Tuesday, November 29, 2011

P.S. Bee Class



Yeah you.

I'm teaching a Beekeeping 101 course at the Brooklyn Brainery, starting tomorrow. There are 3-4 spots left, so if you were on the fence, now is your last chance until January!

Check the Brainery site for the details.

$50 - Cheap!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Hive Check: October

Now that spring has sprung and summer has past, the hives I started this year are preparing to go into their first winter. Fall is the crucible of any new hive; a test of their ability to stand on their own six feet and survive. Once the queen breaks her brood cycle and stops laying for winter, the bees are more or less on their own. As a beekeeper, you can keep on jamming in some extra feed and ensure that they won't starve, but the most important factor is the basic health of the bees themselves.

Bees are getting testy and I've started to wear a veil again.
Image c2011, James Barilla

Smoking down Hive #2 while Alex Brown works his magic.
Image c2011, James Barilla

The health of any hive is a mixing pot of a huge number of factors; genetics, location, food quality, food quantity, mite load, climate, and more. You can make an educated guess as to the status of many of these, but it is only a guess and sometimes bees defy your best intentions and die anyways. It's a gamble, and it's one that all beekeepers have to accept.

Beekeeping in the fall is all about trying to maximize the overall health of the colony in any way you can and minimizing any disruption of the hive activity. The bees have their proverbial proboscises to the grindstone and the less you interrupt them the better. At this point in the year, I'm doing a hive check every 2-3 weeks and even those are cursory.

Got food? Check.
Got brood? Check.
Close 'em up.

Chillin out, maxin, relaxing all cool,
And all shooting some b-ball outside of the school.
Image c2011, BoroughBees.com

When a couple of guys who were up to no good
Started making trouble in my neighborhood.
Image c2011, BoroughBees.com

Not only do the bees have to scrounge up any last bit of nectar and pollen left to store away for winter, they have to combat dropping temperatures to keep their remaining brood warm and viable so that the colony has a fresh generation of the young winter (or 'fat') bees needed to keep the hive viable until spring. These 'fat' bees now being born will never forage for nectar or pollen. Their sole purpose in the hive is to maintain the temperature of the cluster throughout the winter and create enough heat (95F!) for the hive to begin raising new bees as early as February.

To this end, the physiology of young workers born in the late fall is adjusted to maximize their usefulness as heater bees and nurse bees, as well as their long term survivability. These winter bees have more fat bodies (hence the term 'fat bees'), more sugar and fat in their haemolymph (blood), enlarged brood food glands, and lower hormone levels. These physical changes combined with the behavioral changes resulting from cold temperatures result in a lifespan measured in months rather than weeks. Winter bees tend to live about 6 months, and winter workers up to 12 months old have been observed. Summer bees work themselves to death in an average of 6 WEEKS.

Most first year hives have to be provided with additional food to help them build up the stores required for winter, and mine are no exception. I didn't harvest any honey from these colonies this year and Hive #1, headed by the Brooklyn Queen "Esmeralda", looks to be in fine shape for the winter. The top hive body is full of freshly capped honey, there is a nice ring of pollen around the broodnest, and Esmeralda has drastically curtailed her brood laying activity. This is a good sign- it means that the bees have recognized that winter is coming and that they can't afford to maintain an excess population.

Full of honey, each of these frames weighs over 10lbs.
Image c2011, BoroughBees.com

A hive of Italian bees require up to 100lbs of honey to make it through the winter.
To put it in perspective, at NYC honey prices, they'll eat $3000 worth of honey by the spring.
Image c2011, BoroughBees.com

They'll need pollen to raise new brood in the Spring and it looks as if they have it.
Image c2011, BoroughBees.com

Throughout October, I've watched the broodnest slowly shrink from an area the size of a basketball, down to approximately half the volume. Still, a little extra food never hurt, so I've provided them with a little extra thick (2:1) sugar syrup and fresh pollen patties.

Itty bitty brood nest, but nice and solid with a ring of eggs and young larvae.
Image c2011, BoroughBees.com

I'm gonna submit this to Mike and Tom Eat Snacks.
Image c2011, BoroughBees.com

Hive #2, headed by the Georgia package queen "Lazing", remains where it has been all year- lagging behind its sister. Despite having been fed significantly more than Hive #1, they have drawn significantly less comb. This is probably due to poor genetics and I am not really expecting them to survive the winter. Still, I'll do my best and force feed them as much as possible, just to hedge my bets. I can't do anything about their cruddy genetics at this point in the season, but at the very least I can make sure that they won't die of starvation.

Lazing?  More like lazy.  Outermost frame of Hive #2.
Emily is sad.
Image c2011, BoroughBees.com

A bit better.  Frame #2.
Emily is comme ci, comme ├ža.
Image c2011, BoroughBees.com

Covered in bees!  Hooray!  Now we just need to fill it with food for the winter.
Emily is happy!
Image c2011, BoroughBees.com

Dying light.
Image c2011, BoroughBees.com

This recent spate of warm weather has been extremely helpful, allowing me to make some last minute adjustments to the internal arrangements and dig in to the hive further than I might otherwise for fear of chilling the brood, but it will be over soon and I'll have to winterize the hives soon.

Beautiful white cappings on their winter stores.
Image c2011, BoroughBees.com

But that's for another post...

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Weekly 101 (10/13/11)


While I may be swamped at work and otherwise, I made time specifically for this.

It's time for the second ever meeting of the Backwards Beekeepers of NYC!
Our October Backwards Beekeepers of NYC meeting is on Thursday the 13th for 7-9pm at 61 Local, the fine establishment in Cobble Hill. They've been kind enough to let us use their wonderful event space for the meeting, and then after we will be enjoying beers, refreshments and other tasty treats down in their bar! Come by, get to know your fellow beekeepers. If you aren't a beekeeper yourself but are interested in becoming one, or hosting a hive for a wanna-bee, you should come by and get involved! All are welcome.

During the actual meeting Megan Paska and I will take turns chatting the room up about our bees, the upside to urban beekeeping and methods of managing bees without the use of chemical inputs. There will be ample time for Q&A and we'll discuss what the future of the club holds! This is only our second meeting so there's tons of room for growth and participation!

61 Local is located at 61 Bergen Street off of the F and the G line (Bergen St.)

Meg is going to talk about the basic tenets of Backwards Beekeeping; why we exist, why we don't believe that chemicals, pesticides, or treatments of any kind have a place in our hives, and why they might not have a place in yours either.

I'm going to be talking about a specific treatment free beekeeping method: a structured small cell regression. I'm going to cover my research on the subject, the arguments I've heard for and against it, and my experiences actually going ahead and doing it over the last year.

Backwards Beekeepers of NYC
Thursday, October 13th
61 Local
61 Bergen St, Brooklyn

Bring your drinkin' shoes.

If you're in Williamsburg and need something to do over the weekend, I'll be at the Harvest Festival Hoedown, hosted by City Life Wellness. Starting at Noon on Saturday, October 15th, I'll be giving a short talk on basic beekeeping information, skills, and practices. There's a suggested donation of $5, so please come out and help keep me in hives.

There's a joke in there, somewhere.

I'll also (hopefully) have some honey from Ralph Gaeta and Mizz Beehavin' Apiary FOR SALE. They took home second place in the NYC Honey Festival Honey Tasting, and I helped them extract another 50 pounds of the stuff over the weekend. It's dark, malty, and delicious. If you buy some, you can put it in your mouth.

Or my mouth, if you're into that sort of thing.

Harvest Festival Hoedown
Saturday, October 15th
12PM (Noon)
Meeker Avenue Vintage and Antique Warehouse
75 Frost St, Brooklyn

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Weekly 101 (10/4/11)

It's that time of the month again.


First Tuesday of the month.

That means it's time for... A MEETING WITH THE NYC BEEKEEPERS ASSOCIATION! Hooray!

Michael Leung is the founder and creative director of HK Honey - an organisation of Hong Kong beekeepers, artists and designers that aim to communicate the value of bees and benefits of locally produced honey.

Michael will be sharing his stories of how he became Hong Kong's first urban beekeeper, showing us how he mixes beekeeping with design and how he markets and brands his honey and beekeeping related products in Hong Kong.


Tuesday, October 4th
Seafarers & International House
123 East 15th Street

I've been seeing a lot of Michael lately; he's been hanging out with my friends Meg Paska, the Brooklyn Homesteader, and Chase Emmons, the head beekeeper of the Brooklyn Grange. He was a huge help at the NYC Honey Festival. This is going to be a really interesting talk, and while I am sorry that I cannot make it, you should show up and tell him that Tim sent you.


But have no fear, for even if you must miss this sweet meeting, you can always come join me for my FREE PUBLIC HIVE INSPECTION at the Added Value Community Farm in Red Hook, this Saturday at 11AM.

Taken with actual film.
None of that instagram crap here.
c2011, Michael Leung

I won't tell you what is going to happen, but I will tell you that it will be exciting either way. YES SIRREE BOB!  My car is in the shop, so I will be chauffeured by my lovely assistant, Emily Vaughn.  You'll get to meet her!  Ask her questions!  See her play with bees!  EXCITING!

I'll be there bright and early, rip-roarin' to go, and I'll start the talk and demo at 11AM or SOON THEREAFTER. Be on time! Get there early! Get your hands dirty on the farm! The demo will take place during open volunteer hours, so stick around afterwards! YES!


It's all going down at the Added Value Red Hook Community Farm, located at 3-49 Halleck St, Brooklyn, 11231, and I'll be starting the inspection at 11AM on Saturday, October 8th.

To get there by Subway:
A/C/F train to Jay Street/Borough Hall. Exit the station and walk west to Boerum Place and Joralemon Street. Take the B61 bus going towards Red Hook. Exit the bus at the IKEA store, and the farm is across the street.
R to 4th Ave/9th St. Take the B61 bus going towards Red Hook/IKEA on 9th st. Exit the bus at the IKEA store, and the farm is across the street.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Weekly 101 (9/29/11): Birthday Edition

This weekend there are many ways for you to come and visit me and my bees in Brooklyn!


Inspection in Red Hook
c2011, Alex Brown

Because it is my birthday this week, I am mixing things up and taking Friday off to host a FREE Public Hive Inspection at the Added Value Community Farm in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Hint: It's across the street from IKEA. Getchu some meatballs in your face and getchu some bees in your hands. It's what we call a win-win situation in my business.

This week's inspection is going to be particularly exciting. If you have read Part One and Part Two of Queenright in Red Hook and would like to skip ahead and see the (hopefully) awesome conclusion of the saga, COME OUT TO RED HOOK on FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 30th. I won't know the ending either, and I wasn't able to do it last week because of the damn rain, so I'm SUPER STOKED to find out!

I'll be there bright and early, rip-roarin' to go, and I'll start the talk and demo at 11AM or SOON THEREAFTER. Be on time! Get there early! Get your hands dirty on the farm! The demo will take place during open volunteer hours, so stick around afterwards! YES!


It's all going down at the Added Value Red Hook Community Farm, located at 3-49 Halleck St, Brooklyn, 11231, and I'll be starting the inspection at 11AM.

To get there by Subway:
A/C/F train to Jay Street/Borough Hall. Exit the station and walk west to Boerum Place and Joralemon Street. Take the B61 bus going towards Red Hook. Exit the bus at the IKEA store, and the farm is across the street.
R to 4th Ave/9th St. Take the B61 bus going towards Red Hook/IKEA on 9th st. Exit the bus at the IKEA store, and the farm is across the street.

I will be manning a table at the New New York Green Block Party in Williamsburg, this Saturday, October 1st. I'm going to have live bees with me in my observation hive, lots of free fliers with basic bee facts, and a whole bunch of time on my hands to answer all your most burning beekeeping questions.

Join us Saturday, October 1 from 11am to 5pm on North 11th St (Wythe/Berry) in Williamsburg for a green block party with vendors, tours, food, and fun! Attending the fair, and many of our extra activities, is free. We are also hosting an After Party (34 Berry parking lot) complete with beer and a screening of a urban agriculture documentary followed by a Hollywood blockbuster. Check out the schedule for more info.

The Idea Behind the Event

The NEW New York is GreenHomeNYC’s revolutionary interpretation of the typical New York block party. Street fairs and block parties are an intrinsic part of the New York City summer experience, bringing neighborhoods together, culture to the streets, celebrations and joy to the public spaces of our city. The NEW New York re-invents this tradition to bring home — right to the front stoop — ideas for greening our built environment for the residents of the city.

A core component of the event is to use the streetscape and surroundings as a “classroom.” In addition to leaving behind a block transformed with examples of a greener city, such as a newly planted tree, activities will be tied into the immediate environs, such as tours of a nearby green building. The day’s activities will be multifaceted, incorporating educational workshops covering a wide array of topics, hands-on demonstrations by exhibitors, and, tours of green buildings, companies, and local natural resources. Activities will benefit anyone on the green spectrum from curious to committed, including youth.

The event will take place annually each autumn and occupy one street block. Last year we took over Third Street between Bond and Hoyt in the Carroll Gardens / Gowanus Canal neighborhood of Brooklyn. This year we are in Williamsburg on N 11th Street at Wythe — in front of Brooklyn Brewery and around the corner from Brooklyn Bowl!

Perhaps next year we will be in your neighborhood!
I had a lot of fun doing this last year and really enjoyed talking to y'all.  Come out again and ask more questions!  I like it!

P.S.  If something else is burning, you should see your doctor.

P.P.S.  Please don't show it to me. I am not your doctor.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Rain, Rain, Go Away.

The Itsy Bitsy Spider is totally boned.
Image by Thomas Shahan.
Ick.  It's raining.  It will still be raining tomorrow.  The roads I take to get to Red Hook are under a foot and a half of water.


No bees tomorrow.

The FREE Public Hive Inspection at the Added Value Community Farm in Red Hook for Saturday, September 24th is officially CANCELLED.

Sorry folks.  I guess we'll have to wait a little longer to find out how that requeening went.

Keep your fingers crossed.

Queenright in Red Hook, Part 2

A Beekeeping Adventure in three parts.
Part One can be found HERE.

For weeks, I'd been watching the queenless colony peter out slowly. With no functional queen, and a couple of laying workers in her stead, the colony had no chance of surviving the winter. The existing workers were ageing fast and would eventually all die off, leaving only drones. I was avoiding digging into it too deeply; checking a couple frames in the bottom deep every two weeks for signs of improvement I found nothing but a few scattered drone pupae in 'bullet brood' cells, and hardly any of those either. Yet the colony remained in a fair mood and quite productive.

With no young to feed, the bees quickly filled the hive with large amounts of honey and pollen, and I figured that once the population collapsed completely, I would be able to give all that food to its healthy and queenright sister colony to supplement their winter stores. And so it went. The hive kept on working; productive, but not improving.

Then, it happened.

For the record, that's a billow t-shirt, not my big fat belly.
Image c2011, Paul Smith.

See?  I told you so.  But where did my booty go?
Image c2011, Alex Brown.

I was going through my regular hive inspection routine. Check the queenright hive first, because they're almost always in an excellent mood. Pass around a couple frames of honey, pollen, brood, and bees around the crowd, and explain what is happening in the hive- how a beekeeper looks at the activity within a hive and translates that information into useable data. As usual, everything in the first hive was fine and dandy. The brood was solid, there was plenty of food (honey AND pollen), and there seemed to be more coming in.

Looking at the comb, checking for honey/pollen/eggs/larvae/etc.
Image c2011, Paul Smith.

Showing off for the ladies by showing them my ladies.  Yeah girl.
Image c2011, Alex Brown.

So I moved on to hive number 2. The queenless wonder.

As I had seen previously, the top deep was absolutely PACKED with honey and pollen. The population was surprisingly strong considering how long they had been without brood, but the percentage of drones was very high, clearly up from the normal max of ~10%. The drones in that hive are interesting in and of themselves. I have never seen drones so solidly dark, like they'd been carved from ebony. They're big, healthy things as well. I suppose that without the presence of any worker brood, the drones are getting all the food and protein they could ever ask for.

Magritte strikes back.
Also, lookit all that honey.  Pooh bear just poohed himself.
Image c2011, Paul Smith.

No babies = more stuff for you.  A true life lesson.
Image c2011, Paul Smith.

The bees were in a good mood, and so I decided to pick out a frame or two from the lower deep hive body. I had a nice, curious audience, and a couple of friendly photographers, so I figured I may as well give them the full monty. I decided to pull a frame directly out of the center of the hive. All the combs had been drawn perfectly, so there were no 'hot spots', raised areas of comb that get knocked off when you pull the frame, and it came out nice and smooth.

Exactly what I had been seeing for months.  Some food, some scattered drones in bullet brood cells.  Ick.
Image c2011, Paul Smith.

Just as I expected. A ring of pollen and honey around the edges and a couple of scattered drone cells closer to the center, with a couple random cells containing a couple of side-laid eggs. I flipped the frame over and...


Is that a queen?


But not just any queen. Jet black and shiny as basalt, she was the size of a virgin queen- only slightly larger than a worker. She was moving fast and constantly burying herself under her daughters. Before I lost track of her, I scooped her off the frame and into my hand.

I opened my hand to get a closer look and she flew off into the wild blue yonder.

Flight weight?


How inconvenient.

I yelled at everyone to keep an eye on her while I went to find something to capture her with. She was easy to spot in the air. Queens aren't fantastic flyer, even at their lightest, and with the weight of eggs (even drone ones) in her abdomen, she flew ass down and slow as molasses. Normally a queen won’t fly at all, weighed down by her own stores of sperm and developing eggs.

By the time I returned with a suitable container, she had settled on the butt of Paul Smith, a photographer and student at the Columbia School of Journalism who had come down to get some shots of an urban beekeeper for a feature he was working on.

Telling him not to move, I gently scooped her into a waiting pill bottle and popped the lid on.

I handed the queen off to Tobin, Ross Brown's son and budding beekeeper so I could use my hands.
The queen is fully stretched out here.
Image c2011, Paul Smith.

Back in hand, you can see just how small the queen really was.
Image c2011, Alex Brown.

What to do now? The ‘queenless’ hive was not queenless after all! Comparing her to the drones in the hive, it was abundantly clear to me that she had been present but unseen and unnoticed from the beginning, that she was mother of the drones, and the reason I hadn't been able to requeen the hive successfully. The 'laying worker' was actually a true queen who had run out of sperm to fertilize eggs. I don't have a solid explanation for the poor egg placement or the instances of multiple eggs in a single cell. My best guess is that reduced to flight weight, her abdomen was simply not long enough to reach the bottom of the cell. It is also very odd that the workers didn't take the opportunities to replace an obviously failing queen presented to them by my multiple requeening attempts, but no matter.

With the queen removed, the bees would be desperate to replace her. Thinking (and working) quickly, I effected a 'transfusion'. From the "queenless" and broodless problem hive, I transferred five of the deep frames of solid packed honey and pollen they had collected. In exchange, from the queenright colony I swapped in five deep frames of capped brood, eggs, and empty comb in the hopes that the workers from the ailing hive would finally recognize their queenlessness and take steps to raise a new one.  In both cases, I shook all the bees clinging to the frames back into their original hives to prevent any fighting.

Making room in the "not so queenless" hive.
Image c2011, Paul Smith.

Choosing frames to transfer from the queenright hive.
Image c2011, Alex Brown.

I can has babies?  Yes, I can!  A nice frame holding a large amount late stage capped and emerging brood, and even more eggs.  Perfect for providing a boost in population and the raw material to make a queen from.
Image c2011, Paul Smith.

Nice bee 'C', a solid laying pattern by the queen in the healthy hive.  Free of bees, you can swap frames from hive to hive without worrying about them being accepted.
Image c2011, Alex Brown.

But what did I do with the old, unlaying queen, you ask? Usually a dud queen like her gets squished and tossed into some rubbing alcohol to make "Queen Tea", a pheromone heavy brew that you can use to anoint swarm traps with queen scent. It's an old-school trick, and a great way to recycle extra queens, but obviously necessitates killing the queens. Ick.

Instead, I opted to put her into a retirement home. Taking an extra 8 frame hive body full of honey and pollen, I transferred a couple thousand bees from her original hive into a single story nuc. In the hopes that she'll continue raising viable drones to populate the local drone congregation areas (mating fields) until she peters out completely, I released her into her new home.

Putting together a retirement home for the sterile queen.
A bit of a downgrade in terms of space, but better than my hive tool to her face.
Image c2011, Alex Brown.

Letting the queen loose on the top bars of the 8 frame nuc.
Notice the lack of other bees on the top bars.
Image c2011, Alex Brown.

I don't think that I've ever seen bees form a court so quickly. Within seconds, the workers shaken into the nuc had formed a perfect circle surrounding the queen and marching her down between the frames. With pheromonal pull like that, it's no wonder that they refused to replace her.

The beginning of the court.  Approximately 10 seconds after release of the queen.
See how little she is?
Image c2011, Paul Smith.

Another view, a few seconds later.  A perfect court around the dud queen.
She is practically the same size as a worker and differs mainly by colouration.
Image c2011, Alex Brown.

Hot, sweaty, and feeling clever, I closed up the hives.

Image c2011, Alex Brown.

The following week, I cracked the hive open and found exactly what I had hoped for; a multitude of queen cells in various stages of development. Some were even capped. We’ve got queens. But will they be any good?

Hell if I know!

I guess we’ll find out in PART 3 of Queenright in Red Hook!

Image c2011, Micah Garen.

This weekend, during my FREE Public Hive Inspection at the Added Value Community Farm in Red Hook, I'll (we'll?) find out if the new queen survived and managed to mate.

For the *live* conclusion of the tale, stay tuned or COME OUT and find out first hand! The fun will start at 11AM, across the street from IKEA.

Cross your fingers for better weather.

Can't check bees in the rain!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Weekly 101 (9/21/11)

Back to my regularly scheduled programming, I will be hosting a FREE Public Hive Inspection at the Added Value Community Farm in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Hint: It's across the street from IKEA. Getchu some meatballs in your face and getchu some bees in your hands. It's what we call a win-win situation in my business.

This week's inspection is going to be particularly exciting. If you read Part One of Queenright in Red Hook and would like to skip ahead and see the (hopefully) awesome conclusion of the saga, COME OUT TO RED HOOK on SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 24th. I won't know the ending either, so I'm SUPER EXCITED to find out!

I'll be there bright and early, rip-roarin' to go, and I'll start the talk and demo at 11AM or SOON THEREAFTER. Be on time! Get there early! Get your hands dirty on the farm! The demo will take place during open volunteer hours, so stick around afterwards! YES!


It's all going down at the Added Value Red Hook Community Farm, located at 3-49 Halleck St, Brooklyn, 11231, and I'll be starting the inspection at 11AM.

To get there by Subway:
A/C/F train to Jay Street/Borough Hall. Exit the station and walk west to Boerum Place and Joralemon Street. Take the B61 bus going towards Red Hook. Exit the bus at the IKEA store, and the farm is across the street.
R to 4th Ave/9th St. Take the B61 bus going towards Red Hook/IKEA on 9th st. Exit the bus at the IKEA store, and the farm is across the street.

For my more well-heeled readers, there is an exciting event going on TONIGHT, Wednesday, September 21st.

[The] Brooklyn Historical Society (BHS) is celebrating Brooklyn’s burgeoning local food and sustainability movement at its Brooklyn Bounty cocktail party,Wednesday, September 21, 2011 from 6:30-9:30 p.m.

“This year we are evolving the traditional cocktail party concept into a more meaningful evening that is deeply rooted in Brooklyn’s rich agrarian heritage,” said BHS President Deborah Schwartz. According to Marc Linder, author of Of Cabbages and Kings County: Agriculture and the Formation of Modern Brooklyn, through the end of the late nineteenth-century, Brooklyn was the country’s second largest producer of vegetables. This year’s Bounty is a celebration of Brooklyn’s past as well as the contemporary sustainable foods movement in the borough.

The event will include:
• Tastings of food from Brooklyn growers, chefs, and purveyors who have been given the challenge of utilizing a locally grown or produced ingredient in their dishes
• Historical cocktails by Brooklyn mixologists
• Food stories told by Brooklynites from neighborhoods far and wide
• A viewing of historical and new maps and materials related to local food and agriculture
• A creative silent auction of unique Brooklyn prizes and experiences
• Music by The Blue Vipers of Brooklyn
• And… the FIRST Brooklyn Food Awards, which will pay tribute to those Brooklynites who have contributed to our borough’s sustainability movement.

The evening will include food by local chefs from Egg, Fornino, iCi, Purple Yam, and many more. Chefs are featured each week in our Brooklyn Bounty Blog in an ongoing series. In addition to a tasting menu by local chefs, the event will include a mouth-watering mix of local products from favorite local businesses including ice cream from Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory, goodies from Kumquat Cupcakery, seasonal beers from Brooklyn Brewery, wine from Red Hook Wineries and coffee from Brewklyn Grind.

Oh yes.

Beekeeper For A Day, with me! I'll take the winning bidder (and a guest!) around Brooklyn for some HANDS ON EXPERIENCE as a beekeeper. We'll get our hands dirty in the Added Value Red Hook Community Farm hives, as well as in my personal hives (my babies!) in Fort Greene. We'll likely finish up enjoying a tasty local brew with the bees as we talk about...

Wait for it...



You can buy tickets for the cocktail party, being held at the Brooklyn Historical Society in downtown Brooklyn, HERE. They're pricy, but if it's any motivation, I will be there answering questions in an ever increasing state of inebriation.

Or not.

I'm reasonable.

I'm also really excited about bees!

Also, I'll be wearing a bow tie.

Do it. You know you want to.

For more info, check out the Brooklyn Bounty blog at: brooklynbounty.org

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Queenright in Red Hook, Part 1

A Beekeeping Adventure in three parts.

Those of you who have made it to my public hive inspections at the Added Value Farm in Red Hook have heard the story about how one of the hives is a bit of a dud. A few weeks after I installed the hives, the queen started to fail, and then a month or so later, stopped laying completely.

Fact:  Girls like bees.  Or they're scared of them?  I always mix that one up.
Image c2011, Valery Rizzo

I made several attempts to requeen the hive, first by providing them with frames of eggs and very young larvae from its healthy sister. No new queens were made. In fact, many of the eggs were seemingly ignored; several frames of new brood were underfed and allowed to die.



At least I like bees.
Image c2011, Valery Rizzo

I like talking about them too.  Or maybe I just like the sound of my own voice.
I can never remember.
Image c2011, Valery Rizzo

Then, I tried to give them a new queen provided by Mark Negley, the original provider of the nucleus colonies I started the season with. Caged, I hung her between some brood frames for a week and came back to check on her. The bees were feeding her through the cage rather than trying to bite at her; a good sign that she had been accepted by the workers, so off came the cap covering the candy plug and back in the hive she went. The next week I dug in to the hive expecting to see plenty of new eggs and young larvae.

Nothing. Nada. Zilch.

No sign of the new queen other than the empty queen cage.


Gita helping me to inspect the queenright hive.
Image c2011, Valery Rizzo

Dennis having a look-see.  Again in the queenright hive.
Image c2011, Valery Rizzo

Well, if you don't succeed, try, try again, right? Time for another queen. After inspecting the hive to ensure that nothing had changed, I inserted another caged queen from a different source. A week later, I went back and found that the bees were completely ignoring her. Even when set in a cluster of bees, they just ignored the cage like it wasn't there.

Worse, I found eggs.

But not good eggs. Drone eggs. In worker cells. On the SIDES of worker cells, and often in multiples. This is one of the classic signs of a laying worker; the condition in which several workers of a queenless colony develop working ovaries due to the lack of inhibitory queen and brood pheromones which, in a queenright colony, prevent workers from laying. Unfortunately, because a laying worker is not a true queen, she doesn't have the capability or instinct to mate, so she can only lay unfertilized (haploid) drone (male) eggs. In the wild, this is a clever evolutionary trick; it allows a colony that was unable to raise a new queen or lost its virgin queen on a mating flight to propagate its genetic through the male line via mating with virgin queens from other colonies.

Actually, all the pictures in this article are from the queenright hive.
I just wanted to show you all the pretty pictures.
Also, lookit all 'dat honey!
Image c2011, Valery Rizzo

See?  Brood.  Definitely not from the hive in question.
A little of the capped stuff, but mostly eggs in those cells.
Image c2011, Valery Rizzo

However, in the bee yard, especially an urban one, a laying worker is often a death sentence. In the country, there is a method that many people use to fix a laying worker colony. Since a laying worker is just a regular worker with active ovaries, she is impossible to distinguish from a regular worker and remove physically, but as laying workers develop from young bees who have never left the hive, you can weed them out (along with all the other young non-foraging bees) by physically removing them from the hive. By shaking out ALL the bees in the hive several hundred yards away from the original hive location (too far for young and un-orientated bees to find their way back), you can eliminate the laying workers and the older bees will fly back to the original hive location. You can then requeen the weakened (but laying worker free) hive using the normal methods.

Nice lookin' capped brood.  Smile for the camera, babies.
Image c2011, Valery Rizzo

I have them.
Image c2011, Valery Rizzo

Too bad you can't do that in the city. There are few locations large enough to get a couple hundred yards away from the original hive, let alone the fact that it seems rude to shake out thousands of bees and allow them to wander around the city queenless, homeless, hungry, and increasingly cranky. In the end, I decided to let nature take its course and let the hive die out. I figured that I would be able to use the honey and pollen they had collected over the summer to reinforce the healthy hive and give them a better chance of surviving the winter. I returned the second caged queen to the hive in the hopes that they would accept her and allow her to take over from the laying workers.

She was not so lucky.

During my next inspection, I found her and her attendants all dead in the cage with plenty of food remaining in the candy plug.

And so it went for several weeks. Then, something happened…

Image c2011, Valery Rizzo

Stay tuned for Part 2.