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Caught a Swarm…Finally!

April 16, 2016

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While I was in Hagerstown, the hubster almost ran face first into a low hanging swarm of bees while push mowing the lawn.  I pulled in the driveway a bit later to a very anxious hubster, “Get out of the car…quickly and gear up,  We have a swarm.”  We’ve had swarms before, but they’ve always made a bee-line (pun intended) for the highest branch in the tallest tree, making it impossible to retrieve them.  But THIS time they were conveniently located on an outside bush about 5 feet high.  Yay!.

Preparing for Capture

Full credit to the hubster, he had the box ready, the tarp in place, the branch clippers in hand, and he finally suited up in the gear I bought for him last year.  The only thing I had left to do was prepare the actual hive, soon to bee their new home.  Luckily I had just cleaned out Green Hive the night before (kismet you say?  Perhaps!).  With Green Hive in place, I pulled out several frames in the center to leave space for dumping the bees, and left the entrance wide open.  No entrance reducer.

I geared up, head to toe, and we carefully scoped out the swarm.  It wasn’t a huge swarm, and since the hubster didn’t see it happen, he questions whether it came from one of my hives.  I won’t know until I inpect the hives, and even then I still may not know unless I can see a noticeable difference in the number of bees.  Hopefully they’re free bees from someone else’s hive.  Goodness knows other hives have benefited from my past losses.  But back on topic…

The Capture – Play by Play

The Hubster trimmed around the branches so we could get in and cut the cluster out of the bushes without disturbing them.  The box was at the ready.  A few snips and I carefully lifted the cluster out of the bushes and shook them into the box.  The hubster closed the box and quickly carried them over to Green Hive.  I grabbed the branch that held the remaining bees and followed.  I shook the branch of bees into the hive, then took the box from the hubster and gave it quick whack to knock the bees down to the bottom of the box, then I tilted it sideways and gave another quick whack to condense them into a corner of the box.  I opened the top, turned it upside down and dumped them in, followed by a few shakes to empty out the slackers.  I was pretty certain we had the queen, but the only way to know is to watch the bees.  The bees will stay with the queen.  I placed the box and branch outside the hive.  Any bees the didn’t make it into the hive would go in themselves if the queen is present.  Of course, with all the excitement, there were lots of bees flying around, we left them alone and revisited the location where we found the cluster.  The bees left behind flew amuck.  They confused and wondered where their colony had gone.  They clustered in the location where the queen’s scent remained, but within a half an hour, the area had cleared out, so we knew the queen hadn’t been left behind.

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Mission Accomplished

I prepared a bucket of sugar syrup, added it to Green Hive and left the entrance open.  Bees were entering the hive, a very good sign.  Tomorrow I’ll inspect the other hives.  In the meantime, I’m getting boxes and frames ready for the other hives, to make sure they have empty frames for building comb, that the queen has plenty of space to lay brood, and that they have honey stores so I can stop feeding them syrup.  We still have a few weeks before adding the honey supers.  That happens when clover begins to pop.

I think it’s safe to say that bee season is here, we’ve had our first successful swarm capture, and Green Hive back in business.  A good way to start the weekend, indeed.

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Spring Bees and Blooms

March 27, 2016 (Sunday)

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Spring is here!  The bees are enjoying consistent spring temps, and even better, lots and lots of spring flowers.  They’re bringing in oodles of nectar and pollen so they can build their numbers and start producing honey.  I’m ready too.  The windbreakers are down; the lettuce, arugula and peas are planted; and even the fig tree has exploded with new growth.  Lots of work to do in the garden over the next few weeks.  Yesterday the hubster mowed the lawn, and I got in and worked the bees.  Happy, happy!

Quick Recap

I lost Blue and Green hives early on (yep, blame the beekeeper), so I’ve been working through the winter to keep Purple, Mint and Yellow hives going.

  • Purple hive has the mite-resistant PA queen, and she’s doing fantastic – good temperament and tons of bees.  We’ll try to get a split or two from Purple hive to keep this stock going.
  • Mint hive but has tons and tons of bees.  Bred from Texas queens, these girls are feisty.  I predict they’ll bee early swarmers this year.
  • Yellow hive looks healthy and, although they don’t have as many bees as they other two hives, they’re building up quickly.

The weather has been wishy washy over the past few weeks, so up until now I’ve had the girls on candy.  They say to start feeding syrup when the bees are flying.  However, I didn’t want to trick them into thinking there was an early nectar flow, only to find there was no food to be found outside the hives.  Keeping them well fed until they can go out and get their own food is imperative during the transition from cold to warm.  It’s a tricky time when bees often starve if beekeepers don’t stay on top of refilling their food supply.

I also pulled Green hive apart and brought it in for maintenance.  Green and Blue hives will get a good cleaning and prep so they’re ready to take on more bees once I can split the other hives.

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Swapping Boxes for Spring

Yesterday was a gorgeous sunny spring day.  The perfect opportunity to break into the hives, clean them up and swap the boxes around.   The queen works her way up the hive, and by the end of winter, all the bees are as far up as they can go.  There’s no room left for the queen to continue laying above the top box, and if there’s no room left for the queen to lay, then that triggers swarming.  We manage that by swapping the boxes and moving the queen to the bottom of the hive so she has room to move up.  As a result, the brood boxes are located at the bottom of the hives from spring through fall, and the honey is located at the top. The trick is to keep adding space between the brood and the honey in attempt to prevent swarming.  Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

Spring Cleaning

Unfortunately, this working full time stuff really gets in the way of my beekeeping.  It means that I have to work the bees on my schedule, not their schedule.  And let me tell you, their schedule is way ahead of my schedule!  The proof is in the photo – here what I found when I opened Mint and Purple hives…

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Yep, they filled in all the space between the frames and the inner cover.  Buggers.  Luckily most of it was empty comb, but there was also brood, which I hated to disturb and dispose of.  It also meant that the queen could bee among that mess.  So I carefully shook the girls down onto the frames (they were not happy about that) and cleaned the wax off the inner cover so I could remove the extra space.

I’m thinking candle making might be fun.  Seriously, there’s only so much chapstick a person can make!

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As for cleaning, they did a heck of a job cleaning house.  I removed old food and comb from the tops of the frames, but the bottom boards were already emptied of dead bees and winter debris.  So my job was easy.

Spring To-do’s

Aside from rendering wax, boxes and frames will bee pulled out of storage to air out, and old frames will bee cleaned with new foundation (wax sheets) added.

Reconfiguring the boxes is disturbing enough for one weekend.  I’ll wait til next weekend to configure the individual boxes, making sure they have plenty of honey and adding blank frames to the brood boxes so the queen has even more space to lay and so the girls have room to build comb.  They’re programmed to build comb this time of year, and new comb is a good thing.

The garden also needs a good weeding so the strawberries and mint can have their space. Catnip started taking over weeks ago.  Asparagus will come up soon.

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So much to do, and so little time.

Happy spring everyone!

 

Do Bees Hibernate?

January 31, 2016 (Sunday)

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Temperatures got up to a whopping 54 degrees today!  After weeks of freezing temperatures and a 3ft snowfall, I finally had the chance to check on my girls and restock their candy supply. 54 degrees is still somewhat cold for the bees.  I certainly wouldn’t start pulling out frames and breaking apart boxes until the temps are at least in the 60’s.  Below 50 degrees, the bees begin to cluster.  Bees need to cluster in the cold because that’s how they generate heat and stay warm.

What Bees Do During the Wintertime

People often ask me if the bees are hibernating.  Well, bees don’t really hibernate.  Yes, they collect food to prepare for the winter, and yes, they stay in their hives during temperatures below 50 degrees.  Once the temps drop into the 40s or lower, the bees cluster around the queen and they use their wings to generate heat.  The larger the cluster, the more heat they can generate and the better chance they have of surviving the winter, as long as there’s enough food in the hive to keep them from starving.  Bees don’t sleep.  They work around the clock…each one has a role and a purpose.

Opening the hives in temperatures below 50 degrees risks breaking the cluster.  Best not to disturb the bees in the cold.  When the cluster is broken, or when bees get separated from the cluster in the cold, they can freeze.  So my rule of thumb is, if I see the bees out and about, then it’s ok for me to open the tops of the hives and add candy.

Checking on the Girls

I schlepped up to the hives to find them flying in full force, and judging by the blanket of bees atop the blanket of snow, they’ve been super busy cleaning house.  This is a good thing.  They clean all the dead bees and debris out of the hives whenever possible.  This helps prevent disease and keeps the colony healthy.  They’ve also been busy taking orientation flights (another term for much needed potty break), and bringing in pollen.  Yep, the little buggers found pollen in this desolate white land.  Gotta love their spunk!  It was a happy sight, indeed.

RIP Green Hive

I’d been anticipating the demise of Green Hive since the last time I’d checked on them.  Lots of bees were flying in and around the hive.  I also noticed some bees fighting at the bottom entrance (shown below).  A sign that Green Hive was being robbed by the other bees.

I opened the top and sure enough, the other bees were robbing the remaining candy and honey, and Green Hive’s cluster stared up from between the frames in a dead, frozen state (shown below).  Not one of my prouder moments as a beekeeper since I decided to take them into winter with two boxes rather than combining them with a stronger hive.  Another lesson learned…

Freezing temperatures are best for preserving dead hives since parasites won’t infest the hives as long as the temperatures are freezing.  Once things start to warm up in March, I’ll clean it up and get it ready to take in a new split colony in the spring, along with Blue Hive.

Recycled Swarm Trap

As I walked around the garden I noticed that the swarm trap that had been left up since last spring, has been claimed by some other form of wildlife.  I suspect squirrels.  They chewed large holes in both sides, and another hole that appears to be stuffed with garbage – plastic, paper, and who knows what else (shown below).  Well, if it couldn’t house a swarm, then I’m glad something else found a good use for it.  We’ll build another one in a few months and hope that it catches more swarms than this one did.

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After this weekend, we’re all back in cabin fever mode.  Hope it won’t be too long again before we get another reprieve.  Stay warm everyone and let’s hope Mr. Groundhog doesn’t see his shadow.  Early spring would bee nice :o)

 

 

Gather, Extract, Bottle

Sunday, July 12, 2015


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You know that saying about something is attracted to something like bees are attracted to honey?  Unless you’ve actually extracted honey, you couldn’t possibly know just how attracted to honey they really are.

Bees smell honey. Then they go tell their friends where to find the honey…and they tell their friends…and they tell their friends…and within minutes the driveway, the garage, the pool, the entire front yard is enveloped in bees, like something out of a horror movie.  Then the hubster is unhappy because he can’t in the pool because it’s surrounded by bees, and I need to get the bees out of the garage…and don’t let them in the house cause the cats will chase them and get stung…then I’m pulling out the hose to squirt the bees away and wash the honey smell off the floor, the driveway, anything and everything’s that’s come in contact with the honey.  Not to mention, I kick into rescue mode and start fishing the little buggers out of the pool.  All of this is hypothetical by the way :o) Next year we’ll sneak everything out of the garage and into the workshop around midnight when the bees are sleeping.

The hardest part of extracting honey is not letting the bees know you’re doing it.  Stealth is key.  I learned my lesson last year, escaping with uncovered boxes down to the garage and leaving them outside for even a few minutes and attracting hoards of bees that hovered outside the garage door all day.

Based on that experience, I improved my process this year.  In fact, I was quite pleased with myself and how I managed to bypass the drama that we experienced last year.  At least until the hubster opened the garage door the next day while the honey boxes and some leftover honey were sitting on the garage floor.  Not to mention, they smelled the remnants from the day before.  Bees are smart!  But getting back to extraction day, I actually came up with a good process.  Not a perfect process, but a good one.

Step 1.  Prepare

Think smart.  Preparation is key.  Get the tools and brush ready, get the fume board ready, get a wheelbarrow ready, get top covers ready, have the smoker going, get the gear on, and have a completely enclosed facility ready to house the honey.

Step 2.  Fuming the Bees, One Box at a Time

  • Put a top cover top side down in the bottom of the wheel barrow.
  • Lightly smoke around the top edges of the hive and at the entrance to let them know you’re coming in.  But not too much.  You don’t want to smoke in the honey.
  • Spray the fume board 3 times with the almond scented fuming spray, and place the board on top of the hive.
  • Wait  5 – 10 minutes for the bees to clear out.

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Step 3.  Remove the box

  • Most of the bees should bee out of the top box by now, so remove the top box and place it within the top cover that’s in the bottom of the wheel barrow.
  • Immediately place another top cover securely on top of the honey box so that it is completely closed on the top and on the bottom.

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Step 4. Fume again and escape (bee stealthy) with the honey

  • Spray the fume board one or two more times, then place on top of the next box to bee removed.
  • While the fume board empties the next box, quickly run your honey super down to the garage or where ever you’re extracting.
  • Life the lid and brush off as many bees as possible – what’s left will go into the garage with you along with the honey box.
  • Close the door behind you!!!

Step 5.  Repeat steps 2-4

If successful, then you’ll have all honey supers safely in the garage, with a small amount of bee activity outside the door, and a small amount of bee activity inside the garage.

It’s gonna happen, some bees will bee caught up with the honey boxes.  Don’t open the garage door to let them out. TRUST ME on this.

We extracted over 100 lbs of honey this past weekend.  That’s from about 5 boxes.  Amazing bees!

Overall Apiary Status

So how have the girls been doing up to this point?  Well, other than finding bee activity in my swarm traps and discovering (after purchasing a new hive, new beekeeping britches, and setting up a new hive location) that they were not swarms but robber bees, we haven’t had much drama.  They’ve endured much rain, and much heat and humidity this summer.  I’ve left them alone, and they’ve been thriving (that should tell you something right there).  And so has the garden.  We have cucumbers coming out our ying yangs, and tomatoes are coming up fast.

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Plans for Using the Honey

So what to do with all that honey?  We’ll sell some of it, give some away as gifts, make alcoholic honey beverages, cook with it, make creamed honey for Christmas presents, I’ll use it in soaps and potions.  So many things we can do with honey.  So you can expect lots of tutorial posts in the coming months.  :o)

In the meantime, I’ve placed supers back on all the hives, and even added a third box to my little yellow hive, which is still taking syrup and is growing like crazy.  Let’s hope the big hives fill out and cap some unfinished frames and build out the rest of the supers before winter.  Trying to follow that 90% rule – only extract frames that are 90% capped.  We can use some late summer honey for overwintering the bees, and maybe they can spare a bit more for us.  We shall see!

 

Yellow Hive is Back!

June 7, 2015

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You may recall that we lost Yellow Hive over the winter.  The apiary just isn’t complete without all 5 hives going at once.  Blue Hive was looking strong, so two weekends ago ((May 24th) I transferred some of their honey, nectar and brood frames to Yellow Hive, along with some healthy looking queen cells, and of course some bees.  I gave them sugar syrup w/ my homemade Honey B Healthy and stood back to see if the split would take.

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I didn’t post this sooner for fear of jinxing them.  I’m very superstitious like that. They started slow, but now activity in Yellow Hive is picking up.  Yay!  The weather has been cool and wet, so once the sun comes back out and things dry out, I’ll give them a look to see whether a queen has emerged and started laying yet.

Expecting a Swarm

Any day now I’m anticipating that Blue Hive will swarm.  I know that because I’ve seen queen cells and a virgin queen romping around.  There is space in the brood chamber for laying, but when they decide to go, they’ll go.  Fingers and toes are crossed that they’ll split themselves and will make a bee-line for the swarm trap.  I continue to add lemongrass oil to the entrance to lure them in.  Then I’ll collect them and add them to a new hive.

Preparing for the Best

Speaking of new hives, the hubster and I have had discussions about the number of hives I can add to my collection.  He insists that 5 is enough.  Yes dear, 5 is a good number.  However, if I d happen to catch a swarm, then they need to go somewhere, so just incase they decide to cooperate (a rarity) I’m preparing hives 6 and 7….just incase.  After all, I couldn’t possibly let them go homeless!

Watching the Garden Grow

We also planted the garden two weekends ago.  Another yay!  And with the recent rain, they’re popping up nicely.  We’ll bee caging tomatoes today, and even my cucumbers are popping up from seeds that I salvaged from last year’s cucumbers, which were crazy prolific.

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The major nectar flow is dying down, but there’s still plenty of flowers and color coming up.  The wildflowers will be out soon.  The bees are bringing in the honey.  Boxes are heavy and filling fast.

Tis a happy time of year.

 

First Swarm of the Season

May 17, 2015

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It may bee the first, but it certainly won’t bee the last swarm of the season. The funny part is that I never saw it happen.  I knew it was inevitable (tis the season), so I’d been itching to get the our swarm lure up.  We found a super tall telescoping pole on clearance, perfect for raising and lowering a swarm lure.

We took it out back, placed the lure on the pole and began to raise it high into the trees.  I looked up, and I’ll bee darned if there wasn’t a healthy cluster of bees hanging stealth-like in the very top branches.  About 15 feet above the swarm lure.  Buggers!

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They always go too high, so once again, I couldn’t retrieve them.  The other bees were flying around in wild frenzy in front of their hives – their typical response when a swarm occurs.  I should’ve known something was up.

Theoretically, scout bees seek out a new residence weeks before they swarm, so I had little hope that they’d sniff the lemongrass oil and make a b-line for the lure.  But it didn’t keep me from hoping.  We kept watch through the evening.  They were in the same spot the next morning, but gone by the time we returned home from work.  Another one lost…probably in someone else’s hive by now.  I’ll admit that my response this year is much more calm and accepting than last year.  I still don’t know which hive it came from.  They all look just as busy and well populated as they did before.

I hear about people catching swarms all the time.  Now I keep watch over the swarm lure in hopes of catching someone else’s swarm…or maybe, just maybe I’ll actually catch one of my own.  At this point, I really don’t care which, I just want to catch a swarm! :o)

 

Bees are Springing to Life!

Sunday, March 8, 2015

We had a wonderfully warm high 50’s day and the bees were crazy!!!  I started into winter with 5 hives, and had one that died out and 4 that appear to bee thriving.  I couldn’t bee more excited!

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So now that spring is in the air and the bees know it, what’s a beekeeper to do?  Well, spring is all about getting those girls up and running ASAP.  They’ve been clustered all winter, so they have some catching up to do!  They’ve been feeding on sugar cakes, and they likely have plenty of pollen stored up, but to bee safe I whipped up a batch of my gourmet pollen patties.

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When temps are consistently in the 50’s, then I’ll put some jars of syrup on the hives and that will really get the queens laying so they can get their numbers up.  The more bees, the more nectar and pollen can be brought into the hive when things begin to bloom, and the more honey they’ll produce.

Remember those swarms last year?  Well, that’s what overwintered hives do when they run out of room and don’t have enough ventilation.  This year, I plan to stay on top of things and make sure they have both.  I also intend to plant several swarm traps around the yard, and we need to figure out where we can put more hives.  Yee gads, more hives you say?  Now you sound like my husband.  You’ve gotta put ’em somewhere when you catch ’em.  Of course, I’ve heard other beekeepers say they’ve had more success catching other people’s swarms than their own when using swarm traps.  Hey, that’s ok too.  My swarms are probably happily residing in someone else’s hive.

Temps will be in the 40’s and 50’s this week, with a chance of snow on Thursday.  Ugh!!  Just when we thought it was over!  That’s always a bad thing when temps are warmer, then sudden cold sets in and the bees aren’t ready for it.  Just shows that we’re not out of the woods quite yet.  Regardless, I’ll bee cleaning frames and adding top boxes with jars of sugar syrup so the girls can get themselves juiced up.

Would love to hear how everyone else’s hives are doing and their strategies for pushing into spring!  All the best for happy spring hives!

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