Tag Archive | warm

Bees are Springing to Life!

Sunday, March 8, 2015

We had a wonderfully warm high 50’s day and the bees were crazy!!!  I started into winter with 5 hives, and had one that died out and 4 that appear to bee thriving.  I couldn’t bee more excited!

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So now that spring is in the air and the bees know it, what’s a beekeeper to do?  Well, spring is all about getting those girls up and running ASAP.  They’ve been clustered all winter, so they have some catching up to do!  They’ve been feeding on sugar cakes, and they likely have plenty of pollen stored up, but to bee safe I whipped up a batch of my gourmet pollen patties.

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When temps are consistently in the 50’s, then I’ll put some jars of syrup on the hives and that will really get the queens laying so they can get their numbers up.  The more bees, the more nectar and pollen can be brought into the hive when things begin to bloom, and the more honey they’ll produce.

Remember those swarms last year?  Well, that’s what overwintered hives do when they run out of room and don’t have enough ventilation.  This year, I plan to stay on top of things and make sure they have both.  I also intend to plant several swarm traps around the yard, and we need to figure out where we can put more hives.  Yee gads, more hives you say?  Now you sound like my husband.  You’ve gotta put ’em somewhere when you catch ’em.  Of course, I’ve heard other beekeepers say they’ve had more success catching other people’s swarms than their own when using swarm traps.  Hey, that’s ok too.  My swarms are probably happily residing in someone else’s hive.

Temps will be in the 40’s and 50’s this week, with a chance of snow on Thursday.  Ugh!!  Just when we thought it was over!  That’s always a bad thing when temps are warmer, then sudden cold sets in and the bees aren’t ready for it.  Just shows that we’re not out of the woods quite yet.  Regardless, I’ll bee cleaning frames and adding top boxes with jars of sugar syrup so the girls can get themselves juiced up.

Would love to hear how everyone else’s hives are doing and their strategies for pushing into spring!  All the best for happy spring hives!

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We Bee Cold!

Saturday, January 10, 2015

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Well, so much for the 60 degree days.  It’ll be 9 degrees here in Central MD tonight.  For us, that is COLD.  Burr!  This is the time when I start to worry…and wonder…and worry…and wonder if I did right by the girls this winter.  Hoping for some warm reprieve.  In the meantime, I’m getting more candy made so I’m prepared to stock them up on food the next time I’m able to get into the hives.  I’ll step up there tomorrow and clean their entrances of dead bees.

The Cat House

The bees aren’t the only ones who are cold.  We have two kittens who showed up at our house over a year ago.  A year later, they’re still here, inside all cozied on our bed.  Spoiled little monsters.  But their mamma is very ferrel and she still comes around.  We feed her and the hubster made her a nice covered shelter with lots of hay for burrowing, which she has not yet used.  It breaks my heart that she’s out in the cold while her youngsters are living the high life.  But she’s a wild one.  Very very skittish.  She’s a bee-utiful girl too.  Makes me wish I was Dr. Doolittle and could talk to the animals.

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Indoor Activities – The Soap Incident

Then there’s the great indoors – I love soaping.  My latest project was a 3 lb batch of cold process honey oat soap.  I was excited to try out a brand new soap mold.  The key word here is “soap” mold.  Soap is not cold when you put it in the mold. It is still warm and pourable, so you would think that if a mold is designed for soap, it would withstand some heat.  Well it started off great, then a few hours later we had a melt down…literally.  The mold melted down and my soap collapsed.

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Disappointing.  I love the handsome, uniform bars.  But I’m over it.  In 4 weeks it’ll be ready for the bathtub or shower and no one will care that it looks like the state of Tennessee or a monument from Stonehenge, as long as it lathers up and cleans.

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I hope everyone else’s indoor activities are going well – getting the equipment prepped, making candy for the girls, reading up in preparation for the spring explosion.  I’ve already seen beekeepers taking orders for nucs and packages, and our bee club will be holding their annual new-beekeepers course in another week.  Wow, time goes crazy fast.

To you and your bees – hang in there, stay busy, and stay warm.

 

The Girls Get a Bathroom Break

Saturday, February 22, 2014

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After 3 weeks of nonstop freezing temps and snow, we finally got a warm day. Warm enough that Green Hive 1 (GH1) and Blue Hive 3(BH3) could clean house a bit and benefit from a much needed cleansing flight.

At the end of January, we lost Yellow Hive 2. Just when I discovered what had gone wrong (hint: bad ventilation =moisture) the cold returned and I didn’t get the chance to make adjustments to GH1 to ensure it didn’t experience the same demise. I did, however, do something very stupid. I pulled out the mite board which I had inserted as a bottom board.  I should have pulled it out a few inches at a time over a week or two to allow them to acclimate.  But I didn’t know and instead yanked it out in one feel swoop.  But I learned that the cluster positions itself at the warmest location in the hive, and by drastically removing the bottom board just prior to a cold snap, I risked chilling the brood while also making it harder for the girls to stay warm.

My reason for doing this was:

  1. The hive needed better ventilation, and
  2. BH3 has no bottom board and is currently showing up its much larger neighbors. No ventilation issue whatsoever.
  3. Screened bottom boards also help control mites.

I will use only screened bottom boards from now on.  

So when I looked into GH3 earlier this week and saw an empty top box, I was prepared to write their eulogy. But today, although the top box still appeared empty, quite a few bees were buzzing out the bottom. I’m still unsure of their exact state, but I do know they have lots of stores, so they don’t have to come up top to feed if they don’t want to. The cluster may be hanging out in a lower box. I was just happy to see the activity and felt sad that no nectar was in sight.

BH3 has a huge cluster and they are eating away at the sugar candy. Rather than order a package for spring, I’m considering ordering 1 or 2 Texas queens from BeeWeaver and just splitting BH3. The bees are dark in color, they’re cold hardy, and they’re bred to be mite resistant. I like ’em!

Blue Hive 3 so far looking strong.

Blue Hive 3 so far looking strong.

I did make a few adjustments to help improve ventilation in both hives. The crazy boxes with pine chips have been removed. It’s been mentioned the chips could be blocking air circulation. I moved candy to one side of the frames, around the cluster, and not taking up any more than 1/4-1/3 of the frame space. And I inserted a chopstick into one corner of each hive to prop the top cover and allow for ventilation.

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Chopstick in corner beneath top cover helps ventilate the top without allowing much space for mice to get in.

I was so glad to see the girls today. I thought about pulling up a chair and just watching the show. Today was a great reminder that spring is just around the corner. Another few weeks of winter cold and we’ll bee in growth mode. Lots of decisions and preparations ahead. Lots of new lessons to learn. I can’t wait!

 

 

 

Winter Clusters – How Bees Stay Warm

I’m amazed at how hardy bees are in the cold.  Usually bees die in the winter due to varroa, nosema, condensation, and other factors.  Here’s an interesting explanation from HoneyBeeSuite about winter clusters and how the bees stay alive during the cold weather.

The cluster stays warm, the hive does not

Natural systems do not waste energy and honey bees are no exception. To survive the winter, a cluster of bees must keep itself warm. While it does this efficiently, it makes no attempt to heat the entire space within the hive.

The warmest place within a hive is in the center of the cluster. The temperature of the cluster decreases as you move toward the outside. The bees on the outside get so cold that they must rotate to the inside. If the inside of the hive were uniformly warm, this rotation would be unnecessary.

Of course, there is some heat lost from the cluster into the surrounding air, and because heat is lost, the bees must continually generate more. If you put your hand close to a heated iron, for example, you can feel the heat. The heat loss from the iron is similar to the heat loss from the cluster. You don’t have to move far away before you no longer feel it. The same is true inside the hive: the temperature drops rapidly as you move away from the cluster.

Nevertheless, the air inside the hive is slightly warmer than the ambient outside air. This is because the hive box itself provides a small amount of insulation. But the R-value of a pine board is not much, which means the difference in temperature between the inside air and the outside air is not great.

Heat rises from the cluster

There is one place in the hive that is warmer than the others, and that is the space immediately above the cluster. That is because warm air rises. One beekeeper in France measured the temperatures in his hive when the outside air temperature was 44°F. He measured 95° in the center of the cluster, 71° immediately above the cluster and 52° in other empty portions of the hive. Other beekeepers have found similar temperature gradients.

For this reason, an insulating layer placed above the bees reduces the rate of heat loss from the hive. Styrofoam, wood chips, or a layer of another material will slow the loss through the roof. But even this has its limits. For one thing, as the internal temperature gets warmer in comparison to the outside air, more heat is lost through the walls, so overhead insulation alone does not conserve as much heat as insulating the top and sides. It is a complex system with no easy answers.

Breaking the Cluster

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Winter Newbie Mistake – January 5, 2014, Sunday

With a forecast of sub-freezing wind chill temps nearing, I got anxious about adding a solid bottom board to Blue Hive 3 (BH3).  Keep in mind, temps were still darn cold – 30’s and 40’s.  I did add mite boards in the bottom of Green Hive (GH1) and Yellow Hive (YH2) to close off any bottom drafts, but those hives are larger and stronger.  BH3 is a little guy that so far (knocking on wood) has survived this cold snowy winter.

The intent was to lift the hive and slide a board beneath it.  Bad idea.  I pryed the bottom with my hive tool and jostled the top of the hive trying to remove the wind barrier frame.  Suddenly bees began coming out.  I began apologizing and willing them to go back in.  We stopped, put the barrier back and dispersed.  Another lesson learned the hard way.  I thought for sure I’d lose BH3 over this one.

The BH3 Verdict – January 20, 2014, Monday

Our first semi-warm day, mid-50’s, since the jostling incident.  I was on vacation, but the hubster kept watch over the hives and reported that bees were indeed coming out of all three hives, including BH3.  GH1 was going nuts.  Tons of bees out and about relieving themselves.  YH2 was also awake, but not nearly as much activity as GH1.  I never know what to think of YH2.  They’ve never been as active as GH1, and just when I think the worst, they prove me wrong.  Best news – BH3 had bees coming out. Yay!  All three hives are still alive for the time being.  I left them plenty of honey stores, and they still have plenty of candy to supplement their feeding.  I shall leave them alone til our next 50-something degree day.

Lesson learned:  Best to leave the bees alone in cold temps.  Any rapping or tapping on the hive could break the cluster, and breaking the cluster could prove fatal to a hive.

Moving ‘Em Down the Hive

November 3-5, 2013

This is a bee Escape Board.  Bees enter through the hole, which faces up.

Bees enter through the hole, which faces up.

Last weekend was my last chance to add the escape board to Green Hive 1 (GH1) so I could shrink them down to 4 boxes before the consistent freezing temperatures set in.  By reducing their space, the cluster will have less area to heat, enabling them to stay warmer throughout winter.

I’ve never used an escape board, but the guy on YouTube sure made it look easy.  He inserted the escape board beneath the box to be emptied, triangle side down, and he closed off the entrance.  The bees can move down through the board, but they can’t move back up.  Within 24 hours, his top box was empty.  What nice cooperative bees!  Within 24 hours, my box was still full.  Little buggers!

Bees come down through the triangle and exit at one of the three corners.  The triangle is screened, so they can't find their way back up.

Bees come down through the triangle and exit at one of the three corners. The triangle is screened, so they can’t find their way back up.

I’d love to attribute their stubborness to superior bee intelligence.  However, my brilliant girls put me in a pickle.

  1. The weather immediately turned colder.  Can’t work the hives when it’s cold;
  2. Daylight savings time meant coming home from work in the dark.  Can’t work with bees in the dark; and
  3. Leaving a full box of honey stores unguarded by the bees is like sending the hive beetles and wax moths an open invitation to an all you can eat buffet.

The next morning, I was headed to work but decided to check the hives first.  I lifted the lid and sure enough, they crawled down to cluster with the rest of the colony.  Yay, the box was empty, but I had no time to remove it.  I had to get to work! I put the top back on and left.  Half way to work, I realized that I forgot to pull the cover back to block the top entrance.  Ugh.  Nothing is simple…ever, ever, ever.  The box was empty, but I left them a big hole to crawl right back in.  I blame middle-age and Mondays….

I couldn’t get home at lunch and I had plans that night, which meant the box would stay on for one more day (going on 72 hours now).  I called the hubster who kindly covered the top entrance when he got home.  After another night of freezing temps, I went up the following morning at the first sign of light and swiftly removed the box, replaced the escape board with the inner cover and put the top back on.  Done! Like a pro! The box went into the freezer and off I went to work.

The good news is that with every completed new task comes a bit more beekeeping knowledge, and a bit more confidence that I didn’t have before.  More baby steps, we’re just about ready for winter.  I removed feeders from Yellow Hive 2 and Blue Hive 3.  The girls are officially off of their liquid diets and will soon bee on the solid candy diet.  Sometimes a bee’s life doesn’t sound so bad.

Fresh Honey Ginger Ale

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In search of a Ginger Beer recipe, I stumbled upon this easy, delicious, all natural version of ginger ale.  This produces a sweet, refreshing drink with a nice pungent kick of ginger spice.  Although the original recipe calls for granulated sugar, the addition of raw honey would make this a perfect sore throat, cough/cold beverage.  For carbonation, I simply add 50% club soda or seltzer water.

Paula’s Fresh Honey Ginger Ale

  • ¼ Pounds Fresh ginger root, peeled and grated
  • ¼ Cups Fresh lime juice
  • 3/4 cup honey* (1 cup sugar can be used in place of honey)
  • 4 Cups Water
  • 1 Teaspoon Vanilla
  • Seltzer or club soda
  1.  In a 2-5 qt pot, combine all in ingredients (unless using raw honey, see note below).
  2.  Bring to a boil then simmer for 30-40 minutes.
  3.  Strain the mixture through a fine mesh strainer and into a pitcher.
  4.  If using raw honey, then stir it into the warm liquid now until dissolved.
  5.  Drink warm as a cold and sore throat soother, or chill and serve carbonated with selzter water for a refreshing drink.  This is a strong sweet mixture, so I add about 50% seltzer.  Adjust to suit your taste.

Click here to view my complete SnapGuide tutorial.

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The Ginger Beer Concept

I still haven’t given up on the idea of turning this into an actual ginger beer.  Multiply the recipe to equate to a 5 gallon batch.  I’d add more water for a dryer beer.  Add to a sanitized carboy, pitch an ale or champaign yeast, add an air lock, wrap with a towel and keep in a cool dry place for 2-3 weeks.  Not yet proven, but in theory it sounds good!  I’ll post the results when we actually get around to trying it.