Wednesday, December 28, 2011

FREE Winter Beekeeping Course in NYC

The FREE Winter Beekeeping Course given by NYC Beekeeping will be starting in January. This in-depth course takes place in Manhattan. There will be one class held just about every week until the end of April. (There are 14 sessions scheduled.)

You can check out the class dates at the Beekeepers Dojo Calendar page or at New York City Beekeeping.

I took this course last year and learned quite a lot. 

The classes also give you a chance to meet other newbeeks and gives you a chance to get in on the group equipment & bee purchases next Spring.

In addition to the FREE indoor classes scheduled, there are opportunities to join in hands-on outdoor hive examinations when the weather gets warmer (also free). These hive exams really help the new beekeeper get comfortable with handling the equipment and the bees that make up a living hive.

Why spend big bucks for a one day class when you can get the best multi-session course for free?

Sunday, August 28, 2011

A large limb misses by backyard hives by a few feet

Hurricane IRENE broke a huge limb off a tree in my neighbors back yard last night. It fell over toward my yard, taking out a bit of his 12 foot fence.

It missed my hives by a few feet.

The pic below was taken through the rain streaked window in my second floor bedroom using the low res camera built into my OLPC.

The fallen tree limb can be seen crushing the fence in the upper right of the photo. It extends almost the width of my backyard.

The small box in the center rear of the yard is the temporary split I made to house the new queen I ordered to replace the queen in the swarm hive to the left rear of the yard.

The hive in the foreground with the plywood top is last winters dead out that now serves to store the frames of un-extracted honey left over from last summer.

Another picture taken at 3PM shows the tree the limb fell from.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

An Anti-Ant Mini-Stand

The screened bottom board that came with the new 8-frame hive equipment I ordered this year to save my back did not come equipped with a slot for a varroa sticky board.

I built a square frame out of some scrap wood I found and painted it the same color as my hive.

I’ve been constantly feeding sugar water using a hive-top Styrofoam tank ever since I installed the swarm I captured. The bees quickly learned to love the sugar water …and so did the small local black ants.


I tried shaking cinnamon around the top of the Hive Carrier to repel the ants, but they seemed to find a way around it. Every time I opened the top of the hive to refill the tank, there were black ants all over the bottom of the tank.

I tried to put the base of the Hive Carrier legs in aluminum loaf pans with lots of cinnamon, but the bees still found a way to get to the tank.

On Sunday I added four short legs to the varroa sticky board holder, turning it into an anti-ant mini hive stand that I placed on top of the Hive Carrier. I put empty small cat food cans under the legs and poured half an inch of inexpensive with vegetable oil into them.

This seemed to do the trick.  This morning when I opened the tank I found only a few ants. I believe this small group of ants were trapped on the hive when I installed the mini hive stand.

Picture of the new anti-ant mini hive stand on top of the Hive Carrier showing the stubby unpainted legs that I glued and screwed to the bottom of the makeshift varroa sticky board frame. This picture was taken with my OLPC computer shortly after I put the hive back on.  From the ground up: at the base of the Hive Carrier leg you can see at the near right of the photo you can see the earlier attempt to stop ants using a loaf pan with some cinnamon. Just right of the center of the photo, partially obscured by some leaves of the Ukrainian Almond tree I planted last year, you can see a cat food can holding some vegetable oil. A stubby leg of the mini hive stand rests in the can.

A few confused bees can be seen gathered on the front edge of the mini hive stand, confounded by the elevation change of the hive entrance.

The screened bottom board rests on top mini hive stand / varroa board holder.

On top of that is an 8-frame slatted rack, with a few confused bees hanging out on it. (Many more bees are hanging out on the slatted rack inside the hive.)

On top of the slatted rack you can see the first of three 8-frame medium brood chambers.

The picture also shows how the Hive Carrier “floats” a few inches to the right of the shipping pallet Hive Port “wharf” where a Bad Beekeeper can stumble and clomp about without disturbing the bees any more then they already have been by this whole project.

Actually the bees remained pretty calm throughout the whole process of inserting the mini hive stand under the hive.

Mistakes Made / Lessons Learned.


When gathering the four empty cans of cat food from the recycling bag
(you DO RECYCLE don’t you?)
be sure to use cans that have been opened with a can opener. 

The cans that open with a pop-top lid leave a sharp edge that can give you a nasty cut. Which bleeds a lot. And slows down the construction process.   

Consider leaving the oil out of the cans until after the bees have adjusted to the fact that the hive entrance is several inches higher than they’ve grown to expect.

Bees landing at their usual height, loaded down with pollen and nectar, sometimes try to climb up the hive entrance.  About a dozen bees drowned in the can shown in the photo within five minutes of adding the oil.

Suggested sequence:

Gather not-so-sharp cans.

Add legs to the varroa sticky board holding frame, turning it into a mini-stand. Use 2 screws at right angles plus bee-safe wood glue to firmly attach the legs.

Put the mini hive stand on top of your Hive Carrier or regular hive stand and under the hive bottom board.

Put the empty cans under the legs of the mini hive stand BUT DO NOT ADD OIL YET.
(Unless you want to be a Bad Beekeeper)

Remove the feeder tank and take it inside for an overnight soak in water and bleach to remove mold.
The next day, later in the afternoon, return to the hive and make sure bees are no longer climbing the legs of the mini hive stand.

If the cans are free of bees, pour a little inexpensive vegetable oil into the cans.

Return the feeder tank to the hive and add sugar water.

At this point the ant problem should be greatly mitigated.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Trying out a Multi-Feeder

I entered the raffle at the Brooklyn Beekeepers Club Annual Honey Tasting & Open Bar last fall and won a hive top Multi-Feeder for 10 frame hives.

Last Sunday I went out to check on my bees and noticed that the Styrofoam hive top feeder that I usually use was empty AND had spots of mold on the bottom and sides of the feed tank.

The forage situation has not been good this summer and the newly hived swarm did not have a lot of pollen stored away. I had picked up a small baggie of pollen substitute from Liane who is the organizer of NYC Beekeeping and, since the bees needed both sugar water and pollen substitute, I decided to give the Multi-Feeder a try. 

I quickly made up a 5-pound bag of sugar into 1 to 1 sugar water using the method I described in my posting titled the Koan of Ones.

Although the Multi-Feeder was designed for 10-frame hives, I discovered that by centering it evenly on the top of the brood box, I could make it fit without exposing any cracks to let bees directly into the feeder from the outside of the hive.

This is a picture of the Multi-feeder after I placed it on the hive, but before adding any pollen substitute or sugar water.

The left side of the tank has it's entry gates in the high position to allow the bees enough room to enter the surface of the tank where the pollen substitute will be placed.
The entry gates on the right side were left in the low position to keep the bees from entering the tank when it is filled with liquid.

I poured the 1-to-1 sugar water into the right side and put a little pollen into the left side in front of each entry gate to see how the bees would react to it, as shown in the picture below.

After putting the 10 frame foam outer cover on top of the feeder and strapping it down, I left the bees alone for a week.

One week later this is what I found when I took the outer cover off and this is what I saw.

The sugar water had been completely consumed and the pollen substitute in front of one of the gates was completely consumed.

I made up another 5-pound batch of 1-to-1 sugar water and reloaded the tank. this time I put a complete line of pollen substitute connecting the two gates on the left side tank. 

Lessons Learned

There was more sugar water made from the 5-pound bag than would fit into one side of the multi-feeder so I had a little left over in a two liter bottle.  I went back to the hive the next day and found that the liquid level was down about half an inch so the bees must have been really sucking it up.  

I added the remainder of the sugar water and reminded myself to pick up another 5-pound bag of sugar 
and assemble some more wax-foundation frames so I'll have the third 8-frame medium brood chamber ready when it's needed.

While I was loading the muli-feeder, I also found quite a few ants so I'm going to have to do something to deal with them. Perhaps I'll try using cinnamon around the hive stand legs like I've seen mentioned on the web.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Backyard Hive Port with floating Hive Carrier

My version of Urban Beekeeping.

My bees did not make it through the winter. I figured that with all the other new beekeepers in the City last year that the chances of catching a swarm were good. Instead of ordering a new package of bees to replace my dead bees, I ordered a swarm lure and planned on catching a swarm.

Late in May I put together a swarm trap that was the equivalent of two 5-frame nucs stacked on top of each other.  In the top section was one frame with a piece of old dark brown brood comb held in by rubber bands.  I also placed four frames with 1 inch wax strips in the top.

In the bottom section I place a nail just above the entrance with a swarm lure attached to it.

The picture below show the swarm trap shortly before I deployed it about 15 feet up in a scrub tree in my backyard in Brooklyn.

Two-nuc high swarm trap
About two weeks later I noticed bees flying in and out of the trap. I decided to wait until the following weekend to move them into a “real” hive.

Bees going in and out of swarm trap

I built a hive stand by cutting a salvaged blue shipping pallet in half. I used some pieces of salvaged 2x6 planks that I found in a dumpster at the subway station near Kings Highway to build the sides and legs, which I painted brown.

After the brown paint dried, I removed one blue board to make a hole that would be under the screened bottom board. The remaining blue boards were painted off-white/yellow like the rest of the new hive equipment I have.

This hive stand was so over-built that it could easily hold two hives so I started thinking of it as a hive “carrier”.

 Hive Stand v 2 with legs, Side View

 Hive Stand v 2 with legs and hole for screened bottom board

I painted another shipping pallet, with closely spaced boards the same off white so that any bees that fell on it could be seen and rescued rather then stepped on. This painted pallet and two more salvaged blue pallets were placed on top of plastic coke bottle cases to keep them off the wet ground.

The completed hive carrier was “docked” a couple of inches away from the pallets so that the banging and thumping and stomping about of the bee keeper would not be conducted to the bees in their hive.

As a finishing touch I put a couple of pieces of salvaged plywood on top of the blue shipping pallets.

 Hive Port with one Hive Carrier ready for swarm transfer.

I placed the screened bottom board over the “observation hole” that I planned to use to peer up into the hive next winter to make sure that the cluster had moved up above the bottom brood box.

Screened botom board over observation hole in Hive Carrier

I added a queen “includer” adapted from a 10 frame queen excluder using some duct tape over the screened bottom board to keep the swarm queen from leaving the hive.

Screned bottom board with Queen Includer positioned
I then used some partially drawn frames of comb from last year to make sure everything fit and was aligned correctly.

 Practice load of new swarms hive with old frames

The picture below was taken after I moved the swarm into it’s new home in the single 8-frame medium brood box on top of the hive carrier. I nailed the swarm lure on the outside of the new brood box just above the hive entrance to help confused bees find their way to their new home. (For he remainder of the afternoon there were considerable numbers of bees flying about up in the tree saying “????!!!”.)

I piled the other medium boxes I had purchased for my planned two-hive bee yard in a tall stack positioned to provide shade for the new hive.

Nearby I placed a white water bucket with floating corks from a local bar to keep the bees from drowning.

Also visible in the picture is the old dead out that is partially obscured by one of the three Ukrainian almond saplings I had planted last year to provide forage for my hive.

Hive Port w newly installed swarm and spare equipment to provide afternoon shade

The swarm was making a living by robbing unconsumed honey from a hole in the 10-frame dead out, so early this morning I transferred all the frames into the stack of new equipment and made sure it was sealed to prevent robbing.

I took the old equipment inside to be patched and painted to match the new boxes.

The old equipment was stacked on top of a cut-in-half blue shipping pallet so my next step will be to transform that into another “hive carrier” by adding sides and legs and a matching paint job.

That should complete my planned Hive Port which will consist of a painted “dock” with Hive Carriers floating on each side of it and a warf side plywood covered staging area.

No more stumbling around in the weeds.

Below is a diagram showing the now and future Backyard Hive Port.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The First Flower - Spring 2011

Saw this flower today, the first one this spring.

Attention Bees:
hang in there honeys, better days are coming.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Tourist among the Ruins

Friday was a "use it or loose it" vacation day for me and I had a slew of things on my to-do list.

My back was still not 100% recovered from my fire-hydrant snow shoveling binge after the last big snow storm so I decided to continue refraining from my usual aerobic hour. I did, however, get up and record three of my preferred exercise programs (w/o commercials) for use when my back feels better.

My primary goal for the day was to read as much as possible of Dr. Tom Seeley's books HONEYBEE DEMOCRACY and THE WISDOM OF THE HIVE. I've found that the best reading environment for me is an NYC bus or subway car, so the day was planned to provide a lot of mass transit time.

(I had a ticket to hear a talk by Dr. Tom Seeley that had been arranged by NYC Beekeeping for the next day in Manhattan.)

I started my travels with a bus ride out to East New York Farms to check out their bee hives, which I had seen mentioned on the Internet. I took the B7 bus out to East 98 Street where I had to wait a while to transfer to the B15 bus.  While I was waiting I got into a discussion about beekeeping with a woman who was also waiting for the bus. A guy who turned out to be an exterminator came along and mentioned that he captured bees by spraying them with soapy water and carrying them in a box out to Long Island. I gave him my contact info and told him he could give his next batch of bees to me.

The B15 bus came along late and was already packed to the front door. By the time we passed the East New York Farms address, the bus was so crowded that I missed the stop.  I got off along with many of the other riders at the next bus stop, the end of the line for the number 3 train. It was a walk of four short blocks back to the building where the Farms had their office located at New Lots and Schenck Ave.

I met with Deborah Greig and explained that I was taking the free beekeeping course with NYC Beekeeping and trying to put together a map showing the location of hives in the city to track overlapping foraging areas and varroa hot spots. Deborah was very helpful and gave me the locations of three other community gardens that also had bee hives.

I walked back to the subway station an arrived just as the B6 was pulling in to it's end-of-the-line bus stop. I often take the B6 and B49 buses home from work and I knew from experience that it would be less crowded than my recent ride on the B15, so I decided to make the B6 bus my mobile reading room for the trip back.

When I arrived home I got into my bee gear, even though I was pretty sure my bees had died, and there was little danger of being stung. I went out into the backyard to do a quick post-mortem on my hive. This required a bit of shoveling to clear the shipping pallets I used under and beside the hive to provide a surface the cats I rescue were not likely to use as an outside cat box.

When I removed the top cover I saw there was a small column of dead bees right up against the inner cover. Their heads buried in the honey comb of the frame located right next to the south side of the hive. They had starved to death within an inch of unopened honey cells. There was plenty of honey in the hive. The bees had broken their cluster and were scattered in starved groups throughout the hive, trapped by the cold and unable to move over to the honey right next to them.

One frame lower down and right up against the north side of the hive was completely full of honey, both sides, edge to edge, top to bottom of pure, white capped honey - ready to put into any honey extractor that could hold deep frames.


Within 10 minutes of opening the hive I noticed a bee flying around. As all of my own bees were dead, I assumed that this bee was a tourist, out exploring the ruins of my hive on the warmest day of the winter so far. (The radio said the forecast was for the mid-sixties that afternoon.) By the time I had reached the bottom of the hive, a few minutes later, a second bee had arrived. I had misplaced my hive tool and was using the sharp side of a hammer to pry the frames loose. This resulted in some leaking honey.  I got the hive put back together and sealed to prevent robbing. By then there were four "tourists" flying around checking things out.

That was a good sign for me: some bees nearby had survived the winter.  Perhaps I could capture a swarm later on in the Spring and give it a home.  I had recently put in an order for equipment to build two new 8-frame medium hives.  NYC Beekeeping was putting together a coop equipment purchase for local beekeeprs.

The rest of the day was spent doing more vacation oriented travel. I took the subway into the City to have a long delayed meal at one of the Soup Man franchises (made famous in the Seinfeld episode).  After eating, I hopped the subway back to Brooklyn for happy hour at my favorite micro-brew beer-serving bar, the Pacific Standard, which is located on 4th Ave and St. Marks, a few short blocks from Atlantic Avenue  stop. Along the way I managed to get quite a bit more bee-related reading accomplished while traveling on the subway.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

What a differance a day makes: the Snow Hive Melt Down one day later.

This picture was taken 24 hours after the image in the previous post.

The snow on the side has melted and fallen down and away from the lower hive body.

The hive is in a shaded alcove caused by extensions on the buildings on each side of my fully attached house. Daytime temperatures only got up to 37 degrees for a short time the day after the storm.

The Little Honeys must have partied hardy all night in their Mead Hall, burning the beeswax candles at both ends to have generated that much heat.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Snow Hive

This picture was taken shortly after dawn on Thursday morning, January 27, 2011 at about 7 AM.

The lower deep brood chamber is completely buried in snow and the upper deep and medium brood chambers are coated with about an inch of blown snow on the side facing the camera.

The radio said that Central Park recorded 15 inches of snowfall before the storm ended earlier this morning.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

NYC Beekeepers Calendar

During last nights beekeeping class given by James Fischer of NYC BEEKEEPING one of the topics covered was Beekeepers Calendars that one can find on the net.  James pointed out that the problem with such calendars is that a beekeeper has to remain flexible in his or her timing depending on the particular seasonal temperature differences that vary from year to year.  He pointed out the importance of keeping track of "degree days" in order to have an idea when flowers will bloom.

I believe James is making an important point and hope that NYC beekeepers can come up with some way to build an adjustable sequenced timetable to remind ourselves of things that should be done each year.

As a member of a Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), I have helped design numerous Search & Rescue Radio Drills and developed protocols for conducting foot patrols in a save and orderly way. One of the concepts that we found helpful during our exercises at Brooklyn South CERT was to require S&R teams to have pre-designated "checkpoints" along their patrol routes. Every time a S&R team came to an intersection where they were going to change the direction they were going, they would call in on their radios to let the Planning Section (aka "Maps") know where they were and which way they were headed.

This enabled the Incident Commander and others at our Operations Center keep track of each S&R team in case they lost radio contact.

I think that instead of using particular months to divide up our beekeeping calendar, we should adopt the "checkpoint" concept to plan our beekeeping year.

I'll give an example of what I mean as a starting point for discussion. The following was adapted from pages 23 and 24 of the Purdue Extension 4-H Beekeeping Division II - Working With Bees PDF and of course would have to be fine tuned to some extent for NYC conditions. The main concept I would like to put forward is that the "checkpoints" could be moved forward or back each year in response to seasonal variations.

So: here's a First Draft suggestion of how such a "calendar" might look:

NYC Beekeeper’s Calendar

Prepare Equipment Checkpoint

• Prepare equipment for coming season.
• Perform emergency feeding with sugar candy or dry sugar
on top of the inner cover, if necessary.

Begin Feeding Checkpoint

• Begin spring feeding toward the end of the month or early in
• Perform emergency feeding with sugar candy or dry sugar, if
• Develop an advertising program.
• Order package bees or nucleus hives.
• Prepare equipment for the active season.
• Clean up dead colonies.

Clean Entrances Checkpoint

• Clean out entrances and bottom boards.
• Order package bees and queens needed to replace those that
are failing, or to make splits.
• Continue feeding sugar or syrup if colonies are empty.

Introduce Packages Checkpoint

• Introduce package bees.
• Feed package bees syrup.
• Requeen colonies having failing queens.
• Split strong hives and requeen one half to prevent
• Reverse hive bodies on two-story colonies where the queen
is only laying above.
• Check colonies for American foulbrood and Varroa mites.

Begin Supering Checkpoint

• Add a super to each strong colony.
• Remove queen cells to prevent swarming (but make sure
they haven’t swarmed first!).
• Add another super if necessary.
• Provide a ventilation hole.
• Place queen excluder below shallow super on colonies for comb
• Start to rear queens if you want to raise your own.

Hive Splitting Checkpoint

• Split hives to increase the number of colonies, if desired.
• Remove queen cells to prevent swarming.
• Replace defective combs with full sheets of foundation.
• Provide plenty of super space.
• Requeen toward end of month.
• Check colonies for American foul brood and Varroa mites.
• Remove comb honey supers when properly sealed.

Add Supers Checkpoint

• Add sufficient super space.

Harvest Honey Checkpoint

• Harvest honey supers when they stop filling up.
• With honey supers off, treat for Varroa mites.
• Extract clover honey.
• Remove section supers.
• Do not work bees too much, to avoid robbing.
• Perform fall requeening.

Remove Supers Checkpoint

• Either put empty supers above the inner cover to let bees
clean them, or let bees rob from the supers in the bee yard.
Then store with PDB moth crystals.
• Provide supers for fall flow, or let bees store it in brood
• Check colonies for American foul brood and Varroa mites.

Mouse Guard Checkpoint

• Put on entrance reducers or mouse guards.
• Extract honey from fall flow.

Stop Feeding Checkpoint

• Complete late fall feeding if hives are light.
• Provide top entrance.
• Provide windbreaks.
• Develop a marketing program.

Book Reading Checkpoint

• Read bee books.
•Continue to develop your marketing program.
• Make equipment for extracting, bottling, etc.