Happy New Year Everyone!
First, some pictures that I promised:
Here I am in mid-December assembling the first top-bar hives because I couldn't wait to put something together. Special thanks to my friend Adam for helping me to screw these first hives together. Pictured are three 4' long hives to be used for honey production and also two 2' hives that I will use for pollination and transitional housing as bee colonies grow.
Those first boxes have been painted and are ready to go out into the field when the bee swarm season begins. Considering this dry weather in California, swarming could be very early this year.
The front of the hives have six holes and the rear of the hives have one hole for hive ventilation and in case I ever need to divide the hive into two separate cavities. A complete hive will also use a steel roofing panel and tie down rope (not pictured) to protect the bees from sun and rain.
Some mornings, I annoy all of my neighbors with the constant shriek of a table saw. I try to space these noise-making marathons out in order to preserve suburban tranquility. Pictured here are the beginnings of the many-thousand top-bars that I will cut for my hives in my lifetime.
This picture of the top bars in early January shows the grooves that I must cut into each top bar to hold a guiding strip of foundation so that the bees build straight comb. That was also a noisy morning.
At the workbench (next time I gotta do this part outside) I am using melted beeswax to secure the foundation strips to my top bars. I've got a pot of melted wax in a double boiler, a little homemade dipper, and a rack to work on 15 top bars at a time
This is one finished top bar. The 4' long hive models require 29 of these bars.
This picture is dated on January 15. It shows the very good brood pattern of one of my beehives. Most all of my hives are growing as fast as they can now. They are bringing in lots of nectar and pollen from blooming eucalyptus, acacia, and now plum trees. This drought scares me. I do not think that this nectar flow will last long, but for now, the bees are making the most of it
Here is one of my queen bees at a apiary location in Martinez. I took her out to put a little spot of paint on her thorax. She's a keeper.
Here are some of the 18 remaining 2' boxes that I've been working on. Last night I finished adding the handgrips and landing boards to all 18 and at my next opportunity I will paint them. I will set a number out into the countryside to serve as bait hives for swarms to take residence in. I've been on a building spree!
On January 25 I celebrated completion of finishing the cutting all of the wooden pieces for these hives. Now comes the hive-assembly marathon. It is really gratifying to put the boxes together after spending 4.5 months cutting wood pieces.
In other news, I have found out with certainty that I will not be able to place an apiary in any open space or other land managed by the Refugio Heights Homeowners Association, either now or in the future. This decision comes handed down in a complete and well thought-out letter from the attorney of the HOA. This letter even states that no sort of easement for beekeeping activity as expressed by a will of Homeowners may be considered of in the future on HOA open-space land. I thank the directing board of the Refugio Heights Homeowners Association for expressing interest in my project proposal and going as so far as to ask their attorney what the authoritative stance is on such possibilities. I was sad and disappointed when I had heard this news but feel grateful that I know that such a door is closed with certainty. I may now better direct my attention towards finding additional beekeeping yards.
I will need to find additional beeyards as my business operation (my herd of bees) grows in size. Myself and the Gardeners are still trying to negotiate with the City of Hercules about stationing my bees in the Hercules Community Garden. Since September 2013 I have been speaking with City Workers about this project, and soon I hope that we will have a breakthrough. I remain optimistic that I will be able to manage beehives in the Community Garden in the future, but this process of trying to work through the layers of a debt-crippled municipal government body is taking much more time than I thought it would. That being said, I am still committed to finding a way to pursue the goal of my Kickstarter Campaign
Because I seek a Home-Operation permit for my business for purposes of beehive making and office management, I am not permitted by the City of Hercules to keep my livestock at my home. Though I do understand and agree with this provision within the statutes of the municipal code, it is a challenge as I must now find additional places for my bees to occupy while retaining a non-overlapping coverage of my forage areas.
All in all, though, I have enough places for my bees now, and I remain optimistic that I will be able to accommodate their growing numbers.
And now what about the bees? Well, they are out there, still living. I checked on my colonies after the entire West Coast had the prolonged cold snap in early to mid December and I am pleased to report zero colony losses thus far. Gosh, California, you are a mild land. Now just a mere week after the cold snap, I am walking around in sunny days with a daytime high in the low to mid 60s. If I go out walking in the afternoon, it is possible to start sweating. On days warmer thatn 55 F the bees get out and fly when sun gets on the hive. They fly in order to cleanse their bowels (a cold weather no-no) and they look eagerly for forage on the Eucalyptus species that have responded to the first rains of this season. Though some of my colonies have reacted to the transition of winter by going into a broodless state, the majority of them maintain some amount of broodrearing. Extended and sizeable broodrearing during dearth/cold periods are a characteristic trait of the Italian subspecies (A. m. ligustica
). Italian bee genetics are widespread among the honeybee populations of the United States because of the interests of our high-production oriented agribusiness that demand and pay for a huge commericial pollination effort. Indeed, selection pressures on commerical bees have been so strong that some Italian bees, especially those in warmer climates, never do completely stop raising brood and new bees.
Except for the continuously rainy, cloudy reaches of north Northern CA or the mountainous regions, beekeepers in CA are indeed able to open boxes and manage their colonies during the winter months. The beekeeper must remember to consider the needs of his stock, however, and not open hives on days colder than 55 F or at times without direct sun on the hive. Consideration of cold weather is less of a problem in the sunny, southern stretches of California. There, beekeepers instead have a unique problem in managing colonies that raise brood (and thus raise populations of the varroa mite) year-round.
I continue on managing my bees during these cold months. When a colony goes broodless, I take a mite-population sampling and determine whether mite levels warrant treatment with an oxalic acid dribble. If mite popluation levels do not warrant treatment and the colony has enough food reserves, I leave the bees alone in order to let Mother Nature select the survivors for me. Breeding beestock that is able to coexist with the parasitic varroa-mite is an ongoing goal of mine.
I apologize about the incredibly long gap between this and my last blog post. I will be more frequent about it this year.
Thanks for reading!