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Swarm #2 Caught on Video!

Monday, April 18, 2016

Swarm #2 happened the day after Swarm #1.  However, this one we managed to capture on video as it was happening!

Over the past two years, we only ever stared up 40 feet in the trees waving good riddens to our swarms.  They were finally kind enough to land in a 5 ft shrub, so we successfully captured our first swarm and rehomed it in Green Hive.  They’re doing great.

The next day (Sunday) we had a second swarm.  Interesting that all of our swarms have occurred between 11 and 1pm, mostly on weekends.  This one definitely came from Mint Hive.  I managed to video record the swarm as it was happening, which you can see on YouTube above.  Pretty cool, especially for those who don’t know what swarms are and have never experienced one.

Quick recap – swarms are actually good for the bees and a signs that they are healthy and thriving.  Not a fun for the beekeeper if the colony is lost, but healthy and natural for the bees.  It’s their natural way of splitting the hive and making more space so they can continue reproducing and bringing more wonderful bees into the world.  We need them desperately, so if that’s what it takes, then so bee it!

Below is a photo of the cluster.  Yes, these are ALL bees!  Not a nest, not a hive…just 100% pure bees clustering around their queen and waiting for their scout bees to come back and lead them to their new home.  Amazing creatures, indeed.

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Blue Hive Goes Bye Bye

The 2nd swarm was successfully captured and rehomed in Blue Hive (see photo below with the poop deck attached).   There had been lots of commotion in front of the hives for several hours after, but everything calmed down and I thought all was good, until I checked Blue Hive the next day.  The entire swarm had absconded and Blue Hive was left empty.

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New Beekeeping Term – “Absconding”

In the beekeeping world, absconding means that ALL of the bees left the hive and moved on – unlike a swarm where the queen splits the hive, taking half the bees with her and leaving the other half behind.

New colonies are the most common absconders – a newly hived package of bees, or in this case a newly rehived swarm that decides their new home doesn’t feel like home.  A colony can abscond at any time, even years after being established.  Yep, a colony can just pack up and go…poof, bye bye.  They always have their reasons though, usually because they’re bothered by something related to their living conditions.

Lesson Learned

My thought, in the case of Blue Hive, is that the swarm was too large for the 8 frame medium box I had dropped them in.  The 2nd swarm was much larger than the first.  In the future, I’ll set up two 8-frame medium boxes rather than one.  I had planned on adding the new box within a day or two, but they didn’t hang around long enough for that.

My other thought is that maybe the frames hadn’t aired out long enough so they didn’t like the smell.  Could bee a combination of things.

They were Texas bees, very hearty and good honey producers, but a bit hot tempered and quick to swarm.  I’m hoping to get a split from the Pennsylvania bees that I had queened back in the fall.  They’re well-mannered, mite resistant, they’ve reproduced nicely, and they overwintered well.  We just have to see how well they produce honey, but I’m willing to split them anyway.  Afterall, it’s about the bees, not about me getting honey.  I have to remind myself of that sometimes. :o)

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Moving ‘Em Down the Hive

November 3-5, 2013

This is a bee Escape Board.  Bees enter through the hole, which faces up.

Bees enter through the hole, which faces up.

Last weekend was my last chance to add the escape board to Green Hive 1 (GH1) so I could shrink them down to 4 boxes before the consistent freezing temperatures set in.  By reducing their space, the cluster will have less area to heat, enabling them to stay warmer throughout winter.

I’ve never used an escape board, but the guy on YouTube sure made it look easy.  He inserted the escape board beneath the box to be emptied, triangle side down, and he closed off the entrance.  The bees can move down through the board, but they can’t move back up.  Within 24 hours, his top box was empty.  What nice cooperative bees!  Within 24 hours, my box was still full.  Little buggers!

Bees come down through the triangle and exit at one of the three corners.  The triangle is screened, so they can't find their way back up.

Bees come down through the triangle and exit at one of the three corners. The triangle is screened, so they can’t find their way back up.

I’d love to attribute their stubborness to superior bee intelligence.  However, my brilliant girls put me in a pickle.

  1. The weather immediately turned colder.  Can’t work the hives when it’s cold;
  2. Daylight savings time meant coming home from work in the dark.  Can’t work with bees in the dark; and
  3. Leaving a full box of honey stores unguarded by the bees is like sending the hive beetles and wax moths an open invitation to an all you can eat buffet.

The next morning, I was headed to work but decided to check the hives first.  I lifted the lid and sure enough, they crawled down to cluster with the rest of the colony.  Yay, the box was empty, but I had no time to remove it.  I had to get to work! I put the top back on and left.  Half way to work, I realized that I forgot to pull the cover back to block the top entrance.  Ugh.  Nothing is simple…ever, ever, ever.  The box was empty, but I left them a big hole to crawl right back in.  I blame middle-age and Mondays….

I couldn’t get home at lunch and I had plans that night, which meant the box would stay on for one more day (going on 72 hours now).  I called the hubster who kindly covered the top entrance when he got home.  After another night of freezing temps, I went up the following morning at the first sign of light and swiftly removed the box, replaced the escape board with the inner cover and put the top back on.  Done! Like a pro! The box went into the freezer and off I went to work.

The good news is that with every completed new task comes a bit more beekeeping knowledge, and a bit more confidence that I didn’t have before.  More baby steps, we’re just about ready for winter.  I removed feeders from Yellow Hive 2 and Blue Hive 3.  The girls are officially off of their liquid diets and will soon bee on the solid candy diet.  Sometimes a bee’s life doesn’t sound so bad.

The Mail Order Queen

August 11, 2013 (Day 93) – Inspection

Last week we gave Yellow Hive 2 (YH2) a frame of brood from Green Hive 1 (GH1) and we added Beetle Blasters to help with the pest issues. So I had a few things to check on this week. YH2 has been inactive a docile this past week with few bees on the front stoop. GH1 likes to show off by going crazy nuts throughout the day. Complete opposites.

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GH1

I didn’t need to do a full inspection on GH1. It’s easy to see that hive is doing well. It has tons of bees, they’re crazy active. During their active times, I see some side trekkers sneaking over and creeping around YH2. I suspect they’re looking to rob some of their coveted sugar syrup. I’ve seen some bees fighting and I’m glad YH2 is still defending itself fairly well.  GH1 is also bringing in nice chunks of pollen.  A great sign that things are still blooming.

I had put the box of drawn comb that was taken off YH2 into the freezer last week. I read that the best place to store drawn comb is on a strong hive, so GH1 is now 5 boxes tall.  I may employ a step stool for changing the feeder bucket.

Both hives have been taking in about 3 gallons of sugar syrup a week. I can hardly keep up with them. I’m still feeding 1:1 sugar to water, but since stores are needed for upcoming winter months, I’m considering switching to 2:1 syrup soon.

I also found only 2 beetles in GH1’s Beetle Blaster.  No other signs of beetles.  GH1 is doing well all around!

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YH2

YH2 still has quite a few bees. The top boxes are filled with bees feeding in both hives. YH2 consumes their share of syrup too. No hive beetles found in either trap. I was surprised since YH2 had the beetle issues. I did notice how well they had drawn the comb in Box 3 of YH2. Then I lifted it and holy moly it was heavy. They’re not producing brood, but at least they’re storing up for winter.

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Who took the feeder bucket? We don’t want brood! We want food!

I pulled off box 2 and out ran about 10 beetles. I smooshed as many as I could, but those little buggers are fast! I hope they make their way to the top box. I will be ordering 2 of the bottom beetle trays since i think they will be most effective for trapping the beetles. I also moved one of the blasters to box 2.

I checked the frames in Box 2. Mostly dark empty comb. The drone population was heavy – a sign that workers, not the queen, have been reproducing. No sign of the queen. Same situation in Box 1. No queen, no brood, and no activity on the capped brood that I added to YH2 last week. Oh, and no queen cells. Nothing.  I left them with another pollen patty, filled their feeder bucket and closed them back up.

I gave them ample opportunity to re-queen themselves.  Natural is always the preference, as there is always risk involved with introducing an outside queen.  But I need to intervene or their numbers will continue to dwindle and the hive will die.

Finding a queen locally is not easy.  I ordered a new queen online from a Texas company called BeeWeaver Apiaries.  They have their own strain of bees derived from the Buckfast bees.  Supposedly they are easy to keep alive and they are very mite tolerant.  I purchased her marked and clipped.  I’m regretting having her clipped.  At the time I ordered, the idea of having a queen that can’t fly away sounded good, and it only costs $1.  But then my brain starts thinking it’s not natural (like declawing a cat), and then I start reading about how she can’t fly if they swarm, they chase her around the hive but she can’t go anywhere, and how the bees might think she’s injured and they may not accept her, yada, yada.  Ok, no more research.  I’ll just have to take extra precautions to keep them from swarming in the spring.

As usual, I’m learning by trial and error.  Most experts tell you to re queen in the fall anyway, so $50 later ($30 for marked and clipped queen and 19.95 for USPS express shipping) I can understand why so many beekeepers decide to breed their own queens. Ugh, no one said this hobby would be cheap. I just hope it pays off and both hives make it through the winter.

Beetles in the Hive!

July 19, 2013 (Day 69) – Inspection

We’ve been crazy busy and I’ve been trying to leave the girls alone for longer periods of time rather than disrupting them on a weekly basis. They work so hard, then the big evil monster opens up their dark little world, exposing them to the bright sun, then smoking them out and digging through their home. A few friends and family always meet their maker in the process. It really has got to be like something out of a horror film. Yet, it must be done.

This past week, I noticed a change in behavior between the hives. With the nonstop heat hitting the high 90’s, I expected lots of bearding. Green Hive 1 (GH1) usually gathers a small beard on the front while Yellow Hive 2 (YH2) will form a huge beard since it has more bees and has been the more active hive. That hasn’t been the case. While GH1 has been bearding more than usual, YH2 has not been bearding at all. In fact, the number of bees that populate the front of the hive have reduced considerably.

I pulled the top covers off this morning to collect the feeders and in YH2 I noticed a Small Hive Beetle scurrying across the box. I’ve heard of these little buggers, but have never seen one before, until now. Small Hive Beetles can infest and destroy hives, and they breed and thrive in hot weather, so this is not good news.

I went up to inspect the hives in the late afternoon, after the sun had gone down. Usually you inspect hives during peak sun while bees are out and about, but it was just too darn hot and I really wanted the hubster home to assist. I opened the hives around 6pm, temps were around 90 degrees, it was still daylight and slightly overcast.

GH1

GH1 consumed all of their sugar syrup. The top box (which I will start calling Box 3 because it was the third box added) had only two center frames drawn out last time. This time, the girls had drawn out every frame and capped most of the sugar syrup. There were also a very large and growing population of bees. This earned GH1 a new box (Box 4), yay! I did notice they’ve been using lots and lots of propylus. That’s the orange gummy stuff that glues the boxes and frames together – kinda like natural weatherproofing to keep the elements out and to protect the hive. Not a bad thing, just an observation.

I moved down to box 2 and pulled one or two frames. Gorgeous capped brood from top to bottom. My job was done. This hive is noticeably strong and healthy. I’m thrilled. I closed up GH1, added a new box and a new bucket of feed, then moved on to YH2.

YH2

YH2 had not quite finished their feed. Odd considering they’re the larger hive. The top box (Box 4) was added the same time as GH1’s Box 3. Although most of the frames were drawn, the ends still weren’t finished, and none of the comb was capped, it only held some nectar.

Box 3 had lots of bees, the frames were very dark and I only saw nectar, a few drone cells, few isolated spots of capped brood, and lots of empty comb. I also noticed what appeared to be some small queen cells. I don’t worry much about those anymore. They weren’t large, and I understand the bees like to have them around. I looked and looked for the little specks of rice but saw only nectar in the dark cells.

I moved down to Box 2, which before had held nice larvae capped brood and tons of eggs. Today it looked much like Box 3. I didn’t see larvae, I couldn’t find eggs, and I only saw a few spots of capped brood. Disappointing since this was a very strong hive with lots and lots of brood production. There may be brood in Box 1, but I wasn’t going to dig any further. It was obviously things had changed for this hive. They still look heathy, active and plentiful, but not thriving like they were.

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I added an entrance excluder to reduce the size of the area they have to protect. This makes it easier for them ward off unwanted pests and critters. The girls were buzzing up a storm in front of their hive after I closed up and left.

I always have a fear of doing something to the queen when I work the hives. They’re such fragile little creatures. Powerful in their own right, but not as powerful as the monster who invades their home week after week and can so quickly change the course of their colony with one simple wrong move.