This will be our fourth winter as beekeepers, and every year we’ve changed up our winterizing process, trying to find the perfect tactic for our area.
The first year, we wrapped our sole hive with a “Vinyl Coated Hive Wrap” from Better Bee. They survived the winter, so the next year, we did something similar, sliding a piece of foam insulation between the hives to create a common wall for better insulation, and wrapping them together. (You can see the foam insulation, reused this year, in the above photo.)
They survived again, so we repeated the process in 2019. This time, however, we had a nuc from a successful split we were trying to overwinter.
To accomodate them, The Engineer built the “Pink Palace,” basically a smaller version of the foam structure above.
All three hives perished, though the Pink Palace survived the longest. Our Bee Inspector said it was likely due to the effects of Varroa, but we treat for the mites regularly, so I’m not sure I agree (although he certainly is a more experienced beekeeper, so maybe I just don’t want to admit we didn’t protect them enough).
Still, we rallied and began again in spring with an Ohio-bred nucleus hive and an over-wintered queen, as well as a package of Saskatraz bees shipped from California.
Both hives thrived, which meant splitting them to prevent swarming. One split (the one from Buzzers’ Roost II, the Ohio hive) “took,” creating their own queen, but the other never managed to make new royalty. We ended up combining them with NewBees (the split from Buzzers’).
So going into winter, we have three full-size hives.
Just before COVID became an issue, we attended the Ohio State Beekeepers’ conference (where once again we learned how little we know about beekeeping) and bought a quilt box.
This is basically a wood box (and there are many many designs available to build or buy), which is then filled with some kind of moisture-absorbing material. Wood shavings are a favorite, but I’ve also heard of people using crumpled newspaper.
Here’s a picture of our quilt box (taken from the side), which we’ve put on Buzzers’ Roost (II). Note the holes covered with screen to allow for ventilation.
Here’s a peek inside.
The Engineer repurposed the original Pink Palace to fit California Girls, so they have no outer cover, instead being surrounded by an igloo of insulating foam.
The NewBees setup is similar to past years, with a wrap, the inner cover, and foam insulation cut to size between the inner and outer covers.
Buzzers’ doesn’t need the foam because they have the quilt box.
We’ve done away with the Hacienda this year, though Buzzers’ and NewBees each have newly shaped metal overhangs (courtesy of The Engineer and his workshop) to help keep rain or snow melt from forming puddles on their front porch.
And here they are, all set for winter.
The forecast is for 8″-12″ of snow over the next 36 hours, which actually means the bees are probably better prepared than we are. 🙂
Addendum: One day later, the words “nick” and “time” come to mind.
The California Girls hive needed split, we both agreed. The queen’s laying pattern was spotty, and they’d be more likely to get through winter with a locally born and mated queen. Or so we’ve been told.
We gathered the boxes and frames needed to make the split, but chose to check Buzzers’ Roost (II) first.
The hive was packed with bees, with many, many uncapped queen cups.
Last time we had a hive in similar condition, it was FreeBees. With them, we waited a few weeks to make a split, and they ended up swarming anyway.
Determined to avoid a similar error with Buzzers’ Roost (II), we adjusted our plan, and split the hive by taking out a few frames of brood and eggs, shaking in some nurse bees, adding frames of honey and pollen, and giving them sugar water and pollen patties.
We’ll check back in a few weeks and hope to see fresh eggs and larvae. If we don’t see this, we’ll make a decision whether to buy a queen or reunite them with their mother hive and let them swarm (and hope to catch it).
Both hives had tons of pollen, more than I’ve ever seen stored before in one of our hives.
Here are some pictures of Buzzers’ stores.
There were a lot of bees. Nearly every frame was full.
Now we just have to hope the split raises a queen.
Next we turned to California Girls. They’ve also been busy raising babies, but fortunately weren’t quite as crowded as Buzzers.
Here’s a nice frame of brood. See the freshly capped honey at the top left and drone brood on the bottom?
The queen is laying better now. Look closely, and you’ll see the tiny eggs in almost every cell – much nicer than last inspection when she was laying unevenly.
You can also see some larvae in the lower left.
The picture below has everything but pollen! There’s nectar, a few capped brood cells, honey and eggs!
We also saw the queen, always a welcome sight!
And remember this?
Well, look at it now!
It’s the comb they started building down from the inner cover several weeks ago that we rubber banded to a frame. They’ve filled in almost the whole frame!
If you’re observant, you may notice something about the size of the cells. They’re bigger than usual, which means they’ve been built for drone brood.
This is something we’ll have to keep an eye on because varroa love drone brood, and we don’t want to encourage varroa in our hives. Also, we don’t need that many drones unless we were getting into some serious queen raising, which we’re not.
We did end up putting the honey super we’d intended for Buzzers on California Girls. There’s definitely a nectar flow on, and they’re doing well so we’re giving them space to store it all. It may come off when we split that hive, but that’s a judgment call we’ll make at the time.
On the “Decluttr Kym” front, I sorted out my jeans and am embarrassed to report I gleaned six pairs to donate without even having to think much about it.
And, lastly, the unrest here has caused me to realize our country can’t move forward until we finally admit we were founded on the backbreaking labor of slaves. I’ve heard people say, “That’s over a hundred years ago. It’s ancient history.”
But as a genealogist, I’ve learned a hundred and some years is not ancient history. It’s just a few generations back, and that history creates a culture, both familial and community, that directs our present.
We can’t forget this happened, and although I’m not sure what I can do personally, I know the first step is to learn more about my personal biases and not be afraid to call out others who express more overt racism.
I will start by reading (no surprise there) and forcing myself to sometimes be the unwelcome voice in the room.
After treating our hives a few weeks ago, we anxiously waited for a break in the weather to take a peek under the hood.
That break finally came on Tuesday , but the news wasn’t good.
Our plan was to check food stores and give all three hives a dose of probiotics to try to combat any possible side effects of the Oxalic Acid.
We opened Buzzers’ Roost and immediately saw the worst had happened. Though there was plenty of food (cleared away before taking the photo), there was no activity whatsoever.
Not a single living bee in sight, and not many dead.
Dreading what we might find, we opened FreeBees to find a similar sight.
Both hives seemed damp, so I immediately concluded they died from too much moisture. Bees can handle cold better than damp, so this is a possible explanation. “A wet bee is a dead bee,” is a phrase commonly bandied about by more experienced beekeepers.
The Engineer focused on how few bees there were, which reminded me of the number of dead we cleared out last time we were in the hives. Too few bees = not enough warmth because it takes a certain number to generate enough heat to keep the hive warm.*
Either of these could be the cause of the die-off. Or they could be merely a symptom.
The only thing we can rule out is lack of food.
Both hives had honey, which you can see above, as well as sugar patties. (And although the bee above looks like she is alive, she’s not.)
We knew NewBees were still alive, possibly thriving, because they were out flying.
They’ve been out more than the other two hives all winter, but we put that down to the difference in how they were winterized. “The Pink Igloo” has proven to be a simpler, and warmer, winter cover. Because it goes over the hive, with airspace in between, it gives our girls a means of getting outside the hive without having to face winter weather. And that space also allows air circulation to help keep their home drier.
Where do we go from here?
The Buzzers’ and FreeBees hives are gone, but we still have NewBees (crossing fingers, wishing hard, praying they make it to spring), plenty of drawn comb, and even some honey and pollen to help build new hives.
When the weather warms, we’ll move FreeBees into one of the empty boxes to begin that process. I’ve ordered a package of Saskatraz bees for the other.
In the meantime, The Engineer and I will take an afternoon to dismantle, clean, and try to autopsy Buzzers’ and FreeBees. If we can get an idea what happened, we can try to avoid making similar mistakes in the future. (On a side note, I think next year going into winter, there will be a row of pink palaces in our yard, rather than one pink and two black-wrapped hives.)
We will also be keeping a watchful eye on NewBees and hoping for a good spring nectar and pollen flow.
*Such disagreements and the resulting discussions are one of the many reasons I’m glad our beekeeping is a team effort. It’s been extremely helpful because although we work well together, we think differently and bring different skills to the job.
Barbara, Caroline, Mary, Susanna, Eliza Ann, Sophia, Sarah Ann, Samuel, Nancy, Louisa, Magdalene, Lydia, Levi, John W. (Jr.), Leah, William, Fianna, Adam, Ellen, Franklin, Charles, Edwin, Lewis, Emanuel, Daniel, Ida, Frederick, and maybe Anna.
I’ll save you the bother of counting. There are twenty-eight names on my list of possible 3x great-aunts and uncles, a number that seems audaciously beyond the ability of a non-polygamous man.
And since John was my mother’s father’s mother’s mother’s father (my 3x great grandfather), I felt compelled to try to untangle which offspring were his and which belonged to a similarly aged John Garman who also lived in Ohio’s Summit and Stark counties during the 1800s.
If you aren’t into genealogy, you may not realize that, because of European naming traditions, it isn’t uncommon to find duplicately named cousins of similar age in the same counties and towns.
So finding another John Garman to claim some of the kids seemed likely.
But I didn’t. It wasn’t that I didn’t find other John Garmans. I found a few. The one that came up most often was my 2x great-uncle, John W. Garman, Jr.
I also found a John Garman married to a woman with a name very similar to my 3x great grandpa’s third wife. But in the 1860 census, I know my John was living in Green Township with his second wife and seven children (including my 2x great grandmother Leah). The other John, who was twenty years younger, was recorded in another part of the state.
Finally, I began tracing the lives of each of John’s possible children, which took most of my free time for a week and left The Engineer asking, “Why do you need to do this?”
I didn’t really have an answer. It was just a mystery I had to solve, at least to my own satisfaction.
So, here’s where I tell you I’m not a professional genealogist, and I’m not promising my conclusions are correct. For a few of the children, I only have a findagrave.com record that references someone else’s research from a 1955 book of someone else’s transcript of gravestones long gone.
And yet, the timing and place fit. They make sense to me, and that’s all I was looking for.
As I progressed, I realized I needed to graphically lay out the pertinent information as I found it, which meant a spreadsheet and a list.
I won’t bore you with them here, but will try to keep my conclusions succinct
John Garman was most likely born in 1810 or 1811. If we go by the age on his death certificate and use the online tombstone birthday calculator (yes, there is such a thing), we get a birth date in December of 1810.
He had three wives. I know this both from death certificates of his children and from marriage registers (though his name was spelled as German on two of them – not uncommon in a time of spell-it-as-it-sounds-to-you phonetics).
Magdalene “Martha” Dickerhoof – Married 1830 until her death in 1849 at the age of 38 (recorded in a book of Stark County early church records and findagrave.com). She’s buried in North Canton Cemetery, which is relevant because most the Garman graves are there.
Mary Weaver – Married John in February of 1850. The 1850 census lists her age as 25, making her about 13 years younger than her husband. Best guess for year of death is early 1860s because she’s alive in 1860 with John and the aforementioned seven children. By 1870, she’s gone, and there’s a seven-year break in ages in the children.
Catharine Hane – Married 1865 until John’s death in 1889. Catharine is listed in 1870 census as aged 32. John is 59. She dies in 1920 at the age of 81.
Barbara – Barbara’s life was brief and not well-documented. The only record I have is from findagrave.com, giving her date of death as 15 January 1832 and “d/o J and Magdalene.” However, the date fits, coming after John and Magdalene’s marriage and before their next child. Also, Barbara is buried in North Canton Cemetery, which also fits.
Caroline – Caroline also died young (age 21) and was buried in the same cemetery as her sister and mother, with the same notation on her stone. Unlike Barbara, jshe lived long enough to be counted in the 1850 census (aged 17) with her father, his new wife Mary, and three siblings and half-siblings.
Mary A – Mary was born on 15 November 1834 and outlived three husbands. In 1850, she also was living with her siblings and John and his wife Mary. Mary A outlived three husbands, marrying the last, Emanuel Sholley, when she was 73 and he was 75. Her third marriage license confirms Magdalene Dickerhoof as her mother and John Garman as her father. She died at 88 in New York, where she lived near one of her sons. Interestingly (to me, at least), her third husband was almost certainly related to my mother’s mother, whose maiden name was Sholley.
Susanna – Like her sister Barbara, Susanna was only around long enough to be found in findagrave, which provides details from a 1955 book called Cemetery Records Stark County Ohio.” The inscription provided says “d/o J and Magdalene Garman, age 1 year, 5 months,” giving a death date as 6 September 1840, buried in North Canton Cemetery.
Eliza Ann – Eliza’s life was also brief, and I’m guessing when I say she probably died in her first year. It’s possible she was born earlier, in the gap between Mary A and and Susanna perhaps. Either way, she couldn’t have been much over the age of five. All we know is what findagrave gives us: “d/o J and Magdalene,” death date 3 August 1840, buried in North Canton Cemetery. Take a moment to look at the date at the end of the previous paragraph and compare it to Eliza’s.
Sophia – On the other end of the spectrum is Sophia, who lived from 1841 to 1937. I’ll do the math (actually my genealogy program did): She died at age 95. We know she’s John’s daughter because she also is living with him in 1850. Her death certificate lists John Garman and Mary Dickerhoof as her parents. She’s buried not in North Canton, but in Greensburg Cemetery, near where she was raised.
Sarah Ann – Another sad one. Another findagrave record from a missing stone. Same reference book as Susanna, this time saying “d/o J and Magdalene, aged 9m, 15d,” with a death date of 23 October 1843, buried in North Canton Cemetery.
Samuel – Samuel is in North Canton Cemetery, “s/o J and Magdalene, aged less than 1 year,” died 16 September 1845 (findagrave).
Nancy – Born in 1846, we can only surmise Nancy is Magdalene’s daughter. Her death certificate lists only John Garman. However, since Magdalene was still alive in 1846, this seems likely. Nancy was living with John and Mary in 1850, married and lived in the same county all her life, eventually dying there in 1934 (age 87), and being buried in Akron.
1850 Census – Garman Household in Green Township, Summit County, Ohio
Magdalene – Magdalene is probably the first child of Mary and John, showing up in the 1860 census at age 8. By 1870, she’s gone. I found no trace of a marriage or death, though there’s a “Mary” Garman buried buried in nearby Massillon, born 1852, died 1900.
1860 Census – Mary Weaver Garman, John Garman and Children, Green Township
Louisa – Another possibility for Mary and John’s first child is Louisa. Although listed as age 7 in the 1860 census, her death certificate says she was born in 1851, also giving John Garman and Mary Weaver as her parents. She married, had children, and outlived her husband, dying in 1935, aged 83. On a side note, I found a military widow’s pension record for her for her husband’s service in the Civil War, and from the 1900 census, we see he was about 16 years older than her – making him about 33 to her 17 when they wed.
Levi – The tragedy of a child’s death wasn’t limited to John and Magdalene. He and Mary also lost a child. Levi also could have been John and Mary’s first child, born in 1850, sometime after the census. Or perhaps he was born between Louisa and Lydia. I have no records for him except a findagrave one saying “s/o J and Mary,” death date 12 March 1856.
Lydia – Born in 1855, Lydia was married at 16, choosing Levi Reiter, aged 21,and therefore closer to her age than Louisa’s spouse. She died in 1920 and is buried in Canton (same county as North Canton).
John W., Jr. – With his father and mother, Mary, in the 1860 census, and his dad and stepmother, Catharine, in 1870, John Jr. married six years later, dying in Akron in 1933. His death certificate confirms his parents as John Garman and his mothers maiden name as Weaver.
Leah – My 2x great grandmother was born in 1858 to John and Mary, John’s 15th child. She has the interesting distinction of appearing twice in the 1870 census, on July 22 with her father and stepmother, and on July 26 with her sister Sophia and her husband. In 1876, at age 17, she married Rolandous Myers, a man 10 years her senior. They had 11 or 12 children, including my grandfather’s mother Sophia Viola. Leah died in 1920 at age 61 and is buried next to Rolandous in Summit County.
Top photo: Leah Garman (publicly shared Ancestry files). Bottom:Leah, husband Rolandous, and their children including my great grandma Sophia Viola (middle)
Sophia Viola and her husband, my great grandpa James Gideon Armstrong
William – Leah’s brother William was born in August of 1859. He died Christmas Day in 1860 and was buried in North Canton Cemetery, “s/o J and Mary Garman, age 1y, 4m, 12d.”All we know about him is from findagrave, with the information coming from the 1955 book mentioned earlier.
Adam – Another North Canton Cemetery grave holds William’s brother, who died 1 November 1861. Findagrave says only “s/o J and Mary Garman.”
Fianna – There is little information on Fianna, as well, just a transcript from her grave in North Canton Cemetery from findagrave: Death 22 February 1863, “d/o J and Mary Garman.”
Ellen R. – The first child of Catharine Hane and John, Ellen was born in December 1865 , when John was in his mid-fifties. The 1880 census confirms this, listing her as his daughter. Ellen’s death certificate also gives John and Catharine as her parents. Ellen married at 21, died in 1952, and was buried in North Canton Cemetery.
Franklin – John’s second son to survive childhood, Franklin was born in 1868, counted in the 1870 census with siblings Lydia, John, Leah, Ellen, and another brother. (This overlapping of children from different wives was partly how I realized most of the children I’d discovered truly were offspring of the same man.) Franklin married at 22, was widowed by age 41. He died in 1929, age 60, and was buried in Greensburg.
Charles – Charles also shows up in the 1870 census, aged 7 months. Married in 1890 at age 20, he died at age 25 in Green Township of myelitis, an inflammation of the spinal cord.
Edwin – In the 1880 census, Edwin is listed as Edward, age 8, but his birth records say Edwin and name his mother as Catharine Hain and father as John Garman. Since the 1890 census isn’t available, the next record I found is a record of enlistment, stating his age at enlistment as two years older. It may be him; it wasn’t uncommon for boys to lie about their age, and the young man in question was from Summit County where most of John’s children were raised. Or it could simply be someone with the same name. Either way, the man in question is noted as having deserted in 1893 – two years after joining. I Lund no one conclusive records on Edwin.
Lewis – Edwin’s younger brother’s life is better documented. Lewis is present in the 1880 census, marries at 21, registers for the draft in 1918, and resides in Plain Township for the rest of his life, eventually dying in 1951 and being buried beside his wife in North Canton Cemetery. His death register gives his mother’s name as Mary, but I feel pretty confident this is merely an error made by his wife, who reported his death.
Emanuel – Born in 1877, Emanuel also appears in the 1880 census with his family. Like Lewis, he lives in Plain Township for most of his adult life and registers for the draft in 1918, on the same day as both Lewis and Daniel. I like finding draft registration documents because they give details on my ancestors’ physical features. Lewis was medium build and height with black hair and blue eyes. Emanuel was also medium build, but with light brown hair and light blue eyes. He married in 1901 at age 24, died of chronic pulmonary tuberculosis in 1935, and his death record gives his interment place as Zion Cemetery in North Canton. (Zion Cemetery was eventually renamed North Canton Cemetery.) The same record confirms his parents as John Garman and Catherine “Hayne.”
Daniel – Daniel was Emanuel’s twin, but his draft registration says he is short with a slender build, blue eyes, and brown hair. It also notes he has a “shorter right leg” and is “physically disfigured.” Starting out in Jackson Township after marrying in 1900, he and his wife also lived in Plain for a while, but spent their later years in Canton. Their marriage record confirms his parents as John and Catharine, as does Daniel’s death certificate in 1930 when he died of liver cancer. He is buried in Stark County.
Ida – John’s last born daughter was born in 1879, ten years before his death. Ida was just eight months old for the 1880 census. By the time she married in 1898, John had been dead nine years. She spent her life in Green Township, where her husband eventually owned a Ford dealership. Ida died in 1952, and her death certificate confirmed her parents as John and Catharine. (If you’re into cars, check out this website about her husband Charles’s dealership).
Frederick, Fredrick – John’s last child, Frederick, was born in 1882 when John was 72, and Catharine was 44. In 1900, Frederick lived with his brother, William, and William’s wife in Greensburg. He married in 1903, and by 1910, he and his wife were living in Plain. By 1920, they’d moved to Akron, and in 1942, he is a widower entering his second marriage. When he died in 1955, he was buried in north Canton Cemetery, next to his first wife.
Anna – Anna was the only one on the list I could disprove. She was born to her John and Catharine Garman in 1861 in McDonaldsville, but in 1860, they were in Madison, Hancock County. Her death certificate in 1947 lists her parents as John Garman and Catherine Haines. This seems to be an incredible coincidence, because she doesn’t show up on any other records with my John and any of his three wives, including Catharine Hane.
Twenty-seven children. Eleven dead before the age of 30. Of those remaining, at least five living well into their 80s. Three wives, two of whom were substantially younger (which does a lot to explain the number of children).
I find myself trying to imagine this many lives filled with so much loss, as well as joy, but can’t wrap my 21st century brain around it.
Still, I feel the lives of John Garman, his wives, and many children were worth sharing. I know it was a lot to read, and if you stuck through it to here, I thank you.
Bee Check Addendum: We had a peek at the bees over the weekend when temperatures reached into the 60s. All three hives are lively and seem well-populated, which was a relief since FreeBees haven’t been out flying near as much as Buzzers’ and NewBees.
Saturday, we harvested honey from FreeBees, our most productive hive. We took two supers (medium boxes) of ten frames each. Not all the frames were completely full, and not all the honey was capped, but the frames passed the shake test. (When held parallel to the ground and shaken, nothing dripped out.) We also have swapped in an empty large frame for one full of honey in both FreeBees NewBees (twice in NewBees.) We stored two of these in the freezer in case they need them for winter, but decided we wouldn’t be shorting them if we extracted one. It looked much like this one from Buzzers’.
Before extraction day, we did a quick check to see if our queens were laying.
There was brood and larvae in all three hives. In the third picture, you can see a somewhat typical pattern – a rainbow of capped brood, surrounded by nectar and honey. Usually, there’s also an arc of pollen, but lately the girls have been mainly bringing in nectar, though I was glad to see a lot of bright yellow pollen coming in the day after we checked.
All those baby bees need pollen for protein!
We didn’t see any royalty in FreeBees, but there was plenty of evidence she’d been busy (all that capped brood in the above pictures).
And we spotted the queen in both Buzzers’ and NewBees (much easier when she’s sporting a big green dot!) I even managed to snap a few pics of Buzzers’ royalty. I also got a picture of a fat drone begging food. Look at that rotund body and those big eyes! In the pictures above, you can see Buzzers’ capped brood and lots of larvae. If you look closely below, you’ll five baby bees emerging from their cells.
But I promised a post about honey, and you shall have one.
Look between these frames. Some cells were built out to the next frame, causing them to burst and drip with glistening, amber honey.
On Friday, we inserted an extra super above the queen excluder, put a shim with an opening on top of it, the escape board on top of that, and the honey-filled supers back on top of all the boxes below.
So working upward from the hive stand, it was a deep box, another deep box (both for brood), the queen excluder, an empty honey super, a shim, the escape board, a honey super, a second honey super, the inner cover, and finally, the outer cover. FreeBees towered over the other hives.
Thankfully, The Engineer remembered to block the entrance on the inner cover, or we’d have moved the bees out of the supers only to have them come back in through that entrance.
We left the escape board on for about 36 hours. If left less than 24 hours, most bees won’t have moved down. More than 48, and they begin to figure out how to get back in.
When we opened the hive to take the supers, a few bees remained, but they were easily brushed off as we checked the frames one at a time and put them in a plastic container to carry to the garage.
We placed the escape board below the hive and watched the bees flow like a river back into their home.
I insisted on closing the garage door so we could work without being invaded by every bee in the county. This was the right move because later, when the extraction was done, we opened it to let in some air as we cleaned propolis off the boxes and frames before returning them to the hive.
First, one bee came exploring, then another, then three or four more. We closed the door again when it became clear we’d soon have a garage full of bees if we didn’t.
Here’s a picture of our setup, with the box of frames in the back, our uncapping tank, and the extractor.
If you look closely, you’ll see two screws on the board on the right. These help hold the frame in place as we slice the caps off the cells. This is done with a knife like this one. We heated it with hot water between frames to make it slice more smoothly.
Sometimes, the cappings were set too low to cut without gouging into the frame, so we sliced off what we could, and then scratched openings in the rest with a capping scratcher (kind of a glorified fork with extremely sharp tines).
The uncapped frames go in the extractor, leaving the capping wax and extra honey to drop into the uncapping tank, which strains out the largest pieces of wax, allowing honey to be captured in the tank below.
Next, we crank. And crank. And crank. Then the frames are turned so the opposite sides face the inside of the tank, and we crank some more.
The yellow spigot is used to drain the extractor into a clean bucket through a strainer or two. We used a colander set inside a second colander that was lined with cheesecloth.
This works, but it’s a bit convoluted, so I bought a proper honey filter like this one for next time. It’s two strainers in one, a coarse one on top a finer one.
Once all the honey was extracted, we bottled. The Engineer calculated our harvest at about 59 pounds, but I think it was actually more because we used odd sized jars, and were guesstimating their weight.
I began the beeswax rendering process by putting the cappings in a 200* F oven in a large metal bowl. When the wax floated to the top, it left behind enough honey to fill another jar or two.
When it cooled, the bottom of the wax looked like this.Yesterday, I tried to scrape the gunk off, then put it back into a container, adding boiling water to separate the good stuff. It didn’t work too well, so I fell back on my old method of heating it on a burner at the lowest heat (watching it like a hawk), and then straining throw a clean cloth.
This works ok (see above), but next time, I plan to try crushing it all in cheesecloth, and pouring boiling water over it. In theory, the cheesecloth is supposed to hold in the yuck, allowing the wax to escape. I’ll let you know how it works.
I also strained the honey from the bottom of the uncapping tank. Since there was less, I did it inside with a colander and sieve (balanced precariously) on the kitchen counter.It was enough to fill these bottles. We cleaned up most of the mess on Saturday, first with the hose in the yard, then with hot sudsy water and a rinse, followed by a swish with a weak bleach solution to sanitize everything.
I washed the remaining items inside with sudsy water, a hot rinse, and boiling water from my kettle to sterilize.
Extracting with an extractor is definitely better than the crush and strain method we used last year, but it was the right decision to wait to buy one. The investment in money and cleaning time wouldn’t have be worth it for just a frame or two.
I’m pretty sure our bee club loans out an extractor, and you can rent them, but we (I) ended up buying the bees their very own for Christmas last year, a gift-giving practice that will not become a tradition. It was on sale for $200-something last fall, so it’s not a cheap investment.
Still, we expect to get at least some honey from Buzzers’ and maybe another frame or two from NewBees, so renting one would have been about $50 just for those two occasions.
There’s a quote I read about beekeeping that sums up our experience perfectly. I can’t find the exact words, but it’s something like “The more I learned about bees, the less I knew, until finally I knew nothing at all.”
From our last post, you’ll know there was no eggs, no larvae, and very little brood in any of our hives, with FreeBees having gone the longest with nothing in sight.
Consequently, I had ordered two new queens.
We used to name our queens but have long since stopped – we’ve been through so many. And if you wonder how much this turnover of queens costs, we pay $42 for a marked Saskatraz queen.
It gets expensive, which is why we were so delightedNewBees raised a queen. (That would be the one who has disappeared. Sigh.)
I’m sure part of the problem is we’re not the best at locating our royalty. The only solution for that is keeping on trying.
So, here’s where I admit I know nothing.
Before we put in new queens, we decided to check the hives one nlast time just to verify they weren’t “queen right” (when a hive has a laying queen and all is copacetic), even though we were pretty sure they were queenless (“queen wrong”?).
Buzzers had nothing, and we’re quite sure there’s no queen. She was marked – therefore easier to spot.
NewBees had nothing either. No new brood, no larvae, no eggs, therefore no queen, despite having all of the above a few weeks ago.
FreeBees was a different story. Not only was there now capped brood, there was also larvae.
After thinking about what might explain the no brood, then brood situation in that hive, I’ve come up with a possible scenario.
FreeBees was full of queen cells when we split it. We took out all but one, which we put in NewBees. Then we went to France. When we returned, NewBees was in great shape, but FreeBees was without a queen.
Or so we thought.
I think FreeBees had a queen, but she was a new queen who hadn’t mated yet, or maybe just hadn’t started laying because I think they swarmed while we were gone, leaving behind the new unmated queen. (When bees swarm, the old queen goes with the swarm).
Hence, the temporary lack of new bees.
That’s my theory.
But what do I know?
Today, we introduced the new queens into NewBees and Buzzers, so it’s possible we may end up with three full hives, which wasn’t our plan.
Queenless or queen right, all three hives are still growing heavy with honey, especially FreeBees.
In fact, next week, we’ll be pulling some full deep frames to store for them and replacing them with empties so they don’t get too crowded.
Below are some photos of the queens in their cages with their attendants before we put them in the hive. Sorry, I couldn’t get a really clear shot.
And here are pictures of FreeBees and NewBees hanging out on their front porches due to the heat. This is called “bearding”and sometimes – when there are a lot of bees – it can look like a beard on the hive.
It’s not surprising they’d want to cool off. It’s been in the 90s today, with high humidity. Sitting on the front porch fanning seems a reasonable reaction.
After treating Buzzers and NewBees, we were feeling cautiously optimistic when we opened NewBees and FreeBees for a hive check. (Buzzers was in the middle of the 14-day Formic Pro treatment.)
NewBees were doing well with capped brood, honey, nectar, and pollen. They also had queen cells, which was worrisome, but we put it down to crowdedness and lack of air flow. They were also bearding a lot.
For lack of a better idea, we cleaned off the queen cells, made a mental note to find a way to increase the air flow, and turned our attention to FreeBees. (Lesson learned: Don’t get rid of queen cells until you are sure your bees don’t need them.)
After checking, FreeBees, we realized it had been a mistake to be so cavalier with NewBees’ queen cells because FreeBees had no eggs, no larvae, and no capped brood. Apparently, their queen was gone. Had we known, we could have transferred some of NewBees’ queen cells to FreeBees.
Ah, hindsight is always perfect vision isn’t it?
On a positive note, they had lots of nectar, pollen, and even some honey. Isn’t it beautiful?
So, here’s the question we asked ourselves: Was the queen gone before we made the split, and that was why they were making so many queen cells? Had we made a mistake in splitting the hive? Answer based on my notes: Probably not, because there was both larvae and capped brood in the hive that day. True, we didn’t see eggs or the queen, but she wasn’t marked, and we’ve discovered it’s difficult to spot eggs on cloudy days. Our hive checks this year, of necessity (due to weather and work schedules), have mostly been on cloudy days. (We now use a flashlight to overcome this.)
So, what could we do?
We decided since NewBees had lots of brood, we’d look for a frame with eggs and brood on it, and let FreeBees raise a queen. Or maybe we’d luck out, and when we were able to check Buzzers again, they’d have a frame to “donate.”
Before making any decisions, we took out the bottom board from FreeBees and moved them from the picnic table (solid wood) to the hive stand (open) to allow more air circulation.
Of course, the returning foragers would look for the hive at its old location (a few feet away) and wouldn’t be pleased to find it moved.
This proved true. A small cloud of bees buzzed around the area for a few hours and a couple of stragglers were hanging around even the next day.
To try to aid their orientation, we moved the picnic table and a white plastic chair that had been near the old location, placing them closer to the new location, in the process discovering the chair seemed to be the focal point.
We learned this a few days later when we moved the chair back so we could set something on it, and it was immediately surrounded by bees.
Buzzers’ waiting period from the Formic Pro treatment had finished, and we were going to put the frame moving plan into action.
First we opened Buzzers.
It was a repeat of the FreeBees check — nectar, with a few cells of capped brood. No larvae. No eggs.
And this time, we shone a flashlight on the frames to be sure.
There was no queen in sight either, and this one had been marked.
Above you can see the nectar glistening in the light, a few frames of pollen, and a small amount of capped honey in the corner.
More nectar and pollen, a little honey, no brood, eggs, or larvae.
There were a some cells of capped brood, including a few drone cells, but mostly no signs of new bee life.
As my notes say, “No f—ing brood.”
It gets worse.
When we checked NewBees – the split we’d created as a “resource hive” for the other two, the story was similar. There was still capped brood, nectar, and pollen, but no eggs or larvae.
What is it with us and queens?
On Tuesday, I expect to be picking up two new queens. Since FreeBees is sort of an extra mini hive, we won’t replace their queen. Instead, the honey, pollen, and bees in it will be used to bolster the strength of the other two.
There is a (small bright side). All the breaks in the hives’ brood cycles will help with Varroa control.
Meanwhile, I’ll share this photo and video of the bees fanning to cool the hive on the hot day we made these disappointing discoveries.
And here’s a picture of one of them drinking from out birdbath. I know the water looks skanky, but they seem to prefer it that way.
We have a new hive! Okay, so technically, it’s a nuc (nucleus hive – basically a mini hive with only five frames).
It is, of course, named “NewBees.” (What else?)
The Engineer calls it the “Pink Palace,” though it’s actually lavender.
NewBees hive was created using a variation of a “walk away split,” where you take a couple of frames with eggs, larvae, and capped brood from a strong hive, add another frame of honey and pollen and two empty frames (preferably with comb on them), and make a new hive. Before closing up, you shake a frame of nurse bees in (from another frame of brood, which is then returned to the original hive). It’s called a “Walkaway split,” because you then walk away. If you’ve shaken the queen into the new hive, the old hive will create a new queen. If the queen was left in the old hive, the new hive will make one.
We hedged our bets by looking for our old queen before putting the frames into the new hive and making sure there was a nice fat queen cell on one of them. (If you’d like a more thorough explanation of splits, go here: http://www.bushfarms.com/beessplits.htm.)
If you recall, the last time we were able to check FreeBees, they had started making queen cells. For several weeks after that, the weather wasn’t conducive to opening the hives, and I was growing concerned they would swarm either right when we were leaving for our trip or while we were gone.
Thankfully, a window of good weather opened, and we were able to do the split. It was a good thing we did! There were at least ten queen cells in various stages. We chose the fattest one, and scraped off the rest before stealing brood and honey for NewBees.
They still looked crowded, so we also added another honey super. Although we weren’t sure they’d need it, we also knew we’d be gone for two weeks and unable to check.
Many beekeepers recommend relocating a split 2 miles or further from the old hive to prevent drift. But some say if you shake enough nurse bees in, the foragers you shake in will return to the original hive, but the nurse bees won’t because they haven’t yet imprinted the original hive’s location as home because they haven’t been out int the wide, wide world.
We planned to follow the “moving the new hive” plan, but time was short, so we didn’t. I’d also read you can put a board or something in front of the hive to force the bees to reorient. We did that, put on a big jar of food and left them to it.
Poor FreeBees. We also treated them with Formic Pro before we left. The timing wasn’t ideal, coming right after being split, but it needed to be done.
Buzzers were also due for a treatment, but we held off because the new queen seemed to just be settling in.
Fast forward two weeks to our return.
All three hives seem to be thriving, although the weather was once again not our friend. We had a quick look inside NewBees. Saw lots of bees, but no brood or eggs. When I rechecked our resources, I discovered we should not have checked until four weeks. It had been only two.
No wonder they were a little crabby.
A swift look under the hood of Buzzers showed the new queen has found her mojo. Lots of brood, lots of bees in both Buzzers and FreeBees, so we don’t think FreeBees swarmed.
Lots of pollen and nectar coming into all three hives, though you won’t notice much activity in this picture. It’s just to show you what the hives look like right now. Buzzers on the left has the standard two deep boxes and a super. The super has been being used to feed them while we nurse it to full health, but is now empty because we finally managed to treat them (also with Formic Pro). The directions recommend putting on an empty box – something to do with better air flow and less bees dying off.
FreeBees has two deeps and two honey supers with frames for honey. If you look very closely, you can see the metal queen excluder between the deep boxes and the supers.
We also treated NewBees, but they got Oxalic Acid. Oxalic Acid works only on the mites that are phoretic (on the bees). It doesn’t penetrate the capped brood. But NewBees had no capped brood because of the break in the laying cycle as they raise a new queen.
After the treatment, we were standing around watching the NewBees hive (yes, beekeepers actually do this). The Engineer noticed a large, long, fat bee land at the entrance and pointed her out.
Dear readers, we think we actually saw the queen returning from a mating flight!
This leaves us feeling cautiously optimistic about our three hives, although we won’t be able to check either NewBees or Buzzers’ Roost for another couple of weeks. Buzzers have to be left alone while their treatment works, and NewBees need to settle in, hopefully with a new queen. But I hope we’ll have a chance to take a good look at FreeBees in the meantime.
I’ll update you if we do.
Meanwhile here are some photos and a video of bees, and a wasp in France. I took them after a delightful lunch of canard (duck) with mashed potatoes in a cafe in Pompadour. We were supposed to visit Pompadour Chateau, but it was closed, so instead I took pictures of bees. I’m sure the people in the cafe thought we were crazy. I loved this orange bumblebee, with its white bottom, similar to the yellow one in the video below. (We also saw the white-bottomed, yellow ones in England.)
Went out to have a look at the hives and saw a beetle larva crawling out the back, so I pulled out the bottom board and found this.
I feel sick. These little bastards can wreck a hive. They eat all the honey, defecate in it, and turn everything to slime.
We’ve already got pavers to put beneath the hives and nematodes to treat the soil (the type we bought eats SHB larvae), but The Engineer has been gone, and I thought best if we do the treatment together so we both know how.
I really didn’t want to share this, but am doing so because other beekeepers may be having the same problem, and I wanted them to see they are not alone.
So, here’s the mystery: Why are these bees so interested in the stump from the (long) dead tree The Engineer cut down earlier this week? The girls were also rooting around in the sawdust below the stump.
There are many theories online about bees being attracted by fresh sawdust.
They think it’s pollen. I find it difficult to believe animals that depend on pollen as a primary source of food would confuse the two substances.
They are finding sap/resin to use for propolis. This might be true if the tree hadn’t been dead for so long. But we could literally see daylight through the woodpeckers’ holes.
Still, I really have no idea, so if you have other information on why bees might forage in sawdust, I’d love for you to share in a comment.
In other backyard developments, a raccoon apparently visited our suet feeder last night.
I glanced out of the window this morning as I drank my tea and saw a woodpecker calmly snacking on the suet in the feeder, which had been relocated to the roof. The intrepid nighttime thief hadn’t even knocked off the hook where the feeder normally hangs (yellow arrow).
We also went flying today. Sky was kind of bleah – not great for photos, but It brightened up briefly, and I shot this view of one of the islands.
And that’s all the news from The Byrd and the Bees. (And I use the term “news” in the loosest possible sense.)