Ninety-six Pounds of Honey …

… is a lot of honey.

Actually, it was more like 98 or 100 pounds, but at a certain point, one gives up caring about the exact number.

Since we’d been working on the plane annual for two weeks, we certainly didn’t plan to extract honey this weekend, but apparently the bees thought differently.

We’ve been treating them for Varroa with Formic Pro and gotten the first strips in, but ten days later when the second strips were due, it was too hot. The temperature has to be 85 F or below for the first three days after putting in the strips, and we’ve not had three days in a row below that temperature for quite a while.

You can do two strips at once for 14 days, but when we’ve done that in the past, we ended up with dead queens, so we’re more cautious now.

Normally when we’re treating, we don’t open the hive even to look in the honey supers, but they’ve been crazy busy, filling the frames this year, and we were afraid they’d get too crowded with no place to move out of the brood nest. And when I looked in the directions for Formic Pro, it says don’t disturb the brood. By looking only in the supers, at least we’d be following the letter — if not the spirit — of the law.

So, Saturday, we peeked, and it was a good thing we did because we ended up swapping out fifteen frames full of honey for fifteen new ones. And there were eight more full ones we couldn’t switch because we were out of new frames despite investing in (many!) new frames this season.

A frame full of honey
Some of the frames we pulled were what we call “bulgers.”
Can you see why we call them “bulgers?”
Bulging with honey!

The bees were also festooning. That’s when they kind of chain together, and supposedly they do it mostly when they’re building comb.

There are lots of theories about why they do this, but nobody’s quite sure. Whatever the reason, it’s a neat thing to see.

Anyway, because we needed empty frames to replace the eight full ones, we had to extract sooner than we planned, and that’s why we ended up extracting honey on the 4th of July weekend.

In the end, we pulled honey from thirty-four frames*, including ten we’d already taken out and frozen** for forty-eight hours.

Actually, since our friend MJ had her very first honey harvest(!!!) and brought frames to extract with us, we pulled from thirty-eight.

Here’s MJ using a knife to uncap her frames. Interestingly, her honey had a strong mint flavor despite mint not yet being in bloom. Both she and I noticed it, so perhaps the bees foraged on another flower in the mint family.

It was a long, hot, sticky, exhausting day.

Long enough and sticky enough and exhausting enough that we decided to finetune our process.

We’ve always drained the extractor into the filter, and then into a bucket for jar filling, but with this much honey, the procedure became bottlenecked at the filter.

Also, despite being fine in the past for less honey, our little plastic extractor really wasn’t up to par for the amount we had to extract.

End result: yesterday, we ordered a new, larger extractor and decided in the future we will extract one day, and filter and fill the jars later.

However, these decisions were made after slogging through the old way and spending yesterday finishing up the cleaning of the many tools we use, melting wax, and then cleaning again.

We had talked about going out to celebrate our big honey harvest, but we were so tired we ate leftover pizza on Saturday and ended up eating dinner Sunday at ten pm, so still no celebration.

Today, I began the semi-final step in rendering the wax and began filtering the honey that drained from it when I did the first melting. Then I steam-mopped the floor.

I’m trying a new (to me) method of rendering the wax, putting the chunks in cheesecloth immersed in hot water (in the roaster I got for $20 just for bee work).
The last of the honey from this extraction — we’re fairly confident there will be more because we left a lot of almost-full frames in the hive.

The Engineer and I also reached the momentous conclusion that we have to start selling our honey. We are simply expending too much effort and spending too much money to sustain it as a hobby without an influx of cash for the end result.

In other news, our “comb in a jar” experiment has taken a leap forward as the bees have finally(!) moved into the jars.

The bees are making comb!
The brown powder is cinnamon to keep the ants out of the jars.
Fresh comb is beautiful, isn’t it?

We looked in today when we put the second Formic Pro strips on the hives, and it looked like the bees were filling some of the comb.

How exciting is that!!

If you’re curious what 96 pounds of honey looks like, here’s a couple of pictures which show both the honey and part of the mess in the kitchen after the honey extraction.

A lot of makes a lot of mess!

*If you’re good at calculating, you’re may wonder how we ended up with thirty-four frames because 10+15+8 = 33, not 34. It’s because we missed replacing one frame somewhere, which means a hive has only nine. Although bees are notoriously picky about their space, this isn’t as big of a deal as one might expect. The fact is some beekeepers run nine frames instead of ten because they think the bees make more honey that way.

**The freezing is to kill any wax moth eggs in the wax so they don’t hatch and destroy the frames of comb. If the frames are being extracted immediately, it doesn’t matter because the wax is separated and rendered before any eggs can hatch.

Split Shifts

Honestly, I don’t know how people who have large apiaries do it, especially those who do it as a side hustle. I suppose the more hives you have, the less you fret over each. That’s certainly been the case with us. I mean, we fret in the sense that we try to do what’s best for them, but I think we’re a little calmer about the possibility of things going wrong.

Thankfully, we seem to have settled with six colonies, at least for the time being. Still, we’ve had to split our hive checks into two days. It’s just too hard to go through six hives in one go. Hence the double wordplay in the title — it’s split shifts because our bee duties have been split into two shifts, and split shifts because four of the eight hives we’ve had this year were the result of splits.

Today, we checked 1A, 1, 2, and 2B.

1A was split from 1, taking the original queen with it. It’s our only eight-frame hive, and it’s pretty packed. If any of our hives is a candidate for swarming, it’s this one. The fact that there were eight or ten queen cups on the bottom of a couple of frames would lend weight to this possibility. With the discovery of eggs in several of those cups (turning them into queen cells), a swarm becomes even more likely.

Since we also saw the queen — and she was clearly laying well — we’d normally split the hive, but frankly, we’re running out of room and supplies, despite having spent about $400 on wooden ware in the last month.

Instead, we took out that brood-laden, multi-queen cell/cup frame to move to another hive and added another honey super because the first one is full of capped and uncapped honey and nectar.

They may still swarm, but we bought Swarm Commander to spray on the little bushes the last swarm picked. According to several people who should know, if you spray a little on a cotton ball and attach it where you want swarms to land, they’ll go there.

Apparently, nothing else does the job quite as well. I sure hope they’re right because it’s $35.95 for a 2 ounce bottle!

We moved on to 1, last checked on 20 May. There was a queen present on 11 May, but no larvae, eggs, or evidence she was laying. When we looked on the 20th, we didn’t see any either, so we’d given them a frame of eggs to make a queen if they needed one. Now, we’re questioning if we bothered to look in the super because today we did, and there was brood, eggs, and larvae. We didn’t see the queen, so we took out the queen excluder, hoping she’ll move downstairs where there’s more room.

There was also lots of honey in the supers, so we swapped two fully capped frames for some empties.

So, the good news is the hive is queen right and they’re making honey. The bad news is she’s been laying in the wrong place.

On the other hand, some beekeepers swear the bees make more honey if there’s no queen excluder to hinder their work, and I’ve kind of wanted to see if this is true.

Maybe this is our chance to find out.

One worker, who apparently took offense at our presence, stung me through my glove. I can’t blame her for being cranky. It was a hot day (mid 80s), and the hive was crowded, especially upstairs in the “nursery.” It hurt a bit, but the stinger scarcely penetrated the glove. Of course, the bee’s crankiness cost her a lot more.

There’s probably a lesson in there somewhere … something about a person’s bad temper causing them more pain than it does others maybe?

Next, we came to #2, the one where we watched the queen emerge. When we last peeked inside, we saw the queen — who was nice and big and therefore clearly mated — but no evidence she’d started laying.

We went through the bottom box … and found lots of pollen, nectar, and honey, as well as some comb they were drawing.

Thinking something had happened to the queen, we put the brood-laden frame with queen cells in the box.

I love the pattern made by the varied colors of the pollen.

It wasn’t until we reached the top deep box that we found what we were looking for — brood, eggs, and larvae, followed by a spotting of the queen.

Can you spot her?

I’ll make it a little easier for you. Here’s a couple with The Engineer’s hive tool pointing at Her Loveliness.

Are you ready for a challenge? See if you can find her below!

I’ve circled her. Did you spot her?

So, what will happen to the queen cells from the other hive? Our hope is if the bees are happy with their queen — and they have no reason not to be — they’ll ignore those eggs and let nature take its course.

Still, who knows what goes through their tiny little brains?

Last up was 2B, the hive from the swarm. We have a board with mason jars acting as a honey super for this hive, in the hope they will make comb in a jar for us.

So far, all that’s happened is the comb “starter strips” keep falling down, and the jars have gotten moisture in them, which we’ve tried to alleviate by adding a couple of sticks beneath the board and an inner cover with a front entrance to allow more circulation.

Since we had to do some repair work on the starter strips, we decided we might as well check that hive too.

We spotted the queen, as well as some larvae, eggs, and brood, and the bees have been making comb.

However, they still have three empty frames in their living quarters, which explains why they’re not interested in making comb in jars.

When we took the jars off to repair their strips, we discovered the ants had moved in. We’ve been ignoring ants around the hives ever since we learned they produce formic acid (the same stuff we use to get rid of the dreaded Varroa Destructor Mites). Still, nesting in our experimental comb honey jars before the bees even got in them was pushing it too far, so we used the old cinnamon trick to discourage them.

In writing this just now, I’ve had the idea that perhaps we should steal some brood from the crowded hives, say 1 or 1A, and put it in this one to give them a little boost. I’ll have to discuss that idea with The Engineer to see if he agrees.

In summary, today we checked four hives and either saw queens or evidence one had been busy laying in all of the colonies.

Later this week, we will check 3A and 3B. 3A should have a queen because when we split the hive, we moved her into that colony. 3B is the tall nuc, which may or may not have a queen yet. If they do, she’s probably not started laying.

After that, hopefully sometime next week, we’ll treat the hives, probably with Formic Pro since most of them have brood.

Welcome to the OH Honey Apiary!

From left to right, we 1A and 1 (checked today and currently sporting heavy beards), 2 (also checked today), 3B (tall, skinny pink nuc we will check later in the week), 3 (on picnic table), empty nuc box (in case a hive wants another option to swarm to), 2B (swarm hive with comb honey setup).

Other than that, we’ve enjoyed seeing Tears for Fears and Garbage (a Christmas gift from Darling Daughter) at a nearby venue. We were very grateful DD sprang for pavilion seats (for us oldies) because it poured buckets as soon as we got out of the car.

I’ve exited the shower drier than I was when we got to our seats. Fortunately, it was warm so it didn’t spoil the evening.

Two days later, we went camping for four nights where we dined on such delicacies as pie iron samosas.

Once again, we snagged a site by the river, so fell asleep to the rippling of the water.

It was delightful.

Although we left the kayak at home (we were driving to Columbus and didn’t want to leave it in a hotel parking lot overnight), we hoped to rent one for a days paddling. Unfortunately, the river was too high, so we spent two days cycling a nearby rail-trail

Near one of the trailheads, there’s a grass strip. We paused a moment to envy the pilot who was using it.

It’s a nice bike path. I recommend it if you’re ever near Mansfield, Ohio.

After camping, we threw all our gear into the van and went to Columbus. There, we ate gyros with Darling Daughter and Partner. It was so pleasant to see them again … and to enjoy dining in their screened-in porch.

We were in town to see the Beach Boys, who were performing a free concert at Columbus Commons, (another outdoor venue, but one without pavilion seats). Disappointingly, a major storm came through just as the gates were supposed to open. Because it was significantly cooler than the previous concert night, and we’d already had our outdoor shower for the week, we decided to skip the concert.

Instead we enjoyed the novelty of a bed that wasn’t the ground and food that hadn’t been cooked outside.

It rained all night, so this decision turned out to be the right one, at least for us.

On the way home, we were passed two R-Vs. Both had unusual spare wheel covers, although I was only able to capture a picture of one.

In our twenty-four hours at home, we managed to get the camping gear unpacked, although not re-packed, and The Engineer cleaned the van. I got in a fast visit to my mom, did the laundry and made a dish for the Memorial Day picnic we were attending.

I made this super-easy and delicious cinnamon cheesecake. I’ve seen a similar recipe made with lemon, which I’ll try sometime, but I don’t usually have lemons on hand, so it will wait until we’re not quite so busy.

The picnic was yesterday (another hotel night — thank heaven for The Engineer’s points from all his nights away before retirement), with lots of delicious food and good company.

Thankfully, this week we have no plans that involve overnights away because, in addition to bee work, we want to try out the kayak on our local lake, get some house work done, and prepare for our garage sale.

I’m looking forward to having two days with nowhere to go but inside a garage full of our cleared out stuff!

Minus One, Plus One

Well, I’m not going to bore you with the details, but when we inspected Hive 2A (the split from #2), we discovered it had the original queen. This was the hive where we ended up doing a “walkaway split” by putting frames with eggs in both the original box and the split and leaving them to it. We did this because when we went through the original box, we didn’t see the queen.

Having found the original queen, we took the hive down to one box and called our friend MJ to take it for the nuc we promised her.

We also have another friend coming on Sunday for a nuc, which would take us down to five hives, but after MJ took hers, we were temporarily at six.

Today, we inspected the hives with new queens to see if there were eggs. When we finished, our apiary looked like this.

Yes, we have seven hives.
Again.

You see, we looked inside Hive #1 (second from the left), which we last left nine days ago with a new queen. Today, we found no queen, no eggs, and no larvae. Either she didn’t mate successfully, the bees didn’t like her and killed her, or she just hasn’t started laying and we missed her.

Any of these possibilities is as likely as the rest.

We stole a frame with eggs from 1A to put in. If they are queenless, they can make a new queen. At least, that’s the way it’s supposed to work.

Having a break in eggs hatching might be a good thing for that hive anyway. They are still very full.

Then we looked in Hive #2 — the hive where we watched a queen emerge. We didn’t see any eggs there either, but we did see the queen. She is gorgeously big, which should signify she’s mated successfully and just hasn’t started laying. So fingers crossed for that one too.

Last, we opened Hive #3. It was full of brood and bees, likely from the eggs and larvae that were in it when we last checked. But we didn’t see a queen or eggs, and it was full(!) of queen cells. Like, maybe 25 of them?

So, clearly if they have a queen, they’re not happy with her. And why would they be if she’s not laying?

The question was what should we do with all those bees, brood and queen cells? If we did nothing, we would almost certainly end up with another swarm on our hands.

The logical solution was to split the hive (again), putting brood and queen cells in both, along with honey, pollen, and nectar for food.

The only problem is, we’re now back up to seven hives, and will only go down to six instead of five when we give away the split.

In the end, I expect this situation will resolve itself because I find it hard to imagine we’ll have six hives going into winter.

The problem is we’ve been waiting to treat the hives because I’ve heard it’s pointless to treat only part of an apiary because bees do sometimes “drift” into neighboring hives and can take those nasty Varroa Mites with them. I’ve also heard it’s not good to treat when they are in the delicate process of making and/or accepting new queens because the smell of the Oxalic or Formic Acid can mask the queen’s pheromones.

Unfortunately, we are stuck playing the waiting game. In a week or ten days, we will check the hives again, but I’ve given up trying to predict what we’ll find. We may have to just treat them no matter what state they’re in. This is the time of year when Varroa can really take off, but you sometimes don’t see the problem until August when it’s too late to do anything about it.

In other news, we went to Michigan for a concert and came home with a tandem kayak.

This is not quite as impetuous as it sounds. Because we enjoy canoeing and kayaking, we’ve been considering making such a purchase for several years. We just didn’t plan on acting on the idea this week!

However, we were cycling on a riverside path in Ann Arbor, and the people in the water looked like they were having so much fun! We discussed the idea again, and when we got back to our motel room, I looked at the REI website because I have a 20% off coupon for their yearly anniversary sale.

The ones we liked were a little more than we wanted to spend, so I looked on Craigslist. Lo and behold, twenty minutes away there was this beauty being offered complete with life jackets, paddles, and scupper plugs for what seemed quite a reasonable price.

We made an appointment to see it, found there was an REI store within two miles of our hotel, and bought what we needed to strap it to our luggage rack.

It was as good as it looked online, and the deal was struck.

Yesterday, we drove to the Watercraft Agent and registered it.

I can hardly wait to get it on the water!

Lots of Queens

When we called our friend, MJ and told her we had a swarm if she wanted it, she was so happy. We were too because we knew she was anxious to get another colony started.

So, The Engineer carefully shut the openings and put mesh over the vents on our plastic nuc box for transporting.

This morning MJ came over to pick it up.

We gently loaded the box into her car, careful not to jostle its contents, and MJ drove away.

About twenty minutes later, I got a phone call.

“It’s a good thing I was so careful driving and carrying that nuc box,” MJ said. “When I opened it, there were three bees inside.”

What the heck?! Sometime yesterday, those crazy girls must have returned to their original home!

We recently learned this happens sometime and usually means the workers left without a queen. Oops!

On a positive note, we have hope that at least one or two of our three splits will soon have a viable queen so MJ can take it as a nuc.

Meanwhile, in an effort at preventing any more swarms from that hive, we did a complete check, intending to remove all queen cells except the two biggest.

There were many, some open and some closed.

And then, The Engineer noticed this!

A queen was emerging from her cell!
It’s a very in and out process!

You can watch video of it here. Because it takes a while, I also did a time-lapse video, which sped up the action so much you can hardly see what’s going on. 😦

When the new queen was fully emerged and had scampered on her way, we moved on to Hive #3, the one we planned to split on Monday.

Now, we generally cover open boxes with a towel when we’re not working on them, and today when I lifted the towel on the second box, I spotted the queen … who promptly flew away.

$#@%&! Had we lost the queen forever?

All we could do was make sure both the split we were making and the original hive had eggs to make a new one.

But, then we found another queen, larger than the one I saw. So, she was probably the original queen. We put her in the split.

There weren’t any queen cells, and the many queen cups we saw last week hadn’t developed further, but maybe we missed one that resulted in the flying queen. The bees would have to make a new queen from an egg.

Hive #1 has been looking crowded, with a lot of bearding (as you can see in yesterday’s blog), which is weird because when we split it, we put the queen in the split. This means they don’t yet have a laying queen. We weren’t even going to check for one until nearer the end of the month, but it seemed so full, we decided to put on an extra honey super to allow bees a little more room.

This group of bees were clustered on the inside of the telescoping (outside) lid. To me, they looked like they were saying, “I’m not going out there! You go!”

When we looked inside, we were surprised to see a queen! She also had to be quite newly emerged because there were no eggs, no larvae , and only capped brood. Since we split on 22 April, this makes sense. It takes about sixteen days for a queen to develop, and another week or two to really start laying well. It’s only been about twenty-eight days.

Evidently, we must have left in quite a lot of eggs and larvae when we split because the hive is bursting at the seams. When she begins to lay, we will need to get on a second brood box posthaste!

We also found a queen cell on a frame in the honey super, which we set aside to put in the now queenless Hive #3.

So, after we closed up Hive #1, we moved back to Hive #3, opened it, and went to put the queen cell inside, only now there was also a queen on the frame. Perhaps the one that flew off?

The OH Honey Apiary

Now, we have (left to right) Hive #1A (laying queen, split from Hive #1), a very crowded Hive #1 (new queen, needs another brood box very soon), Hive #2A (tall nuc split from Hive #2), Hive #2 (aka the “swarmed hive,” newly hatched queen and queen cell), Hive #3 (freshly split with queen and a queen cell), Hive #3A (laying queen, split from Hive #3), Hive #2B (swarmed from Hive #2, probably has a queen).

With Hive #2B, we are attempting to get the bees to make comb in a jar. It’s supposed to be difficult to get the bees to start building comb on a glass surface, but it sounded interesting, so we decided to give it a shot.

All the hives with new queens (#2B, #3, #2, and #1) will need to be checked to for eggs in a week or so. If there are eggs, the hive is “queen right.” If there aren’t, we give it another week, and then it will need another queen from somewhere.

Since we really don’t want seven hives, we hope to be able to give a queen right hive to MJ and possibly another acquaintance as well.

What an exciting couple of days in the bee yard!

… and a Bonus Swarm

Today, I came home from my morning walk to find The Engineer replacing the tubes in both my bike tires. They blew out yesterday while the bicycle was sitting in my hot car. I’d filled them to the psi listed on the tire, which turned out to be the maximum. And it was cold when I filled them and hot in the car. Air expands, so …

A little later, when I went inside to make some breakfast, I looked out at the hives, and darned if the same one wasn’t swarming again, only this time they hadn’t gotten past the hanging off the front of the hive.

Here’s the Instagram video of what it looked like.

“No problem,” I thought, “we’ve handled this before,” and I told The Engineer not to worry, I’d put on my suit and scoop them into the box we’d set out yesterday.

And that’s what I did.

A little later, The Engineer decided it was getting confusing keeping track of what hive spawned what split/swarm. He numbered them and marked which we knew had queens.

Then, before we left to go buy more boxes and frames, it looked like that hive might be thinking about swarming it again. We set our only remaining box in front of the colony to encourage them to settle there if they did, but on return, it doesn’t look like they’ve swarmed.

Now, we have (from left to right) Hive 1A, Hive 1 (bearding pretty heavily, but they don’t have a queen so in theory they shouldn’t swarm), Hive 2A, Hive 2, Hive 3, Hive/Nuc 2C, Hive 2B.

We are giving today’s swarm, Hive/Nuc2C to our friend MJ to try her hand at. She’ll need to check it in 10-15 days to see if there are eggs. If there are, the queen has mated and all is fine. If it isn’t, MJ may need to buy a queen, but that’s still significantly cheaper than buying a package or Nuc.

Tomorrow, we plan to split Hive 3 and put a different setup on the first swarm’s hive — trying to get them to make honey in jars.

Just another day in the life of two beekeepers during swarm season.

Mothers Day Swarm

It’s been an exciting day.

The plans were to get up, watch some Premier League Football, have breakfast, go for a bike ride with Darling Daughter, visit the Aged Mother, and return for a lazy evening at home.

But our plans took a detour after the football game when I glanced outside at the bees as I prepared for my bike ride. There was a cloud of them swirling around outside one of the hives, with some clustered at the bottom.

They were swarming.

This photo doesn’t do justice to what it looked like.

Meanwhile a chipmunk sat on our deck, apparently thinking, “What the f—?”

Photo courtesy of The Engineer

The swarm was also on one of the lids for our septic system with a bee ball hanging from both our rhododendron and one of our roses, pulling the branches nearly to the ground.

It was quite convenient for us, all things considered — no high trees to scale or branches to cut in order to rehive them.

We took the empty box we had set on the picnic table to use tomorrow to split our most recently inspected hive, set it under the rose bush, and shook the bee ball off and into the box. Then we moved the box under the rhododendron and did the same for that bee ball. Lastly, we began scooping the bees up into the box.

I think the queen was in one of the balls because the bees on the ground began to move inside.

The whole process from discovery to being able to move the box to the picnic table took about forty-five minutes.

By afternoon, they were apparently cleaning out the frames in their new home.

Photo by The Engineer

Also, the hive that swarmed was one that we’d already split, so we still need to deal with the one that seemed to be prepping to swarm, which will involve spending more money on boxes and frames.

In summary, we now have The Palace (which has a queen) and The Palace’s split (which we are hoping is requeening) on the far left and second from left, respectively. Next we have the split from the hive that just swarmed, which we now know doesn’t have a queen because its mother hive just swarmed, and hives don’t swarm without a queen — that’s the tall, skinny, pink one. We have the now-queenless mother hive that just swarmed (fourth from the left) and the swarmed hive which apparently has the queen (far right). And we have the hive we plan to split because of the many queen cups we saw last week (second wood box from right). The yellow and brown box is a nuc box just in case anyone else feels like swarming and wants to make it easy for us.

Links to swarm videos:

This one you have to click through for some reason — You’ll have to ask WordPress why. I’m pretty sure I uploaded both the same way: https://www.instagram.com/p/CdUNPIipEL2/?igshid=MDJmNzVkMjY=

As for that bike ride with Darling Daughter — it was lovely, as was our late lunch afterwards. And Aged Mother was as feisty as ever, surrounded by many cards, flowers, and chocolate.

Her Egg-cellency

Being retired means not having to check all our hives in one afternoon, which sometimes felt like a marathon. Also, we only know the location of two queens, which means there are only two hives we are willing to disturb by doing a full hive check.

This is because we didn’t spot the queen in one of the hives we split last week, so we don’t know which of the resulting colonies is queen right and which is (hopefully) making a new queen. Erring on the side of caution, we’ll leave both alone.

Thus, our beekeeping duties felt light this week. We looked through one hive on Friday and one today.

I should admit right now I’ve given up on trying to think of clever names for our hives. With all the combinations and splits and iterations of colonies in our beeyard, it’s become impossible to keep up the practice.

For lack of a better idea, we’ve begun referring to them as “The Palace,” or “The Eight Frame,” “The Palace split,” “The Nuc,” “The Hive 2nd from the Right,” and “The Hive on the Right.”

Catchy, right? But, together, they form the OH Honey Apiary.

As you can see, graphic design is not my forte.

Anyway, The Palace was up first, called that because it’s our new eight-frame hive, freshly painted and beautiful. It’s the one on the left.

We’ve been feeding this hive because, although it has the queen, it is to the left of the location of the original hive. When you split a hive, the foragers tend to return to the original location, and we wanted to be sure The Palace had plenty of food to tide them over until new brood was reared to replace the nurse bees who then would become foragers.

It’s true they used much of the food provided, but we also noticed foragers returning to this hive almost immediately. Through the week, the number increased, and we decided they would be fine without the supplemental food.

We removed the jar, which was housed in the top two boxes, and left one super filled with frames for them to use for honey storage. Two of those frames were the ones we removed last week because they were filled with drone brood. In theory, the workers should clean out those cells and use them for honey.

That’s what we hope, anyway.

Also, since we (The Engineer) spotted the queen on another frame, we were able to move the final super frame with brood up into the super box. There, the workers can care for the brood, but the queen excluder will keep the queen from laying any more eggs in the honey super.

No bees aren’t usually quite that fuzzy. It’s my less than stellar camerawork. (And if you think this is bad, you should see the video I took of the queen — about 2 seconds of her back and then a quick upside-down view of our yard culminating in about 10 seconds of my finger).

The girls had made some beautiful comb on the bottom of that last super frame, which we scraped off.

Comb is a marvel of engineering, I think.

We removed the comb because the last time we tried to save comb our bees made, they used it for drone brood, which is a magnet for Varroa. So, it’s not that we don’t want drones. We just don’t want a whole hive full because that would mean we likely had a whole hive full of Varroa as well.

Sadly, this piece of comb also some new eggs in it as well (which you might see if you look closely).

At least now that hive is set up with the queen downstairs where she has space to lay eggs that won’t be all drones.

We hope.

There’s a lot of hoping involved in beekeeping.

Today, we inspected the hive we considered the weakest of the three that made it through the winter and were pleasantly surprised.

It was full of bees, brood, larvae, and eggs!

And I spotted the queen!

Here she is. At least here’s her abdomen: Queen bees move around very quickly laying eggs, and it can be hard to get a good photo.

Can you see her?

I’ll make it easier for you.

We also noticed a lot of queen cups, many of them clustered together.

This frame had six, all near the bottom of it, which may or may not mean they’re preparing to swarm. I kind of think they are because, although our bees always seem to like to have a queen cup or two around, they generally don’t have this many together on the bottom of a frame.

Consequently, we’ll be checking this have again in five or so days and splitting if these cups become full-fledged queen cells.

If you’re not sure of the difference, go here. There are several pictures of queen cells in the post where I explain how we learned the hard way why it’s a bad idea to scrape off queen cells, especially when you haven’t seen the queen.

Just for the record? It’s always a bad idea to scrape of queen cells. If you have a good queen, split the hive, and put the cells into the new hive [s] for the bees to raise. If you don’t want another hive, give or sell it to another beekeeper.

For now, however, we are happy beekeepers. The hives we split have calmed down now that we quit rearranging their homes, and today’s hive was so chill, we only used smoke a few times to move them off old ugly frames we were replacing with new. The dandelions are out, and the flowering trees are beginning to bloom, so there’s plenty of pollen and nectar for our girls to forage.

The Palace split was even bearding today.

Maybe warm weather is finally here.

We hope.

The Sting

Well, it happened again. I got stung, this time on my forehead above the eye. And you know how I always say honey bees are uninterested in humans? That they don’t sting out of sheer meanness, like, say, yellow jackets?

For the most part, this is true, and we’ve got thousands of bees living just behind our house to prove it. However, every so often, you come across a bee that just seems to have a gripe with the world.

Well, for me, today was that day.

There was a bee stuck between the two slding doors that open onto our deck, so I was outside to trying to help her to freedom when along came another bee flying right at my face.

Out of sheer instinct, I waved at her, trying to get her to fly away — exactly the thing you’re not supposed to do.

Suddenly I felt that searing sensation on my forehead that told me I’d been stung.

I brushed at my face with my hand — another thing one shouldn’t do when there’s a bee around — and she began flying around my head and face, so perhaps her barb didn’t enter or leave her body completely.

Who knows?

I began scraping at the area, trying to make sure the stinger wasn’t still under my skin pumping in more venom, and yelling for The Engineer to make sure she was off me.

Then, I swore a lot and called that bee many profane names. I could feel the venom moving through my veins and was afraid my eye would swell shut.

After a minute or two, I found the sting kit I keep with our bee gear. It contains several different antihistamines. A nurse anesthesiologist spoke at our beekeeping club this winter, and these were part of the protocol she advised, along with icing the area.

Here, among my wrinkles and grey hairs, you can see where I scraped at what I thought was the bee stinger.
A few hours later

You can see the antihistamines and ice did their job. The area is puffy and sore, but not nearly as bad as it could have been.

I’m still annoyed at that bee though!

Once it was clear I wasn’t having a major reaction to the sting, we went outside and split the second big hive.

Unfortunately, we didn’t find the queen, so this was a true “walkaway” split, where the beekeeper divides the hive, making sure both the new colony and the old have eggs to make a new queen. The hive with the queen will let the eggs develop normally; the hive without a queen will make one or more from the eggs.

At least that’s the plan. It remains to be seen if the bees fall in with this plan or not. It takes sixteen days to raise a queen from egg to adult, and even longer before she begins laying eggs, so it will be a while before we know if the splits are successful.

Our new set up: (l to r) 8-frame hive with a queen, 10-frame split with no queen, Nuc colony that may or may not have a queen, 10-frame hive that may or may not have a queen, and 10-frame hive with a queen.

Right now, four out of our hives are a little riled because we’ve been moving their houses around. We won’t be messing with them for a few weeks, but the hive on the far right (the weakest of the three that came out of winter) should be inspected again soon.

And that’s all the news from the OH Honey beeyard!

It’s Splitting Time!

Today we finally(!) had temperatures warm enough to split a hive.

This is the same hive that briefly had two queens last summer. When we checked it earlier this month (before all the cold weather), it had a lot of brood, so we decided it should be the first of two we plan to split.

I’m not sure if I mentioned it, but we over-wintered all our hives with honey supers this year. That’s the smaller top box (the proportions are skewed in this picture because of the angle from which it was taken) which was quite full of nectar and honey last fall.

During the summer, we place queen excluders between the brood boxes (the bigger bottom ones) and the honey super to keep the queen from laying eggs around the honey.

Many people prefer not to use queen excluders, calling them “honey excluders,” but we have found them useful. Maybe sometime we should experiment by leaving it off one hive and see if we get more honey.

In winter, we take the queen excluders out to allow all the bees access to the extra food, even though we knew we might end up with brood in the honey at the start of the spring nectar flow.

That’s exactly what happened, so when we checked the hives for the first time, we put the queen excluders back. We’d seen the queen in the hive that’s not as strong as the other two, so it was only in the two strong ones that we needed to remember the queen might have gotten caught upstairs.

I actually thought if she did, it might actually make it easier to split the hives. Supers are smaller, so there would be fewer bees, ergo the queen would be easier to spot.

As it turned out, she was in the super of the hive we split, and I actually spotted her. Me! The woman who has only ever spotted the queen one other time in a hive in my life!!!

This made splitting the hive much easier. We just moved the frame with the queen into the new eight-frame box* and filled the rest with a couple of frames of brood and some honey. We know most of the hive’s foragers will return to the orignal hive because they’re oriented to it, so we’ll be giving sugar syrup to the new split (with the old queen). This syrup is a ration of 1:1 sugar to water, with some Honey B Healthy added to encourage them to feed. I also added Honey B Healthy’s Amino B Booster, which supposedly helps with brood rearing.

We also discovered the wax foundation frames we experimented with last year were full of drone brood — not necessarily a good thing because Varroa love drone brood because its growth cycle is similar to the mite’s. Ugh!

I’m not sure if you remember, but we tried a couple of frames of wax foundation last year because we heard the bees really like it.

Newsflash! Ours didn’t. They dismantled it and rebuilt it with their own wax cells, which they decided should be drone cells.

The queen obligingly filled every one with drone brood.

We removed one to freeze (Try to look upon this as euthanising a few drones to benefit the hive because that’s what it is), which will take care of some of the problem, but we probably should have done both. Maybe we can find a moment to pull it when we work the other two hives.

The other issue is there is now a short super frame in a deep box (because it had the queen on it and we don’t have a great record of managing to move queens anywhere without damaging them). You can bet your life the bees are building comb on the bottom of it even as I write this post.

So, we’ll have to get that out too and replace it with a regular deep frame.

Still, it was a fairly easy split.

Of course, since the queen had been laying in the super, that meant all the eggs were up there, which meant we had to put the super back on the original ten-frame box so the bees could make a queen from the eggs.

Alternatively, we could buy a new queen to introduce, which would be faster because she wouldn’t have to be raised and then do the whole mating flight thing. However, a new queen costs upwards of $40, so we usually let the bees at least try to make their own first.

Obviously, we didn’t put the queen excluder back in because we don’t want to infringe the bees movement in any way while they are at this delicate point, nor do we want to separate the new queen from the rest of her hive if they are successful in this operation.

We know there were queen cups, but we’re not sure if they had eggs in them or not. So, they may be working from scratch, which could result in a smaller, weaker “emergency queen.”

In the past, we’ve only split after seeing queen cells in our hives, but we’ve learned that’s cutting it fine and risking a swarm. However, by splitting sooner, before there are full-sized queen cells, we may be taking the risk of them raising a not-so-great queen.

It’s sort of a “damned if you do, and damned if you don’t” scenario, as seems to often be the case in beekeeping.

On another note, some people say if you split a hive, you need to move the new colony two miles away. But, we’ve learned otherwise. As long as you make sure there are plenty of nurse bees in the new hive, it will be fine. The foragers will mostly return to the old hive, but the nurse bees have never been outside, so they’ll stay and raise the young.

From one hive into two! Original, now queenless, hive is on the right, and the new hive with the old queen is on the left.

As you can see from the photo above, the bees are confused for a little while after the split, but they settle down pretty quickly.

We also took a quick peek in the super of the other strong hive to see if there was evidence of a queen, i.e, new eggs or very small larvae. There wasn’t, so she’s down in the brood boxes where she belongs.

Here’s a slo-mo and a time-lapse video of the girls bringing in pollen, which I took before we got busy with the split. I love to watch them come in loaded with beautifully colored pollen!

Next we need to turn our attention to the other big hive and do a check of the not-so-busy one too.

I’ll keep you posted!

*In an effort to keep The Engineer’s back healthy, we are trying to shift our hives from ten-frame to eight frame.

Retirement and Bee Busy-ness

I worked my last day on Friday 15 April. At least that’s the theory if all goes to plan. When I retired from the library and started at the grocery store, I planned on staying for a year or two. It worked out so well I ended up staying for 5-1/2 and intended to work until next February, when I’m eligible for a (reduced) Social Security benefit.

However, after The Engineer finished work in December, and we started to plan things, even working part-time seemed to get in the way. Also, since I’m four years older than him, I began to wonder why I was still working when he wasn’t. This isn’t quite true since he’s actually doing a little contracting, but it sort of felt that way.

So, we had a look at our budget, with and without my salary, and concluded if we couldn’t live without it, then we were spending too much money.

I’m convinced we can do it, even though — as is usually the case with our monetary moves — this decision runs exactly opposite to what the economy is doing right now. I’ve gotten a little lax with my spending, and this is a good time to cut more of my wasteful habits.

In addition, we — or at least I — have reached an age where it’s time to think about how we’d like to spend the years we have left. We don’t know how many years that might be, and I’m determined to begin to do more of the things I’d have liked to do in the past if I’d only had the time.

And what might those things be, you ask? At least, that’s what everyone else asked when I told them the news.

Here’s my list:

— Clear out every cupboard, drawer, closet, shelf, and storage area in our house and cut my belongings by at least a third

— Have a garage sale with those items

— Work with The Engineer to get our house in marketable condition, sell it, and then move into a smaller place

–Start working again on my family tree

— Read (even) more

— Travel (even) more

— Take more hikes

— Go cycling more often

— Fly more often

— Volunteer for park cleanups and other one-day events

— Go to garage sales and thrift stores again with an eye to re-selling items on eBay

— Work the bees when the weather is good instead of having to fit that work around two schedules

— Possibly grow our OH Honey apiary to include a few more hives (but not too many)

Anyway, that’s enough to be getting on with. I’m quite sure we won’t be bored.

And since we’re talking about bees, I think it’s time for an update.

I am happy to announce that all three hives made it through the winter. Two seem quite strong, and the remaining one is still active, if not quite thriving on the level of the others.

We were finally able to inspect the colonies about a week and a half ago, and although we (The Engineer) only spotted the queen in one hive, they all seem to be doing fine.

As expected, two were doing a little better than the third, but all in all, they looked pretty good.

They are bringing in a lot of pollen!

Some of the pollen was light green, and we even saw some blue. (The green didn’t show up very well in the photo, and the bees with blue pollen moved too fast for me to get a photo.)

Can you see the larvae in the cells on the left?

After attending two sessions on swarm prevention, we both concluded we’ve been lucky to never have had any of our bees in the trees. Apparently, we’ve been splitting our hives rather late in the swarming process.

They’ve already been hatching drones, and we saw several queen cups. Even though we didn’t see any big queen cells, we weren’t able to see if the cups had eggs in them, so they may or may not have been the beginning of an actual queen cell. Our bees almost always have a queen cup or two in their hives, so it’s hard to say.

Queen cups in a poorly focused photo

Nonetheless, the presence of drones, and the number of bees in the colony indicated it might be time to do a split as a means of swarm prevention. I’m not going to try to explain how and why this is so because there are others who can explain it much better including Perfect Bee and Honey Bee Suite. If you really want to delve into the subject, I suggest you take a look at Swarm Essentials by Stephen Repasky. He literally wrote the book on swarms.

We decided to split the two larger hives, one at a time.

Unfortunately, it then got cold.

And we had snow.

Today, the sun is coming out, but it’s later than predicted, so we will split a hive tomorrow instead.

It’s so nice to be retired and have that option. 🙂