=========================================== Date: Wed, 10 Sep 1997 08:33:43 -0400 Reply-To: Discussion of Bee Biology <BEE-L@CNSIBM.ALBANY.EDU> Sender: Discussion of Bee Biology <BEE-L@CNSIBM.ALBANY.EDU> From: Brian Myers <Brian_Myers@notes.seagate.com> Subject: Reflections on my first year with the bees (long!) Mime-Version: 1.0 Content-Type: Text/Plain
Hello all -
It was about a year ago that I started preparing myself for this adventure, which is really just now beginning; an adventure which reached a wonderful high point this last Saturday, with the gushing of that liquid gold from my extractor.
I had decided, almost without thinking, that beekeeping would be an interesting avocation which could supply me with the large quantities of honey I use in my other avocation, brewing - beer and mead. I had no illusions that this would be to save money. The purpose was to have the rawest, freshest possible honey, and to have some fun along the way. I have succeeded.
I had no real mentor; I knew a beekeeper, from whom I'd been buying my honey, but he lived a long distance away. I later found beekeepers who lived closer, but initially I had nobody to "show me the ropes". I say this primarily to encourage others who may have reservations - you can learn everything you need to know without help if you have to.
I started by gathering information. This list, of course, is rich in information. I went to the library and read every book they had on bees. My beekeeper friend gave me a few back issues of "American Bee Journal" and "Bee Culture", the two primary American bee magazines. I subscribed to "Bee Culture", but both magazines are a great source of information - especially the advertisements. Armed with these contacts, I ordered five or six catalogs. Some were bare-bones plain, but some were quite informative. By far, the best catalog I have seen (for beginners, anyway) is the one from Brushy Mountain. No affiliation, yadda yadda, of any products I'll mention here. I strongly encourage any of you to check it out for yourself.
I started looking in the want ads for an extractor - by this time I had realized that a new extractor was beyond my finances, so I hoped to find a retiring beekeeper. I soon did, and picked up a monstrous 32-frame stainless steel extractor, in pretty good shape, for $400. Considering that a much smaller hand-cranked model is nearly that price when new, I was very happy. If you are thinking about starting with bees, my advice is to watch the want ads and wait for a good deal - you might get lucky, like I did.
I considered trying to find my hive parts used also, and decided against it. In spite of the cost, I wanted new woodenware and frames, mainly for two reasons: fear of disease, and because I wanted to try the plastic frames. I had heard both good and bad about the Pierco one-piece frame & foundation; but most of the bad stuff I heard was from people who tried to use the plastic and the wooden types together - people who used Pierco exclusively seemed very pleased. Well, now I am one of those who is very pleased. My bees seem to love the stuff, and they were not reluctant at all to draw it out into comb. I love the ease of use and durability of it. I would especially recommend it for the beginner, as it is one less thing to worry about.
So, last winter I ordered all the gear, except a smoker and a bee suit (I only ordered a hat and veil). This turned out to be a mistake, as I'll explain shortly. If you're wanting to start with bees next Spring, you should order your woodenware in the Winter so you have plenty of time to put it together and paint it. Also, don't wait until Spring to order package bees - you don't know what the demand may be like in Spring, so place your order early - like December. I'm not kidding. I ordered two 3-pound packages from Calvert in Georgia, to arrive the first week of April. I have been very satisfied with the bees from Calvert, but there is one thing they could have done better. The package bees came with no instructions. I figured that wasn't a big deal, since I had read in several books how to install a package, except for one thing - no one had ever explained how the queen cage was secured inside.
To back up just a bit... I was ready for my bees arrival. I got a telephone call about 8:30 Saturday morning the first week of April, from the post office. "Um - we open at 9:00, and we'd REALLY appreciate it if you'd be here then to pick up your package". The caller sounded a little nervous (nervous postal workers tend to make me nervous too ;-). At the PO, once they knew which package I was there for, I was escorted to the front of the line. I got quite a lot of attention carrying out my BUZZing package with the strong breeze coming from it!
I put the cage in a dark room, and brushed thick sugar water on the screen until they stopped lapping it up. I took all my stuff out to the bee site and donned my hat, veil, and gloves, and set to work. I first drenched the bees with warm water, which seemed to upset them somewhat, but only for a few seconds. Then I pried off the wooden shingle and pulled out the syrup can. I had expected the queen cage to be attached somehow to the can, and when it wasn't, I didn't quite know what to do. Bees were beginning to pour out, so I started dumping them in the hive. When I had most of them out, I finally realized where the queen was. Maybe you old-timers all know this, but for the benefit of you newbies, the queen cage (at least on my package) is attached to the outside of the main cage with a piece of string. What you want to do is, take out the syrup can, then very quickly grab that string, fish out the suspended queen cage, and slap that shingle back on - quick! You might kill a few bees - don't worry. Once you have the main cage re-sealed, you can take your time preparing the queen cage. Find the end of the queen cage which has the white candy in it, and extract the cork plug from that end (not the other end!). Needle-nose pliers work well for this. Put the queen cage in the hive, and then re-open the main cage, and dump in the bees. Then, as best you can, close up the hive. That's what I did on my second attempt. The first hive didn't go so smoothly. The bees were crawling everywhere (since they were looking for the queen), and I had a hard time getting the cork plug out, because there were bees all over the cage. As it turned out, I didn't get the whole cork plug out - half of it broke off.
A few days later, I opened the hives to make sure the queens were released. Hive #2 (where I did it right) was doing fine, the queen was not in the cage, and they had taken a lot of sugar syrup from the baggie feeder. The other hive seemed angry. I knew there might be a problem with the cork plug not being completely removed, but when I tried to grab the queen cage, it slipped down between the frames to the bottom of the box. I tried to take out a couple of frames so I could retrieve the cage, but when I started doing that, the bees got really pissed and started attacking me. Now, remember that I still didn't have a smoker or a full bee suit yet- I had to abandon the queen cage and hope for the best. I got twenty or thirty stings, I'd guess - mostly through my shirt and on my ankles.
I found a good "bee suit" at an Army surplus store - it's a set of coveralls, gold-colored, made of a light, slippery nylon material. It works great, it's fairly cool, and it only cost $20. The smoker came mail-order. So, I re-opened the angry hive - this was one week after the installation. I got the queen cage out, and sure enough, she was still in there. I pulled out the remainder of the cork and - you guessed it - she took flight. I tried to catch her but lost her in the cloud of angry bees. I _thought_ I saw her re-enter the hive a few minutes later, but it could have been a big drone I saw.
So, hopeful that she had returned home, I closed up the hive. One week later, it was clear she was gone - no brood. Either she never returned, or perhaps she returned and was killed by the bees; I'll never know. So, I did the only thing I thought might work - I took a frame of brood from my good hive and installed it in the queenless one. Sure enough, after a week, there were at least three queen cells on that frame. By the way, I've never been able to see eggs yet, even when I know they must be there. Small larvae are the closest I've come.
So, I checked later that the queens had hatched out (I saw the empty Q cells). Then, about ten days after hatching, I saw some new brood - hooray! The mating flight must have been a success. However, this hive has never been anywhere near as strong as the other hive - I got no surplus from the weak hive at all, even though they were 'only' about a month behind. They seem to be doing fine; just not as populous as the other.
So, they've been busy all summer. I gave them syrup for a month or so, then started supering the strong hive. I gave them both three medium depth boxes for themselves, and the strong hive got 4 additional boxes above the queen excluder. They packed two supers solid with honey, and filled part of a third. Thanks to this list, I learned how to operate my old extractor, and all went smoothly.
I used the Hackler punch to uncap, and was very pleased with how it worked. Allen is correct, it gets clogged with wax quickly - you must keep a pot of boiling hot water handy to clean it after each frame. I haven't used an uncapping knife or scratcher, so I can't say it's any better than those, but it worked well for me. I liked the fact that I could just hold the frame over the extractor, run the punch over the surface, and load it - no cappings to deal with, no tank needed.
I got about five gallons of delicious honey - more than I expected. This weekend I'll install Apistan strips and grease patties, and I'll feed Fumadil-B in sugar syrup when that arrives (mail-order), to prepare them for Winter.
I'm sorry if anyone is upset by the length of this post, but my hope is that this rambling may help someone out there to avoid at least some of my mistakes. All in all, it's been a great experience so far!
Thanks to all for your encouragement and support, Brian Myers Norman, OK, central USA First year, two hives (so far) ==============================================