Saturday, May 25, 2013

Solitary bees in my flower garden

As you may know from reading my very first blog post, or from the "About Us" page on the blog, I don't keep my honey bees at my home, but at my father's. One of the reasons we decided to do this was because of the restrictive regulations on keeping beehives in the city. I may cross that bridge eventually, but not right now.

Well, bees will be bees, and they'll go wherever there are flowers to collect nectar and pollen from, regardless of whether or not city officials and neighbors want them. Yesterday while I was weeding our front flower garden and putting down wood chips, I ran into 4-5 of these little buggers flying around...


Some quick online research revealed that these are Andrenid Bees. They are small, native, solitary bees that build nests in a small, pencil sized hole they dig in the ground. Here's some info:
UMN - Solitary Bees with a Twist
UMN - Andrenid Bees

I've known about solitary bees before. In fact, I remember some bees digging tunnels in the sandbox at my parents' house when I was a kid. I've also known that you can build houses for various types of solitary bees, but never did much research. So I did a little last night. It seems that many of these native bees are even more prolific pollinators than honey bees! Plus their homes are super easy to build, inconspicuous, and probably wouldn't bother the neighbors in the city too much. Maybe I'll take up a project soon and build a house for some bees here. Then I can be a city beekeeper as well!

Bumble Bee Homes
How to make a bumble bee nest
Providing bumble bee nest sites
Plans for building bumble bee nest boxes

Orchard Mason Bee Homes
How to build a bee house
How to construct a sturdy, all wood mason bee house
Bring on the bees

Thursday, May 23, 2013

More on making a bait hive from our extra Warre box

I've got some pictures of the construction of our bait hive a few posts back. Here's a video talking about preparing the hive to put out and using our beeswax "polish" to seal/waterproof the outside of the hive.

Busy as a bee - One week after installing our bee package into our Warre hive 05-18-13

Whoever coined the phrase "busy as a bee" was NOT joking. Check out everything they've accomplished in just one week. Keep in mind this is in Minnesota, spring arrived late (there was snow on the ground less than one week before we installed the bees), there has been rain for about 2-3 of the 7 days they've been in the hive so I don't know how much foraging they've been able to do, and this is a 2lb package of bees instead of the 3lb package I was expecting. Crazy...

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Lighting our smoker for the first time and our first beehive inspection 05-15-13

After soccer on last Wednesday, we stopped by Grandpa's to check on our bees for the first time. We passed our first test (lighting the smoker and getting it to stay lit) and were surprised by how active the bees have been. Whoever came up with the phrase "busy as a bee" wasn't joking! Look at how much they've accomplished in just four days!

In addition to what you can see in the video, check out the picture below. I wasn't sure how much foraging they'd be doing with Minnesota's late spring, but the bees have already found flowers and are bringing in pollen. We saw bees with yellow, orange, and white pollen.

Again, sorry about the picture quality, but in this picture you can see a little more of the comb coming down from the top bars. You can also see from the lines where the bees are, in other words, where there's more comb coming down that you can't see.

Pretty amazing work for only four days in a late spring!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Bee Day Videos 05-11-13

Well, I finally figured out how to use Windows Live Movie Maker to edit these clips together. Here's the video of our first ever experience with live honey bees. I'll pretty much let it speak for itself. Just be warned, however, the videographer was a eight year old boy. It is, at times, shaky. And, at others, not even pointing in the right direction. Still, I think it captured the day quite well, and I can watch it over and over again just as enthralled as when I was actually there with the bees.

More videos coming soon. Here's the first...

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Our extra Warre box transformed into a bait hive

In preparation for beekeeping this spring, I read a number of books (you can read some of my reviews here) including McCartney Taylor's book Swarm Traps and Bait Hives. I thought it would be great fun to try and capture a swarm of feral bees. Ultimately, however, I decided to purchase package bees, at least this first year, to guarantee that we had bees instead of sitting around all summer twiddling our fingers. On of the upshots of deciding to build a Warre hive as opposed to a Kenyan Top Bar was that we have extra boxes sitting around and doing nothing right now. I decided to take an extra box (or two or three if I build more) and make them into bait hives.

According to McCartney Taylor, the ideal interior dimensions of a bait hive should equal 40 liters. I don't know about you, but I don't think in liters. Here's what it turns out to be in cubic inches:
- McCartney Taylor's interior dimensions are 19.25" x 13" x 10" = 2502.5 inches cubed.

Contrast that with the interior dimensions of one Warre hive box:
- Warre box interior dimensions are 11.8" x11.8" x 8" = 1113.92 inches cubed.

That ends up being about half of what Taylor recommended. What's the downside of a smaller box? Well, aside from the obvious (the bees might not like it as much and decide not to take up residence there), apparently smaller cavities are more easily accepted by Africanized honey bees (i.e. "killer" bees). Thankfully, we don't have Africanized honey bees in Minnesota, so, despite the smaller size I decided to go for it and build the bait trap. More likely I'll catch a swarm with a small box than if I don't put one out at all, right?

In the future, I may use two Warre boxes bungeed together to make a trap (that would be almost exactly the right size). Or if I decide to make specific bait traps, I could make one double long, but still fit my Warre top bars. Then, after the trapped bees have started building comb, I could move the correctly sized top bars to a waiting Warre hive. That's all in the future, however, so I'll just show you what I did for now.

First, I cut out a single piece of plywood and screwed it on as a cover. I chose a single piece here, to keep rain from dripping onto the bees.

Then I cut two pieces to use as the bottom of the trap. I didn't have a big enough piece of plywood left over to make a single pieced bottom. I figured it didn't matter as much on the bottom if there was a seam, no rain water would leak in there anyway. Then, near the edge of on of the bottom pieces I used a jig saw to cut a 2" hole, and I staples some straightened out paper clips across the hole to keep birds out.

And then I attached both these pieces to the bottom with screws. And that's really about it. Taylor adds a piece to the back that he uses to hang it from. I think I'm just going to set one out on a little deck we have that we never use, and if I make another, I'll bungee that to a tree (level of course) in my father-in-law's backyard.

It's nice that we made our boxes with windows. It will be easy to check on any swarms we happen to catch to see how their comb construction is coming a long.

Here's the last picture. You can see the 2" hole near the back of the box.

Pictures of the homemade jar feeder

So, in case you didn't know, spring in Minnesota arrived over a month late this year. I know, I know... You're saying, "Minnesota has spring?" Yes, yes we do. Normally in April. This year we had two winter storm warnings (ended up getting about 6 inches each time) during the first week of May. In fact, the day we got our bee package (May 11) we had some weird snow/sleet stuff falling for a bit. Long story short, I didn't know if I was going to build a feeder or not, but with the late spring and smaller package of bees (our supplier changed every one's 3# package to 2# due to the bee shortages), I decided I had better feed for at least a little while. After doing some research, I thought a jar feeder would be easiest to build and operate. I liked the double jar feeder at Bee Thinking quite a bit and made a quadruple jar feeder based on the pictures at their website. Here's how I made it.
This is a piece of plywood cut to fit inside one of our Warre's boxes. It ended up being not quite square due to the plexi-glass windows inside our boxes. I marked up the edge strips and center where the lath would be, and used a standard mason jar top to trace where the holes would be. Then I used a jig saw to cut them out.
Here are the four holes cut out, with the first layer of lath in place, ready to nail on.
And here it is again with a piece of 1/8th inch hardware cloth attached. I did this to keep the bees from coming up into the box when changing the jars out, and to give them something to hang on to when their upside down beneath the feeders. The hardware cloth was then covered again on the outside with the lath. This was done to give the bees just enough "bee space" underneath the feeder so they wouldn't fill it with comb. FYI- in order to allow them to come up into the feeder, I cut about 2-3 inches off of one end of my top cloth, that way they have about an inch strip along one end where they can come up. When I remove the feeder later this spring, I'll just put a new, full sized top cloth in its place.

Here's the finished product with four jars in place.

And a view from the underside.
So far in the first four and a half days we've had our bees, they've gone through about two and a half jars of sugar/water (50/50 ratio) syrup. I'm not sure how long I'll feed them. At least until the first major bloom which my dad thinks will be the wild plum trees sometime this weekend. After that, I'm not sure how long. I want to give my bees a good start since their numbers are so diminished, but I don't want to keep them from doing their thing naturally either. I'll have to keep you updated on that.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Finishing the Beehive

After we took the pre-cut parts for the beehive home, there was more that the kids could help with.

This is me and James stapling the felt in place and screwing together some of the extra boxes. Noah and little sister Mary got to help out with this as well.

This is a close up of the toggle we made to keep the windows in place. We used a small piece of the lath that was cut narrowring for the top bars. I think I made the toggle 2.5 or 3 inches long and just screwed it in place.

This is what I decided to use for sealing the hive. If we had used cedar to make the hive, this wouldn't have been necessary. However, as ceder was more than 3 times as expensive as pine, we had to seal it. I was originally going to make a linseed oil and beeswax paint, a-la McCartney Taylor, but I thought that might be too messy (and not to mention hot... burning hazard!) to use with little kids helping out. I found this recipe on you tube instead for a beeswax "polish." for lack of a better term. It's equal parts (we usex 8oz each) of beeswax, linseed oil, and turpentine. Now, I know the linseed oil is "boiled" which means there are addatives in it that might not be the best for the bees. Also, I'm not sure the how the turpentine affects the bees either, but all it is is distilled pine resin. I still decided to go this route, however, for a couple reasons. First, it's only going to be on the outside of the hive. Second, the turpentine will evaporate. And third, it just seemed so much easier. In the future, I might find somewhere to order raw linseed oil, but for now, this is what we did.

I made a "water bath" to melt the beeswax in, then added the linseed oil and turpentine. It was liquid at first, so you had to let it sit until the next day. Then it turned into a semi-solid polish that we could rub in with old rags (cut up t-shirt).

Here are James (top) and Noah (bottom) "polishing" the hive to make it waterproof.

The next big task was to make the beeswax starter strip on the top bars. I liked what McCartney Taylor did with the beeswax and cotton string, but thought his technique (using a soldering iron to melt the wax, could be simplified).0

Instead, I cut the string to length...

... dropped it into a jar of melted wax...

... and took it out with a pliers. Then I held one end down with a screwdriver and streatched it out into a straight line with the pliers. The beeswax hardened quickly, so it wasn't too hard to get it to stick into place on the top bars. Some tips, though, DON'T put more than one string into the wax at at time. They WILL fray. Also,  the wax will hardened almost instantaneously on the metal pliers, so you need to really push it down on the other end with the screwdriver so you can get the pliers unstuck.

All in all, it was a good technique, however. I got four boxed done (32 top bars) in less than an hour. Here are the results.

The last thing that needed to be done was to staple the burlap on to the quilt...

... and fill it with sawdust we saved from hive construction.

Here's our finished product! We let the whole thing sit for about two weeks for the polish to soak in before we moved it outside.

Here we are at Grandpa's leveling some left over cement landscaping blocks to set the hive on. I think we did this about two or three days before "bee day."

I'm going to bed now. I'll try to put up more pictures tomorrow. I've still got to show you how I made the jar feeder and also a bait trap out of a spare box. After that I'll try to figure out how to do some simple video editing and put up some videos from "bee day." Until then... Goodbye!

Constructing the Beehive

The lumber, three 1x10x12s, also a piece of plywood and a package of all purpose lath in the back. Note the snow in the background. This might be Minnesota, but we usually don't have snow in April. In fact, we had two winter storm warnings in May as well. Our spring arrived so late that our shipment of bees kept getting postponed.

Grandpa, cutting the plywood on the radial arm saw. We also used this saw to cut the 1x10s to length as well as the top bars.

Our surprise find. The all purpose lath. It was the perfect height for the top bars so we just had to cut it into narrower strips and then to length. We also used it for the toggles to keep the windows in place, as well as for the jar feeder.

The "help" (i.e. - junior beekeepers Noah and James), got very bored on day one. Luckily they brought some books to read.

This is proof that I did something. This is me using a jig saw to free hand the windows in the boxes.

Here's how they ended up. On the right is some felt that I had lying around that we used as a sort of insulation. We stapled it under the plexiglass on on the backside of the windows. Time will tell if that was a good idea or not.

A guide we made on the table saw to cut the lath to the right dimensions for the top bars. We alsu used this saw to cut all the boards to the correct width and the plexiglass too.

Here's the table saw again with grandpa cutting the plexiglass to size. Notices the bandages on his fingers. This is day two. On day one we had a little accident with the table saw and a trip to the ER. He wasn't doing anything wrong, in fact we had already given the boys the "safety talk" about power tools and were being extra careful. It just caught a knot or something and kicked back. Thankfully, one of the safety precautions grandpa was using was having the blad only set to an eight of an inch higher than the lumber he was cutting. This action literally saved his fingers! The worst that happened was a lost finger nail. Respect the tools! They can be dangerous even when used correctly. Take all appropriate safety measures!!

The "help" got bored on day two as well. They took to climbing trees to pass the time.

Although... there was a little more for them to help out with. This is Noah stapling the felt to the back side of the box, underneath where the plexiglass will be.

Here's the roof coming together. The top board is one of the places we used the plywood. This board, in Warre's plan, was thinner than the rest. I assume because it needs to breath to allow moisture to evaporate from the quilt. I hope the glue holding the plywood together can breath!

The roof. again. Almost done!

And here's what we got accomplished in two days at Grandpa's. The base, one box, the quilt, and the roof. The rest of the pieces are cut out and the holes drilled as well, so we'll finish those at home.

And, to thank the boys for their patients, we surprised them with some swords we made.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Bee Day = HUGE Success!

I've been anticipating this day for some time now. Wondering. Waiting.

What would it be like? Would I be scared? Would it be an adrenalin rush? Would the bees be aggressive? Would I get stung? Would my kids, the ones I want to do this with, get freaked out and refuse to help with the bees any more? What would the bees sound like? What would they smell like? Would I, could I, dare to install the bees without wearing gloves as many advocate? Would the bees like their new home? The list goes on and on.

Well, despite some difficulties, the day was amazing! More than I could have hoped for. So what were the difficulties? Well, if you've read my previous posts, you know that I had originally intended to save money by trapping bees. If I got some, great, if not, then maybe next year. So, long story short, I came to the whole packaged bee thing a little late to the game. Instead of placing an order at a bee supplier f15 minutes from my parents' house (where our hive is located), the only place left taking orders was over 3 hours away. To make matters worse, I work every other weekend, and this happens to be my weekend to work. I worked until 11:30pm the night before bee day and then had to schedule my bee pickup for 8:45am so that I could be back, get the bees installed, and over to work by 3pm. That meant going to bed after midnight and getting up at 5am. To make matters EVEN worse. I couldn't sleep last night. Didn't fall asleep till almost 3am. So all this was done on 2 hours of sleep. But, despite these difficulties, the day was, as I said, amazing. I wish I could have just stayed afterwards and watched them for like an hour. Oh well. Next time.

And now, I must bid you adieu. I'm tired. I just got back from work. I need to go to sleep. A picture (or in this case, a video) is worth a thousand words anyway. I'll stop waxing poetic and work on getting our videos from the day posted early next week. I must warn you, however, the volunteer videographer happened to be an unseasoned 8 year old boy. You'll have to put up with a fair amount of ground shots... Still, over all, I think he did a good job and by the end of the summer maybe he'll have progressed to taking some really awesome videos of our bees!

Friday, May 10, 2013

Pictures of the hive construction... Not so much...

So, I started writing a post three days ago, trying to upload pictures of our hive construction, but each time I've tried, the pictures have failed to upload. I think it has something to do with the fact that I get my internet by tethering my phone to my laptop. I guess I'll just have to break down and take my computer somewhere with wireless internet to get the pictures uploaded. Sorry.

On the plus side, BEE DAY is tomorrow (well, today now that it's after midnight) ! I have to leave around 5am, to pick up my bees at 8:30 am, to get back to my parents house to install the bees at around noon, to get to work at 3pm. It's going to be a LONG day, but hopefully fun!

More post coming soon. Pictures of construction and hopefully a video of bee installation!