Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Candles from my own beeswax.

After cleaning and filtering the discs of wax from my 'crush and strain'  method honey harvest shown in my last post, I ended up with two and a half pounds of pure clean beeswax from my own bees. As a last filtering, I melted the wax in a double boiler and then poured it through a restaurant style grease filter cone, which I set in an empty pineapple juice can (see photo). 
 I had two flexible silicone candle molds- one to make plain votives with pointed tops, and the other for votive-sized bee skep shaped candles. It was fun to set the wicks, pour the candles with a spouted canning ladle, and then carefully pop them out after cooling for about a half hour. Later, the candle bottoms were pressed onto a hot skillet to get them nice and flat.
Altogether, I was able to make 20 candles from the 2.5 lbs of wax- nine little skeps and 11 tall votives, plus a short 1" votive with the last drips of wax. Next year I will buy another mold or two for added variety.

I got my candles done just in time before Christmas...a nice way to end my beekeeping year and bring a warm glow to the dark days to come this winter. 
(Click on each picture to see it larger and more detailed.)

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Honey harvest 2012

I harvested two medium sized boxes of honey from my two most populated hives this year. I did not try to harvest honey from my other three hives, I just let them be.
From the 16 or so medium frames mostly full of honey, I used the low tech 'crush and strain' method again this year and wound up with a harvest of about 4 gallons- 42 pounds of pure honey, and a nice chunk of wax.  Here is the honey harvest all bottled up in various large one and two pound jelly and peanut butter jars I saved up over the past year...I also filled two dozen little half pint jars which will make nice holiday gifts...

I am ordering a couple of candle molds and wicking in order to make a few little votive candles from the chunk of golden beeswax I got as well.  I think I have enough wax to make about a dozen votive candles.  It'll be nice to have the scent of our own beeswax candles in the house during the bleak late winter.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Tomato season, finally!

Several of today's tomatoes, plus a jar of last year's honey from our own bees.
The big pinkish tomato is one of my favorite variety, Prudence Purple...

Sunday, June 3, 2012

A new black queen

Last month in May, I split one of my hives and left the queenless half to make a new queen for themselves from existing eggs in the hive. Today, about a month later, I checked in to see if there was a new laying queen. Success! There she was, and there was fresh brood in the hive, proving she was already laying. 
I was surprised at the new queen's appearance- she is mostly black, and seems a bit longer than my other queens. 
    When you let your bees raise queens from whatever bees are in your local area, you never really know what combination you'll get. Could be good or not so good, but I figure they will at least be semi-acclimatized to our northern winters. 
Some beekeepers like to keep more control on their hive genetics, but for me as a hobbyist, diversity is all part of the fun. I also know there is at least one longtime feral bee colony just a half mile from me- I hope this new queen is partly related to them!  I plan to make at least one daughter from this black queen later this month, to see how well her genetics do in surviving a cold winter. 

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Spring bicycles

The other day we rode our bikes into town and parked them in front of the cafe to have breakfast with friends. The pear tree was blooming and it looked so pretty that I took a photo.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Mason bee females beginning to nest, April 2012

Here is a little video taken a few days after the first video.
Instead of seeing bunches of eager males buzzing around focused on last year's tubes from which the females are beginning to emerge, in this new video we see females intent on choosing tubes to begin laying in. There are many horn faced mason bees and quite a few eastern Blue Orchard mason bees as well. Most of the bees you see now are the females, having mated already and beginning their nesting activities. The females are a bit larger and heavier than the males. Males have long antennae and sometimes a little white mustache!

More females will continue to emerge from the old tubes for another week or two, and there are males loitering around the area hoping for that! But the bees in the video that are actively rushing in and out of the new tubes now are almost all nesting females.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Mason bees emerging and mating April 2012

In this video I describe what is going on at the nesting site on my porch. We have a new nesting box put up, with a capacity of 450 nesting straws, each of which can accommodate 4-6 cocoons.
Many male horn faced mason bees are the first to emerge this Spring and are impatiently waiting for the females to emerge. Males emerge first, females can take up to about 2 weeks before they all emerge. There are also blue orchard bees nesting here. Last years nesting tubes with cocoons are in the bags to the left, while the new clean nesting straws are in the box ready for the females to lay in this year.
Sorry about the occasional wind noise in the video.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Two honeybee queens

It was a mild winter, and I was lucky to have all five of my honeybee colonies make it through to Spring. Two of them were baby hives- five frame 'nucs' (nucleus colonies). Those two nucs I sold a couple of weeks ago to a beekeeper who lost all their hives this winter. This helped offset the cost of buying hive equipment, and enables me to free up some space to make more new nucs later.
Now that leaves me with three full sized hives- two in my backyard and one down the road at a friend's house.
It's still cold at night here in the 30's, so the bees are not in full speed laying mode yet. A couple weeks ago I switched their brood boxes vertically, to put each brood nest down in the bottom box and an empty comb brood box on the top for each hive to expand upwards into.
Today I checked my two home hives, which I call Aurora and Maybelle, to see if their populations were doing well and their queens laying.
As I expected, Aurora hive (which is in a slightly shadier location) had a small patch of brood and small population. But there were eggs and brood, and I took a few nice pictures of Aurora's lovely queen. Click on the photos to see them full size with lots of detail:

Thus, though Aurora's population is low, the queen seems to be laying and may be getting a slow start simply due to the current chilly weather and her slightly shadier location.

I moved on to inspect my Maybelle hive and was pleased that there were many bees and a lot more brood. I expected to see this due to the busy traffic going in and out of that hive. Again I found the queen in Maybelle hive, and photographed her. She looked a little more golden colored. I took the opportunity of removing a frame with brood and nurse bees from Maybelle hive and giving it to Aurora as a little boost. When moving a frame from one hive to another, I only include the nurse bees on a frame of brood if I have located the queen first, so that I don't accidentally move her as well! I replaced the stolen frame with an empty frame from Aurora back to Maybelle.
Things seemed just fine in Maybelle with a good amount of brood in progress, and I closed everything up.
It was obvious that it would be a while yet before being able to make any new nucs or splits off these hives, or to bother trying to prevent a swarm, or put on honey supers. They both still had a full 10 frame deep of totally empty drawn comb frames in their top brood boxes. The Spring nectar flow has not started in earnest yet even though dandelions are beginning to bloom in some spots. I expect everything to get on the fast track in a couple more weeks, towards the end of April.

Later on my computer, I looked over the queen photos I had taken this morning. I knew which queen photos were from which hive. I was very surprised to see that the queen in Maybelle (with the better brood production) actually had a dent in her thorax that surely must affect her health in some way sooner or later. It was quite clear in the photos. I don't think the dent happened today, because I was very careful and gentle when I removed frames to look at her brood area today. The dent looked like it might have been there a while, but hard to tell. Obviously, this dent has not interfered yet in her Spring laying, but I can't help but now think it might be good to replace her later this Spring with her own daughter.
I wouldn't choose to replace her right now, since she is laying well and it's a critical time right now with the cold weather and not an abundance of drones yet. 
The dent was not visible at all when I was looking directly at her through my veil, but it's quite plain to see in these photos:

Just goes to show you the value of taking photographs of your bees once in a while!

The queen in Aurora hive, meanwhile, looked perfect and had a very black shiny thorax, easy to see her. I remember seeing her just once after she was born last year, June 2011, and I had written down that I noticed her pretty 'toasted' color appearance. She will be 1 year old this June, and I suspect she will be laying just fine after Spring warms up a little more. Aurora was the hive from which I got my one unexpected harvest of a medium super of honey last Fall, yielding my first one gallon honey harvest.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

A new bigger mason bee box

Brian made a new nesting box for our expanding solitary/native/mason bee population. This box holds a total of over 400 nesting straws, in 6 large cans. I found that large pineapple juice cans are just the right size for the nesting straws.  This one box actually holds more nesting straws than all three of my previous nesting boxes from last year combined, yet it's much easier to maintain and clean.  Click the image to enlarge it for viewing:

The chicken wire front keeps out woodpecker and squirrel predators. We can make a second identical box if need be, and hang it directly below this one. A second box may not be necessary this year. I anticipate that my immediate neighborhood would likely not support more mason bees than two of these boxes could possibly house- there is a limit to the local food/pollen supply after all. Honeybees can travel several miles for forage, but little solitary bees only forage a few hundred yards from their home base, thus their population is self-limiting based on the food supply in any given area.
In a few days I'll be putting the chilled dormant cocoons from last year out to emerge right next to this new nesting box. I'm just waiting until a few more flowers are blooming. It's a very early Spring here, but the fruit trees are still not flowering. Right now my 2011 cocoons containing new adult bees are still sleeping safely in my refrigerator veggie crisper drawer. It's almost time for emergence! A couple of days ago I was planting pea and spinach seed in my vegetable garden, and several male mason bees kept landing on my periwinkle blue skirt, apparently mistaking me for a giant morning glory. They were so sweet, but I felt a little sorry for them since not much is blooming yet. Obviously they were local wild bees who had emerged a bit early due to the unusually warm weather. It's quite possible that some of those bees will find this box and use it before my refrigerated bees are put out to emerge and mate.  Some of the straws have paper liners that carry the scent of last year's nesting activities, and that's a powerful lure to any nearby mason bees looking for nesting sites.

I really look forward to seeing this new elegant box bustle with nesting bees!