Tag Archive | hive

Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Starting into our 5th year of beekeeping, I took a break from blogging because I felt like I’m just repeating previous blogs.  But after 6-8 weeks into spring, I remembered why I began blogging to begin with.  This is my journal, my reference to past bee activity – the good, the bad, the ugly.  So please forgive my for backtracking, but if you’re interested in what’s been happening at the BooBee Honey Apiary since early March, then you’re in luck cause this post is about playing catch up.

Early March – From Six Hives to Three

Yep, down three hives from six – a 50% loss.  First, our winter was crazy inconsistent.  We really didn’t have a winter.  All hives entered strong and I had high hopes.  What happened?  There were no signs of starvation.  No signs of excess moisture in the hives.  Mites? No, I didn’t see signs of mites, and my bees are all VSH or mite-resistant.  I suspect queen losses for Green and Blue hives, capped off by the cold.  Yellow hive showed signs of Nosema – a parasite that resides in the bees’ guts and is evident by brown splotches on the fronts of the hives.  I didn’t medicate because I prefer to use more natural methods, like adding my homemade honey-b-healthy with wintergreen essential oil to their feed.  Wintergreen is anti-bacterial and helps keep their little guts clean.  However, adding fumagilin to their feed this fall will be a simple fix to help prevent future instances.  Two of the surviving hives, the strongest hives, were my PA queens – the best queens ever!  The mint hive is from my Texas stock, and although not up to my PA queen standards, they have been consistently strong.   So disappointments aside, I’m happy to have three strong hives, and I have ample space for splits and swarms – so it’s all good.

Got Empty Space, They Will Fill It

I add a spacer at the top of my wintering hives to add food and a small top entrance.  But Purple Hive got an early start and began building crazy comb in this space early on.    Once they fill it with wax comb, the trick is to clear that comb before the queen starts to fill it with brood.  This was my first lesson learned this season.  I knew they were filling it up with wax, but the temps were still cold, and I piddled around until – you guessed it – she filled the comb with brood.  What a mess!  The image below give you an idea of what this crazy comb look like, but imagine it filled with brood.

The last thing I want to do is cut out and dispose of all of that bee-utiful brood, and boy they hated me when I removed it from the hive.  I wish I’d taken photos, but on a bee-utiful 70 degree sunny March day, I sat in the grass and, using a very small and thin Pampered Chef paring knife, carefully sliced the comb at the base where it attached to the inner cover.  I inserted the comb within empty frames and used rubber bands to hold the intact combs within the frames – just the way many bee removal experts salvage comb from home hive removals, or tree hive removals.  I added an entire box full of frames filled with rubber banded brood comb back onto Purple Hive and hoped for the best.  Several weeks later, not only had the bees made the best of the mess I had made of their comb, but they cleaned house and returned my rubber bands.  I checked on the hive and noticed rubber bands poking out of the entrance with 10 bees on tugging on them.  Amazing little creatures.  The least I could do was help pull them out and dispose of them properly.

Spring Reconfiguration – April 9, 2017

Purple Hive was crazy crowded coming into spring.  With four full boxes, they were ready to split on day one, but the weather was still unpredictable with night time temps ranging from the low thirties to low fifties.  I watched the weather and continued to wait for consistent high 40’s to 50 degree nighttime temps before splitting.   I wanted the resulting splits to survive the cold nights.  However, the girls needed space.  Two weeks ago, on a warm 70-something day, I reconfigured the hives, moving the queens down low so they could work their ways up, and adding lots of growth space between the honey and the brood.

First Swarm of the Season – April 16, 2017

I was in the greenhouse, late afternoon, when I heard it.  Out of the bushes arose a such a clatter – a swarm that I’d probably walked beneath a half dozen times that day and never noticed.  Ugh.  They say you really can’t prevent swarms once the bees decide it’s gonna happen.  Sure enough, I ran after a cloud of bees through the backyard, around the side of the house, and waved farewell as they exited across the horse field, across the pond, into the wild blue yonder.  I didn’t see where the swarm originated, but I blame Purple Hive, which doesn’t have half the porch traffic it had before. Oh well, not the first, won’t bee the last.

Splitsville Baby!  – April 23, 2017

One week after the swarm, the weather was perfect!  Perfect time to check whether Purple Hive’s queen is laying.  That hive is still crazy full of bees, nectar, brood.  I found queen cells, so guess what?  Green Hive and Blue Hive are back in business!  Woo hoo!  Two solid splits from Purple Hive.  I saw the queen and she is bee-utiful and laying like crazy.  Fingers crossed, her offspring will do the same for our newbee hives.  Why stop there?  I inspected Mint Hive, which looks great!  I gave them a fresh box between the honey and the brood.  Then Pink Hive is another PA queen that’s performing very well.  Tons of young brood and larvae.  I found a frame with two queen cells – bingo!  We had split number three, Yellow Hive – and believe me, Pink Hive needed to be split.  I gave them a fresh box between the honey and the brood, so fingers crossed, they’ll forego any thoughts of swarming for awhile.

Caring for the Newbees

So that’s where we stand!  Everyone has space to grow, and I’ll continue to be proactive and check on them at least every 2 weeks.  The girls were surprisingly calm, except for the one little bugger that got me on the lip this afternoon.  Lip stings are the worst – I feel like a Simpsons character.  My focus now is on feeding and caring for the newbee hives.  They’re closed off completely for 24 hours, at which point I’ll replace the entrance block with an entrance reducer and will add some foliage in front the entrances to help them reorient before leaving the hive.  I’ll keep watch and will check for laying queens in about 2 weeks.  Time will tell!

Did I mention how happy I am that it’s bee season?   Yay!!!

 

So much to do – cleaning frames and boxes; feed, feed, feed the newbees; install swarm traps; blog, blog, blog; and above all, bee proactive.  That’s my theme this year.

Happy spring everyone!  Bee Proactive!

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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)

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.

Processing Beeswax

June 12, 2015

Several months ago I posted all about cleaning frames, removing the dark old comb so I could add fresh new wax foundation.  Of course, beneath all that old black crustiness is bee-utiful, golden beeswax that can bee used to make skin products, soaps, lip balms, furniture polish (yep), candles, and more.  So how do we get rid of the bad to get to the good stuff?  That’s what I’m going to show you in this post.

Equipment

First you’ll need some dedicated wax processing equipment.

  • 1 old bucket
  • 1 old large pot (I use an old crab pot)
  • 1 large colander (not plastic)
  • 1 long wooden spoon
  • Crockpot
  • Cheese cloth
  • Large rubber band
  • Half gallon cardboard milk carton with top arched section cut off.
  • Crockpot (optional)

Part 1 – Cleaning the Wax

I’ve never collected a ton of old comb at one time.  It’s something I collect over time.  When I have a bucket full, then I’ll melt it down.  But first you’ll want to clean your comb and cappings thoroughly so you don’t end up with sticky wax.   You don’t want honey in your wax.

1.  Place the comb and/or cappings in a 5 gallon bucket.

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2.  Fill the bucket with warm water.  Warm enough to melt the honey but not the wax.

3.  Dig in with your hands and stir the wax around so all the comb makes contact with the warm water.

4.  Allow it to soak for about 15 minutes, then drain most of the water off the wax through a colander.  (Interesting fact: back in old times, kitchen staff would clean wax combs just like this, and they would make table mead from the discarded honey water by leaving it out to collect wild yeast.)

5.  Refill the bucket with more warm water and repeat the process multiple times until the water runs clear.

Part 2 – Melting the Comb

1.  Fill your pot with the clean comb and add about 2 inches of water to the bottom of the pot.

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2.  Turn the heat on medium and watch the pot!  Do not walk away from the pot – this stuff can boil over and cause a horrible mess and it’s dangerous.

3.  Gradually the wax will melt down and you will have a yummy brood and larvae wax stew.   Stir constantly with the wooden spoon.

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4.  Once everything is melted down completely, place the colander over the bucket and pour the hot pot o’ wax stew through the colander and into the bucket.  I do this in the garage.

5.  Use the wooden spoon to stir the lumpy leftovers in the colander to help release all the wax down into the bucket.

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6.  Dump the colander filled with lump leftovers in the chicken coop or in a back corner of the yard where the wild critters can snack on it.

7.  Allow to cool overnight, then fish your first wax cake out of the bucket and scrape off and discard the loose, dirty layer on the bottom.  Well done!

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Collect 4 or 5 more buckets of comb and repeat this entire process for each bucket full so you end up with 3 or 4 wax cakes.  (The wax cakes preserve well in the freezer until you’ve collected enough for Part 3).

Part 3 – Melting the Wax Cakes

Your wax cakes, at this stage, a still filled with dirt and bee chunks.  So we’re continuing to melt and clean our wax.  We start this step once we’ve collected at least 3 wax cakes.  If you have more than 3 wax cakes, then one milk carton may not hold all of the liquid wax, so bee prepared if you have more wax.

1.  Break the thin cakes into chunks and add them to your pot.

2.  Fill the pot about 2 inches with water.

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3.  Turn the heat to medium and watch the pot!

4.  Stir with the wooden spoon until all is melted completely.

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5.  Place colander over the bucket, then dump the wax stew through the colander and into the bucket.

6.  Allow to cool overnight and in the morning, fish out your large wax cake.

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7.  Scrape off the bottom layer of dirt.

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Now at this point you should have an impressive, much cleaner single fat cake of wax.  You can repeat this process again, or move on to Part 4 for the last cleaning phase, depending on how dirty the wax still appears.

Part 4 – The Final Cleaning

I use an old crockpot for this phase.  You could also use a double boiler over the stovetop.

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1.  Start by cutting a 12″x12″ double layer of cheesecloth.

2.  Cut the top arched section off of a cardboard milk carton.  Leave the container as tall as possible.

3.  Cover the top of the carton evenly with the cheese cloth and securely slide the rubber band over the cheesecloth to tightly secure it around and over the top of the milk carton.  You don’t want it to fall in when you pour the hot wax through it.

4.  Cut or break the wax cake into small enough pieces so it fits into the crockpot or double boiler.

5.  Turn on low and allow it to melt completely.  The crockpot can be left unwatched.  The same is not true for the double boiler, so keep an eye on it so the water and wax don’t boil over.

6.  Pour and strain the melted wax through the cheesecloth and into the milk carton.

7.  Remove the cheesecloth and rubber and and carefully set aside the wax filled carton and let it cool overnight.

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8.  Peel off the cardboard and you should have a bee-utiful block of wax that can be carved or shredded for all kinds of fabulous natural products.

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Note: if you want smaller bricks, then purchase a silicone mini loaf mold and pour the wax into that after it’s been strained.

I’m hoping to post more tutorials on making product of the hive, so stay tuned.   Happy beekeeping!














Yellow Hive is Back!

June 7, 2015

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You may recall that we lost Yellow Hive over the winter.  The apiary just isn’t complete without all 5 hives going at once.  Blue Hive was looking strong, so two weekends ago ((May 24th) I transferred some of their honey, nectar and brood frames to Yellow Hive, along with some healthy looking queen cells, and of course some bees.  I gave them sugar syrup w/ my homemade Honey B Healthy and stood back to see if the split would take.

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I didn’t post this sooner for fear of jinxing them.  I’m very superstitious like that. They started slow, but now activity in Yellow Hive is picking up.  Yay!  The weather has been cool and wet, so once the sun comes back out and things dry out, I’ll give them a look to see whether a queen has emerged and started laying yet.

Expecting a Swarm

Any day now I’m anticipating that Blue Hive will swarm.  I know that because I’ve seen queen cells and a virgin queen romping around.  There is space in the brood chamber for laying, but when they decide to go, they’ll go.  Fingers and toes are crossed that they’ll split themselves and will make a bee-line for the swarm trap.  I continue to add lemongrass oil to the entrance to lure them in.  Then I’ll collect them and add them to a new hive.

Preparing for the Best

Speaking of new hives, the hubster and I have had discussions about the number of hives I can add to my collection.  He insists that 5 is enough.  Yes dear, 5 is a good number.  However, if I d happen to catch a swarm, then they need to go somewhere, so just incase they decide to cooperate (a rarity) I’m preparing hives 6 and 7….just incase.  After all, I couldn’t possibly let them go homeless!

Watching the Garden Grow

We also planted the garden two weekends ago.  Another yay!  And with the recent rain, they’re popping up nicely.  We’ll bee caging tomatoes today, and even my cucumbers are popping up from seeds that I salvaged from last year’s cucumbers, which were crazy prolific.

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The major nectar flow is dying down, but there’s still plenty of flowers and color coming up.  The wildflowers will be out soon.  The bees are bringing in the honey.  Boxes are heavy and filling fast.

Tis a happy time of year.

 

Assembling Frames – Pins vs. Pins

May 24, 2015

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I cleaned all of my old frames.  I used the kind with L-bent wires at the bottom and the wooden slat that lays across those wires.  However, instead of removing the wooden slats and busting up the frames, I’ve just added wax foundation and used pins to hold it in.  The bees will do the rest.

The problem with this method is the pins.  Those small hardware pins that are sold with the frames are

  1. overpriced
  2. really, really hard to use – the opening is never wide enough for the wax and I end up mutilating the wax trying to get them in place.
  3. they’re too short and don’t do a great job of holding in the wax foundation.

There’s always a better way.  In this case, bobby pins!  The uncoated kind.  They fit perfectly through the holes, it’s easy to insert the wax so no mutilation.  They’re much faster, easy to find, and cheap!

I use two, one on each side, diagonal from one another.  And because they extend much farther, they hold the foundation in much better.  At this point, use wireless foundation since they don’t care for the wires.  The bees will glue everything in for you.

First Swarm of the Season

May 17, 2015

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It may bee the first, but it certainly won’t bee the last swarm of the season. The funny part is that I never saw it happen.  I knew it was inevitable (tis the season), so I’d been itching to get the our swarm lure up.  We found a super tall telescoping pole on clearance, perfect for raising and lowering a swarm lure.

We took it out back, placed the lure on the pole and began to raise it high into the trees.  I looked up, and I’ll bee darned if there wasn’t a healthy cluster of bees hanging stealth-like in the very top branches.  About 15 feet above the swarm lure.  Buggers!

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They always go too high, so once again, I couldn’t retrieve them.  The other bees were flying around in wild frenzy in front of their hives – their typical response when a swarm occurs.  I should’ve known something was up.

Theoretically, scout bees seek out a new residence weeks before they swarm, so I had little hope that they’d sniff the lemongrass oil and make a b-line for the lure.  But it didn’t keep me from hoping.  We kept watch through the evening.  They were in the same spot the next morning, but gone by the time we returned home from work.  Another one lost…probably in someone else’s hive by now.  I’ll admit that my response this year is much more calm and accepting than last year.  I still don’t know which hive it came from.  They all look just as busy and well populated as they did before.

I hear about people catching swarms all the time.  Now I keep watch over the swarm lure in hopes of catching someone else’s swarm…or maybe, just maybe I’ll actually catch one of my own.  At this point, I really don’t care which, I just want to catch a swarm! :o)