An unusual defensive strategy, but limited to Japanese honey bees.
During our last full hive check, The Engineer noticed this girl making her first appearance as a fully grown bee. Seeing this was definitely a high point in our beekeeping experiences so far.
We’ve continued looking in on our girls each week, though last week was devoted to a sugar roll, which unfortunately yielded a few more mites than is optimal. Our bee guru has advised us to insert our drone frames and sprinkle the frames with powdered sugar. We will then remove those frames sometime after two weeks, but before three weeks pass and the bee larvae hatch.
Because the drone growth cycle more closely mimics that of the Varroa Mites, the mites prefer to lay their eggs in drone cells, thereby affording their own offspring a better chance at survival.
This, of course, is the opposite of what we want.
By inserting drone frames, we will promote the raising of drones and the laying of Varroa Mite eggs on those drones. Thus, when we remove the frames, we will have a better idea of how many mites are in the hive, and at the same time (hopefully) decimate a portion of their next generation.
That this will also decimate the drone larvae is of little consequence. They don’t do much anyway and will be kicked to the curb before winter anyway. (In the honey bee world, drones are a bit of a luxury.)
The most important thing about using drone frames — and I’m not sure I can stress this enough — is to REMOVE THE DRONE FRAMES BEFORE THE DRONES (and Varroa) HATCH!
Yes, I’m shouting. It’s that crucial. Should something happen and the frames not be taken out in time, we would not only have an overabundance of drones, we would also have an explosion of mites!
After we uncap the cells and take a look, the frames will be popped into the freezer for twenty-four hours and returned to the hive to start the process again.
Now you may be wondering why we would sprinkle the bees with sugar. The answer is simple. Honey bees like sweet stuff. They’re also very clean. Getting coated in sugar will encourage them to clean one another, which we hope will result in more Varroa deaths.
So our next hive check will be focused on the Varroa issue.
In other news, our Beetle Jail has been doing its job, having caught five of the little black nasties on our most recent check. The Beetle Blaster was less successful, and has been replaced with another Jail. We are currently using a bait mix of mashed banana, honey, fake pollen and water, which has added to the traps’ effectiveness. (I think that was the whole recipe. If you’re interested, leave a comment, and I’ll double-check.) We tried cider vinegar first and didn’t catch anything.
Alas, the “nuclear option” for Yellow Jackets was not as effective, probably because my trap design was faulty. In trying to not unleash death on any living creatures other than the would-be yellow raiders, I think I made the holes too small. (The traps did, however, catch an inordinate amount of flies.) I’m crossing my fingers that the commercial traps we hung have made enough of a dent in the Yellow Jacket population to keep them out of our hive.
Now we come to this week’s “one step forward, one step back” part of the saga. When we did the last full check, I developed a sinking feeling that they haven’t put enough by for the winter, even though we’ve continued to feed them.
Before all you experienced beekeepers come down on us for doing this, hear me out. First this is a new hive, one that had just begun to store honey before we left town for ten days, which also happened to be the beginning of the late summer nectar dearth. I’d much rather feed our bees and have them make it through the winter than take a chance on weaning them too early.
Could we be wrong? Of course. It won’t be the first time, and I’m sure it won’t be the last time we make the incorrect decision concerning the girls.
Anyway, I thought it prudent to replace our pint jar feeder at with a bigger one. And since we’d planned on getting an observation lid with a built-in feeder for the winter, I went ahead and invested (one step forward).
The only problem is the new lid doesn’t have an opening/upper entry. After only a few days, we’ve concluded it’s better suited for winter use (one step back), especially since Goldenrod season was nearly upon us and the bees would want that extra opening for quick access to the honey supers.
Well, the Goldenrod is now in bloom, and I wish you could have seen the hive yesterday! It was a blur of activity, with every other bee just loaded with pollen. Unfortunately for you, I didn’t follow through on that wish in the form of a still photo, only marking the occasion by video. And though it rained most of today, severely hampering the workers’ ability to forage, I have no doubt they’ll be back out tomorrow. (Maybe I’ll manage a picture of the action for my next update.)
This weekend, we will put in the drone frames, do the sugar sprinkle, and go back to the original telescoping top cover and inner cover. We’ll also check the honey and pollen stores and perhaps (finally!) remove the food.
I’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, here a few more of my bee photos to tide you over.
Since we got our hive, several people asked if we’d named it. To be honest, this was something I hadn’t previously considered.
However, after some thought, I came up with with an appropriate moniker, which I shared with one friend and The Engineer, and then promptly forgot.
Fortunately, The Engineer didn’t.
If you look closely, you’ll see several of the buzzers are upside down fanning their wings to cool their home on this hot summer day.
I’m not fond of yellow jackets. I don’t know anyone who is, though they are considered a beneficial insect because they pollinate.
Here is a sweet little honey bee. Look at that fuzz, those intelligent looking eyes! Even though she’s capable of stinging, you know she’d rather just get on with her work.
Now look at this dying yellow jacket. Even in the throes of death after being zapped with my handheld bug zapper (and, no, I do not feel the slightest bit guilty), she was still trying to sting.
Not only are yellow jackets capable of stinging (multiple times, unlike a bee), they also bite. So says Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor at the University of Vermont.
Becoming a beekeeper has made me dislike them even more. These shiny-bodied menaces will raid beehives. And they are omnivores (some say carnivores), so they not only rob all the honey, they also eat the larvae and bees. (If you want, you can find videos of this on YouTube. I couldn’t stand to look.)
Nasty(!) and more than a bit unnerving since The Engineer and I began to see yellow jackets snooping around the ground by our hive shortly before leaving for Oshkosh. We’ve even seen them trying to drag away bees that were inadvertently squashed by our clumsiness in replacing boxes after an inspection. (I doubt you can imagine how awful we feel when this happens.)
I did some research, and the more I learned, the more concerned I became for our hive during our absence. It turns out the late summer dearth (when food becomes less available for the would-be robbers and bees) is the most common time for hive robbing. And a newly established beehive like ours could be an enticing target.
A strong hive is less tempting, so we made sure to leave plenty of sugar water for our girls, and hung a few commercial traps around the yard, well away from the hive. (We had practiced due diligence in the spring and put out homemade ones to catch the queens, but had no luck.) Additionally, we’d planned to put in the entrance reducer before leaving but reached Illinois before realizing we’d forgotten.
Perhaps you can imagine our relief when we returned home to find our bees still busily working and the traps holding some dead and very annoyed yellow jackets.
Unfortunately, there are still yellow jackets cruising around. Since they always come from the growth nearby, we think it likely they have at least one nest in the ground there.
Knowing this, I’m ignoring my aversion to using chemicals in our home and yard, and tonight attempted to deploy the “nuclear option” mentioned in this article from the Natrona County Beekeepers’ Association wiki.
I’ll let you know how it works.
In the interest of fairness, I should mention honey bees will also raid other hives to steal honey. Here’s a blog post that discusses when, why, and how this happens.
If you’d like more straightforward information on the difference between bees, yellow jackets, and other stinging insects, read “All About Yellow Jackets, Bees, and Their Kin” at Gardeners.com.