Friday, August 19, 2011

The Africanized honeybee Blues

I am strictly a hobby beek. Africanized bees have driven me nuts the past 4 years. Before that I had no problem with them. This year I finally gave up on keeping two hives at my house in town, mostly because I am worried over the liability in an area with so many children and non-beeks (BEEK = beekeeper) near by. The decision came because of an incident, of course. I had two hives at a widow's house out in the country and one of them went insanely Africanized . When I harvested honey, smoke had no affect. So many bees were flying in front of my face I could barely see, and I got many stings through my bee suit, plus several on my face from bees inside my veil. The widow is fine, but my assistant and I were chased for over a mile - that is we stopped about a mile away and got out of the truck to take off veils and coveralls, and got mobbed again. My assistant no longer goes to bee yards with me.

So I moved all 7 hives to a new yard where there is nobody living nearby. The Africanized hive from the widow's place was packed full of bees and had made a lot of honey. I debated with myself whether to simply burn the little meanies, but I opted to re-queen. But even re-queening an Africanized hive is problematic.

  • Two new queens arrived from a commercial apiary that specializes in gentle, productive queens.I opened the Africanized hive to find the queen and got mobbed, as expected.Didn't find the queen in the top box and gave up. Instead, I took the advice of an experienced beek and separated the hive into two, hoping to make queen finding easier.
  • Returned after 3 days and verified there was no queen in one of the boxes. Queens come in a little wooden box with screen on one side and a plug of candy in the hole where they were inserted. For shipping, a cork is placed on top of the candy to prevent premature release. Normally the cork is pulled as you put the new queen in the hive. It takes a couple of days for the bees to eat the candy, and then the queen can escape into the hive to start her royal life there. I installed a new queen, but left the cork in place so the workers couldn't release her because sometimes Africanized bees are reluctant to accept a new queen and will kill her if you put her in with them too soon. This box didn't have a large number of bees, so I moved the bigger box 30 feet away and put the smaller box where it had been.

  • After I moved the bigger box, I went through every frame looking for the old queen. There were a lot of bees in there and I was unable to find the queen amongst all the piles of bees. I am good at finding queens, so I think she was a runner. I needed to spread them out some more, but I didn't have another bottom board. I had a box from a failed split that still had a few bees and some stores in it. I put this deep on top of the Africanized box, with paper towels between (a newspaper combine - where you combine two hives, but separate the bees from the hives with paper so they can get used to each other before they come into actual contact. It prevents the bees from killing each other. After a couple of days they've chewed holes in the paper and the bees mingle peacefully).

  • It was five days before I could get back out to the bees. Pulled the cork on the queen cage I'd placed in the smaller box. Looks good for this new queen. She has plenty of bees with her now and good comb to work on.
  • Went to the remote box and the entrance looked like there were fewer bees than there had been - a good thing. I smoked the entrance and opened it up. Checked the top box and found the queen almost immediately. Lucky, lucky, lucky. Not for her - she's dead - it was lucky for me because I didn't have to go through both deeps to find her. I figure she ran from the smoke, right into my waiting queen catcher. I returned later that day and put a new queen in the box, still in her cage, of course.

So hopefully I will be back to all gentle bees. The real penalty of Africanized bees for me has been that I HAVE to wear a full suit. We've had record high temps this summer and there I am dressed for a winter blizzard, sweat gushing from every pore. Even my eyelashes sweat. Every time I go out to the bees it takes a day to recover and get re-hydrated. Only a few years ago I enjoyed working bees in shorts and a T, plus a veil. I wouldn't dare do that anymore. I used to get stung only rarely, but now I get stung regularly in spite of the sweat suit. I get stung almost every time I go near bees, and when a hive goes Africanized I get stung a lot - right through the bee suit. I have two veils that I've had for many years. This year I had to buy a new one with elastic to keep it tighter, because when the Africanized bees mob me a few of them will get under the veil when I bend over.

On the other hand, Africanized bees are aggressive about gathering honey as well, and they produce lots of it. I had a great harvest this year.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011


We are all alone, again - just the two of us in this big house. We have had kids here for the past several weeks. Angela and Nancy both brought their families here to share our summer, and found the hottest summer on record. Yum!

Yesterday, Nancy took her kids to a play house, bumper cars, arcade, kind of place and they didn't want to take the baby, and I didn't want to go at all (gimpie wimp that I am.) So I got to stay home with Sammie.
He has been fun to have. He took his first steps while he was here with us, and is fully prepared to enter that most hazardous and crazy stage where he suddenly has the ability to reach and climb on most things, without any notion of whether he should. But I digress.
While we were together, he pooped his pants and I changed him. Afterwards I went in the powder room to wash my hands. When I finished, I turned off the lights and closed the door behind me. I could hear Sammie the entire time, but after I left, he started to cry. He was in the living room, so I went that direction. But no, he was in the office, so I turned back that way. But after a couple of steps it sounded like he was in the living room again. Maybe he was in the kitchen? It finally occurred to me that he was in the now-dark powder room. I inched the door open and a very angry little Sammie crawled out. I picked him up to comfort him and he gave me a very dirty look indeed! The mystery is how did he get in there without me knowing it? It is a tiny room, and with my big awkward boot, I just can't imagine how I left that room without stepping on him or bumping him with the door. Oh well. I made him a bottle and that made everything better again.

This morning, early, Nancy and Richard loaded up their kids and headed for the airport. I got up to see them off, and then headed out to Gunter to care for my honeybees. Morning is the best time to work them before the temps get high, but it's no picnic. I have them where they get afternoon shade, which means they get morning sun. Which means it was HOT! I got there at about 8:15 am and it was just under 90 degrees, and humid. It was quite a bit higher than that by the time I finished up and crawled out of there, although not quite so humid. As I write, it is 109 and still climbing - forecast to reach about 111. Dang! I got a few frames of honey out of the hives as I pulled the (empty) supers off them in preparation for the fall nectar trickle. These are the supers where I already extracted spring honey. I put the supers back on the hives for a short time so the bees can clean the sticky, left-over honey off the comb. Now I can store clean supers with good comb until next spring.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Letters from WWII

When Liz's mother died last January, one of the treasures we found in her possessions was a box full of letters from her husband during WWII. Everyone was curious as to what they might contain, but the work of going through it and doing anything with it was too much for anybody to deal with - at least at that time. There was talk to dividing them up between all the siblings, but ultimately Liz offered to look through them and decide what to do next. As she read them, it became apparent that they are a real treasure, both historically and to the family.
When Mark Ashurst-McGee, who is a Doctor of History, visited us recently, he suggested that the first step is to take good quality scans of all of them, to preserve them and make it easier to share them. The originals can then be archived in a manner to preserve them, and the scans can be transcribed to make the text searchable and more easily read.
I happen to be waiting for my new job to begin, so I volunteered to do the scanning, which I just completed. There are 136 letters, each of 1 to 15 pages, so it was a very large project. I scanned the envelopes and anything included in the letters, too.
It has been fascinating to read these letters and get a better understanding of what the war really meant to be a typical American couple during that time of conflict. The letters begin before they were married, and since they were together quite a bit while Bill was in training in the states, they skip over some important events in their lives, such as their marriage. When he went to sea in the U. S. Navy, they became full of the yearnings of a young husband who missed his wife immensely, but they are also full of interesting views into life during the war years. The HAWAII dollar bill he included in one letter is fascinating all by itself, being marked to make it useless to the Japanese in case they captured additional U. S. territory and the cash in use there. It tells a lot about the fear of Americans for the Japanese who had attacked them.
Only a few of his letters were censored (words cut out of them with scissors, or in one case an entire page removed), but it is apparent he was always aware of the censor looking over his shoulders. After the war ended and censorship halted, the tone and content of his letters was radically different.
While I read the letters and wondered about his ship and the battles he mentioned, I took the time to read in published histories the larger view of what was happening. I found photographs with his ship (LSM-130), usually next to the ship being photographed, or in the background. I also found crew musters and other supporting documents for LSM-130, which are of some interest in themselves.
But the best part has simply been sharing my father-in-law's thoughts as he served his country. He would deny he was a hero, but he was to me.