Tag Archive | box

Blue Hive Revived and More

April 21, 2016
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The girls have been building up fast this spring, and as mentioned in my last two posts, we experienced two swarms in one weekend.  Both were retrieved and rehived – one is happily rehomed in Green Hive, and the other in Blue Hive.  However, the Blue Hive swarm left the hive (absconded) within a day.  That left Blue Hive empty again.

I had planned to inspect the hives that same weekend to give them space and check their food, but with all the excitement, I had to postpone the inspections until they settled down.  I took a half day from work several days later, when the weather was sunshiny and perfect.  I could take my time and perform a proper inspection.

Pre-Inspection Prep

Preparation is important prior to inspecting.  I had extra boxes, drawn frames, undrawn frames, honey frames (covered so as not to encourage robbing), fume board, tools, and smoker.  You never know what you’ll find in these hives, so it’s good to bee prepared for any scenario.  I’m much better about taking my time now, one hive at a time.  They say “get in, do your business, and get out”.  I follow this to an extent, but I’m also very careful to process what I find as I go, and make smart quick decisions that are most beneficial to the bees without rocking their world.

Purple Hive

Purple Hive was filled with bees, honey and brood.  They looked great and I was really hoping to find some queen cells so I could make an easy split for Blue Hive.  I don’t need a queen cell to make a split.  As long as they have good frames of eggs and larvae, they’ll figure it out themselves.  But considering it takes ~3 weeks for them to make a new queen from scratch, then factor in the time for mating and laying, its much faster and less risky to just give them an nice fat ready-made queen cell.

I didn’t find any queen cells in Purple Hive, which indicates that they likely did NOT swarm.  I set up a new box of checker boarded frames (honey on ends, and alternate drawn and undrawn frames in the center) and added it just above the bottom box to directly expand the brood chamber and give the queen plenty of room to lay and the other bees plenty of room to spread out.  I put “Humpty” back together again and move on to Mint Hive.

Mint Hive

Mint Hive, my active and temperamental Texas bees, had swarmed on Sunday and upon removing the inner cover, it was evident that their numbers had reduced, shown below.

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I used the fume board to clear out and remove the top box.  The other boxes were full of bees, honey, brood, and lots of queen cells.  I snagged a frame w/ a gorgeous fat queen cell and transferred it to Blue Hive, along with some good honey and brood frames, and plenty of bees.  A feeder was added and Blue Hive was back in business.   I’m happy to report that they’re building up well and everyone seems healthy and happy.

Yellow Hive

Yellow Hive was much the same as Purple Hive.  Lots of bees (shown below), but no signs of swarming.  I gave them the same treatment, adding another checkerboard box above the bottom box, and letting them grow and prosper.

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A few weeks later….Supers are on!!!

May 7, 2016

Within a week after the inspections, I added the supers.  Wisteria is starting to bloom, dandelions are out, the nectar flow is on!  We don’t want to miss a beat.  Plus, the supers give them more space…always a good thing this time of year.  Of course, as soon as the supers are added to Purple, Mint and Yellow hives, Mother nature drops the temperatures about 20 degrees and rains on our parade, for a week and a half straight!  Ugh.

The girls jump at every opportunity to get out of the hives and forage.  Purple Hive is bursting, so I’ll split them at my soonest opportunity.  I need to find more space to put nucs and possibly more hives.  The hubster will be thrilled…not.

Green and Blue hives are developing nicely.  I’m keeping them fed.  The garden is bursting and soon we’ll bee planting our veggies. Spring is already flying by fast!

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Gather, Extract, Bottle

Sunday, July 12, 2015


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You know that saying about something is attracted to something like bees are attracted to honey?  Unless you’ve actually extracted honey, you couldn’t possibly know just how attracted to honey they really are.

Bees smell honey. Then they go tell their friends where to find the honey…and they tell their friends…and they tell their friends…and within minutes the driveway, the garage, the pool, the entire front yard is enveloped in bees, like something out of a horror movie.  Then the hubster is unhappy because he can’t in the pool because it’s surrounded by bees, and I need to get the bees out of the garage…and don’t let them in the house cause the cats will chase them and get stung…then I’m pulling out the hose to squirt the bees away and wash the honey smell off the floor, the driveway, anything and everything’s that’s come in contact with the honey.  Not to mention, I kick into rescue mode and start fishing the little buggers out of the pool.  All of this is hypothetical by the way :o) Next year we’ll sneak everything out of the garage and into the workshop around midnight when the bees are sleeping.

The hardest part of extracting honey is not letting the bees know you’re doing it.  Stealth is key.  I learned my lesson last year, escaping with uncovered boxes down to the garage and leaving them outside for even a few minutes and attracting hoards of bees that hovered outside the garage door all day.

Based on that experience, I improved my process this year.  In fact, I was quite pleased with myself and how I managed to bypass the drama that we experienced last year.  At least until the hubster opened the garage door the next day while the honey boxes and some leftover honey were sitting on the garage floor.  Not to mention, they smelled the remnants from the day before.  Bees are smart!  But getting back to extraction day, I actually came up with a good process.  Not a perfect process, but a good one.

Step 1.  Prepare

Think smart.  Preparation is key.  Get the tools and brush ready, get the fume board ready, get a wheelbarrow ready, get top covers ready, have the smoker going, get the gear on, and have a completely enclosed facility ready to house the honey.

Step 2.  Fuming the Bees, One Box at a Time

  • Put a top cover top side down in the bottom of the wheel barrow.
  • Lightly smoke around the top edges of the hive and at the entrance to let them know you’re coming in.  But not too much.  You don’t want to smoke in the honey.
  • Spray the fume board 3 times with the almond scented fuming spray, and place the board on top of the hive.
  • Wait  5 – 10 minutes for the bees to clear out.

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Step 3.  Remove the box

  • Most of the bees should bee out of the top box by now, so remove the top box and place it within the top cover that’s in the bottom of the wheel barrow.
  • Immediately place another top cover securely on top of the honey box so that it is completely closed on the top and on the bottom.

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Step 4. Fume again and escape (bee stealthy) with the honey

  • Spray the fume board one or two more times, then place on top of the next box to bee removed.
  • While the fume board empties the next box, quickly run your honey super down to the garage or where ever you’re extracting.
  • Life the lid and brush off as many bees as possible – what’s left will go into the garage with you along with the honey box.
  • Close the door behind you!!!

Step 5.  Repeat steps 2-4

If successful, then you’ll have all honey supers safely in the garage, with a small amount of bee activity outside the door, and a small amount of bee activity inside the garage.

It’s gonna happen, some bees will bee caught up with the honey boxes.  Don’t open the garage door to let them out. TRUST ME on this.

We extracted over 100 lbs of honey this past weekend.  That’s from about 5 boxes.  Amazing bees!

Overall Apiary Status

So how have the girls been doing up to this point?  Well, other than finding bee activity in my swarm traps and discovering (after purchasing a new hive, new beekeeping britches, and setting up a new hive location) that they were not swarms but robber bees, we haven’t had much drama.  They’ve endured much rain, and much heat and humidity this summer.  I’ve left them alone, and they’ve been thriving (that should tell you something right there).  And so has the garden.  We have cucumbers coming out our ying yangs, and tomatoes are coming up fast.

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Plans for Using the Honey

So what to do with all that honey?  We’ll sell some of it, give some away as gifts, make alcoholic honey beverages, cook with it, make creamed honey for Christmas presents, I’ll use it in soaps and potions.  So many things we can do with honey.  So you can expect lots of tutorial posts in the coming months.  :o)

In the meantime, I’ve placed supers back on all the hives, and even added a third box to my little yellow hive, which is still taking syrup and is growing like crazy.  Let’s hope the big hives fill out and cap some unfinished frames and build out the rest of the supers before winter.  Trying to follow that 90% rule – only extract frames that are 90% capped.  We can use some late summer honey for overwintering the bees, and maybe they can spare a bit more for us.  We shall see!

 

YH2 Gets a New Addition

June 15, 2013 – Hive Inspection (Day 36)

This morning we had our first inspection in 2 weeks. The girls have looked good from the outside. Still uneven activity with Yellow Hive 2 (YH2) appearing much more populated and busy. But Green Hive 1 (GH1) has been holding its own healthy active phases and there are times when the two appear to be in synch.

This morning was beautiful, in the mid-80s, mild breeze, dry and sunny. The sun hadn’t quite made it to the apiary yet, but the husbster was pressuring me to get on with it since he had other chores vying for my time and attention.

I did two things differently for this inspection.

  1. I used the disposable rubber gloves instead of the bulky leather gloves. I had heard on The Beekeeper’s Corner podcast that bees can’t sting through the gloves. And although they are used once and thrown away, they fit nice and snug on my small hands, making it much easier to handle the boxes and frames. They worked like a charm.
  2. Instead of a brush, I used a 12 inch clipping of mint brushing them away. Using a feather or a plant clipping to flick them aside is much more gentle on the bees.

I had checked their feed the night before and both buckets were completely empty. Being cooped up during all that rain made them hungry. So I whipped up a pot of 1:1 simple syrup using 4 quarts of sugar and 4 quarts of water. Divided between the two hives, they go through this much sugar syrup each week. Guess we’ll be heading back to Costco for another supersize bag o’ sugar!

GH1

GH1 is the hive that’s had me concerned from the beginning. If you remember from an earlier inspection, this one had the drone cells and later some small queen cells. Early on, this hive was extremely active, very crowded and I feared it might swarm. After adding the second brood box, they calmed down and became less active. They weren’t producing comb as quickly as YH2, and the top frames only contained a few bees. They’re doing well now, although still a good week or two behind YH2. I don’t know if something happened to the original queen and maybe they produced another queen, or if the other queen is still there. Whatever, it looks as though they’ve worked things out…I hope.

Opening the top box, the outside frames appeared untouched. The center frames had beautiful new white sugar syrup-filled cells and comb with nice capping. I looked and looked for eggs, but since it was still shady in that area, I couldn’t get the sun behind to help me out. I could tell there were many more bees in the top box than last time and they’d made considerable progress over the last two weeks. But it was evident that these girls weren’t ready for a new box yet.

GH1 Producing fresh filled comb and capping.  Good girls!

GH1 Producing fresh filled comb and capping. Good girls!

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Beautiful capped frame!

I did want to pull a frame or two from the bottom box to see if I could find eggs and a queen. The bottom box was FILLED with bees and the outside frames were filled, which is great. So I pulled two frames from the center in attempt to find the queen. I didn’t find the queen, and as with the top box, I couldn’t see eggs. I did find some questionable comb that appeared kinda gray in color. The center frames are filled with dark, older comb. Not far down the road I will swap these for new frames. So that gives me two research projects – 1) what’s the gray comb all about? and 2) to swap old center frames for new ones.

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Not sure what this grayish looking capping is. Hmmm.

GH1 bees were getting a little pissy at that point, so I closed it up and moved on to YH2.

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I received a great tip from my bee supplier. He said if the bees build comb from the frames up to the top cover, then thats’s a good indication they’re ready for another box. When I opened YH2, I immediately saw comb built down from the top cover to the frames. I lifted off the top cover and could see how well the girls had drawn out the side frames. Bees work from the center out. So once the end frames are filled with comb and capping, they’re ready for more space to work.

Again, I looked for eggs and larvae but couldn’t see any. The bees are obviously multiplying. The frames were crowded and the bees looked happy and healthy, so much so that they weren’t even irritated by my presence. I didn’t bother looking in the bottom box. I just took all the signs as good indications that all is well in YH2.

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Beautiful new comb. YH2 is looking really good! Great job girls!

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YH2 has filled in all of their frames and earned themselves a new box.

So our apiary is a bit lopsided right now.  I just hope YH2’s growth in stature doesn’t give GH1 a complex. Based on their post-inspection activity, I don’t think they’re giving it much thought. It’s not a race. The girls have all the time in the world to fill in their frames, at which point, GH1 will earn themselves a new box too.

So fly, forage and prosper ladies!

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Plenty of time for GH1 to catch up. All is well.

Staying Ahead of the Bees

Sunday, June 9, 2013 (Day 30)

Yesterday the temps were in the high 80s to low 90s – sunny, bright, no wind, and a a tad bit humid. The girls are going crazy again, out foraging and flying actively about the hives. I did check the feeders. Green Hive 1 (GH1) still has a good quarter of a bucket filled with sugar water. Yellow Hive 2’s (YH2) bucket was completely empty, so I had to run in and throw together a quick batch – part of which I ended up throwing out because the feeders needed to be cleaned and I didn’t realize it until I’d already poured.  Ugh!

Staying ahead of the girls is a lot harder than I’d imagined.  Based on the amount of new comb they produced last week, their super high activity levels, and their feeding frenzy, I decided that I need to do a better job of keeping up.  They work fast!  So my strategy is to stock up.

Last night I mixed close to a gallon of sugar water for the feeders.  This morning I visited my bee supplier and picked up six medium boxes, frames and foundation, and two queen excluders. We are assembling and painting as fast as possible (AFAP) so I can get two more boxes on during my next inspection, which I hope will be tomorrow or Tuesday. Being true to their gender, the girls don’t like to wait.

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Here’s the good news…once these new boxes are added, I’ll have three brood chambers on each hive. Then I’ll add a queen excluder.  The queen excluder is a screen that is placed over the top of the last brood chamber.  Worker bees can get through the screen to draw comb and make honey in the honey supers (the boxes that are placed above the queen excluder).  The queen is too large to fit through the screen, so she will remain in the brood chamber to continue laying eggs and creating more bees.  This keeps the brood or eggs/larvae out of the honey.

My point is, each week we’re getting closer and closer to honey!  Yay!

Keep in mind though that the first filled honey super goes to the bees for winter feeding. Whatever is left will be for us. But let’s not lose focus.  The first year is about growing the colonies and keeping the bees alive. We are not to expect honey, so I will not jinx by making unknown promises.  However, if the girls decide to reward our efforts with some sweet liquid gold, then bring on the honey!!!

Adding a Second Brood Chamber

May 26, 2013

Inspection 3

Our last inspection was a week prior and the bees were already showing signs of fast growth and crowding, but the frames weren’t drawn out enough to add the second box yet. Then the weather turned overcast, rainy and downright cold from Tuesday through Saturday, so with Sunday being my first chance to check on them, I anticipated they’d be ready to expand into a new brood box.

The day was finally sunny and in the 70s, with a mild breeze. It was late afternoon and the girls were mostly in for the night and not very active. I brought the empty brood boxes with me. I opened the hives one at a time and checked the frames starting from the outside in. I confess, I still don’t know what I’m doing, but I just use my best instincts and do what I think is best. In this case, all frames were completely drawn out on both sides with comb, and I could see that eggs had been laid in the empty cells of the new frames. But only a corner of each side had actually been capped.

The center frames were very crowded and had empty cells, although I forgot to check those for eggs. Ugh, note to self, create a checklist for every inspection. Both hives were progressing in synch, but I did notice some small queen cells in the center frames of the green hive (1), and none in the yellow hive (2).

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At this point I figure if they have a notion to swarm, then they’re gonna swarm and there’s not much I can do about it. I’ve read lots of comments to leave them alone and just let the girls do their thing. Besides, I hate the idea of digging around and destroying their comb with the hive tool. So I decided not to remove the queen cells and left them there for the girls to either clean up or follow their planned path. I’ve read that although queen cells are a strong indication of swarming, sometimes the girls will make them then tear them down.

I added an empty box with clean frames to each hive. Again, I’ve read all kinds of methods about swapping frames around, adding drawn out frames to the top boxes, yada, yada, yada. Being new, I don’ have a bunch of extra frames with pre-made comb. I don’t know if it’s too soon, but I’m on travel this week and won’t get the chance to look at them again until Friday at the earliest. And if bad weather kicks in, it gets pushed even more. So I bit the bullet. They immediately started climbing up into the new frames, so I suspect they’ll begin building new comb straightaway. They’ve gotta be happy to have some elbow room. I just hope they don’t forget about the old frames.

I find myself in a constant state of wonder, trying to guess what they’re doing, whether they’re happy, will they try to leave, am I doing the right things. Then I walk up and watch them busily buzzing around the fronts of the hives and I know that at that moment they’re just fine. That’s the thing, beekeeping is about living in the moment, doing the best you can as you go, accepting whatever happens, learning from it and moving on. I’m learning to accept that, while at the same time continuing to build my knowledge base. I suppose if they were predictable, then this hobby wouldn’t be half as challenging or appealing. Another level of risk that we never anticipated.

Different Hive Personalities

May 22, 2013

Once we got the queen cell non-issue resolved, the weather turned hot and sticky and the bees became more active and more present on the fronts of their hives. Bees like to hang out front when it’s hot outside, much like we enjoy hanging out on the front porch when it’s hot and the house isn’t air conditioned. This is called bearding. They form a sizable cluster that can cover a large portion of the hive surface.  This would make most unknowing passerby’s nervous.

What made me nervous was the difference in activity between the hives. While the yellow hive has a small amount of clustering at the entrance, the green hive bearded half the hive from early morning through dusk.  I was still paranoid about the possibility of swarming, but I had checked the hives and they both appeared to be developing at the same rate and we’d only installed the nucs a week prior.

I posted the question to the Frederick County Beekeepers and sent them the photo below of both hives at 6:30 am.

6:30 AM photo shows a noticeable difference in hive activity.

6:30 AM photo shows a noticeable difference in hive activity.

Members were kind enough to send photos of their hives at the same time of morning, and they looked very similar to mine, with one hive appearing overcrowded and covered in bees, and the other showing no bearding at all.

One member said his hives have different habits and personalities. One likes to sleep in while the other wakes and collects outside in the early hours. One may be more sensitive to loud noises than the other. One may be easy going an unaffected by much of anything. One may be more active and easily irritated.  They’re all different.

Regardless, bearding is normal. Just a chance for the girls to escape the hot crowded hive and enjoy a bit of social time.

When to Add Another Brood Chamber

I also asked about when I should add another brood box since the bees seemed so crowded. The common answer was to wait until the last one or two frames are completely drawn out and capped before adding another box. That’s because bees like to work upward, so if you give them space to go up, then they will ignore the frames on the far sides and use every last bit of the space they’re given.

Association Dues are Paying Off?

I joined the Frederick County Beekeeping Association (FCBA) back when I took the class in January.  The cost is $10 per year and they hold monthly meetings that focus on all different bee topics.  I never attended a meeting and I don’t know any of the members.  For this reason, I hesitated sending questions to the group forum.  But I reached a point where I just needed some help and reassurance, so I bit the bullet and sent them an email.  The responses were incredibly nice, generous and informative.

It’s well known that if you throw out a question to 10 different beekeepers, you’ll likely get 10 different answers, and this was partially true.  It’s fascinating to hear the different practices and the reasons behind them.  But when the answers do coincide, there’s no question of what has to be done.  These people don’t know me from atom, but after several rounds of emails, I already feel like I’m part of the group and I’m eager to attend my first meeting as an official beekeeper.   These people love sharing their knowledge and responding to questions, and I’m more than happy to soak it all in.