Tag Archive | hives

Winter Hive Configuration – My Final Answer

Saturday, November 23, 2013

The bees and I are not liking this cold weather.  I leave for work when it’s freezing cold and just light, and come home in the pitch dark, so weekdays are out for any bee activity.  I can only hope for dry, semi-warm weekends to get things done.  I’m realizing the importance of a yearly schedule and having a plan in place well beforehand.  Being a newbie, I’m always thinking and rethinking about the bees – usually around 2 am, which doesn’t make for a good night’s sleep.

YH2 in Trouble

We had a brief warm snap last weekend when temps pushed up into the mid-50’s, so I took the opportunity to lay lots of candy across the top frames.  When I opened Yellow Hive 2  (YH2), the number of bees appeared to be dramatically reduced.  Not good at all.  Of course, it was too cold to dig in and see what the problem might be.   Queenlessness is always my first fear, which in this weather means the hive will likely die.  Even if they do produce another queen at this point, there aren’t any drones left to mate with her, so reproduction will stop and the bees will gradually die out.

Executing the Winter Plan

I’ve continued finalizing my plans for the internal hive configuration.  Better late than never, I hope.  Winter is a scary time for a beekeeper.  You can’t get into the hives to see what’s going on.  It’s cold outside, so the bees stay inside – there’s no outside activity to tell you what’s going on.  It’s easy to imagine the worst, that condensation is building up and collecting on the bees, or they’re dying out from losing their queen, or they’re starving because there aren’t enough stores, or they’re being infested by mites or wax moths or wax beetles.  No matter, you just sit tight and hope you’re doing the best you can do for the girls, and wait for another warm snap to hit so you can get out and check on them.

Today was sunny and cold, but low 40s is better than low 30s, and I had no intention of opening the hives and exposing the bees.  I just needed to rework the top portion to help improve the ventilation.  So here’s our winter hive configuration, inside and out…

  1. Exterior wind barriers covering the back and sides.  These seem to be working well, and they extend below the bottoms of the hives to prevent too much wind from going up through the bottom screens.

2. I added bottom boards on YH2 and Green Hive 1 (GH1).  BH3 is a home built hive and doesn’t have a slot for adding the mite board, so the screened bottom board is left open.

3. 2 inch high spacer frames are added onto the top hive body with a top entrance drilled into the front for ventilation and an upper exit.

4. The top inner cover is flipped so the shim side is down, and I stapled fine metal screen across the hole so the bees can’t get to the top of the hive.  This also provides another top entrance and allows for more ventilation in the hive.

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5. The hubster made some great ventilation spacers to add above the inner cover and beneath the top telescoping cover.  The bees cannot get into this box.

    • The holes on the sides are drilled upwards to prevent rain water from entering the box.
    • The holes are positioned just beneath the outside rim of the top cover, which extends out from the holes to keep water out.
    • 1/2 inch ventilation holes were drilled on two sides then covered with mesh on the inside to prevent bees from entering the box and to keep critters out.
    • Window screen was stapled to the bottom of the frame to allow it to hold wood chips.  The wood chips will help absorb moisture from the condensation.

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I know I said I wouldn’t open the hives and expose the girls, but I couldn’t resist taking a peek.  All three hives, including YH2, are full of bees on top devouring the candy.  I’m feeling much better now about closing them up and letting them go til the next warm day comes and I can add more candy.

Til then, I have a few good beekeeping books sitting on my bed stand.  Never to early to start preparing for spring!

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Home Built Hive Windbreakers

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Part 1 – Exterior Winter Prep

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The hubster has done it again.  I’ve been agonizing over our plan for winter prep.  Exterior windbreakers are half of the plan.  Hay bales are popular, wrapping hives with roofing paper or cardboard, etc.  Lots of ideas out there, but the consensus on wrapping, at least in our area, is that although it keeps the heat in and protects from the wind,wrapping also keeps the moisture in and prevents the hives from “breathing”.  Dripping condensation and moisture will kill the bees, especially during freezing temperatures.  So good ventilation is imperative.

We decided against wrapping and opted for barriers that would envelop three sides, leaving the fronts of the hives open so the girls can come and go as the temperatures fluctuate.  The hubster came up with wooden frames that wrap around the outside of the hives, leaving air space between the frames and the hive boxes for circulation, while protecting the hives from wind.   The outside of the frames are lined with black roofing paper to retain heat from the sun.  The bottoms are anchored to the ground with large railroad nails, and the tops are open to allow easy access into the hives.  The bees don’t mind them one bit (always a plus), access is much easier than if they’d been wrapped, and we can reuse the frames year after year.

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I confess that having only a few hives does afford the luxury of experimenting with more elaborate solutions like this.  And it helps to have a woodworker in the house.

As for the inside, they’re ok for now, but after more research, I believe I have a simple and effective solution figured out.  So stay tuned for ideas on how to configure the insides of your hives for winter.

Mites Round 2 and the Fair

September 17, 2013 – Mite Treatments

Temperatures are ideal ALL WEEK!  And I suspect this time they won’t be spiking into the 90’s until next summer (sad but true). So should be safe now for the next three weeks of treatments.  I added the ApiLife VAR back into Green Hive 1 (GH1) and Yellow Hive 2 (YH2).  I’m happy to say there was much less drama this time around, and much less stink.  I came home this evening and the girls were in their hives, no complaints and no odor from where I stood.

I did want to show a slight improvement that we made.  We cut squares of window screen and folded it over the ApiLife VAR tablets.  This modification made all the difference in my getting a good night’s sleep.  These pillows are perfect for keeping the bees from gnawing on the tablets, plus they are larger so they lay nicely over top of the frames without fear that they’ll fall through the cracks.  For extra security, you can even staple them to the frames to ensure they stay in place.

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Changing the Feed

I’ve also shifted their feed to 2:1 (2 parts sugar, 1 part water).  Gradually I’ll reduce their feed and convert them over to candy as the weather gets colder.  Supposed to be 39 degrees tonight.  Ugh!  I also plan to make some pollen patties.  Much needed since there’s no pollen coming in right now.  I’ll start posting my recipes as I make them.

Working the Fair

On a different note, I worked the fair with my bee club this past weekend and had the best time.  We sold tons of honey and honey sticks.  I’m thrilled by how interested people are in the bees.  We had two observation hives.  We found the queen in one hive, but the workers were covering the other queen to keep her warm since the temps were so cold the night prior.

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Local Honey for Sale!

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Looking for the queen

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Lots of great fair entries!

Did I mention the guy in the photo has a doctorate in entomology?  I so wanted to pick his brain about the bees, but alas.  We were a busy group.  Lots of people wanted to see the bees and buy honey.  I hope to get another opportunity.  He’s full of information and has such passion for teaching about the bees.  In fact, he’s a world leading authority on wax production in bees.   I can’t believe I think that’s cool.   What have the bees done to me?

Lots of people with allergies out there!  Buy local honey!  As local as you can get it.

I’ll be back at the fair this weekend helping with the candle making program.   Can’t wait.  I do love the crafty DIY stuff!

Prepping the Girls for Winter

September 8, 2013 (Day 121) – Winter Prep and Mite Treatment

The temperatures have been dropping and I’ve been thinking about and acting on all the things we need to do to prepare for winter. It feels like we’ve been working toward overwintering since April, and all of our efforts will soon be put to the test.

New Feeders

Starting with feeders, all three hives now have the “no drown” top feeders.

Blue Hive 3 (BH3) did have an enclosed plastic boardman feeder, which I’ve managed to collapse and create a syrupy mess more than once.  Even enclosed in a medium box, I think this feeder attributed to their being robbed by Green Hive 1 (GH1).  Now the top cover is tight and closes off the top entrance, resulting in one less access point for robbing.

I also swapped out the bucket feeders in GH1 and Yellow Hive 2 (YH2).  The bucket feeders work great for summer because they sit up slightly higher than a medium box, creating a draft at the top allows for ventilation.  Now that the weather is cooler, the top cover seals in the warmth, plus top feeders are much easier to fill.

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Switching to 2:1 Sugar Syrup

I checked on BH3 yesterday and they had not touched the frames in their top box.  At this point, I’m not counting on their building up more brood, but I’m still hoping they’ll draw out some comb and stores.   GH1 and YH2 are packed with bees and they have tons of brood, so at this point, everyone is getting switched from 1:1 to 2:1 sugar syrup (that’s 2 parts sugar, 1 part water).  We’ve been going through about 150 lbs of sugar every 3-4 weeks.  GH1 can go through a gallon of sugar syrup in 2 days.  It’s hard to keep up with them.  2:1 will go through even more.  Ugh!  No one said this hobby would be cheap.

Consolidating the Hives

GH1 and YH2 are both packed with bees and there’s have more to come.  I’ll leave YH2 in three boxes, but I’ll likely use a bee escape to reduce GH1 down to 4 boxes.

BH3 will be the real challenge to get through the winter.  Their numbers are few and I don’t see much brood.  Their current two-medium hive is too large for winter.  I could combine them with another hive, but I don’t want to lose that $50 Texas Buckfast queen.  So I purchased a nuc box for their winter home.  This nuc will include two 5-frame medium boxes.  I’ll pack them in and do everything I can to keep them going.

Treating for Mites

One big action item is to treat the hives for mites.  Varroa and tracheal mites are a huge threat to bees, like ticks on dogs. I’ve been waiting for the lower temps before treating with a chemical-based solution called API LIFE VAR.  Aside from using some essential oils in their feed, I have yet to apply any mite prevention tactics.  Next summer I hope to treat more using safer, more bee friendly methods, like fogging with essential oils and using oxalic acid; but as we are heading into our first winter, I’d rather play it safe and use something I know will work.

I chose API LIFE VAR because it is a “soft” chemical that will hopefully prove less harsh and invasive to the girls. No chemical is good, but when we’re up again varroa, it is by far the lesser of two evils. And it is cheap. Less than $3 a pack. I’m treating Green Hive 1 (GH1) and Yellow Hive 2 (YH2), so 3 packs will get me through 3 weeks of treatment. The drawback is that, for 3 weeks, I have to dig into the hives every 7 days to add new tablets above the brood boxes. I wish there was a better option, but they’ll just have to tough it out.

Blue Hive 3 (BH3) is far too small to treat, so therein lies another challenge for getting them through the winter.  I may try a wintergreen treatment and a sugar roll in hopes that they’ll have some winter advantage against the mites.

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The API LIFE VAR looks like beef jerky, has the texture of brittle burned wood or charcoal, and has a powerful chemical smell.  The warnings are scary – wear waterproof gloves when handling, don’t leave around heat or anything smoking, extra pieces in newspaper for safe disposal.  Bottom line – this stuff is nasty.   Again, not my first choice, but it has to be done.   And this is the SOFT chemical.  Yikes, I don’t even want to think what the hard chemicals are like.

My Recommendations

  1. Wear disposable rubber gloves.
  2. Lay it on newspaper and open it when you get up to the hives.  Not in or around the house, and especially not around dogs or pets.
  3. Use scissors to cut the package in half length wise, then gently break each long piece into four even tablets.  You’ll have 8 tablets total – this will be enough for treatment 1 of 3 for GH1 and YH2.

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Close off the screened bottom board so the fumes remain in the hive.  I used my mite count board.  I even covered it with Crisco so when all is said and done, I can see just how effective the treatment is.  Hopefully it will be covered with lots of dead mites, and no dead bees.

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On the top brood box, I laid the pieces on top of the frames on the four outer corners of the box. Do not lay the pieces in the center over the brood.

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Put the hive back together and let the API LIFE VAR do its job.

The Reaction

I returned to the hive an hour later.  I could smell the chemicals from 100 feet or more.  The girls were not happy with me.  The photo below shows the scene.   No wonder they don’t like me.  I’m Beezilla, creating havoc and digging through their home, and now I’ve stunk up the place.  And I have to do it two more times!   Yeah, there’s gotta be a better way.  

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Sticky Board Reveals All

July 25-28, 2013 (Days 76-79)  – Pollen Patties and Sticky Board Inspection

After disappointment the week prior, I got back in and gave the girls some pollen patties.  They need some protein since the pollen sources have died off.  I really should have been digging for the queen in YH2, since she is, or was, the likely source of my problems. Instead I took note of a half dozen more beetles and started my research on how to get rid of them before they get really bad.

Sticky Board Inspection

I decided to place sticky boards at the bottom of the hive for three days to help monitor my pest issues.  I lined the boards with a thick layer of Crisco – because beetles supposedly love Crisco.

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The sticky board method is really used to determine the mite populations in the hives. I insert the boards into the back slot on the hives, beneath the screened bottom board. The bees can’t get through the screen, so the boards only catch mites and small parasites, pollen, bee poo (yes, bees do poo), and other savory items. The mites fall off the bees and stick to the board. Three days later, I remove the board and count the mites.

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When I removed the boards, I found pollen, one dead bee, not too many mites, one small hive beetle (still kicking), one unexpected wax moth larvae (not good), and lots of small black crumbs, which based on my research may be wax moth poo (yes, even moths poo). I can’t look at these boards without thinking about the hungarian tea leaves and how the fortune tellers can read the leaves to tell a person’s fortune. I suppose you can “read” the boards and determine the bees’ fortune.

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So I’m at a point w/ YH2 where I have a failing or dead queen, I have hive beetles to deal with, and I have wax moths.  Did I mention I won a $250 Amazon gift card at a recent business conference?  I’m spending a good chunk of it on bee pollen and organic pesticides – seriously.  There’s not much you can’t buy on Amazon.

Dealing w/ the Beetles and Moths

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not ready to trade the girls in.  They just challenge me, that’s all. But I’ve done my research and I am ready to take action.  I ordered boric acid to create homemade beetle traps.  But after speaking with my supplier, he said they probably won’t work, so I’m looking at putting in a few beetle blasters and a tray that fits beneath the bottom board.  Just add vegetable oil and some soap, and the tray just slides in and out without digging into the hive.  Supposedly they’re very effective.

The moths, well everyone talks online about BT, an organic insecticide that kills worms but is safe for bees and people and dogs.  Unfortunately it isn’t sold in the US.  I could probably get some, but it would cost $30 just for shipping.

Course of Action

Seems the best course is the make the hive strong again. It still has lots of bees. They just need a strong laying queen. My tasks this weekend are 1) find the queen, 2) if no queen, then transfer a brood frame from GH1 to YH2 so they can start making a new queen, 3) remove a box from YH2 to condense the colony and make them stronger to defend themselves from the beetles and moths, and 4) buy 2 hive beetle traps for the bottom boards and some beetle blasters.

Hey, usually I’m stumped so at least I have a plan. Hopefully the plan will help strengthen YH2 and get them going again.

Welcome to Boo Bee Honey – How it All Began

As a new beekeeper, the two questions I hear most are

1) when will you get honey? and
2) how did you get into that?

They say you don’t get honey until your second year. Spend your first year growing your colony and keeping the bees alive – THEN worry about honey! We’re from Maryland, just 30 minutes north of Washington DC. Not a great honey state, I’m told, because our flowering season is short. However, I have spoken to a few new beekeepers who said they got anywhere from 35 to-100 pounds of honey their first year. I’ve also been told that any honey harvested first year will be sugar water honey – not the best quality.

At this point, I have no expectations and the information is overwhelming, and often conflicting. Honey is secondary, and right now I’m drinking in the bee activity. In fact, it’s their activity that drew me in 2 years ago. I remember watching a set of hives while on a hop farm. There’s something so rural and relaxing about bees and their hives. We stood and watched them go in and out of the boxes, minding their own beeswax. So I approached our local beekeeping association at the county fair and expressed my interest and concern about time commitment. They assured me that bees are low maintenance and actually prefer to be left alone.

That was it. I signed up for their class and haven’t looked back. In most cases, my ability to retain information is ridiculously bad, but I absorbed those bee lectures like a sponge. This confirmed what my husband has always said – I pay attention to things I’m interested in. I soon ordered two nucleus hives (nucs) and all of my hive equipment from a beekeeping supplier located just 20 minutes away from our house. Kismet you say? I like to think so.

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