Wednesday, December 14, 2011

50% Hive Loss So Far This Winter

It's been a tremendously busy time for me, and I've not been able to regularly monitor and manage the hives as much as I should have. The result was predictable: I had half my hives crash. The reasons weren't readily apparent.

In one case it looks like they were chased out by a massive invasion of red ants. (Ants, both red and black, are probably my biggest problem in this locale; they cause me more work than even the varroa mites).

A couple other hives simply look like they petered out. That may have been due to mites, or a failing queen that didn't get replaced, or even an ill-timed swarm. As I said, I was not able to keep a close eye on the hives since the honey harvest.

I did selectively treat with Apiguard this fall, and it appears I only lost one hive that received treatment. That seems to be a pretty good argument for total treatment next year, to try and keep a handle on the lovely varroa (see below).

At this writing I have 4 strong hives, one fairly healthy hive, and one I just can't get a good read on. Due to our cold weather lately I've waited until mid-day, when the sun is on the hives, to inspect--- and that means the maximum number of foragers are away, so the population within the hives may appear deceptively low.

At any rate, we had a pretty good fall flow of eucaplyptus, lavender, rosemary, and various wildflowers, so I haven't fed any hives yet, and their stores look good. That said, we've been getting some rain, so they'll eat those stores up pretty quickly. I'm planning on feeding all hives in January, to get them geared up for the ceonothus flow in late winter.

If I can hit March with all 6 hives intact, I should have another excellent harvest. Plus, I will no doubt add at least another half-dozen hives through swarm captures, and if I get some March calls those swarmers could easily build up some harvestable reserves by August.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Hive Capsizes

We had some fierce Santa Ana winds kick up after a recent 1-day rainstorm, and it appears one of my hives was a bit top-heavy and took a dive.

Here's a view from the side. Everything was scattered pretty badly, and the robbing was intense due to one free-standing comb full of fresh honey. I had forgotten I left an empty space about 3 frames wide in one of the supers, and they'd made a beautiful comb.

Turns out they had moved their brood-rearing activities up into the middle hive body, leaving the entire deep (at the bottom) empty and light. With the brood and honey on top, and no weight below, the winds just toppled the whole thing over. I did my best to put everything back together, although I took that free-standing comb and set it away from the hive, hopefully pulling as many robbers away as possible.

I rearranged by putting the brood chamber (medium hive body) on the bottom, and the deep in the middle. The honey super--- what's left of it, anyway--- is on top.

The fighting at the entrance was a war, so I also put an entrance reducer into play, using the smallest possible opening. The idea is to give the resident hive a fighting chance at defending what's left of its stores. All in all, I don't think the odds are good for this hive's survival, but I'll follow up after a week or so to see how they're doing.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Honey Harvest Done; Sales Going Well

Been awhile since my last post. We've been super busy around here, but in the midst of it all I harvested about 250 lbs of honey, pulling from just 6 of my 12 hives. I left the others alone because they were swarms I captured this spring, and I didn't feel they had built up enough reserves for me to take their honey right before going into our usual Aug/Sept/Oct dearth.

Sold about 45 lbs at work (I charge a discounted $10/lb) and I'll be selling a couple cases to a small cafe which specializes in all-natural ingredients. Also sold a case at the boxing gym I attend. The rest I'm selling at our new shop, "Bubba's Antiques & Mercantile," which just opened this weekend... the reason we've been so busy!

Here's a shot of the display featuring my honey:

It's been well over a month since I last took a look at the hives, so I'm about to go do that this morning. Hopefully what I find are strongly populated hives with plenty of reserves to get them through the rest of summer and all of autumn--- until the eucalyptus trees start blooming in early winter.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

My First Anaphylatic Reaction

While doing some bush and tree trimming today, I was suddenly hit on the forearm and stung by a bee. Weird, but I figured I must have startled it off of some trimmed lavender or pepper tree blossoms, and it just reacted.

No sooner do I brush away that stinger than another blasts into me, taking no prisoners, and stings my shoulder. I hoof it away from the area, head up to the house to fetch my bee-jacket, and go back down to finish up.

But after bending down a couple times I felt my face getting tingly, and I felt a little dizzy. Not good. I hustled back up to the house and looked in the mirror. Sure enough, my face was bright red, and my lips were swelling. My scalp and ears were itching like mad, too.

I took two Benadryl capsules, shot a couple blasts of albuterol to make sure I kept breathing, and threw an ice pack on my shoulder. My scalp continued to get hot and itchy, so I took a cool shower. By this point my lower lip was looking like a sausage.

It was a scary hour or so, and I came close to hitting the Epi Pen at one point, but things started calming down. I went back outside to do some chores, and eventually the reaction receded to localized swelling (as I write, the one from my shoulder has migrated to the side of my pec, and is itching quite insistently).

Lesson learned here: I have only one Epi Pen, in my swarm toolbox I keep in the car. I'm going to get some more, and put at least one down by the main beeyard, another in my house, and another in the Gator (my ranch utility vehicle). I've never reacted like that before, but they say a bad reaction can happen at any time, and I already swell up so badly from any sting, I don't want to push my luck.

I'll Take Pad Thai and Bees to Go, Please

Got a call from Steve over at the Ventura County Fired Dept in Camarillo, about a swarm that had taken up residence next to a Thai restaurant. The owner followed up with a call to me too, begging me to come get the bees. She told me she'd make me lunch, so we settled on some chicken & shrimp pad thai in exchange for driving out there to get the swarm.

Here's what it looked like from a distance:

Talk about easy! Right there at about chest level... piece of cake. I took a closer look...

Gotta love it when they're this easy. I stuck a box underneath, shook the branch, closed it up and put it in the truck to go home. Ann, the owner, came out with my Pad Thai (unfortunately she hadn't held the peanuts as I asked, and I'm allergic, but oh well) and I was on my way.

It was such a small swarm I put them in a 5-frame nuc. A check today seems to indicate all's well; I won't actually open them up for two weeks, to give them a chance to settle in.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Home is Wherever You Find It

The adaptability of bees never ceases to amaze me. A recent swarm had gathered on a brick planter, and evidently someone swept it off--- because when I showed up, there was an abandoned broom on the sidewalk, and a load of bees here...

I figured the swarm was doomed at that point, so I didn't do a capture. that's my friend John's trailer, and he reported later that they actually started building comb inside the wheel chocks!

Meanwhile, I got a call from Kate out in Thousand Oaks about a hive in a fence. She didn't want to kill the hive, and it sounded like a fairly straightforward extraction (no ladder involved!), so I took my new bee-vac and decided to give it a try (I just bought one; prior to this I used a homemade version--- plans on Beesource.

I took a wrecking bar and pried a few fence boards off the middle 2x4 rail, and here's what I found:

Here's a closer look...

The new bee-vac worked quite well, although I think next time I'll damp down the suction a bit more--- I clobbered a fair number of bees, unfortunately. Still, I was able to rubber band the comb into medium frames, and I installed the crew in a medium with no entrance reducer for the time being, so they can all find their way in.

Noteworthy about this hive: lots of brood, capped and otherwise. But very little food stores, and literally no capped honey in spite of the huge flow going on right now. Leads me to believe this hive is a reasonably recent (within 21 days) swarm who took up residence in the fence and has literally been living hand-to-mouth, without enough resources to build up any reserves yet. Tomorrow I'll probably steal a frame or two of honey from one of my strong hives to help this one along.

All in all a fairly easy extraction, took about an hour total, so I only charged the show-up rate of $50. I do swarm captures at no cost, but I charge for hive extractions primarily because only 50% (at best) actually stay where I relocate them, and those that do stay--- well, it's not a sure thing that I was able to get the queen, while with swarm captures I nearly always get her.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Tremendous Honey Flow On

I haven't posted in awhile, mostly because this is fire clearance time and I have very little spare time to check on the hives. When I do, it's mostly to throw on supers, because thanks to a long rainy season and mild temperatures this spring, we've had a huge sage, yucca, salvia, hollyleaf cherry, and lemonadeberry bloom. And now, the buckwheat is coming out in full force. I'm out of frames; I'll be making a run into L.A. on Tuesday to pick up 40 medium frames, as I've still got 4 spare supers I can use.

One of the hives filled up a shallow super in 10 days! That was a swarm I caught in a swarm trap last year. The other hive that's going super strong is the one that used to be in the community garden; I've got three supers on them right now, and they'll need another soon.

Of the three swarms I've caught this season, two are doing quite well. In fact, I had to throw another deep onto one of them, making them a double-deep hive. The other is kind of stagnating as a small hive; we'll have to see how they do.