Tag Archive | cluster

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.

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Do Bees Hibernate?

January 31, 2016 (Sunday)

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Temperatures got up to a whopping 54 degrees today!  After weeks of freezing temperatures and a 3ft snowfall, I finally had the chance to check on my girls and restock their candy supply. 54 degrees is still somewhat cold for the bees.  I certainly wouldn’t start pulling out frames and breaking apart boxes until the temps are at least in the 60’s.  Below 50 degrees, the bees begin to cluster.  Bees need to cluster in the cold because that’s how they generate heat and stay warm.

What Bees Do During the Wintertime

People often ask me if the bees are hibernating.  Well, bees don’t really hibernate.  Yes, they collect food to prepare for the winter, and yes, they stay in their hives during temperatures below 50 degrees.  Once the temps drop into the 40s or lower, the bees cluster around the queen and they use their wings to generate heat.  The larger the cluster, the more heat they can generate and the better chance they have of surviving the winter, as long as there’s enough food in the hive to keep them from starving.  Bees don’t sleep.  They work around the clock…each one has a role and a purpose.

Opening the hives in temperatures below 50 degrees risks breaking the cluster.  Best not to disturb the bees in the cold.  When the cluster is broken, or when bees get separated from the cluster in the cold, they can freeze.  So my rule of thumb is, if I see the bees out and about, then it’s ok for me to open the tops of the hives and add candy.

Checking on the Girls

I schlepped up to the hives to find them flying in full force, and judging by the blanket of bees atop the blanket of snow, they’ve been super busy cleaning house.  This is a good thing.  They clean all the dead bees and debris out of the hives whenever possible.  This helps prevent disease and keeps the colony healthy.  They’ve also been busy taking orientation flights (another term for much needed potty break), and bringing in pollen.  Yep, the little buggers found pollen in this desolate white land.  Gotta love their spunk!  It was a happy sight, indeed.

RIP Green Hive

I’d been anticipating the demise of Green Hive since the last time I’d checked on them.  Lots of bees were flying in and around the hive.  I also noticed some bees fighting at the bottom entrance (shown below).  A sign that Green Hive was being robbed by the other bees.

I opened the top and sure enough, the other bees were robbing the remaining candy and honey, and Green Hive’s cluster stared up from between the frames in a dead, frozen state (shown below).  Not one of my prouder moments as a beekeeper since I decided to take them into winter with two boxes rather than combining them with a stronger hive.  Another lesson learned…

Freezing temperatures are best for preserving dead hives since parasites won’t infest the hives as long as the temperatures are freezing.  Once things start to warm up in March, I’ll clean it up and get it ready to take in a new split colony in the spring, along with Blue Hive.

Recycled Swarm Trap

As I walked around the garden I noticed that the swarm trap that had been left up since last spring, has been claimed by some other form of wildlife.  I suspect squirrels.  They chewed large holes in both sides, and another hole that appears to be stuffed with garbage – plastic, paper, and who knows what else (shown below).  Well, if it couldn’t house a swarm, then I’m glad something else found a good use for it.  We’ll build another one in a few months and hope that it catches more swarms than this one did.

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After this weekend, we’re all back in cabin fever mode.  Hope it won’t be too long again before we get another reprieve.  Stay warm everyone and let’s hope Mr. Groundhog doesn’t see his shadow.  Early spring would bee nice :o)

 

 

RIP Yellow Hive…Again

Saturday, January 17, 2015

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Winter is a period of worry and uncertainty when it comes to the bees.  Yesterday was in the 40’s, so I took the opportunity to peek in on them and add candy.  The only hive that showed any sign of life was Mint Hive.  That doesn’t mean they aren’t clustered down in the bellies of the hives keeping warm, but it certainly stirs up anxiety about what I did, should and shouldn’t have done, and whether I’ll have any hives left by time spring gets here.

Yellow hive, my strongest going into winter, was found at the top clustered and dead.  They had plenty of stores, the hive looked dry inside.  Maybe the cold got to them, maybe they starved regardless of stores, maybe they separated and froze.  I don’t know.  When things warm up a bit I’ll get in and take a closer look.

Last year when this happened I was crushed.  This year, its disappointing and frustrating, but not the end of the world.  If I lose all 5 hives, then I’ll most certainly be on the verge of hanging up my bee suit.  But I’ve got too much invested, and I love my bees.  Worst case, I’ll learn from my mistakes, start with two new packages in the spring, and get a better plan in place for next winter.

All the best to everyone else’s hives this winter.  Stay warm, read up, and get that equipment prepped.  Doesn’t seem like it now, but spring will be here soon!

Our First Swarm – Part 2

May 25, 2014 (Sunday)


Our first swarm and we lost our bees. I was so upset.  The hubster stayed outside and was piecing together the conduit contraption that he rushed out to buy. If I’d kept watch, as I’d been tasked to do, I would have seen where they went, but in the heat of the moment I ran off to seek a last resort and returned to an empty branch and no bees.

I went upstairs to post a message to my bee club when the hubster yelled for me to come back outside, “hurry”! I ran like the wind and saw the cloud of bees erupting from above the trees, just a few feet below their original site.  They’d settled behind some bushes where we couldn’t see them.

This time we sprang into action and began work on a swarm trap. Using an old computer box, I inserted one frame of brood comb and used some nails to tack it in place.

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We taped the lid closed and carefully taped every visible seam and opening. One hole was left open as the entrance. I added several drops of lemongrass oil at the entrance as the lure. We then adhered the box to the top of a ladder and set it below the swarm’s location, just outside the dense shrubs. Then we watched and waited.

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We sat outside and wheels kept turning and turning.  I watched YouTube videos on how to make swarm traps, and the hubster was thinking about how to hoist the bait trap higher in the tree and closer to the swarm. I knew the lightbulb came on when he jumped up and ran into the workshop.  Ten minutes later, he emerged with another contraption. A platform piece of wood tied at the corners with rope and attached to a long piece of rope that was weighted at the end with some heavy metal hardware.

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After watching the Fat Bee Man make a swarm trap from a nuc, I ran to retrieve my nuc. Two bait traps have gotta be better than one. Using a Q-tip, I applied a ring of lemongrass oil around the inside of the box and added 5 new foundation frames. The hubster nailed on a flat plywood cover, and I added the entrance reducer and bottom board.

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The hubster finally managed to hoist the rope over a high branch.We adhered the nuc to the platform, the began lifting it higher and higher, til it reached bee height.

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We tied the rope to our well pump.  Now we had two boo bee traps!

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With renewed hope, we returned to the patio where we watched and waited, as though the girls would simply emerge and file themselves neatly into one of our traps. Of course that didn’t happen. And so, with another busy day gone to the bees, we wait and we hope…

RIP Yellow Hive 2

Yellow Hive 2 (YH2)

May 11, 2013 –  February 2, 2014

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Sunday, February 2, 2014

Our 50+ degree weekend unveiled some bad news.  Yellow Hive 2 (YH2) has died.   YH2 was always a challenging colony.  It never behaved as actively as green hive, and never built up as quickly as green hive.  It threw me curve balls – like the time I discovered it had requeened itself just when I was ready to give them a $50 Texas queen.  Thanks to YH2, we have Blue Hive 3.  

Although YH2 started off strong, I could tell in late November that their numbers were starting to diminish.  They were still flying two weeks ago, then cold temps returned.  Its loss is not a huge surprise, but still disappointing and sad since somewhere along the way, despite my best efforts, worry, lack of sleep and second guessing, something went wrong.  YH2 is my first hive loss.

Suspected Causes

I opened the boxes and noticed a considerable amount of moisture had accumulated on the frames and comb and the interior felt damp.  The brood comb even appeared to be growing mold across the frames.  Mites were also visible among the dead bees, and the bottom board revealed quite a few mites, as well.   With these problems and the cluster’s decreasing size, the girls just weren’t able to stay warm and likely froze to death.  The cluster, although small, was still in tact, and the hive will remain intact for outdoor storage until the warmer temperatures set in.

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Moisture accumulated in the form of sugar syrup on the surfaces of the frames. Mold was beginning to form. The brood had been abandoned and they left quite a bit of uncapped sugar syrup in the brood chamber.

The cluster was small and intact.  To the right of the dead bees is a small dark dot that is a varroa mite.

The cluster was small and intact. To the right of the dead bees is a small dark dot that is a varroa mite.

Lessons Learned and Corrective Actions

If the air flow in the hive is not adequate, then moisture can’t escape.  Moisture is a huge enemy to bees, especially in cold weather.  Some thoughts on what might have gone wrong and corrective actions …

  • Covered Top Frames Too Heavily with Candy.  Covering the top frames blocks air from circulating up top, thus preventing moisture from escaping.  I’m told that candy and supplemental feeding should cover no more than 1/4 to 1/3 of the surface over the top frames, and that area should be the section that first receives the morning sun.
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Top frames are completely covered with candy, thus preventing air from rising to the top and moisture from escaping. Another mistake was leaving in the hive beetle traps since they also block air and prevent ventilation.


  • It was suggested that the top spacer containing the cedar chips might actually prevent air flow.  Instead, I plan to remove the box and add a stick or something that will raise the top telescoping cover just enough to create a small opening that will allow air to flow in and out.
  • I also added a mite board to Yellow and Green Hives early on to provide solid bottoms.  This too may have caused less air flow in the hive.  I was told not to abruptly remove the mite board from green hive because the bee cluster situates itself in the location that is the warmest.  By abruptly removing the mite board, they’ll be exposed and may not be able to adjust to a new location quick enough, and they may end up abandoning some of their brood because it’s too cold for the nurse bees to care for it.   I wish someone had told me this a day earlier before I so abruptly removed GH1’s mite board.  Ugh.
  • One last suggestion was to stop feeding syrup earlier in the season.  I stopped liquid in October, just before packing them up for winter.  I need to stop this year by, say, mid-September.  The frames showed quite a bit of uncapped sugar syrup, adding to the liquid and moisture in the hive.  Bees need time to not only store and cap their food, but it also needs some time to dry out a bit.  The reason we feed candy in the winter is because they don’t digest the liquid diet well, thus requiring more flights to relieve themselves.  The same goes for their stores.   If they syrup is still runny, then its like feeding them a liquid diet in the winter, which produces moisture in the hive and can result in nosema and disentary.  Moisture in winter is just bad all around.

Next Steps

  1. Apply Lessons Learned to green hive so they don’t endure the same demise – clear frames, remove cedar chips, prop top cover.
  2. Keep yellow hive boxes and comb outside for storage while temps are still cold, but plan for storage of extra drawn frames once the weather warms.
  3. Even with mold, bees will clean out the frames in the spring and reuse as they see fit.
  4. Order one or two packages just to be sure I have at least two hives going in the spring.
  5. Plan to stop feeding earlier in the season next year so they have time to cap and dry out the stores before they are put away for winter.

Farewell YH2

YH2, you were a good hive, one of my original two colonies.  You minded your own business and preferred to be left alone.  I’m sorry you didn’t get an experienced beekeeper, but I’m a better beekeeper because of you.  Know that your tolerance and sacrifice will benefit future colonies that will someday call Yellow Hive their home.   RIP YH2.  I hope you’re in a warmer place where you can be out and about making lots of sweet honey.

Winter Clusters – How Bees Stay Warm

I’m amazed at how hardy bees are in the cold.  Usually bees die in the winter due to varroa, nosema, condensation, and other factors.  Here’s an interesting explanation from HoneyBeeSuite about winter clusters and how the bees stay alive during the cold weather.

The cluster stays warm, the hive does not

Natural systems do not waste energy and honey bees are no exception. To survive the winter, a cluster of bees must keep itself warm. While it does this efficiently, it makes no attempt to heat the entire space within the hive.

The warmest place within a hive is in the center of the cluster. The temperature of the cluster decreases as you move toward the outside. The bees on the outside get so cold that they must rotate to the inside. If the inside of the hive were uniformly warm, this rotation would be unnecessary.

Of course, there is some heat lost from the cluster into the surrounding air, and because heat is lost, the bees must continually generate more. If you put your hand close to a heated iron, for example, you can feel the heat. The heat loss from the iron is similar to the heat loss from the cluster. You don’t have to move far away before you no longer feel it. The same is true inside the hive: the temperature drops rapidly as you move away from the cluster.

Nevertheless, the air inside the hive is slightly warmer than the ambient outside air. This is because the hive box itself provides a small amount of insulation. But the R-value of a pine board is not much, which means the difference in temperature between the inside air and the outside air is not great.

Heat rises from the cluster

There is one place in the hive that is warmer than the others, and that is the space immediately above the cluster. That is because warm air rises. One beekeeper in France measured the temperatures in his hive when the outside air temperature was 44°F. He measured 95° in the center of the cluster, 71° immediately above the cluster and 52° in other empty portions of the hive. Other beekeepers have found similar temperature gradients.

For this reason, an insulating layer placed above the bees reduces the rate of heat loss from the hive. Styrofoam, wood chips, or a layer of another material will slow the loss through the roof. But even this has its limits. For one thing, as the internal temperature gets warmer in comparison to the outside air, more heat is lost through the walls, so overhead insulation alone does not conserve as much heat as insulating the top and sides. It is a complex system with no easy answers.

Breaking the Cluster

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Winter Newbie Mistake – January 5, 2014, Sunday

With a forecast of sub-freezing wind chill temps nearing, I got anxious about adding a solid bottom board to Blue Hive 3 (BH3).  Keep in mind, temps were still darn cold – 30’s and 40’s.  I did add mite boards in the bottom of Green Hive (GH1) and Yellow Hive (YH2) to close off any bottom drafts, but those hives are larger and stronger.  BH3 is a little guy that so far (knocking on wood) has survived this cold snowy winter.

The intent was to lift the hive and slide a board beneath it.  Bad idea.  I pryed the bottom with my hive tool and jostled the top of the hive trying to remove the wind barrier frame.  Suddenly bees began coming out.  I began apologizing and willing them to go back in.  We stopped, put the barrier back and dispersed.  Another lesson learned the hard way.  I thought for sure I’d lose BH3 over this one.

The BH3 Verdict – January 20, 2014, Monday

Our first semi-warm day, mid-50’s, since the jostling incident.  I was on vacation, but the hubster kept watch over the hives and reported that bees were indeed coming out of all three hives, including BH3.  GH1 was going nuts.  Tons of bees out and about relieving themselves.  YH2 was also awake, but not nearly as much activity as GH1.  I never know what to think of YH2.  They’ve never been as active as GH1, and just when I think the worst, they prove me wrong.  Best news – BH3 had bees coming out. Yay!  All three hives are still alive for the time being.  I left them plenty of honey stores, and they still have plenty of candy to supplement their feeding.  I shall leave them alone til our next 50-something degree day.

Lesson learned:  Best to leave the bees alone in cold temps.  Any rapping or tapping on the hive could break the cluster, and breaking the cluster could prove fatal to a hive.