theferrett: (Meazel)

The thing about beekeeping is, it involves bees.  Which involves being stung on occasion; not often, but more than the number one would be prefer to be stung at all, which is none.

Which is why, depending on your beekeeping style and your bees, we cloak up.  Some people go bare-chested and figure, hell, getting stung is just what happens.  Others go bare-handed but wear the suit, because the gloves are clumsy.  But after getting stung several times by a hive of very mean bees last year, Gini and I switched to gloves.  It’s just too much trouble to get stung on the hands when your job is typing and your main exercise is biking, where you rest a significant portion of your weight on your hands.

So when I got into the hive yesterday, I put on the gloves, knowing this was going to be a very quick operation.  The new hive (of much nicer bees) has expanded, and needs space.  So all I was going to do was to pop the top of the hive, put on a second deep, and leave.  Simple as that.

Except there were two problems.

First, the hive was covered in bees.  Which I wasn’t expecting.  Generally, the bees stay on the insides of the hives, but when there’s a lot of them and it’s hot outside, they congregate under the shade.  Which meant that clustered underneath the lip of the lid were several bees.

Second, because I’d cleaned up the garage and put all the beekeeping equipment where the animals could get at it, the gloves actually looked like this:

Untitled

Yes, I’d seen the chipmunks running in and out of the garage before, and thought them adorable. But apparently, the propolis and honey residue on the fingertips of the gloves was very appealing,because they literally ate nothing else.  The backs of the gloves?  Perfectly fine.  And who the hell thinks to check whether their gloves had been gnawed by chipmunks?   (The glove on the left, presented for comparison of how bad it could have been, was sadly Gini’s.  I wish the chipmunks had eaten my gloves that thoroughly; this, I would have noticed.)

So when I went to lift the lid of the box, my first sign that something was wrong was a feeling like hey, I’ve been stung.  How the hell could that happen?  I’m wearing gloves!

And then I bring up my hands and see that my fingertips are swarming with bees.

This is not a moment of great pride for me, because I saw the bees that stung me, and they were all like what the hell, bro?  Bees don’t like to sting.  But here, in ignorance and confusion, I’d decided to shove my bare hands among them to crush them, and they’d stung reflexively, like a frat boy punching some kid who stole his beer.  They seemed baffled as I frantically shook them off, wondering what the hell had happened to them.

I ran into the garage, my right ring finger with at least three stingers in it, to brush it off.  And get ice.  And then, curse an awful lot.  Because this wasn’t the bees’ fault.

It was the chipmunks.  Chipmunks ripped my flesh.  I can honestly say now, “I got stung because of chipmunks.”  This is A Thing.  It is true.  And it is ineffably weird.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

We broke into the hive of our friendly bees the other day, only to find it was the Overlook Hotel.

Which is not to say it was empty.  But it was hive full of dwindling ghosts, bees working on autopilot on tasks that no longer mattered.  They were fetching pollen, getting honey, keeping the comb clean….

…and none of it mattered, because the queen was dead.  There would be no new bees.  There could be no new bees, without a queen.  The combs were completely free of eggs.  All of their bustle was devoted to furthering a future that could not exist.  Left to their own devices, the poor things would have worked literally to death, the population dropping until eventually every last bee was dead.

“But wait,” you ask.  “How do bees reproduce, if they all die when the queen dies?”  Well, if the queen dies during the spring or summer or early fall, then she’s already laid a bunch of eggs.  The bees pick one egg for reasons that nobody quite knows, feed it royal jelly, and what would have been a worker is suddenly upgraded to an egg-laying queen.  The hive will be struggling to catch up, as bees have short lives and a lot of them will die during the transition period, but the queen will eventually hatch and start up the great bee Circle of Life.

If the queen dies during the winter, though, there are no eggs to upgrade.  The bees open up shop, same as always, emerging from their winter downtime, but there are no raw materials to work with.  All they have is food and comb, and they tend to those like nothing has gone wrong.  But it has gone wrong.  Everything around them is dying.  They are a sterile hive.

The only solution in this case is manual: Gini is driving down this afternoon to fetch a queen bee, as it’s a race against time.  We’re going to put this new queen bee in the hive, give it a week to let her pheromones saturate it so the remaining bees don’t sting her to death upon release, and hope that she can lay enough eggs while the survivors of the last generation are around to tend to them that she can kickstart this hive.

Yet it’s still a loss.  The queen we knew, the one who laid all of those nice bees, is dead.  Perhaps killed by the cold, or maybe by old age – she wasn’t that old, but into her third year she was getting on.  The queen is the personality of the hive, and these bees have been the sweetest, most docile bees a beekeeper could ask for.  Her death is a serious loss to us, as even if this new queen manages to rebuild the population, it won’t be our hive.  It will be a hive, with some overlap for a few weeks, but by the end of June the last traces of the old queen will be gone and New Queen will be firmly in effect.

It’s a terrible loss.  It is an odd thing, to be so sad over a single insect, but this insect was in a very real sense a colony – and a colony we loved.  So we’ll carry on in her memory, and hope this emergency patch works, but…

…it won’t be her.  We’ll miss her.  Her and all her kind.

Goodbye, queen.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

I would have taken a video for y’all, but these bees were in pretty poor shape.  We thought at first that half of them had died overnight.

…and the bees had been stressed.  They get driven here from California via truck, and the last shipment?  Well, the truck got stuck in a Nevada tunnel for a couple of hours, and carbon monoxide did them all in.  Five hundred boxes of bees, about 500,000 innocent insects, all perished.  So the second shipment got through, but I’d wager these bees had been boxed up for far longer than was good for them.

So we dumped them in.  Alas, Queen Right Colonies, our supplier, was out of Cordovan Queens, so these bees? A gentle Italian.  Who are the most popular breed of bees in this area.

The question I’ve been asked three times thus far is, “Are they mean bees?”  And the answer is, “We don’t know yet.”  Like any pet, it’ll take some time for them to settle in, at which point their personality will become known.  They’re from a gentle breed, but that’s no guarantee, and something could go wrong with the queen (as it did last year).  In any case, we’ve gotten gloves and better suits, so if they are mean, we’ll be ready for them.

In the meantime, we’ve harvested some honey from the old bees, which is a wreck.  It’s all full of gook and wax, in a thin trickle at the bottom of a food-grade bucket.  That said, there’s something magical about this honey just being here, and Erin, Gini, and I keep dipping our fingers in to get a taste of the local floral bouquet, the sweetness strange on our tongues.  We’ll filter that shit out, get a small bottle for Amal (I want my honey poem, dammit), and see what we can salvage.  It’s a messy process, but somehow vital and earth-affirming, this processed sweetness from nothing at all.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

So do you want to see a box of bees?  I’m very thrilled.  I got it this weekend.

Box of bees

As we all know, the B-Wing is the coolest fighter in all of Star Wars, so after years of lusting after a Kenner B-Wing I found a reproduction, and…

Oh, wait.  Bees.  You want to know about our bees.  Well, you’ll be happy to know that I took videos!

As you recall, Bob, we had two hives last year: our old hive of bees, which were nice and docile and kind, and our new bees, which were vicious and had stings that could swell your hand to the point of unusability for two days.  We stopped feeding the new bees, partially because they stung us every time we tried to swap the container, and partially because if they died we’d breathe a sigh of relief.

Now it looks like the exceptionally long winter did them in.  I have mixed emotions about this.  On the one hand, they were so stupid as to sting the hand that fed them, actively aggressive to the point where we could not help them.  On the other, we did haul them all the way out from California to live in our yard, and as such had assumed responsibility for them to a certain extent.  I feel like I murdered a bunch of insects, which were as innocent as insects get.  I mean, millions of years of evolution had taught them that things poking around their hive were usually harmful, and it’s not really their fault that they didn’t understand our beneficial intent.

Still, now I can walk in the back yard without feeling oppressed.  So hey.  Mixed.

Anyway, here are Gini and me getting into the dead hive, showing you what it looks like when all the bees are gone – if by “all the bees,” you mean “a tragic handful”:

And here’s the unexpected benefit the bees left behind, which we certainly were not expecting.

The good news is, we’re getting a fresh box of bees on Wednesday, and when we put them in this old hive, they’ll have a hell of a head start.  Bees are not sentimental creatures, and they will move into this new home, happy to not have to expend valuable food and energy on making comb everywhere.  They’ll clean it out – bees are fastidious – and set up shop quickly, making us hope that we may gets some honey from these new guys come the fall.

Assuming they’re not mean bees.  But we have a nice queen this time around.  Denzil has assured us this queen is gentle and nice and lays very sweet workers.  Or so we hope.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

The most-asked question I get is “Ferrett, you hungry stud-muffin, I hear you’re hung with the brobdingnagian proportions of a Germanic heroic saga, will you whisk me off to a bathroom stall and take me now before my panties explode in anticipation?”

But after that, people ask about the bees.

Problem is, we don’t know how the bees are doing.

See, at some point in late August, Gini and I decided not to harvest any honey this year so the bees could have all the food they could get to supply them through Cleveland’s notoriously harsh winters.  And after listening to all the debates of what you should do to prepare your bees for the winter – you should douse them with chemicals! you should use these natural supplements! you should stand on your head! – we panicked and actually did nothing at all.

So the hive has gone untouched since September.  And we hold out little hope.  We remember a conversation we had with a noted Michigan beekeeper, who said, “It’s your first year as a beekeeper?  Yeah, they’re gonna die.”

He said it with such knowledge and resignation, like a gypsy pronouncing a horrid fate for a greedy businessowner.  It kind of disheartened us.

We’ve watched, and luckily, there are some signs of life.  There are dead bee corpses at the front, which indicates that there’s some activity in the hive (the bees are clearing out their dead).  And yesterday, when the temperature hit fifty, Gini said she saw some bees taking cleansing flights.

(Bees do not poop all winter.  They wait until it’s warm, and then go outside and poop in one massive bee-dump that looks a little like brown bird splatter.  I won’t say it’s endearing, but it’s kind of neat, as apiary-related things are.)

So there are still bees.  In a week or two, on a warm day, we’ll crack the hive to see how they’re doing – enough of them may have died that there’s not enough critical mass to keep the hive together.  Or they may have eaten through their supplies of honey and need to be fed sugar water, which would require the purchasing of new equipment to put the sugar water near them.  (Our current feeders would require them to break off from the huddled mass, which they won’t do since their massed body heat is all that’s keeping them alive.)

So yeah.  We have bees.  Some bees.  Let’s see how this works in a few weeks.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

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