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!

Dead Bees Equals First Honey Extraction

This is going to be a longer post. To recap, I discovered all of my bees passed away a little over a week ago. Here are some photos we took that day, including finally finding the Queen after all this time!

In some of the photos you can see the bees’ tongues sticking out or the bees’ tail-ends poking out of cells suggesting starvation, while on the other hand the cluster appeared to be frozen together. Please note, the cluster was much larger before I pulled the frame out, but once I disrupted it they nearly all fell to the bottom of the hive.

Be sure to click on each photo in order to see more detail.

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So after this unfortunate discovery, it was time to extract all the leftover honey from the hive. I rented a honey extractor from Roger Sutherland and went to work learning how to do the process. We have some embarrassing videos of the whole thing, but it’s worth documenting for my own record keeping.The videos were taken with iPhone and are low-res and a glitch seems to occur when making them full screen.

When turning the crank on the extractor, it slipped quite a bit causing some trouble for getting it up to a decent speed to make centrifugal force result. It was a challenge to get through all my frames because of that, but I can’t complain too much since the equipment rental was only $15.00.

This next video shows how the honey is poured and bottled.

We ended up removing the cheese cloth between the funnel and the colander because it slowed the process down and was a bit unnecessary.

After all the bottling was completed, we ended up with 4 and a half quart-sized mason jars. We actually would have ended up with a total of 5 but because I wasn’t so good at my first time, much honey was wasted on the floor – oopsies! Here’s a couple photos of the end product. Roger Sutherland measured the moisture content of a sample we brought when returning the extractor equipment – 18.5, which was right on the cusp of the 18.6 limit but yet still within range – YAY!

Friends and family, we have samples for you!

By Andrew Potter www.andrewpotterphoto.com

By Andrew Potter
www.andrewpotterphoto.com

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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Bottom Board Trouble

Tomorrow I was planning on doing my next inspection of the hive, if the weather fairs well, but I walked around the hive today and was troubled by what I saw. My bottom board is splitting open!

I don’t know how long it has been like this since I usually do my daily observations and occasional inspections of the bees while standing on the other side of my hive which is not directly in the bee line path. I’m not exactly sure what to do to fix this, if it’s salvageable, other than to purchase another bottom board and swap it out. I imagine I will have to fix this before winter in order to help prevent moisture from getting into the hive?

Here are some blurry photos I took of what’s going on. Any suggestions on what to do here would be greatly appreciated.

Adding a Super

We added a super to the hive today. The bees were ready for the new addition. Besides getting bees in the first place, I’m considering this my next big milestone.

Went with another deep box, let’s call that “daisy” box (which is the same size as what we will now call our first box – “sunflower” box) so that we could put a couple frames from sunflower into daisy. There are a lot of conflicting views out there on whether to move frames up or not, and so we just decided to go for it. (When it comes to beekeeping, it seems there is a lot of personal trial and error.)

Now, since we were going for it, moving a couple frames up that is, my preference was to take two frames (one from each far side of sunflower) and move them up into daisy. However, my husband seemed to think it was a better idea to take two frames from stage-right since the bees hadn’t begun any comb on the other sides’ last frame. Also, he thought that would be a good thing because they would have the same pattern sitting next to each other up in the middle of daisy. We’ll see how it goes!

While we were at it, we switched our entrance reducer to the wider setting. It took quite a bit of prying with the hive tool to get that little block of wood unstuck from the super. With all the stuff we were doing to the hive, I kind of half-expected the bees to get a little annoyed with us. At first with the switching of the entrance, it seemed like there was a little confusion for them and one did buzz my hat, but all went back to normal once we got the reducer back in place. As for their behavior when we added the daisy super, they didn’t seem curious, annoyed, or anything. Another successful interaction, still never been stung!

I also scraped off the comb that I had noticed on my birthday which they had spilling over onto the tops of the sunflower bars. I just want to keep the tops clean as I’ve noticed it sticking to my top covers as well. This time there was no honey in those little pieces, but I was pleased to see they had been hard at work to cap the frames of honey they had produced recently. Although I won’t be able to give some of my co-workers a little taste until a few months from now, I know it’s a good sign that the bees are capping their reserves. How exciting!

On a side note, earlier this morning, before all of this fun activity, I went out to the hive to watch them come and go and there were a handful of dead drones just outside the entrance again. I even observed one returning to the hive and he got quite the buzz by a couple workers as he went in through the entrance. I also found one alive in the grass near the hive and so I picked him up to look at him (keep in mind that drones don’t have stingers) as it appeared he was having a hard time in the grass – he had just repeatedly been crawling up a blade of grass and falling off again and again. As I held him in my hand and looked at him I could tell there were some white scratches on one of his eyes. Other than that it didn’t appear to be anything the matter with him, although it seemed like his balance was off. He peed a little in my hand too – bee pee! Actually, bees don’t pee because they need to conserve water, so the waste he eliminated onto my hand must have been uric acid. I placed him back in the grass to let nature take its course with him.

HONEY!

I don’t know if you can tell from this photo, but the hive has been very active the past two weeks around mid-afternoon. If you look to the left of the hive in the grassy area, you can see many bees hovering in the air waiting to go into the entrance of the hive.

Here’s another photo a little bit more close-up and personal.

Yesterday we had some friends over and showed them the hive. It was the first time I’d opened up in 10 days since the wax worms were on my bottom board. When I took the top cover off I could already tell that much work had been accomplished. Through the hole on my inside cover they were building comb on top of the frames and connecting it to the bottom of the inside cover. Using my hive tool, I slid between the comb and the inside cover to free it up so I could take the cover off and show everyone. As I did this, the cover came free very easily (must have been because of the 93 degree heat) and upon removing it I immediately noticed that my population had increased – not sure by how much but it seemed like a lot.

I pulled out two frames from the end, nothing but lonesome bees on the last one doing not much at all; however, the second to last frame they were already pulling comb on both sides – wow, that was fast! I thought “pulling” took a long time on plastic cell frames? Not only that, but between the third and fourth frames from that end as I pulled them lightly a gap, I could see uncapped honey (lots of it!)just kind of oozing between those frames. Also, the comb that they had formed on top of the frames and connected to my inside cover had uncapped honey in it.

So much to celebrate!!! With my hive tool, I scraped off a piece of comb from the tops of the bars and was able to give my friends a little taste – it was absolutely delicious!!!!! I don’t know if I’m the best person to describe taste with my lack of sense of smell, but it was delicately sweet, just lovely. I have some Michigan honey in my pantry from the local grocery store that is supposed to be pure and not have had any treatments, but that stuff compared with my honey…there’s no comparison. The store bought honey is like tasting pure sugar. My honey also seems to be pleasantly fragrant (although I can’t smell it, I can kind of feel the smell) and the texture so smooth. Yay! I can’t believe that I got to taste my bees’ honey already. One of the best birthday presents I could ever have wished for. GREAT day!