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Archive for June, 2009

I went out to check on my girls this afternoon after a conference call. Suited up, took two gallons of syrup for the hive top feeders, my smoker and my toolset. This time I wanted not just to refill the hive top feeders (the past few times the girls had finished off all of the syrup in the feeders by the time I got there) but I also wanted to check on the building out of comb on the hive body frames. Suffice it to say I was very impressed.

I have two hives that open up to the east and are about 20 ft from a red tool shed that we have on the property. When you’re facing the hives from the tool shed (essentially you’re looking to the west) the one on the right is hive ‘A’ and the one on the left is hive ‘B’. I started off with hive A. I removed the outer and inner covers and saw that the girls had finished off all of the syrup in the hive top feeders. I was very surprised given that these feeders were full to the top on Friday afternoon — I had almost expected that there would be some syrup left but given that the nectar flow in these parts (mid-Atlantic, Washington, D.C. metro area) has pretty much ended I shouldn’t have been too surprised. Anyway, I then took off the hive top feeder and the queen excluder to check to see how they were doing with building out comb in the rest of their frames.

My Oh My! They had not only built comb on nearly every single inch of the frames but the comb that was built has uncapped and capped brood as well as capped honey in it. The frames were quite heavy in fact. I then took off the upper hive body and checked the lower frames…pretty much the same story. I was very pleased! I put the hive back together, put the excluder back on (I need to remember to buy a propolis trap because these bees are determined to propolize anything and everything to within an inch of its life), and the hive top feeder and then refilled it. What I did not do this time around was put some blocks under the feet of the hive stands to level the hive so that I can switch to pail feeders…I figure I’ll do that next year in the spring.

Hive ‘B’ has a much different personality than hive ‘A’. As I recall both are Italian honey bees but hive ‘B’ is much more “laid back” than hive ‘A’ when I disturb them. Like hive ‘A’ they had finished their syrup and I took the hive top feeder off. When I looked at the frames they had built in the upper hive body I was a bit concerned. They had pretty much built comb on every frame but there apparently was too much bee space between the frames and so they built the comb out so that one frame connected to the other. Taking apart this setup resulted in some damage to the comb (some of which had brood larva and they ended up being exposed — which made me feel really bad. I don’t like to see my girls hurt 😦 ). On top of that where they didn’t build the comb this way they built comb that wasn’t sitting flat on the Duragilt foundation. This concerned me because it indicated to me that the bees have a problem with the Duragilt foundation and therefore did not build directly on it. I couldn’t see any problem with the foundation though. I’ve got ten more sheets of Duragilt foundation that I need to build into frames. My thinking is that when spring comes around next year I’ll swap out some of the frames for new ones and then remove the wax from the foundation and put new foundation in the frames. Until then I’m not touching it. The hive has lots of brood as well as honey. I put everything back in place and closed up the hive.

My task for this weekend however, is to build and paint the supers I bought from Dadant a few weeks back and build the super frames. I need to get those frames up on the hives ASAP so that the girls will be able to store honey there. I also need to level the hives still but that’s for another time. The big thing is to get the supers up on the hives within the next week to ten days.

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I’ve been double digging the 4th bed this year since we really didn’t do anything with it last year (although I did double dig it last year). Anyway, I’ve noticed that the ground has pretty much re-formed as very heavy clay even though I double dug it last year. This has been very disheartening as it is a lot of work to get the soil broken up sufficiently to give the plants a good chance to grow. I did find a link to this article on the web that basically says that the only way to improve clay soils is to add compost and work it in over time. This may help explain why two of our beds this year have seen dramatically slower plant growth than last year. The far bed (the one on the eastern most side of the garden) has good plant growth (this is the bed with the Kentucky Wonders, snap peas, snow peas, and one other bean variety that escapes me at the moment). The two middle beds (the ones with tomatoes, peppers, lemon chive, and broccoli among the plants) are showing much slower plant development. It’s very disconcerting because I can’t seem to find much information on the topic of “failure to thrive” and tomatoes. Google hasn’t been much help in finding any information.

We’ve had a ton of rain for the past few weeks and so that may also be a contributing factor.

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I finally finished putting the last touches on the 4th garden bed by driving the stakes to hold part of the sides into the ground and screwing the sides to the stakes. Now, unfortunately, I’ve found out that I’ve got to double-dig that bed all over again as the soil appears to be nearly all clay once more. I found an article that said that in order to slowly, over time, improve your soil you need to add more compost to it to help break up the clay. Well…that’s great…and I thought I was all done with double digging until next year!

On a different note another member of the Montgomery County Beekeepers Association came out to look at my hives since I was concerned that the comb build-out wasn’t progressing as well as it could be. We looked at both hives and he said that in hive ‘A’ (the one on the right and the one I have yet to see the queen in) there wasn’t a lot of brood in the few frames we had inspected but we did manage to find the queen and we did see developing brood in the comb. They also haven’t really even started building comb in the second hive level that I put on early last week. I did note that alot of bees were dead in the syrup in the hive-top feeder and I’m not sure why that would be the case.

In hive ‘B’ (the one on the “left”) we spotted the queen quickly, there was lots of brood comb and the bees have even begun to build comb in some of the frames on the second level hive body. They looked really strong. He did suggest that since the bees are in a shaded area that I prop the outer hive covers up a bit to allow for more ventilation as it has been pretty wet lately and the cool weather along with the moisture could lead to mold developing. I also probably need to paint the hive top covers where there is exposed wood.

Overall he said things looked good and that if it appeared that one hive was building more comb than the other then I could swap frames from one to the other in order to kind of help the weaker hive along. I’ve got some work ahead to do such as building out the supers and the super frames (I’m using crimped foundation rather than Duragilt for the supers) and I’m going to wait until the hives finish the current syrup in the hive top feeders before I take them away and replace them with pail feeders. I’ll keep a close eye on both of the hives to see how they’re progressing this summer and whether they’ll need help by swapping frames or even moving brood from one hive to the other.

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Last night we had a tremendous downpour here in the D.C. area. We had a total of 2.5″ of rain (according to the rain gauge out in the garden). The ground is just plain wet. I went out to check on my bees to see how they fared in the storm (we were expecting high winds and possible hail as well but that doesn’t appear to have occurred). When I got to the hives I saw no activity at all as far as foraging is concerned (it’s only 61 degrees out there right now so I’m guessing the girls aren’t too happy right now). Anyway, I shot a couple of pictures using the telephoto lens on my camera to post showing how they’re huddling at the entrance to the hive.

On a different note, the garden beds are just soaked. However, the plants look good and hopefully the next few days, when we’re expecting more rain, won’t drown them! The only thing that irks me is that I don’t have my rain barrels in place!

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Went to the back to check up on the hives and to add syrup to the hive top feeders. On the whole nothing has really changed since Sunday other than I’ve added hive bodies to both hives (although the hive on the left has about 4 frames that are either partially built out or still have one side with no comb). I’ve moved the frames around to put any frames with unfinished foundation sides towards the center of the hive. I’ve added another level of hive bodies to each hive with 10 frames in each. The frames have Duragilt foundation in them and I’m not so sure the bees are too ecstatic about that given their slowness in building out comb.

I’ve also ordered some medium supers from Dadant in order to have something on top of the hive to try and change the feeding from the hive top feeders – the Miller feeders – over to a pail feeder. Maybe that will simulate the nectar flow better. Still, it’s only the beginning of the summer and the bees have all summer to build out their hives and fill the frames with honey before the fall feeding starts.

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I finally finished raising the height of the garden beds.  We added an additional 6 inches of height to each bed which will allow us to have a really nice raised bed garden.  I still have a lot of composite boards left over to build the other beds that I want to make for the extension of the garden.  Now that I’ve gotten the beds raised I can turn my attention for a while to other projects — finishing the rain barrels, new composters, rebuilding and refurbishing the bench on the front stoop, moving the butterfly bush (which got a severe whacking yesterday to cut it back), finishing the paths in the garden and covering them with wood chips, and others that are on my todo list.

We’ve planted two out of four beds at this point — the eastern-most bed has beans in it — Kentucky Wonders, Snap Peas, Snow Peas and one other which I’m blanking out on right now.  The second bed has tomatoes, bell peppers and some herbs.  We’ve got broccoli and lettuce growing in large pots for now but want to transplant them into the beds.  Below are some pictures from the garden for this year.

Picture of garden from entrance

Picture of garden from entrance

Eastern-most bed

Eastern-most bed

Third garden bed

Third garden bed

While out there I also got some pictures of bumblebees on the Bee Balm plant that we have just behind the garden.

Bumblebee on Bee Balm

Bumblebee on Bee Balm

On a different note I’ve gotten some feedback on some questions I had regarding my hives and I need to go out there tomorrow and add the next level of hive body and frames to the hives. I’ve also ordered 4 super kits as well as foundation from Dadant.

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