Saturday, March 10, 2012

The bees will live again.

My children did a very embarrassing thing: they pitched in and raised money for me to buy new honeybees. It was a kindly thing. But it was embarrassing. Still, they gave me the impetus to start over again, so I ordered two packages of bees from R. Weaver Co. The anticipated ship date is April 24. Weavers sell 3 lbs. packages, while most breeders only send 2 lbs. What this means is that in addition to a proven queen bee, there are 3 lbs. of worker honeybees in the package. More bees means they can gather nectar and pollen faster, build comb sooner, and raise more young bees. The result should be fast build-up of the new colony and a chance (slim) of some surplus honey this year. "Surplus" honey is what the beekeeper steals for his own use.
I was able to save some comb the bees can use to raise their new bees, which will be a plus for them. Most packages are installed into new hives where the bees have to make the new comb before raising young and storing honey. These bees will have a head start, IF the old comb doesn't still stink so bad from being in the muddy water that they reject it. If they reject the comb, they will probably fly away and find a new home with more friendly surrounds. That would be bad, but: "You never know about bees" (quote from Winnie the Pooh and The Honey Tree.) I have found wild bees living in an old 5 gal. gas can that still reeked of gas fumes.

On another note, Liz and I bought a new bed sans box springs. I have long held the opinion that box springs are a money waster left over from the days before modern materials. I have wanted to build a torsion box bed foundation. We didn't do that, because Liz is convinced it would squeak. Instead, we bought a steel frame to hold up a 12" thick memory foam mattress. There is more than average storage room under this frame, but not quite enough for the bins Liz wanted to put under it. I solved that problem by cutting some rounds of wood to lift each leg up 2 1/2" above the carpet (see below.) The trouble was that the legs tended to slip off the rounds, which then made the bed go all ahoo (technical term from my Marine days.)
Yesterday, I bought 2X4's and made new supports that are more solid, and have recesses to hold the legs firmly in place.
I rounded the ends of the supports to minimize toe stubbing.

On the floor, you can see one of the rounds that previously raised the legs. Behind the new supports are the bins. Among other things, the bins will hold the non-Christmas holiday decorations.

This is the bed as it looks when you enter the room. The height is nearly the same as it was with the old box springs, and a skirt hides the storage.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Ding dong, the bees are dead.

It is a sad, sad day at the apiary! We are mourning the passing of 120,000 (give or take) brave worker bees and 4 righteous queens who tragically died in the muddy waters of a Texas flood. They were abandoned to their horrible fate by a careless beekeeper, may he rot in the nether regions, who underestimated the depths to which Texas floodwaters may gather without warning or precursor. As the Trinity river swelled and water backed into tributaries, our brave honeybees, also known as Apis Melifora Multitudinous, were trapped as the rising waters first confined them to their hives, and then rose to drown them. Also lost were numerous eggs and larva, helpless children of the long suffering queens in this tragic tale. Property damage included honey, gathered after much toil and hard work into the comb, as well as pollen which would have been used to feed the poor, drowned larva.
Preceding the honeybees in death were 150,000 worker bees and 5 queens who fell victim to last Fall's hot and dry weather, denying them the nectar which would normally have come forth in floral blooms, the source of honey that could have enabled them to survive a long, though warm, winter.
Memorial services were held this morning in Sterling, Va. at the Worth family home. "Grandpa's honey was the best!" said one fan.

Below is a photo of one of the honeycombs recovered from the scene of the tradegy. Normally, the honeycomb would be a pleasant yellow color from the wax.

Well, enough of that. The question is to rebuild, or not to rebuild. This is a tough question for me, right now. Here are the factors:
  1. When Liz retires (probably 5 years or so from now) we will probably move closer to our kids in Utah, and no Texas bees can be taken to Utah because we have Africanized honeybees and Utah does not - Yet. So is it worth it to build up my apiary again, only to have to abandon it again?
  2. The comb is a beekeepers most valuable asset. I recovered all the honeycomb and most of the equipment, then spent all day yesterday cleaning comb out. I have as much more work to do to complete the task. However, as the photo above shows, the comb is filled with muddy water, and it STINKS! Texas has so very many wild pigs, and flood waters tend to collect where the pigs do, so the mud smells like the back part of a pig pen where they do their daily business. It is awful! So I am not sure I want to have the least trace of that in my honeycomb, especially if it will hold honey that may end up on my table. So, even though I have put a lot of effort into salvaging the comb, I think it is best to discard it, or perhaps to melt the wax down if it doesn't smell too bad.
  3. I am not currently working, making money tight. If I got new bees from a breeder (R. Weaver Co. is my favorite) a package with queen and enough bees to start one hive will cost me $120 plus shipping and insurance, probably about $150 total. And it is very risky to get only one package of bees. It is considered that 2 packages is the minimum to safely start. That would be $300 and is beyond my reach at the moment.
  4. I could set out some hives with pheromone lures to try to gather in a wild swarm or two. Swarms wouldn't produce much honey this year, but they would build up enough to be ready to produce next year. The cost is much lower and the chances of success are good, but the likelihood of gathering in Africanized bees is quite high. I have had Africanized bees take over a few hives in the past few years and I don't like it. I am a gentle person, and Africanized bees are not gentle. It isn't a good match.
  5. I love having fresh honey to sell or give away every year. It gives me a feeling of real worth to share the bees' bounty. I keep some for my own table, but I have always given away more than I've kept for myself. In recent years, as I started producing more I have sold some of it for a nominal price to defray the cost of bottles, but I prefer to give it away. It would make me very sad to think of not having any more honey from my own hives.
  6. I have a pretty large investment in equipment. I have forms for assembling new hive boxes and honeycomb frames. I have plans I've collected over the years for making hives and wax separators and bee vacuums, etc. I have a centrifugal honey extractor, and buckets and valves and strainers for bottling the honey. I have factory-made frame parts, and special staples for holding hives together, and honeycomb foundation. I have bee suits and veils, and hive tools, and smokers, and all the paraphernalia of beekeeping. If I didn't have bees, it would all become junk, at best to be sold for a small fraction of what it is worth.
  7. And finally, as much as we like to think that who we are is separate from what we do, keeping bees is part of my identity and I just don't want to give it up. I AM one of those crazy people who will happily go into a bee yard knowing in advance that I WILL get stung. I not only don't mind getting stung, I expect and demand to get stung. How can I give that up?

So, I think I have to continue on. I will try for a swarm or two, and maybe next year I will have honey to share once again.