Guest Keeper at the Hives

Meghann Checking the Bees

The weather has been somewhat chilly, and the wind has been up, too. The week started off with a relatively nice, crisp, slightly windy day. Over the weekend, my sister, Meg, a pharmacist in the Chicagoland area, was in Hibbing (our hometown), visiting our parents and grandmother. She was staying through Monday, and decided to pay us a visit. She has been telling her pharmacy technicians about our bees. We needed to check the bees, check their feed pails and clear out any bridge comb that they might have built.

Meg was excited to check out them, and was completely surprised when I asked if she wanted to put on a suit and help out with the tending work. She put on the suit (yes, I put my suit, too), and we headed into the bee yard.

The MH Italians were, of course, feisty, and somewhat spicy. Meg, a cool, calm and collected person – from years of dealing with grouchy elderly people in her day-job, was at ease with the bees. We checked the frames; some bridge comb was present, and the interior of the hive had a bright yellow dusting. The Carniolans are just mellow. I sometimes think that, when I pull the top cover off, a billow of pot smoke would come rolling out, and tiny spliffs would be seen laying around (by the way, drugs are bad, get addicted to something like beekeeping — not drugs). But, alas, my overactive imagination settles down and I just attribute the mellowness to their race and queen and not because they are a hive of pot-smoking-bees.

robin's eggs

Garden Update

The carrots, from FedCo Seeds, are sprouting. But, scattered amongst the sprouts are raspberry bushes. They must have pushed their way under the buried timbers of the raised beds and found their way into the vegetable patch. I plan to let them grow, and then transplant them.

The Georgian Fire garlic is growing like mad. The tulips allow the side of the house, in the window wells, have flowered, the creeping Charlie in the backyard has flowered, the dandelions are popping, and the hops is now over 16″ inches tall.

We have a robins’ nest in a ladder that is hanging on the shed. We noticed it earlier in the week. This evening, while emptying the kitchen compost pail, noticed that the robins in the yard were particularly noisy. The compost bins are next to the ladder hanging on the shed. I took a look into the ladder; something blue caught my eye. I quickly got the camera.

A Trip to Minneapolis and Those Spicy Italians

morrill hall, umn

I have been busier than usual with the-day-job. I was in Minneapolis yesterday; I headed out at 5:45 AM and returned home around 6:00 PM. Very long day, but the weather in Minneapolis was fantastic; it also happened to be Beautiful U Day at the University (not sure I have been clear – by day, I am employed by the University of Minnesota and work on the Duluth campus, but I frequently have meetings in Minneapolis, outside the day-job, I tinker with machines, tend hounds, tend bees, grow gardens and program esoteric computer things – like compostb.in – a compost-centric app for the iPhone). The non-day-job things ground me, and keep me relatively sane. Anyway, Beautiful U Day happened to have a really beautiful day. The tulips were blooming, the flowering crabtree in front of Morrill Hall and Northrup Auditorium was blooming (and smelled wonderful). With all the flowers in bloom, I kept an eye out for pollinators, but, unfortunately, I did not see any. Not even a bumblebee. Depending on your political leanings, you might blame Karl Rove, who happened to be visiting campus yesterday, or, you could blame the protesters who were protesting Karl Rove’s visit. Either way, I was slightly saddened by the lack of visible insect life on such a great day.

The drive home was uneventful and I was again disappointed – my favorite road-side fruit, vegetable and honey stand was not out hawking their wares in Sandstone, MN. The last time they were there, we picked up jars of jam, seed potatoes and 36 petunia plants. The stand is run by an older couple with a feisty little Jack Rustle. They are usually there from mid-April through October; if you are heading through Sandstone via I35, stop by – they are really nice people with a neat selection of generally-local stuff.

comb, mh italians

Back home, and now evening time, it was much cooler than in Minneapolis – I liked it, but the bees appeared to be less than happy with the high 40s, low 50s temperatures. There were, however, a steady, slow stream of bees leaving and returning to the hives. A quick check of the syrup buckets showed the Minnesota Hygienic Italians (herein referred to simply as the Italians) were nearly out of syrup. The Carniolans appeared to be more into seeking out a source of nectar from the surrounding environment – their pail was about half full, and their pollen patty has twice the amount left over the Italians. I whipped up a gallon of syrup (one part white sugar to one part hot water), and then suited up to open up the hives.

The Italians were on me like insert-some-stereotypical-italian-american-thing. I opened the hive cover, took off the top super, and lifted off the nearly empty feeder pail. The inner cover was lifted off and a large explosion of bees were quickly in my face and clinging to my face-net. A few puffs of the smoker at my face and on the hive and the spicy Italians started to calm down.

There was bridge-comb being formed, but most exciting, there was capped comb and if you looked very carefully, larvae could be seen in uncapped cells. It is really exciting to see all the activity in the hives. No sightings of the queen(s) this time, but with the finding of brood cells is a good sign that she is doing her thing. The interior of the hives (more so with the Carniolans) was also a bright yellow. This shows the workers are finding sources of pollen other than the pollen patties; likely dandelions at this point in the season. They should also be using the dandelions as their first source of nectar.

The Carniolans had a couple pieces of bridge comb forming, but, more importantly, they, too, were tending to the draw out of wax and there were a large number of capped cells and uncapped larvae, too.

In parting news, I spoke with the neighbor closest to the hives location; he seemed less than concerned about having many thousands of bees near by. He gave us two or three pails worth of raspberry bushes, and said when he gets onion sets, he will give us some of those too.

Don’t Cry Over Spilt Bees

garden fence

All around, it was a nice day. Breezy, but nice. The bees were out and about with an ordered chaos of neurotic flights of toing and froing. Leaving the bees to do their thing, I set to work on getting a garden-to-be fenced off from the hounds. I would equate a hound’s stalking of good-smells-in-the-ground to that of an anteater. The anteater, as seen in many a nature programs, will find a termite nest and then set to work on determined pursuit of its quarry. Hounds are likes that; except, we do not have termite mounds in Northern Minnesota.

I am somewhat proud of the new hound-retention-fence. Mainly because it has a touch of my childhood in it. The pickets and some of the dimensional lumber have all been repurposed. The lumber started out (after being trees, of course) as my parents’ fence. In about 1980 (two things on the date: my father will correct me if I am wrong, and second, he will tell me a story about the fence) my father put the fence in to keep my sister, and then me, from leaving the yard. By the mid-1990s, the fence posts were rotting and the fence need some help. Having come from a long line of pack-rats, my father saved the non-rotted boards (yes, I have inherited this want-keep-things thing, too). Fifteen years later, my father loaded up the fence pickets and some resurfaced dimensional lumber into the truck on the last visit. So, my new fence is not really a new fence – it is a repurposed use of the fence from my childhood.

bees & pollen patty
wax comb

I hate to admit it, but I spilled some bees this evening. I would guess it happens to beeks now and again. I tore a good chunk of my index finger’s nail off last week, and the nail-bed is still tender. Holding on to things tightly is somewhat painful and awkward. I dropped a container of jelly beans at work because of this, and now I dropped or "spilled" a frame of bees.

I was out checking the frames for wax draw-out. Indeed, there was wax. Two of the frames were slightly too close to one another, and those spicy Italians had built a wax bridge across the void between the frames. That needed to be cleared out. With the frame in my right hand, and my hive tool in my left, I scraped the wax out of the way. In fumbling with the tool and trying to get the frame back into the super, I fumbled and spilled the bees. It was really unnerving and I felt like such a fool. Using my hive tool as a scoop, I managed to get most of the bees back into the super, or at least directly on the landing platform at the entrance. I am relatively certain the queen was doing her thang on another frame. I did manage to get a couple photos (pre-spill) of some wax comb being drawn out. Very excited to see this; it is what I was hoping to have going on in the hive.

Bees, Clouds and Cold – It’s Duluth

duluth shipping channel

The weather has certainly not been bee-friendly here in the Duluth area. However, we had a wonderful weekend for getting the two packages of bees + queens into their new homes. The weekdays have been overcast, cold and very windy. Today rain was added into that mix. We desperately needed the rain. The dirt driveway was starting to show signs of dry-cracking.

Not in the greatest-of-moods.

What is all the buzz about…why the bees of course!!

Honey Bee HiveThings have been all a buzz around the Jokela household this week finishing up last minutes things to get ready for the bees to arrive!  The hives are now set in place, the fence is securely in place to keep all hounds away and the side of the shed has been stained.  Now all we need is the bees!

Tomorrow we will leave bright and early to head south to pick up our bees from Nature’s Nectar, LLC. Our niece, Hannah, would like to come with to see what all the buzz is about (ok, I’ll stop with the horrible bee puns now). So around 1:00pm CST we will pack everyone into the Xterra and head on out to Nature’s Nectar, LLC to get our bees!

On our way home we will be stopping to pick up a basset hound that needs a ride north to his new foster home. So Rufus will be joining us and the bees on our journey home!

I’m exhausted just thinking about how busy tomorrow will be…but it will be a great time all around! Family…friends…dogs…honey bees…life is good!

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12 Miles, and I went no where

homer

All around, the last couple of weeks have been stressful. In the non-hound, non-bee and non-garden realm (read: work), it is the kind of stress that comes from dealing with things and people that down-right piss you off. In the realm of hounds and bees (and gardens), we had the unfortunate need to have one of the hounds make his final trip to the veterinarians’ office. In the circle of folks my wife frequents, this is referred to as "heading to the bridge"; like during their lives, the animal’s journey to the bridge is embellished, dramatized, and/or anthropomorphized. Homer caught a ride, to the bridge, in the back of our old red truck. (which most likely has, since selling it, died, too) Homer would not have taken a bus; some people will say their pup took a bus. Homer hated all vehicles with air-brakes or most likely fueled by diesel – something with the low-rumble set him off.

The photo, above, is of Homer. It was taken a week before he departed. Homer was only 7 years old. Homer, you will be missed.

The title of this entry, 12 Miles, and I went no where, is sort of how I have been feeling. Tired, worn out, but in the end, nothing really substantial was achieved. The title struck me while at the gym (yes, I gym, and yes, I just used gym as a verb). I have been attempting to alter my routine, so I tried out the recumbent bike; a strange contraption where, you sit and pedal with pedals out in front instead like a traditional bike where the pedals are underneath.

Thirty-minutes later, and the machine read 12.0 miles. I felt no less stressed, sweaty (and smelly), somewhat tired, and still cranky and down.


On the bee-front, I read the book, Plan Bee: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the Hardest-Working Creatures on the Planet. It was a really quick read. I would recommend the book. The author, Susan Brackney, has a very tongue-and-cheek, self deprecating sort of style. My main take-away, and I have read this from veteran beekeepers, do not get cocky. You will get stung, your bees might swarm, or a litany of other bad-things-for-beeks (yes, beeks – British slang for beekeepers). The book also includes a quick and dirty biology lesson on what is a worker, a drone, and a queen bee – as well as the birds & the bees of the queen and her orgy with the drones.

hive area

Saturday, April 10, is just two days away. The bees that we will be picking up are on their way from California via a Thermo King tractor-trailer. Word from the bee-man is that the tractor broke down somewhere around Wyoming or South Dakota, but the bees are just fine in the trailer. Frankly, I would be worried sick if I was running this operation. At $60 to $70 a package, I cannot imagine what a full semi-trailer of these packages costs. There are 400 beekeepers picking up bees on Saturday; some will be getting 100+ packages, while others will be getting just one (we are getting two).

Finally, we finished up the area where the hives will be in the yard. A nice 4′ x 5′ deck attached to the shed; completely fenced off from the rest of the yard – making it hound-proof; the side where the entrances will face is fenced with pickets instead of hog-wire – we are optimistic this will cause the bees to take a steeper descent and ascent to and from the hives – coming in higher over the neighbor’s yard. We do not anticipate troubles with the neighbor, but it is best to make sure the bees are not coming at head-level across his yard.