Stealing Away on Independence Day

We had a very mild winter and a very hot spring which means a really early honey flow season.  This means I should have stolen honey probably sometime in May or June…but I put it off….and put it off…and… well, it’s time.  I asked Steady if he could help me this year because I thought I would die last year hauling all my boxes up my stairs and this year I have 3 rather than just the 2 hives.  He agreed, but given his work load {and extensive social schedule} his only available time was the morning of July 4th.

Side bar: Now, I don’t know how many of you have had the pleasure of enjoying a 4th of July in Tega Cay, SC but I can tell you it doesn’t get better than this.  It is my favorite holiday and quite possibly my favorite day of the entire year.  Generally, it begins at around 8am when my favorite friend (who’s about 15 years younger than me) knocks on the door and we walk up to the main street where the parade takes place.  People actually set out their chairs around 7am to be sure they get a good spot {as though there are enough people in Tega Cay to block anyone’s view}.  Then we walk to Windjammer where the Carolina Show Ski Team performs…yes our town still believes in skiing in pyramids with 3-year-old girls on the shoulders of their fathers.  Then the canoe joust which is so much fun until my FF gets knocked out and then I am convinced the whole thing is rigged.  Around that time the boat parade begins which coincidentally  ends promptly at lunch time so we travel to a neighbor’s for the first meal.  Then all the strange holiday times of eating begin…someone’s house at 2, my house at 4, and so on.  We lay in the sun, eat and once it begins getting dark it is time for fireworks.  Not just any fireworks, but fireworks over Lake Wylie where the lights look twice the size as they are reflected over the water.  There are almost as many lights in the sky as there are boat lights on the water; it is a sea of boats.  As soon as the finale wraps up we play chicken with our lives hoping all the other boat drivers have a little experience, are still somewhat sober and aware of all the lives surrounding them; the lake turns into an ocean at this point.  We arrive home and eat leftovers for 3 days after the greatest day of the year.

But this year we begin at 7am, loading up equipment and heading to the hives.  Steady starts the smoker {just in case}, it’s already in the 80’s, we gear up and head down.  Stealing the honey actually went really well.  We downsized the hives to 3 boxes each and took a good amount of frames {10 gallons of honey!} and neither of us got stung!  We headed back to Steady’s house and I began extracting.  Once I was finished I headed home to set out the drawn comb, allowing the bees to clean out any honey I missed and take it back to the hive.  When I pulled into the driveway it began to rain so I decided to wait until it passed to grab the boxes out of the back of my open jeep.  {Right about now you should be remembering that I am an amateur beekeeper} I went out an hour later and my jeep, the boxes and the driveway were covered with yellow jackets, wasps and a few honey bees.  I only had about an hour before guests would arrive for the 4th!  At this point I didn’t have any gear so I got brave and grabbed the first box, moved it away from the jeep.  I went to grab the second and the one it was stacked on came with it…only long enough for it to then drop to the driveway….angering all the insects! I screamed and ran.  I then stopped to snap this picture for you all:

Look close…they’re everywhere!

And if you’re looking really close, you’ll see…that’s right…that box on the left, it’s upside down.  No getting around that, if I lift the box all frames fall out and insects get even angrier!  I did finally get everything moved to the back yard with only 1 casualty {32 stings now total} but the damage was already done.  The bees knew there was honey there and they weren’t giving up.  I actually had to drive my jeep out of the drive and onto the interstate before they would leave it…that had to be a site to see…the jeep leaving a trail of honeybees as it went by!  Our guests were a little leery to walk by the swarming insects but no one other than me was stung that day.

Needless to say July 4th was as good as ever in 2012!

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My Girls are Grandfathered!!

I want to thank everyone who signed my petition to support my girls.  I was very worried when I found out about the nuisance ordinance that will ban beekeeping in Tega Cay.  You can read my initial reaction in Please Help- Save the Bees.  I think that post was somewhere along the lines of fighting city hall and I am thankful to say that our city hall was willing to work with me rather than against me.

I set up a meeting with our city planner, Susan Britt, who was cordial and willing to meet with me.  I was both surprised and pleased to find that she had a relatively deep knowledge about bees, the role they play in the eco system and beekeeping.  To my understanding, it was Susan’s responsibility to educate the focus group before they voted whether to include beekeeping in the ordinance.  I had all my research lined up, my arguments ready, when Susan said “If you have existing hives they would be grandfathered.” I really didn’t know what to say next.  I was both stunned and thrilled…yet still wanted that in writing.  She said that I would just need to prove that my hives were in existence before the law, therefore grandfathering them.  So at least if no one is reading this blog besides me, it serves the purpose of being my proof! 🙂

I was not looking forward to figuring out a new home for my girls and a way to move all 600 or so pounds of them even less.  I am thrilled to say they are here to stay and Tega Cay honey will continue to be available!

Thank you again for all of your support!

Ee

Off with her head!…or abdomen…or whatever you can manage to get…

During the last inspection I noticed that the queen in the yellow hive was not laying well.  She should be laying a steady pattern and instead it is very spotty.  I ordered a new queen that same week and she arrived today.  It was not the warmest or sunniest day I could have chosen to requeen but since I am out of town this weekend I really had no choice.

In order to re-queen a hive you must first find the existing queen and behead her in the public square (or wherever lots of the hive can see her).  This way, they recognize that she is dead and they will not reject the new queen’s scent.  The new queen comes in a queen cage; a small cage that allows the bees to get to her in order to feed or bring her water but not enough to kill her if they choose.

As I said…first you must find the queen…then kill her, then replace her.  I really thought the second step would be my stumbling stone (I seriously considered hiring an assassin) but I decided that real keepers can re-queen and I want to be a real keeper.  The first box was completely full of honey so I set it aside.  I had to go through the second box hoping to find her.  Unfortunately they found me first.  Right on the index finger, through my glove and it hurt!  I kept going.  Somewhere around 5 stings later I decided she wasn’t in the second box.

I lost count of the stings somewhere around half way through the 3rd box and I seriously considered dropping the new queen in and letting her fend for herself against the old one.  But I refused to give up, yes I want to be a real keeper but I also hate to waste $20 on a queen…so I pressed forward.  Finally, I lifted the last frame of the bottom box, flipped it over and there she was.  I grabbed my hive tool and drove it into her majesty’s abdomen, I was so hot and fueled by adrenaline from the stings I really didn’t feel sorry for her until I was home and counting the stings in the mirror.  I slipped the queen cage between two frames and added back the boxes.

11 stings in one sitting.  By far my record breaker for number of stings at once.  To the girls’ defense, it was the right thing to do; I was there to take down their queen. I was successful and so were they; I dreaded going back to check on her as those girls really left a sting.

Please Help- Save the Bees!

{Please Sign this Petition to save my girls!}

The Fort Mill Times published yesterday that the city of Tega Cay is considering a Nuisance Ordinance that would ban beekeeping.  On one level I understand.  The city organized a focus group {out of 5,840 residents} and then asked them about a slew of ‘nuisances’ that might make sense

to include in the ordinance {since we obviously need more regulation}.  The majority of the people said {paraphrasing} that since it is a residential area beekeeping isn’t necessary {unless of course you like fruit, veggies,  flowers or local honey} and should happen in the more rural areas.  This is a classic example of lack of education.  I don’t know who the folks were and I don’t blame them,   but I’m willing to bet none of them were educated about b

eekeeping.  I can understand that if you don’t know much about bees {except for the stingers} you would consider beekeeping a luxury that no one would want and wouldn’t be worth the argument.  If those neighbors could understand the benefits I think the tune could change. If they understood that our food production relies on bees and that bees rely on backyard beekeepers they may see the gravity of the situation.  That by banning beekeeping, cities and towns are banning bees and thereby banning pollination…food, flowers, honey.

To add insult to injury, the ordinance has filed beekeeping under “Affecting Public Health”.  Really?  Local honey has prevented me from having a sinus infection for the past 3 years.  Another citizen of Tega Cay {who signed the petition} wrote that the local honey is helping her son’s asthma even.  Beekeeping is affecting public health- in a positive way!

On a personal note {as is this whole blog}  the consideration by the city makes me personally sad for Tega Cay {my home town}.  If you’ve been to Tega Cay you’ve seen {felt} it- community, nature, beauty.  It’s Tree City, The Good Life, it’s enchanted.  The community has always {at least the 30+ years I have lived there} been based around nature, recreation, and neighbors.  I feel this ban is a contradiction to the core of Tega Cay and its residents.  There’s the obvious; beekeeping is a natural, recreational hobby that increases the buds on all the trees in tree city, multiplies the flowers, doubles the food in our gardens and is an educational opportunity for all of the residents.  But then there’s the underlying tone of this Nuisance Ordinance as a whole. This ordinance implies that if neighbors are being inconsiderate of other neighbors there is a need for police intervention.  That is not the Tega Cay I know and love and raised me.  We didn’t lock our doors until a few years ago, some still don’t.  If we need a cup of sugar, a tool, a boat or a babysitter we go next door.  We are South Carolina neighbors who love each other and treat each other better than ourselves.  Do we need an Ordinance to enforce that?  I’ll be the first to tell you that sometimes there are disputes among neighbors and yes my family is no exception but we always work it out with a conversation {and usually gifts}; we have never involved the police or a 3rd party.  It really saddens me that we now have a council that is focused on making laws to enforce courtesy…have we changed so much?

If contradiction and regulation aren’t enough of a deterrent from this ordinance I think {pure} logic should  take a shot.  Again, Tega Cay has around 6K residents {twice the size as when I was growing up}, and is a tiny town.  The city {yes, city} has its own police department which patrols and protects the citizens.  Tega Cay taxes are exceptionally high for this area and partially go to pay these officers.  This ordinance calls upon the officers to patrol backyards for beehives, broken down cars, and compost piles among other things.  Again, in my enchanted perception of Tega Cay I can’t imagine what crimes these officers are faced with everyday but I have to assume they are more threatening than the aforementioned.  Is it really a good use of taxpayer dollars for officers to patrol it’s citizens’ private properties?

So- what am I going to do other than {rant} publish this post? I’ve started a petition which you can Sign Here or at the top of this post.  I plan to attend the council meeting and raise as much awareness around this ordinance as possible.  Will you please share this post, email the petition link and repost it on Facebook?  Thank you so much for taking the time to read this and for caring about my town and my girls. Ee

24 Stings and Still Going Strong…a little too strong

Yesterday was a very interesting inspection day.  I knew {from the twister} that we would need to do some work on the hive stands since they’re still in a pretty temporary fix and this is the only day of the year I would take the boxes down to the base.

It’s good to have some help when you’re going this deep into hives so I & my fellow beekeeper {very calm} counterpart, Steady, agreed to help each other.  We started with his hives, converting the two 8 frame hives he bought from a friend into 10 frame hives as that is his standard.

Though not popular, it is possible to be a small framed female beekeeper but you have to acknowledge your limits {if you don’t these girls will quickly identify your weakness and then proceed to sting you in it}.  So I compensated for what I lack in upper body strength from the get go using all 8 frame mediums boxes.

Anyway we’ll get back to why you’re reading…the stings.  We opened Steady’s first box and began moving frames, and removing drone cells.  Drone (male) cells are larger than worker (girl) cells and generally mean that the hive is preparing to swarm {in order to procreate you need males…amazing what you can learn from a blog ;)} It’s in the best interest of the beekeeper to prevent the swarm and as I was doing so one of the girls caught me right in the leg.  First sting of 2012- it shot straight up my leg and I felt my face tingling.  Steady said “forgot didn’t you?” and I laughed.  It’s true- you almost get used to it by the fall depending on where they get you.  Last summer if stung in the leg I would have just been thankful it wasn’t anywhere painful and kept going but in the Spring it’s just shocking.

We wrapped up Steady’s hives easy enough and then headed over to mine.  As most girls, nothing of mine is uncomplicated.  Steady looked at the hives and said, we might as well start with the green one {since the entrance was covered in bees}.  About 3 mins in he started getting stung in the chest…over and over…we estimated 6 or 7 times by the end of it.  We found the queen and after getting 5 bees out of Steady’s veil {meaning 5 girls were trapped within a 6in radius of Steady’s head} we decided to do as little work as possible and get the hive back together.  It is obvious that it will swarm, it is too strong but luckily the girls know better than I do so they will remedy the situation naturally. Here’s a quick video to give you an idea of what we were facing.

We moved on to the {newest} yellow hive which appeared to be struggling.  A good queen will lay steady {pretty pattern} brood and there will be eggs, larva, and lots of bees.  This queen- not so good.  We did find her which means she’s still living…she’s just not good at her job.  We replaced some empty frames with brood from the green hive since they certainly don’t need any more bees in there.  As soon as the apiaries have queens I will have to requeen {off with her head} but for now we’ll hope the hive can hang on.

The blue hive was next.  It was very strong, not quite ready to swarm like the green one.  We found this queen as well and moved her to the bottom box.  2 more stings for me {while Steady fixed the stand} and we had that hive ship shape.  We managed to collect about 10 frames of honey and a good amount of drawn comb {empty honeycomb} that I will give back to the girls to fill with honey as soon as they need it.  I left the 10 frames of honey since it was being heavily guarded by {angry} girls from the green box out for the evening hoping they would go home at dark.

I went back this morning to retrieve the honey and it was still covered.  The bees are angry and lethargic in the dark and dew {which is the worst time to tend them}.  I shook them off, stole the honey, got stung in the knee and headed home. Not a bad way to start the day.  Little swollen, little itchy but the girls are in a good place and that is a relief.

Catch you on the flip side

This winter was so mild (wonderfully warm!) that it is hard to believe it is already spring.  It has arrived early this year with many of the trees blooming in February, usually unheard of until April the girls have been bringing in pollen for some time now.  I went down today to throw the ball to Daisy (who usually takes advantage of my being in the back yard for her being in the lake) and decided to check the bee traffic of the hives.

The blue hive looked how I would expect…bees coming and going pretty regularly.  The yellow hive a little less, a bee every now and then but not high volume.  And the entrance of the green hive was just covered in bees.  This is why experienced beekeepers say you should always start with at least two hives; so you can know what normal is, have a comparison.  I’m not sure if the green hive is extremely strong (has lots of bees) or if it was getting robbed (other bees from the blue or yellow hive came over to steal honey from the green one) but I will see tomorrow for sure.

The beginning of spring marks time to rearrange hives and get the girls working toward honey flow.  Tomorrow is supposed to be warm and sunny so I’ve decided it’s time to flip each hive- move the brood to the bottom, replace honey with drawn (empty) comb on top so the girls will begin to fill and have room to work (detailed in Spring has Sprung post).  Outside of taking honey, this is the most invasive inspection done all year.

Needless to say my next post will likely be centered around the condition of the hives and of course how many times I was stung.  Currently the total count is at 20 stings with 6 being the most in one sitting; hopefully we will not set any records tomorrow!

A Twister.

Ok, the beekeepers are wonderful and the books are good. But I don’t think anything can quite prepare you or your girls for a tornado. Now I realize that as they work their way up, the top boxes get full and the lower boxes get emptier. Thus the hives are a bit top-heavy during honey flow. I also realize now that hive stands should be grounded…either buried or staked.

Prior to realizing this, I had to face the fact that no book and no one can tell you how to go about picking up 60,000 bees that are wet, injured, angry and blame you for the tornado that knocked over their home.

I think this also taught me that you can’t save them all. I do all i can to never kill a bee. This instance forced me to kill 1000’s to save the hive.

Then I realized…maybe this is how the Lord has to operate, big picture style. He sees what’s best for us and makes hard decisions that are right for us even though it leaves us feeling like a tornado just hit because it is the best thing that could happen.

Spring has Sprung

And did it spring early this year!  Which my pale complexion loves but my unprepared beekeeping side is a little timid about.  So bees only work up.  During last spring they worked to create wax cells where the Queen could lay, then worked to fill honey in the higher supers (boxes).

Through the winter they start in the bottom box and eat all the honey available, then they move to the next box and so on.  So in the beginning of spring they’re a little upside down…living in the top with no where to go.  The beekeeper (i.e. Me) has to basically tear the hive apart to get them right side up again.

We started by setting the top boxes aside (where the majority of the bees were) and then inspected down as we went.  Most of the comb was drawn out but empty from where the girls had eaten and cleaned over the winter.  We removed the bottom boxes and then put the top boxes on the bottom.  Only 1 sting later and the girls were in good shape again.

My blue hive was looking especially packed with bees and I was questioning whether I should split it.  But given it was my first real spring I decided to just let them start foraging and hoped giving them more boxes would suffice.

My green hive on the other hand was looking a little weak, not nearly as many bees were present and I decided I’d have to keep a close eye on them (and pretend like I know what to do if they were struggling)!

Let it Snow

There is not much to do in the winter months for the bees, this is when they hunker down and try to stay warm.  The girls kick all of the drones out during the fall so they won’t have to feed them through the winter (seeing as they serve no purpose) and The Queen stops laying as well.  They focus on their food supply and staying warm.

Their biggest risk is starvation so I made sure to keep the sugar syrup flowing all winter.  We got a good bit of snow this year (which in SC means about 1 inch) and it had me worried about how much they had to work to keep warm but there wasn’t a thing I could do to help so I decided just to let it go until spring.

And then there were 2

My girls got to work and proved to be a really strong hive.  Before the end of summer they were so strong they were making me a little nervous.  Bees pouring out the front because the hive was overcrowded.

I could choose to split the hive but this means taking half the bees and I didn’t want to weaken the hive before winter.  I decided to create a nuc.  I took 2 frames of honey and 2 frames of brood (bee eggs) all covered in bees and placed them in another box with 4 empty frames.  I had ordered an additional Queen and placed her Queen cage in the box as well.  This time I only waited 3 days before releasing her. My friend Allison gave me some left over paint (I loved the color) and thus I started my second hive (the blue hive).

I was a little worried bout splitting the green hive so early on but it turned out to be the best thing.  Now I have two hives to compare to each other.  I can tell if 1 is strong by what the other one is doing.

And I have to say that I love the two colors together! 🙂

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