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.