Mice, Mold and Another Massacre (or two)

October 20, 2013 – Fall Inspection and Mouse Guard Installs

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FINALLY! My bee supplier scored a shipment of Brushy Mountain mouse guards for the hives. I’ve been waiting to install the mouse guards for three weeks now, since the farmers have been cutting down the corn and harvesting the fields. That means the mice are exposed and seeking refuge in … beehives? Of all places, I know, mice smell the honey, and hives are warm. During the winter the bees are busy clustering and the mice are left to do a tremendous amount of damage to the frames, honey and comb. That’s why we need mouse guards. You can make homemade mouse guards out of wire mesh and other hardware, but I like the Brushy Mountain guards because they’re sized for 8 frame hives, they’re easy to install, they’re sturdy enough to use again next year and the year after, and the things have been selling out for weeks, so I consider that a good testament that they work.

Good Day for an Inspection!

The weather has been consistently wet and cloudy and cold and/or windy. The girls haven’t been out much, so I was excited to see them darting around the hives this morning. It was a gorgeous sunny day, in the low 70s, slightly breezy. I haven’t inspected the girls in several weeks, plus I wanted to replace the hive beetle traps. I’ve seen hive beetles in all three hives. Thankfully the girls are strong and able to guard themselves well against mice and beetles. It’s also getting cold, so I’m hoping this is a close to final inspection before the freezing overnight temperatures begin.

I started with Green Hive 1 (GH1). They’ve always been my strongest hive. The top three boxes are filled with stores…yay!  I considered adding a bee escape board to clear out the top box and consolidate the hive down to 4 boxes, but then I’d end up having to freeze the top box of capped sugar syrup.  I decided to let them continue caring for it since they’re doing such a fine job.  Everything looked good.  They have new hive beetle traps, and 2:1 feed. Easy peasy. I closed them up and moved on to Yellow Hive 2 (YH2).

YH2 has 2 full boxes of stores. I didn’t see brood, but then I didn’t check every frame.   YH2 is like a propolis factory.  They seal the heck out of everything.  And they’re nosy to boot, which makes my job much harder.  I don’t dig much because there’s always risk of damaging the queen, and this time of year that’s the last thing I want to do.  Sure, they can make another queen, but the girls have kicked out all the drones, so she likely won’t be able to mate.  I’m still new at this beekeeping thing. I leave a lot to instincts, common sense and high hopes. They look healthy, numbers are good, they’re defending themselves, stores are strong, no red flags. Works for me.

The “Not So Happy” Dance

While GH1 goes about their business, letting me get in and get out fairly quickly, YH2 bees are more involved.  They guard well, which is good.  They’re also smart.  How do I know they’re smart?  Because they know exactly where to find the opening in the bottom of my pants leg.  There’s nothing like holding a 50 lb box of bees and feeling a bee or two flying around in your pants.  That part is actually much worse than the sting itself.   Thanks to YH2, I have one sting on the front of my thigh, one on my ankle, and one on the back side of my other inner thigh.  If only they’d stay down inside the hives, the inspection would go so much smoother with less casualties.  I’ll be itching in the morning.

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YH2 Meets Beezilla…again

I pulled a center frame from the bottom box. Always a risk since the queen tends to hang in this area. No brood, mostly stores and empty cells. I managed to drop the frame down carefully, but then I pushed the frames together and caught a few bees in between. The buzz was intense and they rose up and out of the hive in a large mass where the mini massacre had just occurred. Beezilla is at it again… I can only hope that I didn’t harm the queen.  I’m always amazed at how emotionally distressed they become when a bee is…well…smooshed.  Communication in the hive is instantaneous and nothing will cause a mass of bees to start buzzing around faster than killing one of their own.

I gave my apologies and put YH2 back together with new beetle traps and 2:1 syrup.  On to Blue Hive3 (BH3).

BH3 – My Pride and Joy

I never truly felt like a beekeeper until I split my first hive.  Blue Hive 3 has been an ongoing experiment, a happy accident.  I’m so happy with how they’ve progressed. Lots of bees, decent stores (although they still hadn’t filled in the end frames so I did some rearranging), they guard themselves well, everyone is happy and healthy, no more robbing.  I’m not moving them to a nuc.  They’ve filled out their two 8-frame boxes quite well.  I have faith in my little hive.  We’ll just have to wait and see how they do.

BH3 is also interesting because these bees are very dark, compared to my other bees.  I’m hoping for some cross breeding in the spring because that makes for a hardier stock.

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Woo hoo! Lots of active, healthy young bees in BH3.

Mold in the Hives

Its not bad enough that we’re battling mice and insects.  I’ve noticed green mold forming between BH3’s inner cover and the top cover.  A result of moisture rising from the sugar syrup and not enough ventilation up top to release it. I cleaned the inner cover and top cover with vinegar to help kill the mold, and I added 1-3/4 inch blocks of 2″x4″ wood to raise the top cover and create some ventilation. Let’s hope that works. I added a few hive beetle traps and 2:1 syrup and closed them up!

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Green mold forming on the inner cover.

Installing the Mouse Guards

Oh, this was fun.  I thought the mouse guards would fit over the entrance reducers.  Wrong!  They REPLACE the entrance reducers.  This meant removing entrance reducers, which are so tight and well propolised in GH1 and YH2 that I spent over a hour digging them out with my hive tool.  BH3’s entrance never fit right anyway, so they were easy.  I was of course dressed in full garb.  The hubster was standing by with the drillI and screw in hand, ready to move in and screw them down, but by the time I finished, the girls were in a frenzy.  When I removed the entrance reducers, they poured out in droves.  The hubster didn’t stand a chance, and God forbid he actually suit up for the occasion.  Nope, I was left to size the mouse guards and drill them in myself, which I wasn’t prepared to do.

You know those action thrillers where hoards of people are try to escape before the walls close in, and for the pure sake of gore, a dozen people are smooshed with heads sticking out and feet hanging down?  Yep, this installation was straight out of a bee horror flick.  The hubster is a pro at drilling in screws.  I, on the other hand, had to be coached from the sidelines.  Those stupid little screws just would not stay on the end of the drill, and working under pressure did not help.  But once I got it, I managed to knock the other two quickly.   Of course, YH2 experienced the most trauma and everyone in the hive had to come out and see what the fuss was about.

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YH2 Not Happy with Beezilla

The guards in now in place. Yay! Although I didn’t see any signs of mice, I placed the mite boards in GH1 and YH2 to check for droppings, just to be safe.  Still some important winter decisions to make and research to be done, but so far so good. Ever forward!

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BH3 using their new guarded entrance

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