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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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Swarm #2 Caught on Video!

Monday, April 18, 2016

Swarm #2 happened the day after Swarm #1.  However, this one we managed to capture on video as it was happening!

Over the past two years, we only ever stared up 40 feet in the trees waving good riddens to our swarms.  They were finally kind enough to land in a 5 ft shrub, so we successfully captured our first swarm and rehomed it in Green Hive.  They’re doing great.

The next day (Sunday) we had a second swarm.  Interesting that all of our swarms have occurred between 11 and 1pm, mostly on weekends.  This one definitely came from Mint Hive.  I managed to video record the swarm as it was happening, which you can see on YouTube above.  Pretty cool, especially for those who don’t know what swarms are and have never experienced one.

Quick recap – swarms are actually good for the bees and a signs that they are healthy and thriving.  Not a fun for the beekeeper if the colony is lost, but healthy and natural for the bees.  It’s their natural way of splitting the hive and making more space so they can continue reproducing and bringing more wonderful bees into the world.  We need them desperately, so if that’s what it takes, then so bee it!

Below is a photo of the cluster.  Yes, these are ALL bees!  Not a nest, not a hive…just 100% pure bees clustering around their queen and waiting for their scout bees to come back and lead them to their new home.  Amazing creatures, indeed.

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Blue Hive Goes Bye Bye

The 2nd swarm was successfully captured and rehomed in Blue Hive (see photo below with the poop deck attached).   There had been lots of commotion in front of the hives for several hours after, but everything calmed down and I thought all was good, until I checked Blue Hive the next day.  The entire swarm had absconded and Blue Hive was left empty.

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New Beekeeping Term – “Absconding”

In the beekeeping world, absconding means that ALL of the bees left the hive and moved on – unlike a swarm where the queen splits the hive, taking half the bees with her and leaving the other half behind.

New colonies are the most common absconders – a newly hived package of bees, or in this case a newly rehived swarm that decides their new home doesn’t feel like home.  A colony can abscond at any time, even years after being established.  Yep, a colony can just pack up and go…poof, bye bye.  They always have their reasons though, usually because they’re bothered by something related to their living conditions.

Lesson Learned

My thought, in the case of Blue Hive, is that the swarm was too large for the 8 frame medium box I had dropped them in.  The 2nd swarm was much larger than the first.  In the future, I’ll set up two 8-frame medium boxes rather than one.  I had planned on adding the new box within a day or two, but they didn’t hang around long enough for that.

My other thought is that maybe the frames hadn’t aired out long enough so they didn’t like the smell.  Could bee a combination of things.

They were Texas bees, very hearty and good honey producers, but a bit hot tempered and quick to swarm.  I’m hoping to get a split from the Pennsylvania bees that I had queened back in the fall.  They’re well-mannered, mite resistant, they’ve reproduced nicely, and they overwintered well.  We just have to see how well they produce honey, but I’m willing to split them anyway.  Afterall, it’s about the bees, not about me getting honey.  I have to remind myself of that sometimes. :o)

Caught a Swarm…Finally!

April 16, 2016

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

Preparing for Capture

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

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

The Capture – Play by Play

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

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Mission Accomplished

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

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

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!

 

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)

 

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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