For the last week or so, we’ve been keeping an anxious watch on the weather forecast, hoping for a day when it would be warm enough and clear enough to peek into the hives.
We were in New York last week — the state, not the city — and it was too cold out to open the colonies before we left to make sure they had enough food for when we were gone. When we got home, the temperatures continued to hover in the upper 20s and 30s F.
The weather finally cleared yesterday, with temps climbing to the mid 40s, still a little cool to pop the top. Thus, we were quite relieved to see bees flying from all five hives.
Today, as predicted, we got sunshine and 50s and were finally able to peek in to check the food situation, add bits of pollen patties (to supplement the limited amount coming in), and treat the bees with DFM (honey bee probiotics).
Even better, we managed to find brood in all but one hive.
To remind you of our set-up, imagine the two pictures below side by side with the top photo on the right and the bottom one on the left. That’s what our apiary looks like — three hives on one hive stand, and two on the other. (Or you can go to this blog post for the full picture.) We refer to them by number, 1-5, with 1 being the far right one (pink lid with black wrap) and 5 being the one in the greenish-grey insulation box.
It’s quite easy to get into the hives inside the foam insulation boxes because the foam is basically a larger box around the hive, and can simply be lifted off. The hives in the black wraps are a little more complicated, especially the middle black-wrapped one.
That one is actually wrapped with a foam-backed plastic, held together with tape and tacks. The other two black ones are “Bee Cozies,” an improved version of the wrap. The cozies are basically a tube of foam-backed plastic that you scootch down over the hives. They are slightly easier to work with than the ones that truly require actual wrapping.
We were able to find brood in four of our five hives today, most in the medium box on top (often referred to as a honey super), although one had it in the top deep box.
The outlier was #2, the middle black hive — wrapped in the original style hive wrap. Still, the population seems to be increasing — which can’t happen without new bees — and when we looked into the top deep box, there were a lot of bees on the frames. So, most likely the brood is in that deep, which right now we can’t get into because of the way the hive is winterized.
The colony that most concerns us is #3. There are only about two frames of bees, with not much brood, though there is some. So, they’re still queen right. They’re also foraging, and have plenty of food supplies.
I think their problems started because the hive was too moist, and that’s my fault. Initially we were going to use home-made sugar patties as back-up winter food, and my second batch never dried properly. Our mistake was to use them anyway. (For most of the hives, we used the “mountain camp” feeding method.)
When will I learn my lesson?! Moisture kills bees!! I know better than to give them wet food, but we did it anyway, and that hive is paying the price.
And yet, I believe there’s still hope for a recovery. If they can hang in just a little longer until it’s warm enough to do full hive checks, I think we’ll be able to steal a frame of brood from one (or more) of the other hives to give #3 a little boost.
This would also help us to prevent an early swarm from one (or more) of the hives that are already thriving. A win all around.
I knew you’d all want pictures (admit it!), so I took a few just for you!
For the moment, we have a mostly happy apiary, but of course, that will change. It always does. 🙂
In other apiary news, we got a phone call with a horizontal hive estimate from Mr. Yoder this morning. He was ready to go ahead on our Long Langstroth hive and expects it to be completed either this week or next. So exciting!
And on the mother front, Mom has graduated to a “mechanical” soft food diet, which apparently means anything that can be mashed with a fork. She seems a bit happier, although I can’t say whether or not it’s due to the diet change. I’m just happy that she’s more content, at least for now.
Also, I wanted to share this picture. My friend and I saw this by the trailside when we walked this morning. It’s silly, but I love when people do things like this. It makes me smile, and I hope it does the same for you.
“I’m ready to go home,” Mom said on the phone, “except I don’t know where I could go. No, wait, I have an apartment, #106 Nottingham.”
She doesn’t have an apartment, and although she lived at Nottingham apartments several times, she never lived at #106. That’s the number of her room at the nursing home.
It’s a room in which she can no longer spend much time because when she does, she tries to get up and walk on her own, something she can’t do without falling.
Sometimes this is a problem even in the common area where she’s in full view of the nurses.
At times like that, Mom decides she needs or wants to move, and before anyone can reach her, she’s out of her chair. The advantage of being in the common area is the nurses and aides can usually get to her before she takes a serious tumble.
Mom’s also frustrated because she’s now limited to pureed food. I get it — her meal trays contain foods have no plate appeal, even the menu items she’ll grudgingly admit “aren’t bad.”
Her frustration is because she insists no one told her why she is now dining on the equivalent of baby food. Of course, we — the doctors, the nurses, the aides, my brother and I — have explained multiple times, but Mom can’t remember.
She’s not a baby, and it’s galling for her to have to eat like one. But since she’s been on this diet, I’ve noticed her chronic cough is all but gone, and she chokes less often. Clearly she was aspirating more than anyone realized.
Also, I think she actually eats better, perhaps because she subconciously associated eating with aspirating and having to cough to be able to breathe again.
Her dementia means Mom can’t read books, a pastime that, until her hip surgery, gave her much enjoyment. She’ll leaf through the magazines I take, but when I ask if she’s done with them, her response is that she hasn’t looked at them yet though I know she browsed them when I brought them in.
The nursing home employees are fond of her, and the activities staff try to encourage her to participate in the activities they offer, bingo, manicures, and crafts, though she refuses to color.
I can’t say I blame her on that; it’s not something I’d choose to do either, although I know many people enjoy it.
In short, the restrictions she’s under mean there’s not much pleasure in Mom’s life these days, a fact that’s exacerbated because she can’t understand, or at least can’t remember, why those restrictions are in place.
When she asks for her phone, they give it to her, and she calls my brother and me to ask us to take her home.
It makes me want to cry because she is home at a place where she was quite happy to live before she lost her memory, and the “home” she wants to go to doesn’t exist as she remembers it.
Even if it did, she would be incapable of living there on her own as she did in the past. I won’t list her infirmities here, but they are many, each of them an incapacity big enough to warrant living where she does.
I want to cry because I understand my mother’s unhappiness. But I also know she can’t safely live with on her own, with me or my brother. Even if there were some way she could “go home,” she wouldn’t be happy because her “home” isn’t just where she used to live, it’s the life she used to have. A life when she could walk on her own, when she could still swallow without choking, when she didn’t need oxygen at night, when she had at least some control of her bodily functions.
That life is no longer a reality for her, no matter where she is.
Sometimes I’ll tell people I don’t want to live that long, and often the response is, “Some people live independently well into their nineties.”
This makes me want to shout at them. Obviously, it would be delightful to live a long life to stay healthy and independent until you die. Mostly, it makes me wonder if the people saying this have any idea just how few people are able to be independent in their nineties, or that the vast majority of people who live past their late eighties experience a decline similar to Mom’s.
I don’t shout, of course. Instead I remind myself that people who respond that way have never had the heartbreaking experience of watching someone you love lose their health and independence bit by bit as the infirmities of old age deprive them of every means of pleasure they once enjoyed.
I try to remember that losing a loved one at any age is devastating, and almost no one escapes this life without living through that experience.
Bee update: The girls have been flying anytime the sun is out and the temperature is even close to 40F. Three of the five hives seem very strong, one is kind of meh, and the fifth is average, so it looks like we will be splitting hives again come spring.
We attended a beekeeping conference this weekend and filled some holes in our inventory from one of the Amish woodworkers who come every year with their wares. Last year we bought a full eight-frame hive set-up from the man, and it’s held up well.
On another note, one of the beekeeping clubs we belong to had a presentation on beekeeping in long Langstroth hives. (I think they got sick of my begging.) So, I probably need to explain how a long hive differs from the Langstroth hives commonly used in the U.S.
Here’s a picture of two of our hives from 2021. Both are Langstroth, boxes of frames stacked on top of one another.
This type of hive works well. Honey bees build comb on the frames, fill it with brood, pollen, or honey, and the beekeeper can keep adding boxes as required.
The main drawback is the beekeeper then has to remove those boxes to do an inspection.
A deep box can weight up to eighty pounds when it’s filled with honey. Most often, however, these boxes are filled with a mix of brood and food, which means they weigh a bit less. The medium boxes (on top) can weight up to forty pounds when filled with honey (which is something we beekeepers all hope for).
A colony with two deep boxes and a medium stands about five feet tall (very rough estimate), which means there’s no ergonomic way to pick up and move the top boxes to check the ones below. They are heavy, awkward and, oh yeah, filled with bees who while uninterested in anything but their tasks at hand, don’t take kindly to being banged around.
Checking Langstroth hives is hard on the (Engineer’s) back. (He does all the heavy lifting, for which I am abundantly grateful.)
Enter the Long (sometimes called Horizontal) Hive. There are several varieties of Long/Horizontal Hives, the Layens, the Lazutin, the Top Bar, Long Lanstroth, and countless variations. If you’re deeply interested, visit the Horizontal Hive website, and learn all about them.
We were only interested in the Long Langstroth because it uses the same frames we use in our traditional Langstroth hives. Here’s what one looks like (also from the Horizontal Hive website).
You’ll see the difference immediately. Instead of stacked boxes, it’s one long, horizontal box filled with frames. Hence, the name. The only lifting the beekeeper has to do is one frame at a time.
Why then, you may wonder, doesn’t everyone use this kind of hive?
Well, there are a few reasons.
They’re more expensive, $425 at our local bee supply place, quite a bit more than a two deep, one medium traditional Langstroth hive. They are uncommon; therefore their parts are not interchangable like the usual Langstroth. Space is slightly more limited — the one above holds 33 frames, as opposed to the limited-only-by-the-strength-of-the-beekeeper traditional Langstroth. This means the beekeeper better stay on top of things, and not let the hive get too crowded or s/he runs the risk of a swarm. Bees supposedly like to move up rather than across, but if you see people rescuing bees, you’ll see bees will build hives in any almost any opening — deep or tall. But the biggest concern is overwintering. Tradition says long/horizontal hives don’t overwinter as well because they are harder to insulate. However, the plans we found feature thicker wood than regular Langstroth hives to help alleviate the insulation issue, and we’re hoping they do the trick.
Is this true? We hope to find out because we shared a copy of the freely available plans (again from the Horizontal Hive website) with the Amish woodworker whose hives we buy.
Could he build such a hive? Yes, he could.
How much would it be? Well, materials would definitely be more than the $50 mentioned on the Long Langstroth plans from the website, but we already knew that. I doubt you could build a birdhouse for $50 these days!
Would he be willing to work up an estimate? Yes, he’d call us with a figure sometime in the next two weeks. If we decided to proceed, we would send him a check and pick it up sometime in April, just in time for spring splits.
It was kind of funny because later each of his sons who had been there when we were discussing the possibility asked us if their dad said he’d do it. One of them said after we left their display, two different people who’d been eavesdropping asked if they were building long hives now. So, maybe it will be a new line of business for their family too!
At any rate, cross your fingers because it looks like we may be off on another beekeeping adventure!