Hives

About the hive itself.

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Ever wanted to spy on the secret life of bees? Catch 'em in the act of stashing pollen and nectar? Well, now you can with BeeCam! Maybe. I guess it depends on how my network is behaving. Or if I use up all my bandwidth. Or if there's a power outage. What I'm trying to say is I set up a webcam in one of the hives!

BeeCam is a Raspberry Pi 3, with an IR camera attached to it, and some IR LEDs to illuminate the interior of the hive. It was supposed to solar powered, but it's not currently. More on that in a moment. Below I'll go through all the steps I took to get this going.

Step 1 - Parts

Ok, this is the easy part (and the fun part! New stuff!) Here's what I used to make this:

Step 2 - Set Up Pi

I won't go over actually getting a Pi set up with an operating system, there's boatloads of sites out there for that. In fact, there are even a bazillion pages on getting the camera set up. There's really not much to those.

Probably the hardest part is getting the video feed online. And this is actually the last step. For that, I'll just point you to this awesome set of instructions that worked great!

Here's what I will say about setting the Pi and camera up: those ribbon cable connectors are freaking fragile. When I first started this project I was using an original Pi. Broke the connector. Upgraded to a Pi 2. Broke the connector. With this Pi 3, I was so paranoid that I was exceedingly careful. I hate those things. Hate HATE HATE!

To drive the LEDs, I use the 5v supply off of pin 2 of the GPIO and the ground connector on pin 6. My original idea was just to take a snapshot every minute or so, and only light the LEDs when needed. For that I would need a programmable pin. But who wants to wait a minute between images? Instead I opted for video, and that requires constant illumination. Bees don't see in infrared, so, in theory, this light should not bother them. We'll see.

Step 3 - Put it all Together

So, here's the first iteration of the BeeCam with everything all together:beecam

You can see that power is coming from the solar panel into the charging circuit. This charges the batteries (which are connected in parallel) that then supply power to the power booster which takes the 3.7 volts and ups it to the 5 volts required by the Pi. The Pi, then is attached to the camera, which you can see at the end of the ribbon cable. All that's missing here is the IR light source.

It should be noted that the connector that comes on the solar panel does not fit the charging circuit, thus the need for the adapter.

Of course, it can't stay like that. Things need to be more contained, and the camera with light source needed to be together. I found some good project boxes at... well, I can't remember the name of the place. Once upon a time it was a Radio Shack, but it's not anymore. Everything seems to fit in this quick fit check.
beecam progress

Finished up the camera box by drilling a hole for the lens to see through, and some cable insertion holes.
beecam camera

Next came finishing up the power supply.
beecam power supply

Unfortunately, while this looked pretty awesome at first, with the Pi running off of solar power, it quickly became apparent that it was draining the batteries faster than the solar panel could recharge them. The Pi would die after a few hours.

For now, BeeCam is running from a USB power supply. But I haven't given up on solar power. We get a lot of sun here in Fairbanks during the summer, and I'm sure this can be done. But with the camera and wireless network, the Pi just draws too much current for this set up.

Step 4 - Insert BeeCam

So below is a picture of all the items for the final product. I only had a chunky USB hub for the USB power supply, so for now, this goes into the hive. I'm sure I can find a cheap ass USB power supply, but since my goal is solar power, it's a low priority.
beecam final product

Sorry for the blurry image, my phone camera sucks. Anyway, the BeeCam is velcroed to the top of the Pi case. Any opening big enough for a bee on that case has been covered with tape.

I then installed the camera in one of our top-bar hives. This type of camera wouldn't work in a Langstroth hive as there simply wouldn't be enough room. The top-bar hive is only about 15 yards from our house and gets a good wireless connection.

The camera is placed as far back in the hive as it can go. This is because these cameras are notoriously hard to focus and the farther away from the subject the better. In theory you can turn the little lens, which is on a threaded mount, to focus, but my attempts only managed to scratch up the plastic around the lens. Here's the camera in the hive.
beecam in hive

It is now as far back as it can go, and honestly, if you look at the video, it is still pretty badly out of focus. Maybe if I move the velcro to the back of the Pi, I can gain another inch or two, but I doubt that will make much of a difference. Improving the brightness of the LEDs might help, as well.

It looks so sad with that orange extension cord running to it. Must get solar power working.
electric top bar

To-Do

Obviously, making this thing properly solar power is a priority. While I doubt this thing is gonna kill my electric bill, it's just the principle of the thing. My goal was to create a Raspberry Pi solar powered webcam and I didn't make it. I didn't properly plan for the total current draw with both the camera and wireless enabled.

Next is to improve the focus. Two things to work on here; lighting and the lens. If I can figure out a way to adjust that tiny lens that would be perfect. Improving the lighting may be as simple as using different resisters in series with the LEDs. I went with a safe value, but perhaps I was too cautious. LEDs are cheap, so I shouldn't be afraid to burn out a few.

I also need to make the page the video feed is on nicer. I can add information, improve the layout (wouldn't be hard since it's just plain ass HTML with only one header and a paragraph at the moment...) and useful links.

But hey, it's online and working! Yay! Again, that URL is: http://urbanraven.hopto.org.

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Yeah, not a single post from last summer's bee raising experience. That could be that last year, beyond a shadow of a doubt, sucked ass. This post is about why that is and what we are going to do this year in an effort to do better.

Last Year

We ordered six boxes of bees. I built two new langstroth hives and two new top bar hives. We had our original two hives at my mother's house. Our efforts to overwinter the bees there was a failure, despite doing our best to insulate the hives. One hive had apparently become a block of ice, and in the other, it looked as though the bees starved.

This time we had the two hives at my mother's, two hives at our place, and two hives at Sarah's mother's place. Each location started with one top bar and one langstroth. At our place we found a spot in a small clearing of trees up a small hill near where we planned to have a garden. At Sarah's mom's we placed the hives just inside the tree-line near the rear of her large property. She lives on the same main road outside of town that we do, but a few more miles down, towards Chena Hot Springs.

Top Bar: Start of 2016
Top bar at our place right after adding bees
Bee hive: start of 2016
One of the hives at my mother's place after we added bees.
Hives 2016
The hives at Sarah's mother's place.

This year we decided to mark our queens. We didn't do that the previous year and we could never find the queen when we looked. I think this is where one of our problems came in. It's tough to get a bee to go where you want it to go, particularly if that place is a tiny queen marking tube. I wound up being rougher on the queens than I wanted, which I suspect led to issues later.

Bees installed, it was now time to let them do their things. Enter crappy weather, and lots of it, for most of the summer. Within the first few weeks it was obvious one of the hives wasn't going to make it. The queen was not laying, the population was dwindling and no stores were being kept. We eventually moved what bees were left to another hive. We had quickly gone from six hives to five.

Things didn't improve much from there. No hive was bringing in much in the way of stores. Another hive eventually collapsed, leaving us with four hives. I blame the combination of a summer of bad weather and my abuse of the queens when trying to mark them. Road construction near my mother's house continually disturbed the bees there, which kept them extremely agitated and on the verge of swarming several times.

Even with four working hives, at the end of the season, we got about as much honey as the previous year, when we only had two. We did get more wax, which was nice.

This Year

This year we chose to do only four hives. My mother is going all chemical warfare on some of her outside plants due to a mildew infestation, so we won't have the two hives there.

Sarah found a local supplier of bees here in Fairbanks in the form of Toklat Apiaries. They also have classes, which we are thinking about taking. A ton of good information can be found at their website. A bonus: Toklat marks their queens for you! No more roughed up queens because of my clumsiness!

Overall, we refuse to be discouraged. It's always sad to lose bees, but last year was only our second go at it, and we learn from each mistake.

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Ok, while I can honestly say I've never quite "got" this particular Beastie Boys lyric (I'm gonna guess it's *gasp*sexual*gasp* in nature), it's also a fairly accurate description of what the bees have been up to lately: making new comb and honey.

Sarah and I recently opened up the top-bar hive to see how things are going. The answer appears to be "very well." The bees have been busy building new comb and setting up stores of honey and pollen. They now occupy at least two-thirds of the space in their box, with fresh comb both in front and back.

Comb in hive
Comb farthest back in the hive.

This was the furthest back comb. Not much activity on this side. It was a bit more eventful on the other.

Sarah with the bees.
Bees fill comb with honey and pollen.

This side is nearly all honey. There is a bit of pollen near Sarah's finger. This is the dark patch, filled with the blue pollen of local fireweed. Most of the new comb is being filled with honey and pollen. It seems the bees are in winter-prep mode.

In cutting some cross comb we did hit a few spots that let the honey flow. We could not resist tasting and I can say, in all honesty, that it is so much better than store bought. Store bought honey goes through so much processing that it just does not taste the same. I look forward to harvesting time.

We have had quite a bit of rain lately, and I have not seen the bald-faced hornets since the last post. Even though they were killing bees, they were fun to watch. I suspect that something happened to their hive, though I was never able to find it. Yellow-jackets still fly near the hives, but I've never seen them harass the bees. They seem to look for already dead bees. Maybe our yellow-jackets are just freakin' lazy.

Tomorrow, weather permitting, we will go check out how the Langstroth hive is doing.

One of the amazing things about keeping bees is learning about things that are not bees. There is a lot to learn, after all. In recent weeks, Sarah and I have noticed a number of other flying insects interacting with our bees. Usually, not in a good way.

One of our first encounters was about a week and a half ago, while we were checking on the Langstroth hive. We were worried, as we had not seen much in the way of larva the last time we checked, and suspected we may have lost the queen. While this trip proved that assumption incorrect with a plethora of larva, we apparently caught the attention of some sort of wasp.

While sorting through the frames, one of the workers stung my glove. I brushed her body onto a nearby empty hive box and continued my work. A few minutes later, Sarah called for me to look at something.

wasp with bee
Wasp with dead bee

It is kind of hard to tell, but that wasp is just a tad smaller than the dead bee it is attempting to cart off. It was trying its damnedest to bite the head off of the dead bee, but utterly failing. I have no idea what kind of wasp this is. I am used to yellow jackets, but they are, well... more yellow than this.

A second bee made some valiant attempts to rescue her dead sister, harassing the wasp until it flew away.

Cue to this weekend. I usually have dinner with my mother on Saturdays, and I arrived a little early to check on the bees. As usual, we hung out on the deck for a few minutes just chatting. While chatting we noticed what we thought was a large, dark bee fly by. I didn't think much of it, though she commented that since we had bees this year, she thought she was noticing other insects she hadn't seen before.

After a few minutes of chatting, I got up to check the hives. I could tell from a distance that something was up with the top-bar hive. Bees were weaving haphazardly around the entrance, and the last few feet of their flight path. The entrance was covered with guard bees. As I got closer I could see a few dead bees on the ground.

I sat and watched for a few minutes and noticed two of the dark "bees" occasionally would fly into the area and attack the bees, grabbing them in mid-flight and sending them falling to the ground. Once the bee was dead, they seemed to lose interest and would fly off seeking another victim.

But the dead bees were not left alone. A single yellow-jacket was also flying around, picking through the corpses and enjoying a free meal. What was left over from the yellow-jacket, carpenter ants were picking through and hauling off.

My closest guess to what the dark "bees" where is the bald-faced hornet. Bald-faced hornets will kill bees to feed to their larva. However, if this is the case, these hornets sucked at their job. First, they were not killing many bees; they had a high miss ratio, either missing when they went for the kill or getting run off by defenders. Second, they never ate a single bee while I was observing. Usually, the dead bee would fall to the ground completely ignored by the hornets. The yellow-jacket and ants seemed to be the beneficiaries here.

The hive entrance has been wide open for a few weeks. We initially had trouble with robber bees, so I sealed the entrance until only a couple bees could pass through at a time. This makes it easier for the bees to defend the hive. However, after a few weeks, that issue passed and I opened it back up. Now, faced with aggressive hornets, I sealed it back up again, though not as tightly.

When Sarah and I returned the next day, things were looking much better. The two bald-faced hornets were gone, though a yellow-jacket was still there probably wondering where all the free food had gone. I did see a few carpenter ants, probably wondering the same thing. I'll leave the entrance narrowed for now and see how things go.

So my mother may be right. Or maybe these things have always been around in plain view and we are now only noticing them. Raising bees has certainly brought me more in touch with the sting-y bits of nature.

Too many words, not enough pictures:

Bees vs. Wasps

 

 

 

Top-Bar BeekeepingThe top-bar hive is an amazing, almost natural way to keep bees. It tries to mimic the way bees would naturally build hives in hollowed out trees and stumps. While Sarah and I have a Langstroth hive, I also built a top-bar hive and love to keep track of its progress.

There are a ton of YouTube videos out there on keeping top-bar hives, but I always like to keep a book or two around on any given thing I'm working on, so began scouring around for one on working with top bars. I'm really glad that the first book I found was Top-Bar Beekeeping: Organic Practices for Honeybee Health.

One of the things I've noticed when scouring the myriad YouTube videos on beekeeping is the prevalence of mitacides, fumigants and antibiotics used by both professional and hobbyist alike. I'm more of a fan of allowing things to progress naturally without much interference from me and a medicine cabinet load of other things. This book takes that approach.

Crowder and Harrell take you through everything you need to know about raising bees using a top-bar hive. From the various designs to the complexities of hive management, the book covers each aspect in detail. A first person narrative guides you through the trials, successes and failures the author's have personally experienced. I feel it is this story telling way of getting out information that most drew me into this book.

Les Crowder has worked with bees nearly his entire life. His methods strive to be as organic as possible. Instead of antibiotics and mitacides, he instead stresses bee health and genetics. Many bees are resistant to disease and queens from these bees can help build strong hives without the use of potential toxins.

Heather Harrell is an organic farmer and emphasizes the philosophies of permaculture, or designing agriculture to mimic that natural environment. The top-bar hive fits into this system quite nicely.

Together, they have written a book that even the novice can read and learn from. Their methods fit in with a desire to do things as naturally as possible. In a world that is seeing bees die off at alarming rates, and more indicators that this is due to a complex of issues that includes pesticides and other pollutants, it is really good to see a book that recommends natural alternatives.

Late last month, I was about to go on a week of vacation, so wanted to build the next box for the Langstroth hive. Now, bear in mind, that a hive box is just four sides, no top or bottom. This should be simple. And it seemed simple. But failure is just a measurement away.

Anyway, let's get on with this. I'm gonna build a simple box. Only takes three measurements: height, length and width. Again, pretty simple. Apparently, I'm not good at simple. Below is a photo of the finished box. Looks ok, right?

deep super hive box
A deceptively simple looking box.

Pretty simple construction, three screws per joint. All of the frames fit, sort of. The tightness of the frames in the box should have been my first clue something wasn't quite right. It wasn't until I put the frame on the hive that I realized things weren't measuring up.

New deep hive box doesn't fit
New deep hive box doesn't quite fit!

The box wound up being just around an inch too narrow. It had the right length, but somewhere I either screwed up a measurement, or my math skills betrayed me once again.

I left the box on the hive while I was on vacation. With a few shims, there were no gaps allowing things to get in the hive. But I resolved to come back and build a new box.

Of course, I forgot to take pictures of the building of the new box. But with Sarah's help, we got a new one made. And it fit!

For a bit of fun, we decided to let Sarah's kiddos paint it.

Painting the hive box.
Sarah and her kiddos painting the new hive box.

Not sure which wound up having more paint: the box or the kids. But we had a good time painting in the sun on my mother's lawn. When we finished we set the box aside to allow the paint to dry.

I came by the next day to put the box on the hive, transferring the frames from the too-small box. The new box fit nicely.

New box on hive
Two sides of the new, painted, bee box.
New box on hive.
The other two sides of the new bee box.

We've placed the queen excluder on, so the new box shouldn't be used for brood. Hopefully, we'll see the bees move into their new space, soon.

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Ok, my apologies to the Beastie Boys, there will be no rhyming going on here. But there will be lots of stealing! More precisely, honey robbing. Honey robbing by wayward, wrong-side-of-the-tracks, jerk-bees.

Sarah and I had noticed some odd behavior from the bees a while back. Sarah scoured the internet and the predominant theory was our bees were being robbed. Symptoms included seeing bunches off bees all balled up near the entrance, bees climbing the hive before taking off and other bees hovering near the entrance, bobbing up and down as if looking for a way in. Odd behavior, indeed.

A closer inspection showed that some larger, darker bees seemed to be trying to gain access (and often succeeding) to the hive entrance. Measures had to be taken!

You may be wondering, "Yo, Foulmouthedbeekeepers, how did you wind up with little flying assholes robbing your hive?" Well, let me draw your attention to a picture I have posted before:

makeshift bee feederYeah, this was a bad idea. Most beekeepers that provide sugar water for their bees do so with entrance feeders or internal feeders. I couldn't figure out how to do that with the top bar hive. Instead I filled a cat waterer with the syrup mix. Then I positioned the feeder a few feet from the entrance.

This worked great for feeding our bees... and every other insect in the neighborhood. Once the "foreign" bees figured out there was a food source here, it wasn't long before they figured out that sugar water may be nice, but honey is nicer. It was a short trip from there to the hive entrance.

Sarah's awesome blog hunting powers found us a couple of remedies.

  1. Narrow the hive entrance so the bees can better defend it
  2. Place a wet sheet over the hive: robbers won't be able to find the entrance and our bees will be just fine

We narrowed down the entrance to the top bar hive until only about five bees could fit through it, and covered it with a wet sheet.

covered top bar
Top Bar hive covered with a wet sheet.

It looked pretty sad, like the sheet you drape over a corpse, and both Sarah and I commented on feeling like we had failed.

While the Langstroth hive was not having as big a problem with the robbers, there were some. We did not cover it with a sheet, but we did narrow down the entrance way a bit.

hive entrance narrowed
Langstroth hive with the entrance narrowed.

Around four or five bees could enter at a time.

We kept the sheet on the top bar hive for a couple of days. During that time, it didn't appear that activity was curtailed all that much. We could still see bees swooping around looking for the entrance.

On the third day, we removed the sheet. Before we removed it, things seemed tense, with bees dive bombing and swooping. Weirdly, though, as soon as we got the sheet off, things calmed down. We speculate that some of the agitated bees we saw swooping were our hive bees trying to figure out how to get back in.

We noticed that there were still a few robbers around, but not nearly as many. I narrowed the hive entrance to the point only two bees could enter or exit at a time.

hive entrance narrowed
Entrance to the top bar hive narrowed significantly.

There was always a nagging feeling in my head that I had cut this entrance larger than it should have been. This sees to confirm it.

As it stands now, we know there are robbers in the area. Either someone else is raising bees nearby, or a feral hive survived the winter. The measures we've taken seem to have helped.

We'll next be out at the hives on Wednesday. Hopefully, we will find the bees happy with full larders.

I promised a post about building a top bar hive, and here it is.

When Sarah and I started looking into keeping bees, the idea was to build the hives we needed. In this case, a Langstroth hive and what we knew as the "honey cow". A little digging suggested that the honey cow was just a different type of top bar hive.

Top bar hives proved interesting to me for several reasons. First, they are simple to construct. They don't require any fancy joinery, just straight cuts fastened together with nails or screws. Second, the rounded or angled shape both mimics the shape bees naturally make comb in, and it looks nice. Finally, the setup more closely replicates a natural hive location, such as a hollowed out tree or log.

There are disadvantages, of course. With no frames, the comb is very fragile and care must be taken not to break them when lifting the top bars. They cannot grow larger than you built the hive, unlike Langstroth hives to which you can add boxes.

I found a few plans online, but ultimately wound up buying the embarrassingly named Building Beehives For Dummies. I like this book because it contains plans for several different types of hives, including Langstroth and observation hives. The hive I built is from the chapter on building the Kenya Top Bar Hive.

So let's get on with it and post some construction pictures!

The wood used in the construction was all 1"x12" pine of varying lengths. It starts with the two end pieces that define the slope of the box. In this case the top is 18" and the bottom is 5".

top bar hive construction
Top bar hive construction. End pieces.

Per the instructions, I made the sides 34.5" long. This defines the living space the bees will have. I didn't quite follow the instructions for installing them, which suggested butting up against the inside of the end piece, instead opting to screw them into the sides. Just seemed stronger that way.

top bar hive construction
One side of the hive installed.
building a top bar hive
Both sides now attached. The basic shape is there.

With all the sides attached, the basic hive is there. This will be the living space for the bees. Not shown is a mesh that is placed on the bottom to allow debris and mites to fall out of the hive and to provide ventilation.

The next step is to make the top bars. These have to be a fairly specific size. A measurement known as "bee space" determines the bars width. Bees are picky about space. Too much space, and they will build comb where you don't want it. Too little space, and they won't build comb. Like Goldilocks, they want a space that is just right. This space depends on the type of bee, but for this hive, the books suggests a bar width of 1.3".

I took another departure from the book here. The book suggests cutting a kerf down the center of each bar and slotting a piece of balsa wood in it. I'd read about a simpler method online of pasting a string down the center with beeswax. I decided to give that a shot.

building a top bar hive
Setting up top bars by using beeswax to glue down a central string.

While I made a pretty big mess, this would prove to work. It also took less time (and money) than cutting and fitting balsa wood. There are 24 of these on the hive.

building a top bar hive
The hive with top bars in place.

The next step was to build a roof. Bees do not live in this section, it is meant to assist in ventilation and provide some protection from the elements. It is wider than the hive body to allow rain to flow off and away, but maintains the overall look.

building a top bar hive
The hive with the roof in place.

The only thing left at this point was to cut a hole for the bees to access the hive and put it in place. We chose a spot behind my mothers' firewood stack that would provide quick access to our garden.

After placing the bees they seemed to take to it quickly.

building a top bar hive
Bees accessing the top bar hive.

That access hole is a bit over an inch across. If, as I mentioned in a previous post, we are being robbed by other bees, I'll need to reduce the size.

I know I posted the below picture last time, but hey, proof that this hive works!

bee hive comb
Comb and bees! Lots of capped cells. These girls have been busy!

I definitely encourage anyone interested in beekeeping to try their hand at building a hive. If I can do it, anyone can.

 

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And then the little shit stung me in the face.

Wait... that's a horrible place to start. Let me back up a bit.

This winter I started dating a wonderful, crazy woman named Sarah. As people navigating that whole tricky thing people call relationships we invariably started discussing things we liked, bizarre obsessions and hobbies. Turns out, we both had an interest in raising bees and robbing them of their sweet, delicious honey. Awesome!

We talked about it, read every book we could get our hands on, scoured the internet for info, and I ordered a bunch of crap online, 'cause that's what I do when I get obsessed with a new hobby. So, in the middle of winter, we had everything needed for bees except for hives and, well, bees.

Eventually, we ordered our bees from Northwest Bee Supply, a company out of Washington that supplies bees to, obviously, Northwestern states. Our bees were set to arrive on April 26. Ok, so now all we need are hives.

Sarah and I had been looking around online at various hive types. One that kept us interested was called a honey cow. The design was based around a hive body made of a half of a plastic barrel. But screw the design. I just liked the name "honey cow." We eventually decided on a standard Langstroth hive and what is called a "Top Bar" hive, similar to the above mentioned honey cow. We chose two hive types to learn more about how bees... uhm... work. Or something like that. If nothing else, building a top bar hive would give me an opportunity to improve my, admittedly feeble, woodworking skills. I'll get into the construction of that hive in a later post.

The Langstroth hive I was happy to find at Alaska Feed Company. I do like supporting local businesses, and this one has been around for a long time. It was pleasing to find out they sold beekeeping supplies. The basic hive kit came with a base and cover, a single deep brood box, and ten frames with foundation. Alaska Feed also sells additional brood boxes and all the odds, ends and tools.

Now all we needed were our bees. And since I haven't posted any pictures yet (I freakin' love to post pictures!) let's move ahead to bee arrival day: April 26.

Back of the bee van.
Back of the bee van.

Yup. That's a van full of bees. A bunch had already been given out by the time we got there. Wouldn't want to be the guy driving this thing, there were loose bees everywhere.

Boxes of bees and (somewhat impatient) customers.
Boxes of bees and (somewhat impatient) customers.

The bees were delivered near Pike's Landing, which made it awfully tempting go grab a bite and a drink. After waiting for a couple of Russian guys to stop haggling (no, you can't haggle for bees. A lesson everyone present learned.), we were given our two boxes of bees. We departed for my mother's house, where the hives had been set up.

The hives together. They were moved about 30 feet apart after this.
The hives together. They were moved about 30 feet apart after this.

I wish I had taken a picture of us dumping bees into the hives. It was a surreal moment where these little critters one usually avoids for fear of a sting are unceremoniously plopped into the middle of a wooden box. Overall, they don't seem to care about the whole ordeal.

Sarah and I had help in the form of her kids. This is an AWESOME hobby for kids to get into!
Sarah and I had help in the form of her kids. This is an AWESOME hobby for kids to get into!

In the hive now, the bees chilled for a bit. We came back a few days later to make sure the queens had been released, and found that they had indeed escaped into the inner reaches of their hives. Since late April, early May in interior Alaska is not known for its abundance of flowering plants (see the snow in the picture above?) we set up a couple of feeders full of sugary water for the bees to feast upon, which they did with relish.

Our makeshift bee feeders. Yes, they are cat feeders, but they seem to work fine. Some rocks in the feed area provides additional feeding locations.
Our makeshift bee feeders. Yes, they are cat feeders, but they seem to work fine. Some rocks in the feed area provides additional feeding locations.

Since then we've been visiting the hives from time to time to check on progress. An additional brood box was quickly added to the Langstroth hive, as they seem to be reproducing really freaking quickly.

We stopped by today to have a look. Sarah pulled one of the bars from the top bar hive.

Sarah pulling one of the bars. Is that comb I see?
Sarah pulling one of the bars. Is that comb I see?

Now, there's something important going on here. See how Sarah was wearing good, proper protective gear? Yeah, I was a cocky bastard and didn't do that. See, last week I'd stopped by to visit my mother and on a whim checked this hive. Didn't have any gear with me, so just winged it. The bees didn't seem to care, and I got away with it.

Not this time. One of those cranky bastards stung me on the cheek. Lesson learned. We knew the bees were riled up about something before we started. There were a bunch gathered around the entrance and they seemed aggressive. Poking around seemed to reveal some other bees, with a different color pattern (mostly dark abdomens, not as pronounced stripes) near the entrance. Perhaps we were in the process of being robbed. I'm still uncertain.

Anyway, karma is a bitch and she kicked my ass, or my face, whatever, today. That said, it's obvious that even after a few weeks, these bees have been crazy busy. The bees were released at the center of the hive and have already built up comb a few bars forward and back. They are collecting pollen and producing honey and more brood. I'm shocked at how fast these queens are producing brood.

bee hive comb
Comb and bees! Lots of capped cells. These girls have been busy!

And that is where we are today. Our goal with this blog is to post the things we see and learn. To complain when shit isn't going right and to cheer when it is. Sarah and I are now 1 to 1 in terms of stings and it is bound to go higher!

Look at this bee. This be if fucking awesome!
Look at this bee. This bee is fucking awesome!