Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Next Generation (Of Bees)

I've never been so happy to see slimy white grubs in my life. 

Apparently we entirely missed seeing not only eggs, but larva last week, as it appeared there was hatched brood cells already.  We had one frame of capped brood, as seen below.  We can tell this is brood vs honey, because honey has a white wax cap over the top, and brood cells are capped with this darker opaque wax.  The single uncapped cells scattered throughout are where bees have already hatched.  The nursery bees can be seen with their heads sticking down into the cells, cleaning out the old pupae's cocoon by adding it into the cell wall with another layer of wax.  This helps improve the structural integrity of the comb when it gets hot and also acts as insulation (yes, I can cite the study). 

Capped brood cells with open spaces where bees have hatched.
Along with the frame of capped brood, we also have several other frames with mostly larvae.

Need a closer look?  I have no idea how in Hades we missed seeing this last week.  They're huge!  Beautiful, slimy white grubs.  We were even able to spot a lot of the eggs.

Larvae!!!  There are eggs in the cells center-bottom, they look like little grains of rice.

It appears our queen is a good layer, because she has a consistent, solid laying pattern, and she's already gone back and layed eggs in the hatched cells.  It pretty much looks like she's laying eggs in whatever comb is ready for her.  This is good, hopefully the hive population will start building up quickly.

Another frame of larvae and capped brood. 
Now the worker bees just need to learn how to build comb better and faster.  Just kidding!  Bees instinctively know how to build comb, they just want to put it where THEY want it, not necessarily where I, the beekeeper, want them to.  Like between frames 3 and 4.  We left a little too much space there the 1st week, and they've got this crazy "double layer" comb built.  We didn't want to remove it yet, because we can still get the frame in and out, and it had eggs in most of the cells.  However, they started to build comb across the tops of the frames, sticking them together.  I had to break the comb to separate the frames.  I scaped this burr comb off, even though it was just a little bit. 

Frames 3 and 4 with burr comb attaching them at top
Can you see how they've built this "double layer" comb out?  We're going to give them 2 weeks before we do another hive inspection, and then either cut/scrape this hanging comb out, or if it's capped maybe give it another week to hatch out.  We'll have to make a decision based on how they're building the comb out in the surrounding frames, and if they've stuck it all together by then or not.  This is why it's called "beekeeping" and not just "bee owning."  
Frame 3 with the hanging "double comb."  Two bees in center-left are putting pollen (bee on left) and nectar into cells to make bee bread.
A mentor with PPBA gave us good advice, told us not to worry, and said that the bees were doing a lot of things well.  Like making bee bread, which is a mixture of pollen, nectar, enzymes from the bees, bacteria and fungus.  It's mixed in a cell, fermented, then fed to the larvae.  Yum.  Our bees have already produced a lot of it.  (Mentor also very kindly didn't call us out on being blind and missing larvae last week.  Silly noobs.) 

Lessons learned so far:
1) If possible, have frames with comb already drawn out for queen to start laying ASAP.
2) Nothing to compare it to, but maybe our bees don't like the plasticell foundation and are slow to draw it out.  Something to consider.
3) Getting bees to build straight, even comb only where you want them to is harder than herding cats.  
4)  Beekeeping is a team sport.  It takes Sarah and I to smoke and go through the frames, while her boyfriend Jason acts as photographer and notetaker (Thanks Jason!).  Maybe with more experience we could handle it singly, but right now the extra hands are appreciated.
5)  I'm really enjoying being a beekeeper.

Bees coming in from foraging, one carrying pollen.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Queen Beatrice

Long live the Queen!  Queen Beatrice that is.  (We let Dick, the man who let us put the beehive on his land, name our queen bee.  He thinks all the bees should be named Beatrice 1 through 9,999, but we really only wanted to name the queen.)  Last Sunday Sarah and I went out to do a check on the hive to ensure the girls were building comb and the queen was laying eggs.  The results were . . . less than impressive. 

Initial indications were good; we saw many bees flying into the hive carrying pollen on them, "buckets" full, so we concluded they were foraging successfully somewhere.  This was good to see, because while we're providing supplemental "nectar" in the form of sugar syrup, the carbs, they still need the protein provided by the pollen.  We saw yellow, orange, and red pollen being carried in.  Several bees were even considerate enough to stop and let me check their cargo out.

Bee carrying orange pollen pausing on my pant leg
We refilled the feeder, then started smoking the hive in preparation of checking the frames.  (For those of you who care, yes, I did manage to keep the smoker lit this time.  The problem later was ensuring it was out before loading it in the car.)  We opened up the top, sent some more smoke down, and checked out the general condition of the hive.  We noticed there appeared to be some burr comb on frame #3 (numbering left to right, facing front of hive).  This also coincidentally happens to be where the queen cage was hung when we installed the package.  I think between that and not pushing the frames together completely allowed just a little too much space between the frames, and the bees didn't like this.  There is a natural distance referred to as "bee space" which is a space a little less than 1/4 inch or 3/8 inch (5.3 mm or 9.0 mm) that provides for the passage of bees in a hive, or for 2 bees to work back to back.  When you have less space than this, they tend to seal the cracks with propolis, any larger and they will start building burr comb, as we have discovered.
Frame 3 showing the comb built out in weird shapes
You can see the comb extending out past the frame, and when we pulled the frame out to check it, we couldn't tell if they were building comb double deep or what.  There were also too many bees on the comb to tell if there were eggs or larvae yet or not.  (Have since learned that we could have blown on the bees to get them off of the comb we wanted to inspect.  Much to remember for next inspection!)

Holding Frame 3 with burr comb towards top
Actually, we didn't see any eggs (although they could be easily missed as little white dots against a pale yellow background).  We could have done a better job looking for larva, as there should have been some by last Sunday (day 15 for hive, although only day 10 after ascertaining queen was out).  Worker brood becomes larva on day 3 and is capped on day 9, as shown in the figure below. 
Frankly, I forgot all about looking for larvae once we found the queen.  Her highness was actually easier to spot than I had worried about, and it wasn't just because she is marked, although that really helps.  She happened to be on an emptier section of comb and I was able to spot her quickly.  Her abdomen is significantly longer than the workers, and she's also not striped so darkly.
Queen Beatrice with the yellow dot
Doing an inspection of all the frames revealed that only 4 frames have any significant comb developed, and 2 of those on only one side.  I had hoped/expected more comb development by day 14, especially with the sugar syrup feeding.  Not quite sure what's realistic for this timeline, as far as comb and brood laying.  Sarah and I both feel now is a good time to ask a mentor from the Pikes Peak Beekeeping Association to come do a hive inspection with us to give us some advice and a better perspective of how our hive is doing, since we don't have anything else to compare it to. 

Queen Beatrice again, being surrounded by her attendants
We added another quart jar feeder above the inner cover, and set an empty brood box around it for protection, then replaced the top cover.  We're hoping that with 2 quart feeder jars we'll only need to refill them once a week.  So right now our bees are going through 2 quarts of syrup in a week.  Is this a realistic amount?  I have more questions every time I see the bees.

Overall, we were very pleased with our foray into the hive last weekend.  The girls are building comb, Queen Beatrice was accounted for, and we added a feeder.  We took off our veils when we finished and spent some time just enjoying watching the girls work.

Bee carrying pollen

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Wednesday Night Pints

I tried to start a Pints & Purls session at my local tasting room, Rocky Mountain Brewery.  For a while, my friend S. came with me to drink, even if she didn’t knit (although she does know how).  But then women’s football season got into full swing, and she became busy with her practices.  So for a few weeks, it was just me.  I didn’t really mind.  I could bring my dog, and more importantly, they had great beer. 

In fact, Rocky Mountain Brewery just won the Silver and the Gold medal in the Fruit Beer category at the 2012 World Beer Cup with their Da Yoopers Cherry Ale and Eat a Peach Ale.  They make a delicious American amber called the Redhead (I’m partial to it), and right now they have a Strawberry Cyder on tap that’s like spring in a glass.  If you’re looking for a good craft brewery on the East side of COS, check out RMB.  They allow dogs (because they don’t serve food, although there is a BBQ truck outside on the patio), and there’s hooks on the underside of the bar to hang a purse (it’s the details that count!).  It isn’t pretty, but the bathrooms are nice (women care about this), the beer is GREAT, and everyone is friendly. 

Well, the beer is good, but the knitting is not so great.  I decided to make socks as my “drunken knitting” project.  Did I mention these are my first socks?  Ever?  I chose the DVD socks pattern because it seemed straightforward and easy.  I started the toe at home, with nothing to distract me, then whipped it out my next time at RMB.  I got a few funny looks, some interest, but mostly I was just humored.  My friend Char came last week (she’s working on socks too), but won’t be able to make it regularly.  I posted on the LSG (Lazy, Stupid and Godless) COS group on Ravelry (hoping to meet some younger knitters), but not much interest there either.  Some of them already meet every other Thursday at a bar downtown.  It’s a 30 minutes drive and I was really hoping to find a group who met closer to my home.

So for now, it’s just me, my sock, and a good beer.  Wanna join me?

Friday, May 18, 2012

Tuesday Was for Spinning

This blogging thing is harder than I thought.  When I’m actually doing something blog worthy, I’m too busy to post.  Then when I have time, it’s days later.  So let’s warp time and pretend it’s Tuesday.

Tuesday is for Spinning.  Many spinning/knitting blogs designate Tuesdays for spinning.  I didn’t want to copy them necessarily, but I actually DO spin on Tuesdays.  The third Tuesday of the month is when my Spinning Study Group meets at Green Valley Weavers and Knitters.  My friend Char (the same Char who introduced me to spinning) is a member, and suggested I come to increase my knowledge.  The women have been incredibly welcoming; some are strong at dying, others at fiber prep, and they ALL seem to be amazing spinners. 
Some of the spinning wheels
I don’t recall what conversation led to a spinning lesson at Char’s house, but there were three of us initially interested.  Char knew that I knitted and crocheted, and convinced me that learning to spin was just part of the natural progression.  I bought it hook, line, and sinker.  Two of us ended up going over to Char’s house where she had a few of her wheels set up (she has like 14! between the new and the antiques), and fiber for us to start with.  We began just treadling the wheels to get used to the rhythm, then we picked up the roving and she showed us how to draft the fiber and spin “from the fold.”  I was horrible!  It was like trying to walk, pat your head, rub your tummy, and solve differential equations all at the same time!  It didn’t matter, I was hooked. 

Char gifted me with a drop (or unsupported) spindle and some beautiful fiber.  I tried to spin for 15 minutes every day, and when I’d spun up all the fiber, I met with her again so she could show me how to ply.  Basically, yarn is just fiber that is spun into singles (single ply) in one direction, and then multiple singles twisted together in the opposite direction create 2,3,4,5-plies, etc. as desired.  A cabled yarn takes multiple plied strands and twists them together.  And this is just the basics!  Between lessons with Char and watching all I could on YouTube, I got the basics down.  I think. 
BFL on my Schact spindle
 I still try to spin on my spindle several times a week, and am in the process of actually making a yarn I intend to knit with.  Yeah! Progress!  I’m currently working on plying my maroon wool singles together, and am spinning singles of a mixed brown/white Blue Faced Leicester wool.  BFL is a good all purpose wool, which will spin into a medium-thick yarn (hopefully).  But I’m still learning as I go, and attending the Spinning Study Group gives me something new to think about and process every month. 

After discussing the topic of the month, we have Show & Tell.  This is my favorite part!  Everyone passes around their recent spinning or knitting projects, and while they’re talking about fiber prep, spinning and draw method, I’m indulging myself squishing all the pretties.  Sometimes it’s hard to pass the batt or yarn on.  I think one of the reasons I fell in love with spinning almost immediately is because of how it appeals to my tactile self.  Who doesn’t love petting soft stuff?   

Monday, May 14, 2012

Releasing the Queen

Last Friday afternoon Sarah and I checked the hive to ensure the queen had been successfully released from the queen cage.   It had been 5 days since we installed the package.  The weather wasn't exactly cooperating.  It was only about 55 deg F, but it was only supposed to get colder over the weekend, and we needed to make sure she was out, or free her ourselves.   You see, the queen needs to start laying eggs as soon as possible because the clock is ticking on all the other bees.  For the colony to succeed she needs to replace the dying bees, plus make more to build up the hive.

We suited up, lit the smoker, lit the smoker again, worked the bellows, and lit the smoker again (apparently this is a learned skill).

We went out to the hive, checked the feeder (still good) and noticed there weren't any bees flying around.  Hoping this was due to the weather, we started smoking the hive.  A couple of puffs in the entrance, a couple of puffs through the inner cover, and we opened her up.

The bees only covered a few frames, but they had started to build comb, which meant that hopefully there was some comb available for the queen to lay eggs in already.  I pulled the queen cage out, and while there were bees in it, none of them were the queen.  Yes, freedom!

Due to the weather, we didn't want to pull out frames with bees on them just to look for the queen, especially since I don't think we would have been able to spot any eggs yet anyway.  Eggs are hard enough for experienced beekeepers to see, much less newbies like us.

We verified the queen was free, the bees were building comb, and then we closed it up again.  We placed the queen cage at the entrance to let the bees inside crawl out, and made sure the smoker was out (no problem there).  Dick (the guy who's property the hive is on) said the temp dropped and it started snowing about an hour after we left.  Three inches.  Only in Colorado.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

It's Time to Ride

May in Colorado can be a tricky bitch.  (For that matter, so can March, April, June, . . .)  One minute it's blue skies and sunshine, luring you to sit outside with a cool beer, the next minute you have golf ball sized hail trying to brain you.  I love spring days in the Rocky Mountain foothills.  Really.  

I also love riding my motorcycle.  The combination of the two involves close monitoring of at least three different weather forecasting sites, sacrifices to minor deities, and keeping rain gear stowed in my saddle bags at all times.  Usually my hyper-vigilance pays off, and I enjoy the ride out to work and back.  Sometimes I have to decide whether to leave early/stay late to avoid the rain, or suck it up, gear up, and ride.  I like to think I'm not a wimp.  I don't leave the bike at home at the slightest chance of rain (I'd never ride at all).  I try not to do stupid, unsafe things on my motorcycle, but if it's not inherently stupid dangerous I like to think I suck it up and give it a try.  (Even though there was the whole "Hey, it's Danielle and I'm at the emergency room with Brian!  I just layed my bike down, but I'm alright.  They're telling me I can't ride for a few weeks until my ankle heals, but I need time to find a new bike anyway" incident.)  This means that if the likelihood of precipitation is under my threshold of 30%, I'm probably riding my bike to work.  

I could say it's because I'm trying to reduce my consumption of foreign oil and my bike gets 40 mpg, and that's part of it, but really I just love to ride.  I love straddling 680 lbs of steel.  I love the way I'm in control of all that power.  I love the way I can lean into the curves and feel the tires gripping the asphalt.  I love the way it requires me to be ENGAGED in the experience.  It's only a 15 minute ride to work, but I get to live a little more in the present for those 15 minutes.  Hopefully, I'm living dry.

2009 Victory Kingpin Low

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Beekeeping 101

Sarah and I setting up the hive before the bees arrive
My friend Sarah and I are beekeepers.  It's totally official, because we just installed our first package of bees today.  That means that we took a 3lb package, containing about 10,000 bees, and dumped it into our very first hive.
Actually, dumped is pretty mild.  It's more like we thumped, whacked, banged, and shook those girls into the hive as hard as we could.  They really wanted to stay in the box.

We'd done our research.  I've taken the Beekeeping for Beginners class offered through our local Beekeeping Association.  I've Googled and YouTubed the subject to death.  (I'm positive I'm now on some Prepper watch list somewhere because I watched a lot of videos made by Survival Report and Doomsday Productions.  What can I say, they've got informative videos on how to start a beehive.)  Every video I watched on installing a package of bees said to 'thump and dump' into the hive.  Maybe a few more thumps to get them into a ball in the corner, then dump again.  Apparently my bees didn't get that memo.  The first cluster dumped out OK, but then the rest refused to clump or go where I thumped them.  We ended up pulling off the screen on one side to get the majority dumped out.

The queen is marked (totally worth the extra $2), yellow for 2012, and I'm hoping this will make her easier for a pair of newby beekeepers to spot.  We popped the cork and wedged the queen cage between 2 frames.  There were already several bees clinging to the outside of her cage, so hopefully there won't be any problems with them accepting her quickly.  We setup the 1:1 (or kinda close) sugar water solution in the entrance feeder, added the entrance reducer, and closed the top up.  The feeder was leaking (maybe the punched holes are too big?), but hopefully it slows down and doesn't drown the bees. 

We set up a 5gal chicken waterer with gravel around the rim to provide a water source for the bees.  There's nothing noticeably close, and bees need water.   We left the package in front of the hive for the remaining bees to find their way home, and then we stepped back and appreciated our new girls.

Sarah and I have been talking about getting some bees for a few years now.  I garden, and every time I'm out there with a feather pollinating by hand I wish we had more local pollinators.  If I don't help pollinate, my cucumber, pumpkin, strawberry and pea production is low.  Pollinators increase production in a garden.  I'd love to leave it to nature, but I live on the high plains of Colorado.  More specifically, on the east side of Colorado Springs.  Which means a lot of new construction in recent years, with a lot of what the developers call "xeriscaping" and I call rocks.  There's just not enough plants blooming at once throughout the summer to draw back many of the native pollinators.  Hence my attraction to having a beehive.  Plus, who doesn't love honey?  I have hayfever, and like to buy honey local to the area (I don't care if it's not scientifically proven to help or not).  Wouldn't it be even better if I produced MY OWN honey?  That's what I thought!  Talking with my friend Sarah, turned out she'd thought of having her own hive too.  The more we researched, and found out about colony collapse disorder, and how every third bite was produced with the help of bees, how native pollinators were being destroyed by pesticides, the more we really wanted to do this.  We figured going in together would be easier, and we could split the mistakes and the work involved.

First we had to find a location to put the hive.  Turns out my DH is afraid of bees (that's right, I called you out), and didn't want the hive in our yard.  (You remember one of the big reasons I wanted bees was to pollinate my garden, right?  So much for that idea.)  Sarah lives in a nice area for bees, with established landscaping, open areas, and a community garden.  So we thought her yard would work.  But she's doing a major landscaping project this year, and the disruption would not be good (especially for the workers!), so her yard was out.  We put the call out through the Pikes Peak Beekeepers Association, and when they emailed us with info we jumped on it.  A local man didn't want to set up a hive himself, but was willing to have someone keep a beehive on his property.  He has 2 acres in Falcon/Peyton area, and his neighbors seem excited about "the girls" pollinating THEIR gardens (oh, the irony).  The plan is to put the second hive in Sarah's yard next year.

We'll check the hive in about 5 days to make sure the queen made it out of her cage, the bees are building comb (since they were already starting to do this while in the package, I'm thinking they're gonna be good at this), and the queen is laying eggs.  We'll take out more sugar water to refill the feeder, and hopefully my heart won't beat out of my chest this time.  Doesn't matter how many times you tell yourself they aren't aggressive, they just want to eat sugar syrup and build a home, it seems that instincts still kick in when faced with stinging flying insects.  Who knew?

The facts:
Hive Equipment from Long Lane Honey Bee Farm
My protective suit from Dadant

A Beginning

I don't consider myself to be a creative person.  I'm a left-brained, list-making, logic loving individual.  I'm an engineer.  While there's problem solving involved, there's lots of rules, which satisfies the left-brained me.  So for me to start a blog is a HUGE leap.  BIG.  I'm worried about writing something that others (you) will find interesting.  What if I'm not funny?  What if I'm (horrors) BORING?  In addition to writing something that will hopefully hold your interest, I have to worry about the technology of hosting a blog.  

So how did I decide to write a blog?  A friend has one.  It's interesting.  I get to learn about a part of his life that I don't normally see.  I thought it would be cool to let my friends and family keep up with things going on in my life.  Maybe make some new friends.  If nothing else, it's a document of my life.  And I think my life is kind of interesting.  Not blow it out of the water crazy, but just kind of different.  

You see, I'm kind of what my husband calls a schizophrenic hobbyist.  I have a lot of interests.  I garden, quilt, crochet, knit, spin, and keep bees.  Oh, and I motorcycle.   I started with the crochet and knitting in college, when I needed cheap Christmas presents.  Then I started quilting when I lived in Cheyenne, WY and took a beginning quilting class.  After moving to Colorado Springs and buying a house here, I started a vegetable garden.  Wanting to increase pollination in my garden, I became interested in beekeeping.  And living in this gorgeous state gave us a desire to explore it more, and DH had always wanted a motorcycle, so we got one.  Then we got another.  Then a friend found out I was a knitter, and said I should learn how to spin.  So I did.  And that's how my life became so full.

I'm trying not to be a schizophrenic writer, and keep these posts focused, but there's just so much I want to tell you in the beginning.  My goal is to do a series of initial posts giving a little background about each of my hobbies, and then to have the future posts divided into sections with updates on stuff.  

But first, I had to come up with a name for my blog.  Did I mention I'm not creative?  I couldn't think of anything that expressed what I wanted the theme of my blog to be.  It couldn't be a knitty name, because I wanted to talk about motorcycling too.  It couldn't be a quilting title, because I wanted to talk about my garden and beekeeping too.   I couldn't think of a quirky alliterative title that covered it all.  I want to talk about all the aspects of the things I enjoy in my life.  My life.  Hmmm, too bland.  I live on the edge of the Great Plains in Colorado (even if Pikes Peak is in my backyard), above 6000'.  So "My High Plains Life" it is.

Comments?  Questions?  Suggestions?  Recommendations?