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16 Aug 2010
Maraschino cherry syrup honey, and spring beekeeping

I've been meaning to post this photo for months, but of course the NY Times beat me to it.

In late fall, when all the nectar runs in our area were over, my bees started stealing honey from other hives in the area. It was only fair, I suppose, since they were being pretty heavily attacked themselves. They must've traveled over to some hives living loser to the maraschino cherry factory, and stolen a bit of their syrupy red honey.

See those bright red cells in my photo above? They sure do taste curious.

I'm posting this now to celebrate - I checked in on my hive last Monday, and my bees seem to have survived! I still have bees, they seemed to be in a fairly good mood, and I saw plenty of honey remaining to hopefully see them through the next month and a half or so until our first early spring nectar starts to come in.

Tonight I'm heading out to swarm prevention class. My ladies survived, so they may start getting that procreative itch once spring really hits. Swarms are fascinating (I absolutely loved reading Thomas Seeley's Honeybee Democracy and hearing his lecture on how swarms choose and head to their new homes), but I'd still rather have a strong colony and happy neighbors than let my bees throw a swarm. Especially given that virgin queens don't tend to mate well in NYC, according to the advice and warnings I've been given by my local mentors.

Think good thoughts for the ladies! I'm looking forward to petting happy springtime bees again soon.

17 Jul 2010
The new queen is doing well

On June 26th, I carried my new queen to my hive in a paper bag on the Q train, as pictured above. My then-second super was pretty much fully drawn out and getting filled up with what might be condensed sugar syrup and might be nectar (proto-honey!). I ultimately added a new second super in the middle, and put the queen excluder between the second and third, so that hopefully that drawn out one can eventually become comb honey. We'll see. I tasted a little bit of it, and it definitely tasted like honey, not sugar syrup.

To introduce the new queen, I took a frame out of the first super and hung her cage in its place (cork removed and candy plug pierced carefully with a nail). This is how we hang queen cages in NYC: Attach a metrocard to the top of the cake with a thumbtack and suspend the cage between two frames by laying the metrocard on top of the frames.

When I went back three days later, on June 29th, the new queen had already been released from her cage.

Also, sort of amazing - the bees built this burr comb (comb in an undesirable location) in the empty space around the queen cage sometime between that Saturday afternoon and the next Tuesday morning:

One piece was hanging off the bottom of the queen cage, and the other was hanging off the frame above the empty space next to the queen cage. It's empty and dry and gorgeous and alien. It smells amazing. I can't decide what to do with it, but oh, I love it so.

On July 2nd, I peeked in again, just to make sure the new queen was laying. I saw very little comb production in the new second super, but to my absolute delight, I saw tiny eggs in several of the frames down in the first super. Success! She was accepted and has a good laying pattern! I fed them a bunch more sugar syrup again to help stimulate wax production, and left them to it.

On July 11th, my mother bravely donned a veil and joined me with the bees. I saw capped brood and uncapped larva in the first super. The second super was maybe 60% drawn out, and I saw a lot of eggs in there, beautifully arranged. The third super is still slowly on its way to becoming honey. It started to rain during my inspection, so I quickly closed things up - but ack, problem, since given their rate of wax production when they really get going, another week could be too late for adding another super.

Luckily the rain stopped quickly, so I dragged another super up from the basement and my father helped me insert it above the second super and below the queen excluder and third (now fourth) super. It's full of wax-coated plastic foundation, which is a first for my hive. I guess we'll see how that goes when I check in again tomorrow.

We actually didn't bother to put on veils or light up the smoker before putting in the new super after heading back up to the roof. Everything just seemed so calm, and with two people it was a quick, simple maneuver. Our courage was justified and neither of us got stung. Man, I am going to be so surprised when I finally get my first sting from this hive!

Okay, ladies. Carry on. New bees should start hatching any day now, so maybe you'll finish up some honey for us soon?

26 Jun 2010
I seem to be missing my queen

When I checked in on my hive two weeks ago, everything looked great. They’d just barely started to draw out the comb in the second super, and I saw a healthy brood pattern downstairs. They seemed to have plenty of space to expand, so I fed them more sugar syrup and went out of town for a short trip.

When I checked in yesterday, there was no brood. No larva. Nothing. The top super was almost fully drawn out, and full of nectar (or perhaps sugar syrup from the feeder) being condensed. I couldn’t find my queen anywhere, nor any signs of her existence.

Maybe a swarm, I thought? But I doubt it. I didn’t see any swarm cells – just a single open queen cell high up on one frame, and even there I couldn’t tell if anyone was inside. I’ve never heard of a swarm leaving just one maybe queen cell behind, though maybe it does happen. Even so, there were plenty of bees around! It didn’t look like a shortage at all.

So, maybe she was accidentally crushed during an earlier inspection? I don’t know. Given the total lack of brood, I suspect she was dead or gone before I looked in two weeks ago, unfortunately. I just didn’t catch it until now, because of my ill-timed vacation.

As Roger and Jim have both told me, beekeeping is always a crapshoot, and that’s what makes it so humbling.

Luckily, someone in our local group has a spare queen that she’s giving me to install today. I’ll order a new queen for her as a replacement, so I still have the expense, but at least I’m getting a queen in there as quickly as humanly possible.

And on the plus side, I tasted some of the capped honey in the second super, and it’s definitely honey. There may be some condensed syrup in there, but they’ve surely been gathering nectar, too! Amazing. I cut off a bit of it into a small container and have been wandering around with it in my bag for the past day, occasionally sticking my finger in and licking it with wonderment.

02 Jun 2010
Growing Pains

As you can see, the ladies now have a duplex of their very own. When I saw that they'd fully drawn out about 6 of the 10 frames in the bottom super last week, I figured I'd have to install a second super on my next visit. A week later, they'd finished drawing out 9 of the 10 frames. Whew, close call!

I swapped the one undrawn frame in the bottom super with a drawn frame next to it, so the bees would be more likely to draw it out instead of just moving upwards. Now they have tons of space into which they can expand their brood nest. Get to it, ladies! The sooner you build up the colony, the sooner I can start pilfering your hard-earned honey!

My other task this past weekend was dealing with an unfortunate mold infestation that started in the sugar syrup in my hive top feeder and on the inside of the outer cover over the feeder. I washed off the cover and the feeder with bleach and water, then rinsed them and put them back. All the syrup I'd fed the bees the week before was gone, so I poured in another gallon. This time, however, I mixed a teaspoon of bleach in with my 1:1 sugar syrup to keep the mold down.

I'm told by one of my local mentors that bees can handle even two teaspoons of bleach per gallon of syrup, but since I wasn't being meticulous about scrubbing everything out after the cleansing, I decided to play it safe. Hopefully this'll do the trick, and I will never have to bleach the bees again. The great and terrible Clorox genocide was a nightmare, as bees kept flying into my bleachy cleaning water and dying in there faster than I could get them out. I lost a dozen or two, easy. Ladies, ladies, I can only protect you from yourselves up to a point!

There's a lot of beautiful capped brood in my hive, in a perfect brood pattern curving up from the bottom center of the frames. My first new bees should start emerging in the next week or so. Since my queen came from a different hive than the rest of bees, and I have no idea what sort of drones she may have sown her wild oats with, the new bees could be quite different from the ones I started out with.

The bees I have right now are astonishingly gentle. Even with a laying queen and improving morale, even with my clumsiness and unfortunate beeslaughter by bleaching, they haven't stung me once. They're just pretty chill, is all. But as they die out and are replaced by bees from different genetic stock, will hive remain as calm? I just don't know. My queen was also bred for gentleness, but only time will tell.

I'm fascinated by the idea that my hive's personality could shift drastically over the next few weeks, as the new queen's offspring take over. Who knows who it might become?

My brother came up to visit the ladies with me this time. Everyone looks great in a beekeeping veil!

19 May 2010
Don’t Cry Over Spilled Milk and Squid

I discovered that my local fishmonger is willing to sell me squid as tentacles only. Brilliant! So of course we had to finally try to make fried calamari. Turns out that it helps to soak the squid in milk for an hour first. But then I bumped into the bowl and it shattered on the floor, spilling shards of pottery, milk, and squid tentacles everywhere!

Very sad.