Thursday, September 13, 2012

Urban Beekeeping, Live on TV

After we planted our meadow and introduced bees to the ecosystem we decided to completely re-invent the rest of our back yard. The project, started in the fall of 2011 continued through the winter and the transformation was completed in the summer of 2012. The owner of the company that created and implemented the design is Tom Wood.  Stay with me and you'll understand what this has to do with beekeeping. 

There is a news show called NBC4 Today in Columbus on Saturday mornings. For 23 years, the show has included garden segments hosted by Tom McNutt. Tom retired this past spring and the new Tom McNutt is Tom Wood. If you are reading this and live in Central Ohio, tune in September 15, this Saturday, to channel 4 at 8am. Throughout the hour, there will be four segments about urban beekeeping and a special corner of our yard we fondly refer to as Turtle World.

Tom, who is not a beekeeper, hoped I would open up a hive for the camera. My gut feeling about doing so for live TV in the chilly early morning hours in mid-September--perhaps not a great idea. The population in the hives is at its greatest this time of year. And the bees are hungry. And they are not on their best behavior. Think about how you feel getting rousted out of bed before you are ready. Hungry + chilly + early = cranky.

Foraging bees have a late start to their workday.  Ordinarily, beekeepers work their hives after 10am and before 5pm, not because the beekeepers want to sleep late (although this one does) but because before 10am and after 5pm the foraging bees are present in the hive.  We want to work in the hives when at least some of the bees are not home. I don't intend to count them, but in the fall, strong hives (which mine are) can have as many as 60,000 bees.  In my beeyard, multiply by three.  Even using a more conservative number of 40,000 bees per hive would come to 120,000 girls with stingers.  

This morning at 10:30, I opened the hives to apply a second round of powdered sugar and to sneak in a quick inspection of the colonies.  I was determined to work extra mindfully so as not to squash any bees with my gloved hands. I found lots of bees, some honey, some pesky hive beetles, and brood in the bottom boxes. The queens are finally down in the lowest boxes where they belong.  I saved Hive 1 for last since it is my most populated hive and also the most aggressive.  I was ever so careful handling the frames and the hive bodies and got my work done with no stings.  The last hive was reassembled and I started collecting my tools.  When I bent over to pick up my smoker, I felt the sharp pain of a sting.  A bee had been on my bee suit right where I folded at the hip and I got stung at the very top front of my left leg.  It was a natural, defensive move for the hapless worker.  She was in the wrong place at the wrong time. 

Getting stung on the thigh, even through the protective bee suit which prevented the stinger from embedding, is more painful that getting stung on the hand through goatskin gloves. Working around all those stingers, one would think one wouldn't be surprised at getting stung, but I was already congratulating myself for a successful, stingless day in the beeyard. If anyone had been around, she would have heard my shout of surprised pain and a choice bit of cursing.

My gut was correct.  Opening a beehive on live television is a bad idea.  It is, after all, a family show.

2012  7
2011  14

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Caterpillars, Butterflies and Bees

A week or so ago, I saw a black swallowtail butterfly visiting my parsley. I hoped it was a female laying eggs. Ever since, I have been watching for caterpillars. And here they are!

Keep in mind these caterpillars are on parsley leaves.

At first I spotted three of the tiny caterpillars, but the next day I spied a fourth. These larvae are the size of a clipping from a baby's fingernail. Husband Harvey didn't think these were the same kind of caterpillar because the markings and colors are different from the gorgeous caterpillars daughter Rebecca found a few weeks ago on the same parsley.

Today, the beefiest of the foursome shed it dark skin and it now looks like a micro mini me of the beauties I watched before, except for the coloration.

Tiny caterpillar in brand new skin.

Caterpillar Rebecca found 3 weeks ago. Check out the foliage for scale.

The day after I discovered these tiny caterpillars, I saw a black swallowtail on our deck not two feet from the planter with the parsley.  One part of its wing was broken and it couldn't fly.  Butterflies only live for a couple of weeks and exist to mate and lay eggs, so I put this injured one on the parsley, hoping it might be a female and even if it couldn't fly, it could complete its destiny and lay eggs.  It stayed on the parsley for two days and nights and then disappeared. I thought I was raising culinary herbs (parsley, basil, oregano, thyme), but actually I am providing nectar and pollen for my bees and a nursery for swallowtails.  I am perfectly fine with that.

The front segment of the left wing is the problem.

Note the tear, bottom right.


I treated the bees for varroa mites by disassembling the stacked hive boxes and sifting confectioners sugar over the top bars of each box of frames.  The powdered sugar makes the bees slippery and the mites fall off.  All that sugar also encourages the bees to groom, which also makes the mites fall off.  This treatment needs to be done three times at weekly intervals.  Sugar dusting is Integrated Pest Management (IPM) at its best--safe for the bees, safe for the environment, solves the varroa problem without chemicals that can linger in the honey or the comb.

It is disconcerting to see thousands of sugarcoated, dusty bees hanging out on the front porches of the hives. The girls in the swarm hive, Hive 1, were the most agitated about the intrusion and they gave me a clear message that they were annoyed. There was much zooming and dive bombing and many of the workers landed on the legs of my bee suit. I was grateful for my protective clothing.

The veil is  the most important item of protective gear. Bees love small spaces and the veil keeps them out of ears, eyes and collars. It also keeps them out of the beekeeper's hair.  Hearing and feeling a bee caught in the hair and the subsequent dreadful wait for a sting to the scalp is best avoided.  I also wear soft goatskin gloves with long canvas sleeves. The downside to wearing these gloves is I can't feel the soft bzzz of a bee that gets in the way and from time to time, a bee is accidentally crushed because I didn't see her and couldn't feel her. The upside is when I get stung on the hand, the stinger does not embed in my skin. An embedded stinger continues to pump venom into the skin long after the eviscerated bee is gone. Since I get big local reactions to stings, I am willing to accept the collateral damage to the bee to avoid days of itchy and painful swelling on my hand. Sorry girls.  In fact, every sting I have received this season has been to the hand.  So the sting I incurred on the pad of my left ring fingertip from one of the workers from Hive 1 added to my sting count but caused me little pain and misery. I wish I could say the same for the poor bee.

2012   6
2011   13