Sunday, November 29, 2009

Feral Hive - New Home - Redondo Beach

Steve Rosales contacted me a couple weeks ago. He had located a hive of bees in a tree that needed to be moved. They were not up high and could be reached with a small ladder. This matters to me, I rarely go past the third step of any ladder.

Today was the day but first I needed some waffles cooked on my Cast Iron. This is not bee related, I just love my Cast Iron and waffles in the morning.

We got to the site and Steve found a lonesome drone walking around the ground. He was symptomatic of this hive. They were extremely quiet and easy to work with. No stings at all except at the very end. I figure that lone bee was annoyed with being sucked up by the bee vac and wanted some revenge. The home owner said no one had ever been stung by these bees,

This was our target. It looked like a large swam but the bees had been living there for 3-4 months. They did not sting anyone but they scared people. This tree was right next to the sidewalk.
It was a nice rounded V-shaped hive.

Steve hooked up his weapon of choice, the mighty Bee Vac. The two white pieces and the hive body between are part of the Bee Vac, The other two hive boxes were just to give it a little height and allow us to reach the bees better. This is a 5HP Sears shop vac. It sucks the bees in the bottom white section. The suction pulls through the middle hive box ot the top white piece which is closed off with a screen. There are some bee losses with this but it is much better than the exterminator. We can adjust the air pressure of the Bee Vac so the bees are not slammed into the hose or hive. A high percent of the bees do survive.

We were well supplied with empty hive boxes, nuc's and spare frames. The Home Depot orange buckets make good storage containers for honey and brood comb as it is removed.

Steve did most of the bee collecting. The new beekeeper Ed Garcia was filming the event for posterity and jumping in to help when he could. The neighbors came over for a glance from time to time but most kept a good distance.

Slowly sucking in the bees the comb was revealed. There were 5-6 large comb sections fully entwined in the branches and some old Christmas tree wires. It was well secured and safe from all but the biggest winds. . As Steve removed the bees he took down the comb in as large sections as he could. With the branches coming in and out of the comb it was not easy to get big pieces. Steve takes great care to preserve the comb.

The comb that was clearly honey was placed in one bucket and brood comb into another. As ir came available I took the brood comb and cut it down to size to fit the empty frames. We ended up with 6 frames of brood that was set aside and later put into the large hive box which would be the base for the hive. Over time the bees will connect all the comb bits and pieces and seal it into the frame. When that is done they will bite though the rubber bands and toss them out of the hive.
Can't you hear the workers talking.. "Jane, it is your turn to bite through that rubber and not get killed! Good Luck! " (Girl name used on purpose, all working bees are females.)

Between filming Ed was assisting Steve and up on the ladder sucking in bees and removing the last comb bits. As mentioned earlier, I am a ground sort of bee guy. Tall helps in getting to them but workers willing to stand on a ladder and use both hands to work are extremely helpful. A number of bees clustered on the branches but they were collected too. We did not see the queen but Steve is very methodical probably got her as he worked.

The bees are now at their new house. The bottom box contains the frames I filled with Brood Comb. The upper box is the one we collected the bees in and is filled with empty frames. There are still bees in the bottom piece off to the side of the hive , it is the bottom of the Bee Vac system . It will stay there for the day so the stragglers can crawl into the hive. They just want to find the queen. Ed's home-made lid works very well, it has plenty of space between the top and the frames. Steve was able to put the honey on top of the frames under the top so the bees have plenty to eat as they get used to their new home. Doing a methodical, non-fatal bee collection is not fast work. This job took about four hours with all of us working. It was a good way to start the day.

Ed will be editing down his work the next few days and it will show up on YouTube. When it does, you will find a link him.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Family Cut-Out

The Beekeepers, Marcus and Bonnie Taylor, fellow members of the Backwards Beekeepers.

One of the assistant beekeepers, in a true beekeeping family, everyone helps.

The target

It took some extra work to gain entry but...

This is what they found inside.

But you need to read the whole story of Bonnie and the Wild Bees!!

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,
or How to Make a Thousand Mistakes and Still Capture a Beehive
by Bonnie Taylor

For the last couple of weeks we've been keeping an eye on a hive in a large plywood box t the back of a neighboring vacant property. The box was about 2 feet tall by 2 feet wide by 4 or 5 feet long at the very back of the property. We were faced with a problem -- try to cut them out now, or leave them over the winter at the mercy of a real estate agent, anybody who might be hired to do a clean-up job, or a possible new owner. With some encouragement from Kirk and other Backwards Beekeepers, we decided to go for it. We had no idea what we were in for!

We were a crew of five: my husband Marcus and I (Bonnie) and three of our four children, helping out in the adventure. We had lots of info from months of research, and zero experience! The plan was to get started on Friday, just as I was about to get into my bee suit, I started feeling bad, and the next thing I knew, I lost my breakfast (food poisoning?) and Marcus followed not long after. By Saturday we felt fine, though. We got busy finishing up painting the hive boxes and stand, and didn't get our suits on until around 1:30pm. We should have started at 9 am! We opened up the hive and it turned out to be BIG. We thought we were well-prepared with 2 nucs and 2 five gallon buckets That turned out to be not enough!

The hive took up about 1/3 of that big box. It was full of old junk -- miscellaneous engine equipment, a toilet seat, and a rat's nest. Mr. Rat ran out as soon as we smoked up his house a bit. We pried up the lid to see where the hive started, and Marcus used his saw to cut the lid so we'd have better access. The comb was built diagonally across a corner of the box -- about 12 rows of it, all tangled up in the junk. My husband got busy cutting it out, while I tried to fit the stuff he cut into the frames with rubber bands to hold it. This is a lot trickier than it looks, especially when you've got bulky gloves on. The rubber bands got stuck in the cracks at the ends of the frames, and when I tried to roll the bands over to put them in place, I'd end up squishing bees, squishing the comb, or having a rubber band break. Several times I cut it too small, and the comb fell out. Meanwhile, my husband was having a lot more luck cutting the comb out than I was getting it into frames. It was piling up!

The Good: My teenage daughter Madison was our photographer, and she got braver and braver as the process continued. Wearing no veil or gloves, she got up close enough to take all the pics. She got the first sting when she put her hand down on a bee and it got her palm. She said, " Is this supposed hurt?" My son (age 11) was in the middle of everything with only a veil and gloves. Pretty soon the gloves were off and he was licking up the honey along with the bees. He got stung on the finger, and the arm. He rubbed some dirt on it, and called it good. Don't you just love little boys? He later got stung again when a little cluster dropped on his shoe and two more went up his pant leg. He ran off dancing, but refused to take any Benadryl. He was back soon right in the middle of everything. My youngest daughter (age 7) just loved watching everything. She had a veil, and she helped with the smoker and with fetching and carrying. What an amazing learning experience for us all.

The Bad: I looked at the sun and knew we had about 45 minutes of daylight left. I worked as hard as I could trying to find brood comb to cut out into rectangular frame shapes. Half the time they ended up looking like trapezoids, and it was really hard to get them into the frames. The next thing I knew, the sun was down, the comb was all cut out of the box, and only a few of the bees were in the nucs. I had filled both buckets with comb, and realized we needed to figure out what to do. We tried brushing the bees into the nucs, but there was too much junk in the box to get them under where the bees were bearding, and we had left too much comb hanging on the side -- they were clinging to it fiercely.

The Ugly: At this point, we felt like complete and utter failures. We had taken all of the beautiful work of the bees and trashed it like a couple of dumb bears. It was now really dark, and we felt like the only thing to do at that point was to put the nucs inside the box as best we could, and cover the whole thing up with a tarp. We weighed down the tarp with some rocks, and took the walk of shame back down the hill, feeling like we were leaving the bees to die a cold death because of our stupidity and inexperience. To make matters worse, we thought we might have killed or lost the queen. Towards the end, I had even quit looking carefully at the comb for eggs and uncapped brood. I never saw any. For all I knew, the hive would also be unable to requeen itself because I'd started throwing comb in buckets to get it out of the way after dark. To make matters worse, we wouldn't be able to get back to the mess we left until Sunday afternoon. I'm a volunteer pastor at our church, and we both had commitments there Sunday morning. Both of us had nightmares about bees dying and vowed that even though we had utterly messed up, we would try again in spring.

When we finally got back up there, we were happy to find that there were still thousands of bees bearding on the wall in the grooves an inch or so deep where the combs had been. Still only a few bees in the nucs. At this point, we decided to be smart and call Kirkobeeo. He told us to pull the wall of the box off, and whack it over the nucs (we ended up doing it over a hivebox and a nuc because it was so big. Whoosh! In they went! We whacked, waited 20 minutes, whacked again, waited again, etc. I had a little bitty whisk broom and dust pan, and we cleared up little clusters here and there as best we could. The bees were finally staying in the box! Whew! Several phone calls and a couple hours later, all was well, and the bees were all climbing in the box. We left to get some dinner. A couple hours later, we went back up with a flashlight and all the bees were hunkered down for night. We put the entrance reducer on, and covered up the hive (loosely) with the tarp to help keep out the wind.

I am quite happy to report that in spite of our blundering, the bees are doing very well! They were really crowded in the first box, so today I added some frames with starter strips and another empty box on top and fed them some of their honey in bag. They were very happy and we had only given them a little hint of smoke. The honey is amazing -- dark, buckwheat and wildflower, I'm guessing. We're saving it all to feed them. I don't feel like I can quite call myself a beekeeper yet, as these gentle girls still haven't stung me!

Some pictures are here:

A million thanks to you, Kirk for all your help!

-Bonnie :)

ED Note: There are many more great pictures on the site listed above. Do go look at it and you will not be disappointed. Thanks to Bonnie for allowing this cross post of her message.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Twitchy is Good.

When Kirk supplied these bees he mentioned they were twitchy. That is his term of bees that want to do things their way and do not care for human interference. These are definitely twitchy, not Africanized, just twitchy. I have been stung on the head because I was too close to the hive and did not have my bee hat on. They do come and check me out if I am too close or trying to work on the hive. The head stings were because they got caught in my hair, not because they were attacking me or I would have a lot more bees up there.

That being said, these are very hard working bees. I had planned on doing an inspection today but when I went out they were very busy. I had my Droid phone in hand and decided to try my hand at using the video camera. It cannot zoom or anything but it takes good video. You can clearly see how busy these guys were. They did not need me to be poking around the hive so the inspection has been put off. This type of fervent activity is not at all unusual for this group of bees. They are at work constantly. This is not the Orientation Flight activity or bees robbing. All the bees are checked before they are allowed in. I do want to see how much work they have done since I was end at the first of the month. They are constantly bringing pollen and I have no idea where they are getting it this time of the year. Twitchy but very hard working, as far as I am concerned, twitchy is good.
(Just remember to suit up and use smoke when needed).

The video above was taken on the LA coastal area on Nov 20 at 2PM which was a bright sunny day even though it was not really warm. As noted the bees were very active.

This video was taken the next day which started with bright sun shine but it was overcast and 5-10 degrees cooler at noon. Cooler or not the twitchy bees were still working very hard. Look at all the pollen they bring in. I had the camera about a foot from the hive opening and dared not get closer since they are the Twitchy Bees. This is another video off the Droid which does not have a zoom so I have to reach in slowly and be ready to move away if they request that.
. It is in the low 60's after noon in LA, we are almost freezing... LOL

For anyone in the Los Angeles Area, the next meeting of the Backwards Beekeepers will be Sunday Dec 20, 2009. Click on the group name for details, there are directions on the group pages, look on the right side of the page. The meeting date may be old but the directions are good.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Hard At Work & More Housing

This is supposed to be the dearth for bees around here but it is Southern California so there always seems to be something out there for bees. When I checked the hive two weeks ago I left a large baggie with four cups of sugar water to help the bees along. In the mean time the bees have seemed very active and the weather has been good so I left them alone. The weather is still great so I decided to check them today, nothing extensive, just see how they are doing and add another baggie. They seem to be doing very well.

Remember this frame from the Oct 17 inspection.? #9 second frame from the end of the hive box
This is how it looked two weeks ago.

This is how it looked today.

The "empty" last frame now looks like this. These were the only two frames I removed. I did peek at the #1 frame and it looks like #10 with the little bubble of wax. That was enough for me.

I returned the two frames and everyone seemed very happy. This time I used the Kirk method and smoked the bees first, leaving them for five minutes. I repeated that and then put a little smoke in the top before finally opening the hive. The twitchy bees were well behaved today.

The first time I put the baggie of sugar water into the hive there were issues. I could not cut slits into the baggie with gloves on and the bees advised me to leave after I removed one glove to make the cuts. Now I use a surgical clamp to grip the baggie before I get near the hive making it easy to lift the baggie off the liquid and cut the slits just before placing the baggie in the hive.

With eight of the frames well filled and the bees starting on #1 and #10, I decided to add another hive box. I might have moved one of the full frames up be decided the bees can make those kind of decisions. I placed the baggie on the new box which should lure the bees up higher in time. The old baggie had a little of the sugar water left in it after being there for two weeks so the baggie does not seem to be their main source of food.
Since I was in the area I did add a little more Tanglefoot around the concret block base. It works well but the ants keep finding paths around it. A small bit of wind blown debris can provide a path for them. One advantage to having the hive on a concrete pad is the ant paths are easy to spot. I am organic with the bees but not the ants. I follow the path to the source an apply stuff but not so much that spray will reach the bees. In time I may add a water trap under the blocks. No one method seems work all the time and I cannot afford an Echidna or aardvark. ,
The old baggie had a lot of propolis so I scrapped most of it off.

This will come in handy when I get to making wax starter strips. According to Kirk adding the propolis to the wax will make it more pliable and easier to use when making the all-wax starter strips. Some people eat propolis for health reasons. I have enough problem with spinach in my teeth without adding something else very sticky. The starter strips are a long way off, I need to triple the size of the hive before even thinking about removing honey and gathering wax
But that is what keeps us going.....