We Had a Plan

A quick, mostly pictorial update on the hives.

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.

When we smoke the hive to inspect, the bees sometimes react by sticking their heads in the cells, supposedly to gorge on pollen and nectar in case they have to flee the danger.
The little things on the bottom that look like Kix cereal are capped drone brood.
More colorful pollen, along with glistening nectar. They were also capping honey, but apparently I didn’t get a picture of that.

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?

And 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.

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.

Please Release Me, Let Me Go

Queen update: We had a look in the hive Saturday. I fully expected to find the corpse of our new queen. The Engineer was more optimistic, pointing out our bees have always been fairly mellow, that maybe she’d been accepted.

We were both wrong. She and her attendants were still in the cage. Directly above them was this puff of new comb. They were so light and airy I wasn’t completely sure the cells weren’t paper until I put a match to them.

It’s burr comb. I should have known. A more experienced beekeeper could possibly explain why the bees suddenly decided there was too much space beneath their inner cover, but I can’t.

Thats how burr comb is used – to fill in open space in the hive. This has to do with “bee space,” a concept discovered by Lorenzo Langstroth, who noticed bees fill in spaces less than 1/4″ with propolis and space over 3/8″ with burr comb. He designed hives to accommodate this, and it’s Langstroth hives that are most commonly used in the US.

But back to our queen quandary.

The the situation in the hive hadn’t changed so we had no reason to feel any more optimistic about her future welfare.

On the other hand, the workers didn’t seem particularly hostile to their would-be monarch. Most didn’t even seem interested.

We debated a few minutes.

The Engineer: “I think we should release her.”

Me: “They’ll kill her.”

The Engineer: “They’ve fed her for ten days. Look at them. They’re not biting the cage or trying to sting her.”

Me: “Well, it’s not like it will make a difference. They’ll probably kill her whatever we do.”

In the end – partly to just get it over – we opened the cage and watched her scurry into the hive.

I fully expect we’ll soon be looking for a nuc in the near future.

I Just Saw a Baby Honey Bee, or One Step Forward, One Step Back

During our last full hive check, The Engineer noticed this girl making her first appearance as a fully grown bee. Seeing this was definitely a high point in our beekeeping experiences so far.

 

We’ve continued looking in on our girls each week, though last week was devoted to a sugar roll, which unfortunately yielded a few more mites than is optimal. Our bee guru has advised us to insert our drone frames and sprinkle the frames with powdered sugar. We will then remove those frames sometime after two weeks, but before three weeks pass and the bee larvae hatch.

Because the drone growth cycle more closely mimics that of the Varroa Mites, the mites prefer to lay their eggs in drone cells, thereby affording their own offspring a better chance at survival.

This, of course, is the opposite of what we want.

By inserting drone frames, we will promote the raising of drones and the laying of Varroa Mite eggs on those drones. Thus, when we remove the frames, we will have a better idea of how many mites are in the hive, and at the same time (hopefully) decimate a portion of their next generation.

That this will also decimate the drone larvae is of little consequence. They don’t do much anyway and will be kicked to the curb before winter anyway. (In the honey bee world, drones are a bit of a luxury.)

The most important thing about using drone frames — and I’m not sure I can stress this enough — is to REMOVE THE DRONE FRAMES BEFORE THE DRONES (and Varroa) HATCH!

Yes, I’m shouting. It’s that crucial.  Should something happen and the frames not be taken out in time, we would not only have an overabundance of drones, we would also have an explosion of mites!

After we uncap the cells and take a look, the frames will be popped into the freezer for twenty-four hours and returned to the hive to start the process again.

Now you may be wondering why we would sprinkle the bees with sugar. The answer is simple. Honey bees like sweet stuff. They’re also very clean. Getting coated in sugar will encourage them to clean one another, which we hope will result in more Varroa deaths.

So our next hive check will be focused on the Varroa issue.

In other news, our Beetle Jail has been doing its job, having caught five of the little black nasties on our most recent check. The Beetle Blaster was less successful, and has been replaced with another Jail. We are currently using a bait mix of mashed banana, honey, fake pollen and water, which has added to the traps’ effectiveness. (I think that was the whole recipe. If you’re interested, leave a comment, and I’ll double-check.)  We tried cider vinegar first and didn’t catch anything.

Alas, the “nuclear option” for Yellow Jackets was not as effective, probably because my trap design was faulty.  In trying to not unleash death on any living creatures other than the would-be yellow raiders, I think I made the holes too small. (The traps did, however, catch an inordinate amount of flies.) I’m crossing my fingers that the commercial traps we hung have made enough of a dent in the Yellow Jacket population to keep them out of our hive.

Now we come to this week’s “one step forward, one step back” part of the saga. When we did the last full check, I developed a sinking feeling that they haven’t put enough by for the winter, even though we’ve continued to feed them.

Before all you experienced beekeepers come down on us for doing this, hear me out. First this is a new hive, one that had just begun to store honey before we left town for ten days, which also happened to be the beginning of the late summer nectar dearth. I’d much rather feed our bees and have them make it through the winter than take a chance on weaning them too early.

Could we be wrong? Of course. It won’t be the first time, and I’m sure it won’t be the last time we make the incorrect decision concerning the girls.

Anyway, I thought it prudent to replace our pint jar feeder at with a bigger one. And since we’d planned on getting an observation lid with a built-in feeder for the winter, I went ahead and invested (one step forward).

The only problem is the new lid doesn’t have an opening/upper entry. After only a few days, we’ve concluded it’s better suited for winter use (one step back), especially since Goldenrod season was nearly upon us and the bees would want that extra opening for quick access to the honey supers.

Well, the Goldenrod is now in bloom, and I wish you could have seen the hive yesterday! It was a blur of activity, with every other bee just loaded with pollen. Unfortunately for you, I didn’t follow through on that wish in the form of a still photo, only marking the occasion by video. And though it rained most of today, severely hampering the workers’ ability to forage, I have no doubt they’ll be back out tomorrow. (Maybe I’ll manage a picture of the action for my next update.)

This weekend, we will put in the drone frames, do the sugar sprinkle, and go back to the original telescoping top cover and inner cover. We’ll also check the honey and pollen stores and perhaps (finally!) remove the food.

I’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, here a few more of my bee photos to tide you over.

 

 

 

 

Busy As Bees

Sorry. I couldn’t resist.

Once you own a beehive, you soon get a clear understanding of the etymology of that phrase, and it’s the only one appropriate for the progress our bees have made.

We’ve checked on our girls twice since you last heard from me, and they have been very busy indeed.

One thing we’ve learned is they seem to like the security of having queen cups ready to go. Too bad the sight of them has the opposite effect on me. (As I’ve already mentioned I’m not quite ready to handle a swarm.)

Here’s a couple of pictures so you can see what I mean. If you’re not a beekeeper, look closely at the frame, and you’ll see a couple of oddly shaped cells. Two of them (one on far right middle of the photo and one almost covered with bees at the bottom) are shaped a bit like a piece of Kix cereal. These were not so worrisome because they were small and uncapped. It’s the bigger one, shaped like a peanut, at the bottom of the frame that was a concern. IMG_2233

I handled the longer cell the only way I could think of: I scraped it off (out of sight, out of mind?). We also added a second deep box as planned. (Bees swarm when they feel crowded, but if their hive is too big, they can’t protect it from raiding wasps, yellow jackets or honey bees, so the timing on this is important.)

We saw our Bee Guru during the week, and that’s where we learned that some hives like the security of having a queen cup or two ready. (I didn’t actually mention the longer cell, because I wasn’t 100% sure that’s what it was. Or maybe I just didn’t want to admit that’s what it was.)

Thankfully, there was no sign of swarming before our next check. (And we would have noticed. The Engineer and I are very protective of our bees.)

Also during the week, we attended a session on using the Apiary Diagnostic Kit we got from the Ohio State Beekeepers Association. This organization got a grant to provide these kits (worth over $80!) free of charge to new beekeepers. The goal (per their website) is increasing “beekeeper confidence in hive management by providing tools to help monitor and diagnose changes in the hive before they reach a critical stage and the hive dies.” If you’re a new beekeeper (starting in 2016 or 2017), click the link to get one. Experienced beekeepers can order kits for $49.99 (plus shipping), which is still a deal.

No, this is not a commercial for this project. I just think it’s great that the OSBA made it happen. And the educational sessions about using the kit, which are being offered around the state, make the program even better.

But back to the hive. Varroa Mites and Small Hive Beetles are creatures whose sole existence seems dedicated to wreaking havoc on honey bees and reproducing so their offspring can do the same.

And when I say wreak havoc, I mean it literally. If unchecked, these pests can (directly  or indirectly) cause the demise of a hive (or hives).

Since we don’t want that to happen to our hive, we were grateful for the opportunity to learn more about protecting them. And after attending the OSBA class, we felt prepared to try out some of the tools they’d provided to help us do just that.

This is the time of year to get a base count of the Varroa, so we decided to do a sugar roll (also called a sugar shake). Check out this video from Hudson Valley Bee Supply to see a demonstration.*

Seriously. Watch the video. Even if you don’t keep bees, you’ll find it fascinating.

You can do a similar test using alcohol. It’s more accurate, but it kills that 1/2 cup of bees (about 300). We don’t like killing bees, so we used sugar.

We also inserted both the “Beetle Blaster” and the “Beetle Jail.” These are variations on a theme — both shallow trays baited with cider vinegar inserted between frames. The Jail uses cooking oil to trap the beetles, and the Blaster is designed so they can get in, but not out.

Before closing  the hive, we put strips of microfiber in its dark corners to try to catch even more beetles. (The next day, we found one of the strips at the entrance to the hive where the bees had evidently dragged it. Clearly, one or more took a dislike to the cloth and wanted it gone.)

As you might guess, this hive check took longer than previous checks. Not only did we have two boxes to check, sugar to roll, Jail, Blaster, and microfiber to insert, The Engineer had surgery on his dominant hand on Thursday and was somewhat hindered in using it.

So we were especially grateful to one of our classmates who agreed to come over to help/learn/participate.

The difference from last week was amazing. Our bees are amazing. We couldn’t believe how hard they’ve been working. The queen, whom our classmate spotted first, must be an egg-laying machine! There were loads of eggs, plenty of larvae, lots of capped brood, some lovely glistening nectar and yellow pollen, and some capped honey.

Oh, there were also a couple of queen cups too (as you can see).

IMG_2244

We were so proud! I wish I’d taken more pictures, but we were so busy admiring the results of their labor, I just forgot.

The sugar roll resulted in us finding one mite, and we spotted (and killed, of course) another one on the top of a frame. However, I re-read the directions after we came back inside, and we may not have shaken the jar long enough, resulting in a number that skews low. And with all that beautiful capped brood, well, you just know those mites are going to be after our growing larvae.

Once we feel confident the hive is full strength, we may try the drone comb to try to offset some of that issue.

Quick explanation for those who aren’t beekeepers: Drones are male bees. There aren’t as many drones as workers because they don’t do much for the hive, but their growing cycle is longer and coincides better with the mites’. So mites really like drones. The type of egg — worker or drone — the queen lays is based on the size of the comb the workers draw. If the workers feel the hive can support drones, they draw (make) drone comb, the queen lays drones, and the mites are happy. You can force the issue by inserting a special kind of foundation, with drone-size cells started on it. The workers then draw drone comb, the queen lays drones, and the beekeeper takes the foundation out before [that’s really important] the drones hatch and set any mites free into the hive. The beekeeper then uses a special tool called a capping scratcher to open the cells and count the mites. And also kill them. In this way, the drone comb serves as both a diagnostic tool and a treatment measure against drones.

Okay, so maybe that explanation wasn’t so quick. At least you get it now, right?
Your reward for being so patient is one more picture of the girls. 🙂 IMG_2245

Our next visit will be a simple check — having a look for the queen, seeing if the bees are still doing well and when they might be ready for a honey super, and looking in our Jail, Blaster, and microfiber for dead(!) beetles.

*After doing a bit of research, I have one correction to the information provided by the film: Domino Powdered Sugar is no longer cornstarch free. We used a powdered sugar that has cornstarch for our first roll; I purchased Heinen’s brand for the next time. It’s organic and uses tapioca starch instead, which seems like it might be a bit better for the bees.