Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Welcome Back. Now with bees!

Well, it has been about 4 and a half years since I posted last. I am busy with the rest of my life. In those years, I have been continuing the garden. Some things have done really well. We have highly productive thornless blackberries, mainly Triple Crown and a little Chester. They say Triple Crown is a big producer and it really is. During the harvest season, I am picking 4-6 quarts every day or two from my yard. Fortunately I have a pie shop, so they get used up. We also have 4 kinds of figs, thornless Boysenberries and Loganberries, Asian pears, European pears, a French prune plum, oranges, lemons, kumquats, yuzu and more! Don't forget the almonds, pomegranate, pawpaws and persimmons. The list goes on and on.

I also have some pretty successful worm bins and other projects, but what is getting me back here on this blog is that after years of thinking about it and putting it off, we finally got bees. This year I decided to do it and took the highly recommended class at the Santa Rosa Junior College, taught by Serge Labesque. Then I bought some hives and frames from a local guy, John McGinnis and some bee suits for me and my wife, along with some other essential tools like hive tools and smoker.

I also joined my local beekeepers' association, the Sonoma County Beekeepers' Association which is just so well organized and full of helpful people. So I am using this blog as my record keeping tool. If you happen to see it, maybe it is useful to you. I am a very beginning beekeeper so we shall see how it goes.

The Sonoma County Beekepers' Association has a bee sharing program in order to make it easier for people to source local bees. They recommend against ordering packaged bees from afar in order to preserve our genetic adaptations to this area and to prevent pathogens from spreading to our local bees. I put myself on the list as someone who "needs bees". As recommended, I set up my two hives so I would be ready for bees at a moment's notice. This time of year there are swarms and other beekeepers are also splitting their hives to prevent them from swarming. Some people don't need extra bees, so they are donors of swarms or splits.

On Tuesday April 4th in the evening, I got a call from Brian, one of our "Cluster Leaders" (the Association is divided into different parts of Sonoma County. We are the South Cluster) who told me to call John right away because he had caught a swarm. I called John and he said I needed to come right over to where he was, which was a few blocks from my house. I went over and the bees were in a carboard "swarm box" or "nuc box" with 5 frames. It was a very large swarm and John recommended I put the bees into two supers (I have medium Langstroth hives). I took the swarm box home, placed it next to my hives and took the cork out, that John had put in for transporting the bees. The next morning I handled bees for the first time in my life and transferred the frames into my hive, then shook as many bees out of the box and into the hive as I could. Then I promptly returned the swarm box along with replacement frames to John, as instructed. 

The weather has been cool and rainy a lot for this time of year in Northern California. I seem to be getting one day per week that is maybe almost warm enough to open the hive and see how things are going. I also check the white plastic monitoring trays to see what is on them every few days.  That is a good non-invasive way to see how they are doing. You don't even need a bee suit!

So, on my first inspection, I saw that the bees had built new comb, but it was about 6 days after "installation day" so it was too early to see any brood and my eyes are not so great yet at spotting eggs, especially without my reading glasses. It was borderline warm enough so I didn't want to spend too much time searching and risk chilling the brood. The bees need to maintain a 93 or 94 degree temperature around the brood, so if it is colder than 65 degrees, you should not open the hive.

I was kicking myself later because there was no activity in the top super. I remembered from the class that you can "bait" the bees up into the top by moving the follower boards and some frames with comb to the top. Well, when I got a chance to look again on Saturday April 15th, the bees were already working on the upper chamber. I moved the follower boards and a frame of drawn comb upstairs anyway and replaced the frame from below with a new empty frame. We are using foundationless frames with wire strung across for stability. 

In the upper chamber, as I separated the frames the bees were linked together by their feet. I wish I could have taken a picture, but it was sort of chilly and I was working by myself with gloves, etc. I remembered from the class that bees build comb linked foot to foot in a chain, passing wax to other bees that assemble it into comb. That was pretty neat to see.

Anyhow, on Saturday, before I went into my hive, there was a "bee cafe" of the South Cluster of our Association and I got to meet other people who live right nearby who could be "bee buddies". I got their phone numbers and today was planning to go into my hive to see if there was any capped brood. I called Frank, who lives 5 minutes away, but he said he had a swarm that had just landed in his yard. This was the second swarm to visit this yard this year after never having seen a swarm before! Frank and Judy are about as experienced as me, so they called someone else to catch the swarm. I came over with my bee suit to help.
Morgan came over with a swarm box, some frames and a feather and I held the box steady while he brushed the bees in with a feather. Once they were mostly in and several workers began fanning, indicating the queen was in the box, he shut the lid. A circle of bees stood around the hole in the box, fanning to tell everyone to come in. The box was left to collect the bees until sunset. Presumably, the next person on the "needs bees" list picked them up.

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