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> ūüôā

Small Hive Beetles (Gross picture – you may want to skip this post.)

Went out to have a look at the hives and saw a beetle larva crawling out the back, so I pulled out the bottom board and found this.

I feel sick. These little bastards can wreck a hive. They eat all the honey, defecate in it, and turn everything to slime.

We’ve already got pavers to put beneath the hives and nematodes to treat the soil (the type we bought eats SHB larvae), but The Engineer has been gone, and I thought best if we do the treatment together so we both know how.

I really didn’t want to share this, but am doing so because other beekeepers may be having the same problem, and I wanted them to see they are not alone.

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.

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.

Shaken, Not Stirred: Performing A Sugar Shake/Roll

Check out what our queens have been up to!

This frame is from Buzzers’ Roost (the weaker, over-wintered hive). Look at all that lovely covered brood. These are two sides of one frame. Notice the glistening nectar on the left in the top photo? And can you spot the queen? We were happy to see she’s now laying in the deep box instead of the smaller medium one from the winter (also referred to as a super).IMG_0185
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Here’s a frame full of larvae and eggs.IMG_0187

And this one had pollen (near bottom), capped honey (bottom right), some capped brood, and larvae. If you can’t see the difference, here’s a great post from BackYardHive on identifying types of comb. You’ll notice they use different style hives, but the comb is the same.¬†IMG_0188FreeBees also moved up into the deep box we put on last week. IMG_0192See the difference in the color of the bees? Buzzers’ Roost bees are still mainly Italian (offspring of the ill-fated Red Queen), and the FreeBees hive is Saskatraz. We’ll notice a shift in Buzzers’ Roost as the eggs and larvae from the Saskatraz queen emerge and take over.IMG_0193IMG_0192I think we counted about seven and a half frames full of brood in FreeBees. At about 7,000 cells per frame (3,500 a side), that’s a lot of bees! I keep thinking I must have mis-counted, and I didn’t write that figure down (too busy taking pictures and running the timer for the Varroa check).

Part of this week’s inspection was a sugar shake (also called a sugar roll) to check for Varroa. It was much easier this time, partly because we’d done it before, and partly because we used the University of Minnesota’s scooping method to measure out the 1/2 cup of bees (about 300) needed for the sample.

Basically, we measure out the bees, dump them in a jar with a mesh lid, measure in a couple of tablespoons of powdered sugar, roll or shake until they’re covered.IMG_0184After letting¬†them set for several minutes, we shake the sugar onto a paper plate, wet it to make it melt, and count the Varroa.

Now, you’re wondering, “But what about the bees?”

Here’s the answer.¬†IMG_0195-2When the sugar-covered, unhappy bees settle, we dump them back into the hive with an interesting story to tell their sisters. They immediately started fanning, (perhaps to spread the word), which you can see in the video below. (I’ve discovered that I seem to be able to upload videos to WordPress from my iPad, but not my computer of phone. Weird.) If you’re going to do a sugar shake/roll, here’s a pdf, also from the University of Minnesota’s Bee Lab. Please follow their precise directions, and not my description above!

Lastly, we replaced the pollen patty on Buzzers’ Roost and gave one to FreeBees. We’ve noticed Small Hive Beetles come around whenever we feed this way, so if you do it, be sure to put in a beetle trap or two, and check them regularly. The Buzzers’ Roost trap caught several SHB last week, and I took great delight in seeing them do the dead beetle float in the olive oil.¬†IMG_0194-2Despite not finding any Varroa in our sugar shake, I know they are lurking in all that beautiful capped brood, especially in FreeBees. That hive now has enough bees, and we’ll do a Formic Pro treatment as soon as we get a spell of weather cool enough for the process. This week’s temperatures are predicted to be in the 90s, so perhaps the next week will be better.

We’ll also be keeping an eye on Buzzers’ and doing another sugar shake for both hives in early August, treating again as necessary.

Hive Check, Or “Do Our Bees Have Enough Honey to Get Through the Winter?”

In preparation for applying the Mite Away strips, we did a complete hive check on Friday.

We needed to find out how the brood was placed to assess where best to place the strips for treatment. Also, we wanted to get a reading on how prepared the girls are for winter.

The good news is we have a lot of bees, all squirreling away nectar/honey/pollen for the winter (a bit of a mixed metaphor, I know). We saw capped brood and larvae so our queen is still laying, albeit at a slower rate. The brood and larvae were all in the second brood box, but there were bees working in the bottom one.

There were no more capped drone cells on the drone frames. Instead, they were filling it with nectar. Hey, whatever works for them, right?

I tried to write down what was on each frame. It’s difficult to effectively transcribe and quantify, so my notes look something like “Frame 4: 1/2 1/4 honey, 2/3 nectar, some pollen; 1/2 2/3 nectar/honey.” And so on. (I actually made those amounts up — my real notes were even more confusing.)

According to my admittedly shaky calculations, the girls are coming up short on their winter supplies, and we’ll probably have to start feeding them again soon. For now they continue to feast on goldenrod, and, to a lesser extent, the asters that have begun blooming.¬†IMG_2832IMG_2830IMG_2829

We inserted fresh beetle traps, but ended up also re-inserting the previously baited ones in the lower honey super because we killed two beetles there. We also sprinkled the fullest brood chamber with powdered sugar again, figuring it can’t hurt and may help until it cools down enough to use the Quick Strips.

Afterwards, we sat and watched the bees work. (We do this at least once a day.) There are always a few who have worked themselves to death (the plight of the worker bee) and just can’t fly any more. Sometimes just die on the front porch or ground around the hive.¬† And sometimes the other bees come along and remove them, which is always interesting to watch.

If they’re still alive, The Engineer sometimes tries to help them back into the hive, but that’s just putting off the inevitable.IMG_2828IMG_2827IMG_2826This one is missing a leg.

Honey bees truly live to support their hive. My wish is that we’ve been able to fumble our way through supporting them well enough so they make it through the winter.

I fear the odds are against us.

 

 

Small Pests = Mite-y Problems

I can’t say they didn’t warn us. At our Intro to Beekeeping class, the teachers all said the Varroa Mite population would explode in the late summer and fall.

They were right. Although our sugar roll count in late August seemed borderline, our bee guru thought our bees needed treating.

On her advice, we began by putting in two drone frames and dusting the brood boxes with powdered sugar. Supposedly, the powdered sugar encourages bees to groom themselves and each other, thereby clearing away some of the mites.

Well, maybe. The sticky board count afterwards was unequivocally bad, though part of that might be due to the bees’ hygienic efforts. And our bees did build some drone comb on one board, resulting in about 15-20 capped drone cells. (If you recall, Varroa prefer drone larvae because they are larger, and their growth cycle more closely matches that of the Varroa).

FullSizeRender-21

You remember drone cells, right? They look like Kix cereal.

The important thing about using drone frames is to be sure to take it out after the cells are capped but before the bees (and Varroa) hatch.

I’m going to repeat that yet another time because it’s really,¬†really(!)¬†important. YOU HAVE TO REMOVE THE DRONE FRAMES AFTER THE DRONE CELLS ARE CAPPED BUT BEFORE THE BEES AND VARROA HATCH!¬†Otherwise you have a drone population explosion. Worse, you’ve just created a Varroa bomb in your own hive.

After you remove the drone frames, you uncap the cells. Here’s what we found. See those little specks?

IMG_2741I’m pointing to one with my uncapping tool below.FullSizeRender-22

Those are Varroa Mites. They carry deadly viruses and can lead to a colony’s die-off.¬†(Click the link for more information from MSU’s Pollinator Initiative).¬† It was horrifying to see so many in such a small part of our hive.

Next year, we’ll be putting in drone frames as soon as our queen starts laying. This year, however, we’ll be inserting Mite Away Quick Strips as soon as the weather cools. These have a good track record of treating Varroa and Tracheal Mites in both capped brood and ¬† the bee population. They can also be used while honey supers are on.

The downsides? They can’t be used if it’s over 92 degrees, and they have to be on the hive for at least seven days. They also get expensive if you use them regularly.

We planned to insert them yesterday, but the weather’s been hot for this time of the year, with expected highs in the upper 80s this week — too close to 92 to risk it.

There are some other concerns:

  • Treatment requires taking out the entrance reducer, and yellow jackets are still looking for a way in.
  • There may be bee die-off.
  • The treatment may cause the bees to reject the queen. (And this is not a good time of year to lose a queen.)

Still, I don’t believe we have a choice if we want to give our girls a fighting chance to get through the winter.

I’m starting to think beekeeping is a continuous cycle of choosing the lesser of two evils.

Other news on the pest front: our Beetle Jails  continue to catch Small Hive Beetles. When we first received the Jail and Beetle Blaster in our Ohio State Beekeepers Association Apiary Diagnostic Kit, we baited them with apple cider vinegar and caught nothing.

Then we tried the recipe printed in the “Monitoring for Sustainability” handbook (also in the OSBA APK). I’m sharing it below because it works.¬†In fact, the Beetle Jail, paired w.ith this recipe, has been so effective, I invested in several more traps. So here’s the recipe: one slice of banana, one spoon of high protein brood builder (I’ve been using pollen powder substitute), one spoon of honey, a pinch of yeast (they prefer Brewer’s, but I had regular bread yeast, and it’s worked fine), and a spoon of water. Let ferment overnight, mix well, and put a few drops in each trap.

And go for the Beetle Jail traps. The other ones don’t work as well.

I’ll let you know how the MAQS treatment goes.

 

 

Thirsty Bees

Bees, like other creatures, need water. According to Kim Flottum, editor of¬†Bee Culture magazine, they use it to dissolve crystallized honey, to dilute honey for food for larvae, and evaporate it to cool the hive. They also enjoy a cool drink on a hot day. (For more on the subject, see “Why Honey Bees Need Water”¬†from the “Bug Squad” blog.)

In our beekeeping class, the teachers stressed the importance of a water source when deciding where to place a hive. Since we have a stream that runs sporadically on our property and maintain a birdbath full of fresh water for the birds even in the winter, I figured we had the water source covered.

But for the first month or so, we didn’t see any bees on the birdbath, and I assumed they’d found water elsewhere.

Well, guess what! They’ve discovered the birdbath!
I was so excited I went out to take a picture.IMG_2321
Then I crept closer and took another.IMG_2322
Closer for another.IMG_2323
And another.IMG_2324
I’ve been taking pictures of thirsty bees ever since. But I promise, this is the last I’ll share.IMG_2330
Then we did our hive check on Sunday, and once more, I freaked out over something that turned out to be nothing.

You see, as soon as we opened the hive, there was a nasty little beetle staring right at me. I tried several times to smash it with my hive tool and missed. The darn thing ran right back into the hive.

Sigh.

Beetles, if you don’t know it, lay eggs that turn into larvae capable of turning a hive into a slimefest faster than you can imagine.

So, of course, I immediately imagined anything that glistened was slime. I was so creeped out I sent this picture to the Bee Guru. She said it was just nectar and pollen.
Whew!¬†IMG_2340I’m not completely stupid. The frame above looks vastly different from the one below from a few weeks ago. Don’t you think?
IMG_2245
We’re quickly discovering that beekeeping is an education in how little we know.

Fine, But Not Yet Super-Fine

Our bees are fine, thanks for asking.

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.FullSizeRender-18

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.

IMG_1502

Varroa through a magnifying glass on a sticky board. Photo credit: The Engineer

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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.

IMG_2299

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.¬†IMG_2296

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. IMG_2297

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. ūüôā