Last week I was lucky enough to be invited to a special tasting event to try out the new ice cream Round Rock Honey will be producing. The ice cream will be called Bees Freeze and will use liquid nitrogen to instantly freeze the ice cream base right before your eyes. It is an impressive setup even before the liquid nitrogen is turned on.
Here are the tanks of liquid nitrogen.
The real show is when the ice cream is being made. Here is their in-house chef Aimee Chauveron and Konrad making up a batch.
A close up of the process.
They made vanilla, strawberry, and chocolate that evening for tasting. It wasn’t all fun and games as we filled out data sheets for each flavor around texture, color, and taste as they continue to tweak their recipes leading up to the official launch. I like the fact they are using grass fed milk from Full Quiver Dairy and of course, they are using their own honey as a sweetener. I was a little skeptical at first since I’ve used honey in making my own homemade ice cream at home and sometimes the honey will overpower the other flavors. However, they have managed to strike the right balance so the honey compliments the other flavors instead of overwhelming them.
They will be making their debut at the Cedar Park Farmers Market on August 31st and Mueller Farmers Market on September 1st. If you are in the area, I would highly recommend checking them out.
I’m now officially a beekeeper without any bees. It is amazing what can happen to hive in less than a month. I finally thought I got my remaining hive straightened out with a new queen producing gentle bees, and the hive seemed well on its way storing honey for the lean late summer months we have in Austin.
I went from a hive filled with frames that look like this:
To a hive of frame after frame of empty comb:
The interesting thing is there were still many frames of honey in the hive. As I initially approached the hive, and my stomach sank at the sight of little to no activity at the entrance, my first thought was a I had yet another hive get robbed. However, there were at least twelve frames of capped honey still just sitting there. Granted the pests were starting to move in, but the honey was basically untouched. So it didn’t get robbed.
I went through all the frames to see if the queen was around, and I didn’t see her. If she was in there, she certainly was laying. I would say there were a little more than the numbers of bees you would get in a package scattered throughout the hive. I was greeted with this fun sight when I finally got all the way down to the screened bottom board.
I squished as many as I could to prevent them from flying off and finding another hive to invade. I also found and squished a few wax moths during my inspection as well.
I consolidated all the bees down to one super with 6 drawn frames of comb and 2 of capped honey. I’m debating whether to try and put a queen in there to see if I can save it, or get a fellow beekeeper to give me a few frames of capped brood to see if I can jump start it.
As for what got the better of this colony, I don’t have a clue. It certainly wasn’t robbed, and I didn’t see any evidence of disease in the frames. The hive was also pretty clean with no dead bees on the bottom board. Perhaps a population boom of varroa mites?
On a happier note, Flat Stanley should be arriving soon to the Isle of Wight before heading off to the south of France and then Australia. I wish him well on his journeys and hopes he finds healthy and productive hives in his travels.
Over the past few weeks I have had a very special visitor. He goes by the name of Flat Stanley. As suggested by his name, he’s a slightly unusual visitor, in that he’s not just slim but 2D.
This might all seem somewhat eccentric so far, but there is a reason for this, honest. See his beautifully drawn cowboy boots? Flat Stanley is actually visiting from Texas! He’s been sent for a stay by beekeeper Karl Arcuri, whose niece Riya created him as part of the Flat Stanley literacy project. Flat Stanley is now doing a tour of the world, and I am lucky enough to be the first beekeeper to have him.
Stanley fell lightly through the door with a letter which said:
Dear English Beekeepers,
Thank you for hosting me in your lovely country. While I can’t wait to visit some English beehives, I particularly look forward to…
In late April, I attempted to requeen my two remaining hives. It didn’t go so well, and I ended up with a queen stung once in the thorax. Without any other option, I ended up putting this queen in my most aggressive hive and just hoped for the best. We’ve been referring to this stung queen as Frankenqueen ever since.
Now over a month later, this hive is completely different. When I removed the outer cover, it was nice not to be immediately hit with a whiff of the banana smelling alarm pheromone. There were a large number of small hive beetles that were asking to be crushed.
The top super was all drawn out wax that was slowly being filled up with honey.
Going deeper into the hive, it was a combination of honey and frames with brood, eggs, and larvae.
The entire inspection the bees were completely chill. So much so, Brenna was taking pictures without a suit and wasn’t even getting buzzed. With the complete requeening failure of my other hive, it was nice to have one that was successful. Since I didn’t see her, I can’t be 100% sure Frankenqueen is in there, but I can’t imagine the hive going from super aggressive to this sweet, if they had requeened themselves with existing genetics. Regardless, I’ll take it, and it was a welcome pleasure to inspect a hive that is healthy and calm.
Thomas D. Seeley did a number of experiments to determine how a swarm chooses a site and came to the conclusion that bees prefer a nest entrance that is rather small, faces south, is high off the ground, and opens into the bottom of the nest cavity. His excellent book, Honeybee Democracy, goes into great detail on how he came to these conclusions, and I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in learning more about the decision making processes in a hive.
With all that being said, sometimes a swarm will choose a location that goes against those basic tenets. I give you Exhibit A:
This hive is underground in one of the large green boxes that contain the water cutoff valves for either a sprinkler system or the water line entering your home.
I was initially sent this photo of a bunch of bees on the ground that was causing some concern.
Fallen leaves were completely covering the entrance, and I had to remove a rather thick layer of leaves to reveal what is shown in the video. I did not try and remove the cover as it most likely was lined with comb, and my intention of this first visit was to properly assess the situation. Luckily, the bees were not aggressive even after raking away the leaves and dirt covering the entrance. I had one or two guard bees give me a buzz but other than that, they were rather nonplussed with the whole situation.
My next step is to reach out to some fellow beekeepers to see who would be interested in removing this hive. I personally don’t do bee removals as I really don’t have the special equipment or apiary space to relocate these feral hives. I’ve seen hives in some interesting places, but this is the first time I’ve personally witnessed a hive located underground. I’ll hopefully be posting an update soon on the successful removal of this hive.
After two requeening attempts, the hive I moved from Sunshine Gardens is officially no more. I arrived last Saturday to a flurry of activity at the entrance. As I moved closer, I found a large number of dead bees on the landing board which is never a good sign. Upon opening the hive, it was clear that this already weak hive had been robbed. The only bees remaining were removing what little there was left of the honey and pollen and flying off.
It is always a terrible feeling to lose a colony, but I tried my best to save it, and sometimes that just isn’t good enough. I still have one remaining hive so I’ll be able to concentrate my efforts on making this one a successful as possible.
In my last post, I was attempting to requeen both my hives. I had to wait a week to go back and check due to a freak cold front that blew into Austin the day after I installed the new queens. I found one queen dead still in her cage. This was the hive that had gone queenless (or so I thought) after being moved from Sunshine Community Gardens. The other hive had an empty queen cage. We will have to wait and see if this hive’s aggressiveness level goes down in the coming weeks meaning they accepted the new queen, and she is producing more gentle bees.
In one last ditch effort to save the other hive, I order another queen and installed her last Saturday. I went back last night to check on her release progress and found her still in her cage, but at least she was still alive. Since it had been 48 hours, I was debating about releasing her myself when this unmarked queen pops up from the side of the hive, runs across one of the tops of a frame, and then goes back down into the hive. It happened so fast I thought I had imagined it at first.
This pretty much sums up my reaction.
So somehow this hive that hasn’t produced any eggs or capped brood in a month now has a queen. I’m thinking either the hive swarmed and the new queen was poorly mated and has been here the entire time or the hive was just a victim up a usurpation swarm. Of course, this mystery queen ran all the way back down to the bottom of the hive so it took me a while to find her, but I also confirmed if this was a new queen from usurpation, she hadn’t started laying eggs yet.
I ended up removing this queen once I found her and leaving the new queen in her cage for at least another day or two. I also put some honey over the candy to encourage the remaining workers to come free this new queen. I also removed one medium super to give the remaining bees a smaller area to defend as their numbers are dwindling. I feel I’m at the tipping point with this hive, and if this new queen isn’t released this week and starts laying, it won’t have the numbers to come back. I’m already seeing way more SHB’s than I would like and a few wax moths to boot.
I hope to post again with some good news on this hive.
On Friday, my two Italian queens arrived in the mail. They are hard to see through the cage, but here they are.
I installed them Friday after work, and it was certainly a learning experience. I attempted to do a quick release into the hive that has been queenless for several weeks. I’ve heard from other beekeepers that you can put the cage on top of an open super and the hive will come investigate. Supposedly, if you can easily shake those bees off the cage, and you don’t see them trying to bite through the mesh to get to the queen, the hive is pretty much ready to accept the queen right away.
It didn’t really work out that way at all…
After I watched the bees investigate the cage and even observed a worker feed the queen through the mesh, I thought this hive would have no issues welcoming a new queen into their home. I removed the mesh and the nearby workers immediately tried to ball and kill her. Luckily, I was able to quickly intervene and get the queen back into the cage and re-attach to the mesh, but not before she got stung once in the thorax. I ended up installing the other queen into this hive.
We observed the stung queen for 15 minutes and she didn’t really seem that worse for the wear after her ordeal. I went ahead and stuck her into the other hive and will just hope for the best. In hindsight, getting the queen into they hive and laying a few days earlier is not worth the risk of her getting balled and killed. I’ll check back later this week and will keep my fingers crossed that both hives accept their new queen.
On April 7th, I did a late afternoon inspection of both my hives at Baab-Brock Farms. I first checked the hive I moved from Sunshine Community Gardens and found no evidence of a queen. No eggs, larvae or capped brood were present. I’m not sure what happened but without any eggs, the hive is unable to even make a new queen.
I then moved over to the queen eating hive that I attempted to requeen twice last year. The last queen was one sent from sunny Hawaii in late October in an attempt to chill out an aggressive hive. I actually found the queen very unexpectantly near the top of the hive, and it was not the marked queen I had dubbed “Aunty Lilikoi”. The hive was also more aggressive than from past inspections a few weeks back so I don’t know if the hive swarmed with my Hawaiian queen leaving me with a queen mated with the local drone population. Trying to find a queen in an aggressive hive is one of the least fun things a beekeeper will do, so I made the snap decision to remove her right then and there.
I now have two cordovan queens on the way which should arrive in the next day or two. Since I feel the location of my hives are in a AHB influenced area of Austin, having a queen that produces distinctive coloring on workers and drones will help be an early indicator that the queen has been lost or replaced.