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.