Tag Archive | inspect

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…

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Who’s Still Buzzing?

Sunday, February 8, 2015

The temps hit mid-forties this weekend.  In the middle of February, you take any opportunity to check on the girls and make sure they have plenty of food.  My last check was disappointing.  Mint hive was the only one that showed any significant activity, and yellow hive had died.  I since made a sugar cake, just incase, and upon tapping on the hives a few times over the past week or two, I was relieved to hear some signs of life.  But I wasn’t sure of their current states until today…

Pink Hive – This is what you want to see when you lift the cover… 

Pink Hive - looking good!

Mint Green Hive – A smaller cluster, but still going.  

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Green Hive – Small, tight cluster – looking good.

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Blue Hive – I could see how they were doing before I even lifted the lid. 

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Blue hive –  strong on the inside too!  

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Yay, four hives still going.  As happy as I was to see them, they weren’t happy at all to see me.  Mean little buggers.  I love my bees, but they really need to learn to be more gracious to the beekeeper who feeds them!

I’m never too optimistic for fear of jinxing them.  Anything can happen at any time, and we still have another solid month and half of cold weather (6 weeks at least if you listen to Mr. Groundhog).  They say March timeframe is one of the riskiest – that’s often when hives start to become active and can easily starve if they don’t have enough stores.  I’ll keep another sugar cake in reserve, just for added insurance.   As for why yellow hive died out – that’s a good question – who knows, mites, starvation.  I need to pull the boxes apart and inspect further, but if I’m not mistaken, that’s the only hive that never had a Texas queen.  My Texas bees are hardy and they seemed to thrive in the cold weather last year.  So this year I’ll try to split more hives from my Texas girls.  We really need to work on their temperaments though.

Here’s to wishing away the winter blahs and hoping for an early spring!

RIP Yellow Hive…Again

Saturday, January 17, 2015

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Winter is a period of worry and uncertainty when it comes to the bees.  Yesterday was in the 40’s, so I took the opportunity to peek in on them and add candy.  The only hive that showed any sign of life was Mint Hive.  That doesn’t mean they aren’t clustered down in the bellies of the hives keeping warm, but it certainly stirs up anxiety about what I did, should and shouldn’t have done, and whether I’ll have any hives left by time spring gets here.

Yellow hive, my strongest going into winter, was found at the top clustered and dead.  They had plenty of stores, the hive looked dry inside.  Maybe the cold got to them, maybe they starved regardless of stores, maybe they separated and froze.  I don’t know.  When things warm up a bit I’ll get in and take a closer look.

Last year when this happened I was crushed.  This year, its disappointing and frustrating, but not the end of the world.  If I lose all 5 hives, then I’ll most certainly be on the verge of hanging up my bee suit.  But I’ve got too much invested, and I love my bees.  Worst case, I’ll learn from my mistakes, start with two new packages in the spring, and get a better plan in place for next winter.

All the best to everyone else’s hives this winter.  Stay warm, read up, and get that equipment prepped.  Doesn’t seem like it now, but spring will be here soon!

Boo Bees and Their Garden

June 6, 2014 (Friday)

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The whole yard is blooming, from evergreens to honeysuckle to clover. The girls are hauling in the nectar and pollen. The veggies are planted and staked. We’re harvesting asparagus and strawberries. I love the spring and summer months, even more since we have bees. I could sit in the garden all day and watch the hives. I’m still amazed at how far we’ve come in one short year. From two nice to five hives.  That’s right!  We now have 5 hives.

Welcome Purple Hive!

After missing out on the split from Blue Hive’s swarm, I took several frames of fresh brood, larvae and eggs from Green Hive and made a split while there’s still enough time in the season for them to queen themselves and become established. Although I might just help them along if I can find a queen locally. As always with my splits, I closed them up for two days to allow the smell of their queen to dissipate, then placed branches in front of their entrance so they could reorient themselves and return to their new location. It’s working. They’re going and coming with legs full of pollen.  A few robbers are floating around, but for the most part, the big hives are leaving their new little neighbor alone.

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 …

Pink Hive Has a Queen (Yay!)

Pink Hive has eggs, brood and larvae, which means they have a queen. Yay! All those queen cells transferred from Blue Hive did the trick. They’re drawing out their frames and I’m preparing to give them a second box of drawn comb and new wax foundation.

Blue Hive is Queenless (Ugh!) 

Blue Hive, on the other hand, has gone from tons of brood to no brood. Queenless, for now. I was told that after a swarm it would take 3-4 weeks for them to straighten themselves out and have a laying queen.  I’ll check back in another week or two and see if they need any help. Their numbers are still strong, but they’re packing in nectar where there should be brood. Nectar that should be going into the honey supers. Blue Hive has barely made a dent in their one honey super. The frames are still empty and undrawn. Disappointing since they were so active and strong.  I was hoping for a good honey harvest from Blue Hive.  I’m starting to have second thoughts about my Texas bees.  Once good thing about the swarm is that the mean wicked queen left behind a calmer, less aggressive (albeit less productive) colony behind.  Let’s hope their next queen is a little nicer.

Yellow Hive Going at its Own Pace

Yellow Hive is active and well, but they’re not growing as fast as I’d hoped. I was ready to give them a third box, but based on the number of frames they have yet to draw out, they aren’t ready for it. So I’ll just be patient and let them tell me when they’re ready.

Green Hive is Making Honey (Yay!)

I just added another super to Green Hive. They’ve just about filled their first super, and boy is it heavy. Green Hive started out slow, but they’ve picked up and are very active and healthy. I’ve heard that about the Carneolan (Italian) bees.  No signs of swarming yet. No drones, no queen cells, no hot temperament. My Italian bees are very gentle and calm and I can work them with minimal smoke.

Incase they do have thoughts of swarming, we’ve left the bait hive hoisted up in the trees with a cardboard sheet at the entrance that’s been drenched in lemongrass oil. Someday we’ll catch a swarm.

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I forgot to mention that a bit of honey dripped out of some burr comb in Green Hive’s super. I couldn’t resist taking just a little taste. Oh my. No sugar syrup, no chemical treatments – just pure, unadulterated honey from our own hives. Wow…really…just wow.

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Give the Girls Some Space

Saturday, March 22, 2014

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

 

Spring Inspections

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

My goals were:

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

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

Blue Hive 

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

Green Hive 

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

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

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Pollen patty and sugar syrup in ziploc bag feeder.

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

Yellow Hive 

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

Honey and Wax

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

Yay Spring!

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

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

 

 

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.

GH1

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.

 

 

Calling in Reinforcements

June 23, 2013 (Day 44)

After Friday night’s flopped attempt to spot eggs and larvae and/or a queen, my mind darted straight to the worst case scenario – my hive was queenless. I knew a queen cell had been formed. I knew that the top box didn’t look any better than it had a week prior with four full frames untouched. If they created their own queen, then I didn’t want to purchase and introduce a new queen or she could be killed. If they created their own queen, was she a good, strong, healthy, mated, egg laying queen? If she wasn’t, then I’d have to find and kill the weak queen first, then introduce the new queen. Well heck, if I was able to find the queen, I wouldn’t be asking these questions in the first place!

In short, if you can’t find your queen, or you can’t identify new eggs and larvae to validate that the queen is ok, then you don’t know the state of your hive. You’re clueless. Yep, that was me on Friday night – desperate and clueless.

Calling on the FCBA

The Frederick County Beekeeping Association (FCBA) members had come to my rescue in the past, and I knew of situations where new beekeepers would ask for experienced members to visit their hives. I don’t like asking for help, but at this point, I needed help.  I sent an email to the forum describing my dilemma.  Six or more members responded, all sensing my distress and coming to my rescue with useful tips and information.

· At least half of the responders said they could never see the eggs or larvae either, so that made me feel a little bit better (although I wondered why I hadn’t seen distressed emails coming from them).

· Others asked questions, gathering clues to help solve the mystery (because beginning beekeeping really can be a big fat mystery).

· Most said leave them alone – if there’s no queen, the bees will make a queen (I love that answer – let the bees fix the problem!).

· One sent a picture of capped brood, to verify that I know what capped brood looks like (doesn’t capped honey look like that too???).

· Two suggested using a flashlight or magnifying glass to see the eggs and larvae (brilliant!).

Beautiful capped brood.  Good sign of a laying queen and a healthy hive.

Beautiful capped brood. Good sign of a laying queen and a healthy hive.

Finally, one member, who lives just 5 minutes away, said she would be happy to visit my hive – AND finding eggs and larvae were not a problem (jackpot). Halleluja!

Help Arrives

Rose arrived around 5PM. The hubster and I were sitting in the garage staring a considerable distance over and above the workshop as bees darted in all directions at 40+ feet in the air. The girls were more active than I’d seen them in a long time.

We entered Green Hive 1 (GH1), the problem hive, and I’ll be darned if those little buggers didn’t draw out those last 4 frames. The top box was filled with nectar and capped sugar syrup…and bees! “I wish I had some of your bees!” she said. Next box down, she pulled frame after frame and announced “this one is full of eggs!” “Do you see all the eggs?” she asked, angling the frame toward me for a look. I swear this woman has superpower bee brood vision because I could not see any eggs.” Then she saw larvae. “See the larvae at the bottoms of these cells?” she asked, “They’re C shaped.” I thought I could make out the shape, but again, I wasn’t sure. However, at one point I did remove my veil and glasses and was able to see microscopic white dots at the bottom center of a few cells. Finally! Next time I’ll come out with my flashlight and magnifying glass.

See those little rice shaped objects on the bottoms of the cells?  Those are eggs.  If only they were this easy to find.

See those little rice shaped objects on the bottoms of the cells? Those are eggs. If only they were this easy to find.

We closed GH1. Rose showed me how to set the box at a diagonal and slowly slide it into place. A few were still squished. She did, however, use her hive tool to scape off the body parts that hung out from between the boxes. I placed the feeder and she suggested I place chopsticks under the pail to allow the bees to move in and out from beneath, and to add some ventilation at the top. Another great tip!

We opened Yellow Hive 2 (YH2), also packed with bees and full of eggs, brood and larvae. She pointed out a small queen cell and indicated that bees like to keep a few small queen cells or queen cups around and they’re nothing to worry about.  Good news.  Wish I’d known that a few weeks ago.

Would you believe both hives received new boxes? GH1 now has 3 brood boxes and YH2 received its first honey super, totaling 4 boxes. Rose even suggested splitting the yellow hive. I’ll be heading to the bee store for another hive. I might paint it turquoise. My apiary will look like it came from the Caribbean.

False Alarm Folks

So the girls made a liar out of me. I am thrilled they’re doing so well. Not sure I’m ready to tell all of those nice bee people, who came so quickly and generously to my aid, that it was a false alarm. No issues here! The girls are thriving and I am determined to make the next bee meeting so I can thank them in person and pay it forward. No doubt about it. Bee people are good people.