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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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Making Up for Lost Time

Friday, May 15, 2015

The honey flow is in full force right now.  While everyone else is hacking and sneezing, the bees are taking advantage of the spring blooms. They’re crazy busy collecting pollen and nectar, procreating, and making honey.  Go girls, go!

Chilled Brood

We did have a minor setback about 2 weeks ago.  Frost set in for several evenings, chilling the eggs and larvae, as shown in the photo below, and setting the girls back a week or two.  When I inspected the hives, I naturally thought the queen was once again having issues.  But seeing as I’ve been through this exact scenario only a few weeks earlier, I checked back a week later and found the queens were back in business, quickly laying new brood.

photoHeavy Supers

I added supers to all hives about a month ago.  This past week I lifted them off for inspection and realized how heavy they are already!  That’s exciting news and could indicate a good honey harvest (no jinxing).  By this weekend, I hope to have a second layer of supers on all of my hives.  Good thing I’ve been cleaning frames and boxes.  I’ve stacked quite a few boxes in the greenhouse. Lots of light in there to keep wax moths away.  I’ve given up on maintaining consistent color schemes and have succumbed to mixing them up.

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Expanding the Brood Chambers

In addition to adding supers, my other strategy was to adapt “The Rose Hive” method of adding brood boxes just above the bottom box to expand the brood chamber (laying area) rather than expanding from above.  Bees swarm because they run out of space to lay and/or there’s lack of ventilation.  The theory is that if you continue to expand the brood chamber and ensure they have plenty of room, then they will continue to populate and won’t have reason to swarm.  Makes perfect sense to me!  I don’t believe you can ever prevent them from swarming, but they may bee inclined to stay a bit longer.

With that said, all of these supers and brood boxes are stacking up into some pretty tall colonies.  My next strategy is to start splitting so we can get yellow hive back up and running.

Loving this gorgeous spring weather.  Hard to get upset about the pollen when I know how happy my bees are.  Hang in there everyone, and keep eating your local raw honey.  The more local the better!

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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.

 

Give the Girls Some Space

Saturday, March 22, 2014

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Fresh frames give the girls room to grow and build out new comb.

 

Spring Inspections

About 1 month before the nectar flow, this 70 degree day couldn’t have been more timely.  The bees are waking up, eating like crazy, building out comb, and hopefully will be growing in leaps and bounds.  This is the time to take action by doing a thorough inspection, giving them lots of space to grow, and making sure they have the right food to boost them into production mode.

My goals were:

  • Inspect to see where the bees are located and switch them to the bottom so they can move up the hive.
  • Look for brood and determine whether the queen is in good shape.
  • Clean out the old candy and refill their 1:1 sugar syrup and pollen patties.
  • Remove mouse guards and clean bottom boards.
  • Add a box of new frames so they can build out and grow.
  • Pull capped sugar syrup frames for extraction

Both Green Hive 1 (GH1) and Blue Hive 3 (BH3) are doing well.  The bees were all over the boxes, not just in one place.  Bees tend to move up the hive, so by shifting the busiest boxes down to the bottom, the bees feel there’s more space to expand and grow above, which can help prevent swarming in the spring.  Overwintered bees are much more likely to swarm than first year bees, so space is important.

Blue Hive 

Blue Hive bees were at the top and building comb ladders to get through the inner cover.  At two boxes, they needed space bad.  I inspected for brood and found one frame with a nice centered, circular brood pattern.  I hope that’s the beginning of more to come.  I also saw the queen.  Big red dot, no doubt, she’s still alive and active.  I cleaned their bottom board.  Surprisingly, not many dead bees.  They did a good job of cleaning themselves.  I switched the two boxes, cleared out all of the old candy, added a box of fresh new frames, and gave them a gallon of 1:1 sugar syrup, leaving their pollen patty in place.

Green Hive 

Green Hive had 4 boxes and the bees preferred to reside closer to the bottom of the hive.  They had too much room.  I pulled a top box filled with sugar syrup for extracting.  I didn’t find any brood and I didn’t see a queen, but the bees seemed plentiful and healthy.  I cleaned the bottom board – more bees in this one, maybe 2 cups, normal.  I shifted busy boxes to the bottom, topped with fresh new frames, cleared the old candy, and  gave them a gallon of 1:1 sugar syrup, leaving their pollen patty in place.

Neither hive seemed to be eating the pollen patties.  They had plenty of capped sugar syrup, and the pollen intake was strong last year, so they’re probably getting plenty of pollen from the comb.

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Pollen patty and sugar syrup in ziploc bag feeder.

They also were not stingy.  Not that they weren’t evidently upset at times, but for the most part they were calm.  I didn’t use any smoke and I didn’t get stung once.

Yellow Hive 

We’re waiting for our package to arrive for yellow hive.  I have to prepare the box for the new colony which is expected in early April.

Honey and Wax

I still have quite a bit of capped sugar syrup that I’ve been storing on the hives.  I pulled those and plan to extract this weekend.  I’m recycling some old dark comb and saving the wax.  As soon as styrofoam coolers come back in the stores, I’ll purchase one to make my solar wax melter.  Stay tuned for that tutorial!

Yay Spring!

After what is hopefully the last snow fall, temperatures are moving up into the 60s, and if the weather reports are correct, they should stick and continue to warm.  Will be a wet April, so flowers will be blooming soon and we’ll be planting in the garden this weekend.

Happy spring everyone and may the bees come a buzzing’ very soon!

 

 

Simple Rules for Using Entrance Reducers

June 11, 2013 (Day 32)

When to use and when not to use an entrance reducer? THAT is one of those ambiguous topics that offers no one right answer. Some beekeepers keep them on year round. But as the weather gets hotter and more humid, I feel sorry for the bees and want to give them a larger front porch area on which to hang out and socialize. Then rain comes and I reduce it again. And back and forth. Perhaps I should stop overthinking and just reduce their entrance year round. Ugh! This new beekeeper gig definitely tests my decision-making skills.

The entrance reducer has two different sized openings. The wooden piece can be turned so that only one the openings is used at a time.  There are advantages to reducing the entrance.

1) It reduces the amount of area that needs to be protected by the guard bees, thus making their jobs easier;

2) Hive robbers and invasive critters also have a harder time accessing the smaller entrance; and

3) Supposedly, entrance reducers help to control the ventilation and temperature in the hive.

However, a larger entrance provide more ventilation and it gives the bees more space to fly in and out.  So it’s nice to remove it when the honey flow is on and the temps are hot and humid.

Entrance reducer makes it harder for mice and robbing pests to enter the hive, and helps keep out the cold and wind.

Entrance reducer makes it harder for mice and robbing pests to enter the hive, and helps keep out the cold and wind.

Simple Rules for Using Entrance Reducers

Long Lane Honey Bee Farm, one of my favorite bee sites, offers a few simple rules for using entrance reducers.

When to Use the Small Setting

1) When installing your package of bees for the first time. They can still come and go, but it keeps them from wanting to fly away until they nest.
2) In the winter, when you are trying to keep mice out of your hive.
3) When the hive is being robbed by another hive. There is less entrance to protect.

When to Use the Larger Setting

Anytime you need a larger opening, but don’t want to open it up all the way. This could also be used for all three reasons above.

Should the Opening Face Up or Down?

Down is fine during spring and summer when bees are able to fly out and clean the dead bees out of the hive (yes, bees really carry their dead out of the hive, and drop them on the ground in front of the hive – I have the piles to prove it!).

During the winter, the opening should face UP! When bees die during the winter, if the opening is down, then dead bees will fill up the opening. However, if the opening is facing up, then the bees can still fly out over the dead bees which you can clean out later on a warm day (FUN!)

Can the Entrance Reducer be Removed?

Once your hive is more than a few weeks old, is not being robbed, and the weather is warm, the entrance cleat should be removed and stored in a place where you can easily find it.

There you have it.  If you were confused before, hopefully this will help sort it all out, plus a few key tips for overwintering.  Leave a comment and share how you manage the entrances to your hive(s).

Inspecting the New Brood Boxes

June 2, 2013

Last week we added a new brood box to each hive, so this week’s inspection tasks included:

  1. refilling the feeder buckets
  2. checking the new frames for comb
  3. checking frames for eggs to verify the queen’s presence

Oddly, the two hives had swapped behavior over the past week. Where Green Hive 1 (GH1) had been visibly more active, Yellow Hive 2 (YH2) was now more active. So my main goal, in addition to the checklist above, was to ensure that GH2 is still in good working order.

The overcast had cleared and the sun was peeking out and drying things up after a few morning sprinkles. The temps were around the high 80’s or low 90’s with a mild breeze.

GH1 Inspection

I opened and pulled some new frames from GH1. A few bees had ventured into the new box, but most were still in the bottom box. The frames looked scarce. Quite a transition from how they looked before the new box was added. The bottom chamber was very crowded and busy though. I hoped they were filling in the rest of the original frames. The good news is that new comb had been started on all of the new frames, so I know they’d been working up top.

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I looked for eggs in the cells, which would be a sure indication that the queen is present. I saw only small pools of honey in the cell bottoms. That doesn’t mean there were no eggs. It’s hard to see through the veil, and I later found that I wasn’t holding the frame correctly to look for eggs. I learned the correct method in class, but forgot when the occasion arose. Story of my life these days.

I was holding the frame up toward the sun, when in fact the sun should be behind you with the light shining over your shoulder as you hold the frame downward. I know what the eggs look like, but it definitely takes practice to identify the microscopic white rice-shaped larvae nestled in the center of each cell. I saw nothing. Again, I rested on faith that the queen was intact and doing her job in the chamber below.

YH2 Inspection

As soon as I opened YH2 I could see a significant difference between the two hives. Many more bees were present in the top box, new comb already covered the top frames, and everyone looked happy and busy. Again, I had trouble seeing eggs, but I did see nectar and honey in the cells. The feeder pail was almost empty too. They were feeding well. Since all looked good, I closed up YH2, filled both feeders and called it a night.

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Although GH1 isn’t doing as well as YH2, I’m finally relaxing and feeling like I don’t have to bother them every few days. I’ll keep watch from the outside and will check on them every 1-1/2 to 2 weeks. I have a feeling GH2 will fix itself and both will soon be equally strong. At least that’s my hope.

Anyone out there have similar experiences? Do leave a comment and share!

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.