Bee Bus Arrival: Hello GeeBees

A week ago, on a lovely spring day, we picked up our package of bees. Because the weather was so nice, we were able to install them immediately (unlike last year).

By evening, they were beginning to bring in pollen, and on warmer days this week, they’ve been quite active.

The girls came not from Michigan as expected, but Georgia with a Michigan-bred queen who was mated in Georgia.

Intitially we were concerned because in the US, when you buy southern bees, you run the risk of getting Africanized bees, notorious for being overly aggressive and dangerous. It soon became clear, however, that the bees we received were mild-tempered, interested only in adjusting to their new circumstances. And, on review of the package description, I discovered I had misread the details.

Also, the package seemed to me to have fewer bees than last year’s, an idea that may be only a figment of my imagination.

Photo by The Engineer

Below are two pictures from the 2020 Bee Bus, but since they’re from a different angle from this year’s photo, it’s hard to tell.

The 2020 package was the Saskatraz bees that grew into the hive that made it through the winter. We named them California Girls, but rechristened them OH Girls to celebrate their having survived an OH (Ohio) winter).

In a nod to their origin, the new hive is called GeeBees (Georgia Bees).

We had a bit of a scare during the week when I came home to find a frenzy of bees at the entrance of the new hive. I was sure they were being raided for the honey stocks we’d given them and blocked the entrance until things calmed down. When I reopened it, the girls came streaming out, so perhaps it was them all along.

Still, I’d rather be safe than sorry.

We plan to look in both hives tomorrow — a quick check to see if the queen has been released in GeeBees and a more lengthy look at OH Girls.

While picking up a few things at Queen Right Colonies, I found Honey B Healthy has a new product called Amino B Booster, which I’m looking forward to trying. If I’m reading the information correctly, it may be a better supplement than pollen patties, which tend to attract Hive Beetles.

I also picked up two frames and wax foundation so we can try to jar some comb honey this year.

In other unrelated news, I managed to get an appointment for my first vaccine next week. I’m nervous because I’ve read if you’ve had the virus, it can really knock you down.

Stay tuned for details and more bee progress updates!

No Easter Eggs Here but Let’s Hear It for OH Girls

I wanted steal a clever phrase from an Instagram photo and caption a picture of bee eggs with “Easter Eggs.” Unfortunately, though we saw a gratifying amount of capped brood and larvae, I didn’t get any photos of eggs.

And yet, I bring good tidings from our hive check.

Last time we saw the queen, she seemed apathetic and slow-moving, but today Her Royal Blueness was back to scurrying around the hive like she owns the place. (I was waiting for spell-check to change that to “palace,” but it never chimes in when you want it to.)

Also, there were more bees, many of them clearly young and very fuzzy (as you can see in the above picture).

I love how they look up at us from between the frames.

And lastly, there was a major increase in capped brood and larvae.

Can you spot the larvae above? You may have to zoom in to see it.

The only bad news was we also spotted some beetle larvae in a pollen patty we removed. Time to order the nematodes and quit supplementing with patties now the real stuff is coming in. We have two traps in each box, which helps, but the nematodes help break the life cycle of the beetles, preventing the larvae from developing.

To replace the hives that didn’t make it through the winter, we’ll be picking up a package of bees on Saturday from the same place we got our nuc last year — Grandpa’s Bee Farm. The man who runs this endeavor is a county bee inspector, and although the nuc didn’t survive the winter, we are trying again with his stock. We’re reasonably convinced the hives died because we weren’t able to keep up with treating them for Varroa through the winter. It was never warm enough to do so.

Also, we made the mistake of not doing a count of the nasties after we last treated them in October. If we had, we might have gone ahead and treated them again then.

We have to do better this year. It’s ridiculous to expend so much effort if we can’t do a better job of helping them survive the winter.

In other news, we’ve (I’ve) decided it’s time we change the hive name from California Girls to OH Girls since the only California girl left in the hive is the queen.

So, cheers to OH Girls. <raising my glass> 🙂

Bee Update: Fingers Still Crossed

It’s always a great day when you see the queen, but seeing her after months of snow and freezing temperatures … well, celebrations are in order.

We hit the upper 60s today, and finally the snow in our yard has completely melted. More importantly, it was warm enough to do a proper hive inspection which gave us the chance to spot Her Blueness.

If you look closely, you can see her blue marking has begun to wear, but she’s still lively, busily scurrying around laying eggs.

The proof is in the capped brood.

Also, I think I may have spotted larvae.

The Engineer is more dubious. It’s hard to be sure because it was on frames with yellow foundation.

When we started beekeeping, we were told black foundation was better because it’s easier to spot tiny white eggs against a dark background. This is true, and we generally stick to black. We ended up with few yellow frames only because my co-beekeeper was going past a bee supply place on his way home from a work trip. We needed frames. They had yellow. So here we are, trying to decide if I was seeing larvae or the yellow foundation at the bottom of the cell.

What do you think?
Sorry, this one is quite blurry.
For comparison, here are some cells at the bottom of a frame that definitely do NOT have larvae.

It’s hard to tell, isn’t it? So let’s take a closer look at those queen pictures. Look inside the highlighted circles.

Yup. That’s definitely larvae.

This doesn’t mean we’re in the clear, however. March is notoriously hard on bees in this area of the country, with little to no food available except for what they’ve stored.

Still, we will keep our fingers crossed and try to do everything right, including a second treatment of Oxalic acid tomorrow. We also put in some fresh pollen and sugar patties, as well as freshly baited beetle traps (because Hive Beetles LOVE pollen patties). The pollen patties will provide the protein needed for larvae, and sugar patties are backup carbs.

You can count on further updates.

But you don’t have to read them. 😉

In the meantime, I’ll be celebrating with a nice cuppa P.G.Tips.

California Girl Photographic Update

Slo-mo – the filming, not the bees 🐝
Sugar patties = back-up food
Bees on the bottom of the inner cover (propped on the ground amongst the pistachio shell “mulch”)

We treated our one surviving hive with Oxalic acid Sunday and will repeat several times in the next weeks to try to ensure they go into spring with a low number of Varroa Mites. I peeked in again today to give them some pollen patties to tide them over until the weather and flowering plants allow for foraging.

Still keeping our fingers crossed they’ll stay viable. We also placed an order for a new package of bees for a second hive.

Perhaps you’d like to cross your fingers too?

Two Out of Three … Not Good

Beekeepers both welcome and dread early spring in equal measure. We are happy to again hear the birds sing and see the snow begin to melt, but spring for us brings a measure of apprehension as we search for proof our bees survived the winter.

It has been a long, cold, snowy one, making it impossible to treat, add food to, or peek at the hives.

Each morning, there’s been a sprinkling of dead bees outside California Girls (aka “The Pink Palace”), which I’ve taken as a good sign because it meant there were still living bees inside.

Of course, it could have just meant they were warmer due to the insulation and so decided to go flying in less than suitable weather, dying in the process.

Outside Buzzers’ Roost and NewBees, there were none.

Here’s a picture of them from my post on 20 November. The view hasn’t changed much these last few months — until today when the temperature rose to nearly 50 F, and the snow began to melt.

This doesn’t mean spring is here or there will be no more snow; it merely means spring is coming … eventually.

More importantly, it meant I could finally check under the hoods of all three hives. It still wasn’t warm enough to do an in-depth inspection, but I was able to take a quick look.

I started with Cali Girls because we knew the hive still had bees, and I wanted to be sure they had food. Also, I wanted to give them some Super DFM probiotics.

Honey bees sometimes suffer from dysentery (diarrhea), especially after a long winter, and I think the probiotics help keep the problem from becoming something more.

Judging by my brief inspection, they seemed to be doing well. I gave them more food and sprinkled on the Super DFM. No picture though. Some were disturbed enough that they began to fly, and I was afraid they’d end up dead in the snow.

Sadly, my judgment about the other two hives proved correct. There was no activity I could see. It’s possible I missed something, but generally when you open a hive in cool weather, at least a few bees will come out to see what’s going on.

Once again, we are entering spring with one hive still living. Once again, it is the Pink Palace. We are hoping that it’s not once again a hive that dies in March.

There is one difference, however, that may work in this hive’s favor. Last year, the Pink Palace was a nucleus hive, split from one of our others, which means it started with a smaller population than this year’s Pink Palace. It struggled into March, but died before its population was replenished.

You never really know what will happen. March is a tough month for bees because the hive begins to repopulate, but there’s not much pollen or nectar available. But the two hives that didn’t survive this winter started with more bees than Cali Girls/Pink Palace.

My thinking is we should probably order another nuc or package while continuing to monitor California Girls. That way, we have at least one hive (hopefully two) this summer. But The Engineer and I will have to Discuss.

To balance out this depressing news, I’m sharing my latest scrap-happy afghan. I like the way its mix of colors and texture resembles a crazy quilt.

Closeup
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Cross your fingers that California Girls will live through spring to become Ohio Girls this summer.

Prepping the Girls for Winter

It’s a common misconception that all bees hibernate in winter. I can’t speak for all species, but honey bees do not, although they become much less active. (See link for a description of their winter habits.

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.)

The Engineer also created a shelter to keep them dry, which I mentally dubbed “La Hacienda de la Apis Mellifera.”

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.

Welcome, California Girls

IMG_7737 2
California Girls arrived a week ago last Tuesday in a plastic box.

In the container was three pounds of bees (about 10,000 — enough to start a hive), a can of sugar syrup, and a newly mated queen. As you can see, the bees cluster around the food can in the middle.

Most beekeepers start with a package, but this was our first since Buzzers’ Roost was a nuc, FreeBees was a complete hive, and NewBees were a split from FreeBees.

Bee suppliers will mail packages, but we picked ours up from Queen Right Colonies. They bring in two truckloads from California each year. Click the link to see them unload a semi-trailer full of bees.

On the same page, you’ll find videos demonstrating how to install a package. There are videos on YouTube, but QRC has been doing this for a long time, and they’ve got it down to a science.

The night before we picked up our bees, The Engineer and I watched the QRC video and a few others. I also reviewed the process in one of our bee books to make sure we had some idea what to do.

The process can be a little intimidating, especially to a new beekeeper, but we felt comfortable, partly because we’ve already screwed up so many times and managed to recover and partly because we’ve had three years’ experience handling bees.

A new package tends to be docile anyway. They have no brood, stores, or hive to defend.

Unfortunately, that Tuesday was too cold to install the bees into their new home (40s with traces of snow). They ended up living in our unheated spare bathroom, which also doubles as our “Bee Room” (where we store supplies) for a few days. It was cool enough without being too cold for them (between 50F and 60F).

IMG_2895
Finally, on Thursday, the weather warmed to the low 50s, enough to do the installation.

We took out the queen, treated the girls with Oxalic Acid (for Varroa), and dumped them in their new home. After replacing the cork in the queen cage with a sugar plug, we affixed it to a central frame to allow for a gradual introduction in the hope the workers would accept her. Then, we sprinkled the top of the frames with probiotics, inserted a few small pieces of pollen pattie, and filled the reservoir with sugar syrup.

Last, we closed the lid and crossed our fingers, hoping the next time we opened it, the bees would be one big happy family.IMG_1051
If you’re a long-time follower of this blog, you may recognize the box as the previous home of FreeBees (RIP).

Since we like to name our hives, this left us in a bit of a quandary. We couldn’t very well call this hive FreeBees, or even FreeBees (II), because we paid $170 for them.

We decided to name them California Girls, Cali Girls for short.

The Ohio-raised nucleus hive we are picking up next weekend will become Buzzers’ Roost (II). And should we be fortunate enough to someday do another split, it will go in the Pink Palace, and become NewBees (II).

Today, we finally had the time and the weather to do an inspection. We’ve been filling the food reservoir as they empty it, but this would be the first chance to see if the queen is alive, released, and laying.

She is!

We saw both eggs and larvae, but no capped brood, which means she’s been out for between six and nine days. (Larvae are capped when they are ten days old). Since the package was installed eleven days ago, she was released fairly quickly.

Also, they are bringing in pollen, mostly a yellowish gray, with some bright yellow. I imagine the bright yellow is dandelion, and the yellowish gray may be Red Maple, if this chart is anything to go by.

And there’s fresh nectar, so they are doing what they’re supposed to.

You may have noticed the hive has a different lid. I bought it a while ago, but for reasons  neither of us can remember, we didn’t like it.

It has an inside reservoir for food, and a window where you can peek in. IMG_0521

Because curious raccoons regularly visit our yard, we’ve never used an outside feeder on our hives, always an extra box with upturned mason jars inside full of syrup.

But this year, with the nights (and some days!) being so cold, we didn’t want to stress the bees by expecting them to heat an extra box.

Thus, we’re trying the lid again, and I must admit, it’s nice to be able to take a quick look without disturbing them. I guess the lid has proven useful, at least for this time of year.

Here’s a closeup, though there’s some glare from the sun. IMG_2408
It’s so nice to have bees again. 🙂