Tag Archive | chamber

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…

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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

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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.