Dual Queens

Remember the dying queen? I wouldn’t blame you if you don’t. With all my talk about queens, even I find it hard to keep them straight.

Anyway, it turns out the dying queen isn’t dead. This is quite a surprise because when we checked that hive (the first split from OH, Girls this year) on 4 July, we were very happy to find the beautiful new queen the workers bred to replace her. Here’s her picture from that inspection.

Today, when we checked that hive, The Engineer once again spotted New Queen (near the bottom, surrounded by her attendants). And isn’t she gorgeous?

Only later, he also spotted Dented Queen.


In this picture, she’s pointed out with a hive tool, and I’ve circled her in red to make her easier to spot. You can clearly see her dented thorax. (Note all that lovely, glistening white larvae beside her!)

Here’s another pic.

She’s surrounded by her court of attendants.

But if you look at the picture below, and you have sharp eyes, you’ll find both Dented Queen (near the hive tool) and New Queen (near the capped brood at the top of the picture.

Above is Dented Queen (middle left) and New Queen (upper right, circled).
Dented Queen (red) and New Queen (green)

We heard this sometimes happens, but when we took our classes, I got the impression that having two queens co-exist in a hive was unusual. True, there are ways beekeepers occasionally manipulate hives to run two queens, usually by using queen excluders to keep the royalty in separate areas of the hive.

The situation can also arise when one queen isn’t yet mated, the bees are getting ready to swarm or they just haven’t killed the old queen yet. According to this article, the workers keep the two queens in separate parts of the hive, but as these pictures show, New Queen is definitely mated, and she’s not only on the same frame as Dented Queen, she’s mere inches away.

And these two have been sharing the same hive for at least ten days, likely longer.

I expect eventually the workers will kill Dented Queen. She’s still moving and laying, but very slowly, while New Queen sprints around laying as fast as she can.

Meanwhile, the workers have been making comb on the new frames we gave them like their lives depend on it.

Oh, yeah … their lives do sort of depend on it. They’ll need that comb to store honey for winter.

Such a pretty sight (especially after yesterday’s mess)

And our two queens are already using the new comb. There’s larvae in both the pictures below, although it’s harder to spot in the second one.


After our unusual find in the split, we looked in on the Kremlin. I was ready to dispatch Olga to the big beehive in the sky and steal a frame of brood from OH, Girls split #1 so Kremlin workers could make a new queen. The Engineer convinced me we should give her one more chance. Her laying seems to be improving slightly, with more larvae closer together, but if it’s not dramatically better at the end of the month, they’re going to have to make a new queen. This is cutting it fine because August is when beekeepers need to start thinking (read “worrying”) about winter.

There’s an expression about beekeeping, something like “Take care of the bees that will take care of the bees that will need to live through the winter,” and August is when that begins.

Olga needs to step up her game.

Lastly, we had a look at the honey supers on OH, Girls and stole two filled frames, replacing them with super frames with drawn combs. Truthfully, we could have probably pulled more for extraction, but we’re being conservative this year and waiting until the frames are at least 90% full … at least as long as nectar is still coming in.

A lot of the frames look like this, nearly solid on one side and not completely capped on the other (although some had a lot more capped on side #2).

We considered putting a honey super on OH, Girls Split #1 because the hive has a lot of bees, along with a queen cup that might have had larva in it. Ultimately, we chose not to. We gave them several empty frames when we put them in the big boxes so they still have space.

Also, we tempted fate by leaving the queen cup. We’re not 100% sure it was filled, and if we scraped it off, and they want to swarm, they’d just build another.

Speaking of swarms, we still have three swarm boxes up, and at least two are getting a lot of attention from scout bees.

I’m not sure where we’d put another hive, but we could probably find space on one of the stands if we have to. 🙂


OH, Girls: The Hive that Keeps on Giving

This is the present configuration of OH, Girls — 2 deep brood boxes, queen excluder, 3 medium supers for honey, inner cover, quilt box, and outer cover.

It takes a long time to check a hive with this many boxes.
Correction: It takes us a long time to check a hive with this many boxes.

Again we hoped to find capped honey frames ready for extraction. There was one, which we pulled and replaced with an empty. But most looked like this, beautiful, but only partially capped.

Here’s a closeup.

In the first deep, there was lots of drone brood on the frames, and I was starting to develop a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. Was our new queen laying only drones? Did we somehow have laying workers? Again?

Also, there were queen cups with larvae inside. Had they killed the queen?

But then, we saw this, which proves we don’t have a laying worker, but a large hive with enough bees and food to support drones.

And finally, I spotted our beautiful queen (Me! The one who never spots the queen, especially an unmarked one!).

Sorry for the blurry pictures, but she was running around laying eggs as fast as she could.

So BIG! And surprisingly golden, which you may have noticed in my earlier post. Saskatraz bees are generally darker, as you can see from my photos, so to end up with a gold queen from a Sasky mother is kind of interesting.

Although we didn’t see any eggs, there was plenty of larvae, and the hive remains crowded. The bees evidently think so too since they are again raising queens.

Next plans for OH, Girls: Make another split this weekend, and cross fingers we’ll have enough frames to extract honey over 4th of July weekend.

Next door in the Kremlin, Empress Olga’s laying pattern is starting to improve.

At first glance, her capped brood still looks spotty, and in some cases, it is. However, there were also frames with larvae and eggs interspersed between capped brood cells. And she’s laying eggs more toward the center of the cells.

The Engineer Points at Olga with his Hive Tool

Plan for the Kremlin: Regular hive check in seven to ten days (probably over the 4th of July).

Finally, we turned to the OH, Girls split.

We haven’t done a true hive check on this hive since we saw the queen was injured on 26 May. When we’re hoping a hive will make a new queen, I just think it’s best to leave them alone to get on with it.

However, during our last hive checks, I asked The Engineer to tilt back the top box so I could check for queen cells. I saw one that was either opened or not yet capped, so we decided it was time to have a look.

When we opened the hive, we discovered the bees had completely propolized the top of the Beetle Jail, which drastically lowers the chances of any beetles actually being caught in the trap, although there was one.

Saskatraz bees also seem to propolize. A lot.

OH, Girls Split

There was larvae of all sizes.

There were also eggs, which you might be able to see if you look very carefully at the above picture. So, although we didn’t spot our new queen, we know she’s there.

Here’s her old cell (along with some of her brood).

And a closer look at that cell.

Plans for this hive: Continue to monitor, adding boxes if needed.

Other plans for all three hives: Start to replace old frames, discard old foundation, pressure wash the wood, and put in fresh foundation.

In summary, OH, Girls has truly been the hive that keeps on giving! We got honey from it last summer, they survived the winter, and bees from that hive have raised two new queens, with hope for another.

In other bee news, we attended the meeting of our local beekeeping group last night, the first one held in person for over a year. The topic was safety in the bee yard, presented by a nurse anesthesiologist.

Well! Her presentation was certainly enlightening, full of information about the types of toxins in bee venom, how to recognize if a reaction is mild, moderate, or severe, whether it’s localized or general, and what to do when a bee stings you.

She also had diagrams including one of a stinger. The picture I’ve linked to isn’t the one she shared, but it’s similar enough to show what I’m talking about when I say my idea of a “barbed stinger” was nothing like the actuality of one.

I pictured more of a hook, not something that looks like a twin-bladed saw! No wonder it hurts!

If you want to know more, you can go here. Again, not the exact information she shared, but it’s close enough.

Must close now. There’s mead that needs bottling, and we need to eat dinner before doing it because I know there will be tasting involved.

Almost forgot! Here’s the beeyard tool caddy
my clever husband engineered from an empty kitty litter tote.

Stuck in the Mead-le with You

In an effort to make our lives more complicated and possibly waste a lot of honey, we decided to try making mead. Well, I decided we would. After tasting the elixir made by Darling Daughter’s Partner, I bought the equipment as a Christmas present for The Engineer.

I bought two books on the subject as a present for myself.

It turns out there are almost as many recipes and methods for making mead as there are ideas on how to keep bees. So after reviewing the books (me) and watching the YouTube videos (both of us), we decided to follow the instructions provided by our local Vine N Hop Shop.

After all, our success would mean they gain two regular customers.

I bought the set-up for a five gallon batch, not realizing most people start with just one.

Go big or go home, right?

But making a lot of mead also meant we’d be able to experiment with a variety of flavors (quite possibly ruining several gallons of it in the process).

We decided to try hot peppers, ginger, and grapefruit (not all together, of course).*

These additions can be made at the start of the fermentation process, in the secondary part of the process, or even when bottling. Or so I’ve heard.

Having initially read that it was best done in the second stage, we missed the opportunity to add it at the start and so decided to add it when “racking.” This is when the mead maker moves the mix from its initial container to a second container, leaving the yeasty “lees” behind.

Today was Racking Day, and we were ready to go — plenty of airlocks (to let out the air from fermentation and keep bacteria from getting in), growlers to store the various mixtures (believe it or not, we had to buy some beer so we’d have enough), and bungs (to seal the growlers).

At least, we thought we were ready.

Unfortunately, we made a major miscalculation in thinking our big growlers held a gallon each when in fact they held a half.

The ensuing mad scramble resulted in a variety of containers (above). Although we weren’t desperate enough to use the vodka bottle and cup — they were for the airlocks and tasting, respectively — my canning jars and a whiskey decanter were fair game.

You’re probably wondering about the rubber gloves.

They’re because we didn’t have any balloons.

I’m not kidding. There are a plethora of mead making instructions that use balloons for airlocks. I suppose that’s in case you don’t want to spend $2 on a plastic one.

But we didn’t have any balloons. What we did have was sterile latex gloves, thankfully powder-free.

And that’s what we used.

When the airlocks stop bubbling, and the mead begins to clear, it will be time to bottle.

Meanwhile, we wait … and drink mead from Honeytree Meadery (Nashville) in the meantime.

*If you’re curious, for the ginger, we made a tinture by chopping ginger and soaking it in vodka for about a week. The pepper was a serrano, quartered and stuck in the bottom with half its seeds. There can be issues with acidity when you make mead with citrus. Supposedly, using only the zest can impart flavor without bitterness, so that’s what we did — used the zest of a single large red grapefruit. We added each of these to the bottom of a growler before siphoning in the still fermenting mead. Will these amounts be too zesty? Hot? Sour? We’ll let you know.

Honey and Queens: A Quick Bee Update

The Engineer and I did a quick hive check today of three hives, without going into MayBees at all. We hope they’re in the middle of queen rearing, which can be a fraught time for a hive.

They certainly act a bit fraught, still bearding (though not all the time now) and very active, so we’ll wait at least another week or two before we take a peek.

We did look at the supers and top box of California Girls. I’m a little concerned because there are an awful lot of drones in the hive. I think they hatched from the comb we attached to the frame with rubber bands, but we didn’t go deep enough to see if this is the case. It’s a little worrying, but there were plenty of workers too.

As I said, this was only a sneak peek, mainly to look at the supers because we were pretty sure they needed extracting.

We were right. One super was full of honey, most of it capped.

Isn’t it gorgeous?

They were just starting on the second super, but we still have the goldenrod/aster nectar flow in August/September, so I expect that will fill also. And, the last time we looked in the brood boxes (deeps), they had a fair amount of honey and pollen there.

We need to take a deeper look soon, just to stay on top of things. For today, however, we put an escape board between the full super and the just-getting-started super to get the bees out of the full one so we can extract its honey.

Buzzers’ Root also got a brief check of just the honey supers, and we were pleased to see both full of mostly capped honey. They got another honey super, topped by an escape board and the two full supers.

Here’s a picture of an escape board from BetterBee.eb1_nEscape boards work by making it easy for bees to move back down to the brood boxes, and difficult to return to the supers. (They like to return to the brood boxes during the night when it’s cooler.)

There are other methods you can use to remove bees from the supers, but the escape board has worked for us in the past. If you’re interested, you can click through to HoneyBeeSuite for information about the other means of clearing bees.

The important thing with an escape board is to remove it within 48 hours. If you don’t, the bees will figure out a way to get back to their hard-earned honey.

Our last task today was to have a look at NewBees (II). This is the first split we made this year, and it isn’t as active as California Girls, Buzzers’ Roost, or even MayBees.

My theory is that’s because it’s a split, so it’s a smaller hive. “But, Kym,” you say, “MayBees is a split also, and you say it’s crazy full.”

At least, that’s what you’re saying if you’ve been paying attention.

Hear me out. We’ve had two packages of Saskatraz, and from what I’ve observed, they  build their population quickly. Also, we split Buzzers’ into the NewBees hive several weeks sooner than we split California Girls.

Thus, California Girls was very crowded by the time we split it. Plus we split it into two deeps, rather than using a nuc box with three frames of bees and two of pollen and honey. So MayBees started out with more population.

At any rate, NewBees (II) seems fine. We saw eggs, larvae, capped brood and, once again, The Engineer spotted the queen.

Can you?QueenUnmarked

Did you find her? I’ve marked her on the picture below. QueenMarked

And here she is, unmarked, but all on her lonesome, which is unusual. Usually queens are surrounded by workers.IMG_3298Her laying pattern is a bit spotty, not as compact as we’d like to see, but she’s still young, and the hive’s two boxes are getting a little full (mostly of honey), so maybe she feels like she doesn’t have enough space to fill a frame with eggs.

We’ll be adding a third box to give them some room before the week is out to combat this.

In less welcome news, we also saw two hive beetles, our first (and second) this season. The Engineer killed one, and the other was already dead in the trap, so we put the trap back in to catch any of the beetle’s mates that might still be around. (All four hives have traps since we’ve had issues with these nasties before and prefer to avoid them if possible.)

Here’s some pictures of NewBees’ honey.

Sorry, I just looooove to take pictures of all that sweetness!

Tomorrow is extraction day, which will be a hot mess, but very rewarding, although more for us than the bees. 🙂

The plan after that? Give NewBees (II) a new box, do a thorough check of Buzzers’ and Cali Girls, and move Buzzers’ to a lower stand, which The Engineer will be engineering in the next few days or so.

Then, sometime toward the end of the month or the start of August, have a look at MayBees to see if they’ve managed to requeen.

After that, it will be time to treat the hives again, start prepping for winter, and hopefully have another extraction of goldenrod honey (if the bees don’t need it for winter food).

We love our bees, even when they sting. We’d love them even if we didn’t get any honey, but I must admit extracting and adding up how much we’ve got is always a thrill.

I’ll keep you posted.

 

 

May-Bees or May-Bees Not

We’re up to four hives now, if all works out, which is kind of funny because our aim has always been two.

But, here’s the thing: Strong hives swarm. If a beekeeper wants to try to prevent that, we have to split them before they get too crowded.

Ergo, we have four hives.

You may recall a month ago, when we had a plan to split California Girls and ended up splitting Buzzers’ Roost instead because they were building queen cells.

Well, Cali Girls have only gotten more crowded, and Saturday was the day to split them. We had to wait a month because we treated both big hives with Formic Pro, which is effective, but has always resulted in bee loss for us. Last year, when we treated, we lost two queens during the course of the treatment.

Naturally, correlation does not equal causation, and there were a lot of queen problems last year, so the two facts may have been unrelated.

Still … this year, we chose to do the“one strip” treatment, putting in a single Formic Pro strip for ten days, and then replacing it with another for an additional ten days. (The other option is a single fourteen-day treatment with two strips.)

This meant we couldn’t do anything with the main hives for twenty days. And we didn’t want to mess with the split until they had a chance to requeen, though last week we did take peek, and saw no signs of eggs, larvae or a queen.

Meanwhile, California Girls were bearding like crazy, so we knew they were getting cramped. Bearding is something bees do on hot days, but Cali Girls were doing it all the time.

And I mean All. The. Time. Morning, day, and night. Before the recent hot weather even arrived.

They looked kind of like the picture below, which is actually from today (90s and quite humid).

Look at the hive next to them. No beard whatsoever. I’m beginning to think Saskatraz bees like to beard. I read one blog post that referred to them as “active,”, and they are definitely that. In both this Saskatraz colony and the one we had last year, there was a a lot of going in and out, even when the other hives showed little activity.

As for the continued bearding, we think this hive is still crowded, and will be adding more frames soon. Also, I’ve noticed when it cools down at night, the bearding diminishes substantially, something it wasn’t doing before Saturday’s split, so they’re better.

unnamed-2

Approaching Saturday’s inspection, we knew we had much to accomplish and had to plan accordingly to make sure we got everything done.

Here was our list:

  1. Look again in the split (NewBees II) from Buzzers’. If there was still no signs of life, we would need to combine the bees from that hive with one of our other hives. We planned to make that decision but not act on it. If they were doing well, quit feeding and add frames to the box we’d been using to feed from.
  2. Do a general check on Buzzers’ for queen activity, honey production, crowding, etc. If there were queen cells, we were going to clear the frame of bees and use those cells in the California split since Buzzers’ Roost (II) was an Ohio-raised nuc with a nice fat over-wintered Ohio queen who was a proven layer. If needed, we would add another honey super.
  3. Check and split California Girls. We decided to do this a little differently than in the past, by just removing one of the boxes after making sure both had eggs. If we found queen cells and/or the queen, we would make sure they went in different boxes, unless we had queen cells from Buzzers’, in which case, we’d scrape off the Cali queen cells and use the Buzzers’ cells instead.
  4. Feed the split.
  5. Add another deep to the orginal California Girls and an additional honey super if they were still crowded and their first super was full. The added deep would contain open frames, but also frames with honey and pollen from last year.
  6. Feed probiotics (Super DFM) to all hives.
  7. Check and replace beetle hives. The good news is we haven’t seen beetles this year, which we put down to using nematodes. Again, correlation is not causation, but we had real problems with these little nasties, and they disappeared as soon as we started with the nematodes.
  8. We discussed removing the first supers if they were full, but our schedules preclude  extracting in the next week, so it was better to just leave them on.

I think that was the list. We actually made a little flow chart to make sure we got it all.

It was a hot day, so hot, in fact, that we ended up taking a water/cool-off break between the Buzzers’ inspection and California Girls.

First up was NewBees (II).
They had built a little comb between the inner cover and top of the their frames, and filled it with honey. When we scraped it off, they all gather round for a slurp.unnamed-13

Then, we took a look inside. There were larvae! And … drum roll, please, The Engineer spotted the queen! She was big and beautiful, but moving too fast for me to get a picture.

They were bringing in pollen and nectar, so we took out the food, gave them DFM, added frames, closed the hive up, and left them to it.

Next, we turned to Buzzers’. They also had larvae. I’ve zoomed in and circled them in the picture on the right. Have a look, then enlarge the one on the left, and see if you can spot the larvae there.

There also still had plenty of bees in the hive despite being split a few weeks ago.unnamed-6
If you look on the bottom of this frame, you’ll see burr comb, which could be mistaken for queen cells if you’ve never seen a queen cell. (Or, like me, you could freak out the first time you see a drone cell.)

Queen cells are shaped more like a peanut. Below are some from last year. The frame on the left is being held sideways (cells would normally be pointed down). Once it gets to the point that they’ve built this many queen cells (and there were many more in that hive), the bees are going to swarm. Ours did despite us splitting them at this point. We were too late.

But, Buzzers’ had no queen cells to steal for for California Girls. In a way, this was good, although it means Cali Girls will have to use eggs to make an emergency queen cell. But the lack of more queen cells means we may have managed to avoid swarming this year.

I’m crossing my fingers because you can never be sure what those girls are going to do.

We also saw Buzzers’ queen, still going strong. Two for two, so far.

I got a nice picture of them festooning on the bottom of a frame, which I’m including simply because I love using the word “festoon.” unnamed-8
Sometimes, you take a frame out, and they do this between frames, like a bee bridge. Maybe I’ll get a photo of that next time, and I’ll be able to use my newly favorite word again. 🙂

Their honey super was full of beautiful honey, just being capped, so we added another super, and left them to it. We put an empty quilt box on to help ventilate the hive. A recent purchase, a quilt box is mostly used to absorb moisture in the winter, but can also be used now.

We took our drink break here. Feel free to do the same.

Finally, we turned our attention to the wild and crazy California Girls.

Looking inside this hive reminded me of inspecting our FreeBees hive (Summer 2018-March 2020, also Saskatraz), which at  I won at Queen Right Colonies‘ Open Day in 2018 .

Like then, there were so many bees they seemed to be boiling up from inside the hive. Not in a bad way — they weren’t aggressive. There were just so many bees.

We’d smoke them so we could pull a frame, they’d go down, and by the time we’d get the frame out, they’d look like this again.

unnamed-10They were also making lots of lovely honey. unnamed-9Clearly, they needed space, and we were there to give it to them.

To make it three for three, we also found this queen. And by “we,” I mean The Engineer spotted all of them. I was most impressed by his finding the NewBees (II) queen because she was both unmarked and fast!

We caught the queen, and put her in the top hive box, which we had moved to make one hive into two. Because there were still so many bees in the box we were leaving for the split, we shook two brood frames of bees from there in with the queen. (By choosing brood frames, a beekeeper ensures most of the bees we shake are nurse bees, rather than foragers who are oriented to the old hive. Nurse bees will be more likely to stay with the new hive and eventually orient to it.)

The super was full of lovely honey, also in the process of being capped, so we added another super, gave them a beetle trap, and fed them some DFM.

Thus, the original California Girls were now in a new place with a setup of two brood boxes and two supers.

The new split remained in place on the hive stand, with a brood box and another box on top to feed from. We ended up putting some frames in that box on either side of the syrup jars because they still had so many bees. We also fed them pollen patties and DFM. Next week, we’ll probably have to fill the second box with frames, or they’ll start building comb, and it will be a mess.

We can put another deep (brood) box on to use for feeding them, or even a super if they’re making a lot of honey, but won’t mess with them too much while they’re making a new queen. It’s a delicate process, plus it’s important not to give them too much to defend if they don’t have enough bees, probably not a problem with these girls.

They looked like this when we were done. Does that look like an underpopulated hive to you? I half think the quilt box should go on this hive!unnamed-5
We are calling them “MayBees” because Maybee they’ll make a queen.

unnamed-4Our new setup looks like this. Left to right: NewBees(II), MayBees, Buzzers’ Roost (II) (with its quilt box smiley face), and California Girls.

Using the picnic table as a stand for California Girls is temporary. It’s several feet high to inspect without a ladder. You probably don’t need to be told this, but it’s not a good idea to be lifting boxes of bees up and down a ladder (slight understatement).

Hive boxes get very heavy. A deep ten-frame brood box (the big boxes) full of honey can weigh eighty pounds, slightly less for brood, and a full ten-frame honey super (medium boxes on top) can weigh up to fifty, so even Buzzers’ is going to be challenging for us (and by “us,” I mean The Engineer) to lift.

Suffice to say, if I were beekeeping on my own, I’d either be using medium and small boxes or eight-frame boxes, probably a combination of both.

When The Engineer made the hive stand (which has proven perfect for our needs (once he shortened it), we thought we were being optimistic in planning that we might someday in the distant future have three hives. We certainly didn’t expect to have four.

Of course, with bees and Ohio weather and Varroa being what they are, that will probably change.

 

 

 

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.

Honey, Honey

Fact: Each honeybee makes about 1/12 teaspoon of honey in her lifetime. (See here http://goldenblossomhoney.com/education_bees.php and here https://www.apexbeecompany.com/honey-bee-facts/ for more bee facts.)

Keep this in mind as you read.

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.

Before we could harvest that honey, we had to move the bees out of the supers. They are several ways of doing this, but we use an escape board because it seems less intrusive than the other methods (discussed here: https://www.dummies.com/home-garden/hobby-farming/beekeeping/how-to-remove-the-bees-from-the-honey-supers-in-your-beehive/).

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.

Photo from Queen Right Colonies online catalog (https://www.queenrightcolonies.com/product/uncapping-cold-knife/)

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.

Photo also from Queen Right (https://www.queenrightcolonies.com/product/double-sieve-stainless-steel-honey-strainer/)

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.

The Opposite of Too Many Queen Cells

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.

I’ll let you know how the requeening goes.

Morning Feedings

It’s been over twenty years since my last one, but I’m back to morning feedings. This time, however, the process doesn’t involve getting up at 4 am, and there is no milk involved.

As you may have guessed, this time around I’m feeding bees, and they eat (drink?) sugar water. A 2:1 mixture, if you must know, with some “Honey-B-Healthy” essential oil mixture to pique their appetite.

And you thought essential oils were just for diffusers.

We’re feeding because we’re trying to help the hives store enough honey for winter.

On our last full hive check before things cooled down, we discovered FreeBees had very little to show for all their activity. Despite the abundance of nectar they had previously stored, they didn’t have much honey. Lots of nectar, but not much honey.

Yet, Buzzers’ Roost was getting heavy, as displayed by the picture below.

It was time to remove the honey supers (the medium-sized boxes generally used for honey that’s meant to be harvested). FreeBees’ needed moved because they needed feeding, and Buzzers’ because we were going to take a little honey for ourselves this year.

An argument could have been made to just move the smaller frames of honey down into the big boxes on Buzzers’ hive because we’re not 100% sure even they have enough, but after two years, we decided we were taking some.

Here’s how that worked:

Morning 1: Take super off FreeBees. Remove queen excluder, and replace with escape board. (For a picture, go back to this post: https://thebyrdandthebees.wordpress.com/2017/11/11/minding-our-bees-and-qs/.) Put super back on. Make feeding mixture and put in large mason jars with holes punched in the lids (pointy bits facing inside of jar).

Morning 2: Take super and escape board off FreeBees. Put deep hive box on top of inner cover, but below outer cover. Invert jar of syrup over something to provide bee space for bees to get beneath it to eat. Encourage bees remaining in escape board to go back in their hive. Move on to Buzzers’ and repeat steps from morning 1.

Morning 3: Repeat steps from morning 2, but do them on Buzzers’. Extract honey from two frames. Return those frames to bees to clean. (We stuck them in the upper deep boxes because the day after we extracted, the weather changed. It’s been too cold to actually get into the hive.) Also return the two full frames of honey we didn’t extract. Freeze remaining frames. Clean all equipment for next year.

I’m starting to think we should focus on harvesting propolis instead of honey.

Every morning since: Replace jars with ones that haven’t been outside in the cold. Not sure if this is necessary, but someone at a bee club meeting once said bees don’t like cold food. True or not, it’s been a good way to keep track of how much food they’re consuming.

We’ll continue the feeding until they stop taking syrup. Also, we’re hoping for a nice day to have one more look inside the boxes. And we need to treat both hives again before wrapping them for winter around Thanksgiving.

But back to our first honey harvest. We took two frames, which we extracted without an extractor. If you’re curious how this works, go here: https://www.keepingbackyardbees.com/extracting-honey-without-extractor/.

This is probably between four and five pounds of honey. I bought honey in the quart jar, and it was labeled as 2.25 pounds. We aren’t selling any so it doesn’t matter.

As things stand, I don’t think FreeBees will survive the winter unless they somehow manage to make enough honey from these feedings. We had a big goldenrod flow, and they seemed to be gathering as much as Buzzers’ so I’m not sure what went wrong

The two things I do know are I don’t really know anything, and anything could happen.

We can feed them, but in the end, the bees’ survival is up to the bees.

Minding Our Bees and Qs

A quick update on the bees.

  • Despite carefully setting the power washer away from the hives, The Engineer was stung last week when he attempted to wash our deck. Maybe the vibration upset them. Whatever it was, my poor husband ended up cleaning the deck in the August heat clothed from head to toe, including a bee hat and veil. Since his reaction to the sting was nearly identical to mine, I’ve concluded mine was probably one of our girls after all.
  • Below is a short clip of FreeBees on the front of their hive. I learned their “dancing” is also called “washboarding,” and nobody really knows for sure why they do it. It may be they are orienting themselves as mentioned in my earlier post. Or maybe they do it for a completely different reason. It’s interesting that, despite being the same race, Buzzers’ Roost bees haven’t behaved in this manner, especially since both hives seem well-populated.
  • FreeBees also “beard” more than Buzzers’ Roost. Bees do this when it’s hot — kind of hang out on the front of the hive and porch to alleviate the heat. To help in this endeavor, beekeepers can ensure the hive has adequate ventilation (a screened bottom board, more than one entrance, and possibly offset the boxes to allow more air to circulate) and water nearby. We’d already taken off the robbing screens, and both hives have screened boards, and top and bottom entrances, so all that was left was offsetting the boxes, which we did yesterday. We also set out a dish of water with sides shallow enough to prevent drowning while drinking. I’d done this earlier in the summer, but the bees ignored it. We’re trying again anyway.

  • The goldenrod is blooming! And as you can see from the video, our girls are as busy as bees, making their home a veritable hive of activity. (Sorry, but as soon as I sit down to write about them, the clichĂ©s flow just like, well, honey.) Maybe this new bounty will improve their mood. If you look carefully below, you’ll see cells packed with yellow pollen, and the glisten of nectar in a few other cells.

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  • I had high hopes of seeing honey in the supers, but there was only a smidgen in Buzzers’ Roost and none at all in FreeBees. Still, I caught the faint whiff of butterscotch (some compare the scent of goldenrod honey curing to dirty socks, but it’s butterscotch-y to me), so maybe they’ve got some in the deep boxes.
  • We’ve avoided doing lengthy hive checks during the past month. No point in annoying them more than necessary! Yesterday’s check was just a quick peek at the supers.
  • Both hives have had issues with hive beetles. We’ve been using the traps, changing them out regularly, and are again trying the microfiber cloth. We tried this several times last year with Buzzers. Each time, they carried every strip of cloth all the way down through two deep boxes and out the front. Perhaps with a new queen, and all all new bees, they’ll leave it in place to catch beetles. Good news is: There were no flags of cloth out front this morning.
  • We still need to do an alcohol wash and mite count. Depending on the results, one or both hives may be due for another treatment before too long. I’m a little nervous about this, especially with FreeBees, because the process kills all the test bees, and their queen isn’t marked. If the weather cooperates, we’ll try for this weekend, maybe get an idea of their stores in the process. Please cross your fingers that all goes well.

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Zucchini relish 

In other news (and I use the term “news” loosely), I’ve been trying out new recipes like crazy in an effort to waste as little of our CSA share as possible. Earlier this month, I made and canned zucchini relish.

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Spicy-hot, But Not Atomic, Zucchini Tomato Salsa

This week, it was zucchini tomato salsa. It’s definitely zucchini time!

They look a lot alike, but taste completely different. Both delicious, of course!

Soon, it will be pepper season, which means hot pepper jelly. I always make as many jars as possible because I give it as gifts at the holiday.

Pears, apples, and cider will follow, and be transformed into jars of applesauce, jams and jellies.

I know it’s silly, but I find canning so satisfying, not only for the food, but because it’s like a connection to my ancestors. My parents grew and canned almost all the jellies, fruit and vegetables we ate. They also put up grape and tomato juice. And I know that’s how my grandma and grandpa, and their parents managed to raise families down in West Virginia. Somewhere in heaven, I know Grandma is laughing that I’m so proud of a few jars in my pantry.

That’s okay. She, Grandpa, and my dad would also be pleased. And I know my mom is because she tells me so every time I take her a jar of jelly.