Tag Archive | new

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.

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New Package for Yellow Hive

Monday, April 14, 2014

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It’s that time of year, everyone is getting the call to pick up their packages and nucs for spring bee hive installations.  I added myself to the list early on as a safety precaution, and I’m glad I did because yellow hive has been sitting empty since February.  I received the email on Friday that my package (a 2 lb box of bees complete with queen) would be ready on Monday as early as 7am.

Mother Nature Not Helping

I figured I’d go pick up my new bees early and get them installed before heading to work.  But mother nature had different plans.  After a most perfectly gorgeous spring weekend, I woke up to a cold, cloudy, and insanely windy Monday. Ugh.

I thought the day might warm up in the afternoon, so I left at lunch, picked up the girls (still cold, windy and cloudy), went home and got them into their new digs.  I’ve never installed a package before.  It wasn’t difficult, now that I have a little bee experience under my belt.  But I can see how it would be intimidating for a beginner.  Keep in mind though that bees without a hive to defend are naturally docile.  They fly around but they aren’t aggressive or stingy.  Regardless, wear your gear as a precaution.

What’s a Package?

A package includes 2 lbs of bees (about 3500?), a can of sugar syrup for feed, and a queen cage containing the queen and several attendants.  Queens are marked a different color each year so you can identify her and the year she was installed.  This year is green.  All of this comes in a nice compact wooden screened box. You can imagine the buzz during our ride home.  The girls were very excited!

Installing the Package

I’m sure there are many ways to install a package, but here’s what I did, and it worked like a charm.

1. Hive configuration:

1  8-frame box
3-4 center frames w/ drawn comb – (keeps the queen safer and gets the bees started more quickly)
2 frames of honey – one on each side of comb frames (feed for cold eves – more freezing temps expected)
3-4 fresh foundation frames on the outside edges (to allow room for growth).

2. Spray 1:1 sugar syrup to settle them down and occupy them while prepping for the install. (see below)

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3. Remove several center frames to give space to dump bees.

4. Remove can of syrup. Bees will start flying at this point. (see below)

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5. Remove queen cage and set aside. (see queen cage below)

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6.  Take the large wooden box, with the hole facing top, lift it a few inches and slam (not too hard) the bottom on a hard surface so that the bees drop into a ball at the bottom of the box.

7. Then slam (again, not too hard) the side of the box on a hard surface to further condense the ball of bees into the corner of the box.

8. Turn the box over and shake the bees out of the hole, dumping them into the open center area of the hive.

9. Repeat steps 6-8 until most of the bees are emptied into the hive. (see below)

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10. Gently add the frames back into the center of the hive. Bee very careful, they won’t drop in completely right away because of the mounds of bees located at the bottom of the hive, but gradually the bees will move up onto the frames and the frames will lower into position.  Be patient with this step.

11. Poke a hole through the candy in the queen cage.  This helps facilitate the eating of the candy plug that allows for the release of the queen over a course of several days.

12. I insert my queen cage differently, and it has worked for me just fine. Insert the queen cage between two frames, under the top bars, embedded within the comb.  I insert mostly horizontally with the candy side tilted up slightly.  This prevents the exit from being blocked should any of the attendants die.  A blocked exit means the queen can’t exit the cage.  I also place the screen side down so the bees have easy access to the queen.

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13. Once everyone is installed, I close her up and feed, feed, feed with 1:1 sugar syrup.

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14. Some bees will likely be loitering in the wooden box.  Place the box with left over bees on the ground just beneath the hive entrance.  They’ll all march into the hive when they’re ready.

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Freezing Temperatures and a New Package

Not a great combination, but it is what it is.  We had freezing temps all week.  As long as the queen is inserted within drawn comb with easy access to the bees, and as long as the bees have honey stores to feed on, then all should be well.  You don’t want the queen to bee on fresh foundation.  The bees might easily cluster away from the queen, leaving her to freeze.

Several Days Later

I checked on the hive Thursday (3 days later), the queen still hasn’t been released, but she looks alive and well.  All the bees are active and building comb fast, all over the cage and up to the inner cover.  Giving it one more day.  If she isn’t released on Saturday, I’ll dig out the candy and free her into the hive.

Yay! Yellow Hive is Back

We’re all happy to have Yellow Hive back in action.  Of course, Blue Hive was curious and had to come out and see what the fuss was all about.

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Green and Blue Hives 

Green Hive is still slow.  I suspect they have too much space, or the queen may be doing poorly, so I’ll need to combine it with Blue or Yellow Hive, or find a new queen soon.  Blue hive is active, but hoping they become more active as the weather warms again.  This fluctuation in temps is crazy.  Regardless, we’re in full swing now so let the decision making begin!

Coming soon – DIY solar wax melter, soap making, and harvesting beeswax from comb.  Woo hoo!

 

 

Top Ten: What to Expect as a New Beekeeper

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The Frederick County Beekeeping Association’s (FCBA’s) annual beekeeping short course was held over the past few weekends.  I said this before and I’ll say it again, there’s no better way to get started as a beekeeper than taking a short course from your local bee club.  One of my favorite segments last year (when I was still in decision-making mode) was the first year beekeeper’s presentation of their experience since taking the course.  I remembered thinking, wouldn’t that be cool if I were standing up there next year speaking about my first year of beekeeping.

I was thrilled to have the opportunity to do just that, and I even learned something about myself. I learned that, although I can be as quiet and introverted as they come – particularly in a room full of people I don’t know – give me 15 minutes and a microphone and ask me to talk about my bees and I will dominate center stage for at least 30 minutes, even if it cuts into people’s lunch breaks. Oops! Ok, I certainly didn’t mean to take up anyone’s lunch time, but once I began talking about my bees in front of close to 70 people, I felt no fear. I felt excitement, a rush, passion, and sheer joy in sharing my experience with others (which, come to think of it, may be why I write this blog).

What a blast and a privilege. I can only hope it went as fast for them as it did for me and that I was able to provide some informational value, perhaps even entertainment value. Sure I shared my hive setup, my highs and lows, how I feed, how I treat, blah blah blah… What I really wanted to tell them were the things that I may have been aware of at a subconscious level, but that really didn’t sink in until I started doing it….

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Then There Were Three

August 18, 2013 (Day 100) – Part 2

Yellow Hive 2 (YH2) forced me to make yet another quick executive decision.  This hive decided to requeen itself, which (thank goodness) we discovered just before we requeened the hive ourselves. This surprise left us with a beautiful $50 Texas Buckfast queen and no hive.  So I decided to split GH1 since it is very strong and should quickly make up for any contributions to its new little sister hive.

The Night Before

The night prior, I carefully went through the frames in GH1 and transferred two frames of honey and nectar, a frame of eggs and larvae, and two frames of capped brood to a nucleus hive, which is essentially a 5 frame box.  I looked at every frame very, very carefully to make sure none contained the queen.  I didn’t see her at all and suspect she was in the bottom brood box, safe from Beezilla.

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I did this the night before for two reasons:

  1. To give the new hive a 24 hour separation period from their current queen so they will hopefully be more accepting of their new queen, and
  2. To get them acclimated to their new location, right between GH1 and YH2.  If there’s no acclimation, then they may be inclined to return to GH2 rather than stay and prosper in BH3.

I believe the transfer was a success.  We let the bees rest in their new location until tomorrow when they meet their new queen.

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…v

I was in the garage at 8:30 PM last night painting boxes, because our new addition must have its own identity.  It must fit with our calypso, Caribbean colorfest in the garden theme.  

This new addition is completely unplanned.   But then the girls have been driving this show since day 1, so I really shouldn’t be surprised by the curve balls they keep throwing at us.  Ironic though that Blue Hive 3 (BH3) should become the newest member of our Boo Bee Apiary on Day 100 of this wild adventure.

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Pulling a Hive Out of Our Ying Yangs

We had the two boxes all painted and ready to go, but no bottom board, launch pad, entrance reducer, inner cover or top cover. We drove to our bee supplier first thing in the morning and he was closed! Ugh! We needed a complete hive and FAST! Our queen wasn’t faring well in that tiny little queen cage and we needed to get her in today!

My amazing and brilliant hubster offered to give up his play day with beer to build the pieces I needed to complete my hive. We visited Lowes and bought the supplies then quickly headed back home. While I made zucchini bread, he ripped out a top notch launching board, a screened bottom board, an inner cover and a top cover. His first time ever building these pieces, and as always he did a stellar job. We did learn that unless you build in bulk, it is NOT cheaper to build your own hives and hive parts. I’ll stick with my bee supplier, when he’s open. Homemade is good for now.

BH3 is Born

I decided to keep the hive closed in for another day, just to be sure they would be acclimated to their new location. So we placed a complete strip of wood across the hive entrance. I opened the nuc and was very pleased to see a very large population of bees. Just as I transferred my first two hives back in May, I moved the frames and placed them into the new hive in the exact same order.

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I added a strip of velcro to the queen’s cage, and placed the other half of the velcro on top of a center frame so she could hang between the brood frames. The velcro worked perfectly. We hung her between the frames, candy side up and screen facing out between the frames so the Queen could be attended to.

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Feeder Lesson Learned

I shook in the remaining bees and closed up BH3 leaving a boardman feeder in a second top box. Accidentally I left the feeder on top of the hive until I was ready. I walked away for 2 minutes and returned to a feeding frenzy. I shooed them away and proceeded to grab the feeder by the cup, collapsing the feeder and releasing syrup everywhere. It was a robber’s sugary dream. I managed to clean most of it up and rinsed the sugary areas with water. Lesson learned!

Reflection

I have to say that I’m actually proud of our split and how we handled the whole YH2 situation. Ok, so I’m not the most calm, cool and collected beekeeper; I still fumble around the hive; and yes, I lost a few winks of sleep worrying about the girls, but this whole scenario has taught me so much and I do love a happy ending.

BH3 will be a bit of an experiment. We’ll baby it through the winter and hope for the best.

If someone had told me this time last year that I’d have 3 bee hives, I’d have thought they were nuts. Pretty amazing really. Right now I think 3 is all we can handle. This increases our chances of getting a hive through winter, thus improving our chances for honey next year. Woo hoo!

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Installation Day

May 12, 2013

The day had finally arrived.  Our nucs were ready to install!  As a refresher, I spent the prior night watching YouTube videos on how to install bee nucs.  Gotta love YouTube!

Nucs and Packages

Perhaps I should have explained in my prior post about what a nuc actually is.  You see, new beekeepers can choose to start their hives with a nucleus hive or with a package.  A nucleus hive is a mini-hive that includes a wax covered box (which acts as the hive body) and five established frames with the bees and the queens all ready to go.  All I do is transfer those frames into my larger hives, then add three new frames to fill my 8-frame hive.  Nucs are the easiest way to start a brand new hive, and because the colony is already established, you get a quick head start.

Packages are screened boxes that contain about 3000 bees, a separate box containing the queen and several attendant bees, and a can of sugar syrup.  The package is opened by pulling out the can of syrup and the queen box.  Then the bees are literally dumped into an empty hive.  Bees don’t like this much, which makes this method a bit risky.  Plus the queen has to be gradually introduced and accepted by the worker bees.  But packages are considerably cheaper and can be purchased in the mail.  I understand postal worker just love having bees in their facility.  Packages are best to use if you have drawn out frames just need bees.

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Nucleus Hive (Nuc) Ready to Install

Let the Installation Begin!

So I went into Sunday morning feeling excited to jump in and start interacting with the bees.  I had even created a checklist of action items in preparation for the big event…

  • Make 2 gallons 1:1 simple syrup made the night before
  • Fill feeder buckets and hammer down tight so they’re ready to go
  • Learn to light the smoker
  • Pull tools out of box:
    • Hive tool
    • Brush
    • Smoker (lessons via YouTube)

My hubster had been waiting to light the smoker with his stash of wood chips from the workshop.  So while he worked on that, I marched the tools and feeder buckets up to the apiary.  We set up a video camera and I dressed in full gear, completely covered from the top of my hat all the way down to my pink muck boots.

I moved with relaxed and fluid motions.  Gently and slowly I removed each frame, inspected for the queens, then transferred them to the center of the hive in the exact same position from which they’d been pulled from the nuc.  Then brand new frames were added to the outside slots.

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Removing Frames from the Nuc

The hubster took photos from afar.  He could see the flying activity that surrounded me and he nervously began coaching me, thinking I was unaware of my surroundings.  I quickly reminded him that just because I couldn’t SEE the activity didn’t mean I couldn’t HEAR the activity.  I was very aware.  But when you’re covered head to toe in canvas, leather and muck boots, it’s hard not to feel like you have the upper hand.

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Adding Established Frames to the New Hive

I didn’t find the queen in Green Hive 1 (GH1), but I did find one in Yellow Hive 2 (YH2).  I was pretty certain both were where they were supposed to be.  A few puffs of smoke calmed the girls down and coaxed them back into the hive.  Feeders were placed and I closed everything up.

They were pretty cool about the move and they certainly adapted quickly to their new space.   I was thrilled that the deed was done and that it was a success…and (guess what?) it’s on YouTube.

See Bee Install Movie on YouTube!

Your Nucs Are Ready!

May 11, 2013

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When the nucs are ready, you have to be ready. There’s no forewarning, no waiting around. We expected the nucs to be ready in early April, so we made sure the hives were ready at the end of March. We waited, and waited. Our colorful hives sure brightened up the garden, but they just sat empty.  A few weeks into April we received a message from our supplier explaining that a freak cold snap in March killed off most of his nucs and he had to start over.

Friday night, May 10th, we got “the call”. “Can you come at 9AM tomorrow morning?” he asked. “Absolutely!”, I said.

We arrived at the Bee Farm at 9 AM sharp, excited to transport and introduce our bees to their new forever home. Lined up on tables behind a large fenced area were rows upon rows of nucleus hives being worked by fully geared beekeepers. We were told the nucs could set on top of the hives for several days before they had to be installed, and to slide open the small screen entrance on the front sides so the bees could fly free to explore the area.

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At last we had our bees, and the timing couldn’t have been better. The garden was growing, clover and dandelions were abundant, and the shrubs were flowering. As instructed, we set the nucs on top of the hives and raised the screen doors. Out they flew. I too felt elated, like new life had been sprung in our own backyard, and I suddenly had a new role as keeper and protector of these amazing little insects. They were even drinking from their own water source. The plan was in place and the bees were already following it to perfection.

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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