Saturday, April 30, 2011

Day #200 1/3 of the way there

When I started this blog last October, I pledged to write daily for 600 days. Today’s post is the beginning of the second third of that project.

Let’s celebrate with a bee joke:

How do you hug a bee?

Send your answers to fran at fran stewart dot com (all one word of course).

p.s. Bill & Billy - I already have your answer, but you can send another one if you want to.

BEEattitude for Day # 200:
       Blessed are those who fulfill their promises, for they shall sleep peacefully.

One thing Fran is grateful for right now:
       Fuzzy slippers    

Friday, April 29, 2011

Day #199 Yup - False Alarm

This is the last time I'll get worried when the bees start congregating around the hive entrance. Nothing came of the severe weather warnings except for some high winds and fairly spectacular lightning around midnight. I got up and sat by the window for a while, watching the show and counting the seconds before the thunderclap. Nothing hit within two miles of my house.

I wish the same were true for those families in Alabama and elsewhere who were devastated by the storms. I truly wish them well in their recovery efforts.

So, what were the bees trying to tell me at 4 in the afternoon? I haven’t a clue. I think I’m going to have to watch the bees a lot more carefully and chart their behavior patterns before I’ll know what (if anything) they’re predicting.

When I find out, I’ll let you know.

BEEattitude for Day # 199:
       Blessed are they who listen to us bees, for we have much to tell them. We just wish you humans could speak Beenglish.

One thing Fran is grateful for right now:
       The right of free speech   

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Day #198 Probably a False Alarm

I’m writing this on Wednesday afternoon, hoping to get it scheduled before the storms hit and (possibly) the power goes out. Tornados are predicted, although there have been so many false alarms lately it’s hard to take the prediction seriously.

All morning long the weather was relatively clear, and the bees acted the way they usually do. But at 4:00 the sky clouded over ominously and the wind picked up. I noticed swirling masses of bees around the entrances to both hives. It looked like every forager bee had decided to come home and get inside–all of them at the same time. Sort of like rush hour in Atlanta, with seven lanes of interstate packed solid.

I’m going to post this really fast so I can unplug everything and wait out the storm.

All will be well, I’m sure. I just hope the bees aren’t in too much of a tizzy. But it does look like they know something I don’t.

BEEattitude for Day # 198:
       Blessed are those who pay attention to the world around them, for they shall be prepared.

One thing Fran is grateful for right now:
       The teeny, teeny blueberries on the bushes I planted last month.   

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Day #197 Forced Entry

When I suited up Tuesday to try to correct the problem in my white hive, I felt so much fear, my hands were trembling. The fear wasn’t OF the bees. It was FOR the bees. What if I had somehow or other compromised the health of the hive? What if I had inadvertently squashed the queen? What if my nightmare from the night before had come true? What if the pine straw was so wet from Monday’s rain that I wouldn’t be able to get the smoker to stay lit?

“Get a grip, Frannie!”

Thank you, to whoever said that.

The smoker did light and stayed lit. The funniest thing was that, when I blew the smoke into the front door of the hive, I had the strongest impression of calm, and it felt like it was coming from the hive itself.

I'd noticed on Monday that they didn’t seem to be drinking anything from their supplemental feeder jar (the one I’d given them when I couldn’t get the lid off the first time), so I pulled it off and blew a bit more smoke down into that hole. Then I righted the jar, so nothing would drip out of the little holes – and I saw that there weren’t any holes in the lid. I’d put the wrong lid on the jar when I was so discombobulated on Sunday.

It took me a longer time to pry up the lid far enough so that I could try to ease the hive tool under the overhang. I worked both ends loose first, being sure to stand at the SIDE of the hive, and not in front of it. As I’ve mentioned before, bees get nervous when someone stands in front of their door.

I went to the back of the hive again and lifted the top as far as I could, slipped the hive tool under it, gave the tiniest little push, and BANG! Whatever had been stuck let go and crashed back into the hive. Fortunately, it had only about an inch to fall, but that one inch almost scared the you-know-what right out of me.

I couldn’t believe my good luck that the whole thing hadn’t been cemented with propolis. Still, I tried hard to still the fear that somehow that dreadful crash might have damaged the queen.

With great trepidation I lifted the lid and saw . . .

a wonderful working thriving hive

Can you imagine the relief I felt? Of course, I still had to be sure the queen was in there somewhere, so I lifted out one of the frames. I had a few bees on it, but no comb to speak of. That meant there was still room for the hive to expand before I’d need to put a second layer on top.

Brushy Mountain Bee Farm catalog

The second frame was harder to lift, mainly because it was covered with bees, although it didn’t have more than half the area covered in drawn-out comb yet, and I didn’t spot a queen in there. Thank goodness for the frame perch I bought. As you can see from this picture from the Brushy Mountain website, it’s a sturdy metal thing-a-ma-bob with two brackets that slip over the side of the hive body. The two long pieces that stick out to the side are perfect
for setting the frames on after inspection. The perch made it easy for me to keep the frames in order.

Next I pulled up the middle frame – and there was a queen with a long, fat abdomen. She scurried a bit, probably looking for some dark recess, so I set that frame back in place.

I checked the two remaining frames, replaced the ones I’d taken out, and closed up the hive.

I didn't look for any larvae or eggs. I didn't register the ration of capped brood to capped honey. I didn't notice whether there were any drone cells. Oh well, at least I know I have a queen in there, and the other bees are happy.

Life is good, indeed, and all is well.

BEEattitude for Day # 197:
       Blessed are those who hear our messages, for they shall be comforted.
One thing Fran is grateful for right now:
       Those of you who read my blog

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Day #196 The Comfort of a Phone Call

Tommy Bailey, one of the founders of our Beekeepers Club, called me Monday afternoon in answer to the frantic email I’d sent out on Sunday.

He very patiently walked me through, step-by-step, the process for opening the white hive and correcting the problem. I’m going to tackle it today after I get home from giving blood. Send me some good thoughts, please. Tommy swears that I can do it, and I’m almost ready to believe him.

I’ll let you know in Wednesday’s blog.

Let’s hope Tuesday stays sunny, so the bees won’t be nervous.

BEEattitude for Day # 196:
       Blessed are those who are brave enough to learn new skills, for they shall keep us bees entertained.

What Fran is grateful for right now:
       Tommy’s encouragement

Happy Birthday, Savannah!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Day #195 I'm in Trouble

I tried Sunday afternoon to open the white hive, just to check and be sure it wasn’t time to put another layer on top so they could expand.

I lit the smoker without a hitch.

I used my hive tool to loosen the lid.

I lifted the lid about half an inch.

Whoops! It was way too heavy. I could see through the feeder hole on top that the frames were coming up along with the lid. Those busy little worker bees have glued the frames to the lid! I’d need about six hands in order to fix this problem.

You see, I’ll HAVE to get the lid off eventually, because that will be the only way to make room for another hive body on top of this one. If I can’t get the lid off, those bees are going to swarm when they begin to get too crowded, and that could be fairly soon.

“What did you do, Fran?”

 I’m glad you asked. I settled the lid back down, hoping I wasn’t squashing anybody. Then I sent out a panicked email to bee club members asking for help. Of course, it was Easter Sunday, so I figured I wouldn’t hear from anyone that day. But I sure hope I hear soon.

I don’t want to deal with a swarm this early in the season.  In the meantime, I went and played for a while in the garden.

BEEattitude for Day # 195:
       Blessed are those who answer questions or lend a hand, for they shall keep our beekeeper calm.

One thing Fran is grateful for right now:
       The lovely dinner I had at my daughter’s house. I so enjoy being with them.  

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Day #194

Public Domain Photo
Saturday, four of us from the Gwinnett Beekeepers Club staffed a table at Whole Foods for their celebration of Earth Day.

It was such fun talking with people who were in the same situation I was in last October – intrigued by bees, wanting to learn more, wondering if there were any way they could possibly raise bees.

Well, folks, I’m here to say that it is most definitely possible.

Yelloideas Photography
I certainly hope that at least some of them will make the decision I did. Sitting here as I write this, looking out at the busy meanderings in front of the hive, I feel such a sense of peace and of accomplishment. I wish my dad were still alive so I could share this with him.

BEEattitude for Day # 194:
       Blessed are the people who stop to ask questions, for they shall find awe-inspiring answers.

One thing Fran is grateful for right now:
       The hummingbirds gracing my three feeders   

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Day #193 Bee Footprints

You do recall, don’t you, that the package bees went into the rubber-duck-yellow hive I’d bought way back last October? And that the fully-functioning hive I brought home (along with the 3-pound package of bees) turned out to be white. Because that one has been functioning as a working hive for long enough for the bees to build up their comb and fill it with pollen and honey and eggs and larvae and pupae and those cute little emerging baby bees, there have been a lot of bee trips in and out of the front entrance, which is simply a hole about an inch in diameter.

As I sat watching the bees late yesterday afternoon, I noticed that the entrance hole on the yellow hive is still as bright yellow as the rest of the box, but the one on the white hive is – well – rather grungy-looking. It didn’t take long to figure out that I was looking at countless bee footprints.

Imagine your kitchen floor, newly scrubbed. Now imagine a virtual hoard of family members tromping in from outside, where they’ve been cavorting barefooted in the grass. And they each walk across the floor not once, not twice, but thousands of times.

Get the idea?

BEEattitude for Day # 193:
       Blessed are our house bees, for they keep the hive cleaned out – except for the footprints, which we don’t mind.

One thing Fran is grateful for right now:
       The leafy green of my back-deck potato plants growing up to the sun   

Friday, April 22, 2011

Day #192 I Left the Queen Cage in Too Long

My dear friend Nanette Littlestone, who also happens to be my editor and therefore helps bring order to my often chaotic manuscripts, asked if she could see the bees. “Sure,” I said. “Come Thursday and you can help!”

So she dropped by that afternoon. The cage the queen bee came in needed to be removed, and I needed to replace that extra frame I’d taken out as I was installing the package. Nanette watched as I tried and tried and tried to light the smoker. She cheered when I finally managed the task. She stood back as I lifted the lid.

Oh, expletive! I’d left the queen cage in there too long because the bees had busily built two gorgeous sections of comb hanging down from the lid into the space I’d left open. Naturally, when I lifted the lid, that comb came up with it, covered by hundreds of working bees. They were stuffing it full of nectar and pollen. Much to my chagrin, as I discovered later – there were dozens (hundreds?) of teeny-tiny bee eggs in the comb as well.

If I’d lifted the empty cage out on Tuesday or Wednesday, I might have saved the lives of all those little eggs that now won’t grow into beehood. I’m feeling really sad right now. I know I can’t save every bee on the planet. I can’t even save every bee in my own yard. But I sure do wish I could have foreseen this problem.

S  I  G  H . . .

Of course, the good news is that, even though I didn’t spot the queen herself, I have incontrovertible proof that she lives and thrives.

Maybe I’ll just concentrate on that.

BEEattitude for Day # 192:
       Blessed are those who understand how we work, for they shall find happiness in knowing.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Day #191 First Pollen Pocket

Public Domain Photo

Late Wednesday morning, as I sat next to the hives drinking a cup of tea, I saw a bee with those bright yellow “saddlebags” on her back legs, the corbiculae that I wrote about last October 25th on day # 14 of this blog. Those pollen pockets had been, until Wednesday, only a vague concept to me. Now, the reality of those foragers carting load after load of nectar and pollen has come home to me in a flash of insight.

In the hours since that moment, of course, I’ve seen plenty more of them, and I’m gratified to know that the trees and flowers around here are providing plenty of protein for my honey bees.

But that very first sight of that very first bee will stand out in my memory for a long time. The wonder of that bright flash of golden yellow felt like a miracle. And, I suppose, it was.

BEEattitude for Day # 191:
       Blessed are those who move slowly around our hives, for they shall see bee-wonders.

One thing Fran is grateful for right now:
       The stately ravens who stride around my front yard

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Day #190 The Birds and the Bees and the Raccoons

I’ve been feeding birds for decades, and they still fly off in fright whenever I open the door or step onto my porch. I don’t mind that, since their instantaneous flight is a survival mechanism.

When I lived in Vermont, we used to feed the raccoons, who would trustingly come right up onto our deck. One even crawled into my lap one day. I do NOT recommend this. When I think of the length of his teeth as he examined my face, I get goose bumps. It was a stupid thing to do. But, like most twenty-somethings, I thought I was invincible.

The sad thing was, within two years those 22 raccoons we’d been feeding on a regular basis were gone. I’m sure that when we taught them not to be afraid of humans, they forgot their instinctive tendency to flee or hide, so 22 Vermont hunters soon sported raccoon tails in their dead animal collections. I regret that exceedingly, because the raccoons were so very trusting.

The bees don’t fly away when I step onto the deck, nor do they even seem to pay much attention to me. But Tuesday I went out there to take out the two screws the H&L Bee Farm guy had used to make sure the lid wouldn’t come off as I drove the bees home.

The bees let me take out the one at the back end of the hive. But when I stepped up to the side, to reach the one on the front edge, the guard bees simply were not happy with me. I got the screw about an eighth of an inch up, and then a guard bee bumped my head.

“Okay, ladies,” I said. “We’ll do this in increments.”

I figure that if I can raise that screw one-eighth of an inch a day, it’ll take me just a little more than a week to get it out.

I’m okay with that. Let them protect their hive. And stay safe.

BEEattitude for Day # 190:
       Blessed are those who learn what we try to teach them, for we shall not sting them.

One thing Fran is grateful for right now:
       The filtered sunlight shining through the trees as I write.   

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Day #189 Only Time Will Tell

I hope the hive location on my deck is going to be okay for the bees.

The trouble is that the house blocks the sunlight until about 9:30 in the morning. On Monday morning, when the sun hit the yellow hive (the one in which I installed the package of bees on Sunday), they woke right up and came streaming out into the daylight. Before that, I guess they were too chilly. But the white hive was still awfully quiet, so I moved it a foot or so to the side, closer to the yellow one, into the sunlight. Then those bees became a bit more active, but they’re still not flying around as much as the yellow-hive bees.

Of course, once the true heat of summer has hit Georgia (and I do mean hit, because it can feel like a sledgehammer), then maybe the early morning shade from the house and the afternoon shade from the deciduous trees to the west will keep the bees from having to work so hard to cool the interior.

Only time will tell.

BEEattitude for Day # 189:
       Blessed are children, for they shall lighten up the world.

One thing Fran is grateful for right now:
       My dentist, Dr. Harry Gentry    

Monday, April 18, 2011

Day #188 Welcome Home, Bees

Just think about it.
  •   After all the books I’ve read,
  •   all the beekeepers I’ve listened to,
  •   all the DVDs I’ve watched,
  •   all the seminars I’ve taken, and
  •   all the lists I’ve made,
you’d think that I’d remember to follow the procedure step-by step.

Sunday morning I got up before 5:00, ate breakfast, and drove 3½ hours to Ocilla GA. I got lost only once, but not for too long, at that.

I’d taken a hive net with me – remember, I blogged about it way back when I first bought it. The idea was to put it in my car, set the nuc and the package on it, draw the string tight at the top, and then drive home with blatant unconcern, knowing that any loose bees would be confined.

Did I use it? No. The lid of the nuc was screwed on tight – no way for the bees to get out of there. So I set the small nucleus hive on the blanket I’d put on my front seat, and blithely told the bee guy to set the package on the floor. He did.

(c) 2011 Kara Dunn

I got in the car and took off down the road. Once I was back on I-75 North, I heard something buzz beside my ear. It hadn’t occurred to me that a great number of bees had been clinging to the outside of the package. I’d thought they were all on the inside.

So, I drove along, singing to the bees to calm them (and to calm me), and made it home in record time, where I spent twenty minutes or so coaxing two or three dozen bees out of my back window.

(c) 2011 Kara Dunn
And remember how I so confidently told you the way to remove the queen cage from the package, remove the cork from the end that had the candy plug in it, and hang the cage between two of the frames, so the queen and the workers could spend three or four days eating their way through the candy, thereby releasing the queen.

You remembered that, didn’t you?

Well, I installed the queen cage in the hive body, dumped the 12,000 or so bees from the package into the hive, put the lid on, and THEN recalled that I hadn’t taken out the cork.

After that, I put on my bee-jacket and veil. There was no way I was going back into that group of disgruntled critters without some protection. “Maybe,” I thought, “they won’t notice what I’m doing.”
(c) 2011 Kara Dunn

They noticed. Did you ever try to pry a little cork out of a little hole while dozens of bees crawled around your hand wondering what you were doing?

I did get stung – once when I inadvertently squashed a bee between my hand and the screwdriver handle. And once when I squeezed another one between my hand and the knife handle. The screwdriver hadn’t worked. It just pushed the cork farther into the hole, so I asked my neighbor (whose daughter was taking these wonderful pictures) to pop in to my kitchen (where I hadn’t washed the dishes after my hurried breakfast) and bring me a sharp skinny knife.

That worked.

Finally, everything was back in place. The bees settled in quite nicely before dark.

I’ll have to go back into the hive in three or four days to remove the queen cage (assuming she’s gotten out of it) and to be sure she’s started laying eggs. I think I’d better wear my veil when I do it, just in case they remember the kook who:
·         cooped them up for a 3-hour drive
·         dumped them into a big hive
·         bothered them by opening the lid and poking around
·         and then had the audacity to squash two of their sisters

I do hope bees are forgiving.

Now, let's all celebrate.

BEEattitude for Day # 188:
       Blessed are those who try their best, for we shall forgive and forget.

One thing Fran is grateful for right now:
       The full moon shining like a drop of liquid gold over the treetops as I drove toward Atlanta early Sunday morning.   

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Day #187 Today's the Day!

It’s gonna happen, finally, after all this waiting and hoping and studying and dreaming and planning and building and staining and setting up.

Once my 42,000 new friends are installed in their new home, I’ll let you know how it went. Please send encouraging thoughts to all the bees who’ve spent the night cooped up in a box, waiting for me to arrive, to transport them, and eventually to release them.

BEEattitude for Day # 187:
       Blessed are you, and blessed is this day, and all is well in this hive.

One thing Fran is grateful for right now:
       EllieBug (my car), who has never before carried 42,001 passengers. She’s pretty strong, isn’t she?   

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Day #186 How Many Queens in a Hive?

Dr. Jim Ellis asked us that question, and we all got it wrong.

Another myth exploded.

Everything I’ve ever read has told me that a queen bee will kill all her rivals (any other queens). But Jim asked us this:

Why does a beekeeper think there’s only one queen in a hive?

Answer: Because the beekeeper stops counting when s/he finds the first queen.

Well, doggone it. That’s right. Every time I’ve seen beekeepers looking for their queen, they find her and say, “There she is – now let’s close up this hive so we don’t disturb her too much.”

Jim’s researchers at the Honey Bee Lab at the University of Florida don’t stop looking when they find the first queen. Sometimes, they say, there are two or even three queens in a hive.

Amazing, isn’t it?

BEEattitude for Day # 186:
       Blessed are the queen bees, for they are our mothers.  

Forty-two-thousand things Fran is grateful for right now:
       The bees I’ll be picking up TOMORROW!   

Friday, April 15, 2011

Day #185 Never Bounce a Bee

     "Whaddya mean Never Bounce a Bee?"

     "Just what I said, never Bounce a bee."

     "Why not?"

     “I thought you’d never ask…”

One of the major benefits of bees to humans is their ability to pollinate plants. I always thought they just brushed against the pollen and some of it stuck to them. But last Tuesday at the Gwinnett Beekeepers Club meeting, I found out from Dr. Jim Ellis that the hair on a bee’s body is electrostatically charged – like all those balloons we rubbed against our heads when we were kids so we could stick them to the wall.
So, you’d never want to put a sheet of Bounce® in a bee hive, because taking away the static would make it impossible for the bees to collect all those tons of pollen.

Ain’t science grand?

p.s. Wait till you see what myth I'll be exploding in tomorrow's blog. Jim Ellis was a goldmine of information.

BEEattitude for Day # 185:
       Blessed are the good scientists, for they explain things to our humans so they can treat us better.

One thing Fran is grateful for right now:
       Perseverance, the quality that allowed me to figure out how to put together a PowerPoint presentation for the writer’s seminar I'll be teaching Saturday at Booklogix.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Day #184 Ask the Expert

They’re right – a little knowledge IS a dangerous thing.

Tuesday evening, the Gwinnett Beekeepers Club hosted Dr. James Ellis, from the University of Florida. He brought his boundless enthusiasm for entomology, and a Power Point show so we could visualize what he was talking about.

All those things I’ve been telling you about small cell foundation – absolutely no scientific basis to it at all. Jim said that most of the beliefs about honey bees are based on hearsay. “This is what I hear, so I’ll say it again” . . . and suddenly it’s believed to be scientific fact. His department tests all sorts of things about honey bees, so he ought to know.

Still, I cling to the belief that small cell foundation is the way to go – simply because it’s closer to the way the honey bees would build their comb if people weren’t interfering. So, I’ll use the SCF, whether or not it encourages the bees to be more happy and healthy than they would be on the super-duper size.

At least Dr. Jim said I wouldn’t hurt the bees one way or the other. Good!

I didn’t happen to mention to him about hearing that singing to the bees keeps them calmer. If I’d told him that, he probably would have rolled his eyes. I’ll just do my singing anyway, but I’m not going to tell anyone – except you – that I’m doing it.

BEEattitude for Day # 184:
       Blessed are those who sing to us regardless of what the experts say, for happy singers are always blessed.

One thing Fran is grateful for right now:
       The Atlanta Pen Women, who met in our nature garden at Stone Mountain yesterday and wrote lots of haiku. We also laughed a lot.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Day #183 A Bit of Bee Trivia

Why is a honey bee not a honeybee?

A few examples to illustrate the difference:

Ø  A dragonfly is not a type of fly, so it is not a dragon fly
Ø  Ladybugs are not bugs; they are beetles. So they are not lady bugs.

A honey bee is a bee that produces honey, so the correct term (regardless of what terms I’ve used in this blog so far) is two-worded:

Honey Bee

By the way, this bit of trivia won’t work in the United Kingdom, for there they use the term “honeybee.”

Don’t ask me why.

BEEattitude for Day # 183:
       Blessed are the wordsmiths, for they shall call us wondrous things.

One thing Fran is grateful for right now:
       My dear friend Debby Barker, who has the most amazing healing energy.