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Bee Swarms – A Model of Consensus Building

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First, it may be beneficial to understand why bees swarm. If you consider the colony to be an organism, it like any organism, must reproduce to ensure its survival. If left to their own devices, a beehive/colony will almost certainly swarm. Typically there is a prime swarm, the existing queen and up to 60% of the colony gorge up on honey and leave looking for a suitable nest. Sometimes colonies will divide themselves more than once. This inborn behavior, to swarm and reproduce, is both a bane and a positive event for beekeepers.

The positive;

Beekeepers keep an eye on the colony in early spring looking for signs of an impending swarm. Evidence includes an increase in the number of drones, male bees, being produced. The next piece of evidence is the building of queen cells in preparation of the queen leaving. The colony will need a new queen to replace the departing grand dame. The colony may make a dozen or more queens, only first to emerge will survive and mate. Side note…she may not even survive a mating flight…..she could become a tasty morsel.

The bane;

The bees swarm on there own leaving behind a much smaller population that may not build up quick enough to put away enough honey to harvest.

This reproduction discussion is cursory…..it is a lot more detailed and fascinating than this space provides. What prompted this post was observing bee behavior around my swarm trap boxes. I have three swarm trap boxes in my backyard and if the timing is right I see a lot of what is described in the large paragraph I plucked from Wikipedia. It begins with a few scout bees finding potential nest site.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swarming_(honey_bee)#Nest_site_selection

“Nest site selection

The scout bees are the most experienced foragers in the cluster. An individual scout returning to the cluster promotes a location she has found. She uses the waggle dance to indicate direction, distance, and quality to others in the cluster. The more excited she is about her findings the more excitedly she dances. If she can convince other scouts to check out the location she found, they may take off, check out the proposed site, and may choose to promote the site further upon their return. Several different sites may be promoted by different scouts at first. After several hours and sometimes days, slowly a favorite location emerges from this decision making process. In order for a decision to be made in a relatively short amount of time (the swarm can only survive for about three days on the honey on which they gorged themselves before leaving the hive), a decision will often be made when somewhere around 80% of the scouts have agreed upon a single location, and/or when there is a quorum of 20-30 scouts present at a potential nest site. When that happens, the whole cluster takes off and flies to it. A swarm may fly a kilometer or more to the scouted location, with the scouts guiding the rest of the bees by quickly flying overhead in the proper direction. This collective decision making process is remarkably successful in identifying the most suitable new nest site and keeping the swarm intact. A good nest site has to be large enough to accommodate the swarm (minimum 15 liters in volume, preferably ≈40 liters), has to be well protected from the elements, have a small entrance (approximately 12.5 cm squared) located at the bottom of the cavity, receive a certain amount of warmth from the sun and not be infested with ants. In addition to these criteria, nest sites with abandoned honeycombs are preferred, as this allows the bees to better conserve their resources.

Today I witnessed what I suspect were the final two nest sites in the selection process. There were 20 -30 bees running in and out of two of the swarm traps located in my backyard. Being an eternal optimist, I thought I was about to pick up two swarms.

 

This white box is larger in volume than the brown box I will show you next. Both boxes a baited with queen scent and have at least two fully drawn frames of old brood comb.

 

This video was taken a few minutes after I shot the white box, showing a significant increase in action.

An hour or so later I realized that I was not lucky enough to snag two swarms in my backyard. Dang!!!!!

 

They are moving in and claiming the brown box. It is much smaller than the white box but has had the advantage of capturing two previous swarms. That scent left by previous bees is a strong attractant.

I am not giving up on the nice white box, there are still a few “lookie lu’s” checking it out but the consensus? A smaller box with the familiar scent of a home was the swarms choice!

As a bonus, I have a swarm trap in my backyard that will be moved within the next few days. Today, as the new swarm moved in, this box was exhibiting a curious activity called “washboarding”. Lots of theories of why, but it remains a bit of a mystery. I thought I would share the video with all y’all. I shot it in slomo but it starts full speed and ends full speed. It is just fascinating to watch them. FYI, it was very warm and humid!

When the old queen leaves during a primary swarm, she already has a few miles on her. A queens productivity declines steadily, forcing many commercial keepers to replace her every year to maintain peak production. If you are lucky enough to capture a primary swarm, you have a queen on the decline. The queen really does not rule the hive, the workers do! It is very likely that the swarm will create “supercedure ” cells and replace her!

“Supersedure cells are often begun after the eggs are laid. The bees, knowing they need to replace the queen, begin feeding royal jelly to a young larva they have selected. They build a supersedure cell around this larva (or several larvae) and it hangs down from the face of the comb. Swarm cells, however, are built in preparation for swarming and are not intended to replace the queen, but to raise a second queen. This way, there will be a queen for the part that swarms and a queen for the part that stays.”

From; https://honeybeesuite.com/is-it-a-swarm-cell-or-a-supersedure-cell/

 

TTFN

Bishop

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I’ll Bee Quick

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The swarm I caught in my “Goo” friend John’s yard needed to be moved before his mother’s visit from Rhode Island. Bees make her very nervous and the visit will be more comfortable without a hive in the backyard. I had recently lost a hive at a nearby apiary so I had a perfect place to move them.

A small problem though, the move was less than two miles and sometimes a short move like that allows the bees to return to the old location. The rule of thumb is move them 6 feet or 6 miles. Six feet allows them to find the box in a short period of time and a 6 mile move creates disorientation relative to the sun. At 6 miles they will orient themselves to the new home relative to the sun. Two miles could be a problem…..

I locked the bees in the swarm box by closing the entrance with a wad of burlap. I left them locked up the best part of two days. I also covered the entrance with some leafy branches before releasing them forcing the bees to reorient themselves due to the confusion of the branches…it worked well. Now I wanted to move them into a full size box.

My usual assistant John, was out of town for a wedding. Luckily my daughter Ashleigh was visiting from Denver and had expressed interest in the bees. She was a good help and she decided to try a time lapse video of the installation process. It went very smooth, the bees were placid and I barely broke a sweat. The video worked well.

After finishing up here we stopped by a single hive I have in a friends backyard. This is a strong and busy hive. Ashleigh didn’t know it but she posed for a Bishop’s Bees And Honey promotional photo op. I caught her shooting a slomo of the bees coming and going.

I brought her back to the house, got her bags packed, put her on the plane and sent her back to Denver. It was a busy day. We had a great visit, just wish she could visit more often. Just gotta make the most of every visit!

TTFN

Bishop

Pomegranate Jelly

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I am very sure it won’t be as good as the Pomegranate Jelly that my Aunt Josie made – my first memories of her jelly are from Christmas time nearly 60 years ago. Just saying that phrase – “60 years ago” begins to make me feel a little old! My Uncle Jim was a Foreman for Western Water Works in Taft, CA. -( I think it is called West Kern Water District now….) Back to the pomegranate…..the main yard in Taft was surrounded by a hedge of pomegranate bushes. They seemed to ripen in the late fall which probably coincided with my Christmas season memories of Aunt Josie’s pomegranate jelly.

60 years ago I didn’t know much more about her jelly other than how wonderful it was on my toast! My forays into making jams and jellies is relatively recent, in the past 10-25 years or so. Key differences from those long ago times, Aunt Josie sealed hers with a cap of melted paraffin. I remember seeing a row of 6 or 7 jars on a table in the dining room adjacent to the kitchen. Almost every jar has a little dollop of jelly that had oozed through the wax somehow and …… if no one was looking I wiped my finger through it and into my mouth……probably considered unsanitary by today’s standards but I don’t believe anyone ever became ill.

Now, comparing my jelly to Aunt Josie’s. Several years ago I did make a batch from scratch – a lot of work to extract the seeds and squeeze and make jelly…..Today I took a shortcut. I bought some organic, unsweetened pomegranate juice. My batch from scratch was very much like my Aunt’s, both in color and flavor. My store bought juice resulted in a much darker jelly. My Aunt’s jelly was translucent, like rose pink tinted lens. My offering is dark crimson and only allows a hint of light to pass through the jars.

I terms of flavor….I would say my offering is a more robust and has a hearty pomegranate flavor – still, very pleasant. I made two batches, both resulted in approximately 6 – 8 oz. jars. Batch one was straight up pomegranate.

  • 3 1/2 cups juice
  • 5 cups sugar
  • 1 packet of Sure Jell brand low/no sugar pectin….pink package
  • 1 smidge of butter to reduce foaming.

I followed the Kraft website’s directions for pomegranate jelly. Jelled up very nicely.

Batch two. – I added two cinnamon sticks and steeped them in the pomegranate juice for about 15 minutes on very low heat. I left the sticks in as I added the Sure Jell pectin and brought the mix up to a full rolling boil. I removed the sticks and added the sugar and followed to recipe as written.

Both batches were processed in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.

In the photos shown below;

The single jar is a small 110 ml jar. In bright sunlight there is just a hint of light passing through. Dark and yummy.

The two batches shown side by side; on the right the Pomegranate Jelly and the left Pomegranate with Cinnamon.

Bee News;

Yesterday I drove out to Blakelock’s Berries out in Grangerland, 23 miles out from the house, to add a honey super to the hive out at the farm.

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Added the medium super yesterday on top of the two deep brood boxes. The girls are bringing in lots of pollen and upon close inspection those without pollen appear to have a bit of a swell to the abdomen. Hmmmmm, could it be Blueberry nectar or some other source? Note: Bumble bee hovering around the entrance before the girls chased it away.

 

TTFN

Bishop

 

 

Yummy Late Season Surprise

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I went to check on of my 8 frame garden hives a few days ago and had a pleasant surprise. I had left a medium super on top the two brood boxes as this hive seemed to be a little slow this spring. Wow, I opened it up and it was wall to wall of beautiful capped honeycomb. The brood boxes were well filled out so I figured I should provide some room for the ladies! 
I pulled 4 frames of beautiful honeycomb. I replaced them with 4 four frames of drawn comb. It seems that this urban setting still has some nectar flow. I haven’t fed this hive at all this summer. I added a feeder just to help them out. I will cut 3.25X3.25 inch squares from 2 or 3 of the frames and squeeze the remainder. They look so nice. 


A garden update, bananas are still my proudest success but the Armenian cucumbers have grown beyond belief! They are essentially a melon, so even the large ones are edible. I am surprised that my relief gardener missed picking them at a more manageable size. 


Please, no rude comments! 

The Poblano and Serrano peppers are still thriving. I replanted some tomatoes for the fall and added some more pole beans. Would love to have some relief from the heat and humidity.  It was 78 F at 5:45 this morning and only 93% humidity! 
TTFN

Bishop

Gathering the Honey

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I have been less than diligent in keeping up with my blogging. This Back Yard Farming effort has 3 or 4 posts in draft form waiting for me to get off of my butt and finish. I have also given equal procrastination to my Beer Blogging – that’s only fair isn’t it? So to catch up I am going to go in a bit of a reverse order, subsequent posts may be older but I will feel better if I clean-up my backlog, regardless of how I approach it.

So let’s talk about honey. My first ever hive is located further from my house than I would like but in the process of managing it I have made great friends. In addition I have created at least one and maybe two new beekeepers. Here is the synopsis;

August of 2015 while on a work assignment in Richmond, California, my wife phoned and read a letter from our HOA. Essentially it said, an unnamed neighbor has complained about my hive (it had been in my yard for 18 months already with no issues). They were utilizing a “protective clause” in the HOA covenants gave me 7 days to remove it. I am 1800 miles away and already burning days and I won’t be home until the deadline comes and goes. I am in a quandary! Mark, one of the managing engineers for the client overheard my lament and bailed me out. Mark has a piece of property north of Kingwood on a ranch just outside of Franklin, TX. His neighbor, Johnnie, had expressed interest in keeping bees, with a mentor of course. He made a call to her and I committed to relocating my hive. I did call the HOA and unfortunately, it is an insidious form of government with unbridled power. I do believe that the HOA is comprised primarily of people who had been bypassed as “Hall Monitors” in grade school. Nuff said!

The hive has flourished in the northern location. My best friend has now become a beekeeping assistant of sorts, i.e., whenever he has free time that coincides with one of my bee adventures, he raises his hand. I think he really just enjoys road trips and biscuits at the breakfast stops on the way. Actually, it has become more than that! I am still a novice and do make a few mistakes but, my “Goo” friend John is an internet surfing fool. He has learned a lot about beekeeping that aids me in a number of ways. Thanks John.

Beekeeper number two is Johnnie, she hosts my hive on her property. Her enthusiasm is boundless. She has attended two beekeeping schools, the last one was this past April in Brenham, TX. We actually sat through a couple of presentations together. She now owns two hives and the bees in them. I will attempt very soon to split my original hive…..should have done it in March….still learning! Mark now has two hives across the road on his property, one of mine and one he owns. I have 5 and soon/maybe/possibly to be 6 hives to manage up near Franklin, TX.

Saturday May 7th John was free and we headed north. It was a multi-objective mission. First order of business was to check on the four NUCs installed at the end of April and add some sugar water to the frame feeders. Secondly we were going to check on my original hive and see how they had progressed in the super I added nearly 6 weeks ago. I had a good idea from the peek I took when I installed the NUCs at the end of April, but did not look at the super below it. Good news, 9 fully capped frames of honey on top and 4 very good looking ones below. The third order of business was to extract honey. I brought a three frame extractor up with me and we got busy…..busier than I have time to explain here….we will do better next time and I will leave it at that.

I left 2 quart jars, about 6 pounds, for Johnnie and Mark. I brought the bucket home with about 19 pounds of honey. I let it sit for a week to let the bubbles rise to the top and the micro pieces of capping wax that fits through the 400 micron filter to rise to the top. It is not harmful at all but for aesthetic purposes, I don’t want it in the final bottled product. That left a little over a pound in a quart jar for my use! 17 – .75 lbs. bottles, 4 – 1 lbs. bottles and 6 honey bear bottles with about 6.8 ounces of honey in each.

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The labels will also include the zip code of the location of the hives. This batch was 77856, Franklin, TX. I have had this idea  for quite some time to really zero in on the “Local Honey” aspect by zip code. At the bee school in April, I took a marketing class from a gal named Tara Chapman. She stresses LOCAL in her approach down to the neighborhood level in the Austin, TX area using the term – “hyper-local”. My aim is similar, I have hives in area code 77339 and 77345. Hopefully soon across the river to 77346.

Check out Tara at – https://twohiveshoney.com

Honey work for the next week or so? I have built 10 supers for my 8 frame hives, that means 80 – 6 5/8 frames with foundation must be built. Then I need to build at least 10 supers for my 10 frame hives…..another 100 – 6 5/8 frames needed. I suspect that after building that many frames I may be able build them in my sleep! Another trip up north to feed bees and check on their wellbeing.

TTFN

Bishop

First Harvest From The Top Bar Hive

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Yum, Yum, Yum……I pulled 3 bars with huge slabs of beautiful fully capped honeycomb 20 minutes ago and I was totally amazed. I cut up and saved 20 3X3 inch chunks,  had a few to snack on and have a freezer bag full of odd sized pieces. Yum!

Getting ready to cut them lose.

Getting ready to cut them lose.

My son Joe suited up and gave me a hand. Thanks Joe.

My son Joe suited up and gave me a hand. Thanks Joe.

This will give you an idea how big the slabs of comb are. This one had an ear on the left hand side broke off.

This will give you an idea how big the slabs of comb are. This one had an ear on the left hand side broke off

The combs pulled on the top  bar hive are much thicker than those in my Langstroth hive. The broken pieces are so good to snack on!

The combs pulled on the top bar hive are much thicker than those in my Langstroth hive. The broken pieces are so good to snack on!

I separtted the slabs with parchment paper....they caught the dripping pretty well but I was sure tempted to lick them clean....I resisted!

I separated the slabs with parchment paper….they caught the drippings pretty well but I was sure tempted to lick them clean….I resisted!

I caught a shot of one of my bug catchers hanging out on a banana leaf with my iPhone the day before....They are so good looking.

I caught a shot of one of my bug catchers hanging out on a banana leaf with my iPhone the day before….They are so good looking.

More Top Bar adventures soon!

TTFN

Bishop

Blogging Again

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A brief one to get the ball rolling…

The garden is still producing but not like in years past. The saving grace have been the cucumbers….Can’t give them away fast enough! The tomatoes are just pitiful looking specimens…..Oh, I pick a stray cherry tomato now and then but that is about it. The other success story is one of the banana varieties. I cut the stalk just below the female flowers after the plant switched to producing only male flowers. Those female flowers are developing nicely….time will tell.

I have a bee problem now…..a neighbor that has not been easy to get along with discovered my bee hive during a recent fence repair and filed a complaint. Almost 18 months with no issue but…….The HOA does not forbid bees but apparently there is a provision that if a resident “needs” protection from harm, i.e., bees, then I am the bad guy. They bees need a new home, far away from my yard.

The neighbor directly behind me is fully supportive of my bee keeping efforts. My neighbor to the east is a friend and fully supportive. The wicked witch to the West is the problem. Well, no honey for her! I have harvested about 8 gallons (about 90 pounds) from one hive and should have another good harvest just before fall.

My top bar hive is getting full. Tomorrow I am drafting my wife to give me a hand pulling some honeycomb and honey for my first harvest from this hive. It is a very healthy and strong hive. I am anxious to have it open tomorrow and show my wife how they build the comb and organize the activities inside the hive.

Nearly full width comb and deep into the box. We should see many, many more tomorrow.

Nearly full width comb and deep into the box. We should see many, many more tomorrow.

In two days I will move two of my hives to a farm, a little further than I wanted, but, I have a very interested woman that has been wanting bees. So off they go, both the large Langstroth hive and my top bar hive. I  retain ownership but, will have to travel to manage the hives. The second top bar hive was not to the bees liking when I installed them in May. They swarmed and moved off. Over the last few days there has been a small football sized mass of bees under some boards in the corner of my garden….they are now in my second top bar hive……I will see if I can keep it from scrutiny until it grows to the point that I can move it.

Took the cappings’ from today’s extraction of 6 medium frames. About two gallons of honey, 22 pounds was the result. I am using my solar “melter” to separate the wax and residual honey….nice, simple and easy way to do it. The solar box has a glass lid that helps hold the heat!

I mash the wax up on the top side of the SS pan. Still a bit of honey oozing out. Tomorrow the wax will be sitting on top of the water.

I mash the wax up on the top side of the SS pan. Still a bit of honey oozing out. Tomorrow the wax will be sitting on top of the water.

The melting process under the sun's heat melts the wax, drops out the trash as it drifts down to the water as relatively clean wax. I will later melt and filter it again through cheese cloth.

The melting process under the sun’s heat melts the wax, drops out the trash as it drifts down to the water as relatively clean wax. I will later melt and filter it again through cheese cloth.

Busy day today….I also transferred my Session India Pale Ale into the secondary fermenter. I added an ounce of Amarillo and an ounce of Simcoe hops……”dry hopping”. Should be amazing once finished. In a few days I will drop the temperature down to 34 degrees to get all the goodies to settle and bottle it. Can’t wait, but I will. Next up a beer using my honey as a component.

TTFN

Bishop

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