Friday, April 30, 2010

So what exactly did go wrong? I think I took the "keep" out of Beekeeping.

I've probably talked to 5 honeybee experts this week about what went wrong in my first attempt with the TBH.  I've also been reading about the many people who had the same thing happen to them with TBH's.  As a result I have a long list of what the problem could have been, but I believe it wasn't one problem but a combination of a few.  Here's the three most likely situations:

  • No comb to call home - I didn't mean for that to rhyme - so if someone gave you a new home for free but there was no furniture and no food how long would you stay?  Yea, me too.  I'd be gone so quick their head would spin.  The top bars are made for bees to build comb, but these bees had never built on top bars and although they tried, the queen wasn't interested in trying too hard and decided to leave.
  • The queen was never accepted by the colony - this is an interesting one.  Queens are introduced to the bees in the package by being put into a cage with screen on it and a cork in the entrance hole.  At first, the bees in the hive want to kill her and will bite at the screen.  Just by being there with the bees they will soon accept her as their queen.  So what I did, which I was told was right, was to replace the cork with a marshmallow and by the time they eat through the marshmallow she will be accepted.  She may not have been accepted that readily being a young queen.  They may have killed her when she came out of the cage.
  • No accessible food, they may have starved to death - I did provide them with food.  I gave them a feeder that was a bowl with a can of sugar water turned upside down and foam pieces floating in it to keep them from drowning.  I placed the feeder in the hive.  What I recently learned was that when they are in the hive they do not fly.  Therefore, they could not get to the food.  Had I given them a zip lock with little holes in it they could have crawled over to it and soon would have been eating.  With the bowl, they could not climb up it or never even found it.

Each one of these explanations has about ten different answers to how you can fix it, but I've decided to go the route of having a colony started for me on top bars called a nuc (nuke).  The nuc will have 3 bars of brood and 1 bar of "stores".  The queen will be laying eggs and the colony will be tending to them.  All I will need to do is to move the bars into my hive and then it should take.  Karen is getting one as well.  the nuc's will be ready around June 1st.

For my third hive I'm going to try and get a swarm.  I have my name on two swarm lists and I also know of two bee trees that may swarm.  If I get a swarm it will be placed out at The Kois Farm.

So that's the plan...I'm not giving garden really needs the bees.

Thursday, April 29, 2010


The Apiary Inspectors of America (AIA) and USDA-ARS Beltsville Honey Bee Labconducted a survey to estimate winter colony loses for 2009/2010. Over 22.4% of the country’s estimated 2.46 million colonies were surveyed. A total loss of 33.8% of managed honey bee colonies was recorded.  This compares to total losses of 29%, 35.8% and 31.8% recorded, respectively, in the winters of 2008/2009, 2007/2008 and 2006/2007. 

In all 4,207 beekeepers responded to the on-line survey and an additional 24 were contacted by phone. This response rate is orders of magnitude greater than previous years efforts which relied on phone or email responses only (2008/2009 n=778, 2007/2008 n=331, 2006/2007 n=384).

On average responding beekeepers lost 42.2% of their operation, this is an 8 point or 23% increase in the average operational loss experienced by beekeepers in the winter of 2008/2009.
Average losses were nearly 3 times greater than the losses beekeepers reported that they considered acceptable (14.4%). Sixty-one percent of beekeepers reported losses in excess of what they would consider acceptable.

Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) is characterized, in part, by the complete absence of bees in dead colonies and apiaries.  This survey was not designed to differentiate between definitive cases of CCD and colonies lost as the result of other causes that share the “absence of dead bees” symptom. Only 28% of operations reported that at least some of their dead colonies were found dead without dead bees.  However, this group lost a total of 44% of their colonies, as compared to the total loss of 25% experienced by beekeepers who did not report losses indicative of CCD. Responding beekeepers attributed their losses to starvation (32%), weather (29%), weak colonies in the fall (14%), Mites (12%), and poor queens (10%).  Only 5% of beekeepers attributed CCD as the major cause for their losses.
It is also important to note that this survey only reports on winter losses, and does not capture the colony losses that occurs throughout the summer as queens or entire colonies fail and need to be replaced.  Preliminary data from other survey efforts suggest that these “summer” losses can also be significant. All told the rate of loss experienced by the industry is unsustainable.  

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Hogan's Hives Were Abandoned

No idea what 5:00 today when I left for practice they were busy and bringing in pollen.  When I returned at 7:45 the hive was 100% vacant.  Headed over to the farm to check that one and there were only about 150 bees in a ball at the top, not sure it there's a queen.  Regardless, with only 150 bees it will be tough to get established and they will likely depart as well.

In both hives they had started to build comb.  My guess is that the queen did not get fully established and when she ate through the marshmallow she either left the hive or was killed.  There may be a swarm hanging in a tree somewhere in the neighborhood.

As an adventure I'm pretty bummed, but I'm not done trying.  As an experiment I guess I need to learn why this happened.

Next step is to try and locate a nuc from another beekeeper and try again.  Nucs are usually ready around June 1st.  A nuc is an established colony meaning the queen is laying eggs and brood is developing in the hive.

I'll keep you posted on what's next.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Installing Hive Two - The Back Yard Hive

So the weather yesterday turned really bad after installing the first hive which I'm calling KFH for Kois Farm Hive.  So I left the second box of bees inside our Back Yard Hive, BYH, to be installed today when the weather cooperated.

Today went much better than yesterday.  It took me about 25 minutes total to install the bees in BYH.  Jaimi was there documenting the whole event.  So once again, rather than me type it out, here's some video of the installation of BYH.

For starters, I had to get the queen out...we'll call her Queenie?  Ashli will have to come up with a better name than that.  I don't think Queen Latifa Two is a good one either.  Anyway, here's a great video of me getting the queen out of the box and into the hive:


Next we get to dump the bees in which is my favorite part.  I sprayed them down with sugar water and started dumping.  This video is pretty good as well:

VIDEO LINK - Dumping the bees into BYH

And that's that!

I stopped by KFH - Kois Farm Hive today to see how the snow treated them.  The bees that did not move into the hive before the temp dropped and the snow hit did not make it.  I estimate that there were at least 150 bees still in the box below the hive.  Kind of a bummer but I couldn't open the hive back up to try and get them in with the rain and snow comin down.  There were still tons of bees in the hive and tons flying around the outside so I think they are just fine.

That's all for now.  I'll dig into the hive again next weekend and get some more video.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

First Package Install

So today went ok.  After having a spectacular soccer game (Kaiti) down in the Springs, I shot all the way up to Loveland with my trusty 6 year old companion, Ashli.  She was a trooper!  Although she wouldn't get out of the truck at the bee pick up site, on a count of the thousands of bees that greeted us and surrounded our truck, she did great and was soon touching the bees with her bare finger.

When we returned home with the two packages of bees we opened the back of the truck and they came rushing out.  Although our bees were in two wooden boxes, it was very apparent that a lot of bees had hitched a ride on the outside of the box and were now in the back of my truck....Zeke moved to the front...dogs and bees don't mix well.  It was truly amazing how these bees were non aggressive, very gentle, and not interested in us one bit.  Here's a video of one pack in the back of the hive after I took the other tow the back yard:

VIDEO LINK - Bees in the truck

Kaiti and Ashli went with me to the Kois' farm to install the first package.  I was kind of in a hurry because the weather was turning on us and it looked like it was going to rain in about 15 minutes.  So I pulled out the bees, sprayed them down with a little sugar water, and started to work the can out of the box.  It wasn't very easy, but once it came out I was able to pull Queen Latifa's cage out of the box.  It has a little piece of metal attached to it that is great for hanging in between the top bars of the hive.  I got her hung and here's a little ditty that Kaiti, my videographer took, of the process:

VIDEO LINK - Queen Latifa

So with Queen Latifa safely in the hive, with a marshmallow instead of a cork in her doorway, I started to spray down the bees in order to shake them into the hive.  Rather than explain it, you should really watch this video, cause the end is really funny:

VIDEO LINK - Pouring in the Bees

Ok, with most of the bees in the hive I thought all was well until the temp dropped 20 degrees and Jaimi got a weather alert that said 2 inches of snow coming tonight!!!  I'm sick of SNOW!!!!!!  So I made sure the feeder was set and the most of the bees were in the hive.  Then I set the box with the remaining bees outside and that's what I'm worried about...the bees outside the hive.  Probably lose a bunch of bees tonight to the cold weather.

So that's package one install.  I put the other box in my yard hive and will install them tomorrow or Tuesday.  Hopefully better video of that install since it will be at the house.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

I've got hives!

Well the hives are done and the bees come tomorrow.  Here's a little info on what I built and how I built them:

So over the last few weeks I've been building these Top Bar Hives using plans from the Barefoot Beekeeper, Phil Chandler.  Interestingly, after building two hives over about two weeks I deciced that I had the kinks worked out and built a third hive in a few hours.  The most important and toughest part of building the hives is the top bars.  I used borrowed tools from some friends and even spent an evening at Eric Ryterski's house using his dado saw and compound mitre saw.  Came home that night with about two pounds of sawdust up my nose....mmmmmm.

So here's a few shots of what I built:

Top Bar Hive


Top Bars - solid

Follower Board

Observation Window (closed)

Observation Window

Here's a great video of Installing Bees in a TBH.

Bees come tomorrow - I'll post some pics of that event too!

See ya!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Why are we going to keep bees in our yard?

This is a question I've heard from neighbors, my kids, friends, and of course my wife.  Why you ask? 

Over the past 15 years I've had some spectacular vegtable gardens.  Growing tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, jalapenos, basil, strawberries, beans, pumpkins, and of course Zuccini.  Zuccini and cucumbers are probably two of the easiest vegtables to grow.  I think I've seen them growing stright out of rocks in some gardens.  Water, dirt, and of course some seeds and you'll produce some fruits.

Well, that wasn't the case for me in the last two years.  What happened in my garden was that I had huge plants that just never produced many fruits.  The measly 3 cucumbers were pointed on one end and fat on the other.  After doing some research I learned that this shape is indicative of improper pollenation.  Cucumbers can pollenate from the wind and other bugs but are very dependant on honey bees.  So I did further research and learned more about the bad situation the honey bees are in due to Colony Collapse Disorder or CCD.  (which I won't go into in this blog)

I did a little more research and learned about Top Bar Hives or TBH's, which I will also not go into detail on because there's a ton of info out there on TBH's.  One good source of info is the Barefoot Beekeeper.  As a result I just completed the construction of three TBH's.  One will be placed in my backyard, one at the cousin's house in Louisville, and the other is awaiting a swarm because there were no package bees left for purchase as of recently.

I'll add some photos of the hives shortly.  We get our bees for the two hives next Sunday and will take some pics of the install.

That's all for now.