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Harmoniously Combining Hives

Monday, June 5, 2017

I mentioned in my last post that I’d made three splits from my stronger hives.   All three splits contained queen cells, so in a perfect world, the queens would emerge within a week or two, or three, and I’d have three fully functioning hives.

Taking on the Not-so-Perfect World

There’s a fair amount of risk with splitting hives this way.  First, the queens have to emerge.  Then the queens have to find good opportunities to leave their hives and mate, then return back to their hives to make lots of baby bees.  Sounds simple enough, but the rainy May weather substantially limited their opportunities to leave their hives and mate.  If bad weather wasn’t bad enough, queens face predators (birds) and other environmental risks, plus the possibility of getting lost or returning to the wrong hive.  Its amazing that queens make it back to the hives at all.  With that said, only one of my splits produced a successful queen.  Very successful, actually.  So I decided to combine it with the Blue Hive split before it died out.

Blue Hive Joins Green Hive

Combining hives is simple in concept.  Take one strong queen-right hive and add a weaker queenless hive on top, and pray that they peacefully merge and mesh to form an even stronger hive.

My first hive combining experience, several years ago, was a mess.  Bees from different hives do not get along.  Their scents or pheromones have to mesh, and the introduction needs to take place slowly over several days.  The process typically involves:

  1. Removing the top and inner covers from the strong hive;
  2. Fully covering the top box with a full single sheet of newspaper (keep in place with some tape on the edges – blows easily on a windy day);
  3. Using a thin, sharp knife to cleanly slice 1/2 inch or smaller slits (maybe 10 or 12) evenly across, up, down, and all around the newspaper; then
  4. Carefully set the bottom box of the weak hive on top of the newspaper without ripping or shifting the newspaper out of place.
  5. Wait 3-4 days then give them a peek.

The first time I did this, I had trouble keeping the newspaper in place, the paper ripped when I attempted to slice it with a not so sharp knife, and bees from the bottom started making their way up through the paper before I could even get the weak hive positioned on top; and when that happened, I managed to shift the hive and rip the paper even more.  Needless to say, all heck broke loose, bees started fighting, and good intentions turned ugly real fast.

I think time and experience make all the difference for these types of beekeeping firsts, because this time the effort was simple and flawless.  The merge was bee-utiful and the two hives are now thriving as one.

Yellow Hive Reveals Laying Workers

That left me with the Yellow Hive split.  I gave this split a bit more time because they appeared to be doing well, and again, because of the rain, I thought the queen might bee taking longer to become mated and to start laying.  By the time I realized that wasn’t the case, I had laying workers and no queen.  Ugh!

Yet another beekeeping first that I shall save for the next post.

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Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Starting into our 5th year of beekeeping, I took a break from blogging because I felt like I’m just repeating previous blogs.  But after 6-8 weeks into spring, I remembered why I began blogging to begin with.  This is my journal, my reference to past bee activity – the good, the bad, the ugly.  So please forgive my for backtracking, but if you’re interested in what’s been happening at the BooBee Honey Apiary since early March, then you’re in luck cause this post is about playing catch up.

Early March – From Six Hives to Three

Yep, down three hives from six – a 50% loss.  First, our winter was crazy inconsistent.  We really didn’t have a winter.  All hives entered strong and I had high hopes.  What happened?  There were no signs of starvation.  No signs of excess moisture in the hives.  Mites? No, I didn’t see signs of mites, and my bees are all VSH or mite-resistant.  I suspect queen losses for Green and Blue hives, capped off by the cold.  Yellow hive showed signs of Nosema – a parasite that resides in the bees’ guts and is evident by brown splotches on the fronts of the hives.  I didn’t medicate because I prefer to use more natural methods, like adding my homemade honey-b-healthy with wintergreen essential oil to their feed.  Wintergreen is anti-bacterial and helps keep their little guts clean.  However, adding fumagilin to their feed this fall will be a simple fix to help prevent future instances.  Two of the surviving hives, the strongest hives, were my PA queens – the best queens ever!  The mint hive is from my Texas stock, and although not up to my PA queen standards, they have been consistently strong.   So disappointments aside, I’m happy to have three strong hives, and I have ample space for splits and swarms – so it’s all good.

Got Empty Space, They Will Fill It

I add a spacer at the top of my wintering hives to add food and a small top entrance.  But Purple Hive got an early start and began building crazy comb in this space early on.    Once they fill it with wax comb, the trick is to clear that comb before the queen starts to fill it with brood.  This was my first lesson learned this season.  I knew they were filling it up with wax, but the temps were still cold, and I piddled around until – you guessed it – she filled the comb with brood.  What a mess!  The image below give you an idea of what this crazy comb look like, but imagine it filled with brood.

The last thing I want to do is cut out and dispose of all of that bee-utiful brood, and boy they hated me when I removed it from the hive.  I wish I’d taken photos, but on a bee-utiful 70 degree sunny March day, I sat in the grass and, using a very small and thin Pampered Chef paring knife, carefully sliced the comb at the base where it attached to the inner cover.  I inserted the comb within empty frames and used rubber bands to hold the intact combs within the frames – just the way many bee removal experts salvage comb from home hive removals, or tree hive removals.  I added an entire box full of frames filled with rubber banded brood comb back onto Purple Hive and hoped for the best.  Several weeks later, not only had the bees made the best of the mess I had made of their comb, but they cleaned house and returned my rubber bands.  I checked on the hive and noticed rubber bands poking out of the entrance with 10 bees on tugging on them.  Amazing little creatures.  The least I could do was help pull them out and dispose of them properly.

Spring Reconfiguration – April 9, 2017

Purple Hive was crazy crowded coming into spring.  With four full boxes, they were ready to split on day one, but the weather was still unpredictable with night time temps ranging from the low thirties to low fifties.  I watched the weather and continued to wait for consistent high 40’s to 50 degree nighttime temps before splitting.   I wanted the resulting splits to survive the cold nights.  However, the girls needed space.  Two weeks ago, on a warm 70-something day, I reconfigured the hives, moving the queens down low so they could work their ways up, and adding lots of growth space between the honey and the brood.

First Swarm of the Season – April 16, 2017

I was in the greenhouse, late afternoon, when I heard it.  Out of the bushes arose a such a clatter – a swarm that I’d probably walked beneath a half dozen times that day and never noticed.  Ugh.  They say you really can’t prevent swarms once the bees decide it’s gonna happen.  Sure enough, I ran after a cloud of bees through the backyard, around the side of the house, and waved farewell as they exited across the horse field, across the pond, into the wild blue yonder.  I didn’t see where the swarm originated, but I blame Purple Hive, which doesn’t have half the porch traffic it had before. Oh well, not the first, won’t bee the last.

Splitsville Baby!  – April 23, 2017

One week after the swarm, the weather was perfect!  Perfect time to check whether Purple Hive’s queen is laying.  That hive is still crazy full of bees, nectar, brood.  I found queen cells, so guess what?  Green Hive and Blue Hive are back in business!  Woo hoo!  Two solid splits from Purple Hive.  I saw the queen and she is bee-utiful and laying like crazy.  Fingers crossed, her offspring will do the same for our newbee hives.  Why stop there?  I inspected Mint Hive, which looks great!  I gave them a fresh box between the honey and the brood.  Then Pink Hive is another PA queen that’s performing very well.  Tons of young brood and larvae.  I found a frame with two queen cells – bingo!  We had split number three, Yellow Hive – and believe me, Pink Hive needed to be split.  I gave them a fresh box between the honey and the brood, so fingers crossed, they’ll forego any thoughts of swarming for awhile.

Caring for the Newbees

So that’s where we stand!  Everyone has space to grow, and I’ll continue to be proactive and check on them at least every 2 weeks.  The girls were surprisingly calm, except for the one little bugger that got me on the lip this afternoon.  Lip stings are the worst – I feel like a Simpsons character.  My focus now is on feeding and caring for the newbee hives.  They’re closed off completely for 24 hours, at which point I’ll replace the entrance block with an entrance reducer and will add some foliage in front the entrances to help them reorient before leaving the hive.  I’ll keep watch and will check for laying queens in about 2 weeks.  Time will tell!

Did I mention how happy I am that it’s bee season?   Yay!!!

 

So much to do – cleaning frames and boxes; feed, feed, feed the newbees; install swarm traps; blog, blog, blog; and above all, bee proactive.  That’s my theme this year.

Happy spring everyone!  Bee Proactive!

Blue Hive Revived and More

April 21, 2016
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The girls have been building up fast this spring, and as mentioned in my last two posts, we experienced two swarms in one weekend.  Both were retrieved and rehived – one is happily rehomed in Green Hive, and the other in Blue Hive.  However, the Blue Hive swarm left the hive (absconded) within a day.  That left Blue Hive empty again.

I had planned to inspect the hives that same weekend to give them space and check their food, but with all the excitement, I had to postpone the inspections until they settled down.  I took a half day from work several days later, when the weather was sunshiny and perfect.  I could take my time and perform a proper inspection.

Pre-Inspection Prep

Preparation is important prior to inspecting.  I had extra boxes, drawn frames, undrawn frames, honey frames (covered so as not to encourage robbing), fume board, tools, and smoker.  You never know what you’ll find in these hives, so it’s good to bee prepared for any scenario.  I’m much better about taking my time now, one hive at a time.  They say “get in, do your business, and get out”.  I follow this to an extent, but I’m also very careful to process what I find as I go, and make smart quick decisions that are most beneficial to the bees without rocking their world.

Purple Hive

Purple Hive was filled with bees, honey and brood.  They looked great and I was really hoping to find some queen cells so I could make an easy split for Blue Hive.  I don’t need a queen cell to make a split.  As long as they have good frames of eggs and larvae, they’ll figure it out themselves.  But considering it takes ~3 weeks for them to make a new queen from scratch, then factor in the time for mating and laying, its much faster and less risky to just give them an nice fat ready-made queen cell.

I didn’t find any queen cells in Purple Hive, which indicates that they likely did NOT swarm.  I set up a new box of checker boarded frames (honey on ends, and alternate drawn and undrawn frames in the center) and added it just above the bottom box to directly expand the brood chamber and give the queen plenty of room to lay and the other bees plenty of room to spread out.  I put “Humpty” back together again and move on to Mint Hive.

Mint Hive

Mint Hive, my active and temperamental Texas bees, had swarmed on Sunday and upon removing the inner cover, it was evident that their numbers had reduced, shown below.

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I used the fume board to clear out and remove the top box.  The other boxes were full of bees, honey, brood, and lots of queen cells.  I snagged a frame w/ a gorgeous fat queen cell and transferred it to Blue Hive, along with some good honey and brood frames, and plenty of bees.  A feeder was added and Blue Hive was back in business.   I’m happy to report that they’re building up well and everyone seems healthy and happy.

Yellow Hive

Yellow Hive was much the same as Purple Hive.  Lots of bees (shown below), but no signs of swarming.  I gave them the same treatment, adding another checkerboard box above the bottom box, and letting them grow and prosper.

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A few weeks later….Supers are on!!!

May 7, 2016

Within a week after the inspections, I added the supers.  Wisteria is starting to bloom, dandelions are out, the nectar flow is on!  We don’t want to miss a beat.  Plus, the supers give them more space…always a good thing this time of year.  Of course, as soon as the supers are added to Purple, Mint and Yellow hives, Mother nature drops the temperatures about 20 degrees and rains on our parade, for a week and a half straight!  Ugh.

The girls jump at every opportunity to get out of the hives and forage.  Purple Hive is bursting, so I’ll split them at my soonest opportunity.  I need to find more space to put nucs and possibly more hives.  The hubster will be thrilled…not.

Green and Blue hives are developing nicely.  I’m keeping them fed.  The garden is bursting and soon we’ll bee planting our veggies. Spring is already flying by fast!

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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)

 

 

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.

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…