A lot has been going on bee-wise over the last four months. As you might recall, I had to move our robust, feisty hive to a new location in September. The colony did beautifully in the weeks following the move. Lots of pollen coming in and plenty of new brood. The only problem–and it was a big one–was that the colony was not merely strong, but aggressive. As a new-bee myself, it took my beekeeping mentor’s repeated expressions of shock and dismay to help me realize that the bees were not behaving normally. Even after I smoked the hive, the bees were neither gentle nor sweet when we tried to do an inspection; they dive-bombed our veils and were altogether unpleasant. It took the bees quite a while to settle down, too. Here you can see the aftermath of a typical hive inspection:
After we witnessed this behavior during a few different hive inspections, we decided that the queen had to be deposed. I ordered a new queen–a Carniolan, this time. When she arrived, we set her queen cage in one of the old colony’s frames, and added some frames of brood, honey, and bees to jump start a new colony. We kept her in the queen cage for 10 days to be sure her pheromones had won over the bees that would become her adopted daughters.
The transition went very smoothly. (Imagine emerging from your little cabana to learn you had 10,000 new kids.)
We set up the new colony (in a little five-frame box or “nuc,” for nucleus colony) and waited another two weeks.
When the new queen was clearly laying and the workers were obviously bringing in pollen and nectar, we transferred the five frames from the nuc box to a regular-sized pair of medium brood boxes and filled them out with more frames from the old hive. Here you can see the difference in temperament between the old and new colonies, right after a hive inspection:
Even though we were preparing to merge the old and new colonies (after “removing” the old queen), I still held out hope that the old colony would miraculously settle down and I would have two gentle hives of bees.
[Come back soon for the dramatic and unexpected conclusion.]
My goodness. Make yourself a cup of tea (with honey)–I’ve got lots to tell.
A few weeks ago, I realized that the bees were rapidly increasing in number and making it a bit challenging for all species to enjoy our postage-stamp-sized backyard. I started asking folks in our local bee group if they knew of any alternate sites. (Last year at this time there weren’t any good options.) Miraculously, the perfect opportunity presented itself. It turned out that an ideal apiary site, very close to our home, had room for another hive. Our boisterous bees have moved into new digs. And you could certainly consider the relocation a step up:
Our colony is now located on the gorgeous grounds of Arden Wood, a 12-acre Christian Science nursing facility that opened in 1930. The folks at Arden Wood, both staff and residents, have been very welcoming–and I and the bees are delighted. Here’s the apiary, pre-move:
“Move,” however, is really too small a word to describe the ordeal of transferring 60,000+ bees from one location to another. Here are some of the unanticipated highlights:
- A full medium super can weigh close to 50 lbs. Our Tower of Beesa was seven boxes high, so the total weight of the colony was over 300 lbs. I therefore had to remove the honey supers (and brush thousands of bees off the frames), so we could carry the boxes separately.
- In order to close up the hive with as many bees as possible, the transfer has to take place at night, when they’re all home. At around midnight, my beekeeping mentor and I started the final preparations. (I can only imagine what the neighbors must have been thinking.) My mentor snuck up behind the hive, quickly plugging the entrance with cardboard. He ratchet-strapped the brood boxes together, making sure they were securely fastened (!). We carried the boxes of extremely peevish bees into the back of my minivan. I tried to ignore the shocked expressions on folks in other cars as I (in full bee suit and veil) gently drove the bee colony to its new home.
- After arriving at the new site, we set the hive on its stand and then my mentor pulled out the entrance plug. He warned that they’d exit en masse and be madder than hornets. That turned out to be an understatement.
- The next day, about 30 bees were clumped in our backyard, right in the spot where the hive had been. I felt bad for them, so I scooped them up and drove them over to their sisters.
A few days later, I stopped by to see how things were going. The bees seemed to be doing very well. Here’s a picture taken before we added the honey supers back on.
Whew. I’m hoping this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
There has been so much going on hive-wise since my last post… After much soul-searching, we decided that our tiny backyard was just not big enough to fit the colony, the tortoises, and the dogs’ play area. The bees–the most recent arrivals–had to be relocated. More soon on the thrilling transfer and how nicely the girls are doing in their new (and improved) home.
At last, the long-anticipated honey harvesting day arrived (on August 11). The day before, I’d added a bee gate (a one-way exit) under the top two supers. When I pulled off the boxes, there were almost no bees in them. We ended up with 11 frames of beautiful, capped honey.
I quickly brought the frames into the kitchen, before the honey cooled too much. (The inside of the hive is typically a balmy 85 degrees.) Using a warm extracting knife, I removed the wax caps on each side and placed the frames in the extractor.
And then, the spinning began–fun for the whole family. I love the new extractor. It works beautifully. We hand-cranked the frames and the honey spun out, gathering on the inside of the extractor, and dripping down the sides. This is one of the best uses of centrifugal force I can think of–well, this and kids getting to push into each other when they’re in a car that’s turning a corner. Here’s another extractor view. Shiny.
After we’d spun the frames for a few minutes, we were treated to the wondrous sight of the first bit of honey coming out of the gate (and flowing through a cloth filter into a five-gallon container). We ended up with 32 lbs. from our first harvest. After letting the honey settle overnight to get rid of bubbles, we bottled it in 72 glass hex jars. The only thing left for (geeky) me to do was design our Fog City Bee labels.
Here’s the original watercolor:
Here’s the final product:
Thank you, bees!
We’re just back from a wonderful family trip to Portland and Seattle–by sleeper train. It was hard being away from the 60,000, but I consoled myself with glimpses of country hives along the railway. A too-brief visit to the Pacific Science Center yielded additional nostalgia opportunities:
(True dedication–doesn’t she get hot in there?)
And, then, while the boys rushed to assemble a 3-D Tyrannosaurus Rex puzzle–I put this together. Good times.
You know the Yule log channel that’s on around Christmas each year? I think they should have one that’s just focused on a hive. I could watch these bees all day long… (Notice the very full pollen baskets coming in. Very ’80s. MC Hammer pants!)
I didn’t have time for a full inspection, but I did see that the drone eggs the queen had laid in the super (before I added the excluder) were hatching. You can see four of the newborns chewing their way out of the wax, next to the wooden bottom bar:
I’m hoping to be able to extract at least two supers in a week or so. The finished tower:
Today my wonderful mentor stopped by for another hive inspection. It was foggy and quite cool. (I’m sharing the weather report in an attempt to excuse the behavior of the bees, who ungraciously stung him six times… He’s the kind of natural beekeeper I aspire to be–he only uses a veil, no gloves or bee suit. But today didn’t offer much incentive to change my haz-mat approach.)
I’m so happy to report that everything’s going really well. We spotted Latifah in the middle brood box. The whole brood area was doing nicely–lots of eggs, larvae, and capped brood, but still room for more. It looks like three medium boxes is the perfect number for us, allowing for rotation of space through the frames, as needed, for egg laying and brood raising.
Above the queen excluder, the three supers have been filled beautifully. In about a week, I think we’ll have two supers to extract. That means the rush is on to buy jars, design labels, and, surprisingly, buy and build another super and frames. Yes, the hive’s going to be seven boxes tall. Please join me in thinking stable thoughts.