Tag Archive | prevent

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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DIY Powdered Sugar for Sugar Rolls

September 13, 2015

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Sugar rolls sound more like a sweet breakfast treat rather than a mite preventative for bees. I’ve said time and again that I will not treat for mites, at least not with chemicals. I did it once, never again. But I’m not against using natural, organic practices, like sugar rolls, or fogging with mineral oil. I don’t have a garden fogger yet (note to hubster…it’s on my Amazon holiday wishlist!), but I do have plenty of sugar, so I decided to attempt my first sugar rolls to help manage/reduce mites in the hives.

What’s a Sugar Roll?

Sugar rolls are a very common, natural, chemical free mite management method used by many, many beekeepers. I question whether there’s any real scientific evidence to prove its effectiveness, but then again, a million flies can’t be wrong. There’s a reason so many beekeepers do it.

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The process involves shaking a thick layer of powdered sugar across the top frames of each box (1 cup per deep box. 1/2 to 2/3 cup per medium box), then lightly brushing back and forth across the tops of the frames to push the sugar down between the frames (this is the “roll”), covering the bees in sugar.

This does two things…

  • The sugar creates a slippery surface on the bees that will cause the mites to lose their grip and fall down out of the hive through the screened bottom board; and
  • The bees clean themselves and each other profusely, consuming the sugar, picking off the mites and dropping them out of the hive though the screened bottom board.

Sugar rolls don’t destroy the mite populations like chemicals do, but when performed on a scheduled basis (e.g. every month or two), they help keep the mite populations manageable by the bees and the beekeeper. No harm comes to the bees…they like sugar. Just bee gentle with brush when rolling. Also use a shaker that distributes the sugar lightly and evenly. I have a Pampered Chef sugar shaker that holds about 1 cup of sugar and works bee-utifully. I had the large container of powdered sugar open and handy as I worked, and I just reloaded my shaker between boxes.

Pure Homemade Powdered Sugar, Minus the Cornstarch

The hardest part was finding powdered sugar that doesn’t contain cornstarch. Cornstarch is bad for the bees, and I quickly discovered that virtually every bag of powdered sugar sold in stores contains cornstarch…even the more expensive Dominos brand. So I decided to make my own powdered sugar.

Nothing but the best for my bees – pure, homemade powdered sugar is actually super easy to make in a really good blender. We have a Ninja blender, which includes the smaller shake containers that attach directly onto the blender. I found that the large blender container didn’t work so well at pulverizing the sugar into powder, but the small containers and processors works great!

I added about ¾ cups of granulated sugar to each shake container and blended for about 30-45 seconds, til I could see the sugar change in consistency – it becomes more condensed and powdery in the blender.

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Voila…powdered sugar, minus the cornstarch. Save leftovers in airtight containers for future sugar rolls or, dare I say it….holiday baking.   So long summer, hello fall…

Wax Moths…Eww!

September 9, 2015

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I just had my first, and hopefully last encounter with wax moths. My fault…most wax moth encounters are due to the beekeeper’s negligence. I uncovered several stacked boxes of frames with drawn comb in which I had forgotten to add moth crystals. The frames had been stored there since mid-July. I could smell the stench upon lifting the cover – the frames were infested with wax moths, wormy larvae, webs and droppings – like a creepy, disgusting Halloween prop, only this was real.  Blah!

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Wax Moths and Bees

A wax moth infestation can destroy a hive. They like dark, warm areas with minimal air flow; and because they’re highly attracted to beeswax, the combination of dark, closed up boxes with frame upon frame of drawn comb is irresistible to wax moths who prey on and infest weak hives.

I’m grateful they only infested two boxes of frames and not four or six.  I’m even more grateful that they weren’t in my hives. What a horrible demise for bees, and a shameful mess for the beekeeper.

 

Preventing Wax Moth Infestations

There are several ways to store frames to prevent wax moth infestation.

  • Store frames in an airy location with plenty of light. Moths do not like light, nor do they appreciate steady air flow. I’ve heard of beekeepers openly hanging frames across the inside of well-lit buildings or barns, for example.
  • Use a fan to blow a steady flow of air through the frames. The downside would be the 24×7 operation of a fan (or two) over several months.
  • Store frames in a truly airtight container. I know beekeepers who store their drawn frames in airtight rubbermade containers – like the kind you keep clothes in under the bed – and store them in their basements. However, you need to be 300% certain it is truly air tight. Wax moths can access the tiniest of openings.
  • Store boxes and frames outdoors in freezing temperatures. All stages of wax moth will die within 24 hours in freezing temperatures (36 degrees F or lower).
  • Store frames with PDB moth crystals. This is my method (so much for chemical free beekeeping). Only use moth crystals containing paradichlorobenzene (PDB). These will kill all stages of wax moth, except the eggs. The crystals will dissolve gradually over several weeks/months time, so check every few weeks to determine whether the crystals need to be replenished, otherwise, you risk the moths returning. When you’re ready to reuse the boxes and frames, air them out for 2-3 days before introducing them to the bees.

 

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Cleaning Up the Mess

So what steps did I take to clean up this mess and ensure it doesn’t happen again?

  • Freeze the boxes and frames. Wax moths, eggs and larvae will all die if frozen for 24 hours. I have a freezer in the garage for freezing frames and boxes. This luxury has been put to great use over the last 2 years. It’s always a good idea to freeze boxes and frames before moving them to the hives, or even before extracting honey; or for saving honey frames until you’re ready to extract. I can easily fit two 8-frame boxes with frames into our upright freezer.

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  • Clean the frames. I placed a tarp on the ground in the driveway and grabbed my trusty pallet knife and scraped off the webs, droppings and debris, and cut out the areas that were severely damaged.

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  • Store the frames and boxes. I use moth crystals containing paradichlorobenzene (PDB) to store frames with drawn comb. No longer will I boast of chemical free beekeeping – this is my one vice. For me, it’s the easiest, most worry free way to ensure that your comb and boxes are moth free. I simply add a spoonful of crystals on a piece of cardboard that’s placed on top of the frames, then I add another box of frames and another piece of cardboard with another spoonful of crystals. When all boxes are stacked, air tight, then place a top cover on top with a heavy brick or object on top of that to weigh it down.

 

The crystals will dissolve gradually, so check every few weeks to determine whether the crystals need to be replenished, otherwise, you risk the moths returning. When you’re ready to reuse the boxes and frames, air them out for 2-3 days before introducing them to the bees. Preferably in an open, well lit, well ventilated location. And if that location happens to bee below 36 degrees F, then even better!

Just keep in mind that not all will bee lost. Wax can always bee rendered down in the spring and replaced with new wax, and frames that are salvageable can go back into the hives and will bee cleaned further by the bees. Bees are workers and cleaners. They’re programmed to build comb in the spring, so they’ll fill in the gaps and put the frames to good use. Waste not, want not…you’ve gotta love’em.

Making Up for Lost Time

Friday, May 15, 2015

The honey flow is in full force right now.  While everyone else is hacking and sneezing, the bees are taking advantage of the spring blooms. They’re crazy busy collecting pollen and nectar, procreating, and making honey.  Go girls, go!

Chilled Brood

We did have a minor setback about 2 weeks ago.  Frost set in for several evenings, chilling the eggs and larvae, as shown in the photo below, and setting the girls back a week or two.  When I inspected the hives, I naturally thought the queen was once again having issues.  But seeing as I’ve been through this exact scenario only a few weeks earlier, I checked back a week later and found the queens were back in business, quickly laying new brood.

photoHeavy Supers

I added supers to all hives about a month ago.  This past week I lifted them off for inspection and realized how heavy they are already!  That’s exciting news and could indicate a good honey harvest (no jinxing).  By this weekend, I hope to have a second layer of supers on all of my hives.  Good thing I’ve been cleaning frames and boxes.  I’ve stacked quite a few boxes in the greenhouse. Lots of light in there to keep wax moths away.  I’ve given up on maintaining consistent color schemes and have succumbed to mixing them up.

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Expanding the Brood Chambers

In addition to adding supers, my other strategy was to adapt “The Rose Hive” method of adding brood boxes just above the bottom box to expand the brood chamber (laying area) rather than expanding from above.  Bees swarm because they run out of space to lay and/or there’s lack of ventilation.  The theory is that if you continue to expand the brood chamber and ensure they have plenty of room, then they will continue to populate and won’t have reason to swarm.  Makes perfect sense to me!  I don’t believe you can ever prevent them from swarming, but they may bee inclined to stay a bit longer.

With that said, all of these supers and brood boxes are stacking up into some pretty tall colonies.  My next strategy is to start splitting so we can get yellow hive back up and running.

Loving this gorgeous spring weather.  Hard to get upset about the pollen when I know how happy my bees are.  Hang in there everyone, and keep eating your local raw honey.  The more local the better!

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Stopping the Robbing

Saturday, October 20, 2014

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Some rules you just don’t think about until you break them.  And once you experience the horrific results, you never break them again.

I made the horrible mistake of scraping out burr comb that contained honey and laying it on top of an adjacent hive as I was inspecting.  Within minutes, the comb had attracted hoards of bees, and so began a robbing frenzy.  And why not?  We’re in the midst of a fall dearth, the bees are hungry, and a bounty of food has been revealed to them.

Any food, sugar syrup, honey, etc. left near a hive can yield devastating results, from attracting animals to attracting robbers.

Stop the Madness – IMMEDIATELY

When robbing begins, stop it immediately.  Sure indicators of robbing is dramatic increase in bee activity, including fighting at the entrance and groups of bees crawling around the hive boxes (all sides) looking for ways to enter.  Don’t get confused with orientation flights.

Robbing can be devastating to a hive, resulting in destroyed comb, loss of bees, and loss of stores.  Some steps I took, good and bad…

1) Close all entrances, except for bottom entrance.

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2) Reduce bottom entrance to smallest size

3) Cover entrance w/ robbing cage – essentially covered front entrance with window screen, allowing only a small entrance on the side for resident bees.

The idea is that robbers will fly directly into the entrance from the front.  If the can’t enter through the front, they’ll often give up.  The resident bees, on the other hand, will make the effort to find the alternate entrance and will adapt to that entrance.   Bottlenecking will occur, but they will work it out.

I have an alternate robbing cage idea for next time, but as this one was in place and was working, I left it as it was.

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4)  Place a damp sheet over top of the hive

Not towels, like I did I my photo at top, although this did help some.  But full white sheets that actually cover the hive.  Again, resident bees will figure it out, but robbers will be discouraged.

Always Bee on the Lookout

Within several days, the robbing had subsided and I removed the barriers.  That same day, they began robbing again.  You have to watch them.  Bees have good memories.

Two Weeks Later (Oct 4, 2014)

Two weeks after, I still have robbing cages on the hives and they’re all doing well.  Now that the weather is changing and I’m feeding 2:1, I do plan to remove them and enter the hives to see how they look, ensure they have stores, and condense them down for winter.

 

 

 

Our First Swarm – The Final Chapter

May 30, 2014 (Friday)

 

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After 2 days, I knew the girls had left for good. Sad but true. I always hear about beekeepers capturing lots and lots of swarms. I never hear about the swarms that leave for good.  I wonder if that happens more or less than the stories with happy endings?

I consulted my beekeeping club to find out how I can avoid another disappointing loss down the road. The consensus was that some swarms just go too high, to places you can’t possibly get to. That’s what my girls did, and it seems like most beekeepers just accept the loss and move on.  It’s another standard part of beekeeping.

But what if we hadn’t been home? How would I have known they swarmed?  The answer to that question is simply the reduction in bee traffic, which I confess is quite noticeable. Before, the bees were piling up at the entrance, trying to get in and out.  Now they seem less congested, more comfortable and efficient.  Like the wheel has been oiled and is turning much smoother now.

But what can be done to keep them from flying off?  Why didn’t they opt for the bait traps?  Did they find another home?

I’m sure the little traitors found another home somewhere…probably in another beekeeper’s hive.  As for keeping them around next time and whether or not bait hives work, here’s an interesting theory that makes sense.

Bees know well ahead of time that they are going to swarm.  That’s no secret.  But consider this -scout bees are actually forager bees. During their flights out looking for pollen and nectar sources, they are simultaneously scoping out the local scene to determine a good potential home for their pending swarm. So the bees already have a good idea of where they will relocate before the swarm even occurs. If this is true, then a bait hive is virtually useless after the swarm has already occurred.  However, if the bait hive is positioned nearby (at least 8 feet high) several days or weeks before the swarm occurs, then there’s a chance it might work.

There’s also a chance that you might catch your neighbor’s swarming bees. That’s ok too. All is fair in love and beekeeping…as long as you don’t tell your neighbor.

I’d certainly be interested to hear some swarm stories. How have swarms been captured from impossible places, like 40 ft tree branches? How often are swarms missed? Any success using bait hives?  There are probably as many scenarios as there are beekeepers, and there’s no better way to learn.  So let’s hear it!

RIP Yellow Hive 2

Yellow Hive 2 (YH2)

May 11, 2013 –  February 2, 2014

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Sunday, February 2, 2014

Our 50+ degree weekend unveiled some bad news.  Yellow Hive 2 (YH2) has died.   YH2 was always a challenging colony.  It never behaved as actively as green hive, and never built up as quickly as green hive.  It threw me curve balls – like the time I discovered it had requeened itself just when I was ready to give them a $50 Texas queen.  Thanks to YH2, we have Blue Hive 3.  

Although YH2 started off strong, I could tell in late November that their numbers were starting to diminish.  They were still flying two weeks ago, then cold temps returned.  Its loss is not a huge surprise, but still disappointing and sad since somewhere along the way, despite my best efforts, worry, lack of sleep and second guessing, something went wrong.  YH2 is my first hive loss.

Suspected Causes

I opened the boxes and noticed a considerable amount of moisture had accumulated on the frames and comb and the interior felt damp.  The brood comb even appeared to be growing mold across the frames.  Mites were also visible among the dead bees, and the bottom board revealed quite a few mites, as well.   With these problems and the cluster’s decreasing size, the girls just weren’t able to stay warm and likely froze to death.  The cluster, although small, was still in tact, and the hive will remain intact for outdoor storage until the warmer temperatures set in.

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Moisture accumulated in the form of sugar syrup on the surfaces of the frames. Mold was beginning to form. The brood had been abandoned and they left quite a bit of uncapped sugar syrup in the brood chamber.

The cluster was small and intact.  To the right of the dead bees is a small dark dot that is a varroa mite.

The cluster was small and intact. To the right of the dead bees is a small dark dot that is a varroa mite.

Lessons Learned and Corrective Actions

If the air flow in the hive is not adequate, then moisture can’t escape.  Moisture is a huge enemy to bees, especially in cold weather.  Some thoughts on what might have gone wrong and corrective actions …

  • Covered Top Frames Too Heavily with Candy.  Covering the top frames blocks air from circulating up top, thus preventing moisture from escaping.  I’m told that candy and supplemental feeding should cover no more than 1/4 to 1/3 of the surface over the top frames, and that area should be the section that first receives the morning sun.
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Top frames are completely covered with candy, thus preventing air from rising to the top and moisture from escaping. Another mistake was leaving in the hive beetle traps since they also block air and prevent ventilation.


  • It was suggested that the top spacer containing the cedar chips might actually prevent air flow.  Instead, I plan to remove the box and add a stick or something that will raise the top telescoping cover just enough to create a small opening that will allow air to flow in and out.
  • I also added a mite board to Yellow and Green Hives early on to provide solid bottoms.  This too may have caused less air flow in the hive.  I was told not to abruptly remove the mite board from green hive because the bee cluster situates itself in the location that is the warmest.  By abruptly removing the mite board, they’ll be exposed and may not be able to adjust to a new location quick enough, and they may end up abandoning some of their brood because it’s too cold for the nurse bees to care for it.   I wish someone had told me this a day earlier before I so abruptly removed GH1’s mite board.  Ugh.
  • One last suggestion was to stop feeding syrup earlier in the season.  I stopped liquid in October, just before packing them up for winter.  I need to stop this year by, say, mid-September.  The frames showed quite a bit of uncapped sugar syrup, adding to the liquid and moisture in the hive.  Bees need time to not only store and cap their food, but it also needs some time to dry out a bit.  The reason we feed candy in the winter is because they don’t digest the liquid diet well, thus requiring more flights to relieve themselves.  The same goes for their stores.   If they syrup is still runny, then its like feeding them a liquid diet in the winter, which produces moisture in the hive and can result in nosema and disentary.  Moisture in winter is just bad all around.

Next Steps

  1. Apply Lessons Learned to green hive so they don’t endure the same demise – clear frames, remove cedar chips, prop top cover.
  2. Keep yellow hive boxes and comb outside for storage while temps are still cold, but plan for storage of extra drawn frames once the weather warms.
  3. Even with mold, bees will clean out the frames in the spring and reuse as they see fit.
  4. Order one or two packages just to be sure I have at least two hives going in the spring.
  5. Plan to stop feeding earlier in the season next year so they have time to cap and dry out the stores before they are put away for winter.

Farewell YH2

YH2, you were a good hive, one of my original two colonies.  You minded your own business and preferred to be left alone.  I’m sorry you didn’t get an experienced beekeeper, but I’m a better beekeeper because of you.  Know that your tolerance and sacrifice will benefit future colonies that will someday call Yellow Hive their home.   RIP YH2.  I hope you’re in a warmer place where you can be out and about making lots of sweet honey.