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?

Hive Loss

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.

The Pink Palace before its placement outside

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.

The Bird and the Bees

First, the bird (and an apology for the poor picture quality — it was shot through glass).IMG_2578

I was working in the kitchen when I heard the “Whomp!” of a bird hitting the window. Unfortunately, this happens now and then, even where we put fake hawk stickers. I didn’t think too much about it until I glanced out a few minutes later to see this Tufted Titmouse still sitting on our deck looking bemused.

But, as I watched her/him, another Titmouse came up beside and started gently pecking and hovering above the first one as if encouraging it to get up and fly. IMG_2579

The first Titmouse merely sat back up, and blinked.

The second one flew away, and I thought that was the end of it.

However, a few minutes later, several Titmice — yes, that’s the correct plural — appeared. Two hung back and watched as one performed the same ritual: gentle peck, flutter above, push.

The crashed Titmouse’s response was modest, at best.

Once more, the “helper birds” flew away.

But one returned again, clearly determined to get her/his flockmate moving.

IMG_2580S/he shoved the first bird over, pecking, pushing, and fluttering around until finally, finally, they both flew off together.

It was amazing.

It was also quite smart because we have hawks who hunt on our property, occasionally even perching on our deck, probably for a better view of our bird feeders.

 

 

And now, some more good news.IMG_2588

Yes, this is a dandelion, and yes, I saw it Saturday when The Engineer and I went for a hike/walk.

I realize this may not be good news if you are the type of person to nurture an immaculate lawn. Still, that type of lawn requires herbicides, which aren’t good for bees, and if you’re someone who thinks a green lawn is more important than pollination, you’re probably reading the wrong blog anyway.

Suffice to say, dandelions are a major source of food for bees in the spring, so it’s good news for them.

In other bee news, the weekend was warm enough for us to treat the hives with oxalic acid vapor to kill any mites that might be on the bees.

We also scraped the dead bees from the bottom of the hives.

Below, you see two photos made into one, the top of FreeBees with the bees out exploring, and their dead sisters (along with a few brothers) in the picture beneath.3BA5759C-205B-4D5E-AC25-B0F3384F210F

It looks like lot of dead bees, but that’s to be expected. In warmer weather, the dead are less noticeable because they don’t all die inside. If they do, the other bees push them out the front (and occasionally pick them up and fly off to dump the carcasses elsewhere).

The Engineer pored through all the dead bodies and didn’t find any queens. In March 2018, this is how we learned we’d lost the queen of our only hive, so we’re always relieved when she’s not among the dead.

All three hives were active, with bees zooming in and out on cleansing flights. If you aren’t sure what “cleansing flight” means, feel free to check out my post on bee poop. The picture below is a pretty clear illustration of what it looks like.IMG_2586

And although beekeepers lose more hives in March than the winter, it’s still a relief to see them out flying in February.

In the early spring, bees sometimes run out of the food they stored for winter. We’re paranoid about this and feed them sugar patties. These are made from a four pound bag of sugar, about 6 oz of water, and some Honey-B-Healthy. The mixture is shaped into patties on parchment paper and left to dry.

The essential oils in Honey-B-Healthy are said to stimulate feeding. As a bonus, when I make a batch of bee food, the house smells wonderful for days!

The next time it hits 50 F, we’ll place the patties directly on top of the frames and pray it stays warm enough for the bees to reach the food.

Also, since we treated the hives, we’ll feed them some bee probiotics to help keep their guts healthy. It may sound a bit woo-woo, but there’s science to support the idea.

In fact, I think it helped last spring when Buzzers’ Roost’s bees had a touch (spurt?) of diarrhea. This is a scary symptom because it could indicate Nosema (which is truly awful). But, we’re learning. Before panicking, we cleaned out the fouled sugar pats and fed them probiotics. By the next hive check, the problem was gone.

As the weather warms, you’ll probably hear from me more often, but for now, I’d like to encourage you to consider voting for Queen Right Colonies in the FedEx Small Business Grant contest. Queen Right could win a $50,000 grant, and you can help by voting for them. Click on the link, and type “Queen Right” into the search box. You don’t even have to register. Just provide a name and email.

The folks at Queen Right been an invaluable help in our beekeeping adventures, and it would be great to see them get some love (or at least some cash).

Thanks for visiting!

 

 

 

Oxalic Acid and Sugar Patties

It was warm again on Monday, so we borrowed the backup battery from our sump pump to power the vaporizer for an Oxalic Acid treatment. (And when I say “we,” I mean The Engineer muscled the thing upstairs and into the wheelbarrow for me to cart it outside and treat the bees.)

Bees don’t much care for  these treatments, and I don’t blame them. As implied by the name, the vaporizer fills the hive with Oxalic Acid vapor to kill Varroa mites — not a pleasant experience, I’m sure. It’s no surprise many chose went for a cleansing flight afterward. (Go here to watch them in motion.) I watched them for a few minutes before going back inside.IMG_3283
I heard it immediately after closing the door — the telltale buzz of a bee in the house — and mentally kicked myself for not checking my clothing.

I carefully took off my jacket and shook it.

No bee.

Convinced one was caught in my hair, I gingerly ran my fingers through the tangles.

No joy.

The buzz continued. Was I imagining things?

I went in the bathroom, examined what I could see of my back. Still no bee.

I took off my shirt, gave it a gentle shake.

No bee.

My jeans.

The buzzing continued, and I was starting to feel like a character in a sitcom.

Finally, I realized the sound was louder in the foyer, and looked up to see one of our girls banging on the second story window.

Sighing with relief, I grabbed a glass to catch her, released her outside, and watched as she flew straight back to the hive.

Even though a hive has thousands of bees, no beekeeper likes to be the cause of harm to even a single bee. Plus, in many cultures, having a bee come in the house is either good luck, or a sign of company is coming. Obviously, this only holds true if you don’t kill it. So, next time you find one in your house, use a glass and a piece of paper to catch and release her. I’m pretty sure there’s no such superstition about Yellow Jackets. Just sayin’.

Friday, we again had a look inside the hive. The weather has been changeable, the temperature readout extremely variable, and we had no idea how much sugar our bees might have consumed in ten days. As you can see from the pictures below, the answer turned out to be not much. IMG_3286IMG_3287
They were more interested in the pollen patty in the corner, which led me to surmise (possibly erroneously) they still have honey.

We’ll continue checking when weather permits, and I’ll keep you posted.

Until then, bee happy. 🙂