Have Beehive, Will Travel

In April George and I gathered a small swarm of bees near the BART tracks which we’ve kept in the nuc box that we used to gather the swarm. While trying to figure out what to do with them, George was struck with a great idea to solve some problems we’ve run into with our Top Bar and Langstroth hives. What problems, you ask? Well, the Langstroth is basically a stack of heavy boxes, so checking on the bees involves lots of lifting and upsets the bees, not to mention being hard on George’s knees and back! And the Top Bar, while much easier to manage, uses foundationless frames, so to extract the honey we have to crush the wax.

George’s hybrid hive is one level (though more can be added), and long to fit more frames than the usual hive. He built it to accommodate normal frames, so we can use our extractor, saving the wax for the bees to re-use.

Beehive

We wanted a location with more sun than we get in our oft fogged-over microclimate. Our friend’s very large, unused yard in a nearby town was the perfect place. Best time to move a hive is in the evening, when the bees are tucked in, back from foraging. Tape up the opening and you’re set to go! They serenaded us with a gentle buzzing on our ride over. George lifted the nuc box into the new hive and removed the tape. Bees don’t fly very well at night, so only a few curious bees ventured out. We said good night to our ladies and left.

BeehiveGeorge visits often and always finds them calm and happily coming back to the hive with pollen. The design of the hive makes it very easy for George to check on the girls. Here’s the Queen!

Queen Honeybee

 

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Sweet Reward

The wonders of beekeeping and helping struggling honeybees are our main motivations for having beehives, but getting honey from our girls is an extra special bonus. We don’t take honey every year. If the bees need it themselves for food we leave it; but some seasons the stars align and there’s extra. One reason bees can swarm (some of the bees in a hive make a new queen and leave with her for a new home) is because they don’t have enough work to do. In that case, taking honey and leaving them empty comb gives them a reason to stay with the original hive. George is all suited-up and ready to extract. He selects some of the frames that are full of honey and carries them away from the hive.

Beekeeper George

This frame is full of honey – it doesn’t ooze out because once it’s full the bees cap the honey with wax.

Frame

Scraping the wax off is the first step. You can use a fork, but this nifty uncapping tool is much more efficient and effective.

Extracting honey

As with everything else related to beekeeping, there are many different ways people extract honey. When we first started we only had a top bar hive, which you can’t use an extractor to get the honey from. George recorded a video showing his ingenious “Salad spinner honey extractor” method. We now have an extractor to use with the frames from our traditional hive, which makes the process much easier. Since it spins the honey out of the comb without crushing the wax, you can put the frames right back into the hive and save the bees the work of reconstruction.

Honey extractor

After much vigorous spinning, the sweet reward.

Extracting honeyWell, actually the baklava made by George is the REAL reward!

Bakin' baklava

And of course any honey that doesn’t get made into baklava gets bottled. This is the label I designed for our “La Ferme Melliferalle” honey.

Honey bottle with label

You can find La Ferme honey – and lots of other delicious local honey – at BioFuel Oasis on 1441 Ashby Ave., Berkeley California. If you’re local you can pick up from us in El Cerrito, email George at elegans@aol.com with your order.

To Catch a Swarm

The tale of our friend Joan’s bees began almost exactly two years ago. Much has happened since. Here I told you about the epic-sized swarm her first hive spun off.  After that the hive continued to produce more swarms, and these are the bees that Joan got to replace her swarmed-out hive. Joan’s glorious garden is surely one reason her bees thrive.

Honeybee on Spanish lavender

Two days ago, one of her hives swarmed again. Rather than staging their journey from the olive tree, where most of Joan’s swarms head first, this one congregated on the stone border around the tree. It was a relief to have a ladder-less swarm capture for once.

Honeybee swarm

Joan tried to entice them into a box with some tasty honey and comb, but although they eagerly ate the honey they weren’t ready to move into the box. George and I brought over more temptations: bee lure and an extra-fancy beekeeper’s box. Okay, that’s just a cardboard banker’s box all duct-taped-up with one side handle left open for the bees to enter.

Honeybee swarm

The bees were interested, but moving slowly because the weather was cooling. We beekeepers were patient, but only up to a point. Joan and George decided to suit up to help the swarm along.

Honeybee swarm

Those lingering in the rocks started marching up to join their sisters.

Honeybee swarm

More waiting.

Honeybee swarm

Until finally the whole swarm was tucked into the box.

Honeybee swarm

And on to their new home. But that’s a story for another day!

Honey Bees Al Fresco

George and I got the buzz through the beekeeper’s grapevine that there were some honey bee swarms under the BART elevated tracks. A portion of the structure beneath the tracks is hollow, and we’ve heard that there are beehives throughout much of the outdoor BART system.  Although we figured the swarms probably had found new homes, we ventured over yesterday afternoon to see. Yowza!

Honey bee colony under BART tracks

This is NOT a swarm –  it’s a colony of honey bees that built their comb down from a hole in the structure. You don’t often see “fresh-air” beehives. I’m not even sure whether you can call them hives, since they’re not inside a structure. Regardless of the proper name, it’s a natural sculpture of staggering beauty. There are seven frames, and it’s about 2.5 feet down and 3 feet across.

Honey bee colony under BART tracks

It’s opposite an apartment complex, and one young woman yelled over to us, “You’re not taking our bees, are you?” It turns out she and her housemate love bees, and they’ve been watching over the colony for a year and a half, so it has survived through a month-long cold snap and the hard rains we’ve had recently. We told them no, we were definitely not going to disturb the fresh-air colony, but we were trying to gather up a small swarm that had separated from it, which was hanging down from another nearby hole.

Honey bee swarm under BART tracks

When we first saw the swarm I was looking up to photograph it, when George noticed just in time that there was a pile of bees on the ground right where I was going to step!

Honey bee swarm

We were sure they had fallen from the swarm because they were directly beneath. Hoping that the queen might be in the swarm on the ground, we had zoomed home to get our beekeeper suits and a nuc box (a small wooden box with frames to keep bees in temporarily). George smeared some honey comb onto frames – yum – and placed it next to the bees on the ground, and they immediately started marching onto the frames.

George with nuc box and frames

They filled it up really quickly!

Honey bee swarm on frame

George put the frames in the nuc box. The bees on the ground marched inside, and some flying around landed and joined them.

Honey bees going into nuc box

A bunch of them began “fanning” on the front landing strip, which George hoped meant that the queen was inside. When a worker bee fans she stands with her backside facing out, fans her wings and releases pheromones to direct the rest of the swarm to the colony.

Honey bees fanning

At one point clumps of bees began dropping from the swarm! One clump hit the ground, but most of them separated and swirled around.

Honey bee swarm

As it started to get dark we were bent over the front of the box to make sure they all got in. Another clump of bees fell, some of them onto our heads! George had his suit on but I didn’t. Swarming bees are usually very calm and sweet, their sole aim is to protect the queen, so unless you do something to really upset them they won’t sting. I was around them for hours that day without a suit and I didn’t get stung once, not even by the ones that fell on my head. After the ones that fell marched in, we sealed the nuc box and brought the BART bees to their new home.

Today was wonderfully warm, and the new bees were busy coming and going, checking out the ‘hood.

Honey bees

Time will tell whether we got her Majesty, the queen.

Joan’s New Bees

I’ve told you about our friend Joan’s bees. In this post from March, I wrote about an epic swarm that split off from her beehive. Well, sadly, the bees continued to produce more swarms, and finally the hive was so weakened that it failed.

George and Joan were debating what to do when things fell into place last week. George’s query to his beekeeper group netted an amazingly generous offer from Bob Ballard to deliver one of his hives to Joan’s house.

Beehive

Bob loaded the bees into his truck in Hayward; they arrived in Richmond without mishap.

Beehive

Bob, George and Joan moved the hive into place.

Beehive

Finally it was time to let the bees out!

Beehive

Some ventured about, exploring their new home. Joan’s garden is a paradise of flowers, bushes and trees – like the flowers in the foreground of this photo.

Beehive

I was amazed to see a bee crawl into this beautiful dangling flower.

Bee in flower

And of course they loved the Salvia.

Bee on Salvia

There are techniques you can use to try to minimize swarming, but it seems that the strain of bees we originally gave Joan tend to swarm more than normal. Now that she has a new hive, I think they’ll be happy in her garden for a long long time.

Two swarms are better than one

Our friend Joan has a hive of bees that originated from a swarm we gave her a year ago. Joan’s bees are going gangbusters. Last week a huge swarm the size of a large child separated from her hive.  Joan said, in her wonderful Southern accent, “George, you could put your arms around it and give it a hug.” I couldn’t go along to help George and Joan gather that swarm, but when the phone rang early yesterday afternoon and Joan said, “Guess what!? It happened again,” I had my beekeeper’s suit and camera loaded into the car before she hung up.
DSC_3385b small They were in Joan’s olive tree (the last swarm traveled to her neighbor’s yard, causing a bit of consternation).
DSC_3386b smallThis swarm was tiny in comparison to last week’s, a bit over a foot long and maybe half a foot wide.DSC_3389b small I could get close with no worries – honeybees generally don’t sting if you leave them alone while they’re swarming. They are intent on protecting their new queen (she’s in the center of the swarm), with a few peeling off to to scout for their new home.DSC_3391b small Here’s more of a close-up. They were lined up in neat rows, and holding tightly to one another.DSC_3393b small George thought it would be least disruptive if he could get them to fly voluntarily into the box that he had brought to transport them, called a nuc or nuc box. It’s basically a smaller version of a normal Langstroth hive, ideal for transporting a swarm (unless it’s as big as a small child). The term nuc comes from the fact that the swarm is gathered around the queen — the nucleus of the honeybee colony. To make the box appealing to the swarm, George took a few of the frames that fit into the nuc box and coated them with honey that Joan harvested from the hive last year.  He also added some drops of “bee lure,” which is a mixture of scents used to attract bees. Joan supervised.DSC_3397b smallWe waited about an hour, but although some of the scouts did enter the nuc, there was no mass movement into it. As dusk approached, we decided to suit up and move the bees into the box. George and Joan clipped some of the twigs that were in the way, then carefully cut the main branch and placed the swarm into their new temporary home. George will go back this evening to make sure that all of the stragglers are in the box, then he’ll seal it up and bring it to a friend who needs a hive because hers died over the winter.
DSC_3406b small

Bee Mine!

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone! This is the card I made for my Valentine, my wonderful husband George.

Bee swarm cardIt’s a photograph I took of a swarm of bees that was forming on a wall along the BART tracks. I was driving by, saw them, and called George. He rushed down and we watched them for an hour. It was a long time before we ever got our own bees, but I think that the seed was planted that day …

Hoping that your day is filled with sweetness and honey!