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Monday, April 11, 2011

Seriously Hands On Beekeeping

It seems that every morning since the evening I installed the bees, I've opened their hive every day for one reason or another.  Sunday morning while it was still cold I opened them up to pour some more sugar syrup into their feeder with a turkey baster.  It was a half-assed contraption of a clean leftovers container with a bunch of sticks sticking out off it.  I don't know if they were too cold and lost their footing or they were dying anyway, but I was really dismayed to see a bunch of dead bees in the syrup.

Obviously I had to do something.  I grabbed another short end of the same fence board that I used for the roof of the hive and attached three small equal sized pieces of wood in a triangular pattern on it, the apexes of which I left open for a bee to crawl through.  This morning I removed the death trap from the hive and placed the new feeder in its place, and then upturned the same feeder can of sugar syrup that came in the bee package on the new feeder.  Fortunately I'd had the foresight to mark the side of the can where the holes in the lid were, so I'd know how to line up the can.

I hope this time it works and they'll be alright because I'm determined not to disturb them again until this Saturday when I can check for brood.

Any of you beekeepers out there:  how do you feel about smoking the hive?  I didn't buy one, thinking that I should stick with a sugar syrup spray, but it doesn't seem to occupy them quite as I'd hoped it would.

And how do I keep from crushing the queen?

10 comments:

Desert Willow said...

For what it is worth... I have only been keeping bees for three years in a top bar hive very similar to the one you made for yourself. All of my mistakes are fresh in my mind! First I do use a smoker.. sparingly. Sugar water just really doesn't seem to keep them as calm once they have claimed the hive as home. Just don't over smoke they will think the hive is on fire and they will gorge themselves on the honey. You will learn the feeling of your hive as you work with it and know when not to approach them. Second try to resist the urge to open the hive too often at first. If they are overly disturbed they will abscond. Third it sounds like you are using an internal hive feeder you may want to get one that sits at the opening. They are easier to maintain and the little foot thing that sticks thru the hive opening is very shallow so they won't drowned. On the subject of the Queen. You shouldn't have to bother her little brood area too much but there should be enough bee space that she should be fine when you are lifting the bars to check her and the brood. Most of the work you will do at first is adding and shifting bars and spacers. That's my two cents worth on the bees! I have mad skills with chickens... kept for eggs not eating. I can't wait to see what you do with chickens!
Pamela

Lisa said...

I'm in the midst of my beekeeping class. We learned that since bees communicate by smell, smoking them keeps them from smelling any "danger" scents that may be emitted by the bees. Since there is no smell of danger, the bees are not inclined to come after you when you are opening and working in the hive. Also, if you get stung, you should scrape the stinger out, rather than pick at it and immediately smoke where you were stung to prevent others from knowing where you were stung and that you were stung.
Hope that helps!
Lisa

Paula said...

So Pamela- how much do you smoke them? Just pass the smoker back and forth once? The bottom is just screening, so it should be easy to get the smoke in there. So far, I've been lucky enough to be able to bother them early in the morning when it's still cold enough that they're all huddled together. I can continue that for awhile okay, as long as I don't actually mess with them. I guess I'll leave the queen alone then. Either she's laying eggs or she isn't- either way I don't want to take a chance with them taking off. Thanks for your suggestions!

Paula said...

Thanks Lisa- I knew about that scraping the stinger out thing- my bee instructor from, jeez, has it really been three years ago? suggested using a credit card. I've already told Steve to remind me that the next time AARP sends me a plastic card to come join them I need to stick it with my bee stuff and not cut it up for plant markers! The day I put them to bed I scraped a few stingers out of my gloves, but fortunately I didn't get stung myself. Is it crazy to keep bees when I've never been stung and don't even know if I'm allergic to them?
Thanks for the information on the smoking- I can't remember what my instructor said about smoking, but then, I think he didn't use one. I don't remember him smoking the bees when he was showing them to us.

Desert Willow said...

Paula,
You just want a puff or two of smoke when you open the hive. You always smoke from the top. Bees communicate fear through a pheromone so all the smoke does is mask that. Sugar water keeps them too busy to bother you but they can still “smell” fear/danger. You don’t want to smoke the whole hive, the Queen, Drones, brood and nurse bees really won’t bother you. You may want to watch the You Tube videos by the BeeGuardian, he has very gentle bees but it is the best demonstration of how to work with a top-bar hive I have seen and it was helpful for me. (He can be a bit hippie dippy for some people LOL) I know when I took my classes the instructor only talked about working a Langstroth type hive.
I hope this helps!
Pamela

Tamar@StarvingofftheLand said...

We do smoke. After a couple of hive openings that resulted in really angry bees, we find it helps.

Also, we've been told to open the hive in the middle of the day, when many of the bees are out doing their thing. But I suspect there are other schools of thought on that ...

BCKRVUE said...

Paula, I try not to use a smoker unless the bees get aggressive and this tens to bee more often during hot weather. When you do use a smoker gently smoke the bees at the top to cause the bees to retreat down between the frames. Remove the second frame in from the side rather than one against the wall of the box or one in the middle. There is often burr comb between the sidewall and frame and this can roll or crush bees. Frames in the middle are more likely to have the queen on them, move it gently back and forth as you slowly lower back to the original position. The key words here are gently and slowly. Give the bees time to get out of the way.

Paula said...

Thanks Pamela- it does. I'll look for that video.

Paula said...

Actually, Tamar, opening it when there are fewer bees makes sense. I just like to do it in the morning these first days because I'm not messing with the area where they're hanging out- I'm just messing with their feeder. If it's early enough in the morning, they're still clustered trying to keep warm. If I were going to open the hive and pull out a frame to look at it it, I'd definitely wait until it was warm enough that I wouldn't chill the poor things. Good advice.

Paula said...

BCKRVUE- more good advice. Thanks!