Sunday, August 27, 2006

Correct Me, I'm Yours!

This might not seem very honeybee-oriented, but in fact it is. The bees have opened up a great wide world of bugs to me, since I spend so much time now poking around in flowers, looking for bees. Sometimes you run into critters you don't know, sometimes the plants you leave for bees cause others to come visit you.

Paonias excaecata I thinkLast year, I posted this picture of a scary-big moth that flew into my house from the garden, and incorrectly called it a "Sphinx Moth," demonstrating my ongoing enthusiasm for, but lack of insight into, our arthropod friends. Well, last month, David M. emailed me with better information, and I thought you might want it, too (though he did not seem to want to receive credit by name).

[A]s to your bee keeping blog page that shows and mentions a visitor to your grape vine,

That's not a (Macroglossini) Paonias excaecata, but rather I think is the Pandorus Sphinx, Macroglossini Eumorpha achemon. (You may also find of interest.)

Your moth looks very similar to the Macroglossini moth that occurs from England through Hong Kong
and even at times into the Philippines and Australia, Daphnis neri.

Now, of course we talked a bit more, to which he added:

"And, let the vine grow! It's a great food plant for quite a number of moth caterpillars, so you may see some other types munching away. Don't worry though, as you no doubt realize, they can't munch fast enough to damage the vine. 8-)

If you want to get into the swing of things, when you find some caterpillars on the vine, or on other plants you have, you can remove them to a large container with some leaves and observe their development and eventual adult form. Just keep the container clean; i.e. dump the caterpillar's "fras" out every couple of days. If the caterpillar has a small "horn" on the tail end, you might need to put a tissue in the container when it is getting ready to form a pupa, in order to substitute for soil. Some of the Sphinx moth types like to burrow underground before forming their pupa.

Meanwhile, if you find any other interesting bugs, you may look here for identification
or here:
or here" for help figuring out what it is.

Have fun! Enjoy some honey!


black swallowtail caterpillarNow it's really cool that he mentioned all those identification resources, because only a month or so before, I had met this critter on a rue plant in the front yard. It turns out to be (probably...I am willing to hear other thoughts!) a Black Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillar. As I write to you today, the butterflies are here in force, making their way to winter pastures. There are many monarchs visiting rose of sharon blossoms, and yes, some Black Swallowtails in the front yard. I'm kind of hoping they did some growing up there.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Nature Loves a Hexagon

basalt tiles at giants causewayThis grey Saturday morning, Sam and I were advised to get out of Londonderry ahead of the Ulstermen's march, so we went off to the Giant's Causeway, in North Antrim. It's just a short boat ride from Scotland, they say, and the location where some of the retreating Spanish Armada met the rocks. Please witness one of the first things you see when you walk down to the water: a vast expanse of hexagons, almost as regular as honeycomb.

Some say that there is a special place in Hell where people are forced to look at other peoples' vacation photos, but you should not suffer too much because our camera ran out of battery strength early.

bumblebee on what might be scots lovageThe environment thereabouts is rocky and almost alpine, but there were still several kinds of flowers in bloom, and bees working them. The temperature was only around 16 Celsius, or 60 Fahrenheit, with a steady wind, but the native bees at least were on the job. The bee in this picture is working what might be Scot's Lovage, though I am somewhat unconvinced of this plant identification. This bee is displaying a fine set of cream-colored pollen packs on her back legs, just below the wings.

One interesting thing about bees in cool weather is that, as cold blooded beings, they are slower and less prone to extra activity than they are in hot temps. It's much easier to get a photo on a cold day. Also, in a situation like this, you can actually reach out and pet the bees. I doubt they enjoy it, but they are quite fuzzy and no harm is done by a gentle (and brief) stroke from a finger.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Uniting and Departing

In the dizzy rush to depart, the were no pictures today, just news to tell you.

Today, as soon as the girls started to fly, I went upstairs to remove the window screen I placed between the returning Queen Abigail's colony and the workers that were left behind with her daughter queen during the swarm attempt.

Since I really needed these girls to unite firmly before I left — for two weeks there will be no one to intervene if there is a problem! — I tried using plastic window screening to let the scent flow freely between the returning and the remaining hive boxes. The bees will fight each other if you just plop them down together, though some beekeepers do that. Instead, with a temporary barrier present they will get small-but-increasing contact over the hours as they attempt to get at each other, during which time the beekeeper hopes they will decide on acceptance. Because the bees can't chew the screen (like they do with newspaper), however, I could not tell if the two halves of the colony-to-be had contacted each other much over the past 3 days.

You try to get the two brood nests as close together as possible when you unite colonies, in part because that's where most of the bees are and the larvae are really what makes a hive a home. The main clusters in both halves had been somewhat separated because this is absolutely a huge (and disorganized) colony, with brood and honey spread over an astonishing couple of deeps and mediums. They are Carniolans, so they like to form a narrow, tall column of brood nest.

Anyway, the deed is done. I like the tidiness of using the screen, but I will learn (potentially the hard way) whether the bees like it, too, by seeing what is left when I return.

As a final gesture, a beseeching and needy sort of futile effort to appease the bee-ish currents in the world, we went over to the Monastery and gave Joe (the president of the garden guild there) my veil, a hive tool, and some sugar so he could feed the girls over there. They really do look fine, but I will sleep better knowing that someone who cares is watching over them.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Sucrocide, Then Split... Sort Of

sucrocided beesBack on June 28, we found a bee with a mite on it at the historic mill apiary, which raised an alarm about whether those colonies were seriously afflicted with the vicious varroa mites you have heard so much about here.

The poor mite-bearing worker bee told us, in effect, that we have to treat sooner rather than later. Usually, I'd be waiting until the temperatures began to fall in September, and I would use a treatment that diffused a concentrated essential oil or formic acid (none of which are organophosphate pesticides, or leave toxic residues). However, it's far too hot for that, and we can't afford to wait. It's bad enough that we all could not find a suitable date to work together before this!

Why do I say "we?" MaryEllen has bees there, too, and it's safest to assume that what is living in one hive has also reached out to the neighbors. MaryEllen's presence in this post is important for another reason, too. She and her husband, Doug, used a treatment called "sucrocide" to treat some of their colonies last year, and those colonies registered not one single mite when tested. Not one! So we decided to try sucrocide at the Mill. It's a bit tricky unless you have done it before, so I wanted their help.

The sucrocide treatment meets our standard for keeping poisons out of the hives. It is made up of a tobacco leaf extract and sugar, and it works by drowning the mites, and then disappearing from our lives. It really stuns the bees at first, too, but they are larger and shake it off as they dry. The mites are much smaller, and evaporation comes too late for them. Another bonus: it's really unlikely that the mites will ever develop resistance to this treatment, unless they can evolve beyond a need for oxygen.

sucrociding beesThe picture up top shows bees recovering from what I am doing in this picture: spraying sucrocide from a pump sprayer onto each side of every single frame in the hive, as well as the sides. We try not to spray Queen Maud or any open brood. By the way, this exercse has to be repeated 3 times, at one week (or so) intervals. Hard work.

The bees cling to my hands in a sort of drunken, but insistent, way. They really hang on, holding my skin with the hooks on the end of their legs that they also use when hanging together to drawn honeycomb. You cannot shake them off easily. It kind of feels like the "pins and needles" effect when you cut off circulation to a foot or hand. I like holding the clingy bees, but it freaks out MaryEllen and Doug. I just thought about how they were very wet and sort of cold, and how my hands were warm and in the sun.

hive of sucrocided beesWhen applying the sucrocide, though, we found ourselves disassembling hives full of bees in hot weather, and reassembling them into hives of sodden bees who just wanted to climb up out of the box to catch some rays and dry off. Kind of a bee-cano, since my colony out there is just brimming with bees, easily a peak sort of population for a hive around here. This picture is actually MaryEllen's colony, though. Those boxes get heavy at midsummer, and they are very heavy to settle down gently, one on top of the other, while trying to gently convince wet bees to move along. Thank goodness we did this together!

Though actually, I will be away for the final treatment. MaryEllen, Doug and I did the first treatment together on July 30, a week ago. MaryEllen and I did it today, and Doug has agreed to complete the process next week, when I go off to a wedding in Ireland (can you believe it?)

I am getting seriously bent out of shape about having to leave on Tuesday. This has been a trend in recent years: I like to travel, but hate to leave home. Adding the bees to my life has not made this easier, but not, perhaps, for the reason you would think. Sure, there is extra preparation before leaving, but I think the real issue is how connected I feel to the pile of dogs, cat, fish, bees, bird feeders, friends, neighbors, plants, and even squirrels about the place. Departing my eco-system for someone else's is good for the mind and for the soul, but it can be kind of hard on the heart.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

A Hot Day and a Low Point

twain is 7 boxes tallThis picture is not, well, picturesque, but it's here to show you what I am up against. Twain spawned a new queen last month, and she is in there somewhere. Abigail, her mother, needs to return from her temporary placement at the Monastery apiary, and one or the other queen has to go.

I just asked Larry, the beekeeping guru who helped me reinforce this colony, if he could use a daughter queen to the one he gave me, and he said yes, so I no longer have to dispatch either queen. They are both young, and should have at least another Spring in them: it would be a pity to kill either one, and unfair, since the only reason this happened at all was that they breed strong, populous families.

I mentioned "having" to dispatch a queen, because today was really, really hard. In the picture, you can see that Twain is 6 boxes deep, with a feeder box on top. You probably can't tell that it is 96+ degrees F out, and that I have absolutely no choice about doing this work today.

Why? I am leaving for two weeks of vacation on Tuesday, and I need to remove the queen in here and let the colony go queenless for at least a day before I bring Abigail back. The gap day allows the young queen's pheromones to dissipate, and makes the bees hungry for another mother's hormonal comforts. Even so, I need to protect the returning queen from the workers on my roof for at least three additional days while Abigail's personal mojo works its wonders.

So I am pulling the new queen on Thursday, letting the hive go queenless on Friday, bringing Abigail back on Saturday, and removing the protective barrier on Tuesday...then I am the one who flies away.

Oh my goodness, it was so very hot up there! By now, my weather station tells me that it got to 107 this afternoon. And the work was so heavy: the top boxes are full of honey, an extracting job for another day (a day, perhaps, in September). In the picture, you can see a little plastic container that I rigged up as a queen cage. It has a piece of comb and some honey in the bottom, and I cut out most of the lid, replacing it with plastic window screen material. This is not a typical queen cage, but it got The New Queen and some attendants safely to Larry's house.

The piece of unfinished woodenware you can see in the picture is a bee escape. I have never used it for its appointed function (someone told me drones can get stuck and die in there), but it is serving here as a stand on which I can balance hive boxes without squashing (many) bees. All of my proper hive stands and telescoping covers are in use! Incredible.

This next part of the story is just hot and whiny. I took that hive apart, box by box, and did not find the queen. It took 45 minutes: sweat was in my eyes, heat stroke was on my mind, and an unattractive Darwinian temptation was getting my attention. Part of me — the part that thinks I am a stupid rank sentimentalist about all this, and that my emotional frothiness does the bees little good — was whispering, "Just put the colonies together, and let nature sort this out."

That would mean letting the bees fight it out, queen against queen, worker against worker... many bees dead in a colony that could actually survive that loss and even more. It would mean that something I thought might happen, a gulf of emotional distance between myself and these beings who add so much to my life, had finally developed (as feared). It would be a sliver of cold in an overheated heart.

So... I went back through the boxes. Spent another twenty minutes. And found her. I also found that she is a good layer, at least for the past week or so, and that Larry might get a pretty decent queen out of this. I tucked her and about 8 workers into the plastic container, reassembled the Twain colony (now pissed off as hell, let me tell you), and got the heck out of there.

After rehydrating, I drove out to Larry's, and he showed me how he gets a queen into a queen cage (clever dude: uses a folded square of nylon window sheers with a hole in the corner: the queen crawls right in!) He also placed the daughter queen in a colony that really needed her, while I was watching. This was extremely comforting, reassurance that I am happiest as a sentimental moron.

He also showed me how his honey harvest was going, and gave me about TWO POUNDS of pure capping wax to turn into soap (as well as two dead ripe tomatoes). This is just wonderful. He wanted to pay me for the queen, but I laughed at him. Instead, I bought a case of plastic honey bears, a few one pound jars, and another deep hive body (unassembled), then gave him a hug.