May 23, 2011

First Bee Inspection

written by Tom

So I finally got my new Dickie's coveralls this week. It's a bee suit to end all bee suits. A total of 10 pockets! As soon as it arrived I put Yvonne to work, tricking it out. One of the many details she added was a cartoon bee embroidered on the front.

Yvonne's sewing prowess really came in handy. She sewed Velcro strips to the ends of the sleeves just on the off-chance that one day I might be ready and willing to work the hive without gloves. I don't want those winged girls crawling up my sleeves, so Yvonne's Velcro fasteners will work beautifully. I had those sleeves so tight I think I was cutting off circulation. My bee manuals say I should work without gloves. In fact, they plead with me to go gloveless. Should I just leave those gloves behind and give it a try? Should I? Seems like the first time would be a perfect opportunity to put to the test everything I've heard from the bee mentors in the Mecklenburg County Beekeepers Association.

Another detail Yvonne added was an additional snap button near the top. It's high enough so that the coveralls' collar will be under the veil when I put it on.

And last but not least, the boot bands. Yvonne is going to take these suckers apart and permanently sew them to the legs of the bee suit.

First order of business: lighting that smoker. My brother, Tim, lent me his old and trusty smoker. I do not want to give it back. Tim, you'll have to come and get it if you want it back, buddy.  :)

And now using the hive tool to get that burlap roll going for some cool smoke.

Lots of bellows puffs got the smoke where it needed to be.

With my smoke ready, it was time to veil up.

 I'm using our handy new garden wagon to cart all of my tools and supplies to the hive. It's perfect. Approaching the hive gloveless for the first time was scary and awesome all at the same time.

Okay, let's just do this exactly how I've been taught by my mentors.

After a puff or two, I remove the outer cover and this is what I saw - my first glimpse one week after bringing my nucleus colony (nuc) home. A good amount of bees clustered together is a good sign.

Libby Mack, from whom I bought the nuc, and Wayne Hansen screwed down the screened inner cover so that transport from the nuc yard to our home would be uneventful. So now it was time to gently remove those screws. I hope, I hope, I hope these Russian girls don't come after my hands!

 The moment of truth.

I was delighted at what I saw when I removed an empty frame. Comb was being drawn out, but a lot of work was left to be done. These girls were busy.

And here is a gorgeous nuc frame of drawn comb. Some bees were busy drawing comb out and there's even some capped honey (the whiteish looking area around the top and outer edges). Yes, they were in fine shape. You can see through the foundation in this shot and see how far they've managed to draw comb out on the other side of this frame.

Here's a closeup of my girls at work, capping honey, and turning nectar into honey. Note the 5 black stripes on their abdomen. The more common Italian bee has 3 stripes, I've noticed.

Ahhhh, yeah, a really full frame. So far, these girls are not interested in my hands, or me.

Inspecting the frames with a gentle touch was all that was required. Yvonne was taking these photos from about 25 feet away (nice telephoto lens on that camera!)  I was so excited I started yelling out to Yvonne "I SEE CAPPED HONEY. SOME BROOD ALSO IN THIS FRAME. COMB HAS BEEN DRAWN OUT!" At that point Yvonne suggested that maybe I should whisper out my report so I don't disturb these busy bees. I couldn't help it and yelled "I ALSO SEE THE QUEEN. AND SHE'S BEEN MARKED, SO SHE'S EASY TO SPOT." The queen bee is the one with the white dot on her thorax. She's at the top near the capped honey.

Another brood- and bee-filled frame with drawn comb.

The nuc frames were about half drawn out with comb, so there's still a lot of work and room for them to do it. So far the girls haven't touched my frames. I installed Duracomb foundation, which is a plastic foundation heavily coated with wax. A week had passed since installation. Fortunately there were some bees crawling on the empty frames, but not a whole lot. To sweeten the deal I sprayed all of my frames with some thin simple syrup to encourage them to set up shop on these frames too. Now I'll just have to wait before I look again and see if my ploy worked. I also removed one of the 10 frames, deciding a 9-frame hive is the way to go. I've had enough longtime beekeepers tell me they use 9 instead of 10, so they can draw the comb out a bit deeper on each frame. I suspect this will make for a healthier hive. We'll see.

There were some strange dark, orange-brown dots on the front of the brood box, about 8 of them. It has been an extremely unseasonal wet and cold week. I was afraid my bees were succumbing to the elements and hadn't found the local food sources. I was worried that what I saw was fecal staining, an indication of nosema. Fortunately the dots were just a few, and in the days since this inspection have not grown. Just to be safe, I made a patty for them of fresh pollen from the North Carolina mountains, some pollen substitute and some local raw honey, on wax paper. (Yvonne said it looked like vomit). It was also an opportunity for me to use the Imrie shim I'd bought a few months ago, just in case I needed to do this very thing. In this shot you can see that in one week they drained the second quart of syrup (the jar on the front).

All done, brick back on top. Not a single sting!! I could not believe how calm and wonderful these Russian bees were. Amazingly gentle. I even moved one out of the way by gently nudging her with my pinky, and she scurried along.

No gloves, see? I was pretty proud that my moment of truth had worked in my favor, and to see that the girls were drawing out comb, capping honey, had lots of nectar, and some frames with a beautiful, healthy brood pattern. Bee keeping is cool!

May 15, 2011

There's a "Buzz" Going on Around Here

written by Tom

Okay, so I'm freaking out about the garden. Or lack thereof. But, I seem to do this every season, between spring and summer. Yvonne, and now Olive, remind me that everything comes and goes with the seasons and not to despair. Here is a yard-view of where we're at right now.

Barlotto pole beans needing to be thinned out.

And now thinned out (thanks, Yvonne).

Snap beans and 3 squash plants before thinning out.

And now both, thinned out.

Yvonne, thinning out said squash.

Y, always searching for a better "seed organizer", has an epiphany in Walgreen's. This CD organizer = "a great seed packet organizer.."

Pretty cool, sort of (for all you overly organized types out there).

Snow peas ... fresh harvest. Any better?

So Saturday, we staked up the Barlotto beans. Sunday morning, beans are, "Hell's YEAH!, up the stakes!" Self-staking beans? Amazing.

Finally.  Bees!! Mentor Richard Flanagan and myself, disembark bees from his van.

Gently, gently ... .  No stumbling, please.

Almost there. Right on top of the beautifully painted cinder blocks. Thank you, TY.

All good. Strap removed.

Happy? Hell's yeah!. Doorway on moving/robbing screen opened.

What?! Buzzing? Bees? Really?! What's going on in there?

Doors officially open.

First bees out. One carrying a dead larvae. Cleansing flights achieved.

Gently remove the screen ... gently.

And ... done.

Time to feed some simple syrup, about 3 hours after their placement in their new home.

Orientation flights achieved, me not knowing what to think other than to marvel. All the time, bunch of bees, hovering at entrance,

Sweet bee, grabbing a drink from the nearby birdbath-turned-bee-bath given to us by our dear friend Bob. Pre-summer relief. Cool drinks on Sundays. Any better?

Note: Traveling for comics and vacation over the next few weeks.TY's VeggiePatch may not be updated for a few weeks, so don't dismay. All good. Even farmers & newbees need a vacation.

May 2, 2011

Goodbye spinach, hello peas

written by Yvonne

Here is what's happening this week in TYs Veggie Patch.  Potatoes are still growing.

Beans have taken off like crazy. We planted two kinds and they both have gotten big FAST!

See what I mean?

A couple of beets are trying to come up, but we'll likely have to pull them out to plant more summer crops before they get to full maturity.

The pea pods are here! The pea pods are here! The flower blossoms have turned into full blown pea pods. Saturday we harvested the biggest ones and ate a few right then and there.

Lettuce is coming along. Hopefully they will get to full maturity before it gets too hot.

This is the last of the spinach (see more about spinach later).

Thanks to friends and family, we now have three different kinds of mint attempting to take root along the back fence. We were given some by Tom's bee mentor Richard, some from my student and friend Vivian, and a third kind from Tom's brother Dan.

How cool is this? For any of you who have grown berries, this is probably not very exciting or impressive. But to me, this is just really cool!

You can't see from this picture but there are green things growing in this bed where we scattered lemon grass and lavender seeds.  But as usual, never having planted either before, don't know what green things are the plants and what are weeds. So we'll keep watering them and see what starts to look like something.

The apples are growing, but for now it's just a fun thing to watch develop.

Now it's your turn to play "Guess What This Item is in TYs VeggiePatch."  We noticed this bush along the fence.  We didn't notice this last year but it has these odd, misshapen fruits(?) on them. The two pictures after this are shots of the leaves and of the pant as a whole. Anyone have a guess at what it is?

These are actually our neighbor's peonies. They are so beautiful, aren't they?

Back to the spinach. It was time for all the spinach to come out.  Here are the two beds worth of spinach plants. It amounted to about 5.5 lbs of spinach.

I read a tip that I hadn't tried until now which is to get large pans of water and rinse your vegetables in them while you're outside, then dump that water back onto your garden.  This versus doing what we did previously which was to rinse them in the sink and then just let the water drain out. Anytime it's possible, this will be the way the veggies get their first wash.

Time for a break. Guess what we did with some of the mint we received?  Frozen Mojitos! 

And here the rinsing water back into the garden.

I guess this lady bug wanted to take a bath along with the spinach.

It's hard to tell what part of Olive you're looking at here but this is her. She's completely passed out after an hour or so of non-stop play at Dan's horse ranch with her cousins Cake and Tulip.  She saw a horse for the first time (which she was very leery of), and she played in water for the first time too.  It took her a while to decide if she was going to follow her cousins into the creek, but eventually she went in and got her feet wet.