Tag Archive | robbing

Do Bees Hibernate?

January 31, 2016 (Sunday)

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Temperatures got up to a whopping 54 degrees today!  After weeks of freezing temperatures and a 3ft snowfall, I finally had the chance to check on my girls and restock their candy supply. 54 degrees is still somewhat cold for the bees.  I certainly wouldn’t start pulling out frames and breaking apart boxes until the temps are at least in the 60’s.  Below 50 degrees, the bees begin to cluster.  Bees need to cluster in the cold because that’s how they generate heat and stay warm.

What Bees Do During the Wintertime

People often ask me if the bees are hibernating.  Well, bees don’t really hibernate.  Yes, they collect food to prepare for the winter, and yes, they stay in their hives during temperatures below 50 degrees.  Once the temps drop into the 40s or lower, the bees cluster around the queen and they use their wings to generate heat.  The larger the cluster, the more heat they can generate and the better chance they have of surviving the winter, as long as there’s enough food in the hive to keep them from starving.  Bees don’t sleep.  They work around the clock…each one has a role and a purpose.

Opening the hives in temperatures below 50 degrees risks breaking the cluster.  Best not to disturb the bees in the cold.  When the cluster is broken, or when bees get separated from the cluster in the cold, they can freeze.  So my rule of thumb is, if I see the bees out and about, then it’s ok for me to open the tops of the hives and add candy.

Checking on the Girls

I schlepped up to the hives to find them flying in full force, and judging by the blanket of bees atop the blanket of snow, they’ve been super busy cleaning house.  This is a good thing.  They clean all the dead bees and debris out of the hives whenever possible.  This helps prevent disease and keeps the colony healthy.  They’ve also been busy taking orientation flights (another term for much needed potty break), and bringing in pollen.  Yep, the little buggers found pollen in this desolate white land.  Gotta love their spunk!  It was a happy sight, indeed.

RIP Green Hive

I’d been anticipating the demise of Green Hive since the last time I’d checked on them.  Lots of bees were flying in and around the hive.  I also noticed some bees fighting at the bottom entrance (shown below).  A sign that Green Hive was being robbed by the other bees.

I opened the top and sure enough, the other bees were robbing the remaining candy and honey, and Green Hive’s cluster stared up from between the frames in a dead, frozen state (shown below).  Not one of my prouder moments as a beekeeper since I decided to take them into winter with two boxes rather than combining them with a stronger hive.  Another lesson learned…

Freezing temperatures are best for preserving dead hives since parasites won’t infest the hives as long as the temperatures are freezing.  Once things start to warm up in March, I’ll clean it up and get it ready to take in a new split colony in the spring, along with Blue Hive.

Recycled Swarm Trap

As I walked around the garden I noticed that the swarm trap that had been left up since last spring, has been claimed by some other form of wildlife.  I suspect squirrels.  They chewed large holes in both sides, and another hole that appears to be stuffed with garbage – plastic, paper, and who knows what else (shown below).  Well, if it couldn’t house a swarm, then I’m glad something else found a good use for it.  We’ll build another one in a few months and hope that it catches more swarms than this one did.

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After this weekend, we’re all back in cabin fever mode.  Hope it won’t be too long again before we get another reprieve.  Stay warm everyone and let’s hope Mr. Groundhog doesn’t see his shadow.  Early spring would bee nice :o)

 

 

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Gather, Extract, Bottle

Sunday, July 12, 2015


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You know that saying about something is attracted to something like bees are attracted to honey?  Unless you’ve actually extracted honey, you couldn’t possibly know just how attracted to honey they really are.

Bees smell honey. Then they go tell their friends where to find the honey…and they tell their friends…and they tell their friends…and within minutes the driveway, the garage, the pool, the entire front yard is enveloped in bees, like something out of a horror movie.  Then the hubster is unhappy because he can’t in the pool because it’s surrounded by bees, and I need to get the bees out of the garage…and don’t let them in the house cause the cats will chase them and get stung…then I’m pulling out the hose to squirt the bees away and wash the honey smell off the floor, the driveway, anything and everything’s that’s come in contact with the honey.  Not to mention, I kick into rescue mode and start fishing the little buggers out of the pool.  All of this is hypothetical by the way :o) Next year we’ll sneak everything out of the garage and into the workshop around midnight when the bees are sleeping.

The hardest part of extracting honey is not letting the bees know you’re doing it.  Stealth is key.  I learned my lesson last year, escaping with uncovered boxes down to the garage and leaving them outside for even a few minutes and attracting hoards of bees that hovered outside the garage door all day.

Based on that experience, I improved my process this year.  In fact, I was quite pleased with myself and how I managed to bypass the drama that we experienced last year.  At least until the hubster opened the garage door the next day while the honey boxes and some leftover honey were sitting on the garage floor.  Not to mention, they smelled the remnants from the day before.  Bees are smart!  But getting back to extraction day, I actually came up with a good process.  Not a perfect process, but a good one.

Step 1.  Prepare

Think smart.  Preparation is key.  Get the tools and brush ready, get the fume board ready, get a wheelbarrow ready, get top covers ready, have the smoker going, get the gear on, and have a completely enclosed facility ready to house the honey.

Step 2.  Fuming the Bees, One Box at a Time

  • Put a top cover top side down in the bottom of the wheel barrow.
  • Lightly smoke around the top edges of the hive and at the entrance to let them know you’re coming in.  But not too much.  You don’t want to smoke in the honey.
  • Spray the fume board 3 times with the almond scented fuming spray, and place the board on top of the hive.
  • Wait  5 – 10 minutes for the bees to clear out.

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Step 3.  Remove the box

  • Most of the bees should bee out of the top box by now, so remove the top box and place it within the top cover that’s in the bottom of the wheel barrow.
  • Immediately place another top cover securely on top of the honey box so that it is completely closed on the top and on the bottom.

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Step 4. Fume again and escape (bee stealthy) with the honey

  • Spray the fume board one or two more times, then place on top of the next box to bee removed.
  • While the fume board empties the next box, quickly run your honey super down to the garage or where ever you’re extracting.
  • Life the lid and brush off as many bees as possible – what’s left will go into the garage with you along with the honey box.
  • Close the door behind you!!!

Step 5.  Repeat steps 2-4

If successful, then you’ll have all honey supers safely in the garage, with a small amount of bee activity outside the door, and a small amount of bee activity inside the garage.

It’s gonna happen, some bees will bee caught up with the honey boxes.  Don’t open the garage door to let them out. TRUST ME on this.

We extracted over 100 lbs of honey this past weekend.  That’s from about 5 boxes.  Amazing bees!

Overall Apiary Status

So how have the girls been doing up to this point?  Well, other than finding bee activity in my swarm traps and discovering (after purchasing a new hive, new beekeeping britches, and setting up a new hive location) that they were not swarms but robber bees, we haven’t had much drama.  They’ve endured much rain, and much heat and humidity this summer.  I’ve left them alone, and they’ve been thriving (that should tell you something right there).  And so has the garden.  We have cucumbers coming out our ying yangs, and tomatoes are coming up fast.

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Plans for Using the Honey

So what to do with all that honey?  We’ll sell some of it, give some away as gifts, make alcoholic honey beverages, cook with it, make creamed honey for Christmas presents, I’ll use it in soaps and potions.  So many things we can do with honey.  So you can expect lots of tutorial posts in the coming months.  :o)

In the meantime, I’ve placed supers back on all the hives, and even added a third box to my little yellow hive, which is still taking syrup and is growing like crazy.  Let’s hope the big hives fill out and cap some unfinished frames and build out the rest of the supers before winter.  Trying to follow that 90% rule – only extract frames that are 90% capped.  We can use some late summer honey for overwintering the bees, and maybe they can spare a bit more for us.  We shall see!

 

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.

 

 

 

The Queen is Free

August 24, 2013 (Day 106) – Inspection

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I’ve been checking on Blue Hive 3 (BH3) over the past few days, since introducing the queen. It can take anywhere from 2 days to an entire week for her to be released. I checked on day 3 and day 5. I suspect she was released on day 7. Today I found an empty queen cage, lots of bur comb, and tons of active little bees. I did look for the queen and didn’t find her. Doesn’t mean she isn’t there, just means she was hiding from me.

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BH3 is still a very young hive, so I’ve kept a watchful eye on it since neighboring Green Hive 1 (GH1) is a big bully and likes to hang out front and sneak their way into BH3 for a little robbing frenzy.  I put the entrance reducer to the smallest size.  There’s not much activity yet at the front of BH3, so their guard is still down.

I also noticed inside the hive that the two end frames were practically untouched.  I split them up and put one on each end so they can be filled out.  Judging from the staircase of comb that travelled from the top of the frames to the top cover, the girls could use some more room.  Tomorrow I’ll head to my bee supplier and purchase some proper extra boxes and a proper top cover so they can start expanding upward.

I’m surprised at how well the plastic boardman feeder is working for BH3.  As a front feeder I can understand the robbing sensation they create, but within a closed top box it works very well.  However, I’m such a clutz and always end up spilling, not that the bees complain.  Quite the opposite.  They go nuts!  In fact, I was mixing a batch last weekend and we had the kitchen window open (screen down, of course).  A dozen bees were buzzing outside the kitchen window.  The little buggers could smell the sugar syrup and the Honey B Healthy from outside, so you can imagine what the scene is like when there’s a pool of syrup open right next to their hive.  Gear is good.

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Feeding frenzy on the mash pile. Starting to see a mix of different types of bees.

Green Hive 1

Green Hive is crazy active and doing super.  Like I said, they’re the bully hive, having endured Yellow Hive 2’s low period and now seeing their little neighbor hive at a relatively weak point, their strength has gone to their heads.

GH1 is still foraging like crazy on the clover in the yard and on late blooming plants.  The rain has perked everything back up.  Chunks of pollen are carried in and they’re sucking down a gallon of sugar syrup every 2 days.  I was considering emptying the bees out of their Box 5 and transferring it to BH3, but they need the space, and if they can draw out and fill that top box with stores, then that would be great for helping them get through the winter.

Yellow Hive 2 is Back

YH2 has really come to life.  They’re happy with their new queen and GH1 isn’t messing with them anymore.  They aren’t drinking as much syrup as GH1, maybe a gallon every 4 days.  Still not too shabby.  I didn’t bother them.  If it ain’t broke, leave them alone.

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Empty queen cage and a nice little gift of bur comb from the bees.

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Happy little family of hives.

I’m happy now that everyone seems to be on the right track.  No honey this year, but have been collecting the bur comb and hope to make some lip balm or face cream or something out of it.  Come heck or high water, I will give away some product from the hives this holiday season!