Bee Report

There were lots of bees flying today – it was 50-ish and sunny. And it wasn’t just cleansing either; these girls were going places. We didn’t see any pollen(still early for that), but they were definitely flying out somewhere.

This is a good thing because the the hive lid is looking more and more like a very messy ladies’ room.Check out the propolis on the screen.

Then, it was a look under the hood of both hives.

First, it was Buzzers’ Roost.

Followed by FreeBees.

As you can see, neither hive has eaten much of the sugar patties we put in a few weeks ago.

Once the hives were closed again, a few girls consented to some closeups.

According to The Ohio State GDD calendar (https://www.oardc.ohio-state.edu/gdd/CalendarView.asp), we have a while yet before the Silver Maples bloom, and the bees can get some pollen. Hive Beetles have been a continual problem this year, especially in FreeBees, so we’re reluctant to put in any pollen patties because the patties seem to really attract them.

Still, we are cautiously hopeful our girls will survive the rest of winter.

New Year Update: The Bees

Since I became a beekeeper, many people have asked about what we do with the bees in winter, often mistakenly saying, “They hibernate, don’t they?”

As you can see from the above video (taken today when the temperatures were in the 50s), this isn’t true.

Bees remain active in the winter, forming a “bee ball” to keep warm when the temperature drops. When it’s warm, they take the opportunity for cleansing flights. (You can read more about this in my earlier post: https://thebyrdandthebees.wordpress.com/2018/01/13/bee-poop-a-winter-peek-under-the-hood/).

The bee ball is continually in motion as bees from the cold, outer edges are replaced by bees from the warm center, thus keeping all (or at least most) of the bees warm enough to survive.

However, if a hive is too small, there may not be enough bees to keep the temperature high enough for survival, and the bees will freeze to death.

Starvation is another danger, caused by the bees not producing or storing enough honey for winter, having a greedy beekeeper take too much honey, or because the bee ball is too far from the honey to be able to reach it.

Winter is always worrisome for beekeepers, but for now, both our hives appear alive and well.

Did you notice Buzzers’ Roost bees seem to prefer the top exit, while FreeBees like the bottom? Why? My guess is it reflects where most of the bees are in the hive, which likely means that’s where the bulk of their honey is.

How do they decide where to store their honey? No one knows but the bees, and they aren’t talking. Folk wisdom says bees tend to start lower in the hive and move up, but we all know bees don’t always follow the rules.

For more information, check out this post from “Keeping Backyard Bees”: https://www.keepingbackyardbees.com/what-do-bees-do-all-winter/

Morning Feedings

It’s been over twenty years since my last one, but I’m back to morning feedings. This time, however, the process doesn’t involve getting up at 4 am, and there is no milk involved.

As you may have guessed, this time around I’m feeding bees, and they eat (drink?) sugar water. A 2:1 mixture, if you must know, with some “Honey-B-Healthy” essential oil mixture to pique their appetite.

And you thought essential oils were just for diffusers.

We’re feeding because we’re trying to help the hives store enough honey for winter.

On our last full hive check before things cooled down, we discovered FreeBees had very little to show for all their activity. Despite the abundance of nectar they had previously stored, they didn’t have much honey. Lots of nectar, but not much honey.

Yet, Buzzers’ Roost was getting heavy, as displayed by the picture below.

It was time to remove the honey supers (the medium-sized boxes generally used for honey that’s meant to be harvested). FreeBees’ needed moved because they needed feeding, and Buzzers’ because we were going to take a little honey for ourselves this year.

An argument could have been made to just move the smaller frames of honey down into the big boxes on Buzzers’ hive because we’re not 100% sure even they have enough, but after two years, we decided we were taking some.

Here’s how that worked:

Morning 1: Take super off FreeBees. Remove queen excluder, and replace with escape board. (For a picture, go back to this post: https://thebyrdandthebees.wordpress.com/2017/11/11/minding-our-bees-and-qs/.) Put super back on. Make feeding mixture and put in large mason jars with holes punched in the lids (pointy bits facing inside of jar).

Morning 2: Take super and escape board off FreeBees. Put deep hive box on top of inner cover, but below outer cover. Invert jar of syrup over something to provide bee space for bees to get beneath it to eat. Encourage bees remaining in escape board to go back in their hive. Move on to Buzzers’ and repeat steps from morning 1.

Morning 3: Repeat steps from morning 2, but do them on Buzzers’. Extract honey from two frames. Return those frames to bees to clean. (We stuck them in the upper deep boxes because the day after we extracted, the weather changed. It’s been too cold to actually get into the hive.) Also return the two full frames of honey we didn’t extract. Freeze remaining frames. Clean all equipment for next year.

I’m starting to think we should focus on harvesting propolis instead of honey.

Every morning since: Replace jars with ones that haven’t been outside in the cold. Not sure if this is necessary, but someone at a bee club meeting once said bees don’t like cold food. True or not, it’s been a good way to keep track of how much food they’re consuming.

We’ll continue the feeding until they stop taking syrup. Also, we’re hoping for a nice day to have one more look inside the boxes. And we need to treat both hives again before wrapping them for winter around Thanksgiving.

But back to our first honey harvest. We took two frames, which we extracted without an extractor. If you’re curious how this works, go here: https://www.keepingbackyardbees.com/extracting-honey-without-extractor/.

This is probably between four and five pounds of honey. I bought honey in the quart jar, and it was labeled as 2.25 pounds. We aren’t selling any so it doesn’t matter.

As things stand, I don’t think FreeBees will survive the winter unless they somehow manage to make enough honey from these feedings. We had a big goldenrod flow, and they seemed to be gathering as much as Buzzers’ so I’m not sure what went wrong

The two things I do know are I don’t really know anything, and anything could happen.

We can feed them, but in the end, the bees’ survival is up to the bees.

Weight and See

Summer is slowly winding down, and the bees have been making the most of the fine weather. They’ve been in a foraging frenzy, perhaps sensing the forthcoming temperature changes.

They’re finally visiting the goldenrod in their own yard!

It cooled down over the weekend, with rain on and off all day today. Each time the showers stop, the foraging begins again.

And yet, when we checked the hives a week or so ago, Buzzers’ Roost had no honey, and FreeBees had very little. Instead, we saw loads of pollen, lots of nectar, and a surprising amount of capped brood.

Still, with all that nectar, there’s bound to be some honey soon.

Check out the graphs below. Notice any trends?

The first two graphs show the weight of the hive over the last month — finally trending upward. The next two show a week each, and you’ll notice daily ups and downs, probably from when the foragers are out.

So, we’re not too worried about honey levels, at least not yet.

Below is a picture of a frame containing both nectar and pollen. We also found several that were filled solely with nectar or solely with pollen. Theoretically, we should be able to identify the source of the pollen by its color, but unfortunately, I’ve not found an accurate chart online. Here are links to two if you’d like to try: Sheffield Beekeepers’ Association and Metrobeekeepers.net. My guess is mostly goldenrod because the fields are full of it.

While we had the hives open, we did alcohol rolls on both. This is supposed to be a more accurate way to count Varroa.

Our count was a big fat zero on both hives.

Yeah, we must have done it wrong.

Either that or the hive beetles are eating them. Don’t even ask how many of those we found. It was too many to count.

Little bastards.

The weird thing is, the bees mostly ignore the beetles. Once in a while, they’ll herd a particularly brazen one into a corner, but then the bees go back to whatever they were doing, and the beetle scuttles away. (Unless we get it first!)

There was propolis everywhere, especially around the beetle traps, which makes me wonder if this is the bees’ response to the pests. There were a few beetle corpses in some of the propolis, so who knows?

Unfortunately, our girls don’t seem to grasp that the traps are there to help them and had propolized the openings where the beetles are meant to enter. At least one trap had every opening completely blocked.

But let’s get back back to the subject of the main hive pest — the dreaded Varroa. For two years, we’ve used drone foundation as part of Varroa control, with very little success.

Last year, the hive used the drone foundation mostly for honey.

This year, both hives have ignored them.

Until now.

This year, a few short weeks — okay, a few short months — before the workers start kicking out drones (to lower the number of mouths they have to feed in the winter), FreeBees has decided to make drone cells. Half the foundation was full of capped drone brood, and there were more cells on the top of some of the other frames.

Weird. Also unusual in placement. Drone cells are usually at the bottom of hive frames.

Whatever. It’s their hive. They can do what they want.

As we’d been instructed, we removed the drone foundation and opened the cells to check for Varroa, but found none there either.

I can’t believe there are no mites at all, but am willing, even eager, to believe the treatments have been working, and the threshold is safely low.

Just to be sure, we will treat both hives with Oxalic Acid before winter after we take off the supers.

I’m still holding out hope that we might be able to pull at least one frame of honey for ourselves.

Update: FreeBees

We gave FreeBees a few days to settle into their new location before opening the hive to have a look. IMG_0133
It was lovely. Enlarge the photo to see nearly every open cell with either a perfectly positioned egg or larva. The queen has been doing her job because the hive has about three frames that look like this.

And here’s a closeup of that queen, who we are calling Ziska at the suggestion of my friend Kate. Ziska’s long, tapered body helps her position those eggs right in the middle where they belong. IMG_0136-2Initially, we planned to use Formic Pro strips for Varroa treatment, but the company rep at field day said a hive needs six frames of bees to do a full-strength treatment. FreeBees has about five.

That was an “Uh-oh” moment for me. Buzzers’ Roost is a small hive, maybe too small for the full MAQS treatment we gave it, which might explain the number of dead bees.

MAQS are similar to Formic Pro, but Formic Pro takes ten days at full strength. The half strength treatment takes twenty. You can’t feed the bees at any time during the treatment, so we chose to use Oxalic Acid (OA). The trade-off is OA only kills Varroa on the bees, not under the caps like the strips.

This means we’ll be keeping a close eye on our Varroa counts and will probably end up using the strips during the early fall/late summer once we know the bees have plenty of their own food.

Beekeeping, it seems, sometimes involves compromise.

With OA, you seal the hive before inserting the wand through the large opening of the entrance reducer. The foragers below were trying to figure out how to get back in the hive with the temporarily installed reducer. (Buzzers’ Roost, in the background, also has some entrance activity at its fully open entry.) IMG_0140The FreeBees foragers are more active than Buzzers’ Roost’s, out and about early each morning until late evening. It rained today, and I was astounded to see some returning and/or going out even in the rain. It was cloudy when we did the OA, but in the 3-1/2 minutes it took to do the treatment, we developed a traffic jam. IMG_0141
Below you can see the bees fanning, bums up, beating their wings to get ride of the scent after we removed the wand.IMG_0143
Later this week, we will add some food to this hive to help the girls as they build comb and raise babies. We’ll also have a peek at Buzzers’ Roost to see if they’ve accepted the queen and whether or not she’s laying if they have. They still had some honey, but we’ll check to see if they need fed as well.

Until then, Bee happy!

P.S. I’m not sure if I mentioned it before, but these are Saskatraz bees, just like our most recent queen in Buzzers’ Roost.

FreeBees!

On Saturday, 2 June, we attended the Lorain County Beekeepers Association Field Day, held in conjunction with Queen Right Colonies at the shop’s location in Spencer, Ohio, near an Amish community.

As we passed through the town center (which may or may not have a traffic light — I can’t remember), traffic came to a standstill. We realized it was because there were several buggies in front of us, and they were also heading to the Field Day.

We pulled in behind a buggy, and parked in knee-high grass.

It was a fun day, with several speakers, beekeeping talks around several hives of bees, and alpaca shearing. CC77EE85-510C-42F1-9E12-4C501512B4D0
In my previous post, I forgot to mention that Queen Right is also a bit of a menagerie, which includes several alpacas. The one above seemed to be saying “Get me out of here!” as she gets a cut and manicure. But temperatures last week soared into the upper 80s and 90s, so we can be sure the animals were a lot more comfortable afterwards.  And the two shearers handled the herd members gently and carefully.

More important to this post is the fact that there were raffles, and after an outlay of $20 on tickets, I won the best prize — a hive of bees.

Can you believe it? We’d just been talking about how we hoped to eventually be work up to two hives, and a few hours later, our wishes came true. How lucky is that?

Naming this new hive required much discussion (over a beer or two) before The Engineer came up with the perfect moniker.

Ladies and gentlemen, I’m pleased to announce Buzzers’ Roost’s new neighbor will be called … FreeBees!