Monday, May 21, 2012

Record Keeping and Discovering SEEDS Farm

Meet my good friend and beekeeping partner, Paula! I could not keep bees without her! I am so grateful and thankful that she joined me in this adventure. At its core beekeeping feels like a solitary activity, I can't deny it. However I know for me that having a partner has been the best unexpected highlight of the journey. I simply love doing this thing with her, I especially love the enthusiasm and energy she brings to the bee yard! I keep bees for the magic of utterly unexpected moments filled with giddy joy. Paula is the giddy joy.

When I first got it in my head that I wanted to keep bees I had no idea what I was getting into. Anyone who knows me will tell you, once I have an idea in my head it is a done deal. I immediately signed up for three different beekeeping classes, yes, I also have a problem with excess but that is a different story. I signed up for an 8 week college class and a weekend course on beekeeping taught by the University of Minnesota. A few weeks before the 8 week class started we had Paula and her partner over for dinner and I mentioned the beekeeping class. Paula was all over it! Apparently she had wanted to keep bees her whole life. I talked her into taking the class and talked her into a partnership in a matter of minutes. It was too late to sign her up for the weekend course so I took that by myself, developed a wicked crush on the instructor, a famous bee guru, Marla, and promptly enrolled in her graduate level field class. We were prepared. Our first year was a bust and a blast. We lost a hive and got a gallon of honey. We learned a great deal. Most importantly we learned the value of good record keeping, or the lack there of since we didn't keep any.

During our second year we decided to keep an accurate account of our hive inspections, what we found and what we did in each of the hives. No big deal, we had two hives, it was easy. So far this year I have gone to those records countless times to find some specific detail of information to help us with a current situation. The logs have been helpful in any number of ways. With five hives the record keeping has become more of a job than I expected. Last year we used to just pull the binders out as we sat in the car at the bee yard to update them. Now we usually bring the books into the coffee shop in Northfield that we stop at on our way home and sit at a table and do our record keeping. I am also really grateful we named the hives as it makes keeping track of them so much easier! We update the records, review or findings and plan our next moves. Should we add another brood box? Is the hive ready for a super? How are the populations? How much comb do we have compared to last week? Endless chatter and planning as I sip my decaf and Paula drinks some fancy cooler. I am sure we sound like bug geeks to bystanders, I guess we are bee geeks.

Today we didn't really do much as we are trying not to disturb the bees too much! The Turquoise Bee has drawn out comb on about 80% of the frames in the super we threw on a few weeks ago. We are hoping to stay ahead of the upcoming nectar flow and will probably add a second super next week. We didn't bother going down into the hive, no reason really. We divided her so we know the population is a little low and she won't swarm. We also did a cursory look at Crazy Comb, oh goodness she is just so true to her name, what a mess. No comb in the super or the third brood box which was disappointing and the population looks strong. We really should be looking deeper for swarm cells and removing them rather than keeping our fingers crossed. Mr. Abbott seems week and sluggish. I had hoped to see more brood and an expanding population from the divide but so far not too much. Royal Ruckus was a ruckus, a jumpy group of girls that don't like us looking in on them. The Yellow Lady is working hard and the bottom box seems full with a little comb in the second box. Katrina's Drone Den, also full in the bottom box and a little comb in the second box, just about right for new packages I'd say. We fed the new packages and Mr. Abbott and removed our entrance reducers. We can see pollen going in everywhere, eggs and brood in every hive and we spotted all three queens in the hives we inspected which is very reassuring!

On our way out of the bee yard today we decided to stop at the foot of the hill leading up to our bee yard. For two years now we have been watching a swath of land that seems to be taking shape into some kind of community garden. Every time we drive by we wonder exactly what is going on and who is managing the land. More to the point we wanted to see if any pesticides were being used. Today we noticed a few women working in the field and someone in the greenhouse so we parked the car and went to meet them. After all our bees are surely pollinating their gardens! SEEDS Farm. Social Entrepreneurship, Environmental Design and Stewardship. Wow. A community farm involving college interns collaborating with the Community Action Center Food shelf and Farm to School program providing affordable, fresh and sustainably grown produce. Good stewards of the land, we didn't need to worry about pesticides, all organic.

It might be a little quite around here in the coming weeks as we let the bees do their thing and deal with some things outside the bee yard. We have the Tibetan Monks schedule for a Puja on June 22nd and baring a swarm that will be next big excitement in the bee yard.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Talking Bees with Little People

My good friend Mara hooked me up to talk to a group of kindergartners about honey bees. What fun! I was clearly the culminating point of some serious honey bee curriculum. These kids knew all about bees and I am pretty sure I didn't tell them anything they didn't already know.

You might think no big deal, she's a pediatric nurse but I was a nervous nellie for days before the big event. You see, I don't actually know much about healthy kids. Give me a sick one and I am perfectly comfortable, I know exactly how to deal with them. I can connect with a sick child with skill, grace and ease but the healthy ones, well not so much. Trust me they are not the same at all! On top of that I was really worried they were going to ask about mating and I just didn't quite know how to tell them about the promiscuous queen whoring herself in the sky with several unvetted drones who leave their parts in the queen as a souvenir. Lucky me, their teacher had already covered that topic and they were far more interested in the show and tell items to be worried about a slutty queen.

The bee suites were a big hit and so was the smoker. The kids wanted nothing more than to try on the suit and use the smoker. Tina helped me put dead bees inside some queen cages that I passed around. Mostly they wanted to know about getting stung and sharing their own stories about bees. Some just wanted to tell me about playing soccer after school, or what they were having for lunch never mind the bee stuff. I showed them some slides, one in particular got a great reaction:

I also showed them a candle my beekeeping partner made two years ago from wax we collected throughout the summer and of course a sample of the honey. They all got to enjoy some apples and gluten-free pretzels to dip into little cups of honey. Now you would have thought the honey was best part of the talk and for a few kids it was as I watched them lick the cups clean. Most of all they just really enjoyed putting on the bee suit and telling me they were professional beekeepers.

Monday, May 14, 2012

A New Bee Yard Work Bench

I have the best brother-in-law ever! Last Monday evening Paula and I went to the Minnesota Hobby Beekeepers meeting, including a demonstration in at the Honey House Bee Yard on how to do a divide. While we were there we saw the best bee yard work bench ever. I took a photo and sent it via text it to Charlie while we were at the meeting, asking him if it looked like something he could make. Charlie can make anything including his current project an inboard motorboat.

We had dinner at Charles last evening and when I drove into the driveway I saw a perfect replica of my bee yard work bench sitting on his porch. That's right, Charlie made the work bench that same week.

I know it might seems silly to be so excited about a work bench but this thing is going to save our backs and make work in the yard a snap. We can transfer two boxes on to the bench and easily inspect the frames without ever bending or staying stooped on the ground leaning over the boxes at ground level. I might be more excited about the bench than the bees themselves.

We had another surprise when we arrived, a trail from the road to the bee yard meowed out for us! Big score! We have been using weed whip to blaze a little path but over the weekend our property owner mowed a large path for us. Being tic obsessed I can't stand the long grass they hide in and was really happy!

The bees, they are great. We didn't have too much work  to do today but we did use the bench which was fun and made our work much easier.  We made sure all the hives had sugar syrup on hand. We will continue to feed the bees until the first nectar flow which should start in a few weeks. The syrup will help the bees comb out any empty frames and nudge the queen to lay. We could see the girls bringing in pollen which is good.

We took a peek into Mr. Abbott's Little Bee, after releasing the queen last Friday, we just wanted to make sure we could spot her and see if there were any eggs. Both accounted for! The population seems low so I sure hope that queen gets to work! We added second brood boxes to Royal Ruckus and Drone Den as the bees have completely combed out the first box and we have beautiful brood on most of the frames though out both boxes. We also took quick peeks inside The Turquoise Bee and Crazy comb, spotting both our queens and making sure both have plenty of space. Then we just sat and admired the yard and the bees and soaked up the warm sun. Then we made our to-do list: Stay out of the way! Basically we want to minimize our inspections, leave these ladies alone,  and let them do their work.

Thursday we have been invited to speak to a preschool and kindergarten school about our bees. I am guessing there will be a smart 5 year old in the room that is going to stump us with some really odd question but it should be fun. Tina says little kids that age just love stuff so we will bring lots for show and tell and just pray we don't need to answer the mating question. I am just not sure how to explain how a queen mates herself up in the sky with multiple drones . . . Hopefully the bee outfit, hive box, combed frame, dead bee, and slide show will keep them busy. Of course they will get to taste some honey but it won't actually be from our bees as we are out of last years harvest! They will never know the difference.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Giddy Beekeeper!

This is my friend Patty's swarm! She caught it and now it is hers . I got giddy when she called, telling me about the it last Thursday at 5pm. I wanted to go help her and watch her hive the bees but we had company coming for dinner that evening. I waited patiently for Patty to post photos online and was giddy the next morning when I finally go to see her photo and her video of the bees marching right into the hive.

I am a complete wreck thinking about swarming. You see my bees are not on my property. I provide pollinating services for an organic farmer and he provides a spot for me to keep my hives. It is a win win for both of us. I have never worried much until this year. We have the perfect storm for swarming and I am worried that Crazy Comb is going to take up house somewhere else on his property. Furthermore I have never caught a swarm and I am not prepared to deal with it either. I don't have enough spare equipment so if Crazy Comb does decide to swarm I am going to be screaming for help from the local beekeeping community. That being said watching this swarming event unfold and seeing how Patty got the bees back into a hive was so captivating that part of me wouldn't mind if it happened.

After Patty caught the swarm and secured it in a large cardboard box she took it home, yes, in her car, and set up a new hive. She put a sheet on the ground in front of the hive and dumped the bees on to the sheet. Over the next two hours the bees marched right inside the hive. It was simply surreal to watch. Research has show us that bees use a process of consensus decision making and swarming a perfect example of how this works.

The bees get edgy and agitate and they start making plans to split. They make provisions for those they are leaving behind, feeding some of the brood royal jelly which creates a new queen. About 2/3 of the bees start gorging themselves and the queen starts slimming down so she can fly off with the swarm. Finally they agree today is the day and off they go, taking up temporary residence in a tree or some other structure while scout bees go out looking for a new home. The scout bees return to the swarm and communicate the options and collectively they make a decision to move. During the short time they are hanging out for the scout bees to find a more permanent spot is when beekeepers can catch the swarm and re-hive them. Honey bees are docile and particularly so during swarming. They don't really pose a threat unless you are aggravating them. Any beekeeper believes they are luck to catch a swarm.

Paula and I have taken steps to minimize the risk of swarming but bees will do what they want. We divided the Turquoise bee hive in half and we are making space inside Crazy Comb so they don't start to get the itch to leave.  Our approach with Crazy Comb is risky and any experienced beekeeper would do a divide. We spent Friday evening in the bee yard moving things around to manage the bees. We had a new queen in our divide, Mr. Abbott's Little Bee that needed to be released, a brood box from the Turquoise Bee that we needed to move over to Mr. Abbott and we wanted to once and for all find our queen inside of Crazy Comb.

Working through our list of things to do, all went smoothly. Our new queen was released easily and the brood box was moved without a hitch, thanks to a bee escape I put in place 5 days earlier to get the bees out of that box. Then the fun work, checking Royal Ruckus for brood, one week after releasing her Yellow Lady. Both of us were stunned to find almost all the frames in Royal Ruckus completely combed out and beautiful brood on at least five frames. We also caught a glimpse of The Yellow Lady. Then we checked Katrina's Drone Den, again beautiful comb and Snow White the queen.

Finally we tackled Crazy Comb. I had thrown a queen excludee between her two brood boxes on Monday hoping to isolate the queen and if we couldn't find her maybe we could see eggs and then we would know which box she was in. You might remember that this is the hive that may have swarmed last summer and we had not seen the queen in her since last July. While we love to speculate about the mystery of Crazy Comb, what happened when, we also would love to get some clues that would help us figure out her story. Was the original marked queen there and we just  couldn't find her? Had she supercede a week and sick queen or had she swarmed and re-queened herself?

We started going though the top box. Paula was pulling the frames out, looking on one side while I inspected the other side. Frame number 3, there she was, a huge beautiful unmarked queen on the side I was inspecting. Giddy with delight I pointed her out to Paula! At least that was settled, we had a new queen. At some point a virgin queen left that hive, headed for a drone congregating area to essentially prostitute herself with a handful of drones and then returned to the  hive and was accepted by the colony. Amazing! It is a little reassuring to me in that having a younger queen might help minimize swarming behavior. We also put an empty brood box on her so that they have plenty of room. And now we are keeping our fingers crossed.

We were seriously giddy with ourselves and the bees. We got everything done that we wanted and we had five hives in great shape. Now to keep Crazy Comb from swarming and move on to the first nectar flow. I am becoming a giddy beekeeper and a honey whore. I keep thinking about all these bees, all these hives and all the honey we might get. This is a far cry from the voice I kept hearing when I started all this three years ago "It isn't about the honey it is about the keeping of bees."  Hum . . .

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Just Me, The Bees, The Sun, The Smoke and a Rooster!

It has been a long time since I have spent an early morning in the bee yard. It seems like all of our work lately has been in the late afternoon and into the evening. Paula and I were just talking about how much we like the light in the yard later in the day. It really is spectacular to see the sun set in front of the hives.

But I am an early bird and left to my own devices I would always choose to be in the bee yard in the morning. Neither end of the day is ideal for working though as all the bees are home. If we were serious about this, and with 5 hives we might have to change our ways, we would work the hives in the middle of the day when the field bees are out foraging. Less bees, less ruckus.

I am not sure what is up with these bees but they seem very agitated. I am sure it is some indication that they are fixing to swarm which is what I am fixing to prevent! Today was all about damage control after our little dividing fiasco on Monday. I have a habit of getting ahead of myself. I started getting edgy about the divide last week. If only we had waited for the scheduled Minnesota Hobby Beekeepers meeting which was on Tuesday evening to see the divide demonstration at the Honey House! It would have made perfect since to go to the meeting, learn how to do the divide and then go do ours. But no, I had to get it done. We left the bee yard Monday, knowing we had made a mess but it wasn't until we went to the divide demo that I knew just how big the mess actually was.

So I went back this morning to set things right as best I could. It was a cool crisp morning. Sun in the sky, dew on the ground and a rooster crowing in the background. I lit the smoker and set to work with a complete since of calm and my to do list which I kept stuck to one of the hives. I knocked off one task after another and finally set about finding the Queen in The Turquoise Bee. I had to get her into the bottom box and then set up a queen excluder and a bee escape just below the top box. There are three brood boxes on The Turquoise Bee, one of them should have gone over to Mr. Abbott's Little Bee when we did the split on Monday be we forgot to move it and had such a frenzy of agitated bees on our hands that we packed up and left.

I found her easily, Snow White right there in the top box. I rearranged the boxes and got my queen excluder and bee escape in place. Hopefully any bees remaining in the top box will make there way down and with the bee escape in place they can't go back up. Genius right, well if it works, yes. We will see. The queen excluder will keep Snow White in the bottom box, unless of course she has lost weight in anticipation of swarming and can slip through.

I stood back admiring my work, smoke billowing from the smoker. I over fueled the smoker on purpose so I could enjoy the smoke and just watch the bees settle down. It was so peaceful and I was reminded why I love this so very much. Just me and the bees, the rooster, the smoke and the sun, what could be better?

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Great Divide and Mr. Abbott's Little Bee

We have a new pollinator in the hood. Mr. Abbott's Little Bee, named in honor of the very generous man who lets us keep our hives on his land.

Our apiary is in Northfield, MN about an hour away. Situated on a small apple and apricot tree orchard with a lovely vegetable garden. The property itself has been chemical free for over 20 years as have four out of five adjacent pieces of property. One farmer nearby uses heavy chemicals. Can't help where the field bees will forage but we seem to have a large area of organic property at hand.

Last evening we set out to do our first "split" or more commonly know as a divide. Overwintered hives can get too crowded and swarm. Other factors can contribute to swarming including a warm mild winter, early spring, and older queens. I'd say here in Minnesota we have the perfect storm for swarming. The experienced beekeeper stays one day ahead of the bees and recognizes signs of swarming. Bees that are slightly agitated, a queen laying excessive drone cells, bees that seem to be building queen cups or swarm cells and queens that are slimming down. Now I am going to be honest I still struggle with knowing the difference between a queen cup and a swarm cell and I wouldn't know a skinny queen if I saw one. I am always so firkin protective of my queen that as soon as I see her I am getting her back into the hive. I am scared to death she will up and fly away.

It didn't really matter if we could see swarming signals or not, we knew the hive needed to be divided. In order to divide a colony you need yet another queen. The goal is locate your queen in the original colony, also know as the parent colony. Isolate her and then divide your frames of brood evenly, taking half for a new colony and setting up a new brood box with those frames. You can also move frames with honey, nectar, pollen and comb to the new box. Put your little caged queen inside, wait four days for queen acceptance and release her and vuala you now have two hives.

It reads so simply, completely fooled me. The bees, they were not happy, we had a total royal ruckus on our hands and got so overwhelmed we forgot some important steps. Nothing we can't fix mind you but it will require yet another trip to the bee yard.

Before tackling the divide we checked our other hives. Katrina's Drone Den is building comb nicely and her queen is a layin' we had some really nice brood on several frames. She is also taking the sugar syrup and pollen patty so we replenished both. So far she seems like a happy docile group of girls. We only saw a few drone cells. We can't check Royal Ruckus for another few days, they are still working on the finishing touches of queen acceptance and can't be disturbed until at least Friday. Crazy Comb, well she continues to live up to her name. We though that maybe with a new queen the genetics would change and temper her behavior. Those girls just love to pack the comb in all the wrong places. We spent some time cleaning her out and trying to find her queen. No luck. Now had we been on our game we might have realized that she is backed full of brood and bees and had one or two swarm cells or queen cups. Had we been thinking we probably would have selected her for the divide instead of the Turquoise Bee. However in fairness to us, we don't know where our queen is and we had not taken any measure to isolate her. We were thinking clearly enough to throw on a queen excluded to find the little dickens and moved on.

We opened up the Turquoise Bee and found our queen, we always do, 100% of the time. She seems to be an easy target. Focused on our mission we overlooked the fact that this colony didn't seem as strong as we had thought. Maybe it is because the bees are spread out in 3 boxes but it took us awhile to find enough frames of brood to split. We went though each and every frame painstakingly assessing which to move and which to keep. Within a matter of minutes we had created our own little swarm. I got stung, twice and had to leave the bee yard. I am taking a lesson from Paula, get out quick, remove the stinger and get on the deodorant.  My elbow is the size of Texas, feels just like how I imagine Tetanus would feel and I grew a third breast over night, sweet. Paula, well you can hardly tell she was stung last Friday so it didn't seem to matter that she got another on the ankle. We finally got the new hive situated and put the Turquoise Bee back together again, forgetting that we wanted to move the box with the queen to the bottom of the hive. DANG IT! We made a quick executive decision that we had caused enough disruption with the hive that we had to leave the girls alone. No more meddling. We got the new queen in her cage nestled in between two frames inside Mr. Abbott's Little Bee and closed her up, admired our work and took a few pictures. It was a beautiful evening, the sun setting just in front of the bee yard, smoke from the smoker bellowing away. Nothing could be more perfect.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Who is The Turquoise Bee?

Tsangyang Gyatso the sixth Dalai Lama. He composed poems and lyrics, still popular today, in which he refers to himself as The Turquoise Bee. Tsangyang Gyatso enjoyed a colorful life and loved writing poems and songs. His chief legacy is his poems, which are considered to be among the loveliest in Tibetan literature. Many are about love, longing and heartbreak. Some are erotic and some reveal his feelings about his position and his life. One of his more famous lyrics perhaps predicted his reincarnation:

“White crane!
Lend me your wings
I will not fly far
From Lithang, I shall return”

The poem that resonates most deeply with me is one in which it is speculated he refers to himself as a Turquoise Bee

"Spring flowers fade in the fall;
It is not for the turquoise bees to mourn.
I and my sweetheart are fated to part;
It is not for us to cry”

The 6th Dalai Lama had no qualms writing about his love of women. He is the only Dalai Lama who never took his monastic vows but kept the temporal prerogatives of the Dalai Lama. He led a playboy lifestyle, wore layman clothing and enjoyed women, song and drink. Surely he was referring to a female love in the poem. For me the poem captures the feeling of parting with the bees in the fall, knowing we are fated to part but without sadness, holding on to the hope that we will reunite in the spring. The poem goes on:

"Frost gathers on the glistering flowers
And then the cold north wind blows.
The frost and the wind must have come
To drive the bees away from the flowers”

The image of the Turquoise Bee captivated me immediately and became the name of our little apiary. There isn’t any coincidence that in the scriptures and practices of all world religions bees and honey are symbolic.

For Christians the references are found in both the New and Old Testament. In Matthew 3:4 we read about John the Baptist living a long time in the wilderness on a diet of honey and locusts. In the Book of Exodus we read about the description of the Promised Land as flowing with milk and honey.

The Talmud has numerous references to honey and in Jewish tradition honey is a symbol for the New Year, Rosh Hashanah. During their celebratory feast Jews will dip apples into honey to bring a sweet year.

In Islam the Qu’ran is full of references to the honeybee and honey with significant recommendation to use honey for its healing properties. I only learned this recently from a family I was caring for in the hospital. When they learned I was a beekeeper they shared numerous reference about the bee and honey from the their holy book, the Qu’ran. In return I gave them a little jar of my honey and you would have thought I had moved the earth. I was overwhelmed by their gratitude.

Buddhists also have a feast, Madhu Pumima, a day commemorating Buddha’s making peace among his disciples by retreating into the wilderness. While there, a monkey and an elephant fed him, the elephant bringing fruit and the monkey-bringing honeycomb. The money was so excited when the Buddha accepted his gift that he began leaping from tree to tree and fell to his death. However, he was immediately reborn as a result of his generosity. This important feast is celebrated on the first day of the full moon in the month of Bhadro, which falls in August and September, by bringing honey to Monks. It is interesting that this coincides with the annual honey harvest! While I am not a Buddhist I am deeply connected to our Tibetan American community and deliver honey to our local Tibetan Monks for this feast day. In return the Monks bless the honey and the blessing extends to the bees, the hives and any product from the hive. This year I am working on having these Monks come to the Flight of The Turquoise Bee Apiary to conduct a Puja, a ritual offering/blessing. I would love the Monks to ask for healthy bees and access to healthy nectar, pollen water. I would also a blessing for Paula and I, for our safety and that any obstacles between the bees and us be removed. Most importantly we will ask for a pardon from the bee, forgiveness if you may, in the fall when we rob them of their honey.

I am a lucky beekeeper to be surrounded by a community of Christians, Jews, Buddhists and Muslims with whom I can share my annual crop for such important feasts and celebrations. I take great joy in sharing the honey with all my friends for such important religious purposes, celebrations and health. Finally in his infinate wisdom the Sixth Dalai Lama writes:

"In the short walk of this life
We have had our share of joy.
Let us hope to meet again
In the youth of our next life."

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Beekeeping In The Rain

You can't really see it well but there is a beautiful rainbow overhead after this evenings downpour. There are few things I have such a bittersweet relationship with as rain. I love threatening weather. I will settle for a soaker but much prefer the excitement of something bigger. However I only like inclement weather if I am at home. I can not stand to be out in the rain, mist or sprinkle. But The Yellow Lady had to be release, no options.

We drove down in a downpour, hoping that by the time we reached the bee yard things would lightened up. About 10 minutes out I decided we had to map out our strategy. It should be easy, bees don't really like rain and won't be out and about,  we probably didn't need our suits or veils. We stopped at an gas station with an overhead to gathered our supplies, a hive tool, some gloves, an umbrella and a nail just in case we couldn't get the screen off her cage and would need to impale the cork to release her.

It was still a rabid downpour when we arrived. It seemed like maybe a clearing was heading our way but it was already 8pm and dark enough to make the job a little difficult, waiting just didn't make since. It didn't take long once we opened Royal Ruckus up to realize I'd made a bad decision about the protective gear. The girls were angry. Suddenly Paula fled the bee yard. She is quick when it comes to stings and knows the importance of getting out of harms way fast. Getting the stinger quickly is the name of the game! The longer you wait the more venom injected the worst the end result. Not to mention a sting releases a particular warning pheromone that can prompt other bees to attack. Swift action is in order. Get out of the bee yard and get the stinger out and if you are my friend Colleen your next action would be to get deodorant on the sting, something we keep in the bee mobile. As for myself I have some kind of crazy cowboy reaction to getting stung. I feel hopelessly trapped in my suit which makes it impossible for me to get the stinger out quickly and I usually get multiple stings with the maximum amount of venom release. I think getting the job at hand done is more important hence the National Geographic photo op that results. I wish I were swift and efficient as Paula.

We gave into the frenzy and donned our suits and veils and went back to Royal Ruckus. The first sight of good news, the queen cage was just as we left it and the bees were clustered around the cage in a healthy manner. We brushed them off, removed the cage and could see she was healthy. Now for a good release. I managed the rain with an umbrella and adjusted frames for Paula as she got the screen off and worked on getting the Yellow Lady out. It was difficult to see with so many bees about the cage but I saw her scamper across a frame. "Bingo, she is in, she looks good lets close this hive up" She was way up on the top part of the frame and I didn't want to loose her to the wind and rain. We won't be able to go inside Royal Ruckus for a week now to see if she is queen-right but I am optimistic. We will return to the bee yard on Monday to check all the other hives and plan out the divide of The Turquoise Bee. 

In the meantime, no more beekeeping in the rain. Even the rainbow wasn't prize enough at the end of the adventure and we trapped a few bees inside the bee mobile making the drive home tense for me. If it weren't for the release of a queen. Lets hope our queen drama is over At the Flight of The Turquoise Bee Apiary.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Meet Sweetpea's Bees at The Flight of The Turquoise Bee Apiary

Sweetpea's Gluten-free kitchen is evolving. I have enjoyed my musing here about cooking for the past several years but my attention has turn to the bees. I took up the adventure of Beekeeping three years ago. I keep bees for the magic of utterly unexpected moments filled with challenge and hope; disappointment and glittering joy. I keep bees for the hope that will temper my hyperactive spirit and lead me to a more deliberate, mindful and contemplative life.

I actually didn't imagine I would like it so much, I didn't imagine it would capture my interest like it has. I am thrilled too that I have a wonderful beekeeping partner in this endeavor. I couldn't have asked for more when Paula signed on. We are a perfect pair of beekeepers and the journey is only embellished by our partnership. 

So moving forward I hope to chronicle my musings in the bee yard and impart what little knowledge I actually have about the serious plight of the honey bee! Come along and read and learn and hope for some honey. I imagine every now and again I will still muse about my kitchen but for the most part it will be the bees.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Rescue of Royal Ruckus

See that beautifully marked queen, the one with the yellow dot? Click on her to make the photo larger. She is currently sung as a bug inside her cage, inside Royal Ruckus getting acquainted with her new kingdom. Why yellow you ask, good question and a perfect segway to talk about queens for a moment.

While she doesn't rule the hive the queen is really is the source of all work and it is important to keep track of her and her age. Marked queens create quite a stir among beekeepers, some like 'em and some don't. The ones who don't, well I can't speak for them but it feels like they think having marked queens is like cheating. I'll admit the little shaming session I got last evening while picking up our Yellow Lady was uncalled for. We had unmarked queens our first year of beekeeping and we learned how to locate her among 70,000 -100,000 bees. And yes, if we couldn't actually find her we could located good evidence of her health and livelihood sighting newly layed eggs. For me finding eggs is far more difficult than finding the queen and it would suit me just fine to find away to make them neon green.  Our second year we ordered marked queens and locating her became a much easier. There is pure joy when you see her, marked or unmarked, pure unadulterated joy. We like marked queens. I don't think I would go so far as calling it cheating, besides it is important to know how old your queen is and if you have unmarked queens it is impossible to know because there are circumstances in which the hive will re-queen itself. You have no idea if your unmarked queen is your original queen. Nay say'ers would probably dismiss this argument and say well you shouldn't keep a colony around for more than two or three years anyway so what's the point. I'll just stick with we like marked queens.

Beekeepers have come up with an international coloring system for marked queens so we can keep track of the age of a queen. For years ending in 1 or 6 the marking is white, 2 or 7 yellow, 3 or 8 red, 4 or 9 green and 5 or 0 is blue. Our supplier in Kentucky does not follow the international system and all the queens are marked in white which was a little disappointing when we got our packages. We picked up our Yellow Lady from a local supplier in Stillwater who does follow the system. Not without a little shaming as I was writing the check telling me I didn't need to spend the extra money on a marked queen and that it didn't matter if I found her in the hive or not as long as I could find eggs. I didn't really want to get into it with him so I just smiled as said thanks and paid the extra buck.

We mapped out our plan. A practice run with the old queen cage and a spare hive box with frames. We got our act together and into the yard we went. First we checked the Drone Den to make sure we had queen acceptance. It was easy to find the queen, not many bees at this point and we feel pretty sure she is laying. Paula is much better at seeing the eggs than I am, even with a little magnifying glass it is hard for me and I am good at imagining things. We added syrup to Drone Den, Crazy Comb and The Turquoise Bee and we also stole a frame of open brood from The Turquoise bee to slip into Royal Ruckus. I would have preferred to steal from Crazy Comb but we can't find her queen so it was too risky. Putting a frame of open brood into Royal Ruckus will hopefully keep the bees busy tending to brood buying us some time while they accepted the Yellow Lady.

The time had come. We took our queen cage out of the plastic container and shook off the travel attendants that were clinging to the cage. The queen supplier doesn't add attendants into the actual queen cage which is what we are used to. He claims you get quicker better acceptance and that the workers will feed her though the screen. O.K. but I would have preferred a few inside with her just in case. We took great care to make sure the cage was secured between two frames, using a thin metal holder to secure it. This cage isn't going to fall. Been there, done that, don't need to repeat that lesson!

We added syrup and closed up the hive. Mission accomplished. We will return on Friday to release her. Paula and I were both reassured that we had made the right decision about the original queen. After seeing how active the Yellow Lady was in her cage there is no doubt the other queen was very sick. It made both of feel a lot better to see this healthy queen. I'd like to think I might start sleeping better but we still have a few hurdles. We need to safely release her and then check for queen acceptance. If you are of the praying sort please have at it! In the mean time I am starting a study of bee biology, reviewing  stages of development and hoping to integrate that into my hive inspections this summer.