Friday, April 16, 2010

Bad News - Good News

The Italian bees have gone.  They were clustering on the bottom of their screened bottom board early yesterday morning when I went to tend the hens, and gone by lunchtime. The queen had made her way out of her cage and they had even started to build some comb.  But there were only a few confused and sad looking bees wandering helplessly around the inside of the hive when I checked on them.  Of course I'm disappointed that they chose to leave.  But I wish them well in the world and hope they make it out there.  I attended the local beekeepers' meeting last night, told my sad tale, and begged for any leads on a replacement package.  The experienced beekeepers found my story very odd, and packages are in very short supply.  I may have to try to catch a swarm if I want two colonies, or settle for just one.

On a more positive note, the Russians are doing great.  They have a significant start on their comb building, and very little burr comb (that's "non-regulation" comb - comb built where a beekeeper doesn't want it).  It looks like Izhevsk will be a strong colony.

Another positive note is that I got a bunch of ramps for transplanting.  The few I put in two years ago are still alive, but their numbers don't seem to have changed at all, so I still don't feel I can harvest any.  I'm going to put these new ramps in several locations and see where they do best.  If I manage to make them happy enough to propagate well, ramps could help bridge the garlic gap, which we're facing right now.  No more fully formed garlic from the garden until late June at the earliest. 


Jennifer Montero said...

Sorry to hear about the Italian bees, but I'm glad the Russian contingency is thriving.

I have a ramp question for you - Is a ramp the same as wild garlic (Allium ursinum)? How do you use yours?

Paula Adams Perez said...

I'm so sorry to hear about your Italian bees! It can be so frustrating to plan, plot, and invest in a project and then have it flop so mysteriously. I myself am stymied by my asparagus crop failure - for the second time! I dug the bed, amended the soil, planted the crowns, and... one month later, NOTHING! I even dug some up to have a peek and the roots look completely dead and floppy. Oh well, at least it's not too late to put something else in that nice deep bed for summer!

Can you use the empty hive when the Russian bees need more room in the future?

Kate said...

Jennifer and Paula, thanks for the tea and sympathy.

Ramps are Allium tricoccum, so same family as wild garlic, but a bit different. I've never used mine since I've yet to harvest any. I'm going to make a simple pasta sauce with any that don't look likely to survive a transplant. If I had a steady supply they'd probably end up on pizza and a lot of other things too.

Paula, sorry to hear about your asparagus. Try again with some fresh crowns perhaps? A well prepared asparagus bed seems a shame to let go. I can certainly use the spare hive to give the Russians more room if they need it, though I was already equipped with everything I'd need for two large colonies. I hope to get another package or a swarm to house in the hive the Italians abandoned.

Rachel said...

I'm sorry to hear about your colony. Do you think it might be colony collapse disorder? Or did they just not like the hive? I hope it's the latter and not the former.

Last night in my photography class was the first time I had ever heard of ramps and then you have a blog about them. Coincidence? I think not! Being on the west coast there are just some things we don't ever hear of or if we have heard of them, we don't eat them. Ramps, salsify, and okra for example, just aren't popular here. I think I need to find some ramps to grow for next year!

Leigh said...

You are the 2nd blogger I've read about in as many days who had a new hive of bees up and vanish. I know how disappointing this is. But it's worrisome too, as bees are on our next year's list. May your Russian colony thrive!

Tara said...

I'm the other one! I just had this very same thing happen - I installed a 3 lb package of Buckfast bees last week (Thursday) and they left on Monday morning. The apiary and other beekeepers I know were similarly stumped. I spoke to a long time beekeeper yesterday that I just met, and he's going to help me out. He says it's not that unusual for package bees to fly the coop, and you'll have a greater chance of success if you start with nucs (they already have brood and combs drawn out, so they have motivation to stay put). I'm picking up two nucs from him this evening. I hope that helps!

Jennifer Montero said...

I forget that we live in different countries. I've just had this same discussion with Hank from Hunter Angler Gardener Cook. We haven't got the tricoccum, only ursinum, growing wild in the UK, and they're much more garlicky than ramps. More flavoring than vegetable.

If you look on the Hunter Angler Gardener Cook blog, the most recent post is recipes for ramps.

Penny said...

I live in Delaware, not far from you. Where in the world did you get ramps? My husband discovered them while hiking the Appalachian trail. I would love to start some.

Unknown said...

Kate, I'm so sorry to hear they took off. Perhaps if you find a swarm it will be your Italians! When you find someone who knows what happened, be sure to post it. I've not heard of this happening, but remember, I'm a novice! It would be good info to tuck away in my mind. (I see Tara suggests nucs - something I've considered).

Omelay said...

our russian bees are doing nicely this year. the last of our italians absconded in a similar manner last spring.

i might try to split our russians this year. we'll see how strong they get. we have the idea that we also need two hives for security.

the science of bee keeping still alludes me. there are too many conflicting opinions out there. apiary is more like an art form i guess, filled with subjective opinion and colloquial specifics.

i hope yours do well.
happy spring...

. . . Lisa and Robb . . . said...

If you are connected to a beekeepers' club, maybe someone could set you up with a wild-caught swarm.

Catching wild bees is great fun, and the bees will be adapted to your region.

Tamar@StarvingofftheLand said...

I feel your pain! How very disappointing to put as much work as you did into learning about and preparing for your bees, only to have them fly the coop. But I'm glad the Russians are thriving -- not only does it give you a hive for all your efforts, but it's a kind of assurance that you didn't do anything wrong in setting up the hives. I hope you get either a new package or a swarm, and get right back on the horse.

Michelle, Queen Behind the Lens! said...

I'm going to look into ramps, too. I have a soft spot for perpetual or semi-perpetual veggies. Sound intriguing, these ramps! So sorry about your bees-- ungrateful little buggers!

Kate said...

Rachel, I really doubt that it's CCD after just four days. I would expect that to happen mid-season or later. I hope you can find some ramps to transplant.

Leigh, that's sort of comforting and sort of disconcerting, to know it happened to someone else. But thanks for making the connection.

Tara, sorry to hear the same thing happened to you, especially since it sounds like that was your only hive this year. It made me glad I started with two.

Jennifer, yeah, I read Hank regularly too. I figured it made no sense to do any elaborate post about ramps since he just did. Besides, what do I have to say about them other than that I transplanted some?

Penny, I have a relative with about 50 acres, including some woods and damp areas. They dig some up each year, and I've taken a bunch for transplanting.

Amy, the best working guess is that the queen had crawled out of the hive and was on the underside of the screened bottom board. The clustering that I saw was probably the bees huddling around her. When she didn't know enough to get back in the hive, they probably had few options but to swarm.

Karl, I completely agree that beekeeping is full of opinions and opinionated types. Fortunately most of them truly want to help new beekeepers, so I can't complain; there's so much to learn, q.e.d.

Lisa & Rob, the local beekeepers in our area are generally of the opinion that there aren't many wild honey bees left at all. I wouldn't know. But I would guess that most swarms are from kept hives in this area.

Tamar, thanks. You're quite right about the Russians serving as assurance that it's not my fault. If I'd had only the Italians I'm sure I'd be blaming myself.

Michelle, you and me both. I'm all about planting once and harvesting indefinitely!

Phillip said...

I got a tip from this Long Lane Honey video (near the end):

If you're starting a new hive without drawn comb, one way to make sure your queen doesn't fly away and take the rest of the bees with her:

Put a queen excluder on the bottom of the hive just above the bottom board.

The queen excluder is normally placed above the brood chamber so the queen can't lay eggs in the honey supers. But the excluder works just as well on the bottom to prevent the queen from escaping. You can remove the excluder once it's clear that the queen is staying put.

Kate said...

Philip, thanks for your thoughts. I can see the utility of a queen excluder, and in fact we tried that. We found that none of the drones could get out either, so the all died in the hive, while draining resources. There's also the risk that if a queen fails, any new queen (from supercedure) won't be able to get out to mate.