Tag Archive | fall

The Price of Slacking

September 7, 2015

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I did more spectating than inspecting this summer. All hives were well populated, honey production was high, and activity was high all summer. I figured they just do better when I leave them alone and that they would continue to do well until it was time to prep for winter. I’d even hoped for a fall honey harvest.  The bees, however, started going in a different direction…

Labor Day Inspection

On Labor Day I inspected the hives for the first time in probably a month and a half. No honey, which wasn’t terribly surprising considering we’ve had a dearth here since the end of July. They’d had plenty of stores, which they’d done a good job of consuming. I swapped frames around, removing the supers and adding honey frames back to the hives.

All hives had brood, but the numbers had dwindled in Purple and Green hives.  Even in Blue Hive the brood patterns were very spotty. That meant either (or both) the queens were weak, they were queenless, or varroa mites were in full force. From what I’ve heard, mite counts are high this year. But I have hygenic, mite resistant bees, and I don’t treat because I’d like for them to stay mite resistant.

I returned to the shop with frame filled supers, a collection of wet nectar and honey frames, dry untouched frames, and dry drawn comb. I separated the frames – dry, wet, honey. Wet frames were set outside so the bees could clean them up (farther than 50ft from the hives, of course). Honey frames were wrapped in plastic and frozen, and dry frames (including the frames cleaned by the bees) were stacked and stored with moth crystals.

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The Search for Three Queens

It was a busy afternoon, but at least I knew where the girls stood. Immediately, I began looking up sources for queens since I hadn’t seen any signs of varroa – the bees looked healthy, no wing deformity, no signs of mites on the bees or larvae. BeeWeaver is where I purchased my existing queens. The bees started out hot, but they are mite resistant, fast producers, and hardy in the winter. The problem was they had no queens available until mid-October. I can’t wait that long. I need queens now so they have some chance of building up their populations before the cold weather gets here. I hate to mix my bees again and would prefer to keep the BeeWeaver lines going, but I also don’t want to risk losing three hives.

The hardest thing about beekeeping is finding a queen when you need one. I can understand completely why people choose to rear their own queens. Or better yet, next year I might put together several nucs in July or August so I’ll have one or two queens and some extra bees available if needed.  Fortunately, I was lucky enough to find a private queen breeder in Pennsylvania, a retired USDA employee with vast knowledge and experience who rears his own hygenic queens. They weren’t cheap, but they’re in the mail.

Lesson learned – what looks good on the outside may not bee so good on the inside. A lot can change over the course of 2 or 3 weeks, so keep up with inspections at least every 3 or 4 weeks.

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Mice, Mold and Another Massacre (or two)

October 20, 2013 – Fall Inspection and Mouse Guard Installs

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FINALLY! My bee supplier scored a shipment of Brushy Mountain mouse guards for the hives. I’ve been waiting to install the mouse guards for three weeks now, since the farmers have been cutting down the corn and harvesting the fields. That means the mice are exposed and seeking refuge in … beehives? Of all places, I know, mice smell the honey, and hives are warm. During the winter the bees are busy clustering and the mice are left to do a tremendous amount of damage to the frames, honey and comb. That’s why we need mouse guards. You can make homemade mouse guards out of wire mesh and other hardware, but I like the Brushy Mountain guards because they’re sized for 8 frame hives, they’re easy to install, they’re sturdy enough to use again next year and the year after, and the things have been selling out for weeks, so I consider that a good testament that they work.

Good Day for an Inspection!

The weather has been consistently wet and cloudy and cold and/or windy. The girls haven’t been out much, so I was excited to see them darting around the hives this morning. It was a gorgeous sunny day, in the low 70s, slightly breezy. I haven’t inspected the girls in several weeks, plus I wanted to replace the hive beetle traps. I’ve seen hive beetles in all three hives. Thankfully the girls are strong and able to guard themselves well against mice and beetles. It’s also getting cold, so I’m hoping this is a close to final inspection before the freezing overnight temperatures begin.

I started with Green Hive 1 (GH1). They’ve always been my strongest hive. The top three boxes are filled with stores…yay!  I considered adding a bee escape board to clear out the top box and consolidate the hive down to 4 boxes, but then I’d end up having to freeze the top box of capped sugar syrup.  I decided to let them continue caring for it since they’re doing such a fine job.  Everything looked good.  They have new hive beetle traps, and 2:1 feed. Easy peasy. I closed them up and moved on to Yellow Hive 2 (YH2).

YH2 has 2 full boxes of stores. I didn’t see brood, but then I didn’t check every frame.   YH2 is like a propolis factory.  They seal the heck out of everything.  And they’re nosy to boot, which makes my job much harder.  I don’t dig much because there’s always risk of damaging the queen, and this time of year that’s the last thing I want to do.  Sure, they can make another queen, but the girls have kicked out all the drones, so she likely won’t be able to mate.  I’m still new at this beekeeping thing. I leave a lot to instincts, common sense and high hopes. They look healthy, numbers are good, they’re defending themselves, stores are strong, no red flags. Works for me.

The “Not So Happy” Dance

While GH1 goes about their business, letting me get in and get out fairly quickly, YH2 bees are more involved.  They guard well, which is good.  They’re also smart.  How do I know they’re smart?  Because they know exactly where to find the opening in the bottom of my pants leg.  There’s nothing like holding a 50 lb box of bees and feeling a bee or two flying around in your pants.  That part is actually much worse than the sting itself.   Thanks to YH2, I have one sting on the front of my thigh, one on my ankle, and one on the back side of my other inner thigh.  If only they’d stay down inside the hives, the inspection would go so much smoother with less casualties.  I’ll be itching in the morning.

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YH2 Meets Beezilla…again

I pulled a center frame from the bottom box. Always a risk since the queen tends to hang in this area. No brood, mostly stores and empty cells. I managed to drop the frame down carefully, but then I pushed the frames together and caught a few bees in between. The buzz was intense and they rose up and out of the hive in a large mass where the mini massacre had just occurred. Beezilla is at it again… I can only hope that I didn’t harm the queen.  I’m always amazed at how emotionally distressed they become when a bee is…well…smooshed.  Communication in the hive is instantaneous and nothing will cause a mass of bees to start buzzing around faster than killing one of their own.

I gave my apologies and put YH2 back together with new beetle traps and 2:1 syrup.  On to Blue Hive3 (BH3).

BH3 – My Pride and Joy

I never truly felt like a beekeeper until I split my first hive.  Blue Hive 3 has been an ongoing experiment, a happy accident.  I’m so happy with how they’ve progressed. Lots of bees, decent stores (although they still hadn’t filled in the end frames so I did some rearranging), they guard themselves well, everyone is happy and healthy, no more robbing.  I’m not moving them to a nuc.  They’ve filled out their two 8-frame boxes quite well.  I have faith in my little hive.  We’ll just have to wait and see how they do.

BH3 is also interesting because these bees are very dark, compared to my other bees.  I’m hoping for some cross breeding in the spring because that makes for a hardier stock.

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Woo hoo! Lots of active, healthy young bees in BH3.

Mold in the Hives

Its not bad enough that we’re battling mice and insects.  I’ve noticed green mold forming between BH3’s inner cover and the top cover.  A result of moisture rising from the sugar syrup and not enough ventilation up top to release it. I cleaned the inner cover and top cover with vinegar to help kill the mold, and I added 1-3/4 inch blocks of 2″x4″ wood to raise the top cover and create some ventilation. Let’s hope that works. I added a few hive beetle traps and 2:1 syrup and closed them up!

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Green mold forming on the inner cover.

Installing the Mouse Guards

Oh, this was fun.  I thought the mouse guards would fit over the entrance reducers.  Wrong!  They REPLACE the entrance reducers.  This meant removing entrance reducers, which are so tight and well propolised in GH1 and YH2 that I spent over a hour digging them out with my hive tool.  BH3’s entrance never fit right anyway, so they were easy.  I was of course dressed in full garb.  The hubster was standing by with the drillI and screw in hand, ready to move in and screw them down, but by the time I finished, the girls were in a frenzy.  When I removed the entrance reducers, they poured out in droves.  The hubster didn’t stand a chance, and God forbid he actually suit up for the occasion.  Nope, I was left to size the mouse guards and drill them in myself, which I wasn’t prepared to do.

You know those action thrillers where hoards of people are try to escape before the walls close in, and for the pure sake of gore, a dozen people are smooshed with heads sticking out and feet hanging down?  Yep, this installation was straight out of a bee horror flick.  The hubster is a pro at drilling in screws.  I, on the other hand, had to be coached from the sidelines.  Those stupid little screws just would not stay on the end of the drill, and working under pressure did not help.  But once I got it, I managed to knock the other two quickly.   Of course, YH2 experienced the most trauma and everyone in the hive had to come out and see what the fuss was about.

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YH2 Not Happy with Beezilla

The guards in now in place. Yay! Although I didn’t see any signs of mice, I placed the mite boards in GH1 and YH2 to check for droppings, just to be safe.  Still some important winter decisions to make and research to be done, but so far so good. Ever forward!

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BH3 using their new guarded entrance

Wooly Worm Predicts a Mild Winter

September 28, 2013 – ApiLife Var and Inspections

The Girls have been very low key lately.  They’re braving the cold nights and still going out and about during the day, gathering a surprising amount of pollen and storing lots and lots of sugar syrup.  The top boxes on Green Hive 1 (GH1) and Yellow Hive 2 (YH2) are heavy!  Yay for them.   That’s been our goal all along – to get everyone through the winter.  I’m happy to report that we’re all on the same page.

Mite Treatments Almost Complete

The 3rd and final ApiLife Var treatment has been added to GH1 and YH2.  The girls have settled down and haven’t reacted much to my recent invasions.  Maybe they’re getting used to Beezilla, or maybe Beezilla is getting better at handling the hives.  Or maybe they’ve finally realized who feeds them.  Or maybe all or none of the above…

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Bees Finally Initiate the Hubster

The hubster got stung for the very first time while clearing out the garden.  He’s officially one of us now.  Part of the Bee Club.  I’m sure he was standing in their flight path.  He always stands in their flight path.  I’d sting him too.  He’s more sensitive than I am, so his feelings were hurt a little.  After all, he does a lot for all of us girls.  Surprisingly the sting under his arm didn’t bother him much.  I was waiting for it to balloon up into an egg sized itchy bump so I could say ” I told you so!”, but it practically disappeared overnight.  So unfair!  Mine itch like crazy for days!

Fall Feeding and Fumagillin

All three hives are still taking in the sugar syrup as fast as I can make it.   I mixed up a batch of syrup with Fumagillin – a medication to help prevent noscema.  Noscema is a common disease for bees – similar to dysentery for humans – and occurs when they can’t get out for cleansing flights, mainly during winter.  I was told that I’m late in giving them the Fumagillin, but the weather still has its warm spurts (in the 80s today) and the girls are out and about plenty, so I think we’re ok.  Besides, better late than never.  I’ll switch back to 2:1 syrup when the Fumagillin batch is consumed.  1:1 syrup is good for building comb and brood, but 2:1 will help them build winter stores.

Drones Get Da’Boot

All three hives also have brood, but the brood production has definitely slowed down.  Dead bees are collecting around the base of the hives. The girls are kicking out the drones.  There’s no need to keep the men in the hives.  They just hang out and eat all of the food.  More will be bred in the spring when the girls need of them for mating.  For now, there’s work to be done and much food to store.  Even my little baby Blue Hive 3 (BH3) has stored quite a bit of syrup, and recently I’ve seen them bringing in large chunks of orange pollen.

BH3 – 8-Frame Boxes or Nuc?

I’m quite proud of BH3.  They’re hanging in there.  The top feeders have eliminated their robbing, however I did find a wax moth larvae.  Can’t do much about wax moths except hope the cold weather freezes them out and the girls can fend them off. I’m still debating whether BH3 should overwinter in a nuc box.  Two 8-frame mediums are not much larger than a nuc.  I don’t have high hopes for BH3 making it through the winter, but I’ll wrap them up, feed them like crazy, and hope for the best.

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Hive Beetles Hiding Out

Hardly any hive beetles have emerged in YH2 over the past two weeks.  Diatomaceous earth is spread beneath all three hives to catch any dropping larvae.  The Beetle Blasters caught a few, but haven’t made a huge difference.  Maybe the colder weather has helped.  Or maybe the ApiLife Var affects the beetles AND the mites.

Planning for Our First Winter

Ask 10 beekeepers a question and get 10 different answers.  That definitely applies to winter preparations.  Lots of decisions to be made. The hubster has built some prototype candy frames that can slide into the hives and feed the girls just like their sugar syrup frames.  I’ll probably make candy boards as well.  We’ll purchase roofing paper to wrap the hives.  Some beekeepers crack the top covers to ventilate their hives during the winter because moisture from condensation is very bad for bees.  I’ve also heard that 1-1/2 inch thick insulation board or foam board absorbs moisture and insulates the hives, so that’s another thought.  Some beekeepers don’t wrap their hives at all.  They leave it to the bees to survive on their own, just like in nature.  One thing is certain, I will install mouse guards as soon as I get some ½ inch mesh.

Wooly Worm Gives Us a Hint of What’s to Come

There’s just no telling what the winter will be like.  Well, actually there is.  We saw a woolly worm the other day.  The width of the wooly worm’s brown center stripe is supposed to be a good indicator of how harsh the upcoming winter will be.  The wider the stripe, the milder the winter.

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This worm’s brown stripe covered 1/3 of its body.  So if the wooly worm is accurate, then the winter will be mild.  Regardless, we’ve worked too hard this summer to slack or take chances.  As with everything else, we shall prepare for the worst and hope for the best.