After discovering our bees won’t use old dark comb and honey, we’ve been gradually sorting through our frames, replacing the dark ones with new(er) and setting aside the old ones for cleanup.
At first, we thought we could extract the honey and maybe even use some of the wax, but ended up with more mess than anything, though we did manage to eke out a little honey. We hope to be able to use it as food to help the hives prepare for winter.
Still, the remaining “ugly” frames need dealt with.
After seeing how eagerly bees (possibly our own) robbed the Kremlin of its meager supplies, The Engineer had the idea of putting the old frames outside for the bees to clean.
I’m still not convinced about his choice of placement for this, but I must admit the bees did a great job of removing most of the honey. According to him, there was quite the feeding frenzy!
Why they want it now when they wouldn’t eat it when it was in their hive … well, we’ll probably never know the answer to that question.
Below are four pictures of one frame showing before and after shots of each side taken less than eight hours apart.
All photos were taken by The Engineer.
It’s very clear they’ve removed most, if not all, the honey. And notice how some of the edges on the cells appear ragged? The Kremlin’s frames also looked like that. I’ve not noticed that roughness on emptied honey cells inside our hives and can only guess (so much of beekeeping seems to be a guess) it’s because the bees were trying to haul out as much honey as possible as quickly as possible to take back to their own hives.
Now, all we have to do is clean off the wax and pressure wash the frames. Believe me, that’s quite enough for us to be getting on with!
But first, the bad news. On Sunday, The Engineer had to put a screen over the entrance of the Kremlin because it was being attacked by robber bees. Today, when we checked the hive, we discovered the assault must have begun while we were gone. It was devastated, with few bees remaining — certainly not enough to grow into a viable hive in time for winter.
So, we are down to three hives, all of them originating from last spring’s Saskatraz package.
The good news is all of them are queen right.
Eager for a lift of spirits after the disheartening discovery in the Kremlin, we turned to OH Girls Split #1.
This is the hive that had two queens when last we looked.
Today, we — and by “we,” I mean The Engineer — spotted only one. I suspect the original dented one who began this dynasty is probably dead.
Thankfully, her good genes continue their reign in each of our three hives because each is queened by one of her daughters.
Here’s one of her beautiful offspring in OH Girls Split #1.
The residents of this hive have been toiling hard while we were gone, building comb on the new frames we gave them before we left. There was even capped brood on one of them already!
I love the way new comb looks — so fresh and perfect.
Below, you can see one of the hive’s many frames of capped brood.
Next, we turned to OH Girls and OH Girls Split #2. The split was made at the end of June, and we weren’t sure which hive ended up with the queen. We checked the original OH Girls first.
It’s big, two deep brood boxes and three honey supers. There were a lot(!) of bees. With a hive this size and well-populated, it almost seems like they are just boiling up out of the hive.
It was also filled with many frames of capped brood, which means it is queen right. Yay!
I admit I’m pathetic when it comes to spotting queens, but I don’t know how anyone can find them in a hive this full.
But Engineer found this one too. She’s golden, so might be the queen from OH Girls. Or, maybe she’s just another golden queen.
Here’s three photos of her. Can you find her in all of them? (And don’t go all smug on me if you do. It’s easy when you’re only inches away and it’s a still photo.)
So … did we also find a queen behind door (hive) number three?
No, we did not. However, we found something almost as good. Capped brood, and lots of it!
This is what I mean by bees just kind of boiling up. It’s like they coagulate or something!
In other good news, all three hives have begun storing honey in the corners of some of their brood box frames.
We hope to see more of this as they prepare for winter, even if it means they pay less attention to the honey in their honey supers.
OH Girls still has three of these smaller boxes, and many of the frames are nearly fully capped. We didn’t pull any of them today, opting instead to wait and see how it goes.
Now that we have three queen right hives, I’m sure something else will pop up to torment us.
Oh. Yeah. Winter is coming. Guess it’s time to start worrying about that.
I’ll leave you with this photo of OH Girls Split #1 after we checked it. I’m not sure why they all decided to cluster around their two bottom entrances, but I’m sure they have a reason.
Remember the dying queen? I wouldn’t blame you if you don’t. With all my talk about queens, even I find it hard to keep them straight.
Anyway, it turns out the dying queen isn’t dead. This is quite a surprise because when we checked that hive (the first split from OH, Girls this year) on 4 July, we were very happy to find the beautiful new queen the workers bred to replace her. Here’s her picture from that inspection.
Today, when we checked that hive, The Engineer once again spotted New Queen (near the bottom, surrounded by her attendants). And isn’t she gorgeous?
Only later, he also spotted Dented Queen.
Here’s another pic.
But if you look at the picture below, and you have sharp eyes, you’ll find both Dented Queen (near the hive tool) and New Queen (near the capped brood at the top of the picture.
We heard this sometimes happens, but when we took our classes, I got the impression that having two queens co-exist in a hive was unusual. True, there are ways beekeepers occasionally manipulate hives to run two queens, usually by using queen excluders to keep the royalty in separate areas of the hive.
The situation can also arise when one queen isn’t yet mated, the bees are getting ready to swarm or they just haven’t killed the old queen yet. According to this article, the workers keep the two queens in separate parts of the hive, but as these pictures show, New Queen is definitely mated, and she’s not only on the same frame as Dented Queen, she’s mere inches away.
And these two have been sharing the same hive for at least ten days, likely longer.
I expect eventually the workers will kill Dented Queen. She’s still moving and laying, but very slowly, while New Queen sprints around laying as fast as she can.
Meanwhile, the workers have been making comb on the new frames we gave them like their lives depend on it.
Oh, yeah … their lives do sort of depend on it. They’ll need that comb to store honey for winter.
And our two queens are already using the new comb. There’s larvae in both the pictures below, although it’s harder to spot in the second one.
After our unusual find in the split, we looked in on the Kremlin. I was ready to dispatch Olga to the big beehive in the sky and steal a frame of brood from OH, Girls split #1 so Kremlin workers could make a new queen. The Engineer convinced me we should give her one more chance. Her laying seems to be improving slightly, with more larvae closer together, but if it’s not dramatically better at the end of the month, they’re going to have to make a new queen. This is cutting it fine because August is when beekeepers need to start thinking (read “worrying”) about winter.
There’s an expression about beekeeping, something like “Take care of the bees that will take care of the bees that will need to live through the winter,” and August is when that begins.
Olga needs to step up her game.
Lastly, we had a look at the honey supers on OH, Girls and stole two filled frames, replacing them with super frames with drawn combs. Truthfully, we could have probably pulled more for extraction, but we’re being conservative this year and waiting until the frames are at least 90% full … at least as long as nectar is still coming in.
A lot of the frames look like this, nearly solid on one side and not completely capped on the other (although some had a lot more capped on side #2).
We considered putting a honey super on OH, Girls Split #1 because the hive has a lot of bees, along with a queen cup that might have had larva in it. Ultimately, we chose not to. We gave them several empty frames when we put them in the big boxes so they still have space.
Also, we tempted fate by leaving the queen cup. We’re not 100% sure it was filled, and if we scraped it off, and they want to swarm, they’d just build another.
Speaking of swarms, we still have three swarm boxes up, and at least two are getting a lot of attention from scout bees.
I’m not sure where we’d put another hive, but we could probably find space on one of the stands if we have to. 🙂
Recently, we realized many of our frames have reached this state and have begun to clean and/or replace them.
Initially, we tried to extract the honey from the old frames, but it proved a lost cause. Instead we scraped them, and The Engineer powerwashed both the frames and foundation.
What to do with all that dirty, ugly wax though … hmmm, such a quandary.
Well, it turned out there was some honey, so I strained that to feed to the bees. It’s a little dark, and probably partly sugar rather than nectar, but I tasted a bit, and it’s not horrible. The Kremlin and the newest OH, Girls Split seem to like it.
I probably don’t need to remind you that honey is very, very sticky, but I’m going to anyway so you can understand the full beauty of what I was dealing with.
Straining left a dripping dark, sticky substance that stupid me decided to try to melt down.
Do NOT do this. It’s a waste of time. You get very little decent wax from a mountain of disgusting grunge.
Here’s an example of part of the mess I was working with.
At first it didn’t go too badly. I ended up getting what looked like a brand new electric roaster for $20. Using this at 200F, my first pile of wax left me with a dirty pile of … stuff … and more honey.
Still, honey is good, right? Better for the bees than pure sugar syrup, at least.
Once again, I strained the honey from the gunk, then did the same to the the other pile.
Next, I wrapped the black sludge (I’m running out of synonyms for what I cannot in good conscience call beeswax) in a cheesecloth, tied it tightly, and put it back in the roaster, with water.
Theoretically, the wax will melt and rise to the top, the gunk will stay put in the cheesecloth, and any honey that’s left will wash away with the water.
I’ve done this with cappings from when we’ve extracted, and it actually works.
Unfortunately, this stuff proved to have very little usable wax. And making matters worse, when I lifted out the second batch (while still hot, so it doesn’t get stuck in the wax), the cheesecloth slipped from my tongs and dropped back into the roaster.
Picture the first Apollo splashdown only with hot wax and honey.
Yes. It was a Big Mess, and I used every bad word I knew.
I hope the neighbors didn’t hear.
And, oh, yes, the floor.
It’s probably worth it to stain and even heat dark old wax for the honey.
It is not worth wasting cheesecloth, time and effort to try to render the wax.
An electric roaster if you can get one cheap is excellent for melting wax.
A smarter person would have used said roaster outside for this job, perhaps in the garage, if it’s raining or you’re worried about attracting every bee in the neighborhood.
Cleaning beeswax from a linoleum floor is possible, but not fun. I used water heated in the electric kettle, a scrubby, a towel, and a mop.
That’s how I’ll do it next time, minus the scrubbing the floor (I hope).
I’ve learned from my mistakes. But I’ll feel a lot better if you do too.
On the bright side, here are the brand new frames we’ll be using to swap out the rest of the old ones in our hives. The Engineer assembled them, and they’re waiting for me to apply a better coat of wax.
If only I could have somehow used the stuff in the roaster …
In the end, we decided to harness the strength of OH, Girls Split #1 by putting it into two deeps (far left). We discussed moving the Kremlin into the small nuc boxes previously occupied by OH, Girls Split #1, but instead chose to take it down to a single deep box and make use of our feeding lid. This style of lid was supposedly developed in Siberia, which seems appropriate for a Russian-queened hive ;-).
Making these changes required several steps performed on different days.
We inspected OH, Girls Split #1 on 3 July (although WordPress dated my post that day as 4 July).
On 4 July, we moved them into two deep boxes, a fairly straightforward procedure of just moving their frames into different boxes. It was interesting because we could tell as soon as we inserted the frame that must have had the queen because the noise level of the bees on the other frames in the new box dropped exponentially. Still, any moving of bees results in some confusion because the foragers who are out who come back expecting to find the hive to which they are oriented, and it’s not there.
As a result, due to the proximity of these two hives and the number of perplexed bees flying around, we chose to wait until today to wait to swap lids (having temporarily used the Siberian lid — the only spare one we had — on OH, Girls Split #1) and take the Kremlin down to one box. It’s a much better fit for them.
In the new setup, we have (from left to right) OH, Girls Split #1, the Kremlin, OH, Girls, and OH, Girls Split #2. Or something like that. We’re not 100% sure which of the two right hives has the queen OH, Girls made when we split it the first time, and which is making a new queen (we hope). The hive second from the right is more populated, but the one on the far right has foragers bringing in pollen, which can indicate they are feeding new brood.
We won’t know for sure until we check them toward the end of the month.
Our next step will be to treat the Kremlin with Oxalic Acid again. Because there’s brood (albeit not much), we will repeat this weekly for three weeks to be sure we get most the Varroa. I’ve written about the different treatments and their pros and cons before, so I won’t detail it all again here. Suffice to say, the hot weather we are experiencing precludes using Formic Pro.
And, that’s all the news from the OH, Girls Apiary … at least until the next drama. 🙂
Today we checked out OH, Girls Split #1. This is the nuc we created on 12 May from the ever-giving OH, Girls hive.
Of course, this was after we noticed the second split from this hive was being raided. I was surprised because the split is well-populated, but everything was fine once we put on this special screen we bought to use on such an occasion. In truth, this is the first time we’ve thought to use it, and I must say it worked very well. Things calmed down immediately. It’s similar to this one, but made of wood.
At any rate, once we got over that small disaster, we took the inner cover off the first split, and found this on the back of it.
Underneath was this.
It seems the girls have been rather busy. Thankfully, The Engineer thought to save that comb and the honey to add in when we extract.
This queen is prolific. Six of the ten frames in the hive were covered with capped brood and larvae.
Like their cousins in the original OH, Girls hive, these bees had refused to work a couple of the older frames, and now that we understand this, we’ve replaced two, and will replace the remaining ones as soon as we can find some new black foundation.
They had also filled and capped one deep frame of honey, which we stole from them, mostly to give the queen space to work. We added another deep nuc box too because they were bursting at the seams.
Here she is, much darker than her half-sister in the original hive, but equally big and fat!
We need to think how to give this hive more room — perhaps move the frames into full-sized boxes.
Next, we opened the Kremlin, and as The Engineer said, it was like moving from a crowded city to the country, with a lot fewer bees, and not nearly as much activity.
This could partly be attributed to the fact that they too have some old comb, but I’m afraid I think it’s Olga. Her laying remains spotty even on the brand new and newish comb and frames.
It’s here that having more than one hive becomes beneficial because we have options.
We could move a frame or two of brood from one of the crowded hives into the Kremlin. Unfortunately, I think this would just put off the issue. Besides, we gave them a frame when we introduced Olga. It may have helped them accept her, but they should be growing at a faster rate.
Another thing we discussed almost jokingly was to swap houses with the OH, Girls split. After all, we have a hive in small boxes that’s running out of space, and a hive in two full-sized boxes that can’t seem to fill them. I’m not sure this would remedy Olga’s poor laying, but it would benefit the split.
We could also requeen the hive, or “encourage” it to requeen itself. This could be done in conjunction with either of the above choices.
The Kremlin also needs treated for Varroa again because there was brood when we did the vaporizer a few weeks ago.
We generally prefer to mix up our treatment, and would normally use Formic Pro strips for this, but the weather has been too hot. It’s cooler now, but supposed to hit the 90s again next week, which is too hot for that method.
Right now, I think our best bet would be to do three treatments of Oxalic Acid over a period of as many weeks, then swap boxes with the split, give Olga another few weeks to show what she can do, and then requeen in some way if she hasn’t improved.
The Engineer and I will think on and discuss this before making any decisions.
In the meantime, tomorrow we will look again at the honey supers on OH, Girls with our fingers crossed (as always) hoping to find enough capped honey to make it worth the effort of extracting.
Well, I was going to open this post with something about that Dire Straits song, you know the one with “Walkaway, walkaway” in the words.
Except it turned out to be the lyrics were actually “rock away, rock away” in “Tunnel of Love.”
This is a classic example of a mondegreen, or misheard lyric. More examples are here, and I’m sure if you’re honest, you’ll admit (at least to yourself) that you’ve had your own experience with mondegreens. If I can confess, you can too.
Anyway, part of our bee work today was making a “walkaway split” from OH, Girls. This is the hive that was formerly known as California Girls before earning their new name by successfully overwintering in a cold Ohio winter.
Yes, I know we split them once already in mid-May, but in our last check, the hive was overflowing with bees despite having two deep boxes and three honey supers on.
Also, there were many (many!) queen cups, some that seemed to have larvae in.
It turns out we were wrong about the larvae in the queen cups, but there were even more cups this time, and tons of brood.
This new queen is one busy female!
Too bad we didn’t see her today.
The plan was to split the hive, moving the “old” queen to the split, and leaving eggs and queen cells/inhabited cups in the original hive.
Despite the “old” queen not really being old (since she was made from the split six weeks ago) and despite the queen cups being unoccupied, we still needed to split this hive before they began making swarm queen cells for real.
So that’s what we did.
We split the two brood boxes into two separate hives, added an empty brood box with waxed frames and a few frames started with comb to each, and split the honey supers between them.
When I say, “empty brood box,” I mean a new brood box filled with empty frames and a few frames of brood from the box below. Putting brood in the upper box will encourage the workers to move into their new box.
They went from this setup
While we were in the hive, we also stole a peek at the honey supers. Although there were still no completely capped frames, there were many that appeared on the brink of being so, and we are hopeful we may be able to extract honey next weekend.
In the meantime, today we also finally gave in and attempted to extract old honey that’s been in and out of hives and discovered there’s a reason the bees haven’t been using it.
The comb and filling were practically solid, probably because most of it was made from sugar water. At least, that’s my best guess.
In the end, we scraped and power-washed all the foundation, cleaned off the frames, re-waxed the foundation, and used some of it today to create the new second story brood boxes on both hives.
We’ll see how the girls take to it. If they reject it, we’ll be investing in some new frames and foundation.
In short, we spent most of the day working on bee projects. And then we’ve spent most of the rest of it cleaning up after working on those projects.
And once again, we are crossing our fingers that the bees will be successful in creating a new queen.
This is the present configuration of OH, Girls — 2 deep brood boxes, queen excluder, 3 medium supers for honey, inner cover, quilt box, and outer cover.
It takes a long time to check a hive with this many boxes. Correction: It takes us a long time to check a hive with this many boxes.
Again we hoped to find capped honey frames ready for extraction. There was one, which we pulled and replaced with an empty. But most looked like this, beautiful, but only partially capped.
In the first deep, there was lots of drone brood on the frames, and I was starting to develop a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. Was our new queen laying only drones? Did we somehow have laying workers? Again?
Also, there were queen cups with larvae inside. Had they killed the queen?
But then, we saw this, which proves we don’t have a laying worker, but a large hive with enough bees and food to support drones.
And finally, I spotted our beautiful queen (Me! The one who never spots the queen, especially an unmarked one!).
Sorry for the blurry pictures, but she was running around laying eggs as fast as she could.
So BIG! And surprisingly golden, which you may have noticed in my earlier post. Saskatraz bees are generally darker, as you can see from my photos, so to end up with a gold queen from a Sasky mother is kind of interesting.
Although we didn’t see any eggs, there was plenty of larvae, and the hive remains crowded. The bees evidently think so too since they are again raising queens.
Next plans for OH, Girls: Make another split this weekend, and cross fingers we’ll have enough frames to extract honey over 4th of July weekend.
Next door in the Kremlin, Empress Olga’s laying pattern is starting to improve.
At first glance, her capped brood still looks spotty, and in some cases, it is. However, there were also frames with larvae and eggs interspersed between capped brood cells. And she’s laying eggs more toward the center of the cells.
Plan for the Kremlin: Regular hive check in seven to ten days (probably over the 4th of July).
Finally, we turned to the OH, Girls split.
We haven’t done a true hive check on this hive since we saw the queen was injured on 26 May. When we’re hoping a hive will make a new queen, I just think it’s best to leave them alone to get on with it.
However, during our last hive checks, I asked The Engineer to tilt back the top box so I could check for queen cells. I saw one that was either opened or not yet capped, so we decided it was time to have a look.
When we opened the hive, we discovered the bees had completely propolized the top of the Beetle Jail, which drastically lowers the chances of any beetles actually being caught in the trap, although there was one.
Saskatraz bees also seem to propolize. A lot.
There was larvae of all sizes.
There were also eggs, which you might be able to see if you look very carefully at the above picture. So, although we didn’t spot our new queen, we know she’s there.
Here’s her old cell (along with some of her brood).
And a closer look at that cell.
Plans for this hive: Continue to monitor, adding boxes if needed.
Other plans for all three hives: Start to replace old frames, discard old foundation, pressure wash the wood, and put in fresh foundation.
In summary, OH, Girls has truly been the hive that keeps on giving! We got honey from it last summer, they survived the winter, and bees from that hive have raised two new queens, with hope for another.
In other bee news, we attended the meeting of our local beekeeping group last night, the first one held in person for over a year. The topic was safety in the bee yard, presented by a nurse anesthesiologist.
Well! Her presentation was certainly enlightening, full of information about the types of toxins in bee venom, how to recognize if a reaction is mild, moderate, or severe, whether it’s localized or general, and what to do when a bee stings you.
She also had diagrams including one of a stinger. The picture I’ve linked to isn’t the one she shared, but it’s similar enough to show what I’m talking about when I say my idea of a “barbed stinger” was nothing like the actuality of one.
I pictured more of a hook, not something that looks like a twin-bladed saw! No wonder it hurts!
If you want to know more, you can go here. Again, not the exact information she shared, but it’s close enough.
Must close now. There’s mead that needs bottling, and we need to eat dinner before doing it because I know there will be tasting involved.
My apologies for the fuzziness of the picture below. I’ve included it so you see our girls are not exactly going gangbusters. By anyone’s standards, this is a weak hive.
When we checked them today, there were larvae and eggs. I’ve highlighted the eggs in the picture below (zoom in). The larvae are easy to spot.
Here’s some capped brood, a few larvae, and a hardworking forager bringing in some pollen.
In other bee news, The Engineer has made two swarm boxes in hope of catching a swarm this spring. He met an old beekeeper last year who told him how to go about it, but it was late in the season when he tried it, so we didn’t catch anything.
Some people bait the boxes with purchased lures, but our source said he always used lemon grass oil on a cotton swab and some frames of old comb, so that’s what’s in ours.
In theory, you know you’ve caught a swarm when you find the swab outside the box. Bees are fastidious about what they allow in their hive, and cotton swabs apparently don’t make the list.
We’ve got two boxes baited, and have seen several bees inspecting the accommodations, but they may just be interested in something that smells like free food.
I’m in isolation for six more days, and The Engineer is quarantined as well. Meanwhile, Poor Mom gets fourteen days in her room, though thankfully they started counting from last Tuesday’s visit.
Yesterday I noticed I was feeling a bit worse. Not I-can’t-breathe-go-to-the-hospital bad, just … worse.
Mostly I’m just tired. After every small task, I need a little sit-down and a cup of tea. Compare this to Saturday, when we prepared a raspberry bed. I dug the 9’x18″ plot while The Engineer planted trellises.
Now, I do something, and then sit down. It reminds me of when I was in chemo. Then, as now, I experienced few of the dreadful symptoms that go along with the illness and treatment. I was just exhausted.
And then, as now, the awareness of how lucky I am remains foremost in my mind.
So, I rest on the couch and drink tea I can’t taste. It’s still comforting, though the loss of smell and taste is slightly worse too.
When I try to sniff the eucalyptus oil, I don’t even feel it in the back of my throat.
Cooking is interesting right now. Today I made spaghetti sauce with lots of onion, peppers, and garlic.
How weird is it to cry from the onions you’re chopping but smelling?
On the bee news front, today we’ll treat give the bees their third Oxalic Acid treatment. We didn’t see much of a mite drop after the last one, which is a good sign.
It’s getting warmer, at least temporarily (this weekend, the nights are going below freezing again), and the girls have been quite active, even bringing in pollen
My co-beekeeper took this picture yesterday. Isn’t she beautiful?