Thursday, April 25, 2013

Happy birthday, JJ!

JJ turned 2 on April 19th, which I just can't believe. While I feel we have packed so much love, happiness, and growth into these past 2 years, I also feel like they have flown by! How is JJ 2?!? He is such a sweet spot in our lives, and I feel so lucky to be his mommy.  We, of course, had a birthday party for him! It was a "Dirt Don't Hurt" party to celebrate JJ's love of everything outdoors and messy. We played in dirt, sand, water, and rocks. We blew bubbles. We ate. We drank (the pony keg will forever be a staple at JJ's parties. We love supporting our local breweries too.)

His 2 year appointment is next week, so I will update then on height, weight, etc. and probably a bit more about his current behaviors and funny stuff. But the cuteness and sweetness is off the charts. So is the self-coloring and running around Target like a crazy man. Here are some pictures!

Days leading up to JJ's birthday:

JJ's actual birthday! I ended up eating this cupcake and his party cupcake. Not much of a sweets man, I guess!

The party!!! JJ has some totally awesome friends!

Playing with his birthday presents!

Tattoo artist in the making. Extremely abstract work only.

(always playing basketball)

The Bees! (A long, boring post about our exciting new adventure!)

I feel like the bees are such a big part of our lives these days that they deserve a post or 2 to update everyone on how they're doing, and how we're making it work with thousands of bees living in our backyard.

First off, it's a weird situation. I don't necessarily feel like their mom, even though I am the one who feeds than and makes sure that they're comfy as can be--typical Mom tasks. (Note: The use of the word "be" never doesn't get emphasis in my conversations about the bees. I am still giddy and excited about having them join our family.) I more feel like their older sister, maybe. Or a close girlfriend. We're on this journey together, and we're all just trying to keep each other happy. So, actually, I don't think they care if I'm happy, but they haven't stung me yet, so maybe they care a little. Moving on...

Installing the bees into their hives was interesting. Between the 2 installations, I think I made every mistake you could make, which seems about right for me. I am pretty clumsy/klutzy, so between the 2 installations, I dropped a queen cage, let a lot of the bees out of the box without directing them to their hive, broke a queen cage, and didn't inspect the queen before installing her (because her cage was broken, I wanted to make sure she didn't just fly away, which they will definitely do, and which she may have done after all--more on that later!).

My queens are, of course, named Marilyn and Jackie. I think this rivalry represents so many classic woman v. woman battles (blonde v. brunette; wife v. mistress; conservative v. wild (in most behaviors); classy v. sexy; curls v. straight; poor v. privilege; brains v. beauty (though Marilyn was quite smart--she just wasn't recognized for it); the list goes on and on). I wish I hadn't made this such a competition, because by Day 3, Marilyn was robbing from Jackie's hive. JJ and I drove about 1.5 hours away to get a robbing screen, since I was so worried about it. I think it was a good idea, because I do think she was being robbed. I just don't think she was even in the hive at that point. But I want both ladies to perform well. Next time I will choose something more supportive and encouraging.

I did a 1 week inspection and Marilyn seemed very active and successful. I didn't spot any eggs, but it was a bit shady when I did the inspection, and eggs are hard to spot without direct sunlight. Jackie didn't seem as gangbusters, much slower drawing out the comb on frames. I'd fed them both a few times in their top feeders, so they were eating plenty, and at this point, the honey flow was ON (it's technically a nectar flow, but beekeepers call it a honeyflow).

I went back a few days ago, on Monday, to check progress. This is a little too frequent--I should probably have waited until Saturday, on the 2 week mark, but I am nosy, and really wanted to check on progress, since things didn't look that great last time. I'm glad I did.

Marilyn was still looking like a champ, but there were a few supersedure cells, which means that the bees were planning an overthrow! There are a few races of bees that do this all the time, as a precautionary measure, but I don't have those bees. At least, those were not the bees I ordered. So that was a little disturbing.

Jackie was MIA. I could see about 3-5 eggs laid in most of the cells, which means that the worker ladies' reproductive organs are no longer suppressed by a queen's pheromone. That's a very bad sign. Given that they had only drawn out about 1/3 of the comb in the hive, that was another bad sign. There weren't a lot of bees in there either. I am still considering the possibility that Jackie swarmed (meaning she left the hive totally), but when bees swarm, they usually leave behind a queen cell to grow, emerge, and rule the remaining bees. No sign of that.

I had an idea of how to fix the situation--being queenless is SERIOUS--which involved putting a frame or 2 of bees/brood (with the supersedure cells on them) in Jackie, in hopes that one would emerge and rule the hive. I called my mentor, who suggested we ask HER mentor, since my mentor is only in her 2nd year of beekeeping. My "meta-mentor" as she prefers to be called, is the proclaimed "Queen Bee" of all of the beekeepers in the area. She's totally awesome, and has years of experience. She recommended something totally different.

Her plan, which I ultimately implemented today, involved taking several (5-6) frames from Marilyn, including the supersedure cells, but not Queen Marilyn herself, and creating a new colony from those, and moving it several feet away from my current setup. She then said to take the remaining Marilyn frames, and putting a sheet of newspaper on top, to stack Jackie's hive on top of that. By the time the bees chew through the newspaper, which they will do in about a week, they will have forgotten that they don't have a queen in common, and they will all be ruled by Marilyn.

I executed the plan well, since I walked through the steps in my head several times before going out there. This is CRUCIAL for a new beekeeper! Knowing what you will be doing before you have bees swarming around you allows your instincts to overpower your reactionary craziness. Overall it went very well. I was a little concerned about the lack of activity at the new Jackie. I provided an upper entrance to my former Jackie hive now stacked on Marilyn, hoping that it will allow them to come and go without being trapped. I will probably check on them in 2 weeks, unless I see something that really concerns me. It takes 2 weeks for a queen cell to hatch, so that is enough time to catch any cells prepared by the workers, which gives me peace of mind.

Fingers crossed all the ladies (and the few gentlemen milling about) survive and thrive! Here are a few pictures!

During Marilyn Installation:
Hive on the left (the frames are the bars spanning the length of the box).

A package of bees

A few hangers-on.

After Marilyn installation. The remainder of the bees in the box eventually flew into the hive.

After Jackie installation. Twinsies!

The front of Jackie after I installed the robbing screen on the entrance. Bees climbing all over the hive like they are is not a good sign. Especially at 8:30 PM!!!

Marilyn with a normal level of activity for 8:30PM.

Bees under the telescoping cover hanging on the inner screened cover. Weird behavior, except for robbers.

 Marilyn's ladies keeping watch by night.

A busy Jackie entrance.

I will continue to post updates, since I think it's so interesting. Feel free to ask questions, or ignore completely! I will probably do at least a post on a "tour" of a hive, since most people have no idea what's going on in there! It's hard to snap pictures mid-inspection, since I'm wearing gloves and too clumsy to inspect while snapping away.