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Archive for the ‘beehives’ Category

It’s been quite a while since I last posted.  At that time it appeared that both queens had made it through the winter.  Unfortunately the older queen wasn’t able to handle the drastic warm/cold swings of our spring weather here.  I just added her bees to the remaining hive and hoped for the best.  The queen in the surviving hive was one that the worker bees “created” last year. It’s called “re-queening” and you can learn more about that here. She is now half-New Mexican. I am trying to develop a number of truly local queens for my hives.  Most beekeepers order their queens from California or Texas but I want bees that have local genetics and can handle the challenging conditions here in the high-desert lands.  It’s been interesting following the progress of this colony. She is a large and strong queen but has not been a heavy egg producer.  The hive is growing slowly but steadily.  I have been checking in on their progress every week.  They have filled up most of the combs with brood ( and some honey ) to the point where I decided to add another empty bar for them to expand in to.

Adding new bar

If they get too crowded, they will begin to create another queen and swarm. Notice too, I have a backer board at the end of the bars.  This creates a confined space for the hive. As I add bars, I move the board back until they fill the entire box.  This way the bees are able to control the temperature and humidity in the hive.  It’s been very dry these past couple months and although there is still pollen out there, there will be a lot more food once the mid-summer rains begin. I’m beginning to think this queen is responding well to this condition…. not over-producing brood when food supplies are low.  It will be interesting to see if she speeds up production once the rains come.  In any case, all looks good for now!

( I just updated this post so that it would go out on FB )

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Swarm!

Spring is swarm season. The queen bee has been busy laying eggs for the past couple months now, and in many hives, it’s beginning to get really crowded.  When the bees sense that they are running out of room, they create three or four queen cells and once they see that the new queen larvae are doing well, the old queen and half the hive simply leave and look for a new home. After they leave the hive they will find a spot to hang out until the scouts have found a suitable cavity  to build a new hive in.  And that is a swarm. Swarm
Yesterday a friend of mine who will was doing some work in a public garden looked over and saw this swarm of bees.  She called me up and asked if I could capture the swarm…. “Oh yes… I’ll be right over”.    OK…. I must admit. I had never done this before, but I had read all about it…. Now I was going to do it.  Lucky for me the swarm was in a honeysuckle bush and easy to get to.  I put a large box underneath the swarm and then gave branch a good shake.
Box under swarm

The entire ball of bees just dropped into the box. .  I collected more bees off the branch by brushing them off into a bucket, then shaking them into the box. I lightly closed the flaps of the box and waited. I saw that the bees were flying to the box and crawling under the flaps into the box!  That’s when I knew that the queen was in the box as well.

Bees in boxI taped up the box, drove home and gently shook them into my empty hive. I added two bars of empty honeycomb that I had saved from last year, and a bag of sugar water to give them some food to eat. Then I closed up the hive.  I was just amazed at how calm and non-aggressive they were throughout the whole ordeal. The next morning, I checked on them and they were just fine. It was if they had always been there.  I will check on them in three or four days to see how the queen is doing….. she should be laying eggs and starting up a brand new hive!

Hive

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Native bee

Native bee

Did you know that honeybees are not the only bees in town?  While a lot of attention has been given to the plight of the honeybee,  “colony collapse disorder”, and it’s impact on  our vegetable, nut and fruit crops, there are many, many native bees that are busy doing the job.  The honeybee ( Apis mellifera ) is not a native bee…. in fact it was brought over by European settlers to provide honey and pollinate crops.  Native bees have evolved with our native plants and are much better pollinators than the honeybee.  Blueberries for example, are almost exclusively pollinated by native bees, and the colorful sweat bees are major pollinators of commercial sunflower, alfalfa and watermelon crops.

Green sweat bee on echinacea

Green sweat bee on echinacea

There are more than 4000 species of native bees in north America.  Most native bees are solitary, which means that they live and raise their brood alone, not in large colonies as does the honeybee.  Most are small, inconspicuous ,  overlooked and mistaken for flies.  The exception to this is the bumble bee and carpenter bee which are giants of the native bees!  About 70% of native bees live in the ground, while the rest live in rotting wood or tunnels in trees and branches.  One of the most beneficial of all native bee groups are the mason bees, so called because they seal up their young with a dab of mud to protect it as it develops.

Blue Orchard mason bee

Blue Orchard mason bee

The Blue Orchard Bee is a more efficient pollinator of fruit trees than the honeybee.  Native bees do not produce honey and will not normally sting, as they do not have a large cache of brood or honey to protect.  The female will lay her eggs in the tubes,  feed the larvae  and then seal it off once it reaches  the pupa stage.   In winter, the adults die, but the pupae remain in the tube, and then hatch out the following spring.  For the most part, native bees usually just produce one set of young a year.

Ranch style Native Bee HouseHaving a native bee house in your yard will not only provide habitat for  native bees but will be a visible reminder to provide a “bee friendly” yard and garden for all pollinators.  It is easy to make, and there are many sites online to show you how it’s done.  Here are a few of the ones I have made.  Place the house so that it faces east to get the early morning sun and then don’t disturb it.  By autumn you should see many of the tubes have been filled up with a mud seal.  Next spring they will emerge and start the cycle all over again.

To learn more about native bees, check out the following sites:

Xerces Society

Pollinator Partnership

Bee Basics: An introduction to our Native Bees

 

 

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Survivor

Survivor

It was a rough winter, and a very strange spring here in Santa Fe.  It all started when a black bear came into the yard last fall, tipped over one of the hives and ate a bunch of honey. The queen was killed in the process. I collected what combs were left, added them to the two remaining hives, and moved them to a friends yard about 10 miles away.  The ordeal was too much for one of the two hives and it died out over the winter, leaving me with just one colony.  This spring I brought back the hives and kept an eye on the one colony.  The entire colony seemed listless;  the queen was laying in a very spotty manner, with no drones ( and that indicates a very weak bunch of bees )  I read up on bee diseases and guessed that they might be having some sort of digestive illness, called nosema which causes dysentery. What to do?  After reading about all kinds of treatments, I decided to treat them with Nozevit, an all natural plant food supplement that is known for curing digestive ailments in bees.  I mixed the Nozevit with with a sugar solution and sprayed each comb of bees .  The idea is that as the bees lick the sugar water off their bodies they take in the medicine and it helps restore their digestive functions.   I then left them alone for a week. During that time we had some wonderful and welcome rain ( over 2.5 inches in 4 days)  You could almost hear the trees and shrubs giving out a big sign of relief!  I checked on the colony yesterday, and the colony is buzzing!  The queen is laying a lot, and the workers seem much more animated.  Was is the rain?  Was it the Nozevit?  Or did the bees just get off to a late start?   I have heard that often times the queen ( especially the dark colored Carniolian queens) sometimes just wait and then kick into high gear in late spring.  Whatever it was…. I am relieved.  It looks like the bees in this hive are real survivors, indeed!

 

 

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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!

 

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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

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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

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