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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!

RIP Yellow Hive…Again

Saturday, January 17, 2015

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Winter is a period of worry and uncertainty when it comes to the bees.  Yesterday was in the 40’s, so I took the opportunity to peek in on them and add candy.  The only hive that showed any sign of life was Mint Hive.  That doesn’t mean they aren’t clustered down in the bellies of the hives keeping warm, but it certainly stirs up anxiety about what I did, should and shouldn’t have done, and whether I’ll have any hives left by time spring gets here.

Yellow hive, my strongest going into winter, was found at the top clustered and dead.  They had plenty of stores, the hive looked dry inside.  Maybe the cold got to them, maybe they starved regardless of stores, maybe they separated and froze.  I don’t know.  When things warm up a bit I’ll get in and take a closer look.

Last year when this happened I was crushed.  This year, its disappointing and frustrating, but not the end of the world.  If I lose all 5 hives, then I’ll most certainly be on the verge of hanging up my bee suit.  But I’ve got too much invested, and I love my bees.  Worst case, I’ll learn from my mistakes, start with two new packages in the spring, and get a better plan in place for next winter.

All the best to everyone else’s hives this winter.  Stay warm, read up, and get that equipment prepped.  Doesn’t seem like it now, but spring will be here soon!

Musical Bees Revue

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This past week has been crazy trying to keep up with these girls. Everyone has their own thing going on. It doesn’t help that I’ve become a bit hive crazy. No more, I’m done splitting and adding new hives. I’m up to five hives and one nuc. Just working now on building up the ones we have so we can get them through winter. The entries below explain all about our musical bees – swapping, splitting, adding, splitting. There really is some method to the madness.

June 10, 2014 (Tuesday) – Two Mail Order Texas Queens

Last week I started Purple Hive from several Blue Hive frames. I knew it was a bad split and that they probably didn’t have enough resources to make a new queen. I was right. They’ve adapted to their new hive just fine, however they have very little brood and no signs of queen cells. It takes 24 hours for the queen smell to dissipate, at which point they realize they are queenless and will begin straightaway on producing a new queen.

I checked around and there were no local queens available. I decided to bite the bullet and order another Texas queen for Purple Hive. I know, I know, I didn’t say nice things about the Texas queens in my last post – they’re a little temperamental, but they’re available, and darn if they’re not hearty and productive and bred to bee mite resistant. Anyway, the real cost is shipping the little buggers 3-5 day USPS. However, 2-3 queens can be purchased for the same shipping fee, so it makes sense to order multiple queens. Who knows, Blue Hive might need a queen!

June 14, 2014 (Saturday) – The Royal Fiascos

My queens arrived on Saturday. Actually they arrived Friday, but I didn’t know it. I had called the post office the day prior and asked that they not leave the bees in our mailbox. They didn’t leave the bees in the mailbox, but they didn’t drop them off at the house either. Instead, they held them at the post office and left messages on my cell phone, which I never check during the day because I can’t get cell phone reception at my work. Doh! So I worried all evening and into the morning until my perfect hubster picked them up and reported that everyone was alive and kicking. Yay!

I wanted to get my new royals into the hives that same Saturday evening. As planned, I installed one queen in Purple Hive. Easy peasy. Then I opened Blue Hive and found fresh brood and larvae. Blue Hive had a new laying queen. Good news, but that left me with a hive less queen. Luckily I had planned on that as a possibility and had the hubster lower down the nuc that we’d set as a bait hive. It had 5 new frames and was ready to go. I pulled several frames from yellow hive, which had gone from sketchy to crazy productive, and swapped them with several fresh nuc frames.

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I installed the queen cage and closed it up. But for the life of me, I could not find the correct entrance blocker for the nuc, so I ended up using one that was just a smidge too high, causing a very small gap between the boxes. Too small, I thought, for the bees to get through.

June 16, 2014 (Monday) – The Drifters

I returned home in the evening after a meeting and went up to remove the entrance blocker. I noticed robbers slipping through the gap. I opened the top and I saw maybe 20 bees in the hive with the queen. They’d all drifted back to their original hive. Doh! Too dark to do anything about it, I went inside and lost another night’s sleep wondering when I’d get the chance to make another split, and hoping the queen would hold on for another day.

June 17, 2014 (Tuesday) – Good Way to Start the Day

My chance came at 6:30 am the next morning. I never work the bees that early, but it was beautiful and bright and warm outside, so I put on my suit, lit the smoker and got to work.

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I pulled the queen and her posse from the nuc and they looked alive and very active. I set them aside and opened Green Hive. Another Carneolan hive, the bees were gentle and easy. I found several swarm cells (If I’d only known, I could have saved $83 bucks). They’ve been getting crowded, and having been over wintered, I suspect Green Hive may have swarmed since traffic has noticeably died down in front. Still lots of bees and they have brood. I took the top super, which still held mostly undrawn frames, and I placed it above the bottom box, splitting the brood chamber and giving the queen plenty more room to reproduce.

I pulled several frames of brood and placed them in the nuc, and replaced those with undrawn frames. The queen was installed in the nuc. The nuc was closed, and this time, I placed the correct size entrance blocker in the entrance.

That started my day in a good mood!

June 18, 2014 (Wednesday) – Purple Hive Has Released Their Queen

Purple Hive has released their queen! So much excitement and activity in that little hive of only 2 weeks. I suspect they’ll build up quickly with their new Texas queen.

One super has been added to Yellow Hive. They’re my first year package hive, but they’re building up so quickly that I stopped feeding them several weeks ago and am hoping they produce some honey.

Green Hive has produced more honey than anyone.  The race is on for all the other hives to catch up!

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June 20, 2014 (Friday) – Yay! Everyone Has a Queen

Yay, the nuc has released their queen!  I unblocked their entrance and placed some branches in front so they can reorient.  Now we’re in “hurry up and wait” mode.  I’m hoping they build up enough over the next month to get themselves through winter.  Come mid July, all of the bees will begin winding down and their focus will be on preparing for winter – less reproduction, less drones, less nectar and pollen as dirth sets in, and more stashing away stores and honey.

Time for a Vacation!

I pick up another order of boxes and frames this weekend.  Once those are assembled, we’ll add a few more supers onto the larger hives.  That should sustain them through my vacation.  Yes, I am going on vacation and leaving the hubster with the bees!  I would take him with me, but he has a small business to run, so I’m going on a trip with my dad to visit and take photos of his last 4 state capitols – a project that’s been in the works for over 30 years.  I shall report the hubster’s events upon my return.   Happy beekeeping!

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Boo Bees and Their Garden

June 6, 2014 (Friday)

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The whole yard is blooming, from evergreens to honeysuckle to clover. The girls are hauling in the nectar and pollen. The veggies are planted and staked. We’re harvesting asparagus and strawberries. I love the spring and summer months, even more since we have bees. I could sit in the garden all day and watch the hives. I’m still amazed at how far we’ve come in one short year. From two nice to five hives.  That’s right!  We now have 5 hives.

Welcome Purple Hive!

After missing out on the split from Blue Hive’s swarm, I took several frames of fresh brood, larvae and eggs from Green Hive and made a split while there’s still enough time in the season for them to queen themselves and become established. Although I might just help them along if I can find a queen locally. As always with my splits, I closed them up for two days to allow the smell of their queen to dissipate, then placed branches in front of their entrance so they could reorient themselves and return to their new location. It’s working. They’re going and coming with legs full of pollen.  A few robbers are floating around, but for the most part, the big hives are leaving their new little neighbor alone.

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Pink Hive Has a Queen (Yay!)

Pink Hive has eggs, brood and larvae, which means they have a queen. Yay! All those queen cells transferred from Blue Hive did the trick. They’re drawing out their frames and I’m preparing to give them a second box of drawn comb and new wax foundation.

Blue Hive is Queenless (Ugh!) 

Blue Hive, on the other hand, has gone from tons of brood to no brood. Queenless, for now. I was told that after a swarm it would take 3-4 weeks for them to straighten themselves out and have a laying queen.  I’ll check back in another week or two and see if they need any help. Their numbers are still strong, but they’re packing in nectar where there should be brood. Nectar that should be going into the honey supers. Blue Hive has barely made a dent in their one honey super. The frames are still empty and undrawn. Disappointing since they were so active and strong.  I was hoping for a good honey harvest from Blue Hive.  I’m starting to have second thoughts about my Texas bees.  Once good thing about the swarm is that the mean wicked queen left behind a calmer, less aggressive (albeit less productive) colony behind.  Let’s hope their next queen is a little nicer.

Yellow Hive Going at its Own Pace

Yellow Hive is active and well, but they’re not growing as fast as I’d hoped. I was ready to give them a third box, but based on the number of frames they have yet to draw out, they aren’t ready for it. So I’ll just be patient and let them tell me when they’re ready.

Green Hive is Making Honey (Yay!)

I just added another super to Green Hive. They’ve just about filled their first super, and boy is it heavy. Green Hive started out slow, but they’ve picked up and are very active and healthy. I’ve heard that about the Carneolan (Italian) bees.  No signs of swarming yet. No drones, no queen cells, no hot temperament. My Italian bees are very gentle and calm and I can work them with minimal smoke.

Incase they do have thoughts of swarming, we’ve left the bait hive hoisted up in the trees with a cardboard sheet at the entrance that’s been drenched in lemongrass oil. Someday we’ll catch a swarm.

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I forgot to mention that a bit of honey dripped out of some burr comb in Green Hive’s super. I couldn’t resist taking just a little taste. Oh my. No sugar syrup, no chemical treatments – just pure, unadulterated honey from our own hives. Wow…really…just wow.

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Quick Pink Hive Update

May 23, 2014 (Friday)

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I checked in on Pink Hive today, and no brood, just drones.  Not a good sign.  I was hoping a queen had hatched and would have mated by now.  Perhaps she has hatched (the queen cell isn’t there anymore) and just hasn’t mated or started laying yet.  These things do take time, and I’m not one to calculate down to the day.  Regardless, I had to dig into Blue Hive (my biggest and most swarm worthy hive) and found another frame with multiple queen cells.  I placed it in Pink Hive, hoping for better luck.  If they have a queen, then the girls will simply tear them down.  If they don’t have a queen, then now they have several high potential candidates.  I’ll just keep checking and eventually they’ll take off…

 

Growing Up and Out

May 4, 2014 (Sunday)

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With the addition of Baby Nuc and the continuing growth of Blue Hive,  we decided to move the raised bed and make room for two more hives.  I even went out and purchased two new hives, just to be prepared.  It’s always good to have extra hive bodies and frames around, especially during swarm season.

We lined the ground with landscape fabric (while dodging some testy bees) and leveled it out with pea gravel.  Poor Baby Nuc was moved a few times, and we’d come back to their spot to find bees flying around wondering what happened to their hive.  Needless to say, we worked fast and safely returned Baby Nuc back to its original location, and the aimless foragers landed on the front porch, happy to have found their missing home.

Baby Nuc  Wants a Queen

As we prepped the new area, I peeked in Baby Nuc to see if they’d created any queen cells yet.  Baby Nuc was created with some nice frames of brood and larvae from Blue Hive.  But I wasn’t sure whether I’d provided the eggs they needed to produce a new queen.

I was told that after bees are separated from their hive and placed into a new queenless colony, it takes 24 hours for their queen’s smell to dissipate.  When that happens, they acknowledge that they are queenless and begin working immediately to create new queen from the most newly laid eggs.

During my inspection, I saw drone cells and burr comb, and at the bottom of one frame was a small and undistinguishable queen cell.  Not what I was hoping for.  Small is not an issue.  Even small queen cells can yield good queens, but I wasn’t even sure it WAS a queen cell.

I’d continue watching them and if they hadn’t created a queen cell in another week, then I’d simply give them another frame of brood, larvae and eggs from Blue Hive.  That is, unless Blue Hive had a queen cell to spare.  Then I could transfer the queen cell to Baby Nuc and all they’d have to do is feed it and wait for the virgin queen to hatch, mate and start laying eggs.  This process usually takes about 4 weeks.

Blue Hive Ready to Swarm

The good news  – Not only is Blue Hive incredibly active, laying up a storm and packing in tons of bees, they’re also laying lots of drones and (drum roll please)…queen cells!  Score!  Free Texas queen offspring for Baby Nuc.  I shook the bees off and happily placed the frame into Baby Nuc.  The cell was close to 1-1/2 inches long.  Perfect!

The bad news – Blue Hive has swarm written all over it.  When purchasing my hives, I met up a bee club member who is a professional beekeeper.  He said that when honey meets brood, they’re preparing to swarm.  All of the above mentioned signs, combined with the fact that Blue Hive has outgrown its space and the brood is definitely meeting the honey, tell me that these girls are ready to swarm.  My plan is to give them a proper split into one of the new hives.  But first (as suggested by my beekeeper friend), I placed a full box of drawn comb beneath the top honey box, separating it from the brood box.  This gives them room to expand and will hopefully prevent swarming for the time being, at least until I can get a good split from them.

Yellow Hive Business as Usual

Yellow Hive looks great.   I gave them a new box last week, so they’re working on filling that out.  They’re laying, feeding, and doing all the things that a healthy and active new colony should be doing.

Green Hive Picking Up and Filling Out

I’m happy that Green Hive has perked up and is doing well.  Like Yellow Hive, they’re laying, they’re active, and they’ve filled in their two boxes, so I gave them a third box of drawn comb to grow into then I closed them up.

Yay for Honey!

I’m feeling good at the moment and am especially excited at the prospect of adding more hives to the apiary.   Even more exciting, the supers will go on this weekend and we’ll start collecting honey.  Yay for honey!  It’s good to have bees.