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DIY Powdered Sugar for Sugar Rolls

September 13, 2015

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Sugar rolls sound more like a sweet breakfast treat rather than a mite preventative for bees. I’ve said time and again that I will not treat for mites, at least not with chemicals. I did it once, never again. But I’m not against using natural, organic practices, like sugar rolls, or fogging with mineral oil. I don’t have a garden fogger yet (note to hubster…it’s on my Amazon holiday wishlist!), but I do have plenty of sugar, so I decided to attempt my first sugar rolls to help manage/reduce mites in the hives.

What’s a Sugar Roll?

Sugar rolls are a very common, natural, chemical free mite management method used by many, many beekeepers. I question whether there’s any real scientific evidence to prove its effectiveness, but then again, a million flies can’t be wrong. There’s a reason so many beekeepers do it.

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The process involves shaking a thick layer of powdered sugar across the top frames of each box (1 cup per deep box. 1/2 to 2/3 cup per medium box), then lightly brushing back and forth across the tops of the frames to push the sugar down between the frames (this is the “roll”), covering the bees in sugar.

This does two things…

  • The sugar creates a slippery surface on the bees that will cause the mites to lose their grip and fall down out of the hive through the screened bottom board; and
  • The bees clean themselves and each other profusely, consuming the sugar, picking off the mites and dropping them out of the hive though the screened bottom board.

Sugar rolls don’t destroy the mite populations like chemicals do, but when performed on a scheduled basis (e.g. every month or two), they help keep the mite populations manageable by the bees and the beekeeper. No harm comes to the bees…they like sugar. Just bee gentle with brush when rolling. Also use a shaker that distributes the sugar lightly and evenly. I have a Pampered Chef sugar shaker that holds about 1 cup of sugar and works bee-utifully. I had the large container of powdered sugar open and handy as I worked, and I just reloaded my shaker between boxes.

Pure Homemade Powdered Sugar, Minus the Cornstarch

The hardest part was finding powdered sugar that doesn’t contain cornstarch. Cornstarch is bad for the bees, and I quickly discovered that virtually every bag of powdered sugar sold in stores contains cornstarch…even the more expensive Dominos brand. So I decided to make my own powdered sugar.

Nothing but the best for my bees – pure, homemade powdered sugar is actually super easy to make in a really good blender. We have a Ninja blender, which includes the smaller shake containers that attach directly onto the blender. I found that the large blender container didn’t work so well at pulverizing the sugar into powder, but the small containers and processors works great!

I added about ¾ cups of granulated sugar to each shake container and blended for about 30-45 seconds, til I could see the sugar change in consistency – it becomes more condensed and powdery in the blender.

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Voila…powdered sugar, minus the cornstarch. Save leftovers in airtight containers for future sugar rolls or, dare I say it….holiday baking.   So long summer, hello fall…

The Price of Slacking

September 7, 2015

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I did more spectating than inspecting this summer. All hives were well populated, honey production was high, and activity was high all summer. I figured they just do better when I leave them alone and that they would continue to do well until it was time to prep for winter. I’d even hoped for a fall honey harvest.  The bees, however, started going in a different direction…

Labor Day Inspection

On Labor Day I inspected the hives for the first time in probably a month and a half. No honey, which wasn’t terribly surprising considering we’ve had a dearth here since the end of July. They’d had plenty of stores, which they’d done a good job of consuming. I swapped frames around, removing the supers and adding honey frames back to the hives.

All hives had brood, but the numbers had dwindled in Purple and Green hives.  Even in Blue Hive the brood patterns were very spotty. That meant either (or both) the queens were weak, they were queenless, or varroa mites were in full force. From what I’ve heard, mite counts are high this year. But I have hygenic, mite resistant bees, and I don’t treat because I’d like for them to stay mite resistant.

I returned to the shop with frame filled supers, a collection of wet nectar and honey frames, dry untouched frames, and dry drawn comb. I separated the frames – dry, wet, honey. Wet frames were set outside so the bees could clean them up (farther than 50ft from the hives, of course). Honey frames were wrapped in plastic and frozen, and dry frames (including the frames cleaned by the bees) were stacked and stored with moth crystals.

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The Search for Three Queens

It was a busy afternoon, but at least I knew where the girls stood. Immediately, I began looking up sources for queens since I hadn’t seen any signs of varroa – the bees looked healthy, no wing deformity, no signs of mites on the bees or larvae. BeeWeaver is where I purchased my existing queens. The bees started out hot, but they are mite resistant, fast producers, and hardy in the winter. The problem was they had no queens available until mid-October. I can’t wait that long. I need queens now so they have some chance of building up their populations before the cold weather gets here. I hate to mix my bees again and would prefer to keep the BeeWeaver lines going, but I also don’t want to risk losing three hives.

The hardest thing about beekeeping is finding a queen when you need one. I can understand completely why people choose to rear their own queens. Or better yet, next year I might put together several nucs in July or August so I’ll have one or two queens and some extra bees available if needed.  Fortunately, I was lucky enough to find a private queen breeder in Pennsylvania, a retired USDA employee with vast knowledge and experience who rears his own hygenic queens. They weren’t cheap, but they’re in the mail.

Lesson learned – what looks good on the outside may not bee so good on the inside. A lot can change over the course of 2 or 3 weeks, so keep up with inspections at least every 3 or 4 weeks.

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)

 

DIY Honey B Healthy Recipe

May 16, 2015

When feeding the bees sugar syrup, I always add a bit of Honey B Healthy to help boost their brood building and to help keep them healthy.  Honey B Healthy consists of essential oils that help eliminate bacteria in their little guts, and even aid them in fighting off mites.  It’s good stuff, and the bees love it!  They’ll start buzzing around outside my screened window when I add it to a fresh pot of sugar syrup.  A bottle does go a long way, but it’s over $30 a bottle!  Not cheap!

So I found a recipe for making my own Honey B Healthy.  This one is published regularly on Beesource.com.  Keep in mind also that the lemongrass oil used in this recipe can be traced outside the entrance of a swarm trap to attract swarms.  A little goes a long way.  Just store it in the fridge and use as instructed below.  I also added this recipe to my Bee Recipes link a the top of this site so you can find it here anytime you need it.

Homemade Honey B Healthy

Much less expensive and just as effective as the real thing!

5 cups water
2 ½ pounds of sugar
1/8 teaspoon lecithin granules (used as an emulsifier)
15 drops spearmint oil
15 drops lemongrass oil

Add ingredients in a blender and blend til mixture is completely emulsified and doesn’t separate (several minutes).

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Store in air tight container in the refrigerator.  The OJ container below works well cause I can give it a good shake before using it.   Just don’t confuse it with orange juice :o)

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Mix with 1:1 sugar syrup in amount listed below:

  •  1 tsp per 1 quart syrup

Note:  I get my essential oils from LorAnn oils, website:  https://wholesale.lorannoils.com/.  LorAnn oils are organic, food grade essential oils.  Email and tell them you are a beekeeper and they will provide you with login access to their wholesale site/prices.

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Making Up for Lost Time

Friday, May 15, 2015

The honey flow is in full force right now.  While everyone else is hacking and sneezing, the bees are taking advantage of the spring blooms. They’re crazy busy collecting pollen and nectar, procreating, and making honey.  Go girls, go!

Chilled Brood

We did have a minor setback about 2 weeks ago.  Frost set in for several evenings, chilling the eggs and larvae, as shown in the photo below, and setting the girls back a week or two.  When I inspected the hives, I naturally thought the queen was once again having issues.  But seeing as I’ve been through this exact scenario only a few weeks earlier, I checked back a week later and found the queens were back in business, quickly laying new brood.

photoHeavy Supers

I added supers to all hives about a month ago.  This past week I lifted them off for inspection and realized how heavy they are already!  That’s exciting news and could indicate a good honey harvest (no jinxing).  By this weekend, I hope to have a second layer of supers on all of my hives.  Good thing I’ve been cleaning frames and boxes.  I’ve stacked quite a few boxes in the greenhouse. Lots of light in there to keep wax moths away.  I’ve given up on maintaining consistent color schemes and have succumbed to mixing them up.

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Expanding the Brood Chambers

In addition to adding supers, my other strategy was to adapt “The Rose Hive” method of adding brood boxes just above the bottom box to expand the brood chamber (laying area) rather than expanding from above.  Bees swarm because they run out of space to lay and/or there’s lack of ventilation.  The theory is that if you continue to expand the brood chamber and ensure they have plenty of room, then they will continue to populate and won’t have reason to swarm.  Makes perfect sense to me!  I don’t believe you can ever prevent them from swarming, but they may bee inclined to stay a bit longer.

With that said, all of these supers and brood boxes are stacking up into some pretty tall colonies.  My next strategy is to start splitting so we can get yellow hive back up and running.

Loving this gorgeous spring weather.  Hard to get upset about the pollen when I know how happy my bees are.  Hang in there everyone, and keep eating your local raw honey.  The more local the better!

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Spring Cleaning and Reorganizing

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Sunday, April 5, 2015

With the cold and wet weather extending into April, the bees have been cooped up longer than usual, which makes for a slow start in terms of building up their populations and gaining access to pollen and nectar sources.

Last weekend, the temperatures reached mid-60’s, so I took advantage and did a full spring inspection, which involved:

  1. Checking for brood, larvae and eggs (indicates that the queen is present and laying)
  2. Cleaning the bottom boards (filled with dead bees and debris after a long winter of inactivity)
  3. Reversing boxes so the queen will bee located at the bottom of the hive with plenty of space to build upwards, and
  4. Providing clean frames in the box above the queen so she’ll have lots of space to lay many more eggs and move about freely.

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What I found was the following:

  • Purple Hive – small amount of brood, no eggs or larvae, lots of honey frames.
  • Mint Hive – Brood, larvae, lots of honey frames
  • Green Hive – No brood, no larvae, lots of empty comb, and lots of honey frames.
  • Blue Hive – No brood, no larvae, lots of empty comb, and lots of honey frames.

Based on this inspection, only Mint Hive appeared to have an active queen, so this past week I was sent searching across the US for three queens. I quickly learned that queen bees aren’t typically available til about the 3rd week of April, and most of those were spoken for, which meant no queens for the BooBees until well into May. Ugh.

It doesn’t take long for a queenless hive to deteriorate, and here I had three suspected queenless hives. So what’s a beekeeper to do with queenless hives and no queens?

Well, one option is to transfer frames of eggs and larvae from a healthy hive to queenless so they can make their own queen. The problem with that option was that Mint Hive did not have enough eggs and larve to share. Next idea? Check back later and hope for the best…

Sunday, April 12, 2015

The weather has been improving with each day, and this past weekend was gorgeous. Flowers and trees started popping from out of nowhere, and the girls were buzzing with happiness over our cherry blossoms. Seems good weather was exactly what the bee doctor ordered. I dug back into the hives and discovered good brood, larvae and eggs in all hives. A festivus miracle, indeed! And they saved me $75!

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The hubster laughs because 2 years ago I would’ve been Chicken Little screaming “the hives are falling, the hives are falling!”.

While inspecting, I pulled the jars of syrup. The bees have enough honey, they weren’t taking the syrup, so best to let them eat their natural food and save me the time and headache of dealing with supplemental feeding. They’re big bees now and able to feed themselves, so next week we’ll pull out the supers and give them space to start storing honey…for them and for us!

Lastly, during our spring cleaning and reorganizing, I collected old frames with dark wax comb that can be cleaned out and replaced with fresh wax foundation. Old comb is not healthy for the bees, so I’ll melt down and process the wax to use in balms and soaps. It’s tedious work, but I love the end product!

(Note: I wasn’t trying to be nostalgic w/ the b&w photo, I had no idea til they were downloaded. :o) 

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Strategies for the season ahead?

  • Setting up swarm traps
  • Checking regularly for queen cells
  • Adding a box with fresh comb between the bottom two boxes as needed to ensure they always have space; and
  • Split hives as needed.

The hubster said I have room for 3 more hives…and that’s in addition to reviving yellow hive – so who knows, I could have eight or nine hives by the end of this season. We shall see!  In anycase, the girls are now ready for spring. Yay!

Happy spring! I’m off to clean frames…

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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Who’s Still Buzzing?

Sunday, February 8, 2015

The temps hit mid-forties this weekend.  In the middle of February, you take any opportunity to check on the girls and make sure they have plenty of food.  My last check was disappointing.  Mint hive was the only one that showed any significant activity, and yellow hive had died.  I since made a sugar cake, just incase, and upon tapping on the hives a few times over the past week or two, I was relieved to hear some signs of life.  But I wasn’t sure of their current states until today…

Pink Hive – This is what you want to see when you lift the cover… 

Pink Hive - looking good!

Mint Green Hive – A smaller cluster, but still going.  

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Green Hive – Small, tight cluster – looking good.

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Blue Hive – I could see how they were doing before I even lifted the lid. 

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Blue hive –  strong on the inside too!  

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Yay, four hives still going.  As happy as I was to see them, they weren’t happy at all to see me.  Mean little buggers.  I love my bees, but they really need to learn to be more gracious to the beekeeper who feeds them!

I’m never too optimistic for fear of jinxing them.  Anything can happen at any time, and we still have another solid month and half of cold weather (6 weeks at least if you listen to Mr. Groundhog).  They say March timeframe is one of the riskiest – that’s often when hives start to become active and can easily starve if they don’t have enough stores.  I’ll keep another sugar cake in reserve, just for added insurance.   As for why yellow hive died out – that’s a good question – who knows, mites, starvation.  I need to pull the boxes apart and inspect further, but if I’m not mistaken, that’s the only hive that never had a Texas queen.  My Texas bees are hardy and they seemed to thrive in the cold weather last year.  So this year I’ll try to split more hives from my Texas girls.  We really need to work on their temperaments though.

Here’s to wishing away the winter blahs and hoping for an early spring!