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.
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.
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.
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.
As you read this, please be sure to read the updates to get a true picture of what’s happening in our hive.
If there were a scale called “Chances Our Bees Will Survive the Winter,” it might look like this:
1__________________________________5_____________________________10 Bees will certainly die. Bees might not die. Bees will certainly live.
Following the Yellow Jacket raid two weeks ago, I would have put our girls at about 1.5.
After this week’s hive inspection, however, I think they’re closer to a 3, perhaps even a 3.5.
They have some brood. It’s spotty, but I think that may be normal with winter approaching. I know the queen slows down on laying eggs this time of year so there are less mouths to feed during winter. And we have baby bees hatching and some larvae. We also spotted the queen, which is always reassuring.
The caps on the cells aren’t as nice as earlier in the season, which was a bit worrying, so we checked for American Foulbrood (AFB) this week. The larvae in the caps we opened weren’t discolored and didn’t “rope out,” so we don’t have to burn all our equipment.
Yes, AFB is that bad. Its spores can live up to 70 years on equipment, and it’s lethal. (Click the link, and the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs will tell you all about the disease.)
So, no burning necessary. That’s a relief.
Update: Sassafras Bee Farm very kindly sent me an email with some bad news. Our bees almost certainly have Parasitic Mite Syndrome (PMS). Here’s a link to some information on this syndrome, with lots of pictures that look exactly like our hive.
This week, there’s also been a great deal of wrestling going on in front of the hive, with bees dragging other bees out of the hive and dropping them on the ground, sometimes even flying away with them (to drop them elsewhere, I guess).
At first, we thought the hive was being raided … again, and our bees were protecting the hive — another worry. But our girls weren’t stinging the bees they tossed out.
If you haven’t seen it, click the link above for the clip.
I can be a little dense, but eventually I realized what was happening. The worker bees were getting rid of the drones. They didn’t need to sting the evicted bees because drones don’t have a stinger and can’t sting back.
As you may know, drones don’t do much except fly to a Drone Congregation Area (DCA) and hang around, hoping to mate with a queen. (I’ve linked to Honeybee Suite here, partly for the description of DCAs and partly because I liked the comments.) There’s at least one DCA in England that is documented as having been in the same place for centuries.
Here’s a blog post from a guy who went in search of one that was written about in the late 1700s.
He found it too. Pretty amazing, if you ask me!
The mating process breaks a drone in two.
At least they go out with a bang. (Sorry!)
Since drones take up valuable resources with no immediate benefits to their hive, a hive won’t create male bees until it can support them.
But who makes that decision?
Not the queen. Her job is laying eggs, and she does so according to the size of the cell — fertilized for workers in smaller cells, unfertilized for drones in larger cells.
Not the drones. We’ve established that they’re only good for one thing. (And I’m not, repeat not, drawing conclusions about any other species based on bees!)
So who decides the size of the cells? The worker bees.
And don’t they deserve that privilege? They’re called workers for a reason, and it’s a simple one. They do all the work.
Okay, okay, the queen labors too. Spending your life laying eggs and then being made to swarm or being killed by a usurper is work too. “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown,” and all that.
But, I digress.
Back to the workers. Guess what? They also chose when to create queen cells and raise new queens when they deem it time to swarm or replace the old queen.
Talk about the power of the sisterhood!
The boys? Not so much power. If a drone doesn’t mate by the time fall comes around, he’s kicked to the curb. His sisters quit feeding him, making him weak, and all that much easier to wrestle out of his home.
Judging by the state of the wings of some of the drones we saw on the ground, I think the girls may chew the wings of their bros, as well.
Yeah. It’s a rough life for a bee. Workers work themselves to death. Drones mate and die or get kicked from their hive and die. Queens lay eggs their whole life, and then are killed or forced to swarm (and then die later).
So, let’s change the subject and look at some pictures.
The Engineer took this picture of a showdown. I’m pretty sure it’s a worker making sure a drone doesn’t come back in the hive. Drones are usually bigger than worker bees, which isn’t the case here, but their eyes are also much bigger. This is more obvious in the picture below. The blog, Gerry’s Bees, has a nice picture showing the usual differences. Update: Sassafras Bee kindly pointed out that the big-eyed bee is NOT a drone, but a worker with Deformed Wing Virus.
In the seven days since our last inspection, the bees also produced a lot more honey.
It’s so beautiful; I couldn’t stop taking pictures
This last picture is of the honey they’ve made on one of the drone foundations we put in last month to try to help with the Varroa infestation. The queen laid a few drones on it, but the next time we checked the hive, our bees were saving nectar in both drone frames. We left them in, and now they are full of honey.
Notice on the bottom of the picture there are bees hanging off one another in sort of a cluster. They frequently do this between frames as we remove the frames to inspect, clinging to each other in a living bee chain until the distance becomes so great they are forced to let go. The phenomenon is called “festooning,” and here’s a great photo of what it looks like (from Honeybee Suite).
The Engineer and I have been working too, learning what we can do to aid our girls in getting through winter. Yesterday, we attended an all-day class on “The Hardest Season.” We came away with a much longer “to-do list” than we went in with.
And now, I’m cautiously, infinitesimally, almost imperceptibly hopeful we can help — or at very least, not hinder — their chances of survival.
On a scale of one to ten, I’d give us a 4, mostly for effort. 🙂
Update: While I’d still give us a 4 for effort, I’m not sure anything we do will save our hive. We may be starting fresh in spring. Feeling down about this, and there’s nothing slight, cautious, or infinitesimal about the emotion.
I spent Saturday evening “coloring” the frames of one of our honey supers with beeswax. This is meant to encourage the bees to go into the new box and begin using those frames.
We’re determined to keep a close watch on the pest levels in the hives, so Saturday morning, The Engineer spread Vaseline on a sticky board and put it beneath the hive.
When we did a hive check Sunday, we counted the Varroa. There were seven. At this point, that count is more a benchmark, but with all those larvae about to be capped, you know the nasty little creatures will be looking for a home. Also, I read that ants can carry off dead Varroa, and we still see the occasional ant crawling on the hive. So, again, our count may be a little skewed.
Varroa through a magnifying glass on a sticky board. Photo credit: The Engineer
If you look closely, you can see the larvae in the lower left corner. There’s capped brood above it and capped honey in the upper right corner.
The bees are still busy drawing comb, raising young, and gathering nectar and pollen, but in the end, we decided the girls were doing fine, but not quite “super-fine” (i.e., ready for a honey super). Though the bottom box is fairly filled in, the top one only has about four full frames. That’s fine too. Judging by the amount of comb the bees are drawing, that they clearly have designs on the remaining frames. And our Basswood trees are beginning to bloom, so we have high hopes for a honey super in our bees’ futures. Basswood is considered one of the best North American trees for bees, and we have two.
Look at that gorgeous freshly drawn comb! Aren’t our girls talented?
This week’s visit wasn’t nearly as exhaustive as last week’s. We pulled the Beetle Blaster and Beetle Jail. There were no beetles in either, but one on the single piece of microfiber the girls deigned to allow in the hive. (You’ll recall I mentioned them pulling one all the way down through the two boxes and out the front of the hive, but they also pulled one down and out the bottom.) Another beetle was in the remains of a pollen patty we took out, so we rinsed and replaced the beetle traps.
In an effort to be less obtrusive, we looked at the frames in the upper box, but only peeked into the lower box, so these pictures are all from the upper chamber. If you look below, you’ll see tiny eggs in the center of most the cells.
We didn’t spot the queen, but we didn’t look too hard. The number of eggs and larvae tell us she’s still active.
And though the consumption of sugar-water has slowed, we replaced the feeder with a fresh one and also put in a fresh pollen patty. I read in one of our manuals that we should allow the bees to ignore three feeders of sugar water before we stop feeding it, so we’re using that as a guideline.
There is an ebb and flow in the amount they drink from the feeder and the amount of pollen patty they consume, as well as the amount of pollen we see them bring in. For about a week, we’d see the foragers come back loaded with pollen. Then, at the beginning of last week, they seemed to have very little. Over the weekend, the pollen loads picked up again.
We pay attention to the color of the pollen, but still have no clue where they’re getting it from. Since we live in the country, we may never know. There are still working farms in our area, at least one orchard, and many home gardeners.
It’s neat to think our bees are traveling the countryside, pollinating crops and flowers, as they gather food for the hive.
Oh, and we saw no queen cups in the upper box, so maybe our girls are feeling a bit more secure. 🙂