Tag Archive | frames

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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Wax Moths…Eww!

September 9, 2015

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I just had my first, and hopefully last encounter with wax moths. My fault…most wax moth encounters are due to the beekeeper’s negligence. I uncovered several stacked boxes of frames with drawn comb in which I had forgotten to add moth crystals. The frames had been stored there since mid-July. I could smell the stench upon lifting the cover – the frames were infested with wax moths, wormy larvae, webs and droppings – like a creepy, disgusting Halloween prop, only this was real.  Blah!

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Wax Moths and Bees

A wax moth infestation can destroy a hive. They like dark, warm areas with minimal air flow; and because they’re highly attracted to beeswax, the combination of dark, closed up boxes with frame upon frame of drawn comb is irresistible to wax moths who prey on and infest weak hives.

I’m grateful they only infested two boxes of frames and not four or six.  I’m even more grateful that they weren’t in my hives. What a horrible demise for bees, and a shameful mess for the beekeeper.

 

Preventing Wax Moth Infestations

There are several ways to store frames to prevent wax moth infestation.

  • Store frames in an airy location with plenty of light. Moths do not like light, nor do they appreciate steady air flow. I’ve heard of beekeepers openly hanging frames across the inside of well-lit buildings or barns, for example.
  • Use a fan to blow a steady flow of air through the frames. The downside would be the 24×7 operation of a fan (or two) over several months.
  • Store frames in a truly airtight container. I know beekeepers who store their drawn frames in airtight rubbermade containers – like the kind you keep clothes in under the bed – and store them in their basements. However, you need to be 300% certain it is truly air tight. Wax moths can access the tiniest of openings.
  • Store boxes and frames outdoors in freezing temperatures. All stages of wax moth will die within 24 hours in freezing temperatures (36 degrees F or lower).
  • Store frames with PDB moth crystals. This is my method (so much for chemical free beekeeping). Only use moth crystals containing paradichlorobenzene (PDB). These will kill all stages of wax moth, except the eggs. The crystals will dissolve gradually over several weeks/months time, so check every few weeks to determine whether the crystals need to be replenished, otherwise, you risk the moths returning. When you’re ready to reuse the boxes and frames, air them out for 2-3 days before introducing them to the bees.

 

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Cleaning Up the Mess

So what steps did I take to clean up this mess and ensure it doesn’t happen again?

  • Freeze the boxes and frames. Wax moths, eggs and larvae will all die if frozen for 24 hours. I have a freezer in the garage for freezing frames and boxes. This luxury has been put to great use over the last 2 years. It’s always a good idea to freeze boxes and frames before moving them to the hives, or even before extracting honey; or for saving honey frames until you’re ready to extract. I can easily fit two 8-frame boxes with frames into our upright freezer.

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  • Clean the frames. I placed a tarp on the ground in the driveway and grabbed my trusty pallet knife and scraped off the webs, droppings and debris, and cut out the areas that were severely damaged.

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  • Store the frames and boxes. I use moth crystals containing paradichlorobenzene (PDB) to store frames with drawn comb. No longer will I boast of chemical free beekeeping – this is my one vice. For me, it’s the easiest, most worry free way to ensure that your comb and boxes are moth free. I simply add a spoonful of crystals on a piece of cardboard that’s placed on top of the frames, then I add another box of frames and another piece of cardboard with another spoonful of crystals. When all boxes are stacked, air tight, then place a top cover on top with a heavy brick or object on top of that to weigh it down.

 

The crystals will dissolve gradually, so check every few weeks to determine whether the crystals need to be replenished, otherwise, you risk the moths returning. When you’re ready to reuse the boxes and frames, air them out for 2-3 days before introducing them to the bees. Preferably in an open, well lit, well ventilated location. And if that location happens to bee below 36 degrees F, then even better!

Just keep in mind that not all will bee lost. Wax can always bee rendered down in the spring and replaced with new wax, and frames that are salvageable can go back into the hives and will bee cleaned further by the bees. Bees are workers and cleaners. They’re programmed to build comb in the spring, so they’ll fill in the gaps and put the frames to good use. Waste not, want not…you’ve gotta love’em.

Cleaning Old Frames

April 14, 2015

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After last weekend’s cleaning spree, I collected quite a few frames filled with old dark comb. Comb gets darker and darker the more it’s used. Many beekeepers will replace brood frames year after year because it’s believed to be unhealthy for the bees to raise their young in old comb. For me, cleaning old frames is threefold:

  • It’s healthier for the bees,
  • It saves me money by allowing me to reuse old frames, and
  • I can harvest and process the wax for balms and soaps and lotions, etc.

I collect old frames as I have the opportunity, like during spring cleaning after boxes have been rotated and the old brood comb works its way to the top of the hive, or at the end of the season when the girls are condensed down and extra boxes and frames are collected and stored for winter.

Note:  You might want to keep a few old brood frames around for making swarm traps.

Setting Up Shop

Spring temperatures are perfect for cleaning frames. It’s still cool outside, but too cold or too hot, so the wax is soft enough to cut through, but solid enough that it comes out in chunks.

I set up a table outside, collect my tools and a big plastic bin, then I start harvesting the wax and picking the frames. It’s not the most thrilling job, but carve out a few hours, pick a nice spring day, turn on some music, and it becomes one of those relaxing, zen-like tasks that’s over before you know it.

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Tools for Picking and Scraping

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I have several favorite tools for this project:

  • Hive tool – great for scraping wax and propylis off the surface of the frames.

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  • Set of stainless steel picks – from the tool section at Home Depot. Great for picking wax out of the narrow crevices.
  • Paint can opener – the hubster filed the opener end into a V shape that fits right down into the grooves at the bottom of the frame. It’s slightly curved shape helps to lift the wax right out without splitting the wood.

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  • Palette knife – the palette knife is super thin, but still strong, so it fits down through the gully across the top. Use it to push the wax through, then run it across the inside surfaces to cut the wax out and scrape the gully clean without cutting into the wood.

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Another Tip for Easier Cleaning

Soaking frames in a long, narrow plastic bin (like the one shown in the photo above) that’s partially filled with clean warm water can also soften and loosen wax, making it easier to cut through the debris and clean out the crevices.  Immerse up to 4 frames in water at a time, and work on one while the others soak.

This step also helps clean sticky honey and propylus from the frames – it’s a pre-soak before the final soaking step.

Final Soaking Phase

Scraping and picking will remove most of the wax and propylus, but the frames will still bee sticky and waxy. So my final cleaning step is to soak them for 30 minutes in a hot water bleach solution.

Fill an old bucket or large plastic bin with hot water and a ½ cup of pure unscented bleach. Immerse the frames and let them soak for about 30 minutes.  I soak half, then flip them around and soak the other half.  Give them a thorough rinse, then stand back and admire your clean, disinfected frames. The bleach solution will sterilize the frames and will eliminate any pests or wax moths.

Add fresh wax foundation back into the hives so the girls can build them out and reuse them for another year or two.

Next step…processing the wax…

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…

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.

 

Our First Taste of Honey

March 9-11, 2014

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During my 1st year beekeeping presentation, someone asked me about the supers on my hives.  I told them they weren’t supers.  Up to that point, I didn’t think of them as supers.  I was allowing the bees to create sugar syrup stores for winter, but not honey for harvesting.  When in fact, they are supers without a queen excluder – and the bees built up quite the stash.  So what to do with the stash?  My answer – extract it and feed it back to the bees, for a number of reasons. 

  1. It’s healthier for the bees to feed from their own food vs. sugar.
  2. The bees will clean up the wet drawn frames so I can reuse them.
  3. I’d rather practice extracting for the first time using sugar syrup than the real honey.
  4. I don’t have the freezer space to store the frames and I can’t keep them outside forever. I can store sugar syrup in the fridge.
  5. And best of all – I have an excuse to buy an extractor!

The boxes I took were from my dead yellow hive.  I purchased a complete extracting kit from Brushy Mountain.  It included the tools, the extractor, the uncapping tank, and a straining bucket.  I thought about waiting a week, but was so excited that I decided to start that day.   I moved the uncapping operation into our guest bathroom, and the extracting operation in the kitchen.

Lesson 1 – Honey Extracts Best When it is Warm

This explains why beekeepers extract their honey when its 90 degrees outside, and not when its 30 degrees outside. Warm soft wax slices easier and liquid honey comes out of the comb much easier.  Most people extract in their garages (too cold) or basements.  Our guest bathroom is small, so I added a space heater and left the room to warm for over 24 hours.  So much for extracting over the weekend…

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Lesson 2 – Keep a Wet Towel and Hot Water Handy

Everything gets sticky – the floor, the door knobs, the cats.  Keep a wet towel handy to clean your hands and wipe things down as needed.

The pitcher of hot water is for the capping knife. Store the knife in the water when its not being used to clean the honey off the knife and warm it up (unless you have an electric knife) to help cut through the wax easier.  Be sure to wipe the water off each time so you don’t get water in the honey.  You don’t want ANY excess moisture in your honey.  Although its not as big a deal when working with sugar syrup.  But start good habits early.  

Lesson 3 – Elevate the Uncapping Tank

I uncapped 16 frames.  Initially I was bending over.  Uncapping frames one after another is physical work. After 3 or 4 frames, my back got the hint and I elevated the tank so I could stand upright while uncapping.  Trust me on this.

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Lesson 4 – Uncapping Tools

Those uncapping knives are huge.  I used a Pampered Chef bread knife and it worked great.  For the small missed spots, I used an uncapping tool, and I also kept a fish knife handy for areas that were hard to reach with my larger knife.

Lesson 5 – Bottom Up vs. Top Down

Beekeepers always seem to uncap from the bottom up.  I’m not sure why, but for me, the cuts are thinner, cleaner and smoother.  Top down caused more butchering of the comb.  Comb is soft and delicate.  The bees will put it back together, but still, be careful not to mash the cells shut.

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Lesson 6 – Extracting Makes it All Worthwhile

Add frames and churn.  This is the fun part!  A good churn in one direction, then churn in the opposite direction, flip the frames and repeat.  Honey accumulates at the bottom and when it reaches a certain level, drain the tank.  I can tell you, the even though it wasn’t honey for us to eat, it was still tasty and unbelievably satisfying to see how much real honey our girls had produced.

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Lesson 7 – Filter the Honey

I had cleaned and sterilized gallon jugs ready to go. Be sure your containers are dry.  Again, no water in the honey.  Because this was going to the bees, I didn’t bother to filter and released the honey directly into the containers.  Truth is, I ended up filtering anyway before feeding.  So lesson learned, add one more step and filter the honey from the extractor through a filtering cloth and into the 5 gallon filtering bucket.  THEN filter it into containers.  The filtered honey won’t clog up your feeders, and you’ll have more wax to clean up for lotions and potions.

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Lesson 8 – Don’t Forget Your Wax

Cappings make the best quality wax.  Allow them to drain in the uncapping tank then put them in a plastic bag and in the fridge til you’re ready to clean it up.  Also, you’ll be amazed at how much honey has collected in the bottom of the uncapping tank after the wax cappings have drained.

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Final lessons learned….

  1. Mount the extractor onto a more solid surface so it doesn’t shake or wiggle while churning.
  2. Dedicated extracting equipment will make life easier – pitcher, knife, towels, containers, etc.
  3. No mite treatments when supers are on.  I didn’t think of my supers as supers, so it didn’t occur to me to remove them when treating for mites.  As a result, the sugar syrup and comb smell of thymol.  I’m told the smell will dissipate, but I don’t want my honey to have any taste of thymol, so I’ll either use fresh spring drawn comb in my supers this year, or new foundation.
  4. I will use 7 frames in my supers so the bees draw out thicker comb.  Thicker comb will be much easier to uncap because it will extend farther outside the frames.
  5. Another reason why beekeepers extract in the summer – the equipment can be left outside and the bees will be much more active and willing to clean it all up for you!
  6. Uncap and extract in the garage – this is not an indoor job.

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Feeding it Back to the Bees

To feed back to the bees for spring, I’ll just add water and mix well to achieve a 1:1 consistency.  For now, the syrup is going into quart size ziplock freezer bags.  I set a bag on the top frames of the hive, stick several times in the top using a sewing pin, and let the bees enjoy their nectar in hopes it will stimulate their spring activity.

Thanks for sticking with me through this post.  I know it’s a long one, but extracting is a process that’s worth documenting.  It’s a sticky job, but someone has to do it.  I personally cat wait to do it again with real honey!  

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.

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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.