I gave my faux Cerana hive 3 quarts of sugar water on Wednesday. When I poked my head in yesterday to see how they were enjoying it, I was surprised to see they had drained them all dry. My domesticated hives usually took at least a week or two to get close to the bottom of that amount.

I mixed up a fresh 3 quarts and replaced the bottles. Bottoms up, girls!

Errata dada

Perhaps I should just start tagging posts that aren’t false, given the seemingly endless stream of lies, half-truths and pure fiction that fill these pages. The latest bit of faux fact fun I posted was my surmise that the feral colony of bees that I captured were Apis cerana. The Beekeeper spells it out:

Unless you live in the tropics of asia, you won’t get Apis cerana. YOU DON’T WANT TO GET APIS CERANA! Those are the bees that varroa mites came from, and probably a dozen others will come from. Also, they wouldn’t use standard equipment, as, their cell size is about 2 millimeters smaller. Those bees undoubtably swarmed from a ferral colony and, it has been found that after varroa desimated so many colonies, those that survived in the wild were usually a bit darker than the italians. Oh, and, by the way, the first bees to be officically imported into the US were the german honeybee, Apis mellifera mellifera. These bees are comparable to the africanized bees beekeepers in the south (like me) are having to worry about. It wasn’t untill the 1860s that Lorenzo Lorain Langstroth (the name should sound familiar…he invented thet movable frame hive!) that italian bees came to the US.

00goddess also pointed me towards a great web site, Bush Bees, that has info on the care and feeding of feral bees (as well as some pics of what they look like…an awful lots like my dark-banded newcomers).

The Bush Bees site also had some fascinating reading on Natural Cell Size. Apparently, modern beekeeping has artificially increased the cell size in comb in the hopes that it will lead to larger honey yields (because it means less space is spent on walls and more on storage). Large bees, produced by large cells, can only create large cells.

However, Bush argues convincingly (if a bit opaquely) that these larger cells are more difficult for the bees to scour of Varroa, and thus lead to less healthy hives (as well as take longer to create and thus consume more bee resources). He suggests “regressing” them to smaller sizes over generations.

I, for one, wish that the bizarrely large houses being built to the edge of the property lines in my neighborhood would regress to something a bit more modest and sightly, but perhaps I digress.

Also, I plan on suggesting to Michelle that we name our first born Mellifera Mellifera Schwartz (Mel for short). Please use the comment section to log your votes of support.

Hive 1 is Dead, Long Live Hive 1

The good Lord giveth, and the good Lord taketh away, although not necessarily in that order.

It’s been a month and a half since my last post, so lots has happened. First, despite our best efforts, Hive 1 didn’t make it. We waited two weeks for the new queen to start laying eggs, but when we peeked in on June 15th, not only wasn’t she laying, but the frame of brood that we had swapped over from Hive 2 didn’t hatch. Bee brood has to be kept at a nice, warm temperature, like a hen sitting on her eggs, and there just weren’t enough bees left in Hive 1 to keep the hive sufficiently toasty. We found the larvae just as we left them, except shriveled and dessicated in their cells (cue screeching horror movie music). Oh, the humanity!

Beekeeping 2015One interesting note: some of the honey in the cells apparently fermented in those two weeks. Check out the pictures to the left. Notice the bubbles forming in the honey cells? That’s bee booze! Perhaps, staring certain death in the face, they decided to whip up their version of pruno to pass the time until the inevitable arrived.

Despite the fact that they were proven drunks (or perhaps because of it), we decided to salvage the remains of the hive. We hunted down the queen, who, through no fault of her own, was of no further use to us, and summarily executed her using a method significantly less cruel and inhuman than those approved by the Supreme Court: pressing head between thumb and forefinger until cessation of life occurs. This method ensures a quick and painless death for the bee queen, although it does leave the executioner with a funny tummy upon hearing that unique snapple crackle of a breaking brain case.

Next, we took the lid off Hive 2, laid some newspaper over it, and plunked the Hive 1 box on top. This is how you combine two hives. If you just combined them outright, they see each other as strange invaders in their hive and start fighting and stinging (drunk or no). However, if you separate them with newspaper, they slowly chew through over a period of a week or so, allowing them to get used to each other’s scent before they actually have to interact directly. By the time the newspapers gone, they’re all one big happy family.

On the 26th, we went in to see how things were coming along, and were generally pleased with our results. You can see in the pictures that they’ve chewed through the paper nicely. That’s chewed up pulp on their front stoop in the second picture. Also, there didn’t appear to be large scale bee carnage, so goodness on that front, and good healthy laying patterns.

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There was one oddity, though. On one of the bottom frames, I found a big lump of…something. It was as if someone had taken one area of one of the farmes and crumpled it up into a tight wad. There’s a picture of it below, there on the left. On the right is the same frame from the back, you can see that the wad doesn’t go all the way through.
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For the life of me, I don’t know what it is or why it’s there. I tried cutting at it with my hive tool to see if there was something in there (I’d heard about bees entombing dead mice in propolis, for example), but it was rock hard and I just ended up cracking the frame. If any more experienced beekeepers out there can hazard a guess, I’d sure appreciate it.

Now, the magical part of our story. A week or two back, I pulled an old, out of use hive body out of the garage because it had gotten wet and was molding. I left it tipped against the garage to air out and forgot about it.

Well, yesterday, Michelle and I were sitting in our bedroom, admiring our garden (omigod, you have got to see our tomato plants, they’re HUGE), when Michelle noticed that there were an awful lot of bees buzzing around that box. An awful lot.

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We sped downstairs and outside to see what was up and, low and behold, a hive had moved in! At first, I thought Hive 2 had swarmed, but I’d actually checked for queen cells when we combined the hives a couple weeks ago and didn’t see any, so that seemed unlikely. Then, on closer inspection, I noticed that the bees that had moved into the abandoned hive body actually looked a little different. They’re still definitely honeybees, but a different variety. Take a look at the pictures below and you can see what I mean. Notice how the bees on the left (new hive, or, as Michelle has dubbed them, Hive 1B…get it…b? bee? Yeah…I didn’t think it was funny either) are a bit blacker than the bees on the right (Hive 2)?
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I did a bit of poking on the Wikipedia, and my best guess is that these bees are Apis cerana, or Asian honeybees, a subspecies of honeybee that is a cousin to the traditional European honeybee, Apis mellifera. Both produce honey, so I’m OK on that score, but apparently Apis cerana is the original host of the Varroa mite, scourge of the American beekeeping industry. On the plus side, cerana is better at resisting the mite through heavy grooming (like heavy petting, but different) because they co-evolved with it. On the downside, I’m guessing that cerana carries Varroa wherever it goes, so they may be the Typhoid Marys of the bee world.

Well, I didn’t know that at the time, so I saw these newcomers as a bounty: Hive 1 lives again! We dug out the old bottom and top to the expired Hive 1 (Hive 1a, if you will) dropped them back into place, grabbed the newly occupied hive body from in front of the garage and put it into place next to Hive 2.

We were a bit worried for a bit there that the bees would continue to return to the spot where the hive body was, as bees navigate by landmarks. The rule of thumb on moving hives is that you can move them under ten feet or over a mile. Anything in between, and the bees will just return to the location of their original hive.

However, I felt that because they were so new to this location, it should be alright to move them a middle distance (20 feet or so). We watched the hive over the next couple of hours, and, while there were certainly a large swarm of bees hovering around the spot where the hive was, it gradually diminished, and, I think, they’ve moved happily into their new home at 4065 4th Ave, Apt 1B.

To make sure they were feeling welcome, we mixed up three quarts of sugary water and gave it to them in overturned jars with holes popped in the top. The bee equivalent of the weclome wagon’s apple pie, I guess.