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What a year!  Late spring frost killed all fruit tree blossoms….. no nectar or pollen for the bees and no fruit for us.    I added one more hive and had to replace a queen in another hive.  It was a terribly dry spring with no rain until June….. it really stressed out the bees. Rains came, wildflowers bloomed and the bees began producing as if it were spring.  I harvested only about 10 pounds of honey as the hives were still only about ½ full of comb.  Then the bear attacked and took out one of the hives, ate half the honey and the queen died from all the commotion.  I was able to collect and harvest another 5 pounds of honey from the damaged combs and added the remaining good combs to the other hives.  I relocated the hives to a friends yard about 10 miles away, where they are spending the winter.  I’ll bring the hives back to my yard in the Spring.  So what is there to do?   HoneyWell…. I packaged up the honey and gave it as Christmas gifts to friends and family.  Then I used some of it to make the Zimmerman holiday specialty; German Lebkuchen, using a recipe handed down from my grandmother.  It’s basically just honey, flour, eggs cinnamon and citron. So good. And now I am making bee inspired glass tiles with my own kiln.  This all keeps me busy as I await the spring.  I’ll let you know how the remaining two hives have fared over the winter when it begins to warm up in March. I hope 2014 will be a more successful year for the bees than this past one!

Until then, Happy New Year to all!

 

Relocated hives

Relocated bee hives

Went out to Jannine’s farm yesterday to check on the three hives that I had to quicky move after a bear got into the yard and tore one of them up. As I feared, the queen did not survive the attack, and without her, the colony is doomed.  It is too late in the year to find a replacement so I transferred the remaining combs and bees to the two other hives.    Bees are very territorial, and vigorously defend their own hive from other bees, so it’s not a good idea to just move bees from one hive to another.   To get around this, I placed a sheet of newspaper at the last bar of the strong hive, folding it around the edges to keep the bees to one side. Then I poked a number of holes in the paper so that the bees could pick up the odor of the bees on the other side.   Then I took half of the combs from the damaged hive and placed them next to the newspaper. Combining hives  Once the hive is closed up, the original bees on one side…the orphan bees on the other side…they will begin to chew through the newspaper.  By the time they open up the holes and pass through, they will have become accustomed to the scent and won’t attack each other.  That’s what is supposed to happen.  I’ll give them a couple days and then go back to see if they have assimilated or if there is total civil war going on!   Before closing up the hive, I placed a baggie of sugar water into the bottom of the hive, picking a number of pinholes into the upper side of the bag.  The sugar water will very slowly ooze out as the bees drink it up. This will give them a safe and close supply of sugar.   Jannine with sugar

Meanwhile….. a juvenile black bear was found up a tree just at the end of our block. Could this have been the culprit?  Hard to say, as there have been 10 different bears sighted in the city this past couple of weeks.  Animal control was called and they were able to tranquilize it and move him back up to the nearby hills.  Bears  found wandering the city are tagged. There is a “three strike” policy in such cases.  After the third capture in the city, the bears are relocated far away in the Jemez mountains to the west of Santa Fe.  This was this bear’s first strike…I hope he settles down for a long winters nap soon! Black bear in tree

Bears !

Broken combs from the bear attack

Broken combs from the bear attack

Last Thursday I woke up to find that one of the bee hives was upended and the honey comb scattered on the ground.  I couldn’t believe my eyes.  The other two hives were untouched.  What could have done that?  Then I saw a big pile of scat ( poop ) on the ground in front of the mess.  There was no doubt…. a bear had come into the yard, found the hive, tore it open and ate about 1/3 of the honey.  I quickly set the hive back up and surveyed the damage.  About 5 combs had fallen out and landed as a unit on the ground and were undamaged.  I quickly fired up my smoker, put on my veil and carefully put the combs back in the hive.  It was so cold  ( about 32 degrees out) that the bees were practically motionless on the combs. I sealed up the hive as best I could, and put the top on it. I have no idea if the queen survived.  I collected the broken combs and took them inside to harvest the honey out of them.  I asked around and fellow beekeepers told me that I must relocate the hives right away because once the bear knows there is food in an area, it will come back each night until all is eaten.  I borrowed my neighbors truck and my friend Jannine came over to help me move all three hives to her yard, about 6 miles away.  We had to wait until dark when all the bees had returned to their hives… so there we were… struggling to carry these heavy hives to their new location in the dark of night.  ( the full moon was a big help ! )  Sure enough, the bear(s) returned again that night, and for the next two nights looking for more food.  I noticed that the bird feeders had been pulled down from the tree branches as well.     It’s autumn…bears are hungry and looking for food to fatten themselves up for their long winter hibernation.  Can’t really blame them.  Just have to deal with them.  I’ll keep the hives at their new location and probably bring one back to the yard in the Spring.  I doubt if the colony survived the attack.  I’ll check on it later this week to see if there is any activity.  If there is no sign of the queen, then the colony is doomed… the remaining workers will just die off.  I’ll put the combs into the two good hives , clean out the old hive and get new bees next spring.   That’s nature for you!

Bear scat

Bear scat on the path

Fall Honey Harvest

Geoffrey with two full combs

   Geoffrey with two full combs

Cutting comb

Cutting comb

Geoffrey breaking up the comb

Geoffrey breaking up the comb

Straining the honey

Straining the honey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A couple weeks ago my friend Geoffrey came over to help me collect honey from the three topbar hives in my yard. The rule of thumb is to leave about 12-13 bars of comb in the hive to give the bees enough food to last through the winter. Two of my hives had just 13 full combs ( brood and honey) so I left them alone.  (The hive can hold 30 bars.)    I’d rather leave more honey in the hive than risk them starving.  The third hive had 19 combs,, but many of the end bars were only partially built and filled, so we just took out two nice full combs. We took them inside where I cut the comb into squares and put them into special plastic containers. I put the rest of the comb into a colander, gently broke it up and let the honey drain into the below. I ended up with 6 containers of comb honey and 6 jars of honey. Not bad for a year that started off so poorly…. a late frost that wiped out all the spring fruit blossoms followed by a severe drought that lasted through June. Next year, I expect to harvest a lot more, but one never knows what might happen. It’s a challenging environment for raising bees here in Northern New Mexico.

Comb and jar honey

Comb and jar honey

Hot hive

Bearding

Bearding

It’s been unusually hot and very dry here this year. We’ve had virtually no rain and temperatures have been in the high 90’s for over a week now. This puts a strain on the bee colony.  Bees fan the hive to keep it cool, like air conditioning. But when they are unable to keep the hive cool, they will “move outdoors onto the front porch” and that cools them off, not unlike us in the summertime.  This is called “bearding” and it usually happens in the afternoon as temperatures rise. The bees move back inside as it cools off in the evening.  Check the hive to see that they are not overcrowded….if so, you will need to make a split.  If they have plenty of room, then don’t worry, it’s just their way of chillin’ during a hot summer day.

Queen questions.

Picking up the queen bee

Picking up the queen bee

I’ve received a number of questions about the queen rearing procedure.  One of them was “Why don’t the worker bees try to defend the queen  and attack when you pick her up?”  Good question!   First of all, the bees are by nature quite docile. They are bred not to be aggressive. If we notice that a colony is getting somewhat hositle, we remove the queen and replace her with a new one, who hopefully will produce nice calm offspring. Then there is the fact that the worker bees are programmed to defend the hive, rather than the queen.  After all, they can make a new queen within weeks, but the real treasure for them are the combs full of developing larvae and the rich stores of pollen, nectar and honey that has taken months to form.  Any predator that tries to get into the hive ( bears, raccoons, skunks, humans, etc) will be met by a fierce resistance of stinging bees to drive away the attackers.  That’s where the smoker comes into use.  A few quick puffs at the entrance and then again over the top of the combs will make them think that a fire is nearby. This will then divert their attention from the beekeeper  ( the predator) to the honey, where they will concentrate on drinking up as much as possible in the event that they will have to abandon their old hive and establish a new one in a different location.  So with the bees attention on other things, the beekeeper is easily able to get into the hive, find the queen, mark her, replace the cover and move away in a short time.

Got a call the other day from my bee mentor, Steve.  He said he was ready to inspect all his mating nucs and collect the successful queens, Remember that we had first “grafted” very young larvae, put them in to queen cups and placed them all into one queenless hive.  The worker bees, sensing that they didn’t have a queen, began to feed all of these ( and there were 60 of them ) with royal jelly to make for themselves a new queen ( guess they can’t count…. haha)  After a week we went back in and took out 24 queen pupas and put each one into a small queenless nuc of just two combs.  Within days the queen would emerge and IF the bees accepted her, and IF she was able to fly out and successfully mate and IF she found her way back to her new home and IF she is able to begin laying eggs, then we would have a good queen.  We opened up each of the 24 small nucs; some had no queen, but some had what looked like there was a queen laying eggs, but as we inspected closely, we could see that there were many cells with 2 or 3 eggs in them… a clear sign that a “laying worker” had developed..not a queen.  ( and that’s another story)

Looking for the queen

Looking for the queen bee

Marking the queen

Marking the queen with a red paint pen

It can be difficult finding the queen, but after a while I got the hang of it . She is a bit larger and her abdomen is much longer than a worker bee. When the queen is spotted, Steve reached in a picked up the queen by her wings. ( the Queen bee will not sting) and transferred her to his other hand by gently grabbing her around the thorax with his thumb and forefinger, exposing her back. Then he dabbed a bit of red paint from a paint pen ( found at any craft store)  on her back and placed her in a special queen cage.  ( why red? ….that, too is another story)  I was able to help him by handing him the marker and cage at the appropriate time, speeding up the process.  For each nuc, Steve recorded what we had found.  He will then go back another day and return the queenless frames back into the hives from which he took them out of.

I found this video of queen marking on YouTube…….. www.youtube.com/watch?v=R4Sb6J_uY3E

About halfway through this process, I found a queen on one of the frames Steve was holding, and he said, OK, why don’t you mark this one?  I took a deep breath, reached in. grabbed her wings, marked her and put her into a queen cage. Just like that. ( it’s a good thing I didn’t have time to think about it)  I did a couple more and got better at it.  We ended up with 12 queens.  They will be fine for a day cooped up in their little cages.  Steve will take these queens out to his hives and use them to replace old, weak queens to to add to a hive that had lost their queen.

Queens cost about $25 each from a commercial apiary ( not including shipping costs) so it is a real cost savings to be able to rear your own queens, especially if you have a lot of beehives.  I have just three hives, and know that I know how to do this, I might just try to make a couple for myself.  For now, my three queens are doing well.

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