Monday, August 27, 2012

The Last Post

Due to a small glitch, I didn't have Internet access for my last few days in Jamaica, and I'm finally getting around to posting this.

My two-month stay has finally concluded, and first of all I would like to thank Kwao, Agape and their family for their hospitality and generosity. Without them, I would have never had this experience and would never have learned anything about bees! I also learned much more than I could ever write about on this blog.

There are many other people who contributed to my wonderful experience this summer. I had tons of fun with Jessica, Dee, and tons of other people. They all deserve a mention!

This was a summer that I'll never forget, and I can't wait to go back!;)

Monday, August 20, 2012


Since my family is here and they haven't shown quite as much as interest in sweating profusely under the sun as I have, we went and did some tourist-y stuff today in Ocho Rios.

We went to a local art/craft fair, and I picked up this sweet, dorky bag. They got some souvenirs and snacks from the supermarket, and then we had lunch at a jerk chicken restaurant nearby. I mean, you can't really visit Jamaica and not try some jerk chicken.

Then, we went on a serious adventure into the bush looking for a river tubing guide. Jimmy, a local driver who was taking us there, was very patient and we were able to find it after much searching. And the tubing was fun - a 45-minute, three mile float down a cool river. The guides were friendly and all, but they insisted on singing and making crazy jokes the whole time, which kind of took away from the beauty and relaxing environment of the river for me. Otherwise, the whole day was a success. And, as a bonus, Kwao had a productive day building a hive stand and setting it up, even without me.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Attack of the Killer Bees

It's been a while since we fed any bees, so today we made the trek up to the farm to feed two hives. One, affectionately (or maybe not so affectionately) dubbed "the mean hive," and another that was our first real attempt at a top bar hive. We decided to feed the mean hive first, since we don't really like them. They have pretty strong defensive mechanisms, and ever since we've gotten them they've been difficult to manage. Plus, they like to sting, and stung me straight through my jeans once.

Kwao removed the cover and went to crack open the back top bars to access the feeder, while I stood by with the sugar water. Two things happened at once - one, Kwao realized that the back bars actually had comb on them. Two, every single bee on or near that comb immediately attacked us. Kwao had about 20 stingers in his gloves right away, and I was covered in bees trying to sting my pants and shoes. Thankfully, we had properly suited up for this feeding.

Anyway, we basically took off. We had to brave the bees once more to replace the cover, but that was the end of working with the bees today. We settled for eating some guineps and going home instead.

A fun plus: my family arrived this morning to visit me and came to see the bees today, so now I'm going to spending the rest of the trip convincing them that this is not at all a normal experience. Oops.

Dee Lee-ves :(

I'm sorry about that title. It was my attempt to match my friend and (ex) fellow intern's skill at using awesome word play in her blog posts.
That's right, the infamous Dee Lee has gone home! Life in our house is not nearly as exciting without her, and I wish her the best of luck both in Chicago and in the coming school year.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Facebook Adventures

As an attempt to entertain/distract the kids here, I was showing them my Facebook profile pictures and having them guess where I was in the picture. (Desperate times call for desperate measures). Here are some conversations/comments:

"You look so much taller in America!"
"I thought it was impossible to be shorter than you."

About Michael:

Emmanuel: Who is that man?
Me: That's my boyfriend, Michael.
Selah: He looks awesome! He's got coooool sunglasses!

About Shun:

Selah: That guy looks Chinese!
Me: He's Japanese, so you're close.
Selah: His name is Japan?!

About my dad:

Emmanuel: Who is that?
Me: That's my dad.
Emmanuel: How old is he?
Me: He's 75 in this picture, I think.
Emmanuel: He doesn't look 75. He looks fifty....nine.

About Kim:
Selah: That girl looks Chinese!
Me: Well, you're right this time.

Also about Kim:
This picture, specifically.

Joshua: Who's that?
Me: That's my roommate again.
Emmanuel: What's wrong with her?
Me: It was her birthday.
Selah: Why is she sad about that? Birthdays are fun!

About Grace:

Every kid ever: YOU GUYS LOOK THE SAME.

About me:
Enoch: That's not you!
Me: It's totally me! That's my name on the coffee cup!
Selah: Why would you do that?!

Granted, this may have been funnier in person. But it's still pretty funny.

Bat Shit Cray

One of our side activities here is farming (plants, not bees). Part of being successful in that is fertilizing our plants because the soil in Jamaica is extremely clay-y. We start the plants in the red soil and transplant them later, but when we move them they need a lot of fertilizer because the poor soil we move them to shocks them. (Fun fact: Jamaica exports this red soil to make aluminum foil).

One main fertilizer we use is guano - bat shit! I had used it to plant before, but today we went to the caves where the rat bats live to harvest it. In Jamaica, bats are called "rat bats" while these big black moths are just "bats." We climbed into this tiny hole in the stone into a wall, which opened up into a larger cave. It was amazing! We filled several bags with the bat poop, and walked back home, where we promptly went to the beach and washed it all off.

Bat cave! 

Also: I got stung, again, bringing my total count up to 3.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Hurricane Bee

Okay, it's not really Hurricane Bee. It's not even a hurricane, really. It's Ernesto, a tropical storm south of Jamaica. However, Jamaica is a small island and even small storms on the other side of the island can have an effect here. It's been super windy during the day, and super stormy at night. Last night, the wind blew open the door on our house and a few windows!

However, the fact that a tropical storm/hurricane is here has not changed our plans regarding bees. Yesterday, we took down a super exciting hive - it was completely exposed! A stranger had shown us where the hive was, and we started by using a chainsaw to cut down the hive. As expected, it landed pretty hard and the bees were not pleased. This time, we were prepared & suited up!
This was probably my favorite hive. I was tying comb into the frames while Dee and Kwao were cutting up comb and searching for the queen. Dee found her, which was a first! Normally Kwao is queen-finding expert.

Then today we took down a similar hive, but with many more challenges. I spotted the queen (another first!) and we thought that was it, but the hive had been preparing to swarm, so the queen I saw was the new queen. There was another queen up in the branches of the tree, and most of our attempts to get her out ended up with bees raining down on us. Eventually we got her and many other bees into a trap hive, but the top bars were crooked and we just didn't feel good about it, so we raced home to eat dinner and build a new hive for them. We went back to put them in the new hive, but unfortunately were unable to find the queen. The bees were all fanning the entrance, which is a good sign.

So we ended up with two hives today, instead of one! It seems like a fair trade off for a bucket of honey and the sting on my finger, which has gotten more swollen since then, making this post much harder to write.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Spontaneous Beekeeping

Due to an issue at the post office, Dee and Kwao went to Annotto Bay and I stayed home. I had done some chores and was taking a nap when they came back, and we immediately suited up to go get a beehive.

This is what we do. 

We learned from Kwao's friend at the hardware store that it had been in a tree that had been bulldozed. All the comb had fallen from the tree and there were a million crushed bees. :(
We made short work of the comb, which I tied into the frames. For this hive, we used a Langstroth hive, partly because it was available. Many of our hives are still "in progress" and not completely ready for bees.
Dee found the queen! It took quite a while to find her, since this hive was the first one we took out that had drones. Drones are huge, male bees that exist solely for the purpose of mating with a new queen. They don't fight or do anything productive really. Their existence in the hive suggests that the bees may have been planning to swarm.
We came back the same evening to move the hive to the yard because we were worried about other people stealing the hive since bee products are a little scarce in Jamaica. They didn't have honey, but it was still a concern.
During the car ride, I sat in the trunk with the hive. It was wrapped in three garbage bags, but the box definitely wasn't bee-tight, so I could feel a ton of bees under the plastic. When we released the bees, they were everywhere. Today we checked on them, and they seem content in their new home. Hopefully the presence of drones won't cause them to swarm.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Goodbye Tom!

Tom, our visiting beekeeper, left for his home in Honduras yesterday morning. He definitely added to our bee knowledge and helped us improve our beekeeping!

You can find him on the forums at BioBees or Beesource.

Friday, July 27, 2012

One Month Down, One to Go!

To commemorate the halfway point in my internship, here is a list of things that I haven't done in a whole month (co-written by Dee!):

  • Driven a car
  • Watched TV or a movie
  • Used a mirror
  • Shaved
  • Taken a hot shower
  • Listened to something that wasn't reggae on the radio
  • Made my own food
  • Gone to sleep past midnight
  • Gone a day without seeing a goat
  • Worn a sweatshirt
  • Used a dishwasher
And here are some things I've done only a few times:
  • Eaten something that wasn't vegan
  • Eaten sugar
  • Worn pants (only for the bee suit)

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Who Ya Gonna Call?

Today Agape gave Dee and I the day off, which started off great. Agape has friends visiting, so we all took a group visit to the beach. Everyone was down in the water and having a great time, when Agape called Dee and I over. Apparently, one of Kwao's friends had just informed him of a beehive that had fallen out of a tree and needed someone to come get it in a box ASAP, before it rained. It was very Ghostbusters-esque.

Naturally, we immediately suited up and and went out to the hive. It wasn't exactly out of the tree yet - it had fallen off the branch, but was still suspended by a few vines. We cut it down, and went to work cutting the comb off!
Not quite detached... yet.
This hive had a TON of bees, and a fair number of combs. We weren't really ready for this situation, so we put this hive into an older Langstroth hive. We don't have foundation for it, so we just tied in the comb like a top bar hive and put it in the box.

This hive also had honeycomb - our favorite reward for doing hive cut outs! Naturally, we put it all in a bucket and promptly ate it once we got back home.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Plantin' Plantains

Today we went up to the farm to plant some plantains and move a few boards down to the yard. We took the plantain suckers (small, already sprouted plants) and stuck them in holes that Kwao had dug earlier. Then we had to use tools to break up the clay-y soil and make the holes deeper, which was a serious workout. I had the ax, which gave me quite an ab workout.
It had rained earlier that morning, so for a while it was nice and cool, but as soon as the sun came out it was straight back to being humid and very warm, despite being only 10 am. Once we finished that job, we got some jelly coconuts as a reward.

After the plantain were all in the ground, we rode home once again with boards hanging out the back of the jeep. We also stopped along the way for some bamboo, which is actually a plentiful natural resource in Jamaica. We're in the middle of making a bamboo hive, which you guys will hear all about later!

Sad news: we lost a hive. A wild hive that we had cut out of a pimento tree decided not to stick around. There are several reasons that this could have happened, but I think it might have been because the hive was simply too large for them. It was a small hive, with only three pieces of comb. It was probably just too much space for the bees to defend. We also found a few hive beetles and quite a few wax moths inside the hive, which is never a good sign.
Dee, Kwao and I with the hive that absconded :(

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Riding in Cars with Bees

Last night I learned yet another reason why it's important to have the top bars fit securely on the top of your hive.

We've put several wild hives into boxes in the last few weeks, which means we have about 5 different boxes scattered all around. Once the bees are settled into their new homes, however, we can move them to a new location to set up an apiary. Kwao had cleared an area on his farm for some bee boxes, and most of our hives are ready to be moved. Last night, we went on a mission to move one of those hives to their new home.

To move a hive, you have to close up the entrance and put the box into a large bag, and then transport it to wherever you want to leave it. For us, that meant that we had to ride several miles of road with a box full of disgruntled bees. Nothing to worry about...probably. The whole operation also took place at night, since that's when all the bees will be inside the box.

We went after dinner, around 7:00. It was dark by the time we reached the hive. We closed up the entrance with folded plastic bags, and used three trash bags to enclose the box. Kwao carried the hive on his shoulder to the car (since he's a giant) and Dee and I rode in the back, attempting to make sure the hive stayed steady. However, we were driving into the bush on dirt roads, so this turned out to be an impossible task. By the time we reached the site of our new apiary, the bees were buzzing around their box pretty rapidly. Fortunately, we probably didn't have any pieces of comb break off, since that can be a magnet for ants and other critters that we don't want in the hive.

We set the hive on cinder blocks for a hive stand, unwrapped the trash bags and took the plastic bags out of the entrance. A few bees wandered out, which is a pretty good sign that no comb broke during the bumpy ride.

Inspecting the beehive

Tonight, we repeated our little adventure with two other beehives, with the same positive results. Hopefully when we check on them tomorrow, all of the bees have decided to stick around. We now have the makings of two separate apiaries!

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Basics of Top Bar Beekeeping

So, it seems that I've neglected to actually explain what a top bar beehive is, and how it differs from the commercially-used Langstroth hive.

Langstroth Hives:

Langstroth hives (named for the guy who invented it) use a wax-mold foundation in frames to convince the bees to build their comb within the frames. This makes it easier for the beekeeper, since he or she just has to pull out separate frames with comb to get honey.
You can see the bees building comb over the foundation. Credit:
However, bees don't always build comb in the same sizes. The circumference of the comb varies based on what the bees put inside, so honeycomb is smaller than comb for eggs, and queen cells are shaped completely differently. And in many commercial operations, the foundation is constantly remolded from old wax, which can be full of pesticides and medications. Some scientists think that large-scale foundation contributes to Colony Collapse Disorder.

The other downside of Langstroth hives is the cost. Small scale beekeeping with Langstroth hives is very difficult, since the foundation is costly and the frames are difficult to build without skill in carpentry.

Top Bar Hives:

The dimensions of top bar hives can vary widely. Ours are trapezoidal to mimic the way comb hangs down, but some are rectangular, and some are even inside of logs! Instead of using frames, there are only bars laid across the top of the hive with a slit cut down the middle. We started sticking wax into this slit as a starting point for the bees to build comb, but after we ran out of wax we just let the bees do their thing, and it seems to work out fine.

Top Bar Hive with wooden cover
We build a frame of sorts to transfer wild comb to our hives, but don't use foundation in the process.

While the construction is still fairly demanding, top bar beekeeping is much more affordable and accessible to many people. Dee and I have built several hives ourselves, so it can't be that hard! 

If you have any questions about top bar beekeeping, feel free to comment!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Some Other Shenanigans

Not everything I do here revolves around bees. Last week, Dee, Kwao, Tom and I went on a hike to Black Sand Beach and the waterfall nearby. The sand is black due to the volcanic rock. I actually took some pictures this time!
Along the trail

Goats along the trail! We also saw a donkey but I didn't take a picture :(

These are some old Spanish ruins in the forest.

Walking along Black Sand
Here Dee and I at Black Sand. I totally stole this picture from her blog.

The waterfall! It's huge! You can see Kwao off to the right, and he's 6'8"!

We also go on some other adventures! Kwao and I went to the Kingston Market last week. It's basically a giant farmer's market, with lots of stalls for all kinds of food.

Seeing my money in Jamaican dollars makes me feel rich. 
A few days ago, we went up to the farm to cut up a tree into boards, and here's how we got home:

 Every day in Jamaica is an adventure, that's for sure.

Friday the 13th

Friday the 13th lived up to its reputation today. We went over to neighboring Strawberry Fields to get a hive out of a termite (also known as “duck ants” for some reason) nest up in a tree. We ended up just cutting the tree down, but that was a mistake. Or at least, it was a mistake to not be wearing any gear when we chopped the tree down. We’re getting lazy. Here's the video of the tree falling:

Anyway, the tree fell and the bees, which had been kind of outside of the entrance, started flying around. This is pretty normal behavior, so no one did anything special. That is, until I looked over to see everyone running away. I didn’t really understand at first but ran with them, and then I realized the bees were totally attacking. One got stuck in my hair and stung the back of my neck pretty good—admittedly not the place I would have guessed. Dee got a few stuck in her hair but avoided getting stung, and helped me get the stinger out later. Kwao got stung too, right on the top of his spine which apparently hurt pretty badly. We all ran back to the yard, but walked over and suited up (well away from the hive this time) a few minutes later.

It turns out the hive was full of honey, which is a first! That may have been a reason they were so eager to attack us, aside from being dropped out of a tree. The termite nest was tricky though, since it was full of crevices for the queen to hide in. Kwao found her, and she’s caged up right now inside the hive. We let her out the following evening to give the bees time to adjust to their new home, and so far they seem content with the hive. 

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Bees in Trees

Today was an eventful day with the bees!

We went to a wild hive a little ways off of the farm, which was inside of a tree. We used a chainsaw to fell the tree and then opened up the side of the trunk to pull out the comb. A few new people came with us, and it was helpful to have a few extra hands using the smoker, cutting the comb out of the tree and tying up the comb into the frames. This went relatively smoothly, aided by our brand new 2-foot top bar hive! Dee and I varnished the siding to make it more weatherproof, but this had the added bonus of making the hive look super snazzy. Here it is!

We weren't able to find the queen, but a bunch of the bees were fanning the entrance - kind of a bee's way of saying "come home!" to the other bees from the hive. Hopefully they'll stay put! We'll be checking on them soon - maybe in a week.

Now stop reading here if you don't want to hear about random Jamaican life.

Life on the farm is always interesting. There are 5 dread-locked boys running around at all times, since they're home schooled. A few of them come with us to the bees and don't wear any veils or anything protective gear, despite being completely afraid of them! It's too funny.

Also, the food is good (I know Kim will want to hear about it for sure). I live with vegan Rastafarians, but yesterday we went to a party (with food!) and I ate curried goat, which is delicious. Goats were and still are my favorite animal :P
There's also a ton of fruit - especially mangoes, which you can just pick up off of the ground and eat. They are everywhere! They're in my shower, in the yard, on the pathways... just everywhere! There's also soursop and sweetsop, papaya, pumpkin, and these awesome sour fruit things called sorrel. It makes a delicious juice.

That's all for now!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Rainy Day Beekeeping

Today hasn't been a very eventful day. It rained yesterday morning and all day today, so the bees are mostly in their hives and it's also pretty difficult to get around since the terrain is muddy and the car already has problems shifting gears. Oops!

Two days ago though, we were able to go out and transfer a wild hive from their Langstroth hive into one of the top bar hives we made. I'm terrible at taking pictures, but you can see some on Dee's blog - she's the other intern that I live with. After we thought we were finished transferring the hive, we saw the queen land on Dee's veil and then fly off - bad news! We were a little stressed that all our work had been for nothing and the bees would swarm, but the next afternoon the hive was alive and well and ready for the sugar water we had brought them. No need for gloves or veils, either!

Otherwise, it's been easy going the last few days. After it dries out, we want to start experimenting with different woods to make the hives - I'm excited to try bamboo, since it's a strong, fast-growing wood that is readily available on the island.

Dee and I have been playing hours of Monopoly with the boys as well. We're hoping this doesn't become a trend, as playing board games with stir crazy kids in a small space can be exhausting.

Hopefully there will be more interesting bee updates the next time we get the Internet!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Post #1

Welcome to Erin's Bee Blog! This is a short post but in the future I'll write more as we have more beekeeping adventures.