There are certain pursuits which, if not wholly poetic and true, do at least suggest a nobler and finer relation to nature than we know. The keeping of bees, for instance. --- Henry David Thoreau

"Well," said Pooh, "what I like best -- " and then he had to stop and think. Because although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do,
there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn't know what it was called. -- The House at Pooh Corner

Monday, May 16, 2011

Perfect Swarm Avoids Capture

One of the decisions I made with Ed when we set up the bees in the Eagle's Rest Garden was that we'd let most of the swarms go feral. After all, his garden sits in the middle of a wooden area, there are forest tracts over the fences in every direction. Lots of hollow trees and natural structure for colonies to inhabit. Here in the middle of the third year of those original hives, I think I've only captured one swarm from them; the rest have taken flight on their own terms. The idea is to repopulate and build up locally adapted honeybees in the surrounding woods who will then be there to pollinate. It's part of that 'save the bees' idea that got me started in the first place.

Now I know there is a lot of discussion pro and con about this, and frankly ... we don't care. You're either on the bus with restoring feral bee colonies, or you are not. A link to the feral bee projects is here, and I don't have a link to those who oppose it. [smile] There's currently a bit of a discussion about the idea on the Warré group, too. You can easily find all the talking points of the issues if you look on the net.

Anyway ... I harvested about 5 swarms in the last couple of weeks, including three that originated from my own hives here behind the house. One other swarm that issued forth was from my Biodynamic Lang, full of those pretty golden bees. Here's the swarm as it first began to settle in a tree just over the fence from the hive:

Well ... aside from the boat, there's a big dog over there, just outside of camera range ... and the fence is tall ... and at the time I didn't have an empty hive ready to put them in  ... and there was this little voice coming from somewhere close to being perched on my shoulder, "Hey, let 'em go." I was all set to pass up this swarm and let them become feral repopulator/pollinators. Yet it got harder when they eventually settled into this clump, about four feet off the ground, just beyond the fence:

Now who could resist such a nice cluster??? Imean, all ya gotta do is slip the bucket up under them, bang on the branch (or even just snip it off!) and .. wall - ah ... you got a swarm o' pretty golden bees.  The dog isn't mean, Molly and I feed him cookies all the time. The fence opens pretty easily. The bees could live in the bucket until I got another hive ready. What if they decided to settle in that guy's boat? Now the little voice was saying "GET THEM!!!"  I decided that if they were there in the morning, I would.  But that evening I began to question my 'save the bees' principles. Imean, if you've decided to increase the ferals in the local neighborhood, these are prime candidates. I should. I should let them go if I'm gonna be true to my values. [sigh]

Okay, they were there the next morning, even though the temp had drifted down to 34F just before dawn. But so was a swarm in a horse park over by the filbert groves. I went and collected those bees first, since the horse owners were panicked. Late that afternoon, the golden swarm was still on that branch. By now the little voice was ambivalent. Sometimes it was "Go", sometimes it was, "Get them."  Procrastination is our friend.

By the next morning, they were -- indeed -- gone.  I'm sure they found a nice oak somewhere between my fence and Parvin Butte , less than 1000 yards away. 

And hey .. I learned a lot just watching them for 48 hours.

Bumbling On The Edge ...

Looks like it's not just honeybees who are endangered.This article just came to me via the Pollinator Partnership. It's from January, 2011, but in light of the current findings about neonicotinoids, it makes sense to pay some attention.  Anyway, 'saving the bees' is not just a concern limited to honeybees any more. Now it's bumblers, and yeah, pretty soon Mason bees and other pollinators will exhibit the same sort of endangered status, I expect. Check it out: <>.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Finally: A Place to Keep Records of Our Hives

I kept meaning to choose one of those on-line hive record-keeping sites, or download somebody's software or something. That way I could get out of those spiral notebooks and actually have something I could use quickly and easily with the computer. When I first got started logging in my experiences and records, I tried using a couple; but they either cost money (too much, in my humble opinion) or they were just plain too complicated. There were difficult log-ins, or the format was somebody's idea of something that just wasn't practical. Most are oriented just about exclusively toward commercial operations. I gave up pretty early in the attempts.

So now, I discover that some actual beekeepers who know how to design software have recently put up a free site that is simple, easily accessible and has just about every feature and record you could use to keep track of your hives, your apiary locations, and the weather (yep the weather pops up automagically!). Seems as if they have only started it in the last year, so it's prolly not very well known. It took me just a few minutes to load all my hives into the system. Pretty nice.

They're doing it as a "service to the beekeeping community" which I think is just absolutely great -- and needed. You can donate something to them, if you wish, there's a link for that at their site.

Anyway, check 'em out. (They're on Facebook too!) >br>

Monday, February 21, 2011

Swarm Capture Redux

It's getting close to the time when early spring swarms will be issuing, so I thought I'd update a little of the methodology I have been hypeing.

Notices: I got my little flyers out and all tacked up on local bulletin boards; and gave a few to the volunteer fire departments (they were real happy to meet me, as they get a bunch of calls this time of the year and usually don't know what to do.) And remind the folks that you met last year when you captured their swarms, they may get more and they will tell their friends too.

Flowerpot Swarm Traps - I've noticed that the area where the two pots meet rim-to-rim is not always uniform enough to eliminate gaps along the centerline. This may irritate the bee gals enough to abandon the trap, or cause them to start spending too much time filling the gaps with propolis. Our old friend Duct Tape can come in handy to seal the rims.

Carol in the comments section was thinking of installing top bars so as to limit disruption when transferring the swarm into a permanent facility. I think that it would be hard to make top bars for a round space. Besides, I'm thinking that just monitoring the traps closely will allow you to move the swarms and shake them into your hive before they have built much comb. In my first flowerpot swarm foray - where my  mentor friend took the bees - I got to the trap within a day of their occupying the trap and there was only one saucer-sized comb inside. My friend shook the swarm onto a sheet and the bees just docilely marched in to their new home.

Other Traps -  the guys over on the Warré Beekeeping Group have tended to talk in terms of more permanent wooden boxes strung up in trees and rooftops, etc. along with various methods for utilizing them. The UK  beekeeping locations are less prone to having feral swarms, I gather; not like my Willamette Valley location which has a lot more ferals and escapees. This means they have to put up a trap for a long time, I guess, and tune it to weather a much broader range of conditions. If I was going to go for top bars, I'd probably design something like a Warré box as a long-term swarm capture method. Put a flat board for a floor and one for a roof. Pretty bulky and not something you'd want to stand under for very long; but prolly worth it in some situations.

Bait - I'm still using my first bottle of Lemongrass Oil, along with a chunk of old comb sealed into the interiors of the traps. Even in my small apiary, the bees are always attracted to the small empty kTBH I have there, just because of those lures. I'm sure that as swarm time approaches the scouts will look there for a space to occupy. 

Stuff I learned from capturing the swarms - 
 1) Take your time. The swarm isn't going to go anywhere in the next 10 minutes; and even if it is, you can't do anything about that. Plan your moves, scope out the situation.

2) Wear those gloves. Even though most swarms are docile, there's always a couple of bee girls who didn't get the word. They want to sting you! Just because.

3) Yes, leave the trap there for the stragglers you din't catch at first and come back at sundown to get 'em. Don't be overly chagrined if some get away. All the old beeks I know say they will eventually go back to the original hive. This may or may not be true, but I'm going to believe that it is true. Just because.

4) The bees are not going to suffocate in the time it takes you to seal up the box, put it in the car and drive home. Don't worry about "air holes". Your basic cardboard box will have enough ventilation to allow them to breathe unless you are the seam-tape queen. If you have made yourself a fancy "Bee Bucket", you already made a screened ventilation system.

5) Speaking of being the seam-tape queen, tape the goddamn box edges! Really tape them good. The bees will definitely send out some angry scouts and they will find you when you are behind the steering wheel driving down I-5 at 66mph. Oh yes, they will.

6) This is a way cool idea. Way cool. Boom! Straight into a nuc!

7) I'm kinda on the cusp about using a spay bottle and water. I've captured swarms both with and without. If the swarm is densely packed, you can't get the interior bees wet enough. If it's spread out, sometimes spraying the little clusters will aid you in getting them all. You choose. Also - don't forget your bee brush. It helps a lot in persuading those same little clusters to get with the program.

8) After you put them in a hive, give the swarm some time to adjust to the new home. Don't be opening the hive every day to "check". They will abscond if they get too much attention from you. Oh, ... and wait a couple of days before you stick a feeder anywhere. They might need it, but then again if there are lotsa blooms they won't bother with a feeder and it may attract pyrates. Theoretically they gorged on honey before they left home, so they'll be okay. Here's where you gotta use your best judgment.

9) Take lots of pictures. And keep a little notebook so you can remember stuff you did.

10) It's prolly too early in the year yet for martinis after you get them into their new hive, so ... warm up with this.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Everbody's Prepping for Spring ....

The Bee Girls are awake. Although the temps dip below freezing on many nights, still, the daytime temps are reaching up into the 50's. Things are warming up! The rain is not so incessant, so there are more and longer sun-breaks.(strange for Jan in the Willamette Valley, but I am not gonna rant about Planetary Heating in this post.) Enough so that the forager ladies are out and about most late mornings, bringing in loads of pastel yellow pollen from plants unknown. (Aspen? Maple? Willow? ... Calendula???) I set up a couple of Boardman feeders just in case my two most at-risk colonies need some short-term nutritional assistance. The liquid is disappearing from both feeders at the rate of about a quart per week.

Today I took a trip to Glory Bee and got some stuff to make another Biodynamic Lang - this one for Jenny and Mitch. And I'm going to add another 'Western Super' to my own BDL. I got the garage cleared out enough to operate the table saw and set up my brand new compressor and brad gun. (Thanks, Santa Molly!!!) I'll make my wonderful patented Lang/Warré hive-stand-bottom-board, a telescoping top, and a set of top bars for the Redwood Warré's last new box. I've decided it's not making any difference whether the bottom boards are screened or solid. I'll do either style as the mood strikes me and the Goddess commands .... I'd make my own deeps and supers for more Biodynamc Lang hives, but I don't have the jig to do the fine rabbets (hint hint).

Anyway, Glory Bee usually has the cheaper unassembled boxes on sale so that it's hardly worth the extra labor to build them from scratch. If I were a commercial guy instead of a newbeek "hobby" beekeeper, it would prolly make even more sense to buy the precut supers, no doubt.

This weekend I guess I better print out some more swarm-attracting flyers to hang up on the community bulletin boards. (Got Bees? ....) Wouldn't hurt to go by and remind the Fire Dept, the DOT Highway guys, and the hardware store that I'm here and ready to deal with swarms and maybe some cut-outs this year. I've got the local nursery guys ordering me some more of those cardboard fiber pots so I can continue to assemble more swarm trap/baithives and get them placed before too much longer. I'm going to try some smaller eight-inch pots as well as my twelve-inch beauties. (Yes, I'll let you know ...)

I guess I ought to go over to the Keeper of the Bee Tree Grove and remind him too, unless I can get Karen to do it. (hint hint) I wonder ... should I get some little business cards printed up offering to come get bees, mention my Warré/ Lang/TBH hive-building skills and my wise fool (sophomore) advice on setting up for beekeeping, etc?

Hmmmm ... yeah, you're right ... maybe not.

Oh, hey,  .... check out Adam Schreiber's Bee Blog - For the Time Beeing. He has lots of pictures, great words, and he's a city beek! Makes a nice contrast to our rural Cascade Foothills location. It's also linked over there <---- on the blog list.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Mason Bee Houses

There was this larger-than-ever growth in beekeeping starting in about 2006, when the first hubris over the Death Of All The Honeybees In The Universe began, along with subsequent publicity over CCD, Bayer pesticides and all of that. Well, now that all of us Newbeeks have kinda got our "feet on the ground" about the fundamentals of honey beekeeping, our attention has been expanding to include concern for all the pollinators in general -- from bats to birds, to other non-honeybee insects. I've noticed a growing interest in Mason Bees among all my fellow beeks here in the Willamette Valley. Lots of us are promoting their best interests here lately. It's not hard to raise and manage some. Look at our friend The Luddite's blog: her latest post has just a whole buncha really good stuff about Orchard Mason Bees. (You can also click on her blog over there to the left in our Bee Blog List to keep up with her thoughts.)

I actually started building Mason Bee houses before I began this odyssey into honey beekeeping. I give the bee blocks away whenever I can find any takers. This was because there was a year there when all of us noticed a distinct dearth of honeybees and seemed to observe a subsequent lack of blooms in our gardens. It seemed prudent to begin to do something about it. My oldest Mason Bee house is usually populated with several cocoons in the little holes. Here's a current picture of it, complete with bird-poop roof shingling:

 A close look reveals at least a half dozen full Orchard Mason Bee cocoons in the cylindrical holes I drilled. (There is a smaller set of holes below them for another variety of mason bee that I dunno the exact name of. The Leaf Cutter bees use 'em too. There are some full cocoons of theirs in this bee block as well.)

The Mason Bee nesting blocks or houses are really easy to build (don't worry I'm not gonna post another long set of instructions, just go here - or here -  if you wanna build some, or you can buy them in many garden stores and nurseries, or online).
The owner of the secretly-located feral bee grove puts me and most of the other bee house builders to shame. He has an absolutely amazing number of different shapes sizes and woods for Mason Bee houses, hung all over his garage, shed and behind his house. I'm hoping to get some good pictures this spring of all of them. It seems to work for us all, the Mason Bee population seems to be growing around here.

Seque: Since he asked very nicely, I promised Amy Leigh's boyfriend, Danny, that I would mention his article, 21 Things You Didn't Know About Honey Bees. The blog has been added to our Bee Blog List, as well. (I'm kinda hoping he'll link to us on their blog as well ....)

[May 2012 update: For a really informative, recent, discussion of solitary bee living quarters as well as a great tutorial on building nesting blocks go here to our friend The Luddite's blog.]