Four new additions to the yard - some healthy Russians. 

I’m teaching an introductory class on Honeybee biology and beekeeping this Saturday at Fullerton Arboretum from 9-11 am. Weather permitting, a honey extraction demo will follow. $20/members $25/non-members.

Put 120 pounds of honey into jars.  Not a bad pull from three hives.  

Bluebird box

I occasionally pick up bluebird boxes for the local Bluebird Club that have been taken over by bees, but when I got to this one there were only about 20 inside, and no queen.  I hung the box in the bee yard, and two days later it was empty.  I returned the box to the Bluebird Club, and they removed the door and put the box on display in the Nature Center.

Honey Extraction

photos by socalurbanfarmer

Extracted some honey this week - it was a fair-sized job that took about 20 hours (I was alone for the most part).  I took frames from 3 hives.  All in all I think I got about 12 gallons of honey.  I’m letting it rest for a week while I visit New York, then bottling, labeling, and for sale at the farm stand!

Bluebird-Box-Bees Update

photos by socalurbanfarmer

I posted a while back about a colony of bees inhabiting a bluebird box that I planned to transfer to a Langstroth hive.  Well, they’re still living in that box, hanging  in a eucalyptus tree in the bee yard.  I’ve been pretty busy with the other bee duties, like catching swarms, prepping for honey extraction, helping the package bees settle in, relocating a colony from inside a wall to a box (more on that later), but I think what has held me back the most is that I kind of like the bees in this box.  Sorry bluebird society, I may have to borrow the box a bit longer.  They seem to really like it too - they’ve closed most of the entrance with propolis.

Package Bees Update: Releasing the Queen

photos by socalurbanfarmer

Two days after the package bees are introduced to the box, the queen is ready to be let out of her cage.  These bees were brought in on Saturday, April 21, so I released the queens last Monday evening.  I took a chance again and went without my suit, with great success.  Few bees seemed to even notice me.  

The bees had migrated out of the packages completely and on to the frames containing and directly adjacent to the queen cages.  These frames were absolutely covered with bees, and it was a delicate task to separate them and to pull off the queen cage.  The cages were sealed with a cork rather than candy, and were easily removed with the tip of a pocketknife.  Once her cage was opened, the queen walked right out.  I held her up for a few seconds for a photo op, then lowered her to the bottom of the box.  She crawled to the back corner of the box, right where she’s supposed to go.

I’ll revisit these ladies in a day or two to refill their feeders, and to replace the front feeders with internal feeders.  The internal feeders will enable me to remove the top box and give them less of an area to heat while they get strong.

photos by socalurbanfarmer

I recently ordered two packages of bees from Russ Levine, owner of Bare Bees in Laverne, CA.  Saturday he returned with the packages from central California, each containing a marked, naturally-mated queen and approximately 3 pounds of nurse bees.  This is my first experience with bees bred for docility and pathogen resistance.  All of my hives thus far are feral bees, obtained through swarm and hive relocation, and tend to be a bit moody.  These new bees are primarily nurse bees, meaning they haven’t entirely developed their defensive tendencies, and they’re without brood and honey to protect, so I decided to forgo the suit and veil.  Don’t get me wrong - my gear was within 10 feet of me at all times.  

As a scientist, I must avoid anthropomorphizing, but working with these bees was an amazing experience.  They were crawling all over my hands, arms, legs, and face, and I felt strangely connected to the work I was doing for the first time.  With my other hives I work quickly, like get-it-done-before-the-smoke’s-gone-and-they-realize-I’m-here, but with these new bees, well, I felt more like an invited guest.  I know I should interpret their behavior as a result of being bred to have a higher tolerance for disturbance, and I’ll try to be less romantic in future postings.

I put each package in the bottom back corner of a deep box.  I slowly removed the lid/feeder sealing the package and some of the bees started venturing out, exploring, some looking for the feeder.  Then it was time to bring out the queen - I stuck her to the top center of a frame with drawn-out comb, with the screen facing the rear of the box.  I put 2 new frames between her frame and the package, then two more new frames to fill the box, for a total of five frames.  I put her a distance from the package because I want to draw the bees out of the package and into the frames.  An alternative to this method is to shake the bees out of the package and into the box, but I wanted to go the more gentle route.  Some of the nurse bees began to move towards her, a sign that they’d accepted her as their new queen.  But I had to leave her in her cage for another two days, allowing her pheromone to fill the box and convince the rest she was their queen.

Finally, I placed a front feeder and their lid/feeder on top of the frames, and added another deep box on top, then the lid.  I used this 2-deep-box method only because I don’t have internal feeders, which are preferable in this situation.  In two days, I’ll open up the hives to release the queens.

Photo descriptions:

1.  Bee packages, view from screened side

2.  Removing the lid/feeder

3.  Bees exiting the package

4.  The queen cage

5.  Queen cage attached to frame

6.  Putting on the second deep box

7.  Top-down view of final arrangement