Monthly Archives: April 2008

Bee check

I’ve a beekeeper for many years and yet I’ve always been a hands-off beekeeper. I guess you could say I’ve been a bee-haver. But lately I’ve taking a more active role: taking classes, learning from old-timers, going to beekeeping meetings. The other day I realized that I could spend my whole life studying this insect and would still never know everything about them. Somehow, I find that comforting. I still want to learn as much as I can.

With that in mind, my friend John came over and we opened up the hive. We took some honey supers off, and really got into the brood chamber area, a place that makes me sweat. The bees were not disturbed at all, these girls are the most gentle bees I’ve ever worked with. We didn’t see the queen, but evidence of her was everywhere: that brown capped stuff is brood comb. In the hollow spaces are little white larvae that the workers feed for 6 days. They then cap the larvae which transforms into a bee in 8-10 days. We saw a few young, soft looking bees–the young ones who remain in the hive all day long cleaning and feeding everyone. After a few weeks, they become field bees, out collecting nectar and pollen. We didn’t see any swarm cells–peanut-shaped protrusions that indicate the colony is planning on splitting into two. It was a successful spring inspection.

Lately many hives have been hit by varroa mites. I was curious about my mite counts, so I did the powder sugar test (sorry there are no photos, Bill wandered off). After our inspection, we closed up the hive and dumped two cups of powdered sugar over the top. The idea is the mites can’t hold onto the bees when they’re covered in powdered sugar. After waiting for the sugar to disperse through the hive for a few minutes, I pulled out a hastily devised “board” (aka a cookie sheet). In a class a beekeeper showed slides of the squirmy red mites floating around in the powdered sugar. I pawed through the sugar and couldn’t even find one from my colony. Hooray!!
Then we harvested honey. Yum.

Horn searing

My friend A emailed me regarding my goats the other day:
“How do you deal with the fact of their unbelievable cuteness? I can barely stand to look at the photos. So soft! So sweet! AAARRGHH!
It’s tough, but somehow I’ve been coping.
Yesterday was a horrible, sad day. But it was a necessary thing. I put a cage in the backseat of our truck, lined it with straw, then stole Bebe’s babies away for a few hours. I drove to Cotati–about an hour north of Oakland–while the babies slept in back. At the animal hospital, Dr. Dotti, a large animal vet was scrubbing up after delivering a calf. It was all very James Herriott. The calf lived, there was blood everywhere and a happy mama cow chewed her cud as if this was all just another day. A woman chatted with me about her horse’s dental work, and when I told her why I was there–to get the goats horns disbudded–she said, oh that’s no big deal! Then why was I sweating, and feeling awful?
I tucked a goat under each arm and Dr. Dotti’s assistant showed me where to take them and shaved their heads. The horn buds were very small, just starting to mound up. He said two weeks is the perfect timing for disbudding. Dr. Dotti warmed up the disbudding iron (looked like an evil curling iron), and we chatted about how amazing it is that the Nigerian Dwarf goats are considered a dairy breed now, about Bebe, the birth, and the necessity of disbudding. It’s really best for the goats–and my neighbors–because the horns will get caught up in fences, gouge my other animals, and worst of all–might gouge out the eye of one of the many neighborhood kids who come by to play with the goats. So, it was with grim determination that I took Orla and Georgina in.

Poor little boobers, they screamed like kittens when he touched their little horn buds with the iron. Dr. Dotti did a great job, moving back and forth, letting them get a break. In all it took about 5 minutes for each of them. My heart was beating as fast as theirs once it was all over. When he was done he sprayed the seared part with antibacterial ointment. Within minutes, they were frisking around in the back of the truck like nothing happened. Luckily, they don’t have mirrors. And when I returned them to a grateful Bebe, she acted like she didn’t notice. Typical mom.

Bounty of bees

This Sunday I took a class with the Alameda Beekeeping Society featuring Randy Oliver. Randy is this amazing beekeeper and breeder who lives in Grass Valley and reads tons of scientific studies about bees, digests it, and then feeds it back to the general beekeeping public. He is thoughtful and funny and his presentations are wonderful. I didn’t want him to stop talking. It was fun too, because I got to see my friends Alan and Mary and meet new beekeepers. Here’s just a sample of some things I learned:
-Bees have a little appendage on their front legs which snaps open and allows them to groom their antennae
-Beekeepers were paid over $150 per colony to pollinate the almond crop this year
-When you see a bee sitting still somewhere on a cold day, it is probably shivering invisibly until its body temp goes up enough to fly again
-Bees generate 400 watts of electromagnetic energy by flying, so when they land on a flower, the pollen zaps onto their bodies
-In a German experiment, two queens each had one of their mandibles removed, and they lived together in peace in a colony together (this is good because you’ll have more workers laid and thus more honey).
As the day ended, Alan got a phone call from a guy with a swarm in his yard. Alan said, “wanna go get a swarm?” Oh yeah. The house was just down the street, in an oak tree. Sorry I didn’t have my camera. But basically it was a small swarm of about 2 pounds of bees. We chopped off the limb, stuck it in the box, and relocated the beauties to my lot in Oakland.

My equipment is pretty weather-beaten, but I found a few frames that weren’t totally f-ed, and viola, a new home for the bees. They seem to be adjusting well, I gave them some sugar water because a cold front has moved in. I’ll probably give these ladies to my friend Marg who doesn’t have bees yet but wants them.

If anyone wants to come to the farm tour here, I’m having one tomorrow, Wednesday, at 10am. Just stop by and meet the baby goats!