Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Irony of the Day

Custom Wood Kits International, a manufacturer of top bar hive kits, recently emailed an announcement advertising the creation of their new business on many of the major beekeeping email lists. As part of their marketing scheme, Custom Wood Kits criticized a number of other approaches to bee management (e.g. small cell) in order to show the benefits of top bar hives. As might be expected, a number of the list members on the "Organic" beekeeping list took exception to their criticism of "small cell" foundation. Some list members thought it would be better for them not to take such a negative approach in their advertising, especially about something "they know very little about", but remain, instead, positive about their own product. As a skeptical outsider who reads the Organic Beekeeping list I found this request a bit ironic, if not downright hypocritical. The "Organic Beekeeping" list's stock-in-trade is to negatively cut down anyone who uses bee medications on their bees and doesn't use small cell foundation, no matter what the scientific research might say. (Didn't they go through a week of negatively criticizing Bee Culture magazine?)

To be truthful, I am often critical of the way laypeople and non-reflexive scientists use (and abuse) scientific research, so I have always been sympathetic to the small cell people. Scientific results are always probabilistic, nothing is 100% certain, especially when you examine honeybees in a holistic, ecological fashion. But to not extend to the "Custom Wood kit" folks the same "rhetorical leniency" to speak negatively against other management philosophies, as the "Organic" beekeepers do on their list, is hypocritical.

Natural beekeeping is such a contested concept.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Video: Natural Beekeeping Class Preparing for Winter

Visiting Snow Covered Beelandia

I finished grading finals, put my boots on and went out to visit the hives in Beelandia this morning. We had snow a week or so ago, and frigid weather since, so I wanted to brush off the entrances and see the state of the hives. Other than a few dead bees around each hive, all looked normal. I swept away the snow from the bottom entrances and left things as is.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Return of the Giant Hogweed: An Object Lesson




Here is a video I used in my environmental sociology class to illustrate the problems of globalization to the biophysical environment.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Spring Plans

I am huddled here at home after the season's first big blizzard, I've looked out over the snow-covered hives and thought..."Well what are my plans for the spring?"

After doing some research and attending the "Queen Rearing" course at the U of M last summer, I guess my focus next spring will to begin some queen-rearing. (Of course, all this depends are my hives surviving the winter. They were fed extra sugar and pollen in October and early November, and packed away nicely. There were less mites than last fall, and also very few bees with virus-like symptoms, so I am bit more confident) This means some preparation this winter, so here are my goals:

1. Finding places to place hives and mating nucs. I have one colleague (a former exterminator) who has expressed an interest, the Catholic Worker House one block away, and a small-scale perennial nursery and orchard. I have pretty much reached my limit in hives in Beelandia itself.

2. Equipment Purchases-- I made a number of purchases last summer in preparation for queen-rearing this spring (e.g. card board nucs, grafting equipment, etc. ) My new purchases might include more Pierco plastic frames (With a little extra bees wax "painted" on each frame, the bees accepted these well.), and some pollen substitute.

3. Reading and Rereading More Books-- I am obsessed with collecting as much information as possible on queen-rearing, and, unfortunately, had not had time to do that reading this fall with classes, assessment, advising, and presentations.

Did I forget anything?

Sunday, November 8, 2009

"Pollen" Mystery

We've had another unusually warm November day, so the bee have been out. Interestingly enough, the bees have bringing back bright orange "pollen" today. What they are bringing back and where they are getting it is a total mystery to me. There is really nothing to forage.

Friday, November 6, 2009

A Fine November 6th Morning

We are having unseasonably warm day for November 6th in Winona MN. I had a chance to go back home this morning to talk with Nova and noticed that the honey bees were out taking a cleansing flight. All the hives were active.

Because of my busy schedule I have been unable to report the "doings" in Beelandia on this blog. For those of you who wish to know, I winterized all the hives two weeks ago. We got some haybales from a local farmer and have placed them around each of the hives, both langstroth and top bar. They should serve as nice wind-breaks. Hopefully, we will not have prolonged sub zero temperatures this winter.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Presentation Given

I gave my presentation last night at Winona State University as part of the CLASP lecture series held at this university each year. When I speak, I often feel like I am rambling and incoherent but according to audience members it went alright. The presentation was video taped and will be available online in the near future.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Bees In An Iron Cage? Part-V- Movements Against Rationalization

Weber suggested that the rationalization of Western society would not necessarily go unanswered nor without criticism:

No one knows who will live in this cage in the future, or whether at the end of this tremendous development entirely new prophets will arise, or there will be a great rebirth of old ideas and ideals, or, if neither, mechanized petrification, embellished with a sort of convulsive self-importance. (Weber 1930:182)

In the present day beekeeping world, there are also voices who have questioned the trends of rationalized apiculture and have either resusitated old ideas and ideals, or attempted to re-rationalize beekeeping with honey bee health (over economic profit) as the bottom line.

Barefoot Beekeeping

British beekeeper, Phil Chandler, has become a leading activist questioning the ongoing rationalization of apicultural. Through his Sustainable Beekeeping website, his own top bar hive beekeeping manual, and protest activities against agricultural pesticide use, Chandler has developed a holistic approach in honey bee management. As far as rationalized beekeeping, Chandler has suggested:

  1. ...that honey bee survival depends on apicultural becoming a cottage industry again where each individual beekeeper maintains a few hives that simply provide for his/her own needs and those of the local community. Large factory beekeeping, and migratory outfits are unsustainable.
  2. ... that beekeeping techniques become less invasive and disruptive to the honey bees. Chandler is a big supporter of top bar hives which allow honey bees to build comb according to their own needs, as well as providing less disruptive inspections and honey harvesting by the beekeeper.
  3. ... that beekeepers put the survival of bees ahead of their own economic interests. For example, Chandler suggests that beekeepers make their primary honey harvest in the spring from the honey that is left over in the hive after winter. Honey is produced by bees as a winter food, and to harvest it in the fall may leave the bees without enough to survive. Chandler sees feeding bees sugar syrup, fondant or high fructose corn syrup in the fall, to make up for the beekeeper's harvest, as exploitative and not sustainable.
Warre Hives

Other beekeepers, like those who keep Warre hives, take an even less interventionist approach. To the non-beekeeping eye, Warre hives look just like the typical Langstroth hive popular in the U.S. However, they are constructed and managed very differently:

  1. The boxes do not contain movable frames, just bars across the top. The bees are allowed to build comb as straight or as wobbly as they so choose. Comb construction is left to the bees. (Note: the lack of movable frames makes this hive technically illegal everywhere in the United States.)
  2. The beekeeper never inspects inside the Warre hive. The only manipulation done is to add boxes to the bottom of the hive when necessary. The beekeeper monitors the health of the hive by watching bee behavior at the entrance. Warre advocates argue that in-hive inspections stress bees by disrupting their ability to maintain proper hive temperature.

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Chandler, Phil. 2007. The Barefoot Beekeeper, 1st Edition.

Weber, Max (1930) The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Translated by Talcott Parsons. London: Unwin.

Bees In An Iron Cage? Part IV- Rationalized and Bee Health

On November 4th at 7:30 pm, I will be giving a presentation entitled "Bees in an Iron Cage?: The Formal Rationalization of 20th Century American Apiculture" at the Stark Auditorium at Winona State University. The presentation is part of Winona State's CLASP lecture series which has as its theme this year, Food. I will be collecting my thoughts for this lecture and writing my notes right here on my blog: Canaries In A Coal Mine.

How might the beekeeper's need for efficiency, predictability, and control conflict with the
biophysical needs of the honey bee? Let's consider a few example!

Varroa Mite Control

Recently, Randy Oliver, commercial beekeeper and “amateur” scientist, tested the efficacy of using two sustainable “folk” methods for controlling the varroa mite, a deadly honeybee pest that came very close to wiping out managed and feral honeybees in the early 90s. He discovered that by periodically pulling out and destroying frames of capped drone brood, and dusting bees with powdered sugar, the level of mite infestation can be lowered to a threshold that the bees own hygienic behavior and immune system can deal with. This management approach does not seem to produce any resistant mites as well. Overall, this management approach is quite sustainable for the bees. (Oliver n.d. B)

While such an approach might be regarded as an excellent option for sideline and backyard beekeepers and their handful of hives, commercial beekeepers see this technique as just too labor intensive and inefficient for their large scale operations. These sustainable techniques demand the opening and management of each individual hive on at least a monthly basis. From a short-term economic standpoint, it is much more cost effective to simply use one of the various miticides available to commercial establishments, and wipe out the mites in that way. Of course, in the long-term, even commercial beekeepers recognize, that this approach is not sustainable, and breeds “super mites” who are resistant to the miticide. (c.f. Hayes 2008: 786)

Swarm Prevention and Varroa Infestation

The second illustration also concerns the varroa mite problem as well. The only way unmanaged hives, as a “superorganism”, can reproduce is by means of “swarming”. To put it simply, if, in late spring/early summer, a hive becomes honey-bound, and reaches a critical density, the bees may begin preparations to swarm. The hive begins to produce dozens of queen cells, and both the old queen and close to half the workers prepare to leave in search of a new suitable home in which to start a new colony. Hopefully, one of the virgin queens in the old hive successfully mates and begins work re-establishing a thriving hive within the old colony. From the economic viewpoint of the beekeeper, swarming is something that should be prevented. (Horn 2005:139) A hive that swarms is set back at least a month in honey production. In some beekeepers’ eyes, not preventing swarming can be interpreted as poor, lazy, and neglectful management of a hive. So, beekeepers have developed various techniques and technology for preventing hives from swarming.

While economically unproductive, it does appear as if swarming has some real positive benefits for the future sustainability of the honeybee, however. For one thing, a hive that swarms breaks up the lifecycle of the varroa mite, keeping the level of infestation down.

The eggs of varroa mites are laid in brood cells, and their larvae feast on bee larvae. Until a swarm finds and/or builds new comb, the old queen cannot lay eggs, and without eggs there are no larvae on which the mites can live off. In the old hive, it will take around a month before a new queen is laying eggs, so again, the life-cycle of the mite is disrupted. The reason, then, that African hybrid bees seem resistant to mites has much to do with their tendency to swarm incessantly.

Honey Comb Re-Use

The final example conerns the re-use of drawn comb frames by beekeepers.

The comb that bees create is one of the most fascinating 'organs' of the honey bee colony. Comb is a collaborative construction of worker bees produced from the wax secreted from the wax gland in the worker's abdomen. The comb serves many functions in the hive including: nursery, food storage facility, 'dance' floor, insulation, and 'cell telephone'. (Tautz 2008)

The production of comb by honey bees takes both time and material resources away from other activities that the beekeeper often deems more important. Beeswax contains a good deal of nectar which might be used instead for honey. Until comb is produced, the queen cannot lay eggs, and workers making comb cannot be involved in other activities like nursing larvae, fanning nectar and the like. From the viewpoint of the beekeeper, then, comb production is a wasteful distraction that keeps bees doing productive things.

For this reason, the "rational" beekeeper may save and reuse the same old comb built in the brood nest for decades, "saving" the bees the effort and materials for rebuilding comb. If you examine the managed hives of many older beekeepers you might find blackened, rigid comb 30 years in age. While old comb may be worth it's weight in gold to the beekeeper, it presents a health hazard to the bees. Comb, in some respects, is equivalent to the liver in mammals; it accumulates the environmental toxins used inside and outside the hive and disease spores brought into the hive by the worker foragers and the drones. A thirty year old comb has accumulated thirty years worth of toxins and spores. Only recently have beekeepers begun to recognize the health risks old comb poses to the bees and it is now suggested that beekeepers dispose of comb every 3 years and have the workers rebuild.



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Works Cited

Hayes, Jerry. (2008) “The Classroom.” Bee Culture September:783-7.

Horn, Tammy. (2005) Bees in America – How the Honeybee Shaped a Nation.
Lexington, Kentucky: University of Kentucky.

Oliver, Randy.( n.d.) B. “Tactics: Biotechnical Methods I.” Scientificbeekeeping.com . http://www.scientificbeekeeping.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=24&Itemid=40 . Accessed September 12, 2008.

Tautz, Jurgen. 2008. The Buzz About Bees: Biology of a Superorganism. Translated by David C. Sandeman. Berlin: Springer.

Bees In An Iron Cage? Part III-Origins of Rationalized Beekeeping

On November 4th at 7:30 pm, I will be giving a presentation entitled "Bees in an Iron Cage?: The Formal Rationalization of 20th Century American Apiculture" at the Stark Auditorium at Winona State University. The presentation is part of Winona State's CLASP lecture series which has as its theme this year, Food. I will be collecting my thoughts for this lecture and writing my notes right here on my blog: Canaries In A Coal Mine.

Rationalized beekeeping in the United States began in the mid-19th century through the inventions of a number of innovative apiculturalists who were able to disseminate their ideas throughout the country through such publications as The American Bee Journal and Gleanings of Bee Culture (both still in publication). Laidlaw and Page (1997:9) describe this period in beekeeping history as a time when the "Essential tools of beekeeping were discovered that made it possible to fully exploit the economic value of honey bees. Without movable-frame hive, comb foundation, the honey extractor, or the bellows smoker, beekeeping would indeed be at the same stage of advancement it was in the first half of the nineteenth century." Two important innovators were Lorenzo Langstroth, and G.M. Doolittle.

Langstroth, a semi-retired minister, is credited with inventing the box hive with movable frames, still the most common manner of maintaining bee colonies in the United States today. Langstroth's approach allowed beekeepers a neat and efficient way of managing many bee colonies by giving beekeepers a way to move inter-changeable frames of comb from one hive to another in order to strengthen weak hives, and begin new ones from scratch. Using frames also produced less defensive bees, making the control and manipulation of honey bees easier for the beekeeper. (Langstroth 2004)

G.M. Doolittle (2008) invented a system for the mass production of honey bee queens, allowing the industrious beekeeper to multiply the number of hives in his/her possession without having to capture swarms or feral bee colonies. His system also allows the beekeeper to choose what larvae are suitable for queens, rather than leaving such a decision in the "hands" of the bees as would be done when beekeepers simply split hives. Coupled with a selective breeding plan, the beekeeper could easily produce a line of bees exhibiting such "desired" characteristics as honey productivity, disease resistance, and gentle behavior. His basic techniques are still followed today, and are taught, for example, at the University of Minnesota during their summer queen rearing extension course (Spivak and Reuter 2006).

While the rationalized techniques used have allowed beekeepers to efficiently run a greater number of hives in a very productive and controlled manner, this rationalization has probably had costs for the honey bees, even after setting aside the negative effects of rationalized pesticide-use on the bees. The beekeeper's need for efficiency, predictability, control and profit often conflict with the biophysical needs of the honey bee colony.




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Works Cited

Doolittle, G.M. (2008) Scientific Queen-Rearing. Kalamazoo, MI: Wicwas.

Laidlaw Jr., Harry H. and Robert E. Page Jr. (1997) Queen Rearing and Bee Breeding. Kalamazoo, MI: Wicwas.

Langstroth, L.L. (2004) Langstroth's Hive and the Honey-Bee: The Classic Beekeeper's Manual. North Andover, MA: Dover.

Spivak, Marla and Gary S. Reuter.
Successful Queen Rearing- Short Course. St. Paul, MN: University of Minnesota.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Bees In An Iron Cage? Part II- Formal Rationalization

One stream of my current research in environmental sociology is the examination of the formal rationalization of bee management and its possible effects on the health and ongoing sustainability of the honey bee population. This stream of research is informed by the thought of Max Weber, 19th century social scientist and German jurist, as well as the work of Raymond Murphy, who has adapted Weber's ideas for his own work in environmental sociology.

My research uses Weber's concept of formal rationalization. (Weber 1968:85-6).The concept refers to action guided by calculability, efficiency, predictability, technological manipulation of the biophysical sphere and human control oriented toward the goal of producing a surplus or increase in goods or profit. (cf Ritzer 2007) Weber found such action the basis of the modern bureaucracy.

Weber argued that the increasing formal rationalization of modern society would inevitably lead to irrationalities, unforeseen consequences that actually contradict the ongoing rationality of the rest of society. Weber was concerned that the growth of bureaucratic organizations, techniques and actions characterized by formal rationality would place human beings in a situation that robbed individuals of many of the qualities (e.g. creativity, mercy) that made them human. In Weber's terms, formal rationalization would place people in iron cages, enclosing them with bars made of bureacratic rules and techniques which would keep them from full human potential.

Sociologist Raymond Murphy has applied Weber's ideas to issues of the environment and sustainability. Murphy contends that formal rationality does not simply produce irrationalities that harm human beings directly, but also irrationalities that do harm to the ecosystem as well. Underlying formal rationalization are two assumptions: [1] that nature exists for the purpose of fullfilling human needs and wants, and [2] that nature is totally plastic allowing human beings to manipulate nature in any fashion that benefits us, without any serious negative consequences. It is these two assumptions of formal rationality that produce the irrationalities detrimental to the biophysical realm. To quote Murphy (2002:81),


Machines and technology in general, are the means by which humans manipulate the processes of nature in the course of their purposive action, often disrupting self-regulating mechanisms nature has constructed, thereby unleashing unexpected processes of nature. Machines do not imply nature mastered. Their development can, if it disrupts the ecological equilibrium constructed by nature, lead to the iron cage (italics are mine) of a degraded ecosystem incapable of sustaining human society.


The biophysical environment finds itself in an iron cage where its own self-regulating processes are interfered with.

Over the last 150 years apicultural has become increasingly rationalized to the detriment of the honey bee in many ways. The goal of beekeeping has always focused on either increasing honey production or increasing the pollination of some of the food crops human beings consume. The long-term survival of honey bees as a species takes " a back seat" to these "primary" goals. (As one 1970s beekeeping manual reminds the budding apiculturalist: "Honey is Money".) The attitude has been that honey bees exist simply for the benefit of human beings.

The rationalized means toward these goals follow the bureaucratic ethos of efficiency, and cost-effectiveness especially for the commercial beekeeper. The technology, and management techiques developed over the last century and a half are often concerned with the beekeepers' convenience and profit, and only secondarily with the sustainability of the honey bee. But what is efficient and cost-effective for the beekeeper may not healthy or sustainable for the honey bee. In a sense, these rationalized management techniques place the honey bee in an iron cage where the bee cannot live healthy within its own biophysical environment.

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References

Murphy, Raymond. 2002. "Ecological Materialism and the Sociology of Max Weber." Sociological Theory and the Environment. Edited by Riley E. Dunlap, Frederick H. Buttel, Peter Dickens, and August Gijswijt. New York: Rowman and Littlefield.

Ritzer, George. 2007. The McDonaldization of Society 5. New York: Pine Forge.

Weber, Max. 1968. Economy and Society- An Outline of Interpretative Sociology. Edited by Guenther Roth and Claus Wittich. Volume I. New York: Bedminster.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Quilt Boxes On

The cold, cloudy wet spell continues, so my focus has become preparing my hives for winter. Last year, my hives died, not because of lack of honey, but for other factors. I believe, all associated with the brutal month of January we had. The winter clusters in all hives were unable to move up to honey just inches away.

This year I took some precautions to lower the probability of that happening again. First, this year's bees just seem healthier than last year's. There were less bees crawling around the ground, dangling from blades of grass. Second, I opened up each hive less this year. This did mean one hive swarmed, but this probably would've happened anyway. Third, I was more deligent in monitoring for varroa mites and, used powdered sugar and drone brood culling more systematically. Lastly, I moved the hives in Beelandia so that they would receive more winter sunshine than they got last year.

Now that fall is here, it's time for me to consider my approach to winterizing the 5 hives. Since dampness might've been an issue last year, Monta and I have designed and made quilt boxes for both the top bar and langstroth hives. Those of you who keep Warre hives are already familiar with quilt boxes. Simply put, it is a box, fitted with a fabric bottom and filled with sometype of absorbant, insulating material. For the langstroth, I simply took a shallow box, stapled some material to its bottom and filled it with recycled paper pulp. I placed these boxes on top of the inner cover of each langstroth I have.

The quilt boxes for the top bar hives had to be made but the design was pretty much the same as for the langstroth. In this case, Monta designed and made long and wide shallow boxes that would fit over each top bar. This boxes had fabric bottoms and were also filled with paper pulp.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Bees In An Iron Cage? Part I-- Introduction

On November 4th at 7:30 pm, I will be giving a presentation entitled "Bees in an Iron Cage?: The Formal Rationalization of 20th Century American Apiculture" at the Stark Auditorium at Winona State University. The presentation is part of Winona State's CLASP lecture series which has as its theme this year, Food. I will be collecting my thoughts for this lecture and writing my notes right here on my blog: Canaries In A Coal Mine.

About two years ago, the news media reported a mysterious "new" disease that was attacking and killing thousands of managed bee hives throughout the United States. Labeled Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), the disease exhibited the following symptoms:

1. "Complete absence of adult bees in colonies, with little or no build-up of dead bees in or around the colonies.

2. [The]Presence of capped brood in colonies. Bees normally will not abandon a hive until the capped brood have all hatched.

3. [The]Presence of food stores, both honey and bee pollen:

i. which are not immediately robbed by other bees

ii. which when attacked by hive pests such as wax moth and small hive beetle, the attack is noticeably delayed." Wikipedia

As many in the beekeeping and entomology community can tell you, this is not the first time these symptoms have occurred nor are they the first major threat to the honey bee population. Over the last few decades, honey bee health has been threatened by other pathogens including both tracheal mites and, in the late 1980s, the varroa mite.

Scientific research into the causes of CCD have discovered multiple factors connected to the outbreak, including: nutritional deficiencies in bees, new and emerging diseases (e.g.Nosema ceranae), the continuing infestation of varroa mites and its associated disorders, pesticide poisoning originating both inside and outside the hive, and a lack of genetic diversity in the honey bee population. (CCD Steering Committee 2007)

As an environmental sociologist, I agree with social ecologist, Murray Bookchin "... that nearly all [of] our present ecological problems arise from deep-seated social problems. " The biophysical factors connected to Colony Collapse Disorder, and the general decline of honey bee health over the last few decades have their foundation in human social structures that conflict with the biophysical needs of other living creatures. The aim of this presentation is to briefly examine one such structural process (formal rationalization) and its possible effects on honey bee health. In doing this, I clearly recognize the limitations of this presentation. First, I do not claim rationalization to be the chief social factor behind the decline of honey bee health. In other places, I have pointed to the possible effects of globalization, agri-business practices and techniques and the structure of the subfield of beekeeping within the larger field of modern agriculture. Secondly, I do not claim that all rationalization of apiculture has been bad to bee health, nor do I claim to be an expert in bee management. Lastly, I do not claim any original insights here. Much of what I will speak of tonight will be painfully recognizable to anyone familiar with the factory farming of other creatures humans find useful and profitable to manage.

My presentation will begin with a brief discussion of the term rationalization and its use in sociology. I will then turn to a short history of the rationalization of apiculture in the United States over the last 160 years. After this, I will give a few examples of ways that rationalized techniques of bee management may conflict with the biophysical needs of honey bees. Lastly, I will describe some of the anti-rationalization movements emerging in the beekeeping world today.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The First Cold Snap

The last two days have brought a change in our weather here in Winona, from warm and dry to cold, wet and windy. This was a sign that I need to begin winter preparations in Beelandia. This afternoon, after work, I will be bringing all the plants that can't survive our southeast Minnesota winter. Monta will be measuring the top bar hives in preparation for making "quilt" boxes for each this weekend. I have the hive wrap already for attachment this coming weekend. I will transfering all the fish out of Lake No-Bee-Gone and into their winter quarters this weekend as well.

I now await our first frost tonight!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Bottom Boards Back on Top Bar Hives

I took a half hour or so and reattached the bottom boards to the two top bar hives this morning. Plan Bee... was fully cooperative which is unusual. Metpropolis was not (which was also unusual). I wanted to tidy up Beelandia a little. We might have some visitors today.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Video: Monta's Mead A-Brewing



My partner, Monta, uses some of the honey produced in Beelandia to brew mead. This video shows three batches started on Labor Day bubbling away.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Feeding and Feeding

The bees in Beelandia did not have much honey stored two weeks ago, so I've been feeding the bees sugar syrup, hoping they'll store enough for winter. They have a ravenous appetite right now, consuming a gallon or so of 2:1 syrup a day.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Playing Blog Catch-Up

With the semester beginning and me having for "preps", it's been difficult to keep up with the blog like I's like. I have a few minutes this morning, so here are a few highlights of Beelandia the last week or so.

  • Last week, I found the queen in Metpropolis. Either the hive swarmed or there was a supercedure because there seems to be a gap in the "brood cycle". This is fine as long as the colony can produce enough bees to survive the winter. In fact, it may be positive, if it has disrupted the mites' lifecycle as well.
  • Yesterday, I worked on Plan Bee... and Bee Glad... I moved frames (or bars) around so that the eventual winter cluster will be able to move up more easy. I am a bit concerned with the relative lack of stored honey, so I started to feed both hives with medicated (Fumigillin-B) 2:1 sugar syrup. I would rather not medicate at all but wintering bees in my area is hard without it.
  • I took a mite count last week and, even with the large population of bees in the hives, few mites dropped onto the sticky sheet. I dusted the hives with powdered sugar yesterday.
  • I had a number of visitors drop by to see Beelandia this week. Beelandia is turning into a short stop on the "eco-tourism" bus tour.
  • Today I will manipulate the rest of the hive. I need to return to the supermarket and get some more sugar however.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Metpropolis Queenless?

I did some work in the beeyard today. I took off the honey supers (nothing really there) on both Lib-BEE-taria and Bee Glad... and dusted them with powdered sugar. I also switched out a drone brood frame in Lib-BEE-taria. I fed the Nuc To Be Named Later which seems to be doing well. Plan Bee... looks excellent as well, though I'll probably have to feed it a bit to get it ready for winter.

But Metpropolis... well... I am a bit concerned with this top bar hive. I kept pulling bars looking for either brood or a queen and saw neither. The workers didn't behave like they were queenless, but I saw no evidence of a laying queen otherwise. One hypothesis I have is that the hive swarmed recently and I missed that, though there are plenty of workers inside. I plan to watch this hive closely. Luckily, I do have that queen in the nuc, so it will not be hard to requeen the hive.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

13 Lucky Tips for Activists



Since much of my concern about honeybees is motivated by environmental concerns and the need for activism in this regard, I thought I'd provide an interesting link (click on title) I found on the IWW website.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Inspections This Week So Far

I've made three inspections this week and, overall, all goes well in Beelandia.

I did a thorough inspection of Bee Glad... on Monday, preparing my mind for repositioning frames in the three boxes next month. Interestingly, it is the second box that seems relatively empty of honey. The bottom box is quite full and might account for why the queen is only laying in the top two. I pulled a frame in the bottom box, leaving 9 in the bottom. The bees were gentle, not overly defensive even though there were plenty of bees in the hive.

Nuc To Be Name Later is in excellent shape. The new queen exhibits a solid brood pattern and the forgagers are bringing in much nectar and pollen. I still have to consider what to do with this nuc come next month.

Yesterday, I opened Metpropolis and found another thriving colony of gentle bees. I did find a few queen cells and open cups located in places that might indicate swarming. I cut these cells out. I will watch this hive carefully.

Friday, August 7, 2009

This Week In Beelandia

Just a few notes on what's gone on in Beelandia since my last post:

  • I did a 24 hour sticky board test for mites in both Bee Glad... and Lib-BEE-taria on Wednesday. I am pleased to report that their mite levels are very low. Only three mites appeared in Lib-BEE-taria and 4 in Bee Glad...
  • The queen in Plan Bee... is healthy and laying. Besides seeing her, I also observed brood in all stages.
  • I refilled the frame feeder in Nuc To Be Named Later.
  • Today I went out in the drizzle to check the hives and one guard bee in Bee Glad... took a distinct dislike toward me. She got me right on the back of the right hand.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Bee Glad's First August Inspection

There are two things I am better at this year than I was last year (my first). First, I am much slower and deliberate in my movements which keeps the bees calmer. Second, I am getting very good at spotting the queen even in the large colonies you will find at this time of the year. Both these skills were demonstrated to me during this afternoon's inspection of Bee Glad... .

The weather was perfect for an inspection. The sun was out, there was a slight breeze and the temperature, I estimate, was in the mid 70s. The bees were actively foraging, storing a great deal of their nectar in the top box. I would guess that they are a behind a bit compared with last year's bees.

I found the queen in the second box, seemingly searching for a place to lay. (She was walking around on a non-drawn out part of a plastic frame.) She looks healthy, and active, and her brood pattern, in all three boxes indicates that as well.

I also pulled a green drone frame full of capped brood in the second box, and replaced it with a drawn drone frame. I ended my inspection by dusting the bees with powered sugar.

And again, no stings!

Monday, August 3, 2009

News From Metpropolis

I am back from a weekend in Chicago with Monta and so I needed to get out an inspect both The Nuc To Be Named Later and one of my top bar hives, Metpropolis.

To be honest, I didn't spend all that much time inspecting the nuc. I opened it up, took a glance around and refilled the frame feeder with sugar syrup. The nuc seems to be doing fine and they are taking the syrup.

I spent a significant amount of time going through Metpropolis. As I continue beekeeping, I've become to notice that different hives have different "personalities" and I really enjoy Metpropolis'.

I do treat the bees gently and this hive responds in kind. The bees go about their business while I work around them going about mine. And speaking of business, Metpropolis is doing very well indeed. The queen has a good brood pattern, and the foragers are bringing in nectar and pollen. The Italian bees in this hive have drawn comb on every bar but one. I harvested one bar for honey, while cutting out some drone brood on another. Even with all this manipulation, the bees neither stung or head-butted me like Lib-BEE-taria.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Three and Half Inspections This Afternoon

I went out a day earlier than usual and inspected three hives today: Plan Bee..., Lib-BEE-taria, and the Nuc To Be Named Later.

To be honest, I didn't really do much an inspection the nuc (The Nuc To Be Named Later). All I did was move the division board in the hive and put in a feeder filled with sugar syrup. I'd done a full inspection two days ago and didn't want to disturb anymore this week.

I've been a bit concerned about Plan Bee... This is the hive that swarmed twice, and, while it had a goodly number of bees, in my last inspection, I saw no evidence of a laying queen. Well today, I finally saw her and some newly laid eggs. The hive seems behind in collection of nectar, however, so I will watch the hive closely in the next few weeks.

Lib-BEE-taria, the langstroth hive filled with carniolans, is still as feisty as ever. I don't get stung but the bees do try to "head butt" me. This hive is very productive; the upper and second boxes are pretty heavy with honey. While I did not see the queen herself, I did see some eggs in the upper box, so she seems to be doing fine. I closed up the hive and reduced its entrance.

I really had to be quick today and not leave any honey comb exposed. All the bees in Beelandia were in a robbing mood. After I left the yard, everything looked pretty chaotic. All because I forgot to "hide" a frame with only the slightest bit of capped honey in it.


Monday, July 27, 2009

Queen Mated and Laying

I did an inspection of the 5 frame nuc that I put Gary Reuter's queen cell in. The queen is beautiful, and is laying eggs. Do I use her to requeen a hive this fall or do I try to overwinter her in the nuc a la Kirk Webster?

Photos of Bee Foraging


Here is a photo I took of one of my bees foraging on ornamental allium.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Mid-July Inspection

Yesterday, I spent the afternoon inspecting the mating nucs, and all but one hive in Beelandia. We've had unseasonably cool weather the last week or so, though the bees seem to be working hard. I've caught them foraging some allium in our yard, and the wild grade blossoms growing all over the old storefront down the block.

I first checked the double mating nuc I set up this month. The one side of this nuc seems to be queenless and slowly being abandoned. However, the other side in which I placed Gary Reuter's queen cell is doing fine: plenty of bees and a nice large queen!

Plan Bee..., the top bar containing carniolans, seems to be getting stronger since it swarmed a few weeks ago, though I do not yet see any sign of a laying queen. I will watch this hive carefully, and will possibly requeen the hive with the eventually mated queen from the nuc.

Metpropolis, the other top bar hive inhabited by Minnesota Hygienic bees, is thriving. I cut some drone comb out of one bar, closed it up, and went on to inspect Lib-BEE-taria.

Lib-BEE-taria is thriving as well. While I did not see the queen in this hive, I did see plenty of evidence that she is busy laying eggs, even in the top box of the three box hive. I pulled a green drone frame from this hive for mite control.

Before I did any of these inspections, I did check the mite count through an examination of a 24 hour sticky board test. Lib-Bee-taria had no mites to be seen, Bee Glad... had three.

No stings to report!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Busy Two Days

Beelandia has been a busy place the last two days. The bees, of course, are truly active right now, and I spent some time inspecting them.

Yesterday I had an opportunity to look in on the nuc I set up last week when I took a queen cell from Plan Bee... I was surprise at their activity and did get a glimpse of the virgin queen scurrying on one of the frames. All goes well here!

I went next into Plan Bee.. to get a sense of how well they are doing since they swarmed. I could not find a queen, and they seemed rather testy. I closed up the hive and made a note to watch them closely over the next few days. There was still one capped queen cell, so they might be waiting like I am.

I went next to Lib-BEE-taria, the langstroth having carniolan bees. They are storing much honey in the top deep, but are not yet interested in the shallow super above. These bees were also a bit testy, though I did receive a sting.

This morning I went to B & B Honey Farm to buy some equipment. I am like a Boy Scout when it comes to preparation. I bought another deep box, two frame feeders (for the double nuc), and they were nice enough to give me a few used queen cages for free. While none of this equipment is needed immediately, I do not want to be caught without it.

This afternoon I inspected Metpropolis, the top bar hive filled with Italian bees. These honey bees were much calmer than the carniolans I inspected the day before. They are also extremely productive. I harvested one bar of capped honey. I also had a slight accident with a fragile comb filled with capped worker brood. Luckily the queen was not on this comb and the bees didn't get too upset. Anyway, Metpropolis is booming! It seems to have a good laying queen and productive workers.

I am happy to report only one sting during this two day inspection.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Last Day of Queen Rearing Course

I finished up the queen rearing class at the University of Minnesota this morning. Our primary activity was taking our grafted cell bars out of the swarm boxes to see whether the bees started any queen cells. Of my eight grafts, only two were being cultivated into queens. One unlucky group's swarm box had included a virgin queen, so none of their grafts took. (There is a lesson there, there could be two queens in any hive so be careful when you shake bees into your swarm box!) After examining the bars, they were all placed in prepared hives for "finishing". These queens will be used in Marla Spivak's classes to teach the techniques of artificial insemination.

We all left with a pleasant surprise. Gary Reuter gave each of us a ripe queen cell grafted from a strong survivor hive. We actually packaged the cells in the nalgene bottles we were given the day before. When I got home I placed my cell in a 5 frame nuc created from frames and bees taken from Bee Glad... We will see if a mated queen will result from this. This allows me to experiment with wintering a double nuc.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

First Two Days of Queen Rearing Course

Thursday night, Monta and I were off to St. Paul so that I could take the queen rearing course taught by Marla Spivak and Gary Reuter at the University of Minnesota. (While I took the course, Monta wandered about St. Paul and also did art.)

The first morning of the first day of class was spent discussing bee biology and stock selection. Some of the highlights of this morning included our discussion of the importance of drone colonies in the queen mating equation, and the importance of creating a queen system that allows the bees to do what they are "hardwired" to do. Dr. Spivak also explained why she and Reuter will no longer maintain the Minnesota Hygienic line of bees. If I understood her correctly, her intention was never to create a hygienic super bee that all beekeepers would eventually use, but to develop a method of selecting and developing hygienic bees that all queen rearers could use on whatever type of bee they manage. Developing a dominant line of bees would be self-defeating in the long run, destroying what's left of the genetic diversity in the American bee population. The selection of hygienic behavior can and should be used on all lines of bees.

Dr. Spivak spent a good deal of time warning us about using chemicals in the hive to treat diseases and pests, although many of the no chemical purists would probably be disappointed with her not saying NEVER! As a top bar beekeeper, I appreciated her discussion on the taintededness of foundation. A three-year cycle of comb use was suggested.

Next, Gary Reuter described the types of equipment that they use to raise queens through their system. I never got the feeling that Spivak and Reuter were presenting their way as the only way or the right way. They recognized that we would adapt their methods to our own needs and locality.

Saturday was our time to get our hands dirty! After a short review of Friday's information, we got to actually work with the equipment, and do labs. Our morning was spent doing "beeless" run-throughs of the various steps of their system. We manipulated beeless finishing colonies, set up beeless swarm boxes, and learned to graft larvae into queen cups. In the afternoon, we actually did all of the above on the "real" colonies at the University. Class members grafted larvae into six queen cups, and placed them into a swarm hive we students also set up. We also learned how to test for nosema, and varroa. We watched a demonstration on the use liquid nitrogen to test for hygienic behavior.. We left the second day with a Chinese grafting tool, and a nalgene bottle.

The course ends tomorrow morning. Students will be able to exmine how well their grafts took in the swarm box. I will report my grade Monday.

Belated Report: Slippery Reverse

Monta and I have been traveling (more on this later) so I didn't have time to place my last report online till this moment. Thursday afternoon I did an inspection of the four hives and nuc located in Beelandia.

Plan Bee..., the top bar hive filled with carniolans which swarmed over the last week, was the first to inspect. There are still a "load" of bees in this hive and some capped brood, including queen cells. I carefully cut out all but one cell (I hope) and left the bees pretty much alone. They still have bars in the hive which they haven't touched, so it looks like they have plenty of room. I also unplugged one of the back entrances to improve ventilation.

I next inspected the small nuc in which I placed the small swarm I caught last week. There was no queen in the hive to be found. The bees are consuming the honey in the frame I placed in the nuc and the frame of capped brood has all hatched. To be on the safe side I placed one of the queen cells I cut out of Plan Bee... into this hive with another frame of capped brood. We will see how this takes.

Lib-BEE-taria, the langstroth having carniolans, needed to be reversed and all went pretty well. They had comb drawn on 80 percent of the frames so I just reversed the three boxes with little or no problem.

I cannot say the same for Bee Glad..., the langstroth containing Minnesota Hygienics. I was trying out new gloves. (This was the first time I've ever manipulated a hive in gloves!) For some reason, I kept getting them caught between frames. I found out as well that they become slippery with the accumulation of hive products. Well, to make a long "excuse" short, I dropped to frames during my hive manipulations, resulting in a rather angry bee population. Not good, though no stings! I was able to reverse this hive as well, even with aggressive bees.

Metpropolis, the top bar hive with Minnesota Hygienics, was fine. I added some bars between the honey storage area and the brood area and culled some drone comb. Everything is thriving in Metpropolis.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Video: Afterswarm




Here is a video of an afterswarm that issued from Plan Bee... No, I did not catch it.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Honey Supers Added

In all the excitement surrounding the swarm, I forgot to report that I added honey supers to both langstroth hives (i.e. Lib-BEE-taria and Bee Glad...)

Friday, July 3, 2009

Lessons Learned

Yesterday's adventure with the swarm reminded of things I should already be aware of. The chief lesson: All the recommendations and "rules" of beekeeping are based on probabilities, not guarantees. The interaction between the bio-physical realm and human social constructions (e.g. apicultural techniques) is very complex, impacted by many factors, some of which we are only beginning to understand. The bottom line in all this is that I can't (and maybe shouldn't) control honeybees completely. But my experiences yesterday have taught me some specific lessons:
  1. "First season " honeybees may swarm. It may not be likely but they can!
  2. Carniolans are more likely to swarm than my Italian bees, even when I take the same precautions. I need to be more diligent.
  3. Looking for swarm cells in a top bar hive is a little different than in a langstroth.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

And Monta and I Wondered Where the Swarm Went...

The Astro-Padre game today was delayed on account of swarming bees...

SWARM!!!!

  
As Monta and I were eating a rather late leisurely breakfast, we heard our son, Eli, colorfully exclaim that thousands of  honey bees were flying about our backyard beyond Beelandia. The two of us, with our daughter, Eme, ran out to join Eli, and discovered that what Eli was observing was  a swarm of bees leaving one of our hives and taking a rest stop in a thornless honey locust tree in a neighbor's yard. 
Eme, Monta and I took immediate action. Eme and I put together a bait hive in an unused deep and the three of us ran off to the neighbor's house to ask for permission to leave the bait hive there. The neighbor was calm and cool about the whole situation. She had heard about the decline in the bee population and was only too happy to allow us to catch the swarm. (It was just too high in the tree to cut down.) 
Monta and Eme kept watch on the swarm while I checked Beelandia. The swarm seemed to have issued from Plan Bee..., the top bar hive filled with carniolans. When I got to Beelandia, this hive was still very active with two afterswarms here and there on the plants. By the time I assessed the situation with the hives, however, the initial swarm flew off and not into the bait box we left. Monta ran about the neighborhood  trying to discover where the swarm might've gone to but could not find it.
We were philosophical about the loss of the swarm, figuring we gave something back to "nature". I did place one of the afterswarms in a double nuc box, along with some brood, drawn comb, and honey from the other carniolan colony. We will see what happens with this nuc.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Taylor and the Bees




The first step in educating the public about honey bees and their bio-physical environment is to provide them with realistic knowledge about this fascinating creature. Beekeepers need to counterbalance the adolescent African Hybrid paranoia that exists without resorting to anthropomorphized and dysnified images of friendly bees who only sting evil people. Education should instead generate a healthy respect for this generally non-aggressive, important species. With this in mind, I decided to introduce my 4 year old granddaughter Taylor to the ins and outs of bee management.





On Thursday, Taylor and I suited up and went out to inspect the carniolan hives in Beelandia. (I'd bought Taylor a small bee suit from B & B Honey Farm.) I taught Taylor the various names of the inspection tools I use and we went out to open up Plan Bee... and Lib-BEE-taria.





Taylor just loved the experience while learning a great deal about the lifecycle and behaviors of the honey bee. Grandma Monta took a few photos of the inspection I'd like to share with you all.



Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Muggy, Uncomfortable Inspection

I was finally able to inspect the hives containing the Minnesota Hygienic honey bees Monday afternoon. The two days before were too rainy to inspect. Today, on the other hand, was bright, sunny, hot(low 90s)and humid. The bees seemed as uncomfortable as I was, as they were bearding and "washboarding" in front of both Metpropolis and Bee Glad...

Bee Glad..., a langstroth hive, has three boxes on now and the bees have started work, in earnest, in the third box. Two frames in the top box had newly laid eggs on them and 7 out of the ten frames in the hive were being drawn on. The second box was fine as well although, again, the honey bees do not seem to take to the green drone frame as well as I'd like. The other plastic frames are being worked quite well however.

I had to add three bars to Metpropolis, the top bar hive. This hive is booming! Plenty of brood (in all stages of development), pollen and honey. I took one bar of capped drone brood out of this hive in my effort to control the mite population, although, so far, my sticky board inspections show no mites in any of the hives.

I received no stings during this inspection but that did not keep me from ultimately getting stung today. I brought Monta out to see all the bees bearding in front of Bee Glad... and carried a hitch hiking worker in the house with me. I went to scratch my back while walking through the living room of our house and WHAM!!!! I received a nice sting in the "webbing" between the thumb and pointer of my right hand. The cats were thoroughly amused.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Video: Bee Activity At the Entrance to "Bee Glad..."

A short video of the entrance to one of the hives in Beelandia. Look closely and you will notice a number of interesting behaviors occurring: "wash boarding", ventilation of the hive, the exit and return of foragers.

Third Box On Lib-BEE-taria

Yesterday was a busy day of beekeeping at Beelandia. After driving Monta to work, I drove off to Houston Minnesota to pick up a telescoping cover at B & B's. Monta constructed a double nuke last weekend and I wanted to be prepared for any queen cells that might be built and be ripe. It rained a bit along the way, so I wasn't really expecting to do my scheduled inspections of the carniolan hives, but, by the time I got back, it was quite sunny with a temperature about 80 degrees.

Around 1:00 p.m. I did my scheduled inspections. I started with Lib-BEE-taria, the langstroth hive inhabited by carniolans. The bees were busy in the second box, working on all ten frame, so I added a third box with a frame added from the second and opened the entrance fully. In all, Lib-BEE-taria is a very healthy hive with gentle bees that allow me to work quickly.

I can't say that my experience in Plan Bee..., the top bar hive, was the same. Yes, this hive is also doing well "production and health-wise" but they seemed a little too defensive this afternoon. It wasn't simply the one sting I received on the hand but also a handful of guard bees hovering around my veiled face challenging me to continue. I got most of my activity done but the hive remained "testy" all afternoon. They didn't want me in Beelandia! I am pondering why right now. Cabin fever from two and half days (on and off) of rain? Some disturbance over the last few days? Just "mean" genetics? They are not unworkable, just not as gentle as the other three hives.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Video: Top Bar Hive ConstructionSimply



I like top bar hives for a number of reasons, including their ease of construction. Top bar hives can be constructed simply using recycled and reused materials. The following video shows just how simple it is to build one of your own.

A special thanks to Outofabluesky for uploading this video on youtube.

Added a Third Box To Bee Glad...

Yesterday I inspected those two hives (Bee Glad... and Metpropolis) containing the Minnesota Hygienic bees. As I mentioned in my last blog entry, the bees in Beelandia are so much more productive, and seemingly healthier than those I had last year.

I added a third box to Bee Glad... as the honey bees were working each frame of the second box. I moved a broodless frame up from the second when I did this. I took off the hive entrance, did some powdered sugar dusting before closing up. I did move the green drone brood frame around in the second box, trying to encourage a little more activity on that frame.

Metpropolis, the top bar hive, has also been productive. They are starting to pack away honey on the edges of the colony. I do love pulling out bars that are primarily filled with capped honey. The feel of their comparative heaviness to the other bars is a rush... Yes, I am peculiar! I added two more bars to this hive.

And lastly, no stings...

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Wasp, Bees and Me



I was culling some capped drone brood from one of my top bars and set this bar aside. Some type of wasp flew in to steal a bit of honey and annoy the carniolans.

The Obama's Bees

The City Bees blog has an article about the Obama's bees.

Almost a Disaster...But Everything's Alright Now

Structural linguists state that "meaning is in difference." You don't know what a stream is until you know how it differs from a river. To know a cat is gentle, you must also experience a mean one. I think I am finally understanding what healthy bees look like by comparing them to the bees I had last year... you know the ones that died!

I inspected the carniolans today and found them expanding at a much greater rate than last year's bees. In the langstroth hive, 9 out of the 10 frames in the second box, which I put on just last week, are being worked on. In the top bar hive, I had to add two more top bars to an ever expanding brood nest. Yes, there could be other reasons besides having healthier packages this year, but my intuition tells me probably not. There are much, much less bees scampering on the ground around the hives this year and, as of yet, nothing significant to report on the mite front unlike last year.

All was not perfect in today's inspection, however. Besides the sting I took on the finger, I dropped a top bar while working in Plan Bee... I was culling some capped drone brood and the bar just slipped out of my hand, bees and all. I am happy to report it was not much of a mess, and the bees were not too badly riled up.

I gave each hive a sugar dusting!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Video: Russian Bees in a Warre

I finally got to read Kim Flottum's column in this month's Bee Culture. He suggests we all move to keeping Russian honey bees because of their resistance to mites. As a northern United States beekeeper, I would expect these bees are also more suited to my colder environment. I would eventually like to maintain some but, as of yet, these bees are not available within a reasonable distance from me. I suppose I could install a queen the hives I have.

Larry, a poster on the Warre email list, posted a short video of his Russian bees. So in honor of my pondering, here it is:

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Finally...An Inspection

The last two days have been cool and rainy but this morning the sun shone brightly. When I went out to inspect the hives at noon today, I could see that the bees had cabin fever, with all the activity in front of all four hives. I fired up the smoker, put on my veil, and opened up the two Minnesota Hygienic hives: Bee Glad..., and Metpropolis.

I only checked the top box of Bee Glad... and saw that the honey bees have been pretty busy this past week. They have begun to draw comb on half the plastic frames in the box, and the queen is laying on some of the frames. (I did see the queen on one of these frames.) Everything else looked fairly normal with plenty of stores to report. I closed up after a powdered sugar dusting.

The top bar hive, Metpropolis, is booming. I didn't see the queen in the hive but I did see plenty of evidence that she is there and laying well. I did notice the start of a supercedure cell but this is probably just a part of the normal insurance policy the bees are taking out. There is no evidence that the queen is deficient in anyway. Before I closed up this hive, I filled up a pesticide duster with powdered sugar and dusted the bees with sugar.

I am glad to report: no stings!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Adding A Second Box to LIb-BEE-taria

I had a very pleasant surprise today inspecting both of the hives containing carniolans. The last week was a productive time for both Lib-BEE-taria and Plan Bee... The hives have grown much bigger over the last week than I expected.

I added a box to Lib-BEE-taria, the langstroth, after inspecting the 10 frames in the bottom box. The queen seems healthy and strong judging by the brood in various stages. All ten frames were being drawned and worked. There was also a great deal of burr comb on the inner cover and tops of the frame.

I added two bars to Plan Bee..., the top bar hive. I did get to see the queen again in this hive, in pretty much the same place as I did last inspection. There was plenty of brood in all stages of development, and a good deal of honey and pollen stored. I cut out some drone brood as part of my mite control program.

Lastly, I squashed another bee with my left pinky and received another sting.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Added A Box To Bee Glad...

I did my inspection of the Minnesota Hygienic hives Sunday afternoon. The temperature was in the low 70s, it was sunny, and the bees were out. I think that a good deal of their pollen is being collected from the basswood trees that are in bloom all throughout our neighborhood.

Both Metpropolis and Bee Glad... are healthy and thriving, nothing unusual to report. In Bee Glad..., the Langstroth hive, around 80% of the frames have been drawn, so I added a second box, set the bottom entrance to the next size, and unplugged the top entrance on the top shim. I took off the top feeder as well.

In Metpropolis, the top bar hive, all is well as well. I added another bar to the 13 already on and took out the feeder as well.

One thing that was truly noticeable today was how calm and gentle the bees were in both hives. While it is difficult to speculate why at this point, I am guessing that it was the time of day. I usually inspect my hives two and half hours earlier in the late morning. For a number of reasons, I did not get to the hives until 2 or so yesterday. I am guessing that most of the foragers were out and about by this time, and the younger bees were too busy at other duties to take much notice of me. In all, it was a pleasant time for all.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Quotes From Murphy's "Rationality and Nature"

I am currently reading Raymond Murphy's book Rationality and Nature -A Sociological Inquiry Into a Changing Relationship for my environmental sociology course this fall and for a paper I am writing on the rationalization of beekeeping and the possible irrational, unintended consequences such rationalization has had on honey bees. In this work, Murphy extends Max Weber's analysis of the rationalization of modern societies in order to create what Murphy calls "an ecology of social action." (p28)

I am still in the midst of this work, sorting out definitions and distinctions but it seems to have important implications for my own research on honey bees. At least since the mid 1800s, beekeeping in the United States has been typified by the ongoing formal, and instrumental rationalization of apicultural techniques. Modern apiculture strives to develop the most efficient means possible (formal rationalization) to achieve particular goals which are primarily concerned with "the pleasure of our own human species" (p 21) " and not the honey bees themselves (instrumental rationality). ... [T]his process of rationalization has been based on the erroneous premise of a plastic natural world and the unattainable goal of mastering nature" (p 26). All this results in "ecological irrationalities" which may well include the declining health of honey bees forced to live in an environment" increasing artificial" (p 21).

I will need to expand on and develop these ideas further, and honestly assess how useful Murphy's extention of Weber's analysis is to understanding the problems facing beekeepers and their collaborators, honey bees.

Carniolans Inspected and All Is Well

After two and half solid days of rain, the local weather finally became fit for honey bee foraging and inspection. The weather was sunny with a temperature in the low 70s. The dutch white clover is finally blooming, though I've only caught my honey bees on some purple nightshade protected by the front porch.

I first opened up Plan Bee..., the carniolan inhabited top bar hive. The honey bees were drawing comb on a all 13 bars. The penultimate bar on the side nearest the feeder had a bit of problem with some crosscomb which I promptly trimmed and moved into a straighter position. Last year, I might've allowed it to stay as is, hoping that the bees would fix it themselves but that only left me a real mess to deal with in October of last year. So I spent a little extra time, hoping the bees follow my suggested changes. I took out the feeder, put in the "longer" follower board where the "feeder" follower board had been and closed up.

The carniolans in Lib-BEE-taria, have drawn some comb on every frame in the one box. As with Plan Bee..., the hive looks very healthy and the queen is very productive. I imagine that next Thursday I will be able to add a box to this hive if they continue as they are doing. I was stung once on the tip of a finger while examining this hive. I accidently squashed a worker but she did not die without reminding me to be a wee more careful.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Video: NYC Swarm

The only thing that concerns me about this video is the way the announcer subtly reinforces negative stereotypes about the bees... However, it is good seeing bees reinhabit urban areas.

Another Inhabitant In Beelandia

Besides the rabbit family, another creature has moved into Beelandia: a hive of bumblebees. We are increasing the diversity of this humble kingdom (or its it a queendom?)

Sunday's Inspection

Sunday's weather was just perfect for inspecting the two "Minnesota Hygienic" hives: Metpropolis (top bar) and Bee Glad... (Langstroth). The honey bees were plenty active, bringing in an array of pollens. There are still dandelions in bloom, but the trees are about done.

I adapted my protective clothing today. I have long hair that, even when pony-tailed, tends to get in my face when I put my sheriff veil on. To solve this problem I wore one of those "helmet caps" as used by SCA (The Society for Creative Anachronism) fighters. It kept the hair out of my face though I did look a bit goofy in it.

Bee Glad... is doing very well. Eight of ten frames have some drawn comb, and the queen has been busy laying eggs wherever she finds a place. The capped brood pattern is very solid. Next week, I will probably place a second box on top of this hive. I am pleased.

The same can also be said with Metpropolis as well. All the bars were drawn on and everyone of the bars contained brood of all stages. I did find the queen laying eggs on a small section of drawn comb on the bar near one of the follower boards. I have to say that this year I've had a much easier time finding the queens than last year, and this is not only due to my increasing experience. The queens I have this year are significantly larger than those I had last year. (Last year, I had nothing but photographs in books or on the web to judge by.) I hope this is an indication of a healthier package of bees.

I "harvested" a bar of capped drone brood from Metpropolis as part of my varroa mite control program, added a bar to replace this one, and a bar of drawn comb to the edge of the hive.

Friday, May 22, 2009

This Week's News in Beelandia

I am a bit behind in blogging on the comings and goings in Beelandia. Two days ago, I did an inspection of the two hives containing Carniolan honey bees. The top bar hive, Plan Bee..., is doing very good. Twelve of the 13 bars between the follower boards have some comb built on them. Plenty of brood, at all stages of development, were observed on each of these bars. At the edges on each side, a significant amount of capped honey and multi-colored pollen is stored. The weather has been pleasant the last few days, so the foragers have been out and actively returning with pollen, mostly I imagine, from dandelions at this point. As I worked with the carniolans in Plan Bee... I noticed how much more "gentle" they are than my Minnesota Hygienic bees: calm on the comb, and more intent on what they're doing and less focused on my intrusion. Of course, just at the time I was thinking this, one worker, intent on letting me see that no man controls their activities, stung me on the left wrist. I added one new undrawn bar to one side of the hive and closed the hive up.

I opened up Lib-BEE-taria after this as the wind picked up. The carniolans did not like the wind too much and the smoke was just ineffective, but what I did see I did like. I had to scrape some burr comb off the top of frames, and the bottom of the feeder. Like in Plan Bee..., the honey bees in this hive are active in drawing comb, caring for the young, etc. the wind made it difficult to inspect this hive however, so I closed it up swiftly. No reason to stress these honey bees.

Earlier in the week I did a sticky board examination of each hive looking for varroa mites. I am happy to report: no mites sighted.

I added some floating plants to Lake No-Bee-Gone and the honey bees are finally using the pond as their "watering hole." Even though some view them as a pest, the water hyacynths I placed in the pond are extremely "popular" landing sites for the bees. I also planted some floating parrot feather as well. The white clouds also seem to "like" the new additions.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Report from Rushford

I spent this afternoon helping my friend Chris with his bees on his farm in Rushford, Minnesota. Chris had a slight and embarrassing accident with the new queens he purchased yesterday at B and B Honey Farm in Houston, Minnesota. He went back to purchase some new ones today and place them in the splits he made from two of his hives. He did have to take a little teasing from the staff at B and B. Chris successfully placed queens in two of his eight.

We went on to inspect the other six hives. Two of those contained the queens from last year's package. They were active and seemed healthy, though Chris took the advice of a local beekeeper and treated them both with formic acid. They had not been treated before.

The other 4 hives contained newly hived packages purchased two weeks ago. We saw the marked queens in each, and the drawing of comb on at least 4 frames in each hive. The really interesting thing was to see the color of this drawn comb. Chris' bees have been foraging on wild mustard all throughout his farm, and the comb reflects this foraging; it is bright yellow in color.

One concern was the appearance of a good number of dead bees in front of the entrance to one hive. These dead bees had their probosces extended, possibly indicating poisoning. This is a mystery. Where does the poison come from?

Inspection Of May 17

Sunday afternoon I inspected Metpropolis and Bee Glad... The honey bees in each colony were active on this morning after two days of unseasonable cold and rain. On Sunday, however, the weather was in the 70s and sky only partially cloudy. The bees were bringing in pollen of various color, though probably mostly from dandelions.

I inspected Bee Glad... first. The bees had actually started work on 8 of the 10 frames in this Langstroth hive. The queen has been active, as I observed brood in all stages of growth in the hive. Another healthy inspection! I closed up the hive and put some more sugar syrup in the feeder. After the bees drink this gallon up, they should be ready to go it on their own, so to speak.

I can give the same report for Metpropolis as I did for Bee Glad... Plenty of brood in all stages of development. The two empty bars I placed in last week have comb drawn on them. This hive tends to have a voracious appetite for the sugar water, consuming a half gallon in little over a day. I will continue to feed this one until I see evidence of refusal.

While in Beelandia I placed a sheet of sticky paper under both Bee Glad... and Lib-BEE-taria to test for mites. I did a 24 hour check and I am pleased to report not a single mite was sighted in either hive.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Learning Queen Rearing Long Distance


One of the joys of the internet is "picking the brains" of beekeeping experts all over the globe. I had one such experience today, spending the afternoon in a facebook chat with Gabriel Antonio Bussoli, operations manager for Agrovivo in Vina del Mar, Chile. Gabriel breeds queens that are exported around the world. Mr. Bussoli offered me a "short course" in queen rearing this afternoon, complete with emailed photos from his own operation. Despite the difficulties communicating at times (his English is much better than my Spanish and my Italian is non-existent), I learned a great deal in the two hours were we were online. After his short and clear explanation, I finally feel confident in trying my hand at queen rearing in the near future. Thanks so much, Gabriel.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Year 2, Week 5: Pleased to See the Queen

My friend Joyce and I did a quick inspection of Plan Bee... and Lib-BEE-taria this morning, after a quick program meeting. Although it was a bit cool for a mid-May day, the carniolans were very active, bring in pollen of various colors and shades.

Plan Bee..., the top bar hive, continues to draw out more comb, and the queen is laying a nice solid capped brood pattern. I had to add another bar to the hive, and fill the feeder with more sugar syrup. As usual, the bees were calm and gentle. No real problems seem to exist in this healthy hive of honey bees.

I did find the queen in Plan Bee... She attempted to hide under some workers but was unable to escape my gaze. She is large, at least larger than the queens I observed last year in my two hives.

I am pleased to report the same for Lib-BEE-taria as well. The carniolans in this hive haven't shied away from drawing comb on the plastic foundation. I am reluctant to admit that the black color of the plastic makes it much easier to see the eggs and young larvae in the open cells. This colony is producing a little more drone brood. I don't think this is a problem, just something I noticed.

In two days I will open up the other two hives and see what I can observe there.