Tag Archive | prepare

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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The Mail Order Queen

August 11, 2013 (Day 93) – Inspection

Last week we gave Yellow Hive 2 (YH2) a frame of brood from Green Hive 1 (GH1) and we added Beetle Blasters to help with the pest issues. So I had a few things to check on this week. YH2 has been inactive a docile this past week with few bees on the front stoop. GH1 likes to show off by going crazy nuts throughout the day. Complete opposites.

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GH1

I didn’t need to do a full inspection on GH1. It’s easy to see that hive is doing well. It has tons of bees, they’re crazy active. During their active times, I see some side trekkers sneaking over and creeping around YH2. I suspect they’re looking to rob some of their coveted sugar syrup. I’ve seen some bees fighting and I’m glad YH2 is still defending itself fairly well.  GH1 is also bringing in nice chunks of pollen.  A great sign that things are still blooming.

I had put the box of drawn comb that was taken off YH2 into the freezer last week. I read that the best place to store drawn comb is on a strong hive, so GH1 is now 5 boxes tall.  I may employ a step stool for changing the feeder bucket.

Both hives have been taking in about 3 gallons of sugar syrup a week. I can hardly keep up with them. I’m still feeding 1:1 sugar to water, but since stores are needed for upcoming winter months, I’m considering switching to 2:1 syrup soon.

I also found only 2 beetles in GH1’s Beetle Blaster.  No other signs of beetles.  GH1 is doing well all around!

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YH2

YH2 still has quite a few bees. The top boxes are filled with bees feeding in both hives. YH2 consumes their share of syrup too. No hive beetles found in either trap. I was surprised since YH2 had the beetle issues. I did notice how well they had drawn the comb in Box 3 of YH2. Then I lifted it and holy moly it was heavy. They’re not producing brood, but at least they’re storing up for winter.

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Who took the feeder bucket? We don’t want brood! We want food!

I pulled off box 2 and out ran about 10 beetles. I smooshed as many as I could, but those little buggers are fast! I hope they make their way to the top box. I will be ordering 2 of the bottom beetle trays since i think they will be most effective for trapping the beetles. I also moved one of the blasters to box 2.

I checked the frames in Box 2. Mostly dark empty comb. The drone population was heavy – a sign that workers, not the queen, have been reproducing. No sign of the queen. Same situation in Box 1. No queen, no brood, and no activity on the capped brood that I added to YH2 last week. Oh, and no queen cells. Nothing.  I left them with another pollen patty, filled their feeder bucket and closed them back up.

I gave them ample opportunity to re-queen themselves.  Natural is always the preference, as there is always risk involved with introducing an outside queen.  But I need to intervene or their numbers will continue to dwindle and the hive will die.

Finding a queen locally is not easy.  I ordered a new queen online from a Texas company called BeeWeaver Apiaries.  They have their own strain of bees derived from the Buckfast bees.  Supposedly they are easy to keep alive and they are very mite tolerant.  I purchased her marked and clipped.  I’m regretting having her clipped.  At the time I ordered, the idea of having a queen that can’t fly away sounded good, and it only costs $1.  But then my brain starts thinking it’s not natural (like declawing a cat), and then I start reading about how she can’t fly if they swarm, they chase her around the hive but she can’t go anywhere, and how the bees might think she’s injured and they may not accept her, yada, yada.  Ok, no more research.  I’ll just have to take extra precautions to keep them from swarming in the spring.

As usual, I’m learning by trial and error.  Most experts tell you to re queen in the fall anyway, so $50 later ($30 for marked and clipped queen and 19.95 for USPS express shipping) I can understand why so many beekeepers decide to breed their own queens. Ugh, no one said this hobby would be cheap. I just hope it pays off and both hives make it through the winter.