Just Add a Little Dirt

birdbath

Learning something new is always fun to do. Especially when it comes to helping bees!

For the last four weeks or so my honeybees have quit visiting the bird bath water source I’ve provided them. A green icky algae had slimed the entire birdbath, and even having since cleaned it and filled it with fresh water, my bees had still not returned to it. Usually I fill the birdbath with dried leaves, sticks, and stems from plants to give them a landing pad or something to grab onto if they accidentally fall in, but still no bees were interested…and that darn green algae came back. So I cleaned out the birdbath again, and remembering back from my beekeeping class that they tend to prefer more “odorific” water, I decided to try just adding a little bit of dirt to the water. Not even an hour later, I kid you not, bees are coming and going once again! I’ve set a couple wine corks, cut in half, as a floatation device instead of twigs and such, and am having a blast watching the bees use them.

I’m not sure where they were getting their water for the last month, but undoubtedly this is much closer for them. And maybe that gross green algae won’t creep back since I’m keeping this recipe simple – start with water, then just add a little dirt.

The bees know “Winter’s coming”

It’s no game of thrones for the bees at this point, they are all tucked in and prepped for the upcoming winter. The polar vortex is causing it to get mighty chilly quickly here in MI, yet I did still see some bees come out from three of my four hives during the sunniest and warmest part of the days this past week, visiting the birdbath I have set up for them.

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As for the 4th hive, I have not seen any activity (except for one bee, maybe a week ago). This is the same hive that is participating in the MSU Urban Pesticide Study. In July and August, it had been my strongest hive, the one that started from an experimental nuc at the beginning of the season; however, come September it seemed to dwindle its activity in comparison to my other three hives. I know that having enough space to continue their growth was not a factor, but it is also the hive that I have done the least number of inspections so as not to disrupt the study results. It really could be a variety of reasons for such a significant slowdown in activity. For one, being that I stopped feeding them completely because of the study. Or it could be the fact that we had such rainy weather and the ground was too moist for much to grow effectively. Even today, as I flipped my entrance reducers to the smallest setting on all my hives, I purposely tried causing enough of a ruckus that some annoyed soul should have come and checked me out, however, not a peep from the MSU hive! Even knocking hard on the hive with my ear pressed to the wood, I heard nothing! I do know they are in there as I have shined a flashlight through the top entrance and seen them, but I do think they probably have a much smaller population than what is ideal for going into winter. Regardless, it is much too cold to satisfy my curiosity now and open it up for a quick peek to see how many are in there – I will just have to be patient for spring to see what happens.

If I had to predict what my overwintering loss ratio will be next spring, I would guess 3 out of 4, and that’s not bad, with wagering on losing the MSU hive while the other three prevail. The other three I had fed and nurtured all summer long. During mid-september I treated the orange, pink, and yellow hives for the first time with mite-away strips in an effort to kill off the varroa mites that have been causing much distress on the colonies. I’ve also seen several bees demonstrating “k-wing” where they are holding their wings in such a way that it looks like a “K, a sign of stress and could be caused by varroa. As a side note, I’ve seen deformed wings in my orange hive which is the hive that started out from a package of bees this spring that I replaced the queen with one of my own genetics. That particular hive went through an evolution – from a delayed start due to replacing the queen, to the fact that I think they replaced the queen again on their own shortly after because she no longer indicated the marking I gave her, to suddenly becoming a super hive with a population explosion in late August. With such a disruption in the brood cycle in the spring and early summer, I am surprised to be seeing shriveled wings in that particular hive.

The mite-away strips I used were purchased in early spring, but I had taken so long in deciding whether or not I actually wanted to use them that I missed my opportunity for the correct temperature range before summer arrived. The temperatures remained above the threshold until September, and by the time it started to cool off and had I decided to treat for the mites, I realized that the strips have a very quick expiration date and had already expired in August. Without having time to re-order more and wait for delivery, I decided to go ahead and use them anyway. They still were fairly potent in smell, but they didn’t knock the breath out of me as many of my beekeeper friends have mentioned has done to them. I’m doubtful that the strips had much of an impact on the hives, and I will likely need to re-treat in the spring.

Aside from treating for varroa and prepping the hives for winter with the usual sugar-on-newspaper deal, on a nice day in early October I condensed my pink, yellow, and purple hives down in order to give an extra honey super to my orange hive (the one that got the late start on the season), so now all hives have adequate honey supplies for overwintering. Mid-September was also a time when forager bees were out in crazy numbers. There were so many everywhere, even my friends in other cities were asking me why they were suddenly noticing honey bees everywhere being “overly friendly” – I think it was the last push before winter, a period of time between rainfalls and warm weather and goldenrod blooming and final pollen collections. Two out of my four hives had become very aggressive, to the point that stepping foot in my backyard caused me to receive several warning messages, and I like to think it was solely because of how much honey stores they had to protect…but maybe it had to do with how hit and miss the weather had been this year, or maybe it’s just because they know winter is coming!

Regardless, I feel that my hives are fairly-well set up for success going into the winter this year, whereas last year I was completely clueless. Something I’d like to do for an overwintering experiment in the coming months is to capture some thermal photographs of my hives. I may have access to some thermal imaging equipment, and it would help provide me with some reassurance during the certain sub-zero weather we will receive this year of the state of my hives when I begin to doubt their survival.

 

Almost Famous, Bees!

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My bees are gonna be FAMOUS! Well…as famous as they can be, I suppose. Michigan State University (MSU) is conducting an Urban Pesticide Study‏, and I have volunteered one of my hives to partake in the research.

The study is taking place from July 2014 to June 2015 to determine when colonies are not near major agricultural settings, the type and amount of pesticides that are transported back by foraging bees at urban and suburban settings. Since honey bees can bring nectar and pollen back to the hive, and both nectar and pollen could be contaminated with pesticides, Zachary Huang, Ph.D. (Director, MSU Entomology Honey Bee Research Program) is going to collect samples of nectar and pollen from my hive each month through next June (with exception of the winter months). The pesticides in urban areas like mine could be a result of home garden pesticide use, and maintenance of parks and lawns. There are several other hives that are participating in the study as well, some in the detroit area and some in Ypsilanti, Ann Arbor, Farmington, Troy, and Lansing.

I’m totally geeked to be a part of the project! Another step towards helping the bees!

It was great to meet Zachary Huang. I had seen him talk at the SEMBA conference this past March, at Schoolcraft Community College, where I first learned about the project. He came to my house around 5:45pm and took a look at my apple tree in the front yard, seemingly impressed by how fruitful the little thing was, and then proceeded to tell me that I should wrap it up to protect it. We went straight back to my hives where I gave him the run-down of the history of my hives this year, and the funny thing is remember the little nuc hive I started after my pink hive swarmed – the one I had kept in a cardboard nuc box temporarily while I continued in over-drive to build hive equipment for my bee explosion – well, that nuc hive became quite the tall beehive all through June/July, and I had to transfer the nuc into a regular 2-story hive body because it was getting too tall, AND I had to move that hive since it had outgrown it’s location by my garage (and that’s a-whole-nother story for another post sometime, whew!) – well, it was that particular hive that Zachary chose for his study. He liked that it had the most foragers.

Zachary installed a pollen trap in the entrance of the hive that has tiny holes to allow the honey bees to come in and out but knocks the pollen off of their legs as they come in to the hive. A sample of the pollen will be collected and taken back to MSU for the study as well as a teaspoon of honey that from a designated frame inside the hive.

Here’s a BEFORE and AFTER video of the activity of the foragers coming to and from the hive:

They’ll learn how to walk through it eventually, but at two hours later many of them have collected on the underneath of the hive. My poor, poor confused little bees. Oh the things I have put you through this past week.  From transferring their nuc to the regular hive body they are in now, to dropping a frame on the ground in the process and making them really mad, to moving their home across my yard and thoroughly confusing some straggler foragers who keep returning to the old location, to now installing a labyrinth in which they are forced to go in and out to forage. All for the love of bees!

Hunkerin’ Down

So…I know it has been a while, here’s a long overdue post.

As the Summer has faded into Autumn, and Autumn is quickly fading into Winter, the honey bees are growing less and less active. This past weekend it got up to 60 degrees, and they were happily out and about, but otherwise they have been mostly keeping inside their hive – I’d love to have a camera in there to see how they are clustering around the queen and keeping her warm, how their cluster is moving around the hive, and how they are feeding on their honey stores.

Here’s a photo I had intended on posting about a month ago of the workers pushing out the dead soldiers after the first cold week.

They like to keep their house in order. The number of dead bees has increased as the temperatures continue to drop.

Today, I found this little girl curled up at my side door.

When I poked her with my finger, she didn’t move much. It’s strange that she was just sitting there. This is the third time in the past couple months a single bee has been at my door. My friend shared an interesting Science Friday podcast with me. Listen to the story titled “SciFri 010612” although the release date is 1/9/2012. It’s about how parasitic flies are becoming a problem for honey bees…as if the honey bees needed another thing against them, right?…and causing honey bees to be attracted to porch lights and fly around at night – things outside their normal behavior. It recommends capturing and isolating those bees in case they are infected, and destroying them so the parasitic flies are also destroyed and don’t spread to the rest of the hive (if they haven’t already). I don’t know if this is why the bee was on my door, but my door is white and the porch light had been on. I guess we’ll have to wait and see….

Sting Victim!

Nope, not me…still no stings for me, but as for my crazy friend, Derek, not so lucky. Actually it’s a pretty crazy story if you have a second.

As you can probably guess from my silence, life has gotten pretty busy lately with weddings and friends/family being in from out of town for this and that. My best friend married my husband’s best friend just last Saturday (both me and my husband were standing in the wedding), and so lots of people from across the country came in for the event. Now, my dear friend, Derek, poor soul – ever have a friend that stuff just seems to happen to? – he’s just a walking disaster when it comes to attracting Murphy’s Law. So, we’re BBQing for a bunch of people these homemade sausages and everyone’s having a great time, there’s even a baby there who is being pretty good and not crying, the house is jam-packed with people and food and good cheers and then suddenly…just a retched man-scream and quick tazmanian-devil-like movements, and he’s in my house mind you, yelling “a BEE! A BEE is stinging me, a BEE is stinging me!!” We all stood and just stared at him not believing him at all and then in his panic and flailing we see a small corpse of something get torpedoed across the room onto the sleeping baby. And, strangely, it was definitely one of my honey bees. It turned out that as he was coming into the house from BBQing outside, he had felt something crawling around in his hair and when he swatted at it repeatedly inside the house, it didn’t seem to like that very much and stung him right on his arm!!!

Luckily he wasn’t allergic, and actually it’s only a small percentage of people in the world who are deathly allergic, and so we showed him the proper way to remove the stinger – basically you just take your nail and scrap it away rather than pinching the stinger between your fingers and inadvertently squeezing and pumping more venom into your skin – and then he was fine, a small red bump emerged but he was fine. I collected the poor bee from beside the baby she got flung onto and I could see her entrails hanging out where the stinger used to be. She was dieing. She was desperately and aimlessly crawling around and trying to fly. I placed her back outside where she was more accustomed and let the poor girl have some time to herself rather than have a million people want to look at her with their huge scary faces, and then I attended to my poor victim, Derek, with some creme.

How strange is that? I can literally stick my face inside my bee hive without a care in the world for months on end, and then one day a bee ends up tagging a ride on one of my guests into my house, stings him, and gets flung on a baby.

In other news, we did an inspection this week prior to a 2-hour bee workshop we attended on Thursday and things are looking AWESOME in my hive! Messy and sticky, but AWESOME! I will post again with some pics and share more details with you later. Stay tuned!

Michigan’s 1st Annual Honey Festival

This past weekend was the first annual Michigan Honey Festival. I went with a good friend of mine and had so much fun. My husband lent me his D200, the one camera he felt completely fine parting with as it’s his oldest digital camera – haha! It was fun acting like a photojournalist for the day.

There were many activities throughout the day. Rich Wieske, who heads up Green Toe Gardens apiary, was there performing as the bearded man. There was craftmaking for the kids, cooking demonstrations and mead-making demos (Ken Schram) for the adults, live hive walk-throughs for everyone, as well as lots of vendors selling beekeeping equipment, honey (of course), lotions, chap sticks, and bee-friendly plants.

Here are the photos from the Honey Festival.

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