Monthly Archives: October 2013

We went to Idaho! And It Rained.

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Yep. Went all the way to Idaho so our little family plus my sister could look out windows at the downpour. Fortunately, not all fun is outdoors.

Momma's camera is fun!

Mama’s camera is fun!

Dominoes, magnetic blocks, motorcycle guy, hanging out in undies all day- fun stuff.

Dominoes, magnetic blocks, motorcycle guy, hanging out in your undies all day- fun stuff.

There was big person fun as well.

There was big person fun as well. I know, we’re so wild and crazy!

Fortunately our rental car had this inexplicable feature. When I texted B this pic, he said he saw it but felt too old to press it. Sigh.

Fortunately our rental car had this inexplicable feature. B felt too old to press it. I pressed it and nothing really happened. Sigh.

There was rejuvenation. Extra special Idahoian mineral bath.

There was extra special rejuvenation. As my sister wrote, “MIneral bath. Idaho style.”

This was my kind of fun: wildflower seeds!

This was my kind of fun: wildflower seeds!

B had planned to spend the whole week up there, working and mountain biking, but cut the trip short and retreated to sunny Lake Tahoe, California. The afternoon before he left he waged one last, wet battle on the thistle scourge that has become his newest nemesis. In California we have ivy and morning glory to test his mettle as a groundskeeper, in Idaho we have thistles. Before he left he scattered most of these seeds. They will have no care and nor irrigation, so it may be a total fail, but when did the large chance of failure ever stop me when the possibility of rampant flowers exists? I’ll report back come Spring.

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Bees Absconding?!?

It has been a strange evening here on the tiny farm. I was downing a glass of water in the kitchen after some chaotic tomatillo salsa canning, when I heard B yell (he never yells!) from the front part of the house “Hey babe, GET OUT HERE! Something is going on with the bees!” Lured by the gorgeous light coming in through the windows, B and the boys were venturing out on the porch to watch the sunset only to find a sky full of bees.  I scurried out for a closer look and found the bees darting around in what seemed like giant circles in front of the near hive. Some bees were clustered on the front of the hive with some going in and many going out.

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What?!? The other hive was the one that was confusing me the last time I checked out the bees, and suddenly this hive was making trouble! Within a few minutes the bees were gathering on the limb of the Redwood tree that extends over the roof. I was relieved to see this. At least no neighbor would be freaked out by a swarm camping out in their back yard. Unsure of what to do or even what I was really seeing, I figured it would be worth a try to set up a place for these traveling bees to camp out in. This is why all beekeepers are supposed to have extra bottom boards, covers, etc. on hand at all times! Unfortunately I assumed I would not have issues like these until late next winter or Spring when swarming season starts.

It was a beautiful evening for bee confusion.

It was a beautiful evening for bee confusion. The bees were one branch up from the one you can see here.

When I returned with a medium full of drawn comb (just pulled off the hive during the consolidation 2 days ago) I found the cluster was gone from the limb and perhaps settling down for the moment on the leg of the hive stand. Lots of bees were crawling around on the ground.  It was all very fascinating. And worrisome.

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With the outer covers from both hives I set up a makeshift spot for the bees to shelter in if the scout bees deem it worthy, but I’m not very hopeful. After settling the boys in to bed  I immediately looked online for some info on why bees might swarm so close to winter, and from what I gathered it seems to me more like absconding than swarming. I did not see any swarm cells in this hive, so I don’t think they have made or are making a new queen the way they would if they were swarming. Of the list of factors that might cause a hive to just move out entirely (abscond), my poor ladies have had most of the common stressors to at least some degree: crowding because I just consolidated the hive, hot weather making the crowded hive overheat, bad smells recently from the mite treatment, too much disturbance from the beekeeper, low food stores and a pretty intense wasp situation this year. It’s essentially a death sentence to fly off and try to start over this late in the year, so bees have to be pretty desperate to decide to leave. I feel sad about my part in that!

I’ll have a look again tomorrow and see if the hive seems to have anyone still home. Cross your fingers for us! At this point there is even the specter of Colony Collapse Disorder, but no sense in worrying over that until we have some more information. Perhaps if the worst is true and I have lost all these bees I can figure out how to make the far hive more comfortable so I might at least keep one hive going. If anyone has any thoughts on this new situation I’m again all ears!

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Winter Prep for The Hive

Fall has arrived here on the coast of California! Yes, it was 75 degrees yesterday, but it was a crisp 75 degrees! It felt like time to admit that my bees were not going to magically fill the empty box of comb that each had with honey and consolidate each hive for the winter. Apparently the girls have an easier time heating and defending a smaller hive in the winter, and my hives clearly had too much real estate. The consolidation process was pretty easy but the girls took great exception to being brushed off the frames of empty comb back into the boxes with brood and honey. To add insult to injury, I powder sugared them at the end. An assault!

This Passiflora edulis 'Fredrick" is hosting a bee fiesta!Passiflora edulis ‘Fredrick,”hosting a bee fiesta.

Both of my hives had very similar amounts of brood and stores for the winter (probably not enough- I’m still feeding). The far hive, however, had a couple of things that left me wondering. While the near hive had just one small section of drone comb on one brood frame, the far hive had sections of drone comb on three frames, and one of those was almost all drones. This is not a prime time for queens to mate and the bees, in theory, should be conserving energy for the winter and not raising resource sucking drones. On that same drone heavy frame I found 3 queen cups at the bottom. Although queen cups in this placement could mean swarming (which would not make sense, beyond it being out of season this hive had plenty of room and was not very strong) I have also read that sometimes the bees make these in case of emergency and won’t necessarily use them. I did some ruthless drone slaughtering (slashing across the tops of the drone cells with the sharp end of my hive tool until the puffy, white drone pupae were oozy and exposed) and left the queen cups. I saw the queen in this hive and she looked fine to my novice eye, but who knows what is going on in there. A laying worker? Bees confused about the season because I’m feeding them? I decided it was better to leave those cups in case the bees need to raise a new queen.  If any experienced beekeepers out there have any thoughts, I’d love to hear them!