Monday, March 12, 2012

Hive Check: March 8th

It's warm out. Silly warm. Driving to my apiary in Fort Greene, my car told me that the temperature was topping 70F. Days like this were meant to be spent outside with your bees and I am not one to deny myself such simple pleasures.

Two weeks ago I stuck my head in my Fort Greene hives and found them healthy and full of stores; even a little brood. This week, I found the bees in full on spring prep.

First I saw the huge amount of flight traffic coming in and out of the hive.

Little dudes were comin' in hot and heavy, loaded with nectar and pollen. From the roof, I could see multiple blooming trees, and a friend told me that Maples were already starting to bloom upstate. Sounds like it's gonna be an early spring. The bees think so, at least. I'll probably have to start swarm preparations within the month!

There seem to be bees in this hive.

Both hives have at least two frames of brood in all stages of development, and both are laying in nice, solid patterns. I was inspecting alone, so I don't have any shots, but expect to see pictures of emerging brood this week.

Smoke is magic.  Also, that is sugar, not my drug cache.

I'm not gonna lie. I'm a little excited about this upcoming season, but a little nervous as well.

Thirsty bees.  Apparently sub-irrigated planters make great waterers.

I've got a lot on my plate. I'll be starting my new job as a NYC Teaching Fellow in the fall, teaching science in a high-needs Brooklyn School. I'm starting a beekeeping apprenticeship and queen breeding program with Brooklyn Grange Farm in the Brooklyn Navy Yards. Sometimes I even go out with friends.

Ones who aren't bees.

Me, later this year.

It's gonna be a fun year, so keep on reading!

P.S. Come be my apprentice!  Apply to the Big Apple Apiary Beekeeping Apprenticeship!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

::Pssst:: Wanna be my apprentice?

I'm pleased as punch that YOU (yes, you!) are among the very first to know about BAABA: the Big Apple Apiary Beekeeping Apprenticeship.

What the heck is that?

Lemme tell you: The clever young men and women at the Brooklyn Grange and I have secured a roof in the Brooklyn Navy Yard to host a few dozen hives, most of which will be dedicated to helping new volunteer beekeepers get the hands-on experience they'll need to become WICKED SWEET beekeepers. And YOU can apply for a spot!

Here's the full description of the program, and how to apply. And hop to it, we're reading applications as they come in!

Big Apple Apiary Beekeeping Apprenticeship

Brand new rooftop apiary seeks 12 volunteer beekeeping apprentices for the 2012 bee season (April through October or November). Working in small teams, our apprentices will gain hands-on experience in both basic and advanced beekeeping techniques, with a focus on treatment-free and organic beekeeping, and have the opportunity to pay it forward and mentor next year’s students.

This 20 hive apiary – poised on an expansive rooftop in the historic Brooklyn Navy Yard – will play host to NYC’s first hands-on beekeeping training program. Through education and outreach we aim to foster an inclusive community of new beekeepers and arm them with the tools they need to play an active role of the long-term sustainability of our city. The apiary is a joint project of Brooklyn Grange Farm and Timothy O’Neal of Borough Bees.

Benefits & Responsibilities
Our apprenticeship program is structured to give you all the first-hand knowledge you need to start a beehive of your own on your roof, community garden, or backyard. We will provide teams of two to three apprentices with several beehives, beekeeping equipment, basic safety gear, and close guidance through a season of hive management in a small group setting. Our goal is to give you the training you need to apply your knowledge independently by the end of the season, and leave prepared to be a mentor to new beekeepers next year. We’ll also arrange for a few field trips and special guests throughout the season to welcome you into the greater beekeeping community in New York City and beyond.

Apprentices will work directly with experienced beekeepers and gain hands-on experience that covers the gamut of beekeeping tasks: basic hive inspections, pest identification and management, swarm prevention, requeening, combining and splitting hives, and honey harvesting. You’ll also learn about more advanced techniques like cell size regression, queen breeding, and managing top-bar colonies.

Apprentices are required to devote an average of 3-4 weekend hours per week to the maintenance of their hives. On a typical weekend the instructor will give a quick, hands-on lesson (30-60min) using a demonstration hive on what to look out for at that point in the season, at which point apprentices will break into small teams to inspect their own hives under supervision from the instructor. Teams are responsible for maintaining close records of hive conditions and manipulations. Some heavy lifting required, must be able to climb 4 flights of stairs and work in all weather.

Who We’re Looking For
This is not a beekeeping 101 course; ideal candidates will be able to demonstrate some degree of knowledge, but hands-on experience isn’t necessary. We’re a brand-new program so we need people with a sense of humor, patience, and a willingness to help us find ways to improve as we go!

In addition to the valuable hands-on training using provided equipment, we may be able to provide starter bee colonies to apprentices who successfully complete the whole program, to start their own hives next year. Students will get a portion of the honey harvest - but be aware that first-year hives sometimes produce little or no harvestable honey. This is a fantastic opportunity for anyone who’s interested in getting started managing their own bees and giving back to the larger community.

How to Apply
Please respond to no later than March 21st with an email telling us about yourself and your interest in the apprenticeship. We will be reviewing applications as they are received. No resume necessary, creative applications encouraged.

We encourage teams of two to three to apply together. Those who do not apply in teams will be paired with other selected applicants. Youth, members of under-served communities, and people from diverse backgrounds are encouraged to apply.

Applicants who will be available during the work week, or with an interest in queen breeding and genetics will be given special consideration.
You could spend your time like this!

Well, this is probably a bit more accurate.

Or this.

Or this.  Bees errywhere.


Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Hive Check: February

With the unusually mild winter that we have been having (and enjoying), there has been a lot of concern about the survival of hives in the city. The warm temperatures have altered the behavior of our bees, resulting in more time out of the winter cluster, an increased number of flights, and the early initiation of spring brood rearing. More activity means higher food consumption. For hives that were insufficiently prepared for winter or poorly maintained, it could mean starvation.

I spy with my little eye...

A queen!  I do, I do!  Esmeralda in Hive #1.

Quick, regular hive checks are an excellent way to see if your hives are on track for spring survival. When the weather is under 50F, you can quickly gauge the status of your hives by 'hefting' them. It's about as simple as it sounds. Go to the back of the hive, get your hands under the base and lift smoothly and gently from the back. If you can lift the hive without effort, the colony is short on supplies and should be reinforced. Dry sugar, syrup, fondant, and full frames of honey from another colony are all options for supplementing a hive light on food.

Tasty, tasty refined sugar.  While Hive #1 has consumed a large amount of dry sugar, Hive #2 has consumed none.

What you give them will depend entirely on what you have available and what kind of mood you're in. Honey from another hive (a deadout, perhaps) is the best and most natural option. Dry sugar is the easiest, but is messy and sometimes the bees don't care for it. Fondant requires time and effort to make, but is nice and clean and the bees take it easily. Sugar syrup is the hardest to use as a winter emergency feed. It is easily cooled to a temperature that prevents the bees from taking it by chilly weather at night. Anything under 50-60F, and the bees won't touch it. Not much help there.

When the weather is well over 50F, you can do a real inspection to see how your bees are doing. If they're flying, it's warm enough to open them up. Even so, you'll want to be quick about it to limit any disruption or potential damage to developing brood. Keep in mind that the bees may be a bit more defensive than normal, and may continue to be so until spring brings new sources of nectar and pollen to distract them. Don't be alarmed, but do be careful and make sure you have your smoker lit and your veil at the ready.

There are a few things you'll want to keep your eyes out for. First and foremost, the priority is to make sure that the hive has adequate honey and pollen to make it until spring. What qualifies as 'adequate' is completely variable and subjective. Some bees are very frugal with their stores and need much less in the way of honey and pollen to make it through the winter. Italian bees from Georgia, for instance, require much more food than northern-bred Carniolan stock. You'll have to make your own determination as to whether your bees have enough food, based on your own experience. The heft test is still a great resource in warmer weather. Remember, if the hive is easy to lift, you should consider supplemental food until natural sources become available.

Hive #1 has about 10 frames this full in their top brood chamber.

While checking for food should be your first priority, if it is warm enough to get in the hives, you should check for signs of brood rearing, as well as indicators of disease. In particular, look out for sick or dying brood, frass (poop) from varroa in brood cells, and dead varroa under the screened bottom board. Even in the dead of winter, many hives will intermittently raise small patches of brood to supplement the cluster with young bees. If you spot a small patch of eggs, larvae, or capped pupae, don't be alarmed, but do take caution. Take note of the size and location of the brood, look for any signs of disease, and put the frame back before the brood is chilled. A small patch of brood is solid evidence that your queen is healthy and laying and a good sign that your hive is doing well.

Lovely hand sized patch of brood.  Brought to you by Esmeralda.
Eggs, larvae, and capped pupae.

A large patch of brood is potentially worrisome. Too much brood early in the spring can prevent the bees from reforming a winter cluster if the temperature dips again. Workers will not abandon young, even at the cost of their own lives. If they can't cluster up, they won't be able to create enough collective heat to maintain their internal temperature and they'll die of cold. Ick.

Queen Lazing from Hive #2 made an appearance.

If you don't see any brood, don't panic. Some queens will hardly lay at all in the winter, and you won't see any brood at all until spring. Just make sure that they have enough food, wait it out, and chill.

Better you than the bees.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Weekly 101 (3/6/12)

First Tuesday of the month? You know what that means!

There's a free monthly New York City Beekeeper's Association meeting tonight!
March 6th
Beekeeping in Kenya

New York Times photographer Andrew Sullivan and Cecilia Lee, along with NYCBA's Norm and Andrew Coté, will present a Power Point presentation and discussion on their January 2012 beekeeping trip to Africa, where they worked with different tribal beekeepers within the Rift Valley, and a stingless bee along the coast during this Bees Without Borders trip.

As always, it's being held at the Seafarers & International House, 123 East 15th Street, and starts at 7PM.

Urban Hive Moving: Hatch Edition

As mentioned in the last article on urban hive moving, some of us in the city are forced to keep bees in locations that would cause our forebears to do a spit-take.

You have your bees WHERE!?

Our urban community is uniquely creative when it comes to hive placement, and places the importance of keeping bees far above the relative convenience of doing so. I've seen urban apiaries that can only be accessed by climbing a 20 foot ladder leading up to unwalled, open air attic with roof access through a double paned window barely large enough to fit a hive through, let alone a person.

Getting bees in to these locations is hard enough, often requiring the hive to be brought through the access point piece by piece, but what about getting them back out? Once the bees have made themselves at home, you can't really remove the hive piecemeal... or can you?

In fact, this is exactly what is done to move hives out of a limited-access location. Split the hive(s) up into manageable pieces, and they are much easier to move. Obviously, this has its downsides and limitations. In order to divide a colony into manageable bits, it has to be warm enough outside to open and manipulate the bees without chilling the brood or breaking up a winter cluster. On top of that, splitting a hive means you'll have to have enough small (4-5 frame) nuc boxes to split the hives into. Cardboard and plastic nuc boxes are both commonly available and cheap.

Itty-bitty hive, itty-bitty hatch, still a pain.

For the most part, moving a hive through a hatch follows most of the procedures outlined previously, but with a few modifications.

The first change is to compress the colony as much as possible the day before the move. The smaller the number of frames occupied by the bees, the smaller the number of nuc boxes needed to move them. The easiest way to do this is to evacuate and remove any and all honey supers, reducing the hive down to the broodnest. Attempting to compress the hive any further or for any length of time risks triggering swarm preparations, particularly in spring or summer.

Once the hive has been compressed down to the broodnest, it can be split into nucs. This should be done in the evening, after most of the foragers have returned home, and with heavy smoke to limit the number of flying bees. Ideally, the arrangement and orientation of the brood frames should be maintained as much as possible. The entrances of the nucs should be sealed and ventilation provided so that the bees can get plenty of air. Most of the cheap cardboard/plastic nucs are perfect for this purpose, as they have pluggable entrances and plenty of ventilation.  Make sure to carefully secure the lid and entrances of the nucs to prevent any escapes.

After the hive has been divided into small, discrete pieces, it can be easily carried down a hatch, while making sure to keep them level. When moved to the new location, the nucs can be recombined and treated as any other newly moved hive.