The Treatment

All week, it’s been hot and humid with dark clouds threatening storms, and today was no exception.

Still, our beekeeping duties required us to suit up and treat the hives for Varroa. Because I wield the magic wand (our vaporizer), I had the added pleasure of an N95 mask and safety goggles. It was Very Hot.

Using a vaporizer to treat with oxalic acid is usually pretty simple. You block the entrances, put the powder on the little tray, slide the tray into the hive, attach the leads to a battery, and leave the vapor to permeate the hive for the alloted amount of time.

Easy-peasy.

However, when you have honey supers on a hive, you have to take them off the hive to treat because oxalic acid guidelines say honey that’s been treated with OA shouldn’t be consumed by humans.

That’s how the guidelines stand at present, although the prevailing wisdom seems to be moving away from that idea because oxalic acid is a naturally occurring substance. On February 23, 2021 the FDA finalized a ruling that establishes an exemption from the requirement of a tolerance for residues of oxalic acid in honey and honeycomb.  

Nonetheless, “Bee Culture” magazine says this doesn’t mean we can all start treating our hives with honey supers on. So, we either take them off to treat with oxalic acid, or we use Formic Pro, which can be used with supers.

Formic Pro also has the advantage of killing Varroa that are in cells of capped brood. But it takes longer (14-20 days instead of minutes [or in today’s case, about an hour]), can only be used in a certain temperature range, and kills some bees along with the Varroa. Since one of bees that it may kill could be the queen, this can be a serious disadvantage.

In our situation, we have a new queen in OH, Girls who hasn’t started laying and possibly a new queen who’s not yet laying or a new queen in the works in the OH, Girls split. As a result, two of our three hives have no brood to worry about.

Meanwhile, in the Kremlin, Olga’s laying is a little spotty, and we treated that hive when it arrived as a package.

We decided to use oxalic acid on all three hives even though we’d have to get the bees out of OH, Girls’ supers.

In the past, we’ve had no problem using our escape board to accomplish this.

We insert the board between the supers and the deeps with the triangles down and leave it in for twenty-four to forty-eight hours. The bees seem to find their way down into the brood boxes for the night, but have problems finding their way back up. There are always a few stragglers left in the supers and/or the board, but they’re easily dealt with.

Today, however, the bottom of the board was seething with bees.

After regrouping, The Engineer and I decided to cover the hole in the escape board and treat the hive with the board in place.

Filed under “other problems” was the fact that the front porch of the hive was also loaded with bees who didn’t take kindly to me trying to move them either in or out of the hive so I could block the entrance to treat the hive.

Then, the part of the vaporizer that actually does that blocking fell off, and we had to sort of hold it in place while the vaporizer was working.

We were about halfway through the treatment when The Engineer realized we hadn’t replaced the bottom board. This meant all the vapor that was going in the hive was coming right back out of the hive through the screen at the bottom.

It was like a slapstick movie where Laurel and Hardy take up beekeeping.

Out came the vaporizer. In went the bottom board. And we started all over again.

The bees were delighted with these developments.
Not.

Also, we discovered a few guard bees took their jobs very seriously, butting our veils repeatedly.

Have I mentioned how much I love my hat and veil?

What a relief it was to finish that hive and replace the supers and quilt box!

We’d hoped to be able to pull some frames for extraction, but though most were full of honey and nectar, none were completely capped. 😦

Our best bet for getting the bees on the escape board back into the hive seemed to be to tip it in front so they could walk in.

A LOT of Bees

For comparison, here’s a photo from two years ago when we used the escape board to get bees out of the supers so we could extract.

Normally, the walking back in process takes a short time, even with lots of bees. This time, the bees on the board seemed reluctant to abandon it. The picture above was taken about thirty minutes after we finished treating, and it was over an hour later before the board was mostly empty.

Clearly, this hive is very full despite having been split a month ago, and we’ll need to keep a close eye on it, especially once the new queen starts laying.

Despite the rivulets of sweat pouring down our faces and OH, Girls’ diligent guard bees trying to convince us we should abandon our tasks, we managed to treat the other two hives without incident.

What’s next on our beekeeping schedule? We’ll need to do full hive checks on all three hives, looking to see if the new OH, Girls queen has begun laying, if Olga’s prowess at egg laying has improved, and if the split has managed to requeen.

For now, that’s all the news from the OH, Honey! beeyard.

OH, Girls! New Queen, Oh My!

The girls have done it! They’ve managed to create a beautiful new queen.

Can you find her? Admittedly, both of the pictures only show her abdomen, so the task may not be easy. And she’s not that big-eyed, fat one in the upper corner. That’s a drone, hanging around the honey as usual.

GIve up? Let me make it easier for you.

There she is! In the middle of the purple circle.

Of course, it was The Engineer who spotted her, as usual, and what a relief it was to see her.

She’s quite new, possibly still unmated, though she is already nice and fat. Could be she’s just not finished with her “maiden flights.”

There were no eggs or larvae yet, so she’s definitely not begun laying.

But now we have two queen right hives — definitely cause for celebration.

OH, Girls also kept busy while waiting for royalty to emerge. They have been socking away nectar and turning it into sweet, sweet honey.

In addition, they completely rebuilt the wax frames they took a dislike to.

Newly made comb is so gorgeous!

And since, unlike the last time, these frames aren’t in the brood chambers, there’s no chance of them being used as drone comb, which means we won’t be over-run with drones.

Next, we took a look at the Kremlin.

They have a great deal of pollen, nectar, and honey (both new and old). I think the pollen is probably a mix as well, but I still love to wonder about the sources of the various colors.

As you can see, there were a fair amount of drones in the hive — the result of those workers who were laying before Olga came along and set them straight.

Speaking of Olga, here she is.

I’m not 100% happy with her laying pattern. It’s kind of spotty, with brood and larva mixed together and backfilled with nectar and pollen.

Also, in the picture above, it looks like her eggs might not be being laid in the middle of the cells.

The off-center eggs are more clear in this picture.

I’ve heard sometimes new queens take a little while to get going properly, so this is something we’ll keep an eye on.

Another possible explanation for the spotty pattern (but not the off-center eggs) is the workers had backfilled many of the cells on the frames with nectar and pollen. We added another deep box with some more open frames to help alleviate this.

To add fuel to this particular fire, it looks to me like the bee in the center bottom of the picture above has a varroa mite under its wing.

We treated this package when we received it (before it had any brood) and had planned to treat both the others within the next week, but it looks like we need to hit this one again too.

Finally, we went into the split just enough to remove the bottom board and peek at the bottom of the top box to see if there were queen cells.

The weather has turned (again), and we expect temperatures in the mid 80s (F) all week. Thus, we are pulling all the boards so they have ventilation through the screened bottom. That particular hive setup requires you to almost pick up the whole hive to remove the board.

There was at least one open queen cell, but in my quick look, I couldn’t tell if it had been opened, or was just not yet capped, though I suspect and hope the former. When we looked in on the 26th, there was an uncapped queen cell. That was eleven days ago, so it’s entirely possible the uncapped queen cell we saw then with larva in it has since been capped and the new queen emerged.

Michael Bush’s “bee math” gives the following figures for bee development, and a queen cell is capped at eight days, with her hatching eight days later (give or take a few). If we saw the cell just before it was capped (and the larva in it was good-sized, so this is possible), she may be out and taking maiden mating flights.

Days until:
Caste Hatch Cap  Emerge	
Queen  3½   8 ±1 16 ±2 Laying        28 ±5
Worker 3½   9 ±1 20 ±1 Foraging      42 ±7
Drone  3½  10 ±1 24 ±1 Flying to DCA 38 ±5

Once again our fingers are crossed.

Filed under “Other Beekeeping Activities,” yesterday we attended the Lorain County Beekeepersfield day at Queen Right Colonies.

We last attended in 2018, when I won a beehive. In 2019, we were in France, and last year, of course, it was cancelled because of the pandemic, so we were eager to see what this year had in store.

To start with, we learned a bit about queen rearing from the folks of Z’s Bees. Mostly, we learned, as we always do when we attend a program on raising queens, that we’re not yet ready for that particular activity.

We next attended “Assessing Hive Health” and “Maintaining Hive Health” with Peggy Garnes, who happens to be the president of the Ohio State Beekeepers Association. Since she also sold us our first hive and was one of the instructors at the Beginner Beekeeping Course we took (twice), we knew her sessions would be worth our time.

It was a treat to watch her work as she took apart and inspected two hives, commenting on what she found, why she worked the way she did, and what next steps she would advise for each.

Several facts I found interesting:

  1. New sister/sister queens won’t usually kill each other. Half-sisters will. That is, if two queens hatch from eggs fertilized from sperm of the same father, they are unlikely to commit sororicide (yes, I had to look that one up). This is similar to something I heard at one of the (many!) classes we took. It seems a worker bee will always favor a full sister over a half-sister when feeding them as larvae.
  2. If you drop the queen, pick her up and reinsert her into the back of the hive rather than the front, and the bees will be more likely to recognize her as their own queen, rather than a strange bee.
  3. And the best fact of all: Ants produce formic acid!!! And what do beekeepers spend lots of money on to treat their hives for Varroa? FORMIC ACID!!! This means we’ve wasted five years fighting ants in our hives. Learning that fact alone was worth the price of admission.

Actually, there was no price of admission, but if there had been, I’d have gladly paid it to learn that!

Still, LCBA once again raffled off two hives, and I contributed to their coffers by entering.

They also had several guessing games, which were free. I guessed “the weight of the candle” and the “number of corks in the bottle,” but declined to stick my hand in the enclosed box to name the items within.

The “Bee Race” sounded like an interesting event, so I bought The Engineer the chance to be selected to participate. This involved six contestants each being provided with a marked worker bee in a queen cage. The contestants (both insects and people) were then driven several miles away. The person whose bee got back to the hive first won the pot of money collected for the tickets.

“Stuff the Queen Cage” sounded more painful than any possible prize could possibly be worth. Yes, it was exactly what it sounds like — stuffing as many bees as you could into a queen cage, with points deducted for every sting.

We didn’t even stay to watch.

The raffles and door prizes were awarded before those two events, and to my surprise, I won both guessing games I entered.

I’d known I was a contender for the number of corks because when I wrote down my guess, the lady taking the guesses looked at it and said I was very close.

However, the candle weight win was a surprise, although my guess was based on the many pounds of birdseed I buy for my mom’s and our feeders and all the dirt I’ve recently lifted to fill the pots that make up my garden. There were actually two winners for that game, and I was set to forego my prize since I’d already won, but then I saw they had two prizes, so I accepted.

Both my prizes were “Candle Flex” molds, a wise man and a shepherd. Since I’ve been wanting to start candle making (after a brief, not-very-successful foray into it last year), these high-quality forms will be very handy.

The winner of the “items in the box” was seated right next to me, so people were beginning to make comments about us sitting in the lucky row of seats.

When we registered for the event that morning, each attendee was given a ticket for the door prizes. The Engineer took charge of ours, and when they called one of the numbers, he went up to collect our new “Pro Nuc.”

Pro nuc box
Ours is a different color, but this is the product.

We will find this very useful either as a swarm box or as something to hold frames when we take them out for inspection.

In fact, The Engineer just informed me, it’s already up a tree as a swarm trap.

I was never lucky at winning things, but in the last ten years or so, my luck seems to have changed.

I’ve won:

  1. A pair of Keen boots
  2. A Leatherman
  3. A beehive
  4. A smoker
  5. Instructions for making a top-bar hive
  6. An uncapping tank (pictured in this post)
  7. A Broodminder and several drone frames (we don’t use either anymore — the Broodminder gave up the ghost last year, and the drone frames were more trouble than they were worth)
  8. Two candle molds

As you can see, most the prizes have to do with beekeeping. From this I can only conclude that we were destined to be beekeepers. 🙂

Between Saturday’s Field Day and our Monday-Thursday camping trip, we also drove 1-1/2 hours to the Harry Clever Field in New Philadelphia where our plane is being annualed. If you’re unfamiliar with general aviation plane maintenance, you may be surprised to learn every plane has to be taken apart each year and inspected by a Certified A&P Mechanic. To cut costs, we try to do as much of the work as allowed. This means, we take out seats, take up carpet, and remove inspection panels (lots of inspection panels — usually my job). Otherwise, we’d be paying mechanics’ wages to have someone else do what is mostly unskilled labor. Once the inspection is completed, we put back in the carpet and seats, and replace the inspection panels and trim.

That was Friday. You’ve just read about Saturday and Sunday, and I’ve already written about Monday-Thursday.

After this very busy week, I expect the next to be much the same. We’re both back to work, have the bees to treat, the airplane to finish, and strawberries are coming in, which means if I want to make strawberry margarita jam, it has to be this week or I risk not being able to get the berries.

I certainly don’t want to miss making the best strawberry jam in the world. (This links to a recipe very similar to the one I use, though it’s not exactly the same.) I mean, any strawberry jam is good with me, but including lime and tequila somehow works to make the flavor of the strawberries more clear.

I have some jalapeños in the fridge, and I think I’ll try adding a few of those to the second batch just to add a little kick.

I’ll keep you posted on how it turns out.

P.S. We had a little mead tasting with some out-of-town beekeeper friends who came in for the field day, and I think Sourpuss is my new favorite, although Ginger Rogers and Hot Mama are still contenders. Alas, OH, Honey needs more time to get rid of a yeasty smell.

All Hail the Dying Queen

The Engineer: “I forgot the blue dot was almost worn off the queen. I wasn’t really looking for an unmarked queen.”

Me: “She’s dead. There were no eggs, and the few larvae we spotted were on the verge of being capped.”

The Engineer: “Yes, but I’d feel better if we went through that hive again.”

Me: <sigh> “She’s dead.”

The Engineer: “If we look and don’t see her, we’ll know to go ahead and get another queen to introduce.”

Me: “Okay. But, if we’re going to look, we have to do it early because it’s supposed to rain tomorrow. Then, if we don’t find her, I’ll order a queen.”

The Engineer: “Okay.”

It was thus that this morning found us once again going through the OH, Girls split, carefully studying each frame before placing it in a different, empty box. Doing the inspection this way, if the queen was still alive, she wouldn’t be able to slip back to a frame we’d already pronounced queen-free.

Frame 1: Old honey (from previous hives) with some fresh comb. No queen.

Frame 2: No queen, but lots of nectar and a little freshly capped honey. Isn’t it beautiful?

Here’s a closeup of a drone. See the big eyes and fat body? Naturally, he’s in the pantry with all the food! And look how fuzzy that little worker is next to him. She must be very young to still be so furry!

Frame 3: Pretty much a repeat of the second, except for several queen cups and the queen cell with a larva in it we’d seen yesterday. There were lots of bees tending to it, so much so that it was difficult to get a good picture of the larva.

You can just barely see the larva glistening inside, and the cell was longer than it was yesterday.

There were also a few more queen cups that may or may not have had larvae in them. It was hard to tell. I didn’t take pictures of all of them, but when I look at the ones I did, I think maybe my seeing larvae is wishful thinking.

Then we got to frame 4, and there was Her Royal Blueness. Her blue dot was gone, her thorax appeared to be — I can’t think of a better word — dented, and she was barely moving. Truly, she was in a sorry state. It makes me sad to even look at her.

We have no idea how she got into this state. When we put her in the split, she was in great shape, scurrying around as queens do.

Did she get rolled between two frames when we put the others in? Or what?

Now I wonder if we should have pinched her, both to put her out of her misery and so the other bees know without a doubt they don’t have a viable queen.

We didn’t, and we’re not going back in there, disturbing them further as they go about the delicate process of replacing their queen.

The fact they are making one would seem to indicate they are well aware of their situation.

RIP Her Royal Blueness. You served your hive well. We’ll consider ourselves lucky if your daughter queen turns out to be half as good as you.

Because of this fact, and because the bees clearly are making at least one new queen, we are going to let them get on with it instead of ordering a replacement.

The No Queen Blues

We’re singing the No Queen Blues again, which is appropriate because Her Royal Blueness seems to have disappeared.

Before I share those blues, let’s first do a little happy dance because Olga the White Russian has settled into the Kremlin and commenced to laying!

Olga and some tiny larvae
More larvae
Can you spot the eggs?

Bee eggs look like tiny grains of rice. They more or less stand straight up when they have just been laid, before beginning to tilt and then turning into larvae by the third day. So most of the eggs above have been recently laid.

This frame of brood looks a little spotty … until you notice the larvae in most the open cells.
Zoom in on this one, and you may see some very tiny larvae near the upper righthand corner, as well as bees that are hatching.
If you zoom in on the middle of this frame, you’ll see eggs in the process of tilting over.

And below are several frames of bees eating honey we spilled on the top of their frames. Can you see some of the bees’ proboscises (tongues)?

When we peeked in the supers (medium-sized boxes usually used for honey) on OH, Girls, we were curious to see how they liked the two frames of wax comb we’d given them. Though we usually use plastic foundation anecdotal wisdom seems to hold that bees prefer wax, and we decided to give them a try.

Apparently, our bees weren’t consulted for those anecdotes. Now we are left wondering: Was it the wax they didn’t like, the string we used to stabilize it, or both?

From what we can tell, they’ve repurposed the wax from the foundation and begun to build their own on the bottom because there’s a slight difference in color.

We took out the string, and reinserted those two frames.

Since they’d filled the rest of the frames with nectar, we added another super. The hive is also still quite populated, so we added the empty quilt box for ventilation. If you recall, this winter we used the same box filled with wood chips for insulation on another hive.

Here’s the new configuration.

Finally, we turned to the OH, Girls split, the hive we were confident would be in good shape.

The Engineer had quickly looked through this hive a few days ago and not seen Her Blueness, but since he saw some brood, we weren’t too concerned.

Today we looked more closely, and found mostly capped brood being backfilled by nectar i.e., as the bees hatch, their cells are filled with honey rather than new eggs. There were also just few large larvae, none of the tiny stuff you see in the pictures from the Kremlin, and no eggs at all.

And there was no royalty in sight … except — and this may save us — a small uncapped queen cell with larva in it.

Yes, I know, I should have taken a picture.

According to Mike Bush, a queen is capped at about eight days, which means we have some waiting to do.
Again.

We also may have some queen buying to do if OH, Girls aren’t successful at requeening. According to Bush’s “Bee Math,” we should know sometime in mid June.

If they haven’t managed to requeen, or if the new queen is unsuccessful at mating or laying, or if the queen cell in the split is unsuccessful, we’ll have to buy a queen (or possibly two). Since a Saskatraz queen (our preferred race) is $46, including marking, this can be an expensive endeavor.

Still, at least there will be queens available if needed.

And both the split and the original hive will have had a break in the brood cycle — helpful for both discouraging Varroa and for using the easier method of vaporized Oxalic Acid, rather than the more lengthy Formic Pro strip treatment.

Of course, we will have to remember to take honey supers off the full-sized hive before applying the vapor because it’s not meant to be used with them on, but that’s easily done.

Speaking of honey, I’ve got high hopes that OH, Girls will soon have some capped and ready for extraction.

Stay tuned for more “Bee Music.”

Long Live Empress Olga

I’ve decided Olga can’t be the queen of our beehive because she’s Russian, and everyone knows Russia was ruled by emperors and empresses or tsar and tsarinas.

I’m going with “Empress Olga,” and the reason I’m mentioning her is because she lives!

The Engineer had a quick peek in that hive today while I was at work, and I’m very impressed that he not only found her, he also managed to capture her on camera.

Empress Olga and her workers

You may notice Olga is marked with a white dot, unlike Her Royal Blueness in the OH, Girls hive. This is because she is a 2021 queen, and Her Royal Blueness was a 2020 queen.

White and blue are two of the International Queen Bee Marking Colors. The other colors are yellow, red, and green, based on the digit the year ends in.

1 or 6 are White Dots (2021 and 2016)

2 or 7 are Yellow (2022 and 2017)

3 or 8 are Red (2023 and 2018)

4 or 9 are Green (2024 and 2019)

5 or 0 are Blue (2025 and 2020)

We’ve had both marked and unmarked queens. When we buy a queen or package or nuc, we pay the extra dollar or so to have her marked. But when we split our hives, and they are successful at requeening themselves, we end up with an unmarked queen.

This is because the only time we tried marking a queen, she ended up dead.

We won’t do that again.

As you might expect, it’s much easier to spot a bee with a colored dot on her back than one without. I’m woefully bad at finding her in any case. Thankfully, The Engineer is slightly better, but there are still many times we don’t see her and have to be happy with just seeing eggs and larvae.

In other news, the workers from the OH, Girls split have been foraging.

OH, Girls split

And, it’s been very hot (upper 80s and low 90s F), which means the OH, Girls hive is bearding most days. We’ve noticed our Saskatraz hives seem to do this more than the other ones we’ve had.

OH, Girls hanging out on the front of their hive and entrance

No doubt the swift change of weather is as much a shock to them as it is to us. You may recall me mentioning (whining about) the snow on Mother’s Day, May 9. Immediately afterwards, the weather turned, and it’s been hot, without rain for the last week or so.

Weather permitting, we plan to perform a more detailed inspection of the Olgas and the OH, Girls split on Tuesday. If there’s any news to report, you’ll read it here first. 🙂


Orientation Day

The nurse bees we shook into the OH, Girls split seem to have segued into the next stage of their working lives.

The Engineer took this picture of them around the bottom entrance of the hive. He said they seemed to be orienting. Bees do this before flying away from their home so they can find their way back.

They are such incredible creatures! Click through the link above if you’d like a more detailed explanation of the orientation process.

We’re just happy because it’s exactly what they should be doing at this point.

Meanwhile, the OH, Girls main hive continues to be quite active. With the weather seeming to have finally turned (please, God!), and lots of nectar coming in, we’ve decided it’s time to put another box on for honey. After all, while they wait to grow their new queen (please, God!!), they have a bit of a break in eggs being laid. Ergo, less brood to rear, so they can spend more time making honey.

This type of break in brood rearing — whether initiated by the beekeeper with a split or naturally occurring — also helps with integrated pest management. No new eggs and larvae means nowhere for Varroa Mites to lay eggs = a good thing.

As for Olga, The Engineer and I had the following text conversation yesterday while I was at work.

10:56 am
Engineer: Bees eaten through candy plug, but Olga still left inside so left alone again.

12:49 pm
Me: Maybe look Sunday.

1:24 pm
Me: Still alive is good.

2:29 pm
Engineer: Shes out. So many bees inside and outside the cage she was trapped so I released her.

2:33 pm
Me: Were they friendly bees?
🤞🤞🤞🤞🤞🤞

2:33 pm
Engineer: To her yes not to me.

2:34 pm
Me: Stung?

2:34 pm
Engineer: No.

Well, that was a relief.

Later I learned he’d been unable to locate his bee jacket (which zips to the hat and veil) because when I washed them on Wednesday, I forgot and left them in the washer. Whoops! 😱

Next steps:

  • We put a box on OH, Girls and hope for honey.
  • We wait again, this time to see if Olga begins to lay.
  • And we wait to see if OH, Girls are successful in making a queen.
  • If they aren’t successful, we may have to buy one.

The excitement never ends.

In other news: I got my second vaccine yesterday (Pfizer), and am okay so far. I did wake up at 6:30 with a bad headache, but thankfully ibuprofen took the edge off. (What did our ancestors do without aspirin and other analgesics? Bayer only began manufacturing and selling asprin in 1899. Imagine having to find willow tree bark to make tea or chew on at six in the morning.)

My co-workers told me to expect to fee super tired, but I don’t, at least not yet. What I do feel is sort of off-kilter, with vertigo and lightheadedness. Odd and disorienting enough that I don’t plan to do much today.

Splitsville

On Saturday, as planned (and hopefully not too late), The Engineer and I stole a frame of brood from OH, Girls to help encourage the Olgas (OH-lgas?) to accept their new queen. When you have laying workers, this is meant to make them think the new queen is laying, and therefore is a good queen worthy of their hive.

Yes, I do realize I’m ascribing them with human attributes. It’s the only way I can make sense of honey bee habits.

At any rate, that’s one of the suggestions Bee Culture magazine offers in requeening a hive with laying workers. Of course, their article says this should be done at the same time the queen is introduced and that the hive should be switched with a stronger hive.

We didn’t switch them, and the brood was added a few days after the queen. However, as I mentioned in the last post, we lucked out once before introducing a queen to a hive with laying workers in much worse circumstances, and they accepted the queen. (It was the very beginning of spring when there were no queens to be had for several weeks after The Engineer discovered the dead queen and certainly no brood to add or strong hive to switch with.)

This time, when we discovered the then-named GeeBees (now Olgas) had a dead queen, we put in a frame of eggs, hoping they’d make a queen. They didn’t, but at least for a few weeks they had brood. They now have brood again, as well as a queen, so I’m hoping this at least confuses their tiny minds enough to give Olga a chance.

We also checked OH, Girls, with the intention of splitting the hive. Her Royal Blueness has been laying so well we were worried the hive would swarm. Splitting a hive is sort of like a fake swarm controlled by the beekeeper.

There are many (many!) ways to split a hive. The easiest is called a “walkaway split.” Basically, you divide a strong hive into two, and walk away. The idea is the hive that has the old queen continues on their merry way, and the other raises a new queen. To do this, both hives need to have eggs, or at the very least, very young larvae.

We used this method last year, mainly because we knew the hive was getting ready to swarm and when we went to split it, we didn’t find the queen.

This year, however, we were going to try to do a proper swarm control split, where you take the queen and put her in a new hive with food and brood. You also shake in some nurse bees so the the split is populated.

Nurse bees will stay in the “new” hive, while any foragers caught up in the divide will return to the original hive. I believe this is because the nurse bees haven’t yet oriented to their hive. You see, when bees come out of their cells, their first job generally is cleaning and capping cells. Next, they become nurse bees, tending the brood and queen. Later, they cycle through other jobs (guarding, foraging), only orienting when they start to go outside the hive for their work. For more details, you can read this article from American Bee Journal.

So, by shaking in extra nurse bees, the beekeeper ensures the hive has enough bees to survive.

Meanwhile, both hives think they’ve swarmed. If all goes well, the queenless hive makes a new queen, and the split soon grows into a full-sized hive.

That was the plan for Saturday. However, things didn’t quite go as we intended.

It was a cool day (about 50 F, the coolest we’ll usually do a hive check), but OH, Girls were out foraging, and we thought we’d be okay. We probably would have been, had we not made the mistake of trying to catch the queen to move her when we could have just moved the whole frame.

Her Blueness fell (into the hive, thank heaven!). Unable to find her again, we closed up shop and decided to try again today (Wednesday), when it would be warmer.

GIven the weather that followed on Sunday, it was probably just as well we hadn’t made a new split/nuc. Bees don’t usually swarm when it’s cold, and a full hive has more bees to keep it warm.

Ah, yes, it was a lovely Mother’s Day here, worse even than the cold and rain that was predicted. Dear Readers, we got snow — a lovely, wet, slushy snow, slippery enough that I saw several cars in the ditch when I drove to visit my mom.

This is our deck, after the snow had started to melt.
And here (in this blurry photo — sorry) are some poor, bedraggled birds trying to shelter from the cold.
And this is a picture of the birds on our feeder, taken through the window. I just like the effect of the water on the window. It reminds me of a kaleidoscope.

It finally warmed up today, and I spent a few hours hauling around bags of soil and mixing them with compost (to be fair, The Engineer did most of the mixing). Then I moved all the tiny little plants I’d grown from seed into pots, along with a few others I’d picked up from the nursery. Ground cherries, lemon basil, tomatoes, and more ground cherries, if you want to know, plus I split off some chives and Hen and Chicks for Darling Daughter.

In retrospect, I probably should have first asked if she wanted them. 🤔

Ah, well, at least she wants the lemon basil and tomatoes I also potted for her. And the chives and Hen and Chicks needed splitting anyway.

Here would be a good place to mention that the “last frost date” for this area is meant to be May 15, a mere three days away. Also, I checked the weather report before starting, and it didn’t mention anything about frost.

The alert came up on my phone when we finished and came inside to have a cup of tea and a snack.

Sometimes I hate living in Ohio.

Sorry, I digress. I’m supposed to be writing about bees, and so I shall.

After our tea (me) and snack (The Engineer), we again turned to our favorite insects.

Both hives were busily foraging, even though it’s still a bit cool — sunny and maybe 60 F as long as you stay out of the shade, but the breeze is chilly.

You can see OH, Girls are quite active.
Olgas were also foraging, with fewer bees going in and out. It’s a smaller hive, so this makes sense.

A (very) quick peek at that hive today revealed the candy plug still in the queen cage, though they are working their way through it. Also, the bees didn’t seem overly agressive on the cage, so that could be a good sign too.

We turned our attention to OH, Girls. Once again, my observant partner found the queen — unharmed, thankfully, though her blue is wearing off. And this time, we moved the whole frame into the waiting nuc box, gave her another frame of brood and some food, shook in the nurse bees, and closed up shop.

From left to right: OH, Girls nuc, Olgas, and OH, Girls.

Will OH, Girls make a new queen?
Will the Olgas accept their queen?
Will my tomato plants freeze?

I wish I knew. We’ll all have to wait and see.

I hope you can handle the suspense. 🙂

Package Bees – DOA

A friend of ours has set up his own apiary and had ordered a package of bees by mail.

I admit it seems strange to ship bees by post, but it’s actually quite common. In fact, I just looked it up, and there are several animals you can get by mail, including scorpions. Yikes! Why would anyone want to ship a scorpion?

Anyway, the bees were shipped Priority Mail from a company in Kentucky. Our friend chose this company because he wanted a Russian queen.

Russian bees are a less common variety, and apparently this company ships them.

His package arrived today. It’s pictured below — photo courtesy of our friend. The can in the middle is the bees’ food (sugar syrup).

For comparison, below is a picture of the bee package we got last year.

Notice anything different?

Our bees were clustered around the can of food, so thickly you couldn’t see the can.

His bees were on the bottom.

That’s because they were dead.

When the postal workers called our friend for pickup, they asked something to the effect of, “You ordered bees. Shouldn’t they be delivered alive?”

Okay, I did exaggerate a little about them all being dead. The queen (who he named Olga) was alive, along with her attendants, and when he sprayed the bees on the bottom with sugar water, about thirty came back to life.

The reason the rest of the bees were dead was because someone put the food can in upside down, with the holes on the top of the bee bus, facing outward, where the insects couldn’t reach it. The poor creatures went without food or liquid for the three or four days it took for them to arrive. Unsurprisingly, most of them died of starvation or dehydration en route.

There are always some bees who don’t survive being shipped. Even the package bees we have picked up from our local sources always have a few dead. But most of them do just fine.

Look, people make mistakes. It’s part of being human. But when surely when you’re dealing with live animals, there should be checks in place to make sure such slip-ups are caught.

That’s what I would think, wouldn’t you?

Well, there’s a box full of dead bees outside that says otherwise.

About 10,000 dead bees, to be exact. Bees that are dead because a human made a mistake (as we all do), and no one checked it.

There is a bright side to this story, a small one, but a bright side nonetheless.

Our friend got a package of bees that was basically a queen and a few attendants. He’s also getting a refund.
We got a package with a dead queen, that we were hoping would make a queen from a frame of eggs. And we have a hive that is thriving.

We could think of two main options, which depended on the state of our hives:

  • If our new queenless hive hadn’t created a queen, we could introduce Olga to that hive.
  • If the new hive had made a queen, we could split our larger hive, queening the split with Olga.

I was at work, so The Engineer went to our friend’s and came home with Olga.

He did a quick scan of our new hive, saw now evidence of queen cells, and inserted Olga’s cage.

Photo by The Engineer

He did say there were a lot more bees in the hive (probably from all the eggs on the frame we put in), and that he saw scattered capped brood on more than one frame, which means they couldn’t have been from the original eggs, which were all on one frame.

On reflection, he remembered at least some of the capped brood were drone cells.

From this I have surmised, we have a laying worker.

This isn’t great news either. Generally hives with laying workers won’t accept a new queen unless the hive is strong and you introduce frames of brood at the same time.

Okay, we didn’t do that, but we will try to rectify the situation on Saturday.
Also, we did once manage to requeen a hive with laying workers when we had no brood to put in it.

So, there’s hope.

Meanwhile, we are crossing our fingers once again for this hive, whose name has now been changed to the Olgas.

Note: Live bees also need food.
Photo by The Engineer

The North Wind Did Blow

The north wind doth blow
And we shall have snow,
And what will poor robin do then?
Poor thing.

She’ll sit in the barn,
And keep herself warm,
And hide her head under her wing.
Poor thing.

When my friend and I went for our morning walk Tuesday, I took photos. The flowering trees were just coming into full bloom, and I wanted to document their loveliness because I knew what was coming.

Wednesday, I woke up to this.

View from our back door. I’d say that was at least 6″ of snow, wouldn’t you?
This is a flowering tree (crab apple, I think). Not a large bush, a tree with its limbs bent over by heavy spring snow.
Yep. Those are flowers from that same tree.

That night, it got down into the lower 30s or upper 20s. By then, I didn’t want to know the details.

This, amazingly, is that same tree this morning, still blooming over the compost heap.

On Tuesday, it’s supposed to hit 83 F.

My point is it’s been a week of extremes. Coming immediately after we learned our new hive, GeeBees, had no queen, this is not the best scenario.

If you recall, we put in jars of sugar water with Honey B Healthy Amino-B Booster to encourage them to make a new queen from the frame of eggs we’d stolen from OH Girls.

Unfortunately, it didn’t occur to me that sugar patties might have served them better since bees don’t usually like to drink sugar water during cold weather.

Today we had a quick look at the levels of the jars of food and discovered they had consumed very little, if any. We’ve always read/heard it’s best to leave hives alone when they are (hopefully) in the delicate business of making a queen, so we didn’t look any further, just gave them fresh jars and closed the hive.

Once again, we are left sitting on our hands (with fingers crossed) and waiting.

The good news is their workers are foraging and bringing in pollen. They have fewer bees, so it’s not surprising they have fewer foragers than OH Girls, but at least they’re doing what bees are meant to do in the spring.

OH Girls, on the other hand, are thriving to the extent that we expect to have to split the hive soon. We saw Her Royal Blueness, and she’s clearly keeping busy because there were many frames of capped brood and larvae. It was cloudy, making it difficult to tell if there were eggs, but there was one frame with tiny larvae — not much past the egg stage.

So far, they’ve only made a few queen cups and not queen cells. With so much brood however, we expect to see those peanut-shaped cells when we do our next check, especially because schedule conflicts will push it back to a few weeks from now, rather than the usual seven to ten days.

One advantage to the delay is we’ll also be able to have a more complete check of GeeBees to see if they have requeened. If not, we will move a few queen cells from OH Girls (if they’ve made any).

We’ll probably still have to do a split because moving a frame with queen cells won’t do anything about the bees feeling crowded.

If OH Girls haven’t made queen cells, and GeeBees haven’t made a queen, we’ll have to buy one and go through the whole introduction thing again.

OH Girls have begun to load frames in the classic football or rainbow shape, with brood in the middle, surrounded by pollen, nectar, and honey, which is something we like to see.

Why do we like to see this? Probably because we’ve heard they should do it. Plus, it demonstrates a certain kind of logic — putting food for the brood near the cells where it will be needed.

This article on checking a hive has a good photo at the bottom that demonstrates what I mean.

I took just one picture — this little worker with her small load of pollen. I tried to get one of her sisters, who was loaded with bright orange pollen. Too bad she was not in the mood for the paparazzi and flew away. 🙂

In other news, I got my first vaccine yesterday at a drive-up location. I was worried because having had COVID makes you more likely to have side effects, and one of my co-workers who had the illness last spring(!) was laid up for days.

Imagine then, the smugness of my smile when I woke up today with only a sore arm.

Then The Engineer (who got his second shot yesterday) mentioned how cold it was in the house and that he had a “sinus” headache.

“It’s side effects from the vaccine,” I said, smug smile growing wider.

Yeah. You know what’s coming. Within a half hour, I began to feel chilled, with the onset of a headache.

It’s not unbearable, but we’re both going to take it easy the rest of the day and save planting my fruit bushes until tomorrow.

Also, I feel compelled to tell you about a man who came into the grocery store where I work. I asked if he needed help, not even noticing he didn’t have on a mask until my co-worker pointed it out.

Assuming he’d forgotten his, I got the box of them we keep for such circumstances. When I came back, he was nowhere to be found, and my co-workers told me he’d already been asked to put on a mask.

He pulled one out of his pocket and made some comment about someone already “telling on him.”

I felt like saying, “What are we? Five?”

Having worked a somewhat physical job for over a year wearing a mask to protect myself and others, I must admit I’m finding it difficult to be patient with people with such attitudes.

Must sign off now. I can feel a rant coming on, and I don’t want to get too political.

So, let’s just focus on the bees, shall we?

GeeBees Are Queenless

Poor GeeBees! They are certainly off to a rough start.

When we inserted the queen cage, we noticed she seemed smaller than others we’ve had. In fact, the only way we could differentiate between her and her attendant bees was by her thorax, which isn’t furry on a queen. Normally, you can also tell by the size and shape of her body, but she was only slightly more tapered than the worker bees (see circled below in The Engineer’s photo).

Even allowing for the different scale of the photos, she was much smaller than OH, Girls’ queen (below).

When it comes to queens, bigger is generally better because it means she’s full of sperm and will be a good egg layer.

Also, the workers didn’t seem much interested in looking after her, at least not in comparison to the queen on the package our friend picked up.

Well, after today, we don’t have to worry about her size because when we opened the hive to check if she’d been released, we discovered she’s dead.

Definitely not* the way we’d prefer to start a new hive.

What to do, what to do … what could we do but close up the hive and make plans to buy another queen or try to get one from the man who sold us the package? (In the end, we did let him know what happened, and he said he should have queens in a few weeks, so that is now our backup plan, I suppose.)

On a much brighter note, OH, Girls are doing great, with lots of brood and larvae in a nice solid laying pattern. And we saw Her Royal Blueness skittering around, laying eggs as fast as she could move.

Not a good shot of bees, but you can get a sense of the different sizes of larvae.

When we found a frame chock full of eggs, I suddenly had the idea to swap it for one of GeeBees’ frames in the hope they’d make a queen.

You see, queen and worker bees are almost identical genetically. It’s what she’s fed that makes her a queen. Contrary to what you might have heard, all larvae are fed royal jelly, but worker bees and drones only receive it for three days. A would-be queen is given enough royal jelly to sustain her throughout her growth cycle, and the difference in diet causes the changes in development that makes a queen.

I’ll spare you the lecture on queen development and simply share a few additional facts. First, you should know worker bees generally build queen cells when they are ready to make a new queen, either to supercede the old or to replace the old queen when the hive swarms. And, second, sometimes, when a queen dies unexpectedly, the workers need to make an “emergency queen” by building a queen cell around existing eggs and feeding those eggs more royal jelly as they develop into larvae and then bees. Here is an article with pictures of the different types of queen cells.

Some say emergency queens are generally smaller than those who developed in a queen cell built intentionally to develop a queen. Others disagree.

If GeeBees do what bees are supposed to do and develop a queen for us, I guess we’ll be able to form our own opinion on the matter. Queens take about three weeks to develop, so don’t think we’ll be finding out anytime soon. When bees are in the process of making or accepting a new queen, it’s generally best to leave them to it, so we won’t be peeking for a while.

And then, she would have to successfully survive her mating flights — yet another hurdle.

At the very least, the hive will have some brood to raise while they wait.

Speaking of brood, I thought you’d like to see some photos of a baby bee emerging from her cell (and she’s definitely a she because she’s coming out of a worker cell).

It always cracks me up the way the new bee’s sister bees just walk right over her while she’s trying to emerge.

Once again, we are left crossing our fingers about one of our hives. I’m starting to think we should just keep them permanently crossed. 🙂

*Unrelated side note: For months, WordPress hasn’t let me italicize words, and now I can do it again. This makes no sense whatsoever.