Friday, June 22, 2012

My Bee's Keeper

I started my hives without much more than a couple of books and a "class" in someone's garage.  So to say I am a novice is an understatement.  In fact, I had never been stung by a bee, wasp, or hornet.  As a prepper, I wanted bees for several reasons; of course honey, bee's wax, garden pollination, and a hobby.  I've been getting a number of questions about how the bees are doing and how I like being a beekeeper.  So here is an update:


The two hives have grown at very different rates.  One has become a very strong hive, easily triple the starting population of bees with 10 frames of brood and supporting food stores.  They grew so quickly I was concerned about the hive temperature during a recent heat wave.  In my ignorance I decided to add a hive body, without frames, to provide a space for the heat to escape the hive.  Everything seemed fine for a couple weeks, and then a little stub of a comb appeared on top of the center frame.  I thought, "oh look, they are ready to start a new level."  I needed to assemble 10 more frames and install the wax foundation, but it was the middle of a busy week.  I thought no problem, I'll cut off the 2 inch high wafer and in a couple of days be able to add the frames.

Saturday rolls around and I head out to the hive to discover my little bees have been really busy.  Now I have drawn comb that resembles a bowl or maybe the pedals of a flower and it reaches from one side of the hive to the other, it's huge. What makes it worse is that it was being filled with honey as fast as it was being drawn.  So my quick visit to the hive has become a major problem.  After some minor surgery on the hive and a lot of pissed off bees I had a bucket full of wax, uncapped honey (which is not the ready to eat yet), and all of this mess covered in bees.  ugh.  After installing the new frames I allowed the bees to feed on the cut out.  It takes 8 pounds of honey to produce a pound of wax, so I felt bad about taking so much from them, setting back my strong hive an potentially setting the honey production so far back that I would not be able to harvest any for myself later in the year.  The upside is that I learned a couple of things.  First, bees flip a switch and are relentless when they decide to build and are able to rapidly draw comb.  Second, cutting comb with any honey in them will kill bees, they will cover the comb and no matter how hard you try they will get caught up in the sticky mess.  Third, if you want to encourage bees to begin drawing on new frames, using their own wax pressed on the wax foundation will almost immediately generate activity.  Lastly, bees are not pets.  Yep, that's right, I finally know I am not allergic to bees.  I was used to visiting the bees with minimal protection to swap feeding jars, but the day after having cut out the comb, I approached to hive and was confronted by several agitated bees.  One of which hit me in the chest and was wildly buzzing on my shirt.  I brushed him off while moving away from the hive and he was back on me in a second tagging me in the arm.  Wow! It wasn't the pain of the sting, just the shock of being attacked by this fuzzy little bug that I have grown to like.

The other hive is growing but not as quickly.  I decided to limit the entrance and increase the feeding to strengthen the colony.  I think the queen is not as productive as the other hive's and i suspect robbing has been taking place by the stronger hive.  By limiting the entrance the weaker hive is able to better defend the hive.  I also ordered a top feeder which brings the sugar water into the hive, further limiting the amount of robbing.  The other benefit is that I only have to disturb the hive once every 4-5 days rather than everyday.  This has had the added benefit of catching mites in the water, alerting me to a potential cause of the lower population in this hive.  The tiny mites are easy to see swimming on top of the sugar water.  I'll treat the hive tomorrow.


Harvesting wax and separating it from the honey is not as easy as it might seem.  I tried to feed the honey to the bees thinking they would pick it clean.  It turns out, they took wax and left bee bodies in the wax.  My next attempt was to heat the wax in 120 degree water and float the wax.  What I ended up with was not pure wax and eventually grew mold.  Time to hit the web and books to refine my wax harvesting.


The biggest success of all has been my garden.  It is going nuts with all the bees helping the plants develop produce.  The amount of produce developing on my plants is significantly higher than any year since starting the garden.  Certainly other factors are at play here, but this is the first time I have seen bees working my garden, with at least one bee on every plant.


So how are bees as a hobby?  This is a question you have to ask yourself because if, unlikely as it seems at the moment, there is no crisis requiring self-sufficiency, you have 60,000 + critters depending on your continued support.  I have to say, I am enjoying it, sting aside. They are amazing creatures, a ton of fun to watch, and other than the rare event that requires immediate attention, they are pretty light work when its a small scale bee yard.

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