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.

Behold, There Was Brood

There’s a quote I read about beekeeping that sums up our experience perfectly. I can’t find the exact words, but it’s something like “The more I learned about bees, the less I knew, until finally I knew nothing at all.”

From our last post, you’ll know there was no eggs, no larvae, and very little brood in any of our hives, with FreeBees having gone the longest with nothing in sight.

Consequently, I had ordered two new queens.

We used to name our queens but have long since stopped – we’ve been through so many. And if you wonder how much this turnover of queens costs, we pay $42 for a marked Saskatraz queen.

It gets expensive, which is why we were so delighted NewBees raised a queen. (That would be the one who has disappeared. Sigh.)

I’m sure part of the problem is we’re not the best at locating our royalty. The only solution for that is keeping on trying.

So, here’s where I admit I know nothing.

Before we put in new queens, we decided to check the hives one nlast time just to verify they weren’t “queen right” (when a hive has a laying queen and all is copacetic), even though we were pretty sure they were queenless (“queen wrong”?).

Buzzers had nothing, and we’re quite sure there’s no queen. She was marked – therefore easier to spot.

NewBees had nothing either. No new brood, no larvae, no eggs, therefore no queen, despite having all of the above a few weeks ago.

FreeBees was a different story. Not only was there now capped brood, there was also larvae.

Surprise!

After thinking about what might explain the no brood, then brood situation in that hive, I’ve come up with a possible scenario.

FreeBees was full of queen cells when we split it. We took out all but one, which we put in NewBees. Then we went to France. When we returned, NewBees was in great shape, but FreeBees was without a queen.

Or so we thought.

I think FreeBees had a queen, but she was a new queen who hadn’t mated yet, or maybe just hadn’t started laying because I think they swarmed while we were gone, leaving behind the new unmated queen. (When bees swarm, the old queen goes with the swarm).

Hence, the temporary lack of new bees.

That’s my theory.

But what do I know?

Today, we introduced the new queens into NewBees and Buzzers, so it’s possible we may end up with three full hives, which wasn’t our plan.

Queenless or queen right, all three hives are still growing heavy with honey, especially FreeBees.

In fact, next week, we’ll be pulling some full deep frames to store for them and replacing them with empties so they don’t get too crowded.

Below are some photos of the queens in their cages with their attendants before we put them in the hive. Sorry, I couldn’t get a really clear shot.

And here are pictures of FreeBees and NewBees hanging out on their front porches due to the heat. This is called “bearding”and sometimes – when there are a lot of bees – it can look like a beard on the hive.

It’s not surprising they’d want to cool off. It’s been in the 90s today, with high humidity. Sitting on the front porch fanning seems a reasonable reaction.

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.

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.

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 clichés 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.

img_0537

  • 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.

unnamed-6

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.

unnamed-7

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.