Monthly Archives: April 2011

A bit more successful with the bees

Last year I killed my bees, and I did a pretty poor job of hiving them before that. This year I did a bit better, but I still have a long way to go. I still need to apprentice with or talk serious bees with a more experienced bee person, but so far I am just sending the girls and I through the school of hard knocks.

Bees arrived Saturday April 16 (thanks James for the last minute delivery!). The weather was at least 5, if not 10 degrees F warmer than last year – near the 50s. Most of the snow gone. Sun. Nice! Much better weather than bee arrival last year. But I was busy with things and mentally tired and traumatized from last year, so I couldn’t bring myself to hive them right away. They sat in the sunny yard most of the afternoon, and when I realized it was not gonna happen that day (yes, I’ll admit, I was still cleaning off bee boxes to put them in – thanks Sheila and Henry for help!!), I set the two boxes of package bees inside a bee box on a leveled stand, put the lid on and wished them well.

Last year I had been convinced that the roof of my shed would be an inconvenient place to tend bees, so I put them inside the back shed and cut holes in the wall for the entrances to poke though. But is turned out to be pretty cold in the shed relative to outside, so this year I put the hives on the nice black, rolled asphalt roof – much warmer, especially in the sun (but it is alaska, so not cooking). I have two types this year. I have the Warre boxes I made last year (only two still, should make a 3rd and maybe 4th Warre box for when the hive needs to expand), and I was given a standard Langstroth Hive (thanks Dallas!! All of my friends have a hand in this endeavor!). The Langstroth also only has two boxes, I might need more. I used a level and some scrap wood under the hive floors to make them perfectly level on the sloping roof. The entrances face south. They are just north of a big clump of willows, so they will get shade when those leaf out. Maybe not ideal, but this faces them into the big empty channel 11 lot, and away from neighbors windows, yards, etc.

Langstroth Hive on the shed roof

Two evenings later, another sunny warm day, I finally had the mental energy to hive them. Despite some initial nervousness and shakes, this went significantly better than last year, due to experience. I wore a bee veil, normal clothes, and rubber-dipped-palmed cloth work gloves, but again the bees had no intention of stinging me. They got under my veil, inside my sweatshirt, and still just crawled around peacefully until they were let out. First I sprayed 1:1 sugar water on the bees through the package screen. Then I lifted the can of syrup out with pliers and set it on the bars of the hive (both cans were nearly empty, so good thing I hived them then!). Then I slid out the queen cage and brushed the bees off it into the hive. Then I used pliers to remove the sideways cork and stuffed in a marshmallow plug (probably not necessary at this point since the bees and queen had been together for a few days) and hung the queen cage from a bar in the hive. I left out a couple of middle bars and vigorously dumped in the bees from the package. Again they didn’t all go in, about a pound of them (1/4 of the package) stayed in the package. This time I didn’t rip off a screen side as that hadn’t helped much last time. I didn’t get out a spatula as one experienced keeper had suggested last time. On the langstroth hive I was able to set the mostly empty package in the second box I stacked on top of the box with frame to allow space for the jar feeders. On this I placed some old window screen (since the inner cover was missing from the set) and the cover. The Warre hive dimensions are too small for the package to fit in the top/feeder box, so I just had to prop the package next to the hive opening, which I did last year without much success. It was warm enough that some bees were quite active, and I did observe many leaving the package for the hive. I gave each hive an extra jar of 1:1 sugar water/syrup inverted on the bars since the can of syrup they were sent with was almost gone. The Langstroth got a pint jar, and the Warre a cup jar because I wasn’t sure the feeder box was tall enough for a pint (it was, but oh well.)

Bees left in the package after hiving


A couple of days later I checked on them. It was cloudy and trying to sprinkle and a bit windy, but I was worried about them running out of food. Not many bees had made it out of the package left outside, and the ones still in looked dead, but I took it inside and gave it a jar of syrup and some bees woke up again. Almost all the bees in the langstroth package had made it down into the hive, and I removed the package from the feeder box. The queen cage in the langstroth had fallen to the bottom, but I assumed all was well with the queen, left it there, and replaced the two frames (all frames in it currently have plastic foundation). I moved the screen to on top of the first box with frames, under the feed jars, put in another pint jar even though there was still plenty of syrup in the first (about half left or more), and replaced the cover. All looked pretty well. The Warre was again more problematic. I had put the screen on the top of the feeder box here too, under the quilt box and cover, and all the bees had followed the warmth and clung en masse to the screen. I tried to remove it, and it sunk under the weight of bees and ended up down in the hive. I didn’t want to be too rough with the bees, and wasn’t sure what to do, so for now I left it and went to check the queen cage, still hanging on a bar. It was stuffed with worker bees, and I couldn’t tell if the queen was out, or they had balled (killed) her or what. But I rehung the cage, put in a pint of syrup (they also still had about half there previous cup jar full) and recovered them, knowing I was going to have to deal with the mess soon.

I did an external check the next day, also cloudy and cool, and didn’t see or hear many signs of life. I did notice a couple of gaps between the quilt box and hive body of the Warre hive and chinked them with moss.

Warre Hive with Package next to it


Two days ago it was warmish with thin clouds. I went up for an external check and bees were flying and active from both hives! Some were even coming back dusted with yellow pussy willow pollen! Mostly these seemed to be at the Langstroth entrance. The ones around the Warre entrance were less likely to be dusted. None seemed to have full pollen baskets. The blooming willows were on the trees just in front of the hives. I decided to intervene in the Warre mess. I opened it up, and many bees had migrated to cling on the quilt box bottom. No comb yet. I rather ruthlessly and determinedly brushed as many bees from the cover and the screen as I could into the hive. I placed the screen over the hive box with top bars, under the feeder box – after letting the queen cage fall to the floor and replacing all the bars into the box. Then I replaced the feed jars and the quilt box and cover. Many bees had landed somewhere other than inside the hive (a small percentage of the total, but many). I just hoped the queen wasn’t one of them, and that as many as possible made it back into the hive. Some did, but some did not and died where they landed. Sometimes bees do not seem to have good self preservation skills, but who am I to judge. I also brought the package back outside and leaned it near the entrance again, giving them one more chance to get in the hive. Again, some did, some didn’t. The bees were remarkably gentle through this. At one point they got a bit of an angry buzz on, when I was brushing them into the hive, and one on my leg did sting me through my jeans. But I crushed more than my share despite my best attempts to place heavy things down gently, so the bees are still karmically way ahead of me.

Some bees who didn't survive the screen mayhem on the back of the warre hive


Next time I will start with the screen in the Warre above the bars to avoid this mess. Yesterday, though, the bees were flying in the dappled evening sun from both hive entrances. None seemed to be gathering pollen, mostly just heading out a few feet and coming back, but at least they are still alive so far! I don’t plan to get back into either hive for a while – let em rest and recuperate, but I will keep doing external checks – it is calming to watch them. I hope they make it!

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Spring Update!

Lots going on, so of course little posting, but here is a quick update on all, with not enough photographic evidence!

Osh at the farm


In early March, for my son’s spring break, we volunteered on a local (Palmer) organic/CSA farm. It was great, I enjoyed the changing repetitive tasks (hands and body active, mind left to go where I want it to or to zen focus). My son loved feeding the goats and fowl and gathering chicken and duck eggs and pruning raspberries. We want to be farmers.

At the end of March I put away the bus change, tuned up the bike, and we started riding daily again amidst the rapidly melting snow. Now I am on my summer (no studded tires) bike, and life is easy. Still trail-a-biking the kid. Last Sunday we went to the amazing local bike co-op (Off the Chain – 2 blocks from the ecoplex in the old MatMaid building – go if you haven’t!!) and stripped a junk bike I had bought for my boy, cleaned and replaced many parts, and got it almost back together. It just needs a shifter cable. My first time working with cables and chains, so an amazing learning experience! Osh is good at wrenching on bikes too.

We got a foster cat, Stuart, who needed a temporary home while his family moved to a place that doesn’t allow cats. Not sure how temporary – at least 6 months, maybe forever. He is sweet. Haven’t seen the mice that had started to invade lately. Organic pest control.

My windowsills are covered with starts – tomatoes to leeks to asparagus to cabbage and all in between. The ground is pretty bare outside, but still freezing most nights. No budding leaves on trees yet. Time to seed parsnips anyway! And carrots and peas maybe. Up to low 50’s F during the day. Some really beautiful days!

Bees arrived Saturday. Last year was such trauma, that I didn’t have the emotional energy to hive them until Monday evening. It went much better than last year (experience, better preparation, and warmer weather), so I think they might make it this year. A longer post will come with pictures and updates.

One set of tenants is leaving for their summer Denali Park jobs. My dad, who has been planning his move back to Alaska for months, has recently decided he will rent from me! Osh and I are very, very excited. I think it will be a great situation – make it easy for us to visit and help each other, but totally separate apartments so we can have plenty of life space. Other tenants are planning gardens and probably anxiously awaiting my spring cleaning of the common areas and yard!

I will post a chart soon, but gas usage continues to be about 40% less than before I bought the ecoplex, about 5 to 10% less than last winter (where I had the foundation insulated with 4″ of blueboard, but not the upper house). I think it might have been more, except we are a pretty full building this year, so extra cooking and hot water use would ratchet the gas use up.

I’ve also been painfully slowly fixing up the inside of my apartment this last winter – patching where the north windows came out, tearing apart the bathroom in anticipation of tiling and a new bath faucet. Still a lot of that to finish, but it is heading the right direction! Got lots more great tile and some marmoleum from the ReStore. I probably will order cork flooring to replace the super awful carpet (worn, stained beyond cleaning, wrinkled, darkdark green – horrible for daylighting) in the living room.

That’s the bulk of it! Yay Spring!!