Tag Archive | wax

Processing Beeswax

June 12, 2015

Several months ago I posted all about cleaning frames, removing the dark old comb so I could add fresh new wax foundation.  Of course, beneath all that old black crustiness is bee-utiful, golden beeswax that can bee used to make skin products, soaps, lip balms, furniture polish (yep), candles, and more.  So how do we get rid of the bad to get to the good stuff?  That’s what I’m going to show you in this post.

Equipment

First you’ll need some dedicated wax processing equipment.

  • 1 old bucket
  • 1 old large pot (I use an old crab pot)
  • 1 large colander (not plastic)
  • 1 long wooden spoon
  • Crockpot
  • Cheese cloth
  • Large rubber band
  • Half gallon cardboard milk carton with top arched section cut off.
  • Crockpot (optional)

Part 1 – Cleaning the Wax

I’ve never collected a ton of old comb at one time.  It’s something I collect over time.  When I have a bucket full, then I’ll melt it down.  But first you’ll want to clean your comb and cappings thoroughly so you don’t end up with sticky wax.   You don’t want honey in your wax.

1.  Place the comb and/or cappings in a 5 gallon bucket.

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2.  Fill the bucket with warm water.  Warm enough to melt the honey but not the wax.

3.  Dig in with your hands and stir the wax around so all the comb makes contact with the warm water.

4.  Allow it to soak for about 15 minutes, then drain most of the water off the wax through a colander.  (Interesting fact: back in old times, kitchen staff would clean wax combs just like this, and they would make table mead from the discarded honey water by leaving it out to collect wild yeast.)

5.  Refill the bucket with more warm water and repeat the process multiple times until the water runs clear.

Part 2 – Melting the Comb

1.  Fill your pot with the clean comb and add about 2 inches of water to the bottom of the pot.

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2.  Turn the heat on medium and watch the pot!  Do not walk away from the pot – this stuff can boil over and cause a horrible mess and it’s dangerous.

3.  Gradually the wax will melt down and you will have a yummy brood and larvae wax stew.   Stir constantly with the wooden spoon.

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4.  Once everything is melted down completely, place the colander over the bucket and pour the hot pot o’ wax stew through the colander and into the bucket.  I do this in the garage.

5.  Use the wooden spoon to stir the lumpy leftovers in the colander to help release all the wax down into the bucket.

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6.  Dump the colander filled with lump leftovers in the chicken coop or in a back corner of the yard where the wild critters can snack on it.

7.  Allow to cool overnight, then fish your first wax cake out of the bucket and scrape off and discard the loose, dirty layer on the bottom.  Well done!

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Collect 4 or 5 more buckets of comb and repeat this entire process for each bucket full so you end up with 3 or 4 wax cakes.  (The wax cakes preserve well in the freezer until you’ve collected enough for Part 3).

Part 3 – Melting the Wax Cakes

Your wax cakes, at this stage, a still filled with dirt and bee chunks.  So we’re continuing to melt and clean our wax.  We start this step once we’ve collected at least 3 wax cakes.  If you have more than 3 wax cakes, then one milk carton may not hold all of the liquid wax, so bee prepared if you have more wax.

1.  Break the thin cakes into chunks and add them to your pot.

2.  Fill the pot about 2 inches with water.

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3.  Turn the heat to medium and watch the pot!

4.  Stir with the wooden spoon until all is melted completely.

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5.  Place colander over the bucket, then dump the wax stew through the colander and into the bucket.

6.  Allow to cool overnight and in the morning, fish out your large wax cake.

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7.  Scrape off the bottom layer of dirt.

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Now at this point you should have an impressive, much cleaner single fat cake of wax.  You can repeat this process again, or move on to Part 4 for the last cleaning phase, depending on how dirty the wax still appears.

Part 4 – The Final Cleaning

I use an old crockpot for this phase.  You could also use a double boiler over the stovetop.

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1.  Start by cutting a 12″x12″ double layer of cheesecloth.

2.  Cut the top arched section off of a cardboard milk carton.  Leave the container as tall as possible.

3.  Cover the top of the carton evenly with the cheese cloth and securely slide the rubber band over the cheesecloth to tightly secure it around and over the top of the milk carton.  You don’t want it to fall in when you pour the hot wax through it.

4.  Cut or break the wax cake into small enough pieces so it fits into the crockpot or double boiler.

5.  Turn on low and allow it to melt completely.  The crockpot can be left unwatched.  The same is not true for the double boiler, so keep an eye on it so the water and wax don’t boil over.

6.  Pour and strain the melted wax through the cheesecloth and into the milk carton.

7.  Remove the cheesecloth and rubber and and carefully set aside the wax filled carton and let it cool overnight.

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8.  Peel off the cardboard and you should have a bee-utiful block of wax that can be carved or shredded for all kinds of fabulous natural products.

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Note: if you want smaller bricks, then purchase a silicone mini loaf mold and pour the wax into that after it’s been strained.

I’m hoping to post more tutorials on making product of the hive, so stay tuned.   Happy beekeeping!














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Assembling Frames – Pins vs. Pins

May 24, 2015

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I cleaned all of my old frames.  I used the kind with L-bent wires at the bottom and the wooden slat that lays across those wires.  However, instead of removing the wooden slats and busting up the frames, I’ve just added wax foundation and used pins to hold it in.  The bees will do the rest.

The problem with this method is the pins.  Those small hardware pins that are sold with the frames are

  1. overpriced
  2. really, really hard to use – the opening is never wide enough for the wax and I end up mutilating the wax trying to get them in place.
  3. they’re too short and don’t do a great job of holding in the wax foundation.

There’s always a better way.  In this case, bobby pins!  The uncoated kind.  They fit perfectly through the holes, it’s easy to insert the wax so no mutilation.  They’re much faster, easy to find, and cheap!

I use two, one on each side, diagonal from one another.  And because they extend much farther, they hold the foundation in much better.  At this point, use wireless foundation since they don’t care for the wires.  The bees will glue everything in for you.

Cleaning Old Frames

April 14, 2015

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After last weekend’s cleaning spree, I collected quite a few frames filled with old dark comb. Comb gets darker and darker the more it’s used. Many beekeepers will replace brood frames year after year because it’s believed to be unhealthy for the bees to raise their young in old comb. For me, cleaning old frames is threefold:

  • It’s healthier for the bees,
  • It saves me money by allowing me to reuse old frames, and
  • I can harvest and process the wax for balms and soaps and lotions, etc.

I collect old frames as I have the opportunity, like during spring cleaning after boxes have been rotated and the old brood comb works its way to the top of the hive, or at the end of the season when the girls are condensed down and extra boxes and frames are collected and stored for winter.

Note:  You might want to keep a few old brood frames around for making swarm traps.

Setting Up Shop

Spring temperatures are perfect for cleaning frames. It’s still cool outside, but too cold or too hot, so the wax is soft enough to cut through, but solid enough that it comes out in chunks.

I set up a table outside, collect my tools and a big plastic bin, then I start harvesting the wax and picking the frames. It’s not the most thrilling job, but carve out a few hours, pick a nice spring day, turn on some music, and it becomes one of those relaxing, zen-like tasks that’s over before you know it.

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Tools for Picking and Scraping

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I have several favorite tools for this project:

  • Hive tool – great for scraping wax and propylis off the surface of the frames.

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  • Set of stainless steel picks – from the tool section at Home Depot. Great for picking wax out of the narrow crevices.
  • Paint can opener – the hubster filed the opener end into a V shape that fits right down into the grooves at the bottom of the frame. It’s slightly curved shape helps to lift the wax right out without splitting the wood.

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  • Palette knife – the palette knife is super thin, but still strong, so it fits down through the gully across the top. Use it to push the wax through, then run it across the inside surfaces to cut the wax out and scrape the gully clean without cutting into the wood.

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Another Tip for Easier Cleaning

Soaking frames in a long, narrow plastic bin (like the one shown in the photo above) that’s partially filled with clean warm water can also soften and loosen wax, making it easier to cut through the debris and clean out the crevices.  Immerse up to 4 frames in water at a time, and work on one while the others soak.

This step also helps clean sticky honey and propylus from the frames – it’s a pre-soak before the final soaking step.

Final Soaking Phase

Scraping and picking will remove most of the wax and propylus, but the frames will still bee sticky and waxy. So my final cleaning step is to soak them for 30 minutes in a hot water bleach solution.

Fill an old bucket or large plastic bin with hot water and a ½ cup of pure unscented bleach. Immerse the frames and let them soak for about 30 minutes.  I soak half, then flip them around and soak the other half.  Give them a thorough rinse, then stand back and admire your clean, disinfected frames. The bleach solution will sterilize the frames and will eliminate any pests or wax moths.

Add fresh wax foundation back into the hives so the girls can build them out and reuse them for another year or two.

Next step…processing the wax…

Spring Cleaning and Reorganizing

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Sunday, April 5, 2015

With the cold and wet weather extending into April, the bees have been cooped up longer than usual, which makes for a slow start in terms of building up their populations and gaining access to pollen and nectar sources.

Last weekend, the temperatures reached mid-60’s, so I took advantage and did a full spring inspection, which involved:

  1. Checking for brood, larvae and eggs (indicates that the queen is present and laying)
  2. Cleaning the bottom boards (filled with dead bees and debris after a long winter of inactivity)
  3. Reversing boxes so the queen will bee located at the bottom of the hive with plenty of space to build upwards, and
  4. Providing clean frames in the box above the queen so she’ll have lots of space to lay many more eggs and move about freely.

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What I found was the following:

  • Purple Hive – small amount of brood, no eggs or larvae, lots of honey frames.
  • Mint Hive – Brood, larvae, lots of honey frames
  • Green Hive – No brood, no larvae, lots of empty comb, and lots of honey frames.
  • Blue Hive – No brood, no larvae, lots of empty comb, and lots of honey frames.

Based on this inspection, only Mint Hive appeared to have an active queen, so this past week I was sent searching across the US for three queens. I quickly learned that queen bees aren’t typically available til about the 3rd week of April, and most of those were spoken for, which meant no queens for the BooBees until well into May. Ugh.

It doesn’t take long for a queenless hive to deteriorate, and here I had three suspected queenless hives. So what’s a beekeeper to do with queenless hives and no queens?

Well, one option is to transfer frames of eggs and larvae from a healthy hive to queenless so they can make their own queen. The problem with that option was that Mint Hive did not have enough eggs and larve to share. Next idea? Check back later and hope for the best…

Sunday, April 12, 2015

The weather has been improving with each day, and this past weekend was gorgeous. Flowers and trees started popping from out of nowhere, and the girls were buzzing with happiness over our cherry blossoms. Seems good weather was exactly what the bee doctor ordered. I dug back into the hives and discovered good brood, larvae and eggs in all hives. A festivus miracle, indeed! And they saved me $75!

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The hubster laughs because 2 years ago I would’ve been Chicken Little screaming “the hives are falling, the hives are falling!”.

While inspecting, I pulled the jars of syrup. The bees have enough honey, they weren’t taking the syrup, so best to let them eat their natural food and save me the time and headache of dealing with supplemental feeding. They’re big bees now and able to feed themselves, so next week we’ll pull out the supers and give them space to start storing honey…for them and for us!

Lastly, during our spring cleaning and reorganizing, I collected old frames with dark wax comb that can be cleaned out and replaced with fresh wax foundation. Old comb is not healthy for the bees, so I’ll melt down and process the wax to use in balms and soaps. It’s tedious work, but I love the end product!

(Note: I wasn’t trying to be nostalgic w/ the b&w photo, I had no idea til they were downloaded. :o) 

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Strategies for the season ahead?

  • Setting up swarm traps
  • Checking regularly for queen cells
  • Adding a box with fresh comb between the bottom two boxes as needed to ensure they always have space; and
  • Split hives as needed.

The hubster said I have room for 3 more hives…and that’s in addition to reviving yellow hive – so who knows, I could have eight or nine hives by the end of this season. We shall see!  In anycase, the girls are now ready for spring. Yay!

Happy spring! I’m off to clean frames…

DIY Solar Wax Melter

When it comes to products of the hive, honey is the first thing that comes to mind. It’s true, I get lots and lots of requests for honey. But for me, it’s the wax. Wax for lip balms, face creams, hand lotions, soaps, furniture polish…so many things can be made with beeswax. So after extracting a good 30 lbs of sugar syrup, I’d harvested lots of wax cappings – the beautiful creamy yellow wax that covers and protects the honey filled comb. Wax capping is the purest, best quality wax.  Particularly good for face creams and skin sensitive products since it moisturizes and protects dry skin.

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Wax cappings are shaved from the surface to release honey from the comb.

Wax can be harvested several ways. The indoor method requires melting the wax down in a pot of water, then straining.  This can be a messy process.  The other option is to let the sun do all the work for you.  Using a basic, inexpensive setup, I built my own solar wax melter, and it works like a charm.

DIY Solar Wax Melter

Supplies

  • 1 styrofoam or insulated cooler with flat edge.
  • 1 piece clear plexiglass or glass, fit to cover the top of the cooler
  • Aluminum foil
  • Aluminum tape
  • Container to fit bottom of cooler
  • Window screened frame
  • Water
  • Objects to hold down the top cover
  • Thermometer, optional

Instructions

1. Wash your beeswax ahead of time by soaking (for several hours) and rinsing it thoroughly (several times) in lukewarm water. The water should be slightly warm to help melt the honey and grime from the wax, but not warm enough to soften or melt the wax.  This process may require several rounds of soaking, rinsing and draining.

Clean beeswax cappings, ready for melting.

Cleaned wax cappings ready to melt.

2. Gather supplies and prepare to assemble the wax melter.

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Supplies ready to go!
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We built a wooden frame sized to fit inside the cooler (above the container), then stapled window screen on the top. This is our filter.

3. Line the inside of your cooler with aluminum foil (see below).

4. Use the aluminum tape to bind the seams of the foil and adhere the foil to the inside of the cooler (see below).

5. Place the container on the bottom of the cooler (see below).

6. Fill the container 1/3 to 1/2 way with water.  The water prevents the wax from sticking to the container.

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Cooler is lined with aluminum foil, taped with aluminum tape, and a partially filled container of water is place at the bottom of the cooler.

7.  Place the framed window screen over top of the container of water.  It doesn’t have to set directly on top of the container, and in fact, is better if it sets about 3-4 inches above the water.

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Framed screen sets above the container to filter the wax.

8. Place a pile of wax, several hands full, across the top of the screen.

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The wax is piled across the screen ready to melt down into the water.

9. Place the clear lid on top of the cooler and fit it snuggly into place so it stays on and so the heat remains inside.  Then set the cooler out in the sun.  The warmer the temperatures, the faster it will melt.  Some people place a thermometer inside the cooler to track the temperature throughout the day.

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Clear lid is in place, secured by two small pieces of wood on each side that are held in place by the plastic lid clamps that came with the cooler.

 

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Waiting for the morning sun to come up. Let the melting begin!

Depending on the amount of wax and the temperatures outside, melting the wax can take anywhere from several hours to several days. As long as you’re not in a hurry, this method is maintenance free. As it melts, keep adding more hands full of wax into the melter and allow it to accumulate into one piece.

Note: Ants do like the smell of beeswax and honey, so bee careful where you set the cooler or your solar wax melter may become an ant farm. This can be prevented by setting the cooler into a container that’s surrounded by water or cooking oil, creating a moat. The ants will drown trying to get to the melter.

The image below shows how well the window screen filters out the dirt and grime.

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Left over crud that’s been filtered out of the beeswax.

What you’ll have left is a blob-like mound of beautiful, clean, creamy yellow beeswax. This can be used to make candles, lotions, balms, and other fun stuff! Check out my bee recipes and body and wellness recipes, located at the top of this site to view some of my own favorite beeswax recipes, like Beeswax Lotion Bars or my Homemade Face Cream.

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Voila! Clean, filtered beeswax, ready to bee turned into something fabulous!

Beeuteeous!  Happy melting!

Hand Rolling Beeswax Candles

When I signed up to help my Beekeeping Cub demonstrate how to make beeswax candles at the county fair, I envisioned myself sitting on a stump, wick in hand, dipping tirelessly into a pot of hot wax while waving at the kiddies.

I arrived to a table piled high with beeswax foundation – the long flat sheets of wax that are inserted in the frames of the hive to help bees draw out their comb. Using a precut cardboard template and an exacto knife, I was instructed to cut out the shapes from the sheets of wax. The wick cord was then wrapped around a precut piece of cardboard and cut to length.

With everything precut and ready to go, we invited passersby to sit down and make their own candles. And I mean everyone – kids, parents, grandmas, men, women, teenagers…regardless of age or gender, everyone loved it!

Since most of us beekeepers have a few extra sheets of beeswax foundation lying around, I thought I’d share a tutorial for making hand rolled beeswax candles. It’s super easy, they make great gifts, and it’s an easy and fun project for kids. In fact, many of the kids ended up showing their parents how to make the candles. Here we go…

Beeswax Candles

1 full sheet of deep foundation makes 2 candles. 

Supplies

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Supplies needed to make beeswax candles.

1.  On a large cutting board, lay one sheet of deep size beeswax foundation in front of you horizontally (skip this step if using pre-cut sheets).

2.  Use your ruler to measure across the top edge and cut a small slit to mark the top center of the sheet.

3.  Do the same across the bottom edge and cut a small slit to mark the bottom center of the sheet.

4.  Align the ruler with the two center slits and cut the sheet in half vertically with your exacto knife.  You’ll have two sheets.

5.  Put one of the halves aside and put the other half in front of you.

6.  Measure the left edge and cut a small slit to mark the center, then measure the right edge and cut a small slit to mark the center.

7.  Align your ruler with the two center slits and cut the sheet in half horizontally.  You should have two quartered pieces, as shown below.

8.   Put one piece aside and place the other piece in front of you horizontally.

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Two quartered pieces will make one candle.

9.   On the top edge right, measure 2 inches in (left, toward the center) from the right corner.  Mark with a small slit.

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On top edge, mark 2″ from the right corner.

 

10. On the left edge, measure 1 inch up from the bottom corner.

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On left edge, mark 1″ from bottom corner.


11.  Align your ruler between the 2″ and 1″ slits and cut diagonally along the top outside edge of the ruler, removing a triangular piece of wax.  

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Cut diagonally between the top and side slits.

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Finished cut piece – this can be used to cut a cardboard template that can be used for future candle projects, and it can also be used as a template for cutting the second quartered piece of wax.


12. Lay your finished cut piece on top of your other quartered piece so that right and left edges align.

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Lay the top piece on the other sheet and cut along the edges to create two matching pieces.

13. Use the top piece as a template, cutting along to edges to produce a matching piece from the bottom sheet.  You should have two matching pieces, as shown in the photos below.

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14.  Cut a 10″ piece of #2 (medium) candle wick cord and lay it across the bottom edge of one piece of wax, leaving equal parts extending outside the wax on each side, as shown below.


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15.  Gently press the wick into the wax, about 1/8″ above the bottom edge to help it stay in place, as shown below.


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16.  Use your fingers to gently curl the bottom edge of the wax upward and roll one complete roll over the wick, then stop rolling.

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One complete roll over the wick.

17.  Place the second piece of wax on top of the first piece so that the side edges align and so the bottom edge of the second piece aligns just above the first roll.

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18.  Gently continue rolling the bottom piece while incorporating the bottom edge of the top piece into the roll.

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19.  Continue to gently and evenly roll the combined pieces.  The more you roll, the easier the rolling will become, until you can easily push the roll tightly and all the way through to finish the candle, as shown below.


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20. FINAL STEP.  Turn the candle upside down, curl the end of the wick and press it into the bottom of the candle.   

Voila!  You have a finished candle!  

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These candles look great just as they are, or you can paint or stamp your candle using alcohol inks, as shown below.

You’ll enjoy about 2-3 hours of burning time from each candle.

These candles smell wonderful when burned, and because they are made from bees wax, they will not smoke.  That’s why only beeswax candles are used in the Catholic and other churches around the world.

So buy a few extra sheets of beeswax and start rolling some candles.  They are so much fun for everyone to make, and they make fabulous, inexpensive handmade gifts that your friends and family will love!  Enjoy!

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The Queen is Free

August 24, 2013 (Day 106) – Inspection

Blue Hive 3
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!