Better Beekeeping

It’s been a slow season in the apiary as I have only one active hive this year.  But you, gentle reader, will be happy to learn that I have used my bee-down-time productively by making enhancements to my entire beekeeping process.

Beenoculars 

My husband is completely embarrassed by my bee-geekery and never more so than when I hung this bracket up in the kitchen.  I used one of those little brackets that security cameras are mounted on and instead put my beloved Bushnell PermaFocus bird binoculars on it.  It is mounted next to the window that has a direct view of the apiary.

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Attached to the white camera bracket arm is an upright black tripod mount made for cameras and binoculars.  This tripod mount holds the optics up and off of the arm bracket.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And what do I see on the 50,000 times a day I check on the bees?

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This.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The New Old Watering Hole

What began as a birdbath proved to be a major benefit for bees:  a source of fresh water.  I attached a clear plastic hose line (I bought it at Lowe’s, cut to fit)  from the condensate drain line on my air conditioner and ran it to my bird bath.  I attached the hose line to the chain link fence with (what else?) cable ties so that the water from the hose would splash down into the birdbath.  The birds, of course, love it.  But the bees really flock to it and it is not uncommon to see a dozen at the birdbath in really hot dry weather.  The big bonus here is that on the super-hot days when your AC runs all day the birdbath stays filled with fresh clean cool water and everyone — birds, bees, and you — benefits.

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The condensate drain line is hanging over the birdbath (on upper left of photo). This is a shallow bath which helps keep the bees from drowning; I also have it slanted slightly so that the water drains freely. The bees prefer to drink from this “runoff” area.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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It’s like the public pool on a hot summer day. See the little bee in the background on the right? She is dipping her little tongue down in the water with her wings up (I assume for balance).

 

Put A Lid On It

This tip is probably only useful for small-scale beekeepers like me who use entrance feeders instead of hive-top feeders.  I make up several quart jars of pre-measured sugar but I don’t fill them with water until just before I need them.  To keep ants and other unsavory characters out of my bee sugar I put all the jars, measuring cup, and funnel into one of these canning containers called The Jar Box.  The lid snaps in place with little locks on either side.

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Sugar-filling in process.  This Jar Box keeps the sugar contained and prevents spills and the residual stickiness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Place For Everything

Beekeepers have tools that make the job of opening hives and caring for bees easier.  The trick is to have all of these tools handy at all of your hives as your attention is most likely divided between 1) an active and very hot smoker, and 2) several thousand honeybees. This is where a standard grooming tote comes in.

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I got this tote at the farm store as it is intended for storing the tons of grooming supplies needed for just one horse. It is great and should not be limited to barn use. I put my hive tool, brush, smoker fuel, and butane lighter in here. There is more room for an extra pair of gloves, a camera, or a few other tools. This tote helps you hold all the tools in one gloved hand so that you can hold your very hot, lit smoker (pictured to the right of the tote) in the other hand.  The tote also sports my collection of awesome beekeeping stickers.

 

 

 

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Bonus photo: I have a dedicated corner of the garage for beekeeping supplies, and in this cabinet I keep my tool totes, extra frames and foundation, my cooled (and smelly) smoker, an extra veil, extra feeders, etc. It is good to store wax foundation away from the prying eyes and gnawing teeth of rodents.

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Recharging Blackberries

It is blackberry season in Tennessee.

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A neighboring field has gone uncultivated for a decade which makes it a great place for blackberries…and pollinators.

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Blackberry bushes full of blossoms, even after a hard rain. We let the blackberries grow in our fencerows where they are easy to pick when they ripen in July.

honeybee on blackberry blossom

This photo is cropped and enlarged; I took this shot with a Pentax DSLR, a camera I sadly no longer have. I miss being able to photograph the honeybees with this much detail.

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This is a honeybee on a pale pink Multiflora Rose blossom. The locals hate Multiflora Rose and it is considered an exotic invasive. It likes to grow with blackberries where it can go undetected as the blossoms are so similar. I personally don’t mind Mulitflora and I allow a few pockets of it to grow around the farm; it smells heavenly when it blooms.

Swarm Story

~ A swarm in May is worth a load of hay.  A swarm in June is worth a silver spoon. ~

My honeybees, rebels that they are, always swarm in late April.   What exactly is a swarm in April worth?  Pardon the lack of rhyme, but let’s just say “entertainment.”

The bees spilling out of the hive entrance and taking to the air. This is one time that I find honeybee behavior a little scary. I respected their space and took photos from a distance. Thankfully, this swarming-in-air behavior only lasts about 10 or 15 minutes.

The bees spilling out of the hive entrance and taking to the air. This is one time that I find honeybee behavior a little scary. I respected their space and took photos from a distance. Thankfully, this swarming-in-air behavior only lasts about 10 or 15 minutes.

I travel once a year and always on the last weekend in April.  I am always ridiculously busy getting ready to leave so the honeybees’ sense of both timing and humor is not appreciated.  Personally, I don’t mind a swarm – it is a natural phenomenon – but I’d like to be around to witness it.

This year the swarm left me feeling conflicted.  One the one hand, I was thrilled by the fact that this colony survived a brutally cold winter and was big enough to swarm by April.  But a part of me wanted to capture them and install them in my empty top-bar hive; a part of me really wasn’t ready to let them go to live as wild honeybees.

The swarm took their time about finding a home, too.

First stop:  an old tree snag on the edge of the woods.  If I hadn't seen them settle here I may have missed them entirely.  But obviously this was only a temporary spot...

First stop: an old tree snag on the edge of the woods. If I hadn’t seen them settle here I may have missed them entirely. But obviously this was only a temporary spot…

 

Moving right along:  a couple of days later the bees relocated to a blue spruce and nestled under the branches.

Moving right along: a couple of days later the bees relocated to a blue spruce and nestled under the branches.

The same swarm but I shot this photo with a flash.

The same swarm but I shot this photo with a flash.

Not a great photo - it was snapped with a dumbphone - but the bees relocated to a clematis vine near the house.  My husband expressed some concern about this location.

Not a great photo – it was snapped with a dumbphone – but the bees relocated to a clematis vine near the house. My husband expressed some concern about this location.

When the bees had settled in the blue spruce tree I thought I had a good chance to catch them, even though I was out of town for a few days.   Two days later my husband called me and mentioned that the swarm was on the move and was in the yard behind the house; now I thought my luck had run out.  The bees thankfully calmed and nestled in a clematis vine.  At this point I decided it would be easy to capture this band of roving bees by snipping the vine and placing the cluster in my empty top-bar hive.

I hurried home a little early fully prepared to move the cluster, but this colony of course had other plans and had left the clematis vine.  I still haven’t located them but I think they are living somewhere in the tangled little woods on the edge of our farm.  I hope so.  As much as I desire for my honeybees to live successfully in the wild I am also aware that a swarm is a frightening thing to most people.  It is my fear that others would fear a swarm and spray them with chemicals and kill them.

And what of this roving around every few days?  Is that normal behavior?  Do the bees really travel about for several days until they find a suitable location?  It was a fascinating thing to watch but I must admit it made me want to capture them for their own protection.

My hunch is that the bees finally found the old decaying maple tree that has been lying in the woods for over a decade.  Gosh, I hope so.

Here is a great post about swarms on Winged.

The Pear Trees Are Humming

Honeybees have changed the way I look at many things but nothing more so than ornamental pear trees.

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A half dozen pear trees, planted by the previous owner, line part of the lane.

This week the pear blossoms opened and with them came not only the honeybees but all sorts of winged pollinators.  When you stand beneath these trees on a warm sunny day you are immersed in the humming of thousands and thousands of tiny wings.  I try not to miss it.  All at once each tree becomes sort of a pollen metropolis.

While I find the fragrance of the pear blossoms cloying the bees apparently do not.  They flit about busily from blossom to blossom and often you can see the full pollen sacks on the hind legs.  They never seem to mind a camera being thrust into their midst; honestly, I don’t think they even notice as they are so focused on the task.

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This is a better photo of the pear blossom than the bee, but she is on the upper right side of the cluster, her dark body silhouetted against the white flowers.

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This bee is sporting full pollen sacks (and is completely ignoring my finger).The bees seem ravenous for the flower pollen.  Up until now they have been working the dark red pollen on the maple trees, but things are really starting to open up for them. When they have the time they will work the dandelion blossoms and other spring blossoms until the next big pollen run with the blackberry blossoms.

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I snapped one in flight. This has already become one of my favorite bee photos.

There is an interesting project that highlights writing about bees.  Called Winged: New Writing On Bees, it is a literary anthology. As far as I know this may be the first collection of such bee-themed writing (I hope I’m wrong about that) but the stories and photos they offer are incredibly beautiful.  I hope you’ll check it out.