Collective Roundup – Feral Bees, My Lazy Italians & Lining up More Chickens

alex and the bee vac

A week-and-a-half-ago – a bit later than normal in the evening – and the treatment for Lyme disease was underway (it is now pointing toward something else – lupus or rheumatoid arthritis – both, of which, at the age of 30, I should not have) and the not-sleeping-well and the upset-stomach were on full assault modes. An email came in from a friend; it was a forwarding from a post to the UMD Farmers’ Market mailing list. Someone had a friend with a tree full of honey bees. They wanted the bees gone.

I called the number in the email and promptly asked for the wrong person; "I am sorry, you have the wrong number." NO! I did not have the wrong number, I was just an idiot and asked for the wrong person. I called back the next morning; I talked to someone else – I said I would stop over in the evening.

All day long, I kept thinking, "How am I going to remove these bees without destroying their tree?" During the day, I asked my friend Sam (often featured in the bee videos) to come along for the adventure; he agreed. I needed to get the bees out, though… A quick google search, and I found that, often, people will use specially constructed bee vacuums. I found some plans, but, I only had 45 minutes before I needed to be over to Sam’s to pick him up. I ended up pulling a Macgyver; i used an old five gallon pail, a set of old vacuum hoses & connectors, old screen from old windows we had in the garage, blue electrical tape, and electric fence wire. I also bought a new utility knife (it is now living in the Xterra), a roll of duct tape, and a plastic lid for the pail.

beevac 2k10

The connectors were put through holes in the pail, then screen was put around and in the connector that would be going to the vacuum. For taking me 30 minutes to make, and costing me $12 in parts, I think it was an overall success.

On the way to find the house, Sam and I turned into the wrong driveway; we were greeted by a pack of pomeranians and a fat dachshund. A cooky, elderly man, smoking a cigarette greeted us. "What you boys looking fir?," he puffed. I explained what we were up to and the address we were looking for; he pointed us down the road and called off the pack of dogs. Sam thought that, up to that point, it was the best part of the adventure.

The bees were located in a large frost crack in one of the family’s basswood trees. The main opening was 3/4" wide, but the crack ran several feet up the tree. Bees were all around in the air. I got to work and began sucking the bees into the pail. The man, seeing me put nearly an entire 4′ stick into the frost crack, went and got a large 90 degree heavy duty drill with a Forstner bit in it. I punched a hole into the tree and a wave of bees came out. Vacuuming them all the while. More holes were punch further up the tree; it appears that two feet up from the main entrance, the crack inside the tree widened significantly; this is where the majority of the bees were located.

We were there until just before sundown, and overall, about a pound of bees were pulled from the tree. The owner had me spray the remaining bees in the tree with foaming wasp killer. He was really freaked out by all the bees.

It was dark by the time I got Sam dropped off at his house, and then got back to my place. With a flashlight, I took an empty super with frames and poured the feral bees into it. Laying newspaper over this, I put the super containing the Minnesota Hygienic Italians on top; I also put an entrance reducer in place for the feral bees.

On June 26, 2010, I checked the hives. There were more MH Italians than before the requeening; this was a good sign. They also did not appear to be as many drones; this was also a good sign. In the bottom super, the one where the feral bees had been put, there were very few dead bees. There were holes in the newspaper where bees from either side of it had chewed through; it appeared that the merger of the two hives had completed. In the top super, there was a definite mixed variety of bees. The feral bees were nearly all black while the existing MH Italians were more golden.

Parting note: I have been lining up more people in the region who would like me to or are willing to have their chicken flocks photographed.

A Close Encounter…with Chickens

chicken butt

For a while, I have been tacitly involved with a loose group of people who are strong supporters of urban farming. So, strong and so passionate about it, they campaigned for and successfully changed a city ordinance allowing for the keeping of chickens within the city limits of Duluth. My involvement revolved around being technical support for their website, On a side note, I recently took over control of the site and hope to get it updated in both style and content. If you have questions, send us an email – people at

Last Friday, June 18, 2010, I contacted Marian Syrjamaki-Kuchta (one of the Duluth City Chicken people) to see if she had time for me to stop by for a photo shoot of her chickens; she lives near UMD, where I happen to spend my days…working – gainfully employed by the University of Minnesota Duluth. Marian was taking an early lunch, so she swung by my office; we headed over to her house. MJ heard I was heading over to see chickens; she made a beeline down to my office to join us. Marian has a tiny lot, but it is more than enough for her coop, and a fenced area where her five or so chickens can roam freely. She also gave us a dozen eggs and some basil sproutlings. I took 55 photos, but the ones, below, seemed to be the best.

chicken butt

Overthrowing the Italian Queen

the queen must die

After checking the hives on June 6, 2010, it was determined, with much regret, that the Minnesota Hygienic Italian queen…must die. The warrant was signed when I located a supplier of new MHI queens, placed my order, and 5 days later, a small, buzzing package was in the mailbox. The queen arrived last Thursday, and we got home from St. Paul far too late (bad weather postponed our departure from 5:00 PM until 9:00 PM) for me to depose the monarch; it would wait until the next day.

I had worked out the plan in my head; running through each step over and over. Locate the queen; searching frame by frame. Kill the queen. Take the new queen from pocket. Remove cork from candy-side of cage (I will explain what that means) . Pinch cage between two frames in the middle of the hive. Refill feed pail. Close up the hive. Done.

Friday came, and after work, Sam Bradley stopped over to catch the coup in action. With the video camera in place, I set to work on the business at hand; Sam took still photos. The results of the videoing can be found at the end of this post.

all hail the new queen

The new queen arrived in a green, olefin fiber envelope with large, bold letters – URGENT: LIVE BEES. I felt like Darren McGavin’s character in a Christmas Story; it was like a major award, and I had just won it. I am not sure why I was so excited to have an envelope containing live bees; maybe I was just thrilled at the attempt to restart the one hive.

The box in which the queen arrived, seen to the left, consisted of a screen covering a hollowed out middle, two corks, and a piece of candy. The cork at the near-end (in the photo) is where the queen was put into the box; the white substance is the candy, and on far end, the other cork.

When putting the new queen into the hive, you do not want to just open the box and let her rip; she will get killed by guard bees almost instantly. If not killed by the guards, the existing queen will give killing the new queen a stab. Instead, after you have offed the current queen, you uncork the candy end of the box, with the idea that while the few worker bees that came with the queen eat away at the candy, a horde of workers from the whole hive eat away from the other side. The whole process takes roughly 3 days. During this time the new queen gets the smells of the hive, and hopefully when both sides meet, there is not a melee.

Upon opening the hive, we looked on frame after frame of poorly drawn out comb; no queen to be found. We noticed more drones than I had seen before, too. We looked through the frames, yet again. No queen. I decided to take a gamble: the original queen had already perished. The cork on the candy-end was removed, and the queen-box was pinched between the two middle frames. Hive back together, a refilled feed pail atop; done.

After posting a link to the video, Eric Rochow of contacted me. Eric is a painter and contractor in the Connecticut, Manhattan & Brooklyn areas; he is also an experienced beekeeper, among other things. We emailed back and forth and after a few questions, I realized we probably had an egg laying worker because of the presence of more than a normal number of drones. This means that the queen we are attempting to introduce may simply be killed by the workers or the impostor-non-queen. It sounds like a study in socialism to me. Let us all hope that the new queen makes it. Dosvidanya, comrades.

Phooey! Fog and Rain.

duluth farmers market

We were planning on heading to the in-laws’ cabin this weekend, but my mother-in-law was not feeling well. The in-laws stayed in St. Paul, and we stayed in town. We headed to Duluth Farmer’s Market and then to the Whole Foods Co-op. At DFM, we were gunning for fresh whitefish, but Lake Superior Fish Co only had smoked fish. We settled on the trout. As tempting as it was to buy beta grapes from Deb Shubat or the petunias and herbs from others, I am sticking to my "30 days without buying books, seeds or plants". We could have bought chocolate from Peace, Love & Chocolate, but decided it to head to pick up groceries at WFC. I am into day twelve of my seed-and-book fast. A Peaceful Valley catalog arrived in the mail yesterday; it has been taunting me on the dining room table.

On the bee front, it is a mixed bag. The bees have been active when the temperature has been above 55 degrees without rain, but have stayed hunkered down while it rained. The bumblebees have been active throughout the rain (except at its heaviest). My Minnesota Hygienic Italians have been very slow to draw out the comb, however. It is possible that I have a week queen. Given the bees hardwired social structure, it is not like a scrappy young worker could throw off her blue-colar status to rise to the top. Unless the queen dies off, it is not really possible the hive will pickup in the production of wax. I ordered a new queen (interesting age we live in where one can do a quick search on the Internet, quickly locate a bee & queen supplier, order a new queen, and have it by the end of next week) from a pleasant sounding company in Kentucky. The MHIs are down to being in a single deep super with feed pail atop.

The Carniolans, on the other hand, are going great guns (check out the latest Beekeeping Video – June 6, 2010). The Carns are quickly filling up the two deep supers, and also have a honey super on in addition to the feeder pail (as long as wax is in need of being drawn out, I am keeping the feed pails on) sans Honey-B-Healthy; just straight-up sugar syrup.

Fog and rain have done one really nice thing: constant watering of the gardens. The ground, wooden fence and just about everything else that can hold water is at the saturation point; the gates on the fence are tight to close because of all the rain. The beans, cabbage, leeks, peas, onions, garlic, cucumbers, and potatoes are doing wonderfully. The garlic is nearly ready to be harvested – they are approaching 30 inches tall and most are starting to form a flower. The onions are getting close to flowering as well. The only things that are doing alright are the corn and peppers — both could use a good burst of heat.

Final note on the grapes. The Frontenac grapes seem to be doing alright — the ones that made it through the winter, that is. We have one plant that is forming tiny bunches of grapes. We will at least have a few bunches, which is great — making having lost a few plants this week slightly more tolerable.