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Monday, May 24, 2010

Lesson #9: Bees Sting. It Hurts. Avoid If Possible.

A lot has been going on. You could say I've been a busy little bee. Work (I mean my real, not fun job) has been hectic and by the time I am done either beekeeping, running errands or trying to keep up with my life I've tried to cope with the chaos. So lately I've neglected to keep the blog up to date! Lots has happened. Mostly good and some (especially in the last week or so) not good. I will try to get you caught up.

The colony that had to be replaced (the mean colony) is slowly....slowly........progressing. That is to say they are still alive and the queen is still laying eggs. They've been in the hive for a little less than a month but aren't filling up the frames as quickly as we'd like. On two occasions we've "robbed" full frames of brood or baby bees from the healthy hive and put them in the mean hive to give them a boost. This isn't something I would have done if I was managing the hives on my own but since this is a joint venture I have to be a team player. We don't always have the same opinion on managing the hives and it can be frustrating when I don't feel like my ideas are being considered but I guess there has to be compromise, which is a fancy word meaning someone has to cave. It might as well be me.

Some believe that one reason for the mean hive to be progressing slowly is because we've had some rough weather the last several weeks. Storms and lots of rain which makes it impossible for the bees to get out and forage. If you want my opinion I think we have just a lazy, nasty little colony of bees to deal with. I mean, just because the weather is bad doesn't mean they can't get stuff done in the house you know? They should have been drawing out those frames with comb for the queen to lay her eggs in but they just haven't gotten to it.....It feels good getting that off my chest. Anyway hopefully with a very sunny and warm week ahead we will start to see some improvement. If not, I am giving up on them and leaving them to their own devices. Survival of the fittest. I am putting my foot down and will refuse to steal from a good hive to give to a bunch of ungrateful ill-tempered slacker bees. More on my personal beekeeping views later...unless I forget.

A major event that occurred was Greg's first bee sting. Yep it happened. Last Tuesday we made the dumb decision to replace a pollen patty (extra bee food) inside the mean hive. The weather was crappy-mistake #1 and we were in a hurry-#2 so we decided not to suit up-#3 or smoke the hive-#4. We thought we'd be in and out before they knew it. Wrong. It was Greg's job to open the cover and my job to put the patty on the frames. There were a lot of bees hanging out on top (big surprise) and I didn't want to put it on top of them so I hesitated-#5. That is when one of those evil little monster bees went straight for him and stung him on the top of his hand. I am sure it's my fault. I shouldn't have taken so long. Poor Greg. His hand swelled up and was sore for days. I bet I will get it any day now. They have it out for me. I know it.

The healthy hive has been doing fantastic! So well that we just added a honey super to the hive yesterday. A honey super is a box of frames only for honey storage. Yea! We put a plastic screen down between the brood boxes and they honey super so that the queen can't go laying eggs in our- I mean the- honey. She is too big to fit through the screen but the workers can still get through to store nectar which will eventually turn into honey. The wild raspberries on my parents property are in full bloom so this has been keeping them busy for another week or so until the clover and flowers start blooming.Putting the honey super on also means that the healthy hive has graduated from needing to use the syrup feeders. Now there will be less sugar syrup to make thus less syrup to spill on my clothes and car.

Unfortunately Greg had another mishap yesterday. This time with the smoker. The sides of the bee smoker get really hot. I mean REALLY hot, and he burned the tip of his finger pretty badly when he grabbed it. Poor guy. Yesterday was the first time I've ever seen him dance....he also dropped the f-bomb right in front of my mother. I think she took it pretty well.

Besides tending to the bees we've been busy planting trees, wild flowers and clover in the bee yard...aka my parents' prairie. The deer have been busy eating them down to stubs. I am hoping to get pictures of the hives, flowers and trees up soon...unless I forget.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Lesson #8:Everybody Poops. Even Bees.

Checked in on the new hive today. I've decided this hive is full of meanies. Since the day we put them in, they've are more aggressive, louder and well, just kinda rude. I've read that bees' temperaments vary from hive to hive. I guess this is true because #1 has a lot more bees but they are nicer, calmer. They don't fly up out of the hive when you open it. They don't go looking for the tiny little open crack in your bee suit and they don't buzz around your face as if they are cursing you out like hive #2 does. Or maybe #2  has just been mimicking Greg's foul mood these last few days....

While doing a rutine inspection of new hive #2 I started feeling a tickle on my leg...inside my suit. Whatever crawly thing that had gotten inside was big but I did my best to stay calm. Bees can smell fear too ya know. I told Greg I had a hunch that a bee was about to go in for the kill and I waited for the fiery burning sting at any moment. But it didn't happen. Greg just laughed at me and told me not to worry- that there wasn't a bee in my suit-how silly. So we carried on with our work. I walked stiff legged from one hive to the other, afraid to pinch the little bee at my knee. Good thing my bee suit is so huge its hard to see what I'm doing under there. I tried to keep my composure while we were finishing up but I was FREAKING OUT on the inside.

We checked the new hive for a good pattern of eggs and there was. If you find more than one egg in a comb cell you know you are in trouble. Its a sign that worker bees are laying eggs because they don't have a queen. Its like they are confused and panicing and lay eggs whereever they find a spot. One little rice-shaped egg in each individual cell is a good sign! The queen is free and doing her work. We also borrowed a frame full of larva and nectar from #1 and gave it to #2 so they could catch up. We read that in a book or something....

Anyway when the inspection was over I hurried back to the house to tear off my suit before that little trapped bee had a chance to let me have it. I took off the suit and shook it out but no bee....nowhere. I do have evidence of her presence however. See that little yellow blotch on the back of my shirt? Bee poop.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Lesson #7: Don't Tell George She's Drunk!!!

Headed back down to Waldo to up another package of bees last Wednesday. Another 80 bucks. Lost the Queen to hive #2 and couldn't get a new one without 10,000 bees to come along with her. Thought it was going to be a pretty run-of-the mill pick up and installation. Didn't think it was possible to have another story but sure enough, I do.

We had to drive down to Waldo after work and pick up the bees in the tavern. Turns out the beekeeper we bought them from also owns the bar. When we got there we walked in and asked if we were in the right place. Someone pointed to the far end of the bar and stacked up on one of the bar tables was about 10 or so packages of bees. Now with the bee packages they are just metal screened sides so you can see, hear and smell (yes, they have a smell) all of the bees from outside the box. So even as a new beekeeper this was a pretty strange sight to see. I mean if I was a bar owner/beekeeper I would hide the bees in a closet or back corner or Something so I wouldn't scare customers away. But that's just me.

The tavern was fairly small but had a pretty interesting decor and it was pretty dead in there-Maybe two people having drinks (perhaps due to the approx 100,000 bees in close proximity?). My plan was to just pick up the bees and head back home which is about a 1 1/2 hr drive. Greg wanted to get a beer though so we sat down at the bar. I have to admit I really didn't feel like staying but I figured it was just one beer... We weren't sitting there for more than 10 minutes before a lady swung the front screen door open letting it slam. It was loud enough to catch our attention. She kind of stumbled up to the bar and said in an extremely loud and drunken Southern Ohio draw, "Don't tell George I'm Drunk!" Her voice sounded familiar and George being the name of the guy we bought our bees from and also the tavern owner, I put two and two together and realized it must have been his wife. I had talked to her on the phone a few weeks ago when I ordered the bees She seemed much more professional then.

This was just the beginning of what turned out to be a creepy, uncomfortable yet surprisingly entertaining evening. As Greg and I were chitchatting to ourselves a chihuahua appeared out of nowhere and trotted up and down the bar like it was a normal thing for him to do. He was cute and I was amused. I doubt the local health department would approve but who cared. I went with it. He was cute and let me pet him. There was a box of condoms right on the shelf next to all the hard liquor that they were selling for 25 cents apiece. There was a nice little display of home-made pork rinds and cracklings right next to that. On the other side of the room was a bid shelf with Waldo Bee's honey and above that a fake set of boobs hanging on the wall. All these things meld so well together....Oh and there were also children hanging out playing pool behaving as if it is a normal every-day occurrence.

At some point a couple other guys trickled in the bar. On plopped down right next to me. For a while he kept looking over at me and staring at me through the mirror of the bar until he finally worked up the courage to strike up a conversation. He introduced himself as one of George's assistant beekeepers. He was hired to replace the other guy who got fired for getting a DUI on the job. He told that the old assistant punched the cop who pulled him over right in the face. Does anyone else reading this blog agree that this isn't typically something people discuss with complete strangers?

What else did this guy tell us? A lot of stuff I can't remember now. I do remember that he sounded hammered too He slurred his speech and kept spitting on my arm while he talked. Greg just kept asking him questions which made him talk even more about stuff that didn't really make sense. He did say he drove our bees all the way from Georgia. At that point another guy with bad teeth and a bushy mustache (who at some point snuck in without me noticing) chimed in and asked if we've ever been to Georgia. We said only driven through and his response went something like this:

"Stone Mountain. Stone Mountain. Beautiful. You take 75 to 109...or maybe it was 78....anyways you gotta stop at this little ole motel. Its a real hole in the wall but its great. They even give you breakfast. Well you gotta go across the street to the restaurant but its good. Then at the stop sign you take a left and take that road all the way to....ever been to Cherokee? Took my daughter there when she was four months old. Got her picture taken with a real live indian...holdin' her...just like this....Don't ever go down there without a coat because when you come back through Cincinnati you'll get cold." Crazy, random I know.

Shortly after that Greg asked our new beekeeper friend where the restroom was. His response-"Do you want the ladies' or the mens'?"  I think it was the booze talking.

Anyways, like I said I can't remember everything we talked about but it was pretty hilarious. I know I am making fun of these people but I am trying to do it in a real lighthearted way. They were complete strangers who spent time actually talking to us and giving us tips. You just wouldn't do that, talk to a stranger, in a bar here in Bowling Green. Even though I was uncomfortable at first, I had a really good time talking to these hillbillies and honestly can't wait to go back next year.

Oh and the bees are in hive #2 getting settled in. Will check back in on them in a few days. Hopefully Greg's bees can keep their queen alive this time or I will have to give them all a lesson in nurturing.