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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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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!

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.

Playing Catch Up

December 24, 2015

Happy Holidays to everyone!  I’m woefully behind on bee updates, and now that all the holiday hustle and bustle is slowing down, it’s a good time for a quick recap of the past few months…

Picking up Where We Left Off…

Not sure if you recall the Price of Slacking post from mid-September.  Laying patterns were sporadic or brood was dwindling in three hives.  For the record, this is not uncommon when the seasons change and the bees begin to transition their focus from multiplying their numbers to storing food for the winter.  Regardless, I made the mistake of getting involved by ordering 3 mite resistant queens from PA ($150 w/ shipping, yikes!).  High price due to 1) scarcity of queens that time of year, and 2) they were good quality, mite resistant queens from a very reputable breeder.  And they came from PA, so I knew they could withstand our winter.

 

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New Queens in the Hives

For the first time, I entered the hives with the intent of pinching queens.  Of course, when I reentered hives to replace the queens, the brood patterns had improved in all three hives. Ugh!  Too late, I had the queens in hand, so I found and pinched 2 nice looking queens in Purple and Blue hives and added the new queens.  I felt sick over it and decided I will not do that again.  However, I was patting myself on the back upon realizing that I am indeed capable of successfully identifying unmarked queens.

Green hive had dwindled in numbers, so I reduced their boxes down to two and could not find their queen.  I ended up leaving them with their existing queen…which left me with one homeless queen.  I gave her to a fellow bee club member and tried to brush this fiasco out of mind.

RIP Blue Hive

Blue Hive did not take.  They died out within a week or two.  The queen in Purple Hive did take.  We entered winter with 4 hives.  Who knows if they would still be going had I not gotten involved.  I know I’d be $150 richer!

 

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Ever Forward…into Winter

I winterized the girls in October, adding the wind barriers and mouse guards.  I made candy, which was added to the hives a week ago.  Believe it or not, we’ve had 70 degree weather in December here in MD.  Not sure if that’s good or bad, but the bees seem to enjoy it when the sun shines.  It’s been wet, so ventilation and ice are at the top of my concerns this winter.

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All four hives are still going.  Green hive is small and fragile, so I don’t have high hopes for them.  Yellow hive is not as strong as they had been over the summer.  Mint and Purple hives are currently my two strongest.  As I’ve said many times, anything can happen at any time.  Just keep them fed and well ventilated, and hope for the best.

In the meantime, we’re making good use of the honey.  The hubster has already made a braggot (honey beer), and I have 10 gallons of mead aging in the hall closet. We’ve been eating it and cooking with it.  I made cream honey for Christmas gifts, and I’ve been making lots of lotions and potions to sell for my Bead and Bubble business.  We’ll have an online store up soon.

Three Years of BooBee Honey!

All in all, we’re truly blessed with our bees and blessed to have so many friends and family who are interested in learning and reading about them.  I’ve been writing this blog for three years.  Hard to believe.  I’ve referred back to it many times myself, and I’m thrilled everytime another beekeeper tells me they love my blog and have learned from it.  That’s what it’s all about.

Thank you all for sharing our beekeeping adventure.  The journey is far from over!

Merry Christmas (and/or happy holidays) and best wishes for a thriving 2016 beekeeping year!

Paula, the Hubster, and the Bees

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…

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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