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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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Our First Swarm – Part 1

May 25, 2014 (Sunday)

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I was in the garage when I heard it, a loud buzzing hum. I’d never seen one or heard one before, but for weeks I’ve known it was coming. Blue hive had given clear indication and all the time in the world to prepare. Our first swarm…just like the videos. A massive cloud of bees leaving the hive and traveling to the highest tree branch they could find (little buggers!), about 40 feet up onto a branch that appeared unreachable. They gathered into a large clump, at least 5 lbs of bees, then quieted down and just hung there, leaving me staring in amazement of what just happened, excitement at the prospect of collecting my first swarm, and confusion because I had no idea how we were going to get them down. In the meantime, the hubster is freaking out because he thinks the neighbors might see the bees and call the exterminators, or animal control, or some local authority. The fire department with those long truck ladders would be perfect, I thought. I had no contraption prepared, no bait trap made. Shame, shame, shame on me.

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Swarms are common in hives that have successfully made it through the winter.  It means they’re healthy and productive. They build up fast, become congested, and the queen leaves the hive with half the colony.  It’s not a bad thing, unless the beekeeper can’t retrieve and rehive them.  Swarms will stay in place for minutes, hours, even days. It depends on how long it takes the scout bees to find a new location. They’re actually very docile because they no longer have a home to protect.  Thinking they’d stay put til at least late afternoon, we carried on and planned to deal with them later.

We were expecting my in laws for lunch. They arrived around 11 am, within 15 minutes after the swarm occurred. Our visitors left about 2 hours later and the hubster made a light speed trip to get supplies for devising a bucket conduit. I was supposed to watch the bees. 5 minutes after he left, the swarm began to stir, and instead of watching, I reacted by running to the garage for who knows what…A bait trap?…A bucket? I came back and they were gone. Ugh!!! I had no idea where they’d gone.

What a disappointment.  I was angry at myself for knowing it was coming and not having a plan – hard lesson learned. However, I was glad we got to see it, that we weren’t at work when it happened, and that we knew it had happened. Timing is everything with these girls. They do what they want, when they want. Heading them off comes with knowledge and experience. I have a long way to go in that department.

The hubster returned with his conduit contraption…just incase. I walked the yard, listened for nearby screams from terrified neighbors…nothing, nada, all those bees were gone. At least that’s what we thought…

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.

 

New Package for Yellow Hive

Monday, April 14, 2014

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It’s that time of year, everyone is getting the call to pick up their packages and nucs for spring bee hive installations.  I added myself to the list early on as a safety precaution, and I’m glad I did because yellow hive has been sitting empty since February.  I received the email on Friday that my package (a 2 lb box of bees complete with queen) would be ready on Monday as early as 7am.

Mother Nature Not Helping

I figured I’d go pick up my new bees early and get them installed before heading to work.  But mother nature had different plans.  After a most perfectly gorgeous spring weekend, I woke up to a cold, cloudy, and insanely windy Monday. Ugh.

I thought the day might warm up in the afternoon, so I left at lunch, picked up the girls (still cold, windy and cloudy), went home and got them into their new digs.  I’ve never installed a package before.  It wasn’t difficult, now that I have a little bee experience under my belt.  But I can see how it would be intimidating for a beginner.  Keep in mind though that bees without a hive to defend are naturally docile.  They fly around but they aren’t aggressive or stingy.  Regardless, wear your gear as a precaution.

What’s a Package?

A package includes 2 lbs of bees (about 3500?), a can of sugar syrup for feed, and a queen cage containing the queen and several attendants.  Queens are marked a different color each year so you can identify her and the year she was installed.  This year is green.  All of this comes in a nice compact wooden screened box. You can imagine the buzz during our ride home.  The girls were very excited!

Installing the Package

I’m sure there are many ways to install a package, but here’s what I did, and it worked like a charm.

1. Hive configuration:

1  8-frame box
3-4 center frames w/ drawn comb – (keeps the queen safer and gets the bees started more quickly)
2 frames of honey – one on each side of comb frames (feed for cold eves – more freezing temps expected)
3-4 fresh foundation frames on the outside edges (to allow room for growth).

2. Spray 1:1 sugar syrup to settle them down and occupy them while prepping for the install. (see below)

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3. Remove several center frames to give space to dump bees.

4. Remove can of syrup. Bees will start flying at this point. (see below)

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5. Remove queen cage and set aside. (see queen cage below)

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6.  Take the large wooden box, with the hole facing top, lift it a few inches and slam (not too hard) the bottom on a hard surface so that the bees drop into a ball at the bottom of the box.

7. Then slam (again, not too hard) the side of the box on a hard surface to further condense the ball of bees into the corner of the box.

8. Turn the box over and shake the bees out of the hole, dumping them into the open center area of the hive.

9. Repeat steps 6-8 until most of the bees are emptied into the hive. (see below)

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10. Gently add the frames back into the center of the hive. Bee very careful, they won’t drop in completely right away because of the mounds of bees located at the bottom of the hive, but gradually the bees will move up onto the frames and the frames will lower into position.  Be patient with this step.

11. Poke a hole through the candy in the queen cage.  This helps facilitate the eating of the candy plug that allows for the release of the queen over a course of several days.

12. I insert my queen cage differently, and it has worked for me just fine. Insert the queen cage between two frames, under the top bars, embedded within the comb.  I insert mostly horizontally with the candy side tilted up slightly.  This prevents the exit from being blocked should any of the attendants die.  A blocked exit means the queen can’t exit the cage.  I also place the screen side down so the bees have easy access to the queen.

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13. Once everyone is installed, I close her up and feed, feed, feed with 1:1 sugar syrup.

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14. Some bees will likely be loitering in the wooden box.  Place the box with left over bees on the ground just beneath the hive entrance.  They’ll all march into the hive when they’re ready.

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Freezing Temperatures and a New Package

Not a great combination, but it is what it is.  We had freezing temps all week.  As long as the queen is inserted within drawn comb with easy access to the bees, and as long as the bees have honey stores to feed on, then all should be well.  You don’t want the queen to bee on fresh foundation.  The bees might easily cluster away from the queen, leaving her to freeze.

Several Days Later

I checked on the hive Thursday (3 days later), the queen still hasn’t been released, but she looks alive and well.  All the bees are active and building comb fast, all over the cage and up to the inner cover.  Giving it one more day.  If she isn’t released on Saturday, I’ll dig out the candy and free her into the hive.

Yay! Yellow Hive is Back

We’re all happy to have Yellow Hive back in action.  Of course, Blue Hive was curious and had to come out and see what the fuss was all about.

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Green and Blue Hives 

Green Hive is still slow.  I suspect they have too much space, or the queen may be doing poorly, so I’ll need to combine it with Blue or Yellow Hive, or find a new queen soon.  Blue hive is active, but hoping they become more active as the weather warms again.  This fluctuation in temps is crazy.  Regardless, we’re in full swing now so let the decision making begin!

Coming soon – DIY solar wax melter, soap making, and harvesting beeswax from comb.  Woo hoo!

 

 

The Queen is Free

August 24, 2013 (Day 106) – Inspection

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I’ve been checking on Blue Hive 3 (BH3) over the past few days, since introducing the queen. It can take anywhere from 2 days to an entire week for her to be released. I checked on day 3 and day 5. I suspect she was released on day 7. Today I found an empty queen cage, lots of bur comb, and tons of active little bees. I did look for the queen and didn’t find her. Doesn’t mean she isn’t there, just means she was hiding from me.

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BH3 is still a very young hive, so I’ve kept a watchful eye on it since neighboring Green Hive 1 (GH1) is a big bully and likes to hang out front and sneak their way into BH3 for a little robbing frenzy.  I put the entrance reducer to the smallest size.  There’s not much activity yet at the front of BH3, so their guard is still down.

I also noticed inside the hive that the two end frames were practically untouched.  I split them up and put one on each end so they can be filled out.  Judging from the staircase of comb that travelled from the top of the frames to the top cover, the girls could use some more room.  Tomorrow I’ll head to my bee supplier and purchase some proper extra boxes and a proper top cover so they can start expanding upward.

I’m surprised at how well the plastic boardman feeder is working for BH3.  As a front feeder I can understand the robbing sensation they create, but within a closed top box it works very well.  However, I’m such a clutz and always end up spilling, not that the bees complain.  Quite the opposite.  They go nuts!  In fact, I was mixing a batch last weekend and we had the kitchen window open (screen down, of course).  A dozen bees were buzzing outside the kitchen window.  The little buggers could smell the sugar syrup and the Honey B Healthy from outside, so you can imagine what the scene is like when there’s a pool of syrup open right next to their hive.  Gear is good.

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Feeding frenzy on the mash pile. Starting to see a mix of different types of bees.

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Green Hive is crazy active and doing super.  Like I said, they’re the bully hive, having endured Yellow Hive 2’s low period and now seeing their little neighbor hive at a relatively weak point, their strength has gone to their heads.

GH1 is still foraging like crazy on the clover in the yard and on late blooming plants.  The rain has perked everything back up.  Chunks of pollen are carried in and they’re sucking down a gallon of sugar syrup every 2 days.  I was considering emptying the bees out of their Box 5 and transferring it to BH3, but they need the space, and if they can draw out and fill that top box with stores, then that would be great for helping them get through the winter.

Yellow Hive 2 is Back

YH2 has really come to life.  They’re happy with their new queen and GH1 isn’t messing with them anymore.  They aren’t drinking as much syrup as GH1, maybe a gallon every 4 days.  Still not too shabby.  I didn’t bother them.  If it ain’t broke, leave them alone.

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Empty queen cage and a nice little gift of bur comb from the bees.

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Happy little family of hives.

I’m happy now that everyone seems to be on the right track.  No honey this year, but have been collecting the bur comb and hope to make some lip balm or face cream or something out of it.  Come heck or high water, I will give away some product from the hives this holiday season!

Then There Were Three

August 18, 2013 (Day 100) – Part 2

Yellow Hive 2 (YH2) forced me to make yet another quick executive decision.  This hive decided to requeen itself, which (thank goodness) we discovered just before we requeened the hive ourselves. This surprise left us with a beautiful $50 Texas Buckfast queen and no hive.  So I decided to split GH1 since it is very strong and should quickly make up for any contributions to its new little sister hive.

The Night Before

The night prior, I carefully went through the frames in GH1 and transferred two frames of honey and nectar, a frame of eggs and larvae, and two frames of capped brood to a nucleus hive, which is essentially a 5 frame box.  I looked at every frame very, very carefully to make sure none contained the queen.  I didn’t see her at all and suspect she was in the bottom brood box, safe from Beezilla.

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I did this the night before for two reasons:

  1. To give the new hive a 24 hour separation period from their current queen so they will hopefully be more accepting of their new queen, and
  2. To get them acclimated to their new location, right between GH1 and YH2.  If there’s no acclimation, then they may be inclined to return to GH2 rather than stay and prosper in BH3.

I believe the transfer was a success.  We let the bees rest in their new location until tomorrow when they meet their new queen.

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…v

I was in the garage at 8:30 PM last night painting boxes, because our new addition must have its own identity.  It must fit with our calypso, Caribbean colorfest in the garden theme.  

This new addition is completely unplanned.   But then the girls have been driving this show since day 1, so I really shouldn’t be surprised by the curve balls they keep throwing at us.  Ironic though that Blue Hive 3 (BH3) should become the newest member of our Boo Bee Apiary on Day 100 of this wild adventure.

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Pulling a Hive Out of Our Ying Yangs

We had the two boxes all painted and ready to go, but no bottom board, launch pad, entrance reducer, inner cover or top cover. We drove to our bee supplier first thing in the morning and he was closed! Ugh! We needed a complete hive and FAST! Our queen wasn’t faring well in that tiny little queen cage and we needed to get her in today!

My amazing and brilliant hubster offered to give up his play day with beer to build the pieces I needed to complete my hive. We visited Lowes and bought the supplies then quickly headed back home. While I made zucchini bread, he ripped out a top notch launching board, a screened bottom board, an inner cover and a top cover. His first time ever building these pieces, and as always he did a stellar job. We did learn that unless you build in bulk, it is NOT cheaper to build your own hives and hive parts. I’ll stick with my bee supplier, when he’s open. Homemade is good for now.

BH3 is Born

I decided to keep the hive closed in for another day, just to be sure they would be acclimated to their new location. So we placed a complete strip of wood across the hive entrance. I opened the nuc and was very pleased to see a very large population of bees. Just as I transferred my first two hives back in May, I moved the frames and placed them into the new hive in the exact same order.

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I added a strip of velcro to the queen’s cage, and placed the other half of the velcro on top of a center frame so she could hang between the brood frames. The velcro worked perfectly. We hung her between the frames, candy side up and screen facing out between the frames so the Queen could be attended to.

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Feeder Lesson Learned

I shook in the remaining bees and closed up BH3 leaving a boardman feeder in a second top box. Accidentally I left the feeder on top of the hive until I was ready. I walked away for 2 minutes and returned to a feeding frenzy. I shooed them away and proceeded to grab the feeder by the cup, collapsing the feeder and releasing syrup everywhere. It was a robber’s sugary dream. I managed to clean most of it up and rinsed the sugary areas with water. Lesson learned!

Reflection

I have to say that I’m actually proud of our split and how we handled the whole YH2 situation. Ok, so I’m not the most calm, cool and collected beekeeper; I still fumble around the hive; and yes, I lost a few winks of sleep worrying about the girls, but this whole scenario has taught me so much and I do love a happy ending.

BH3 will be a bit of an experiment. We’ll baby it through the winter and hope for the best.

If someone had told me this time last year that I’d have 3 bee hives, I’d have thought they were nuts. Pretty amazing really. Right now I think 3 is all we can handle. This increases our chances of getting a hive through winter, thus improving our chances for honey next year. Woo hoo!

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