Saturday, April 24, 2010

A Time To Expand.

These are the Playa Vista bees, a swarm I captured off an apartment balcony on March 29, '10.
They stayed in a cardboard nuc until I moved them into this medium super on April 10. The weather has been spotty but nice enough most of the time. In two weeks they filled the original nuc so two weeks later I guessed this super would be full. I had the super with the new wax strips added and it was ready for occupation.

I was right, it was well filled, including the extra space on the right side of the super. When I moved them over from the cardboard nuc they had over filled the space between the last frame and the side of the nuc. Instead of destroying their work I left it that way and put only nine frames in. They have really filled that space now.

Instead of bothering the extra wide frame I pulled two frames from the middle of the hive and moved them into the new super.

I did not do a full inspection, looking at these two frames there was capped brood, honey and pollen. Everything looked in proper order without moving everything around and I did not want to mess with the extra wide frame. Although these were the two middle frames I did not spot the Queen but I did not look closely.

This was the gap where I removed the two frames, everyone seemed happy.

The two occupied frames moved into the new super.

All closed up and receiving the foragers. I love this hive, these bees did not make any kind of aggressive move while I was working them. They have been this way since i first me them. I had the smoker but it went out and I never even used it. Life in the Apiary would be much nicer for me if the Twitchy Bees assumed this kind of attitude. I need to get a couple more supers, the Twitchy Bees hive is now four supers tall and they way they work that will be filled shortly. I might as well have a couple extras standing by for this hive too. They work very hard but do not seem to be a many in number as the Twitchy Bees. It would be a hard call to make if I had to decide between nice bees that make a good amount of honey or the Twitchy Bees that do not seem to like me and make a lot of honey. I hope the Twitchy Bees make a new queen sometime and call up the drones from next door. Is this supposed to be about the bees or the honey or my comfort???

Making Wax Starter Strips

Making wax starter strips for your frames sounds daunting but it is fairly easy to do. A couple words of caution, you do not want to do this in the kitchen. I speak from experience. Tap the hot wax pot at the wrong time and you can end up with wax all over the place . It is easy to clean some spots but terrible to do on the linoleum floor. The wax will harden before you can wipe it up and then can be almost transparent and hard to find. All the little wax drops will collect dust and dirt leaving you with a speckled floor until until you get it up, one drop at a time. Trust me, do this outside.

I use an old camp stove. Since I have not been doing this long I do not have a supply of comb to melt down. I get a one pound block from LA Honey Co. If they offer brown or white wax, take the cheaper one, the bees won't care. In a pinch you can use bees wax candles but with all wax from other sources you can not be sure it is clean of contaminants but you have to use what you can get.
Do not over heat the melting wax. Bees wax is flammable and you can end up with a flash fire.

For my first starter strips I used the standard paint stir sticks from Home Depot but I felt bad about getting them that way and I needed a lot of them for each set of frames. So instead of being a sneak thief I have moved on to making my own wax strips. The stir sticks above are not the standard small stirrers. These are the larger ones and a couple will be all you need. I also use a cheap paint brush about the same width as the stirs. Don't waste money on an expensive paint brush. What ever wood you use, soak it in water for a while before starting and that will make the wax removal easier.

You will want to keep the work area covered. You will have many wax drops about the place and this way you can recover some of them also. I use two stir sticks at a time, painting the wax on both sides of each one. You will learn through practice how thick the wax needs to be. You can always re-melt your mistakes.

Once you have both sticks waxed you can use a putty knife to peal them off. Don't worry if they curl or bend, the wax will be very pliable when you use it.

In the middle of things one bee came by to check out the source of the good smells, melting wax does have a honey smell to it. I was surprised more of them did not stop by. My hives are on the back wall of the garage where I was working. (The mouse traps have not been used lately, my dogs take care of those issues)

Once you have the wax strips off the wood, cut it in half. If you can cut it smaller you will have more strips with less work but two's work for me. The extra bits can be use to fill in short strips. I like to have the wax strips to run the entire length of the frame channel if possible. Starting with two stir sticks and utilizing both sides you will end up with eight wax strips each time, almost enough for one super. Over time the stir sticks may get ragged from the putty knife, replace them. Any wood that is not treated will suffice, you do not have to use the stir sticks, just remember to wet it before applying the wax.

Insert the wax into the channel on the top board of the frame, then dribble hot wax the length of the strip. That will help seal the wood and bond the wax into the channel. I scrap off any extra blobs of wax but leave most of the clean up to the bees.

Ten frames all done in short order. You can see where I filled in this one with a bit of extra wax strip. Just make it fit and seal it in. After the frames are done, check them later. Occasionally the wax will not be sealed in well and can drop down. A little melted wax will fix it quickly.

Use clean wax if you can. Remember the melting wax can catch fire so keep an eye on it. Wet the wood first. Do not melt the wax in the kitchen. Follow those rules and you will be on your way and have happier bees.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

All In The Family

There are skills they do not teach you at beekeeping school that you have to learn on your own. Climbing a chain link fence is a bee suit is one of them. This is my Niece from Nor California who got her first hive of bees shortly before I did. We did this independently of each other, it must have been some genetic connection.

This is her adventure and you can read it in her words on her blog, Wonder Farm and she does have more pictures there.

I had a trip set last week and originally planned to give her the swarm I had recently captured. I was a little concerned about hauling them in the back of my truck for 8 hours. Things worked out much better this way. We each have new swarms that are already localized and seem to be thriving. Once I make some more wax starter strips I will be adding another super to my swarm. Then I may look for another locale for them. The bee area in my back yard is rather congested with two hives. They get along just fine but I need to move around back there without being constantly dived bombed by bees returning to the hives.
She did mention about her bees being legal, that is not quite the case here on the Dark Side of Beekeeping in the City. A lower profile is much better around here..

Saturday, April 10, 2010

More Housing

Both hives have been very active, more so with the Twitchy Bees but there are a lot more of them. On March 14 I had added a third super (all medium) and left them alone since then. I am not a fan of nosing in all the time and they are very good about letting me know they do not enjoy it either.

I popped the cover and found bees on all the frames. The last time I swapped one full frame with an empty in the new super. I was going to do that today but they got very twitchy as soon as my hive tool wiggled the frame. Okay by me, they seem to know what they are doing so I just added super #4 (My Super) and closed the hive. I did not need a bunch of angry bees bothering me as I worked on the Playa Vista hive. (the nice bees.)

The Playa Vista swarm has been working but it is small and still in the cardboard nuc and I wanted to see how they were doing before the next spat of rain hits this weekend, a wise decision.

I moved the nuc over onto a couple empty ones so the working bees would still have some place to go close to the original set up while I did my thing.

The bees had been working very hard, all the frames were full and it looked like they were building an extra frames worth on the side, time to move. That is five frames of comb made and mostly filled in ten day. Count the extra comb and it is six frames. Great bees.

All the frames looked like this. I think I can safely assume the Queen is hard at work. With this many bees on each frame I would have had a hard time looking for eggs and larvae much less Her Majesty. Moving them to larger quarters should take care of any swarm issues.

I placed them in the middle of the super in the order they were removed. With the double wide comb I had to limit things to nine frames. I may cut it down and put it on two frames later.

Even with the cover off the bees still wanted to use the hole on the nuc for queenly access. Very few flew onto the super. When I had started I had an entry restriction board in place but I quickly removed that. Once they know where home is I will put it back. The nuc just has the single hole to defend and it will be easier for them to guard the new hive if I limit the entry size for a while.

Once I laid the empty nuc on its side and got it as close as possible to the entry they bees started to wander over.

Some of the foragers had no problem finding the new digs.

Now both hives have expanded housing and should be happy for a few weeks. Later this afternoon I will remove the empty nuc and other equipment and leave them all alone for a while. I had one other small blessing, the Playa Vista bees are very gentle. They had seemed that way when I captured them but that was back in swarm mode. Now that they have a hive to protect things still have not changed. They are a pleasure to work with. Not at all like the Twitchy Bees, those guys are hot. I would be tempted to go smush the Twitchy Queen and hope for a milder hive but they do produce. They filled a super with wax and comb in just over three weeks. Her Majesty has validated her troops, I will just have to suit up and bring lots of smoke when I work them.

Some time down the road I may have to address another issue all of my making. I let this wild palm tree grow in the middle of my concrete pad. It looks sort of cool but it severely restricts the flight path of the bees. It is almost impossible to work out there in my plants or in the hives without being in their flight patch. This is a big inconvenience and I may have to remove that palm. Maybe I will wait for the winter time when I can seal both hives for most of a day and hire someone to cut it down and not be bothered by bees. That will have to wait for another day and time. For now the bees are happy and working very hard to get me some honey before the middle of summer. That is something to look forward to.