Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Springtime Buzz

Flowers begin to bloom as the rains return to Miami.  The winter ends as temperatures rise from the frigid 60s to the mid to upper 80s.  As I walk around Coconut Grove I am blissfully aware of all the activity occurring between the pollinators and those reaping the benefit.  Entire trees bloom in radiant yellows and bright purples.  I stop underneath a particularly alive tree with yellow flowers that seems to be humming with life.  The activity within this small ecosystem inspired me to get back on the computer to update you as to how the colonies are fairing.
The move back to the Plantation went smoothly last week!  I received help from Ben and a young man named Miguel.  I closed up the hives after dark using newspaper, duck tape, and thumbtacks.  We gently moved them to the truck and off we went.
Miguel and I skillfully navigate the yard as Ben takes pics...no worries, Ben helped too.

Finishing the tape up.
Moving back into The Plantation!
Prepping for the release.
I went back this week to check on the hives to see if they survived the move.  Unfortunately, Beeopolis swarmed prior to our move and Bernsting swarmed shortly after its relocation.  I am happy to report that both have new queens and are thriving.  With only a two week window between swarms during this season, a hive inspection every week and a half should help prevent future swarms.  Why prevent swarms?  For Bueno Bees, we have a proven laying queen in both hives.  Also, by killing off potential queens (by destroying queen cells) I can keep populations high for the honey season.
The lighter dots are drone brood.  Notice how they protrude from the cells like little bullets.

Very common to colonies about to swarm, the new queen has hatched and almost all of the cells are full of worker brood to cover the gap while the new queen gets mated.
No worries, it's a drone.  Drones do not have stingers.
The swarming will not be so often as the summer advances and honey production picks up.
After this next honey extraction, there should be enough excess wax to start doing something with it (candles, soap, pure beeswax cubes?).  Until next time, bee kind to you neighborhood pollinators!

Friday, January 6, 2012

A New Year

Writing now, after such a long pause, stirs feelings like that of not talking to a friend in a long time and all of the sudden showing up with a pizza and a load of stories to share.  Pizza aside, happy New Year! 

I am convinced that the move back to the Plantation will happen sooner than later.  That feeling has not left me since I moved out of the Plantation in August.  I am still a grateful guest in Jerry's yard.  The hives have flourished there and continue to (slowly) produce honey.  This last batch yielded a bunch of baby honey bears and some left overs to spare. 
2 oz Honey bears!
They fit in the palm of your hand!
The light shining through shows the true color.

The cooling weather around the nation forces honeybees into their winter clusters.  A winter cluster is when the queen and her workers get together and weather the winter over their stocks of honey.  They eat a spot dry and then, when it is warm enough, they move to a fresh spot of honey!  Where do the drones weather the cold?  They do not get the opportunity as the colony shuns them and they just die off.  Again, drones exist to mate with the queen, so they serve no purpose during the winter months.  I am lucky in south Florida since Miami's warmer climate allows for a longer honey season.  As a matter fact, the first real "chill" of the year came through as temperatures dipped into the low 50s.  Honeybees prove resilient in these mild temperatures and continue to forage whatever blooms.  
Getting started.

Stacking this way make the boxes easier to manipulate during the time I am working the hive.

Mmmm, look at that honey!
The excitement of being an apiarist continues, but at times it can be a little overwhelming.  My biggest lesson learned to this point: keep the colonies close.  Driving the visit them in Miami brings great amounts of stress as many drivers here refuse to succumb to a new American driving style.  Blinkers are optional...speeds are suggestions...and my blood pressure reflects it!  The peace and tranquility of working the hives disappears shortly after merging onto I-95.  My mind wanders at night wondering what the colonies are doing.  I long to sit and observe them and just relax.  Maybe when I get back into the Plantation I will do just that and slow things down a bit.  I find myself wearing protective clothing all too often and Emily even observed that I am a less loving beekeeper when I am fully suited.  
Sometimes the bees build too deep on the frames and I end up uncapping some honey on site! 

More honey!
I am proud to announce that I have accomplished my first resolution of the year with my next announcement!  I am proud to introduce the names of my first two colonies: Bernsting and Beeopolis.  Bernsting is the one that is all white boxes and Beeopolis is the one with the natural wooden colored boxes intertwined.  Both have been fantastic, but Beeopolis has already produced at least two times the amount of honey as Bernsting.  Maybe if I raise taxes on Beeopolis that will encourage Bernsting to work harder...ha!  Political joking aside, thanks to Rob and Alex for the submissions! 

Thanks for your patience during this time between posts.  Shoot me an email if you have any questions at: buenobees@gmail.com  And until next time, bee kind to you neighborhood pollinators!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Something Sweet for Halloween

Time passes in South Florida with the rain.  A normal fall day consists of the weather changing every thirty minutes.  Dodging hurricanes and flooding becomes the routine here from June-November.  For the rest of the United States this season yields great harvests and fantastic honey flows.  In Miami this time brings rain and very little honey production.  Fortunately, as October comes to a close, the tides turn and our time for planting and honey production begins!

I know it has been a while since my last posting.  I did not think the trips to the hives where I opened them and nothing had really changed would interest you.  During this change of seasons from wet to drier, I did not go occupy Wall Street or Miami.  Instead, this down time gave me opportunities to read more and prepare for the upcoming season.  First, I know that we will have some beeswax from the harvest, so I built a solar wax melter out of a Styrofoam cooler, Plexiglas, and foil.  Check it out!
Foam cooler lined with aluminum foil.  It can get over 200 degrees Fahrenheit in there!

The Solar Wax Melter and it's Plexiglas lid.

This is a little wax I was able to get from some rogue comb.  It is dirty, but this is much better than how it looked before!  Wax refinement takes a few steps, and we have not harvested enough wax for any crafts yet.

Oh, did I fail to mention that I harvested my first batch of honey?  No big deal...  I happened to get three full frames of honey from the last venture to the hives.  Naturally, I extracted them immediately using my new two-frame hand extractor.  The yield of about 0.75 gallons (6 pints) will go to family, but do not fret, I saw other promising frames in the other hive as well.  I will bring another box to expand the other hive and allow for maximum honey production! 
A full frame...at least 80% of the framed needs to be capped or else a risk of high moisture could lead to fermentation (not in a good way) of the entire yield!  Oh, and the frame is covered on both sides just like this.


Using the electrically heated knife makes for quick uncapping of the frames.  Also, the cappings come off clean and leave the cells generally undamaged making it easier and quicker for the bees to fill them up again!


Uncapping action shot!

In areas that the knife cannot reach because they are too shallow or in corners, the uncapping tool takes care of the job.  Yes, it damages the comb a bit, but it gets the job done.

Cappings and their residual...no worries, none of this goes to waste!

The two-frame hand cranked extractor.  For the hobbyist.  The frames are spun for three minutes and then flipped around and spun for another three minutes to extract from both sides of the frame.

Empty comb...ready to go back to the colony.

The extracted honey comes out of the extractor and into a double sieve filter.

This is the only filtration the honey receives.  The large particulate like wax chunks, bee parts, and pollen are mostly caught here...of course some stuff gets through.

One of the frames did not have a plasticell foundation (a plastic middle with wax outer) and it started to fall apart in the extractor.  The solution was to crush and strain and, of course, end up with a ton of extra wax to process.


Oh wait!  I mean, pure honey!  That is the yield, 6 quarts=.75 gallons.

Even though we waited a night to let the air bubble rise out, some still remained suspended in the honey along with a bit of pollen and other small particles.

Raw-unprocessed, golden, delicousness!

Nice lighting really shows how golden this batch came out.

This is the label I designed for now...first edition.

Now I just need to get the labels to align properly in the printer...

 Personally, I like the cute little plastic honey bears, but old fashioned mason jars work in the meantime.  I think the Bueno Bees name needs a classy logo as well.  This constitutes my solicitation for ideas and graphic submissions!  Please send them my way!  I am not an artist...please help, Nate...hint hint.  Otherwise, the labels will be lifeless and boring...can you imagine?

A quick update about the plantation: the city of Miami finished burying the new pipe a few weeks ago, but they still need to plant grass before they will let us back in.  So...I am still eternally grateful to Jerry for letting me stash the bees in his yard.  You know though...there is a fellow from work who has some pomegranate trees in his yard and inquired about getting my bees down there for the growing season...I wonder how pomegranate honey tastes.   

I will let you all know when I get a batch of honey that I am ready to sell and ship...so stay tuned!  Oh, and remember to bee kind to your neighborhood pollinators!

Monday, September 26, 2011


Working with Apis Mellifera Ligustica (the Italian Honey Bee for those just joining us now) broadens my understanding of economics through a simple demonstration of supply and demand.  Demand from workmates and friends continues to grow for that sweet golden product that I hope the hives produce in surplus amounts soon.  However, due to a very rainy summer and the proximity of several other colonies, resources and competition diminish my bees ability to produce greats amount of honey.
Ok, I tried using the pipe to protect my face during the inspection...it kind of stayed lit the entire time.

But in the end I suited up completely!
On top of this simple yet powerful demonstration of basic economics, another ever prevalent phenomena occurs that parallels that of our own human species....stress.  With limited good weather days to get out and forage, the colonies remain stressed and it shows.  In short, the bees currently show signs of a market correction which will hopefully mean an increase in productivity in the near future due to Mother Nature stimulating the local flowering plants (take that, Congress).  During the last inspection, the slightest bump or movement alerted too many bees and they were ready to defend their colony!  Needless to say, the aggressiveness of the hives conforms to that of a colony during a food supply deficit.  Because the hives both continue to produce small amounts of honey, I do not supplement their food supply.  Any surplus in honey reserves counts as a sign of good health at this point in the season.
The black stuff around the rim is propolis...sticky, sturdy propolis!

During this inspection I wore full gear and it almost paid off.  Whenever too many honey bees got airborne, I simply froze to see their next move or continued to work gently.  One did, however, make it INSIDE of my veil and stung me inside the right nostril!  This weather and location will both end when I can move the hives back to the Plantation and the dry fall/"winter" comes to South Florida!

Close up!
I drive by and spy on the work in the Plantation.  The city looks like it has begun to button up the work and filled in the ditch they dug.  I am just awaiting the word and I will do another night time hive seal/move back to the previous premium in the Plantation.  I will keep you posted!  Until next time, remember to bee kind to your neighborhood pollinators!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The First Swarm Capture

Emily, Maggie, and I took a trip to the hives on Saturday morning.  The blue sky dotted by puffy white clouds provided the usual hot and humid South Florida summer day.  As I geared up I explained to my companions the goals of this hive inspection.  "I am checking for worker brood lay patterns.  I want to see tight brood patterns and lots of them.  I am also looking for amounts of drone cells and the presence of any queen cells", I told them while pulling the gloves all the way up my arms.   Unbeknown to us, we had walked by something very special and never realized it!

We walked right by this and didn't notice until it was pointed out to us!

As Jerry scrambled to get a box together to catch the swarm, I continued my work on the colonies so I could finish and go help.  Queen Sophia continues to lay plenty of brood.  The hive still contains plenty of room and no signs of honey production, so I put it back together and will check next week for more progress.

It is nice having someone else there to take the pictures...but I feel compelled to "ham it up".

Moderate bee levels with a great tight lay pattern in the middle of the frame.  Also, this is from the upper box, which is a good sign of the overall health of the hive.

Queen Sophia has been busy.  All those filled cells are worker brood!

The other hive, however, had signs of preparations to swarm.  These signs include: crowded chambers, queen cells (not hatched) attached to the upper frame, and tons of healthy worker brood.

The inner cover and the hives are pull of propolis!  This plant substance glues things together pretty good. 

Always start a full hive inspection with the bottom box.

There is still room to draw comb and continue to expand populations...so I don't think it was this colony that swarmed.

This colony needed more room to expand!  Plenty of empty cell remained for continued worker brood development, so I removed a frame of honey and added it to a new box.  This new box placed atop a queen excluder is called a "honey super".  It will only contain honey since the queen cannot fit through the screen I placed below and prevents her from laying eggs in the box.  The extra room also allows the bees to spread out a bit and helps prevent swarming.  This delicate balance between an apiarist and their hives remains the never-ending challenge and one that takes a while to master.  I am no master.  The hive now contains 3 boxes and will, hopefully, have a box full of honey within the next few weeks (depending on the local nectar flows).

All the white is capped honey.  Bees cap the honey when it is at the right moisture content and ready to be stored.

There were two frames that looked like this.  I moved one up to the new honey super.

Close up of the capped honey.

Adding the honey super above the queen excluder.

Now to the swarm!  Jerry geared up as well and we both marveled at the sight of tens of thousands of honey bees stuck to the branch.  The simple plan consisted of lightly misting the bees to weigh down their wings then clip the branch off, hold it over a new box, and shake the branch.  Getting the queen into the box means a successful catch.  So that is what we did!

Jerry getting ready for the capture by cutting back some excess branches.

Placing the new box.

Maggie and the Swarm!!!  She shows no fear!

Going over the plan. 

Weighing down their wings with a little misting of water.

Removing the swarm infested branch from the tree.

It only took one shake to get the bees off and into the box!

Pretty impressive!

Sealing up the box to trap the queen inside.

I think we got her seeing how attracted to the box all the bees are.

We are not too sure where the swarm came from.  Jerry has quite a few hives and mine did not show strong evidence of already swarming.  Either way, this rare opportunity greatly increased my understanding of the swarm and capturing it remains one of the coolest things done since starting this new hobby.

A special thanks to my lovely wife, Emily, for documenting this trip!

Next on the agenda: procure extracting equipment, make a solar wax melter, start harvesting honey (hopefully sooner than later).  Being in South Florida, we have 11 months of honey flow.  The rest of the US has a few weeks of flow in the spring and autumn.  This proves that life is sweeter in Miami...HA!  So until next time, bee kind to your neighborhood pollinators!