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Ants, Swarms and Honey

July 23, 2016, Saturday

Wow, this summer is flying by.  Unreal.  As much as I’ve think about updating everyone on the bees, we’ve just been so stinking busy this summer.  We’ve had several more swarms since early summer, but other than that, the girls have been working hard gathering nectar and food and making honey.  There’s hasn’t been much more to tell until now.  So here’s a few bits to catch you up.

Ants

I can’t say I’ve experienced ant problems.  We add a base to the bottom of each hive with PVC cups that I keep filled with water.  They really help keep the ants  and crawly critters out of the hives.  But the other day I saw a TON of ants collecting at the base of one hive.

Hubster repositions and levels GH1 base and adds ant deterring frame.

Base frame with ant-deterring PVC cups that we keep filled with water.

I thought of several options for removing them, but most are not good for the bees.  What I came up with was cinnamon.  I added several tablespoons of cinnamon to an old spice bottle and shook the cinnamon over the ants and around the base of the hive on the ground and on the cinder blocks.  Worked like a charm.  They picked up and moved someplace else that’s not around my hives.

Swarms

I received a frantic call from my neighbor this morning…one of those “your bees are swarming!” calls.  Ugh.  I ran out and watched a large swarm of bees buzzing their usual 30+ feet up into a pine trees.  I ran to my hives to see if I could tell which hive was the culprit.  No signs whatsoever, just business as usual.  Usually they all go nuts when one of the hives swarms.  But they were quietly going about their business.  So I have to wonder if it came from one of my hives, or maybe it was one of my swarms still looking for a place to live.  To bee honest, I’m not sure how long swarms hang around before they find refuge or meet their demise.

Anyway, I had to do something, so I made a quickie swarm trap, as follows:

  • I grabbed a copier box and cut a small hole in the bottom for an entrance.
  • Added one frame of old comb and one frame of fresh foundation.
  • Lined the inside with lemongrass essential oil.
  • Added the lid and lined the outside of the entrance with lemongrass oil.
  • Taped every possible opening to make it secure and ensure the entrance was the only place where they could come and go.
  • Then found the hubster’s old ladder, climbed the tree and placed it between some strong branches and secured with cable ties.  Not too bad, really.

Do I think it will work.  Heck no, but I have a better chance than not doing anything at all.  So we shall see.
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Honey

On the honey front, I’ve collected about 5 or 6 frames and plan to collect more this weekend.  They’ve produced lots of honey, but still a lot of capping to do.  Unlike past years, I’m collecting as I go then will extract around Labor Day weekend.

New Addition

One last thing, I have to introduce Pink Hive, our newest addition to the apiary.  Pink Hive is a split from Purple Hive, and next week I’ll be checking to make sure we have a good laying queen.  Purple Hive is my strongest hive, the one with the Pennsylvania queen.  Purple Hive is one that swarmed recently.  They are mite-resistant bees, they populate like crazy, make lots of honey, overwintered like a charm, and until now, haven’t swarmed.  Plus, they’re gentle to work with.  Polar opposite of my Texas queens.  I bought my queen from Log Cabin Bee Farm.  The mated queens aren’t cheap, but they are top quality and worth every penny.  You only need one good hive to get more hives going.  My goal is to get all of my hives transitioned to this amazing PA stock.
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So there you go, the latest and greatest.  The girls are doing great.  At least they’re getting their swarming out of the way before it’s too late in the season.  They still have time to build back up for winter.  Fingers crossed for a good honey harvest!  Happy summer everyone!

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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…

Wax Moths…Eww!

September 9, 2015

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I just had my first, and hopefully last encounter with wax moths. My fault…most wax moth encounters are due to the beekeeper’s negligence. I uncovered several stacked boxes of frames with drawn comb in which I had forgotten to add moth crystals. The frames had been stored there since mid-July. I could smell the stench upon lifting the cover – the frames were infested with wax moths, wormy larvae, webs and droppings – like a creepy, disgusting Halloween prop, only this was real.  Blah!

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Wax Moths and Bees

A wax moth infestation can destroy a hive. They like dark, warm areas with minimal air flow; and because they’re highly attracted to beeswax, the combination of dark, closed up boxes with frame upon frame of drawn comb is irresistible to wax moths who prey on and infest weak hives.

I’m grateful they only infested two boxes of frames and not four or six.  I’m even more grateful that they weren’t in my hives. What a horrible demise for bees, and a shameful mess for the beekeeper.

 

Preventing Wax Moth Infestations

There are several ways to store frames to prevent wax moth infestation.

  • Store frames in an airy location with plenty of light. Moths do not like light, nor do they appreciate steady air flow. I’ve heard of beekeepers openly hanging frames across the inside of well-lit buildings or barns, for example.
  • Use a fan to blow a steady flow of air through the frames. The downside would be the 24×7 operation of a fan (or two) over several months.
  • Store frames in a truly airtight container. I know beekeepers who store their drawn frames in airtight rubbermade containers – like the kind you keep clothes in under the bed – and store them in their basements. However, you need to be 300% certain it is truly air tight. Wax moths can access the tiniest of openings.
  • Store boxes and frames outdoors in freezing temperatures. All stages of wax moth will die within 24 hours in freezing temperatures (36 degrees F or lower).
  • Store frames with PDB moth crystals. This is my method (so much for chemical free beekeeping). Only use moth crystals containing paradichlorobenzene (PDB). These will kill all stages of wax moth, except the eggs. The crystals will dissolve gradually over several weeks/months time, so check every few weeks to determine whether the crystals need to be replenished, otherwise, you risk the moths returning. When you’re ready to reuse the boxes and frames, air them out for 2-3 days before introducing them to the bees.

 

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Cleaning Up the Mess

So what steps did I take to clean up this mess and ensure it doesn’t happen again?

  • Freeze the boxes and frames. Wax moths, eggs and larvae will all die if frozen for 24 hours. I have a freezer in the garage for freezing frames and boxes. This luxury has been put to great use over the last 2 years. It’s always a good idea to freeze boxes and frames before moving them to the hives, or even before extracting honey; or for saving honey frames until you’re ready to extract. I can easily fit two 8-frame boxes with frames into our upright freezer.

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  • Clean the frames. I placed a tarp on the ground in the driveway and grabbed my trusty pallet knife and scraped off the webs, droppings and debris, and cut out the areas that were severely damaged.

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  • Store the frames and boxes. I use moth crystals containing paradichlorobenzene (PDB) to store frames with drawn comb. No longer will I boast of chemical free beekeeping – this is my one vice. For me, it’s the easiest, most worry free way to ensure that your comb and boxes are moth free. I simply add a spoonful of crystals on a piece of cardboard that’s placed on top of the frames, then I add another box of frames and another piece of cardboard with another spoonful of crystals. When all boxes are stacked, air tight, then place a top cover on top with a heavy brick or object on top of that to weigh it down.

 

The crystals will dissolve gradually, so check every few weeks to determine whether the crystals need to be replenished, otherwise, you risk the moths returning. When you’re ready to reuse the boxes and frames, air them out for 2-3 days before introducing them to the bees. Preferably in an open, well lit, well ventilated location. And if that location happens to bee below 36 degrees F, then even better!

Just keep in mind that not all will bee lost. Wax can always bee rendered down in the spring and replaced with new wax, and frames that are salvageable can go back into the hives and will bee cleaned further by the bees. Bees are workers and cleaners. They’re programmed to build comb in the spring, so they’ll fill in the gaps and put the frames to good use. Waste not, want not…you’ve gotta love’em.

Initial Prep for Winter 2014-15

Sunday, October 5, 2014

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I can’t believe it’s that time of year already.  Seems like yesterday we were chasing swarms and working to keep up with the spring explosion.  This year, it looks as though we’re going into winter with 5 hives.  I do no go into winter optimistically.  The bees are resilient, but anything can happen between now and spring.  I keep moving forward, try to do the right things and hope for the best.  I went into last winter with 3 hives and came out with 2.  Ventilation was the big issue.  Bees can handle cold, but they can’t handle wet.  The lost hive contained lots of moisture.  So above keeping them warm, I want to be sure the hives have good ventilation.

I took advantage of yesterday’s 70 degree weather to do some winter inspecting and prep.

1) Check for strong hives.  

I did not check for the queen this time, since I did find brood two weeks ago and the numbers look good in each of the boxes.  I’m not messing with them, since that does more damage than good.  Brood is at bottom, stores are at top.  My overwintered hives have lots and lots of stores, even Green Hive despite the robbing episode.

2) Checking for stores

Mint and Purple Hives, my two new hives, are lower on stores but feeding like crazy.  I’m continuing to feed them like crazy so they can stash it away, and I’ll give them both several frames of honey left over from last years hives.

3) Feeding 2:1 Syrup with Honey B Healthy

That’s 2 parts sugar to 1 part water – all hives are feeding right now in hopes that they’ll pack it away and have plenty to eat for winter.  I always use Honey B Healthy (HBH).  In fact, I make my own HBH which contains organic wintergreen, lemongrass and spearmint essential oils to help keep their guts clean and to help ward off varroa.   I’ll post the recipe soon!  Just as effective, and much cheaper than buying it.   If you do purchase HBH, use 1-2 tsp per gallon of syrup.

Mason Jar Feeders – I switched all of my hives to the mason jar feeders for several reasons:

1. They’re inexpensive and and easy to make.  Especially nice when you have a bunch of hives.  I simply drill 10-15 holes in the top center of the lid using 1/64 size drill bit.

2. They’re easy to collect and fill as needed.

3. I put 2 jars in, so when one empties, I can remove and they still have syrup left in the second jar until I fill the first jar up again.

4. Easy to see what they’ve consumed through the clear glass.

5. They fit securely within a medium box.

6. They dispense the right amount of syrup, so there’s less chance of it sitting and crystalizing.  And if it does crystalize, you can see it through the jar.

I place the feeders on a set of wooden or plastic chopsticks so the bees can fit beneath the jars.  After awhile, they become a permanent part of the inner cover as the bees glue them in place.

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4) Feeding Grease Patties

An easy supplement to help ward off tracheal mites.  Click here for my Grease Patty Recipe.

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6. Installed Mouse Guards

We had our first front/freeze warning, so I installed my mouse guards so the little critters can’t make their home in my hives.  I used the Brushy Mountain mouse guards last year, which worked fine.  But I find myself going with the easy, less expensive options as my apiary has expanded.  1/2 inch hardware mesh works great.  I set the entrance size to larger to prevent bottlenecking, and to allow for a bit more ventilation.

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That’s it for now.  Our first round of winter prep.  I have a few more tricks up my sleeve to help them out this winter, but the bulk of the work will be up to the bees!

Wooly Worm Predicts a Mild Winter

September 28, 2013 – ApiLife Var and Inspections

The Girls have been very low key lately.  They’re braving the cold nights and still going out and about during the day, gathering a surprising amount of pollen and storing lots and lots of sugar syrup.  The top boxes on Green Hive 1 (GH1) and Yellow Hive 2 (YH2) are heavy!  Yay for them.   That’s been our goal all along – to get everyone through the winter.  I’m happy to report that we’re all on the same page.

Mite Treatments Almost Complete

The 3rd and final ApiLife Var treatment has been added to GH1 and YH2.  The girls have settled down and haven’t reacted much to my recent invasions.  Maybe they’re getting used to Beezilla, or maybe Beezilla is getting better at handling the hives.  Or maybe they’ve finally realized who feeds them.  Or maybe all or none of the above…

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Bees Finally Initiate the Hubster

The hubster got stung for the very first time while clearing out the garden.  He’s officially one of us now.  Part of the Bee Club.  I’m sure he was standing in their flight path.  He always stands in their flight path.  I’d sting him too.  He’s more sensitive than I am, so his feelings were hurt a little.  After all, he does a lot for all of us girls.  Surprisingly the sting under his arm didn’t bother him much.  I was waiting for it to balloon up into an egg sized itchy bump so I could say ” I told you so!”, but it practically disappeared overnight.  So unfair!  Mine itch like crazy for days!

Fall Feeding and Fumagillin

All three hives are still taking in the sugar syrup as fast as I can make it.   I mixed up a batch of syrup with Fumagillin – a medication to help prevent noscema.  Noscema is a common disease for bees – similar to dysentery for humans – and occurs when they can’t get out for cleansing flights, mainly during winter.  I was told that I’m late in giving them the Fumagillin, but the weather still has its warm spurts (in the 80s today) and the girls are out and about plenty, so I think we’re ok.  Besides, better late than never.  I’ll switch back to 2:1 syrup when the Fumagillin batch is consumed.  1:1 syrup is good for building comb and brood, but 2:1 will help them build winter stores.

Drones Get Da’Boot

All three hives also have brood, but the brood production has definitely slowed down.  Dead bees are collecting around the base of the hives. The girls are kicking out the drones.  There’s no need to keep the men in the hives.  They just hang out and eat all of the food.  More will be bred in the spring when the girls need of them for mating.  For now, there’s work to be done and much food to store.  Even my little baby Blue Hive 3 (BH3) has stored quite a bit of syrup, and recently I’ve seen them bringing in large chunks of orange pollen.

BH3 – 8-Frame Boxes or Nuc?

I’m quite proud of BH3.  They’re hanging in there.  The top feeders have eliminated their robbing, however I did find a wax moth larvae.  Can’t do much about wax moths except hope the cold weather freezes them out and the girls can fend them off. I’m still debating whether BH3 should overwinter in a nuc box.  Two 8-frame mediums are not much larger than a nuc.  I don’t have high hopes for BH3 making it through the winter, but I’ll wrap them up, feed them like crazy, and hope for the best.

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Hive Beetles Hiding Out

Hardly any hive beetles have emerged in YH2 over the past two weeks.  Diatomaceous earth is spread beneath all three hives to catch any dropping larvae.  The Beetle Blasters caught a few, but haven’t made a huge difference.  Maybe the colder weather has helped.  Or maybe the ApiLife Var affects the beetles AND the mites.

Planning for Our First Winter

Ask 10 beekeepers a question and get 10 different answers.  That definitely applies to winter preparations.  Lots of decisions to be made. The hubster has built some prototype candy frames that can slide into the hives and feed the girls just like their sugar syrup frames.  I’ll probably make candy boards as well.  We’ll purchase roofing paper to wrap the hives.  Some beekeepers crack the top covers to ventilate their hives during the winter because moisture from condensation is very bad for bees.  I’ve also heard that 1-1/2 inch thick insulation board or foam board absorbs moisture and insulates the hives, so that’s another thought.  Some beekeepers don’t wrap their hives at all.  They leave it to the bees to survive on their own, just like in nature.  One thing is certain, I will install mouse guards as soon as I get some ½ inch mesh.

Wooly Worm Gives Us a Hint of What’s to Come

There’s just no telling what the winter will be like.  Well, actually there is.  We saw a woolly worm the other day.  The width of the wooly worm’s brown center stripe is supposed to be a good indicator of how harsh the upcoming winter will be.  The wider the stripe, the milder the winter.

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This worm’s brown stripe covered 1/3 of its body.  So if the wooly worm is accurate, then the winter will be mild.  Regardless, we’ve worked too hard this summer to slack or take chances.  As with everything else, we shall prepare for the worst and hope for the best.

Mites Round 2 and the Fair

September 17, 2013 – Mite Treatments

Temperatures are ideal ALL WEEK!  And I suspect this time they won’t be spiking into the 90’s until next summer (sad but true). So should be safe now for the next three weeks of treatments.  I added the ApiLife VAR back into Green Hive 1 (GH1) and Yellow Hive 2 (YH2).  I’m happy to say there was much less drama this time around, and much less stink.  I came home this evening and the girls were in their hives, no complaints and no odor from where I stood.

I did want to show a slight improvement that we made.  We cut squares of window screen and folded it over the ApiLife VAR tablets.  This modification made all the difference in my getting a good night’s sleep.  These pillows are perfect for keeping the bees from gnawing on the tablets, plus they are larger so they lay nicely over top of the frames without fear that they’ll fall through the cracks.  For extra security, you can even staple them to the frames to ensure they stay in place.

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Changing the Feed

I’ve also shifted their feed to 2:1 (2 parts sugar, 1 part water).  Gradually I’ll reduce their feed and convert them over to candy as the weather gets colder.  Supposed to be 39 degrees tonight.  Ugh!  I also plan to make some pollen patties.  Much needed since there’s no pollen coming in right now.  I’ll start posting my recipes as I make them.

Working the Fair

On a different note, I worked the fair with my bee club this past weekend and had the best time.  We sold tons of honey and honey sticks.  I’m thrilled by how interested people are in the bees.  We had two observation hives.  We found the queen in one hive, but the workers were covering the other queen to keep her warm since the temps were so cold the night prior.

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Local Honey for Sale!

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Looking for the queen

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Lots of great fair entries!

Did I mention the guy in the photo has a doctorate in entomology?  I so wanted to pick his brain about the bees, but alas.  We were a busy group.  Lots of people wanted to see the bees and buy honey.  I hope to get another opportunity.  He’s full of information and has such passion for teaching about the bees.  In fact, he’s a world leading authority on wax production in bees.   I can’t believe I think that’s cool.   What have the bees done to me?

Lots of people with allergies out there!  Buy local honey!  As local as you can get it.

I’ll be back at the fair this weekend helping with the candle making program.   Can’t wait.  I do love the crafty DIY stuff!

Mite Mishap and Feeding Massacre

September 9, 2013   Backtracking and Starting Over

You’ll recall from my previous post “Prepping the Girls for Winter”  that I had just added a mite treatment (ApiLife Var) to Green and Yellow hives, and I swapped out the feeders for the “no drown” top feeders.   You may also recall that I included a list of recommendations when using the mite treatment.  However, the following day, I realized I left off one very, very important recommendation….

Check the Weekly Weather Forecast Before Treating!!!

When using certain mite treatments, the temperatures must remain below 90 and above 53 degrees.  I thought I was in the clear because the weekend was gorgeous.  Then the hubster, also known as Doppler Don, told me the temperatures would excel into the low 90s by mid-week.   Of course he tells me this AFTER I already added the mite treatments.

Keep in mind, I’m already losing sleep thinking about my poor girls being fumigated out of their home for the next 3 weeks.  Now they’re at risk because I didn’t check the temperatures for the week ahead.  Ugh!!!

Backtracking…

So I made yet another snap hive management decision and was determined to remove the tablets that evening.  But wait, I had a vet appointment and another meeting scheduled that night.  Ugh!

I made the 5:30 vet appointment (for my dog, not for me) and got home around 6:30 pm.  It was already getting dark outside.  I lit the smoker, suited up and started pulling the hives apart.  Green Hive (GH1) was a success, I carefully removed all 4 tablets.  Yellow Hive (YH2), not so much.  I had lost one of the 4 tablets between the frames when they were added.  And as I lifted the box, I noticed another tablet was missing.  I was only able to recover 2 tablets and could not find the other two, even after digging another level deeper.  Ugh!   Which leads me to yet another recommendation that I’d overlooked…

Caging the Tablets

The tablets should be caged in some sort of mesh or wire.  That way the bees can’t chew on them, and they won’t so easily fall between the frames.  In fact, you could even staple them to the frames to ensure they stay in place.  Next time (assuming I actually try to do this again), I will cut pieces of window screen and will staple around the tablets to create a sort of mite treatment pillow.

The Massacre

I closed up the hives and ended with feeding.  This was my first time filling up the new feeders, which I thought would be much easier and much less stressful for the bees.  I opened the top covers and the feeders were PACKED with bees.  Not only were they packed with bees, but the floats, made of cut sections of queen excluders, allow the bees to crawl underneath the floats.  The entire bottom areas of the feeders were lined with bees who, theoretically should crawl back up through the queen excluder mesh to escape drowning.

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Removing the feeders and emptying the bees out is not nearly as simple as it may sound.  I decided to take the risk in hopes that the bees would be smart enough, and fast enough to crawl back through the excluders before making contact with the syrup.  No so.  Some made it out, but the syrup was like a runny river of death for most of the bees left beneath the floats.

What’s more, the floats were stuck to the side, so when I poured the syrup, the floats didn’t float!  You can imagine at this point the girls were not happy with me, Beezilla, again…   It was horrible for them, it was horrible for me.  They were fed, it was dark, I was exhausted.

Back to Buckets

Currently, I’ve left the top feeder on Blue Hive (BH3) because it does help with robbing, and because there are so fewer bees, they don’t line the feeders, so drowning is not a problem and the feeders work as intended.

GH1 and YH2 are back to buckets.  I can’t use buckets in winter because they are taller than the medium boxes and they leave a substantial gap at the top.  I’m torn between the Collins Feeders, which are shallower bucket feeders with a wider distribution of holes and some other helpful features, or making adjustments to our existing feeders ($22 a pop!) so the bees can’t get down into the bottoms.

Final Recommendation

I’m usually good about reading reviews, but somehow I overlooked the reviews for Brushy Mountain’s “no drown” feeders.  None were good and all reiterated my exact experience.  Ugh!

The Good News (Long Term)

Unfortunately for the girls, I learn the most from my mistakes and oversights, but the good news is that these lessons are hard to forget, even for my middle-aged “chipmunk” brain.  So at least the future generations will benefit from the suffering and demise of their ancestors.