guess. The bottom line is that it isn't just honey that the hive produces, there is wax as well and in the spirit of not wasting anything I am grateful Paula turns our wax into something useful and fun.