180° of Worrying

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When we last visited the Kingdom, hopefully you’ll recall that Catherine had employed some crazy architects.  I suited up and went in to revoke their building licenses.  I opened the hive, and sure enough, for some odd reason they had started to build comb perpendicular on the last large piece of comb.  It was bizarre and odd.  It was “cross comb” !!

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I easily removed it and put it aside to take into the house to add to the wax collection in the freezer.

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One day, when I have enough, I’ll render the wax and maybe make a candle !  Or some fabulous lip balm!

I switched out their feeder and closed them up.  As is typical for these Girls, they were feisty and annoyed that I was bugging them.

I checked on them two days later and they had started to rebuild the cross comb again.  I decided I needed to relocate that particular piece of comb between two already completed combs.  The Girls would not continue to build cross comb if it would interfere with their “bee space”, which essentially represents the amount of space required for bees to walk between two pieces of comb.  It was the only chance of halting this insanity.  After the last cross combing incident, I had done a little reading and found out that instead of taking the cross comb and adding it to the frozen wax ball, I should have simple attached it to one of the top bars.  This makes sense seeing as how much energy and resources it takes to make wax.  So this time I decided to affix the cross comb to one of the top bars with comb currently being constructed.  I also determined that it would be an ideal time to perform a full inspection.  So once again, I suited up and went in.

Removing the cross combing was once again a simple procedure, as was affixing it to the top bar.  It was fresh wax and so beautiful and soft.  It molded easily to the top bar.  I started to begin the inspection.  I noticed a lot of drone brood as I started going through the combs.  In fact, it seemed to be all I was seeing.  I was starting to get worried.  Is Catherine a “drone layer”?  Oh great, that’s all I need.  But then I saw some, there it was, worker brood!

Hooray!!  But there was still more drone brood and more drone brood.  And the laying pattern of the worker brood was spotty at best.  The Girls were becoming extremely annoyed at my presence and dusk was approaching.  I closed up the hive and went back to the house, followed by a few angry Girls, that I finally managed to shake about half way to the house.

My heart was heavy.  Was Catherine going to rule with dignity ?  Or would I already need to be thinking about a plot to replace her?  I would give it a few days, I told myself.  I crossed my fingers, I crossed them Hard… Let’s see what happens.

And I guess a few days was all it took for her to get back on track, because now we are at the opposite end of the spectrum.  Catherine has generated so many offspring that I now am worrying about “swarming” !

Is there no peace for beaks ?  Is this all a huge exercise in worrying?  I haven’t done a full inspection, but was carefully observing the kingdom’s progress through the looking glass (i.e. the window).  I could see definite worker brood in most cells.

I was continuing to feed them regularly, until their comb approach the back of the hive !  Yes !  The Girls have constructed comb on almost every top bar !  Which is another reason for me to worry about swarming.  If the Girls feel overcrowded or confined, they may decide they need a new home.  That could lead to ALL of them leaving, which is called “absconding”, or they could decide to start raising queen babies.  If this were to happen, the Girls would build special queen cups and Catherine would lay eggs in those cups.  Those eggs would hatch into larvae that are feed a magical potion called “royal jelly”, which is a white goo loaded with carbs and other goodies.  It like a magical Merlin potion, because it turns a regular ol’ egg that would normally turn into another worker bee into a royal princess.

Catherine would then command about half, maybe more, of her loyal subjects to chow down on honey in the hive and then they would all take off for another kingdom, leaving my kingdom with half its original Girls, half its honey, and after the gestation period, a VIRGIN queen.  This new queen would then have to go out and find available drones from other hives.  This would be less of a concern if the Ferals were still around, but since they were evicted, I’m not sure how close the nearest hive is.  I do know of a few down the road, but am not sure if it is within 3 miles.  I’m not sure how far the Virgin Queen would fly to mate.

If she could not mate successfully, doom and gloom would quickly engulf the kingdom.  I would have to be able to quickly identify this situation, and if available, purchase a new queen.  Either way, my second year of beekeeping becomes another bust.

And starting on Monday, the Girls started “bearding” outside the hive in the evenings.

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The bearding was so great on Wednesday evening that it was still there at 5:30 am Thursday morning.  However, by 7:00 am the Girls had mostly left to start their day.  I am considering whether I need to get a bed sheet and hang it in the tree to block the sun in the afternoon, even though the hive is only getting mottled sunlight.  The following day the bearding had expanded to this !!!

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I know I must do an inspection quickly; however, I worry that doing it in the afternoon when i get home from work is too late and the comb may be too soft and might collapse.  That would be utter disaster, plus a lot of the Girls are already bearding by that point and I don’t want to disturb their ball.  So I plan on doing it Saturday morning.  The rain chance is low and the temperature will be lower.  I will give the Girls a chance to get out and about and then i will perform the inspection.  I will need to determine if there were/are any queen cells.  If there are not, which will be the best case scenario, I will need to see if there are any combs with only honey in them.  If there are, I will need to harvest one or two so there will be additional empty top bars for Girls to continue expanding onto.  If there are not, I will need to make difficult choices.  I need to have empty top bars in the hive, so I could have to cull some brood.  I would attempt to cull any drone brood first and I would also like to cull any of the old comb from last year as well.  The Girls have really boomed in their wax production this year.

Oh!  And who knew that boxwood shrubs actually bloom and that the Girls LOVE boxwood nectar!  Last week I noticed quite a bit of activity in the front of the house.  Come to find out, boxwoods have tiny little bell shaped flowers !

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And on a final note, the Girls have seemed to calm down considerably.  I can perform looking glass inspections without any bother lately, which is an awesome sign.

A few other point of note:

1)  I have Golden Boys !  The drones are an incredible gold color, unless it is just because they are still young, I’m not sure.  In any case, I always like to appreciate the Boys too.

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Also, the Girls have finally found the pond.  I periodically see Girls going in for a sip.  However, alarmingly, I’m not seeing more.  It’s been quite hot and humid lately and if the Ferals had still been around there would have been a steady stream of visitors.  However, my Girls haven’t really visited, which is somewhat perplexing.  I would assume they are getting water, but from where I don’t know.

What’s Bloomin’

Here is where my Girls play and dine…

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  • Cat Mint (daily nectar foraging all day)

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  • Spiderwort — Widow’s Tears (daily early AM pollen foraging)

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  • Widow’s Cross

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  • White Clover (daily nectar foraging)

  • Chinese Privet (potential for pollen)

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  • Box Woods — at front of house (daily nectar foraging)  —  who even knew they bloomed !!

  • Dandelions — blooming again

  • Prairie Larkspur — still in bloom, but going to seed

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  • Gatinger’s Prairie Clover (never seen Girls on this, only Bumbles)

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  • Wine Cup

  • Primrose

  • Lavender — almost ready to flower

  • Tennessee Echinacea

  • Yellow Wild Flowers

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  • Purple Spike Flowers

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  • Ox Eye Daisy, the small Hairy Daisies, and the Skinny Medium Daisies

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  • Purple Butterfly Bush

  • Gerber Daisies

  • Dutchman’s Pipevine — still flowering

  • Wysteria – GONE

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  • Tangerine Cross Vine – GONE

  • Nashville Breadroot – GONE (but greenery is still around)

  • Tennessee Milk Vetch – GONE

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  • Little Yellow Ball Flowers, except in front of house  – GONE

  • White Baby’s Breath like stuff – for most part GONE

  • Rosemary – GONE

  • Crown Vetch

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  • Goat’s Beard

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  • Nine Barks

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Oh No….

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So this morning I take a peek inside the window.  Things are looking GREAT !  The Girls have built the new comb so big they are starting to connect it to the side.  Looking in the front… looks good.  Looking in the middle…. looks good.   Looking at the back…. Hello… what’s this?

It’s a piece of new comb, being built perpendicular to the last comb filled with honey!  What!!  They want to start cross-combing?

Well we can’t have any of that!  It’s not a lot, but they’ve started.  I’ll have to correct that as quickly as possible.  Hopefully I’ll be able to suit up when I get home and put a stop to this.  I may also insert a few empty top-bars to promote some additional comb building.  I will try and get some pictures of their crazy cross-combing.

Stay Tuned !

And She Shall Be Called….

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Queen Catherine…. also known as Catherine the Great. I am hoping she will weld her great power and produce a strong and prosperous colony, that will this year last the winter.

I was blessed Sunday, May 5, 2013, with a brief visit from Queen Catherine. While viewing the girls through the window, Her Royal Highness made an ever so brief appearance on the edge of some newly produced comb. I watched as she inserted her long, slender and graceful abdomen into various cells. I’m unsure if she was actually laying, or merely inspecting and checking accuracy. In any case, any chance to see HRH through the window is one less requirement to open the hive.

The girls have done a miraculous job of comb building. I may need to insert additional empty top bars soon and move the false back further back in the hive. Although it never happened to me last year (to my knowledge), I really don’t want a swarm THIS year. I did notice an odd looking formation on the side of one of the combs, which I believe to be new. I don’t recall it being there before. It’s not quite large enough to be a queen cell or supersedure/swarm cell, but I’ll watch it carefully.

What’s Bloomin’ is still the same as the last post.

One year of “Beeing” a Girl Guardian – May 2, 2013

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One year ago yesterday, I began my foray into this magical, mystical, and at times crazy, world of Apis mellifera.  I have Learned, I have Loved, I have Lost.  And yes, I have been Stung…. and not in the figurative or allegorical sense.  I’m talking Literally.  I have literally been Stung.

What’s that ??  Where have I been, you say?  There haven’t been any updates in AGES…. the Middle Ages… or maybe the Dark Ages !!

There are a lot of reasons, as well as no reasons, for the negligence.  This will be long…. so grab some wine… or something stronger.  The last update was in October 2012 and things appeared to be going well.  November rolled in and the weather was still warm, but starting to chill.  Thanksgiving came along and the Girls were still bringing in pollen.  I chuckled, thinking their bright orange pollen packs on Thanksgiving Day were like tiny little “bee pumpkins.”  All they needed were little bee pilgrim hats!

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I also installed the insulation panels on Thanksgiving Day and added crumpled newspaper to the back of the hive behind the follower board. I hadn’t seen Queen Vicky, but I hadn’t opened the hive due to cooler temps.  I had feed the Girls quite regularly, and they probably had nine or ten full combs.  I crossed my fingers this would get them through the winter.

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 But then along came December.  It was WET…. like hurricane storms WET.  And then the COLD set in immediately afterwards. Bone Chilling Cold.   I worried.  I worried a lot.  I wasn’t seeing anything.  Christmas came and went and still nothing.  

On January 6th, the weather warmed up.  I thought I could take a quick peek through the window by moving the insulation panel.  I didn’t see any activity and saw some dead bees at the back of the hive and in the entrance.  I still offered up a prayer and hoped, but my fear was that they were gone.

On January 13th, it got up to 70 degrees.  Yes… 70 degrees in January.  Who still doesn’t believe in Global Warming ?  Raise your hands.  Back to the Girls.  I had to Know.  I had to LOOK.  I opened the hive and my fear turned to reality.  They were gone.  There weren’t more than a few hundred.  Some were butt out in the comb.  Tell tale sign of starved in the cold.  I’m sure there weren’t enough to stay warm in their cluster and they perished.  The inside of the hive felt a tiny bit damp, probably from the Tennessee Hurricane Winter Storms.  I had intended on trying to find Vicky, but then just wanted to clean up the hive.  I sprinkled the bodies of my poor little Girls over the patch of crocuses that I had planted for them in November.

I decided to harvest two combs.  

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This was the first time I had harvested any honey.  It was an interesting process and a sticky process.  The honey was dark, leading me to think it might be goldenrod, which bloomed everywhere here in the fall.  There was also pollen in the combs so my honey wasn’t clear, but it sure is delicious.

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I left the majority of the honey in the hive, hoping it will provide a jump-start to next year’s hive.  I pushed wire mesh into the front of the hive to deter anything from entering and taking the honey, especially the Ferals.  All I could do now was order more Girls and WAIT.

And WAIT… through February…. and WAIT… through March… and WAIT…. through the beginning of April… until ….. Wednesday… April 17, 2013….  the Best Day and the Worst Day (in more ways than one…. remember that part…. in MORE ways than One).

Today I get my new Girls (this is the Best Day part).  I modified my order this year after reading an article last fall.  The article recommended for foundationless hives, like my Top Bar Hive and Warre Hives, to start off with five pounds of bees.  So I met John, my dealer… my Bee dealer, in front of the Sam’s Club, along with about 5 other Apis mellifera aficionados, and picked up a three pound package with Queen and a two pound package, sans Queen.  I loaded up the Girls and headed home.

Alas, the trip home was a somewhat sad and disheartening ride because I knew that when I got home, the home of the Ferals would be gone (this is a Worst Day part).  Yes… it’s sad but true… our neighbor evicted the Ferals, and their eviction was occurring on the same day as the arrival of my new Girls.  The poor Ferals.  At least there were being relocated, to hopefully thrive and fly some other beautiful place in the rolling hills of Nashville.  It is against the law in Tennessee to kill honeybees.  The eviction lasted the better part of the morning and early afternoon.  Their beautiful home was systematically dismantled, and they were BeeVac’ed up into a large bee transport vessel.  Yes… they were literally VACUUMED up.  They weren’t happy, not in the least.  The neighbor across the street received 5 stings earlier in the day.  After it was over, he tried to show his wife what was left of the tree and she was stung as well on her hand.

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I let my Girls kick back and relax close to their new home.  I planned to install them at dusk, hoping it would somewhat calm them.  I periodically checked on them and found quite a few straggling Ferals hanging on the outside of the package boxes.  Maybe they were asking to join the group….. since they no longer had a home…. or maybe they were just bitchin’ and gossiping all the low down and dirt about the neighborhood.

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So as dusk approached, I put on my jeans and long sleeve white t-shirt.  After my experience with the Girls last year, and everything I’d read and everything I’d heard, I didn’t think I needed to go full regalia.  But I took my quickie veil and gloves along….. just in case.

So I popped the lid off the 2lb package and took out the syrup can.  I learned from last year and brought everything I needed…. screw driver, pliers, can opener, kitchen sink (no.. not really the kitchen sink).  I then popped the lid off the 3lb package and removed that syrup can as well.  I then carefully remove the new HRH…. name to still be determined.  I could go Russian… since they have a smidge of that.  Or maybe something Italian… since they are somewhat that as well.  I believe they may be some sort of Italian – Feral cross breed… so I guess maybe an Italian Hillbilly!

I carefully pinned the cage of HRH into a top bar, including her already new acquaintances.  

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I then prepared to install the 2lb package, thinking that since she was hanging in the 3lb package that I would get the 2lb package in first.  I took the two pounder, bonked the package, tossed the lid and began pouring the Girls in.  

Everything was going swimmingly.  So far so good.  Look at me… doin’ this “au naturelle” …. “sans gear”… I’m a rock star!

Second bonk, and poured the remainder in.  At this point, the buzzing around me starts to get noticeably louder and a little closer to my ears.  “Maybe better put the veil on,” I say to myself.  Which I do.  I picked up the 3lb package, bonk, pour, bonk, pour.  Girls are everywhere now, and I feel the first burning sensation on my hand.  Damn… better put the gloves on.  Crap … another one on the hand.

I hurriedly put on my gloves as I still needed to close up the hive.  Closing up a top-bar hive is probably more difficult than a traditional Langstroth hive, (my personal opinion even though I’ve never closed a Langstroth) because one must replace the bars and attempt to avoid being a murder.  Sometimes it’s a breeze, today… not so much.  The Girls were not co-operating.  But could you really blame them, after the day they were having?  Sadly in the process, I heard one or two “squishes”.  The buzzing is getting louder again, but I’m almost finished with the close up.

Shiiiiiiiiit !!  There are Girls INSIDE the veil!  Double Shiiiiiiiiiiiit !!  And inside my gloves !!  OMG… why does it feel like someone is pushing a burning needle into the top of my head !  What is going on !!!  I hurriedly exit the hive vicinity and ripe the veil and gloves off.  But my head is still burning.  I take my fingers and try to remove the little female Brutus… Et tu, Brute ??

I can’t get her out of my hair.  I’m not “swatting”…. never ever ever “swatting.”  I am calmly trying to use my fingers and get her out of my hair… off my scalp… wherever the hell she is…. I can’t see… she’s on the top of my head…

There is no other option… There’s only one thing that can be done… to put an abrupt end to her heinous attack.  I start smacking the top my head with my hand.  Ouch.. smack… still burning… smack… smack… SMACK!  I’m deathly afraid to even consider what a sight it must have been to the neighbors to the rear of our property.  Another sting to my hand.  Now the other hand… Aaaaaaa… now one through my shirt.  And another to my ear, then behind my ear.  All hell is breaking loose !!  It’s a freakin’ Free-For-All  (this was that “other” Worst Day part)!!

Somehow, I manage to make sure there are no more Girls inside my veil, or in my gloves, or in my hair and get re-dressed.  Remember, I still have to close the hive !  I’m goin’ back in.

“Can these really be MY Girls?” I keep asking myself.  They were so much calmer last year.  Maybe it’s those hitchhiking Ferals.  “That must be it” I tell myself.  “It’s those pissed off Feral Girls that lost their home today and are trying to take it out on me!”  

I succeeded in closing up the hive, used the can opener to pop open the syrup can (see… thinking ahead…. what I learned from last year), filled the feeder and slide it into the new feeder hole in the false back in the hive.  Now the Girls will have access to “food” right at the back !  No more worrying about having to fully open the hive to insert the feeder, or putting a feeder out in the open… not that it matters now…. since the Ferals are gone.  But I did notice a few times last year of Girls “taking off” towards the front of the house after getting some water.  So I have often wondered if there isn’t ANOTHER Feral colony somewhere in the ‘hood.

April 19, 2013, I switched out the feeder with more left over syrup from the packages.  April 21, 2013, again I switched out the feeder with the last remains of the package syrup.  I wonder if I can order cans of this stuff… it sure is super easy to just pop open the can.  To my joy and surprise, I noticed pollen being brought in, pale yellow and bright yellow.  Woo Hoo !

I waited until Tuesday, April 23, 2013, to open the hive and check on the release of HRH.  Success!!  She was out and about and the entire candy plug was gone.  Additionally, there was no burr comb built onto her cage, unlike last year.  So I simply removed it and will keep it for a souvenir!  The Girls were, again, NOT in a good mood that the hive was opened.  Is this becoming a habit?  Is it possible that maybe there are just some cranky Ferals that have joined the kingdom and they have become the Guards?  I did not see any eggs in the little bit of new comb that I inspected; however, I did not perform a full inspection…. mainly because …. it was after work… and it was dinner time… for me… and for them… as I replaced the feeder again.  And again noted pale yellow pollen being brought in.  I read something recently stated, pollen being brought into a hive is a sign that the Queen is laying.  So I’m crossing my fingers that she’s already doing her thing…. (doin’ her ‘thang) !!!!

I have been taking quick peeks through the window and the Girls have been building new comb gang buster style!  Everything is looking spectacular so far which is making me hopeful for an excellent year.  I also noticed there were quite a few Boys that came along for the ride.  I’ll be interested to see what the Girls make of them.  We have had a beautiful spring so far.  Good amounts of rain so everything is blooming incredibly.  

Here is what I’ve noticed in bloom:

  • Dandelions (already at the tail end and they are going to seed)
  • Nashville Breadroot (very rarely do I see the Girls on it, but the Bumbles LOVE, LOVE it)
  • Fragrant Sumac
  • Daffodils (already losing the flowers)
  • Chokeberry (MANY pollinators loving this, but not really the Girls)
  • Rosemary, not seem to be as attractive this year as last year
  • Tangerine Crossvine just about to flower out
  • American Wisteria just about to flower out
  • Dutchman’s Pipevine, never seen any pollinator activity on this

Now I just need to name my Queen !