Friday, August 14, 2009

I have a Queen!

Status of my left hive continued . . .

On Wednesday, my bee friend Sarah and I went into my left hive to see if we could determine if the bees were acting aggressively towards the new queen in her cage, and to look for any evidence of a natural queen from the queen cells made by the bees.

Although it seemed there were plenty of bees around the queen cage, they didn't seem to be angry in any way. So, we set that upper brood chamber aside and went to the lower one where I thought a new natural queen would be laying (if she existed) since the upper chamber is being largely used to store honey.

I went directly into the center three frames (where most of the "action" in the hive takes place first) and on the back of the third frame Sarah saw THE EGGS. Evidence of a new natural laying queen! How exciting. Even though I have been sad about the swarm, it made me overjoyed to learn that a queen had been birthed in the hive, survived her mating flight, returned to the hive and started to lay eggs. Wow. (My other bee friend Diane was happy to have my other now homeless queen for one of her hives.)

Once your hive swarms, any hopes of a honey harvest are dashed. Now, the goal is making sure they reproduce and strengthen enough to make it through the winter. Stay tuned . . .

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Bee Update

Here is a picture of my hives: "The Right" and "The Left". The Left hive, it seems, has swarmed. Although oddly enough, my brother's family is staying at our house for the summer and no one saw them leave even though the hives are situated just to the right side of my garage. Is it possible I had a weak / failing queen and missed the signs? Small number of eggs, larvae and capped brood? I don't know. But, they did make queen cells, and my brother took pictures for you.
In the center of this picture -- slightly to the lower right -- is a queen cell. I found queen cells both on the bottom of one frame, build into the comb on another frame, and on the side of the comb on another frame. One of my "bee teachers" stressed to me recently that bees are just insects, so they don't always "follow the rules" making queen cells IN the comb which are generally "supercedure" cells when you have a failing, weak or dead queen -- even though they are technically being used for swarm cells. Which is when they feel crowded and decide to split off and 50% of the bees leave with the existing queen and create queen cells to produce a new queen for the remaining bees that stay behind.

The frustrating thing is, I may have missed the "signs" of a failing or weak queen, but the one thing I know I paid strict attention to is room in the hive. This hive was never short on room, but for some reason, it appears that they felt the need to leave. I don't know, it's a mystery.
This is a bad photo, but you can see a queen cell at the bottom of the frame.
Another view.
There were a few more queen cells the last time we went in two days before. The bees must have cleaned them off.
Here is a queen cell built into the comb on the side near the frame.
I do remember seeing some unusual comb being built in this hive, but I thought it was drone comb, which is shaped a bit like the puffy end of a piece of popcorn. Next time, I'll take any weird stuff off.
My brother and I looked through the entire brood chamber and didn't find a Virgin Queen. They are very difficult to spot because they haven't mated yet, so their abdomen (the most distinguishing feature on a queen) is relatively small. I looked with my friend Diane, then again two days later with my brother Scott. Nothing. We couldn't find her. So, I purchased a new Italian Queen from one of my bee teachers. He told me to put the queen cage into the hive -- leaving the cap on the opening -- for five days. When I open up the hive again I should look to see if the bees in the hive are trying to kill her with their stingers. Terrific. He said they should be acting very aggressively towards her. This means that there is ALREADY a queen in the hive. In which case, I'll take the queen in her cage and return her. If not, I'll start the releasing process. I have my bee friend Sarah coming over today to help me determine whether or not the bees are acting aggressively towards the queen in her cage. It seems like it would be difficult to determine because ordinarily bees will surround the queen cage because they want to get her out. But, my bee teacher insists it will be a very different sort of behavior. Good grief. Thank God for Bee Friends.

Friday, August 7, 2009

The Good, Bad and the Sad

(Just a portion of my potato harvest.)

Well, it was another day in the garden, yard and hives.

The Good News:

My right bee hive is thriving. I put on another honey super (now I’m up to a total of three). The bees filled up the second honey super I’d put on two weeks ago, after having to build comb on wax foundation. When I put the second honey super on, I moved the filled honey super to the top and put the empty honey super just above the two brood chambers. This way the bees feel they have plenty of room and don’t become “honey bound”. I should have a good amount of honey from this hive. Before I harvest the honey I have to wait until the bees have capped (put a thin layer of wax over the top of) the honeycomb. Once the honey is capped, you can be assured that the honey is fully prepared and won’t ferment.

My hens are 14 weeks old now. So far we don’t have a crower (aka: Rooster). I read online that roosters can begin to crow as late as 20 weeks, particularly if they don’t have an older chicken to learn from, but generally they begin to crow around 8 weeks. Time will tell. At approximately 20 weeks (the end of September) they will start laying eggs. How exciting!

I have a LARGE amount of potatoes! I harvested them yesterday. My sister-in-law roasted some up with garlic, olive oil and salt for dinner last night and WOW were they good!!

The Bad News:

The reason I harvested my potatoes is that I had THE BLIGHT! Ugh. I’ve been watching my tomatoes and potatoes and didn’t see the tell tale spots on the leaves, but when I went back to work the garden yesterday, it was obvious. The leaves were all dying off, there were large brown spots on some of the tomatoes and stems. Sad. Even if I were to have tried to spray organically to fight the blight, I have a hard time believing that with all of the rain we have received, that the spray would have been able to stay on long enough day to day to be effective. I don’t know. It’s been a bad year for rain, bugs, plant disease, heat-loving vegetables and fruits, and trips to the beach.

So yesterday I pulled up all of my potatoes out of my strange potato towers (it is fine / safe to eat tubers (potatoes) from a plant with blight), and Victor helped me by pulling up all of our tomatoes -- all of those doomed green tomatoes -- all of the effort of nurturing the plants from seed. Bummer. Well, at least now I have plenty of room in my garden for lettuce, beans, carrots, beets, etc., etc.!!

The Sad News:

I mentioned recently that I’ve been concerned about my left hive. Something just wasn’t right. They were slow to build out the wax foundation (make comb) on the brood chambers (there are still about four frames that aren’t finished within the two eight frame brood chambers). Maybe my novice eyes just missed a poor brood pattern? (I guess I did mention my concern about it in my last post.) There were bees being born and capped brood, but perhaps I was missing the severity of its weakness. They’d fallen behind the right hive and then really took a major turn for the worse over the last two weeks. So, I had my wise bee friend Diane come over to look at my hives yesterday. The bottom line is: I no longer have a queen in that hive. It’s been about 2 1/2 weeks since I did a full inspection where I looked at every single frame in the hive. What we found were 4 small swarm cells, and 1 small supersedure cell. Diane felt they almost looked unfinished because they weren’t as long as she’s seen. But what we didn’t find, is a new queen of any kind. So perhaps she is right, the bees tried to make a new queen, but by that point the hive was already too weak. Sad. The good new is, I am getting a new Italian Queen from a local guy in Rhode Island on Saturday morning. I wish he had some Purvis Goldline “organic” bees available, but he doesn’t and Purvis only ships out on Wednesdays and my little hive can’t wait that long. So, I’ll have to live with an Italian. Hopefully she’s nice.

Monday, August 3, 2009

The Month in Review

Every Tuesday night is "Family Night". At my parent's condo there is a kid-friendly event and buffet dinner. It's a low maintainence evening that gives us all the chance to spend time together and if the weather is nice, catch a swim in the pool before hand. It has become a tradition to take a picture of all of the grandchildren sitting together on the couch. It's quite a production -- getting all of those kids to smile at the same time. I should video all of the adult shinanigans we go through and post it on You Tube for a good laugh.
Reese, Ripley, Rosalie, Benjamin and Spencer
An impromptu back massage chain. I think Mom is enjoying hers the most.

The Beach:
We are blessed to have a tiny "bungalow" a short walk away from the beach where we stay all summer long.
The best part of our summer is when friends come to visit and enjoy the outdoors along with us.
Isn't it lovely?
Ripley and Ian
Michail and Benjamin
Victor and Sandy
Sandy and Michelle
The traditional ending to a wonderful summer evening with friends . . . The Roasting of Marshmallows.

Our Friends Vivian and Jacob rented a little place close by for several days . . . It was wonderful to have dear friends around town to "play with".

It is a photograph like this that keeps me at home. I love that my children have time in the summer to read, relax and play -- unstructured, creative.
The Fourth of July
Ripley and Rosalie

Road Race:
Benjamin, Ripley and I ran in the local Road Race.
The kids ran the "Fun Run" and I ran the 4.8 miler.
Here I am with some of my running buddies.
Courtnee, Susan, Chris, Vivian and Sandy

The Garden:
It has not been a banner year for gardening. We have had record rainfall for both June and July. July's record was blown away by 2 inches. We just haven't had a lot of hot sun.

I was however, able to harvest a bunch of carrots!

I harvested the balance of my garlic, braided it and allowed it to cure hanging up in the garage.
It tastes great! Success!
The Bees:
Although I don't have recent photos of my bees, I'll give you the brief low-down.
My right hive is thriving. In spite of the weather. I have a full box of honey on top of my right hive, it's busy and packed full of happy honey bees.
My left hive is not so happy. I put some sugar water on last week to give them an extra boost, because up here a lot of people have had to feed them all summer so far. They are starving. I have my faithful bee friend Diane coming over to take a look at this hive. I want to be sure the queen is in there and laying well enough. I'm concerned that the pattern of eggs being laid was poor -- but I certainly can't profess to be an expert at this point! Fewer bees, less progress building out comb in the honey super, and a lot less activity in front of the hive. Stay tuned!

Sorry for being out of touch. Where we stay in the summer (I visit our Rehoboth home once a week and race around like a mad woman trying to get things done) we have only our cell phones, no cable, no internet, and only one t.v. station through old fashioned rabbit ears. The good news is, we are all doing a lot of reading! I've just finished: The Reader, Sarah's Key, Empire Falls and The Help. Our book club picked a 'light read' for August -- so I've just started Twilight albeit a bit half-heartedly. It's quite the rage, so there must be something to reading about vampires . . . right?