Sunday, May 22, 2011

Homesteading in Denver

Although we live in an Urban setting with a very small yard, it is home to one large crab apple, 2 columnar apples, one dwarf pear one dwarf peach on dwarf tart cherry, several types of currents, both raspberries and blackberries and strawberries, and new this year, 2 types of elderberry and a garden huckleberry. It is also home to 3 dead grape plants that again did not seem to survive the winter.
I don't want to forget the volunteer Chokecherry that has come up between our the north side of out garage and the neighbors fence. I tried to dig it up for replanting but I couldn't. It's impossible to get to let alone dig out.
I am hopping to can at least twice as much jam as we did last year.

Bee Diary May 22nd

After what seemed like weeks of unseasonably cold weather, we finally had a warm sunny day! Temps in the high 60's, partly cloudy.
After a 12 hour shift yesterday, I allowed myself some decadence. While the kids played fort made a cardboard box, I took my coffee out in the back yard and sat by the hive and watched. I'm not sure if is the hypnotic thrum of the hive, but I can't seem to tear myself away. I don't think I have ever sat so still for so long in all my 48 years.
I watched for almost an hour and was very pleased with all the work they seem to be doing. The comb is expending and a steady stream of workers landed on the entrance board, their pollen baskets ready to burst with yellow and orange and white pollen.
Later in the afternoon however, while working in the garden, I noticed some frenetic activity in the front of the hive. I am afraid of the dreaded "robbing" I have read so much about. I went and sat by the hive again to observe. While there was a definite increase in activity, I didn't notice anything sinister about the bees. All were buzzing about facing the hive (a good sign) and I didn't notice any fighting or dead bees around. (Another good sign). But then I noticed something amiss. To this point my bees have been either adorable fuzzy yellowish brown bees that seem very teddy bear-like, or yellow with black stripes at the very end of their backs. Now I was noticing some bigger bees that were much darker, not fuzzy and did not look like my bees at all. I first thought they were drones, but I didn't think they had the larger eyes drones have, although they didn't stay still long enough for me to really tell.
Then I remembered that the queen has mated with several different drones (therefore is carrying different genetic material) and her offspring may not all look alike. I think these were new worker bees (or three week old bees) out for their first orientation flight. I couldn't find much out about it though.
In the meantime I am frantically trying to finish my backyard garden and plant as many bee loving, food producing plants (and native if possible).
Photos tomorrow.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Bee Diary May 21st

Saturday May 21st, no Armageddon, but we sure are having crappy weather. Let me qualify that. I actually love cool rainy days, but ever since I got my little hive I have been keenly aware of every temperature fluctuation, flower blossom and rain drop we've had. Any boy, have we had some rain drops. It has been in the 40's and raining for days. The heavy rains stop bees from flying and also knocks all the blooms off the few remaining trees that had blooms. I had to work 12 hours today and made a decision to feed them and have given them honey in a bowl with twigs in the back of the hive, organic cane sugar spritzed with water on an envelope through the front entrance and a 2:1 sugar water in a baggie in the back of the hive. When I got home from work I checked and they had eaten every last drop!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Week one of newly hived bees

A whole week has gone by and despite unseasonably cold weather and my ineptitude, the girls are still alive. Cold, but alive. After bungling the hiving last Saturday, we had only 2 really warms days in which they were very active. The rest of the time temps here in Denver have been in the 40-'s to 50's a and bees have remained in a cluster with only a few coming and going.
I have fretted constantly over how and what and when to feed them. The idea behind the top bar is to interfere as little as possible and to avoid harvesting their honey, but allowing them to keep their honey for use during the winter months. You avoid putting anything in the hive that bees wouldn't eat naturally.
That seems pretty straight forward, right? Bees eat honey, so I would feed honey. Unpasteurized local honey.
But the more I read the more confusing it became. Feeding honey can result in other bee colonies "robbing" your bees. Robbing is where other bees come into the hive and steel the honey, this results in your bees having to defend their hive, sometimes fighting to the death.
It sounds pretty grim to me. Also, according to one source, feeding honey can transmit disease in some circumstances.
Confused, I sought advice from 2 different sources and received two very different answers . The first person, an advocate of organic beekeeping stated that the bees would be able to forage despite the cooler weather and would not need to be fed, and if I did choose to feed, I should feed only a small amount of honey in the back of the hive.
The second source stated I should be feeding 5 lbs of syrup to the bees daily. I began to do frantic internet searches and got as many answers as I did searches. Dry sugar, fondant, (a candy you make from cooking sugar and water and letting it harden) sugar water, and even, believe it or not, high fructose corn syrup. Bushfarms, one of my favorite sources of organic beekeeping recommends dry sugar if emergency feeding.
Then there is the question of how to feed? It is not as easy to feed in the top bar hive. When the temperatures are low the bees will not leave their cluster to go to the bottom of the hive to eat. Apparently their instinct is to move up in the hive. If they have drawn comb already then they can eat their stored honey, but these poor bees have no stores. If you give them syrup and the temps drop, the condensation can kill the bees. Also, you can but syrup in upside jars, or in feeders or in baggies with pinholes poked in them, because if it drips too fast, they will drown.
These poor bees came all the way from sunny California, and I was feeling less like a guardian and more like an executioner.
I am trying to remember that bees have survived thousands of years in all sorts of conditions. Now I have fed honey in the back of the hive, dry sugar sprayed with water slipped in through the entrance of the hive, right below their cluster and , and syrup fed in baggies. So far the bees have taken all this food.
Today, because it was too cold to open the hive, and because I was certain of their eminent demise from starvation, I poured cane sugar (never use beet or molasses) on a piece of scrap paper and spritzed it with water and because I thought it was too cold for robbing, I mixed in tad bit of honey. I then moved the the twigs I have to block or reduce the entrance, and slid the paper into the front entrance, just under the cluster. The bees at the bottom of the cluster began to drop down immediately and eat it. I think they may have been passing it back up the hive. Within 15 minutes there was a lot of activity in the front to the hive. I began to worry that by putting in some honey I attracted other bees and robbing had occurred. I reduced the entrance using twigs so that just one or two bees could fit. This allows the guard bees to protect the entrance more easily and is important to a weak hive.
Supposedly if there is robbing going on you can see your guard bees fighting the bees. I have not seen what I thought was guards and I don't think I have seen fighting either. I am hoping my colony is not so weakened they are unable to fight at all.
Tomorrow should be the end of this cold spell and temps in the mid 70's are predicted for later in the week. I pray they can hold out another day. I will feel so much better when they start building comb and have their own honey stored.