Queens Aplenty

I hadn’t looked inside the hives in any depth in several weeks, so I did a quickie inspection on Monday before folks came over for a Memorial Day BBQ. As per my recent routine, I was joined by an assistant beekeeper, this time two and a half year old Huckleberry Hammer, seen here with his father, Morgan. Huck’s the one with bee suit on, which he borrowed from me. The red cowboy boots are his own.

Huck did awesome, showing considerably less fear than most adults in his position. But then perhaps ignorance is bliss, and nothing pierces ignorance like a barb of a bee’s stinger. Fate spared us all.

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Many a surprise once inside the hives, though:

First, Hive 2 is much more advanced than Hive 1, having almost completely filled both brood chambers. This actually isn’t the surprise here, as there are a few good reasons that Hive 2 should be ahead. One, it gets quite a bit more sunshine than Hive 1, which is shaded by Hive 2 on one side and a garage-eating laurel bush on the other (I’m going to hack that laurel back in the next few weeks). Two, I seeded Hive 2 with 4 lbs of bees instead of the 3 that Hive 1 started with. That’s a pound of pure productivity.

Second, there were empty queen cells in Hive 2 (that hanging, stalagtite-shaped cell in the picture below is one). That’s bad news. Empty queen cells mean there’s at least one extra queen wandering the hive, and that means that shortly, they’re going to swarm. That is, early one afternoon, one of those queens is going to leave the hive to found a new hive somewhere, and half the hive is going to leave with her. It’s an awesome sight when it happens: they start pouring out of the hive like someone turned on a hose, and then move in a giant black cloud. There’s photos and videos on an earlier blog post from the last time this happened. If I happen to be around when they swarm, I’ve got a chance to catch ’em and establish a new hive with them, but that’s only if I get lucky.

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Is there anything I can do to prevent the swarm? Well, not at that this point. If I had caught her before she hatched, I could have killed off the new queen with the pinch of a finger. Now, she’s wandering the hive, blending in with the rest of the bees. A more experienced (or at least more patient) beekeeper than myself could pick her out of the crowd (she’s a bit larger than a standard worker, and thinner than the large drones), but, unfortunately, when I bought the old queen, they forgot to mark her with a dot of paint, as they usually do, so even if I found a queen, I wouldn’t know whether she was the incumbent or the interloper. Also, I hate those Where’s Waldo games.

So, nothing to do but wait.

One final item of note: you may remember that I put Pierco plastic frames in to some of the brood chambers and that it seemed that the bees were building up off it a bit funny, almost like they were avoiding building on it. Well, look at this:

Notice how the bees seem to be building almost perpendicular off of the frame? I saw the same thing on a smaller scale earlier, but this confirms it. The girls know plastic when they see it, and they’re not fond of it. Lesson learned.

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Sell Me Your Multifamily Property

Do you have a roughly 6,000+ sqft large house, multiplex or apartment building in Seattle you would consider selling?

Sorry for the brief foray away from beekeeping, but I thought I’d use this blog as a way to get out the word: I’m looking for a property. A big property.

Seven friends and I are looking to buy a large, multifamily property and establish a cohousing community. I can see it in my mind’s eye: it’s a big old home with a big yard. Each of the families has a private space to call their own with its own bedroom, bathroom, kitchenette, and maybe work / art space. At the heart of the house is the common space: a big open floor plan kitchen and living room where we can relax, talk, read, write and play. There’s a vegetable garden (and a couple hives of bees, natch) and dirt for kids to dig up worms in and a tree to build a treehouse in.

Read all about what we’re looking for and e-mail me at coho@hive-mind.com if you’ve got any leads. 

Thanks, now back to our regularly scheduled program.


Love and Beekeeping

I got a delightful surprise this morning, a note from Nicole at Nerve.com, an on-line magazine about sex and culture (and a readership of 1 million people), saying they’d like to interview me. Apparently, they run a regular column where they have people from various professions (e.g., rock climbers, comic store clerks) respond to sex advice questions. Coming up, they’re running one with, you guessed it, sex advice from beekeepers.

It reminded me of a column I’ve meant to write for a while now on how beekeeping can get you laid.

Let’s rewind a bit, to some stuff I learned as a grad student in social psychology: according to Schacter and Singer’s Two Factor Theory of Emotion, there are two components to an emotional experience: physiological and cognitive. The experience of one aspect can influence the interpretation or experience of the other.

For example, when you feel anger, your heart races, your face burns and your breathing accelerates. According to the theory, you actually cognitively observe these physiological reactions and use that knowledge as a means to assess your state of arousal or anger. That means, though, that if you’re physiologically aroused for some other reason, you may mistakenly attribute that arousal to an emotional response and incorrectly believe yourself to be angry.

You must have felt it yourself, right? You think you’re worried or upset about something until you remember you had two cups of coffee on an empty stomach. Or perhaps you are furious at your spouse until you remember that perhaps a monthly swing of hormones is causing you to feel tense?

It’s not just anger, of course. In a classic experiment, UBC researchers Dutton and Aron had men rate the attractiveness of women under two conditions: normal and while standing atop the 450′ long, 230′ high suspension bridge over the Capilano Gorge in North Vancouver. The men found the very same women significantly more attractive when they were standing over the chasm then when they were safe in an office.

Why? They were misattributing the physiological reaction caused by their fear of height to sexual arousal elicited by semi-attractive women, causing them to believe they were reacting to very attractive women.

What does all this have to do with beekeeping, you may ask? Well, being amongst all those buzzing, potentially stinging insects can be physiologically arousing, as the body reacts to its fear of being stung. This might cause someone to perceive a semi-attractive beekeeper as very attractive and, presto-magico, hot beekeeper on beekeeper action!

Or so it goes in theory. Can’t say I’ve had any bee-related hook-ups (although I’ve had some very leading questions regarding potential uses for my honey).

I’ve got a question for the reader, though. Nerve has asked that I submit a photo to go along with my sex advice. Here are the two options I’ve come up with (both taken by the talented Pmatt):

bee2 bee1

Which do you prefer?

More on Pierco Frames

A couple weeks back I installed a Pierco plastic frames in my hives, because I ordered them by accident (instead of the usual wax based frames). I was worried at the time that they wouldn’t take, because the instructions seemed to indicate I had to do some special gymnastics to ensure the bees would move in and draw comb on them.

After that post, one reader dropped off this comment:

This is interesting, because I just received 20 white medium Pierco frames for my honey supers and the Betterbee website says that the frames are ready to use. It does mention that the frames can be dipped in sugar syrup to improve acceptance. Also, I did not get any instructions with mine. Mine are beeswax coated, so I am not too worried about the bees drawing them out. In fact, I am thinking about getting a frame or two of the green Pierco frames with drone foundation for mite prevention.

That was reassuring, but I still wanted to see for myself. So, aided by my faithful assistants Brady and Peter (“unlucky fools who happened to have come over for a BBQ right when I was planning on checking the hives” is probably a bit more accurate than faithful assistants, but let’s not split hairs), I opened the hives up a few days back to take a look.

The results were mixed. On a few of the frames, they had definitely started to build up comb, but on at least one frame, they seemed to be pointedly avoiding building up on the plastic itself, preferring to build away from it. Take a look:

Notice how they’ve started to build the comb perpendicular to the frame? Very strange.

I tried spraying the frames with some sugar water as instructed to see if that helps.  I also swapped the frames around a bit with some wax ones, in the hopes that they’d just ease on over into the plastic.

Bee Cake

beecakeLet me be perfectly clear: this is not going to become one of those things like you see on Boing Boing, where they’ll publish a picture of absolutely anything that looks an iPod, whether it be a cake, origami, knitting, or chain mail. Still, Leslie sent a picture of this adorable cake to me (and tastingmenu), and it’s just too yummy not to pass along. Kit available from William Sonoma, I understand. Preciousness, priceless.

Audio Buzz

I mentioned a little while back that I got an e-mail from a local artist who wanted to audio record my bees for some music he was working on. Well, he and his friend Tad came by on Saturday and did just that. He used both a standard looking microphone standing on top of the hive and we tried lowering a microphone down into the hive, then closing it up.

I have to admit I intentionally agitated the bees some in the hopes they would be noisier. I’m pretty sure that violates some sort of journalistic ethic.

Photos of experiment below. Can’t wait to hear how it turns out.