Split yourself in two.

Last Saturday, Amy's sharp eye noticed a swarm cell on one of our hive frames. About an hour later, a blog commenter spotted another in a photo we posted.

On Kirk's advice, today I took the whole hive apart and looked at each of the fifty frames for swarm cells. The top two boxes were pretty easy, but as I got further down I found one swarm cell after another...on a total of five or six different frames.

So, a Kirk-recommended hive split ensued. I took the frames with swarm cells and put them all together in a new box, with empty (starter strip only) frames filling in the remainder. That single box now sits in the spot formerly occupied by the entire hive—the idea being that all the bees out foraging will return to this box and fill out its population and food supplies.

The original five-box hive, now with new frames in place of the ones that had swarm cells, is now about 15 feet north of its old spot.

In theory, one of the emerging queens in the new single box will kill off the others, and that will become a new hive that will grow like our first one did. The original five-box hive should get oriented to its new spot, the bees inside will think they swarmed, and it's back to business as usual.

A few observations:

—The bees get a bit restless and annoyed when you take their entire hive apart. I guess I can't blame them. If you break off some fused honey comb in the process of pulling all the frames apart (as I did), that raises the excitement level another notch or two as well.

—Rubber gloves get ridiculously hot and comically sweaty in the course of a job this large. I also caught a couple of minor stings through them. We're graduating to the real ones.

—Next time I'll do this job when Amy's around to collaborate. Teamwork is a huge bonus.

Anyway, it was a fun project and everyone appears to be settling in now. Kirk asked if I'd managed to avoid moving the existing queen into the new box with the swarm cells, and I had to admit that I had absolutely no idea. We'll see how it turns out.


The hive expands.

We had a great turnout at the Backwards Beekeepers meeting today, with lots of returning beekeepers and quite a few new faces.

Here's a message from Kirk:


Swarm cell?

We had a fun time with LA Times photographer Spencer Weiner this afternoon (watch for the story in a week or so). Spencer may end up joining our group one of these days.

One of the frames we pulled out had something that looked a little different.

Can anyone tell if that is a swarm cell just to the right of Russell's nose? You can click on the photo to make it bigger.

See y'all at the meeting tomorrow!

Kirkobeeo rescues a tree hive.

Here's the story of today's hive rescue:


Bees in the tortoise house.

A couple weeks ago, new backwardsbeekeeper Carlo and I went down to Orange County for a cutout. He wanted bees for his first hive.

This was a home for a Tortoise. The wood was rotted, so when we lifted, the whole top separated from the floor of the box. We flipped it upside down and carried it over to the lawn. Lots of bees and swarm cells and a decent amount of honey.

Initially we used a homemade low suction beevac. This was designed to suction the bees directly into their new home. Too much suction can harm the bees and the queen, but this has an air bypass to adjust the suction level. It's nice because it moves the bees off the comb into the hive body and out of harm's way of my knife.

The beevac worked at first but not enough suction so lots of bees were in the hose reducing the airflow further. So we would need a more powerful shop vac to give a little more suction to get them all the way through the hose and into the hive body.

We instead did the cutout the old fashion way successfully.

The hives were split into two. One of them swarmed, Carlo caught the swarm, so now has 3 hives already.


Backwards Beekeepers TV: Swarm capture and hive rescue.

Kirkobeeo visits the West Adams neighborhood of Los Angeles to capture a bee swarm and rescue a hive. These bees were living in the garden behind the beautiful and historic Union Theatre—home of the Velaslavasay Panorama, which is well worth visiting.

If this video stutters during playback, try the YouTube version.


Bee foster care

Kirk is the pied piper of bees right now. He's captured two swarms in the last two days, and with Solano Garden already stocked with hives full of happy bees, they're parked in our yard for a few days.

Soon they'll be starter hives for new Backwards Beekeepers.

Apparently some captured swarms will just fly off, but these bees seem pretty happy with their temporary home and all the stuff that's in bloom around them.

If our garden gets any more pollinated, it may burst into flames.


Bad PR

We just had Lori from the LA Times over to see the hive. She didn't want to wear the bee suit and was very brave about checking out the bees sans gear...until she got stung. She might actually have been stung twice.

We administered lemon to the sting and she didn't seem upset by the experience. Let's hope the story doesn't focus too much on that part.


Ask Kirkobeeo: Going foundationless.

Indiana beekeeper James Whitcom (pictured above; photo by Joy Schmoll) writes:

Thanks for the great blog!

I am a 2nd year beekeeper. I have 2 hives - each with 2 deep brood chambers. Both hives have overwintered and survived one of the coldest winters in this area that I can remember. I want to convert the hives to foundationless frames like you suggest. What is the best way to do this with an already established hive? If I make starter strip frames and integrate them into the hive a few at a time, would this work?

Kirk says:

OK if you have two established hives, I assume they are Large Cell (5.4mm). [This is the size of most commercial foundation, and is apparently based on the assumption that bigger bees equals better bees and more honey.]

With bees in the wild, the cell size is smaller--especially in the core or brood part of the hive. So seeing how you have already got established bees you have to regress them. So I would cycle my frames out--that is I would put some frames in with starter strips and remove some old ones and eventually you will have frames with smaller cell size and with clean wax.

You can also go to Michael Bush's site for really detailed info.

Good luck. Small cell, clean wax, no treatments--healthy bees.


Next meeting

The next Los Angeles Backwards Beekeepers meeting will be on Sunday, March 29th.

For location and time, see our Yahoo Group.

There will be bees!


Backwards Beekeepers TV: What's coming up next.

Here's a preview of the next Backwards Beekeepers TV clip: swarm capture and hive rescue!

Honey Comb featuring Jon Rolston

If the video isn't appearing above click here to watch: Honey Comb featuring Jon Rolston

A year ago we had a swarm land in a tree in our yard. At the time we wanted to keep them if possible but before we could get our A into G the bees up and left.

Through her research my wife Julia found this short documentary on Jon Rolston, an urban beekeeper in San Francisco. This just got us all the more excited to keep bees ourselves.


Backwards Beekeepers TV: Smoker and Hive Basics

Especially for beginners, here's Kirkobeeo demonstrating how to light a smoker and take a simple look inside your hive.

If the video playback stutters on your computer, try the YouTube version.

New Hive Arrives

This Friday Kirk brought us bees! They are not queen right yet but a queen should emerge from one of the two queen cells pictured below any day (if she hasn't already).

I posted about it in detail on our blog here: The Bees Have Landed.
I also put up a bunch of pictures here: on our flickr account.


Urban beekeeping on the radio.

I've been invited to talk about urban beekeeping on LA's NPR affiliate, KPCC 89.3 FM, tomorrow (Thursday, March 12) at 2:40pm PDT on Patt Morrison's show.

I'll be on with Candace Savage, the author of Bees: Nature's Little Wonders.

Here is the archived show at KPCC (requires RealPlayer for listening).

Or listen to the mp3 here.

Every Third Bite

Every Third Bite from meerkatmedia.org on Vimeo.

This is a sweet short documentary about beekeeping. Some cool Urban beekeeping including David Graves who keeps bees on rooftops in NYC.

It was produced by the meerkat media collective.

Thanks to my friend Mel for the tip.


A Bit O' Honey

We cracked open the hive yesterday in order to harvest some honey and document the process this here bee blog.

Good news: the hive is going gangbusters.

Semi-Bad news: our queen was more ambitious than we thought and there is now tons of brood in the top box mixed in with all that honey. We weren't willing to destroy all of those eggs & larvae, so we left them alone.

We had one frame of all honey and we crushed, strained, made a video and got it in our hair. We managed to get five little jars of it (pictured above). The honey tastes amazing and we are a little sad that we don't have enough to share with everyone yet. Here's to loads of honey in June!


Ready for bees

My hive is ready to go. Now I just need to finalize and clean up the location for it. I painted it a gray green so that it will blend in with the plants. I don't want to draw too much attention to it But I also want to add a bit more personality a la Amy and Russell, and Leonardo. I have until bees arrive to figure something out.

Here is the frame building in progress - 10 down 20 to go.

I had some redwood strips that were trimmed from wood from another project that I have been saving for a while. They fit perfectly and look good when coated with wax.

When I ran out of redwood I used stir sticks that I had picked up from home depot. I would recommend getting stir sticks somewhere else. These were much harder wood than other stir sticks I've used and were printed with ugly orange letters.

I posted more pictures in my flickr account: Getting Ready for Bees


Bee Box Video

I really enjoyed this video demonstrating a bee box. Via MAKE: "It's used for hunting and capturing wild bees and using the captured ones to follow them back to the hive (a lost art called "bee lining")."


harvest supplies

I think we've rounded up everything we need for next Sunday's honey harvest. This stuff was purchased at Baller Hardare (BH), Par Paint (PP) or LA Honey Supply (LAH). Here's what it all is:

A) 5 gallon food-grade bucket with honey gate (LAH)

B) 9-in-1 tool (now, we don't need this specifically for the harvest, but we got jealous of Kirk's recently, so we picked one up)(PP)

C) Jars for honey. We were probably a bit ambitious getting so many - 24 4oz. and 12 12 oz.(LAH)

D) Those bags have the lids for the jars (LAH)

E) 5 gallon food-grade buckets - 3 of these with lids (LAH)

F) Painter's pole (4 feet)(BH)

G) Paint Scraper that screws onto the painter's pole (BH)

H) 3 Nylon paint strainers that fit onto a 5 gallon bucket. (PP)

I) Kirkobeeo (not pictured)

We are busy designing labels for the jars now!