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.

OH, Girls! New Queen, Oh My!

The girls have done it! They’ve managed to create a beautiful new queen.

Can you find her? Admittedly, both of the pictures only show her abdomen, so the task may not be easy. And she’s not that big-eyed, fat one in the upper corner. That’s a drone, hanging around the honey as usual.

GIve up? Let me make it easier for you.

There she is! In the middle of the purple circle.

Of course, it was The Engineer who spotted her, as usual, and what a relief it was to see her.

She’s quite new, possibly still unmated, though she is already nice and fat. Could be she’s just not finished with her “maiden flights.”

There were no eggs or larvae yet, so she’s definitely not begun laying.

But now we have two queen right hives — definitely cause for celebration.

OH, Girls also kept busy while waiting for royalty to emerge. They have been socking away nectar and turning it into sweet, sweet honey.

In addition, they completely rebuilt the wax frames they took a dislike to.

Newly made comb is so gorgeous!

And since, unlike the last time, these frames aren’t in the brood chambers, there’s no chance of them being used as drone comb, which means we won’t be over-run with drones.

Next, we took a look at the Kremlin.

They have a great deal of pollen, nectar, and honey (both new and old). I think the pollen is probably a mix as well, but I still love to wonder about the sources of the various colors.

As you can see, there were a fair amount of drones in the hive — the result of those workers who were laying before Olga came along and set them straight.

Speaking of Olga, here she is.

I’m not 100% happy with her laying pattern. It’s kind of spotty, with brood and larva mixed together and backfilled with nectar and pollen.

Also, in the picture above, it looks like her eggs might not be being laid in the middle of the cells.

The off-center eggs are more clear in this picture.

I’ve heard sometimes new queens take a little while to get going properly, so this is something we’ll keep an eye on.

Another possible explanation for the spotty pattern (but not the off-center eggs) is the workers had backfilled many of the cells on the frames with nectar and pollen. We added another deep box with some more open frames to help alleviate this.

To add fuel to this particular fire, it looks to me like the bee in the center bottom of the picture above has a varroa mite under its wing.

We treated this package when we received it (before it had any brood) and had planned to treat both the others within the next week, but it looks like we need to hit this one again too.

Finally, we went into the split just enough to remove the bottom board and peek at the bottom of the top box to see if there were queen cells.

The weather has turned (again), and we expect temperatures in the mid 80s (F) all week. Thus, we are pulling all the boards so they have ventilation through the screened bottom. That particular hive setup requires you to almost pick up the whole hive to remove the board.

There was at least one open queen cell, but in my quick look, I couldn’t tell if it had been opened, or was just not yet capped, though I suspect and hope the former. When we looked in on the 26th, there was an uncapped queen cell. That was eleven days ago, so it’s entirely possible the uncapped queen cell we saw then with larva in it has since been capped and the new queen emerged.

Michael Bush’s “bee math” gives the following figures for bee development, and a queen cell is capped at eight days, with her hatching eight days later (give or take a few). If we saw the cell just before it was capped (and the larva in it was good-sized, so this is possible), she may be out and taking maiden mating flights.

Days until:
Caste Hatch Cap  Emerge	
Queen  3½   8 ±1 16 ±2 Laying        28 ±5
Worker 3½   9 ±1 20 ±1 Foraging      42 ±7
Drone  3½  10 ±1 24 ±1 Flying to DCA 38 ±5

Once again our fingers are crossed.

Filed under “Other Beekeeping Activities,” yesterday we attended the Lorain County Beekeepersfield day at Queen Right Colonies.

We last attended in 2018, when I won a beehive. In 2019, we were in France, and last year, of course, it was cancelled because of the pandemic, so we were eager to see what this year had in store.

To start with, we learned a bit about queen rearing from the folks of Z’s Bees. Mostly, we learned, as we always do when we attend a program on raising queens, that we’re not yet ready for that particular activity.

We next attended “Assessing Hive Health” and “Maintaining Hive Health” with Peggy Garnes, who happens to be the president of the Ohio State Beekeepers Association. Since she also sold us our first hive and was one of the instructors at the Beginner Beekeeping Course we took (twice), we knew her sessions would be worth our time.

It was a treat to watch her work as she took apart and inspected two hives, commenting on what she found, why she worked the way she did, and what next steps she would advise for each.

Several facts I found interesting:

  1. New sister/sister queens won’t usually kill each other. Half-sisters will. That is, if two queens hatch from eggs fertilized from sperm of the same father, they are unlikely to commit sororicide (yes, I had to look that one up). This is similar to something I heard at one of the (many!) classes we took. It seems a worker bee will always favor a full sister over a half-sister when feeding them as larvae.
  2. If you drop the queen, pick her up and reinsert her into the back of the hive rather than the front, and the bees will be more likely to recognize her as their own queen, rather than a strange bee.
  3. And the best fact of all: Ants produce formic acid!!! And what do beekeepers spend lots of money on to treat their hives for Varroa? FORMIC ACID!!! This means we’ve wasted five years fighting ants in our hives. Learning that fact alone was worth the price of admission.

Actually, there was no price of admission, but if there had been, I’d have gladly paid it to learn that!

Still, LCBA once again raffled off two hives, and I contributed to their coffers by entering.

They also had several guessing games, which were free. I guessed “the weight of the candle” and the “number of corks in the bottle,” but declined to stick my hand in the enclosed box to name the items within.

The “Bee Race” sounded like an interesting event, so I bought The Engineer the chance to be selected to participate. This involved six contestants each being provided with a marked worker bee in a queen cage. The contestants (both insects and people) were then driven several miles away. The person whose bee got back to the hive first won the pot of money collected for the tickets.

“Stuff the Queen Cage” sounded more painful than any possible prize could possibly be worth. Yes, it was exactly what it sounds like — stuffing as many bees as you could into a queen cage, with points deducted for every sting.

We didn’t even stay to watch.

The raffles and door prizes were awarded before those two events, and to my surprise, I won both guessing games I entered.

I’d known I was a contender for the number of corks because when I wrote down my guess, the lady taking the guesses looked at it and said I was very close.

However, the candle weight win was a surprise, although my guess was based on the many pounds of birdseed I buy for my mom’s and our feeders and all the dirt I’ve recently lifted to fill the pots that make up my garden. There were actually two winners for that game, and I was set to forego my prize since I’d already won, but then I saw they had two prizes, so I accepted.

Both my prizes were “Candle Flex” molds, a wise man and a shepherd. Since I’ve been wanting to start candle making (after a brief, not-very-successful foray into it last year), these high-quality forms will be very handy.

The winner of the “items in the box” was seated right next to me, so people were beginning to make comments about us sitting in the lucky row of seats.

When we registered for the event that morning, each attendee was given a ticket for the door prizes. The Engineer took charge of ours, and when they called one of the numbers, he went up to collect our new “Pro Nuc.”

Pro nuc box
Ours is a different color, but this is the product.

We will find this very useful either as a swarm box or as something to hold frames when we take them out for inspection.

In fact, The Engineer just informed me, it’s already up a tree as a swarm trap.

I was never lucky at winning things, but in the last ten years or so, my luck seems to have changed.

I’ve won:

  1. A pair of Keen boots
  2. A Leatherman
  3. A beehive
  4. A smoker
  5. Instructions for making a top-bar hive
  6. An uncapping tank (pictured in this post)
  7. A Broodminder and several drone frames (we don’t use either anymore — the Broodminder gave up the ghost last year, and the drone frames were more trouble than they were worth)
  8. Two candle molds

As you can see, most the prizes have to do with beekeeping. From this I can only conclude that we were destined to be beekeepers. 🙂

Between Saturday’s Field Day and our Monday-Thursday camping trip, we also drove 1-1/2 hours to the Harry Clever Field in New Philadelphia where our plane is being annualed. If you’re unfamiliar with general aviation plane maintenance, you may be surprised to learn every plane has to be taken apart each year and inspected by a Certified A&P Mechanic. To cut costs, we try to do as much of the work as allowed. This means, we take out seats, take up carpet, and remove inspection panels (lots of inspection panels — usually my job). Otherwise, we’d be paying mechanics’ wages to have someone else do what is mostly unskilled labor. Once the inspection is completed, we put back in the carpet and seats, and replace the inspection panels and trim.

That was Friday. You’ve just read about Saturday and Sunday, and I’ve already written about Monday-Thursday.

After this very busy week, I expect the next to be much the same. We’re both back to work, have the bees to treat, the airplane to finish, and strawberries are coming in, which means if I want to make strawberry margarita jam, it has to be this week or I risk not being able to get the berries.

I certainly don’t want to miss making the best strawberry jam in the world. (This links to a recipe very similar to the one I use, though it’s not exactly the same.) I mean, any strawberry jam is good with me, but including lime and tequila somehow works to make the flavor of the strawberries more clear.

I have some jalapeños in the fridge, and I think I’ll try adding a few of those to the second batch just to add a little kick.

I’ll keep you posted on how it turns out.

P.S. We had a little mead tasting with some out-of-town beekeeper friends who came in for the field day, and I think Sourpuss is my new favorite, although Ginger Rogers and Hot Mama are still contenders. Alas, OH, Honey needs more time to get rid of a yeasty smell.

All Hail the Dying Queen

The Engineer: “I forgot the blue dot was almost worn off the queen. I wasn’t really looking for an unmarked queen.”

Me: “She’s dead. There were no eggs, and the few larvae we spotted were on the verge of being capped.”

The Engineer: “Yes, but I’d feel better if we went through that hive again.”

Me: <sigh> “She’s dead.”

The Engineer: “If we look and don’t see her, we’ll know to go ahead and get another queen to introduce.”

Me: “Okay. But, if we’re going to look, we have to do it early because it’s supposed to rain tomorrow. Then, if we don’t find her, I’ll order a queen.”

The Engineer: “Okay.”

It was thus that this morning found us once again going through the OH, Girls split, carefully studying each frame before placing it in a different, empty box. Doing the inspection this way, if the queen was still alive, she wouldn’t be able to slip back to a frame we’d already pronounced queen-free.

Frame 1: Old honey (from previous hives) with some fresh comb. No queen.

Frame 2: No queen, but lots of nectar and a little freshly capped honey. Isn’t it beautiful?

Here’s a closeup of a drone. See the big eyes and fat body? Naturally, he’s in the pantry with all the food! And look how fuzzy that little worker is next to him. She must be very young to still be so furry!

Frame 3: Pretty much a repeat of the second, except for several queen cups and the queen cell with a larva in it we’d seen yesterday. There were lots of bees tending to it, so much so that it was difficult to get a good picture of the larva.

You can just barely see the larva glistening inside, and the cell was longer than it was yesterday.

There were also a few more queen cups that may or may not have had larvae in them. It was hard to tell. I didn’t take pictures of all of them, but when I look at the ones I did, I think maybe my seeing larvae is wishful thinking.

Then we got to frame 4, and there was Her Royal Blueness. Her blue dot was gone, her thorax appeared to be — I can’t think of a better word — dented, and she was barely moving. Truly, she was in a sorry state. It makes me sad to even look at her.

We have no idea how she got into this state. When we put her in the split, she was in great shape, scurrying around as queens do.

Did she get rolled between two frames when we put the others in? Or what?

Now I wonder if we should have pinched her, both to put her out of her misery and so the other bees know without a doubt they don’t have a viable queen.

We didn’t, and we’re not going back in there, disturbing them further as they go about the delicate process of replacing their queen.

The fact they are making one would seem to indicate they are well aware of their situation.

RIP Her Royal Blueness. You served your hive well. We’ll consider ourselves lucky if your daughter queen turns out to be half as good as you.

Because of this fact, and because the bees clearly are making at least one new queen, we are going to let them get on with it instead of ordering a replacement.

The No Queen Blues

We’re singing the No Queen Blues again, which is appropriate because Her Royal Blueness seems to have disappeared.

Before I share those blues, let’s first do a little happy dance because Olga the White Russian has settled into the Kremlin and commenced to laying!

Olga and some tiny larvae
More larvae
Can you spot the eggs?

Bee eggs look like tiny grains of rice. They more or less stand straight up when they have just been laid, before beginning to tilt and then turning into larvae by the third day. So most of the eggs above have been recently laid.

This frame of brood looks a little spotty … until you notice the larvae in most the open cells.
Zoom in on this one, and you may see some very tiny larvae near the upper righthand corner, as well as bees that are hatching.
If you zoom in on the middle of this frame, you’ll see eggs in the process of tilting over.

And below are several frames of bees eating honey we spilled on the top of their frames. Can you see some of the bees’ proboscises (tongues)?

When we peeked in the supers (medium-sized boxes usually used for honey) on OH, Girls, we were curious to see how they liked the two frames of wax comb we’d given them. Though we usually use plastic foundation anecdotal wisdom seems to hold that bees prefer wax, and we decided to give them a try.

Apparently, our bees weren’t consulted for those anecdotes. Now we are left wondering: Was it the wax they didn’t like, the string we used to stabilize it, or both?

From what we can tell, they’ve repurposed the wax from the foundation and begun to build their own on the bottom because there’s a slight difference in color.

We took out the string, and reinserted those two frames.

Since they’d filled the rest of the frames with nectar, we added another super. The hive is also still quite populated, so we added the empty quilt box for ventilation. If you recall, this winter we used the same box filled with wood chips for insulation on another hive.

Here’s the new configuration.

Finally, we turned to the OH, Girls split, the hive we were confident would be in good shape.

The Engineer had quickly looked through this hive a few days ago and not seen Her Blueness, but since he saw some brood, we weren’t too concerned.

Today we looked more closely, and found mostly capped brood being backfilled by nectar i.e., as the bees hatch, their cells are filled with honey rather than new eggs. There were also just few large larvae, none of the tiny stuff you see in the pictures from the Kremlin, and no eggs at all.

And there was no royalty in sight … except — and this may save us — a small uncapped queen cell with larva in it.

Yes, I know, I should have taken a picture.

According to Mike Bush, a queen is capped at about eight days, which means we have some waiting to do.
Again.

We also may have some queen buying to do if OH, Girls aren’t successful at requeening. According to Bush’s “Bee Math,” we should know sometime in mid June.

If they haven’t managed to requeen, or if the new queen is unsuccessful at mating or laying, or if the queen cell in the split is unsuccessful, we’ll have to buy a queen (or possibly two). Since a Saskatraz queen (our preferred race) is $46, including marking, this can be an expensive endeavor.

Still, at least there will be queens available if needed.

And both the split and the original hive will have had a break in the brood cycle — helpful for both discouraging Varroa and for using the easier method of vaporized Oxalic Acid, rather than the more lengthy Formic Pro strip treatment.

Of course, we will have to remember to take honey supers off the full-sized hive before applying the vapor because it’s not meant to be used with them on, but that’s easily done.

Speaking of honey, I’ve got high hopes that OH, Girls will soon have some capped and ready for extraction.

Stay tuned for more “Bee Music.”

The North Wind Did Blow

The north wind doth blow
And we shall have snow,
And what will poor robin do then?
Poor thing.

She’ll sit in the barn,
And keep herself warm,
And hide her head under her wing.
Poor thing.

When my friend and I went for our morning walk Tuesday, I took photos. The flowering trees were just coming into full bloom, and I wanted to document their loveliness because I knew what was coming.

Wednesday, I woke up to this.

View from our back door. I’d say that was at least 6″ of snow, wouldn’t you?
This is a flowering tree (crab apple, I think). Not a large bush, a tree with its limbs bent over by heavy spring snow.
Yep. Those are flowers from that same tree.

That night, it got down into the lower 30s or upper 20s. By then, I didn’t want to know the details.

This, amazingly, is that same tree this morning, still blooming over the compost heap.

On Tuesday, it’s supposed to hit 83 F.

My point is it’s been a week of extremes. Coming immediately after we learned our new hive, GeeBees, had no queen, this is not the best scenario.

If you recall, we put in jars of sugar water with Honey B Healthy Amino-B Booster to encourage them to make a new queen from the frame of eggs we’d stolen from OH Girls.

Unfortunately, it didn’t occur to me that sugar patties might have served them better since bees don’t usually like to drink sugar water during cold weather.

Today we had a quick look at the levels of the jars of food and discovered they had consumed very little, if any. We’ve always read/heard it’s best to leave hives alone when they are (hopefully) in the delicate business of making a queen, so we didn’t look any further, just gave them fresh jars and closed the hive.

Once again, we are left sitting on our hands (with fingers crossed) and waiting.

The good news is their workers are foraging and bringing in pollen. They have fewer bees, so it’s not surprising they have fewer foragers than OH Girls, but at least they’re doing what bees are meant to do in the spring.

OH Girls, on the other hand, are thriving to the extent that we expect to have to split the hive soon. We saw Her Royal Blueness, and she’s clearly keeping busy because there were many frames of capped brood and larvae. It was cloudy, making it difficult to tell if there were eggs, but there was one frame with tiny larvae — not much past the egg stage.

So far, they’ve only made a few queen cups and not queen cells. With so much brood however, we expect to see those peanut-shaped cells when we do our next check, especially because schedule conflicts will push it back to a few weeks from now, rather than the usual seven to ten days.

One advantage to the delay is we’ll also be able to have a more complete check of GeeBees to see if they have requeened. If not, we will move a few queen cells from OH Girls (if they’ve made any).

We’ll probably still have to do a split because moving a frame with queen cells won’t do anything about the bees feeling crowded.

If OH Girls haven’t made queen cells, and GeeBees haven’t made a queen, we’ll have to buy one and go through the whole introduction thing again.

OH Girls have begun to load frames in the classic football or rainbow shape, with brood in the middle, surrounded by pollen, nectar, and honey, which is something we like to see.

Why do we like to see this? Probably because we’ve heard they should do it. Plus, it demonstrates a certain kind of logic — putting food for the brood near the cells where it will be needed.

This article on checking a hive has a good photo at the bottom that demonstrates what I mean.

I took just one picture — this little worker with her small load of pollen. I tried to get one of her sisters, who was loaded with bright orange pollen. Too bad she was not in the mood for the paparazzi and flew away. 🙂

In other news, I got my first vaccine yesterday at a drive-up location. I was worried because having had COVID makes you more likely to have side effects, and one of my co-workers who had the illness last spring(!) was laid up for days.

Imagine then, the smugness of my smile when I woke up today with only a sore arm.

Then The Engineer (who got his second shot yesterday) mentioned how cold it was in the house and that he had a “sinus” headache.

“It’s side effects from the vaccine,” I said, smug smile growing wider.

Yeah. You know what’s coming. Within a half hour, I began to feel chilled, with the onset of a headache.

It’s not unbearable, but we’re both going to take it easy the rest of the day and save planting my fruit bushes until tomorrow.

Also, I feel compelled to tell you about a man who came into the grocery store where I work. I asked if he needed help, not even noticing he didn’t have on a mask until my co-worker pointed it out.

Assuming he’d forgotten his, I got the box of them we keep for such circumstances. When I came back, he was nowhere to be found, and my co-workers told me he’d already been asked to put on a mask.

He pulled one out of his pocket and made some comment about someone already “telling on him.”

I felt like saying, “What are we? Five?”

Having worked a somewhat physical job for over a year wearing a mask to protect myself and others, I must admit I’m finding it difficult to be patient with people with such attitudes.

Must sign off now. I can feel a rant coming on, and I don’t want to get too political.

So, let’s just focus on the bees, shall we?

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.

 

 

 

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.

The Queen is Dead. Long Live the Queen.

The queen is dead.

IMG_3443

Our former queen in her matchbox coffin. The Engineer kept her for several weeks before disposing of her, probably in the hope that someone could tell us why she died.

Long live the queen.

IMG_3749

Our new queen and her attendants in a queen cage. You can’t actually see the queen, but she’s Italian (therefore more yellow than black) and marked with a red dot (this year’s color). And yes, they do ship queens via USPS, but we got ours from a nearby bee supplier.

Except that queen’s almost certainly met her demise by now too.

So, why bother buying a new queen?
Good question, and one that requires a lengthy explanation.

Before you read on, please keep in mind I’m not a beekeeping expert. (I’m not even sure I qualify as a beekeeper yet.) If you’re truly interested in the subject, I suggest you check out a book from your local library.

But this is what I understand from what I’ve read and heard.

When a queen dies, a beekeeper can do one of two things.

S/he can allow the hive to do their thing and raise a new queen from an emergency queen cell. Doing this relinquishes all control over the type of queen that is raised and means accepting that the new queen may not be a strong one since she was raised in a crisis and not as a planned supersedure.

The difference between the two may seem small, but it’s important because a supersedure cell queen was raised from the start to be a queen in a cell designed for queen rearing. An emergency queen is raised in a normal cell that’s been enlarged, sometimes resulting in smaller queens.

The other option is possible only if the beekeeper catches the situation in time. S/he can order a new queen, introduce her, and hope the hive accepts her.

They might, or they might not, for a variety of reasons.
If they’ve started emergency queen cells by the time the new queen arrives, they probably won’t accept her.
If they’re feeling testy for whatever reason — say, for example, because the weather keeps fluctuating between 70* (like today) and snow (as forecast for Monday) — they may not feel like playing nice with a new queen. Hives aren’t overly welcoming to new queens in the best of times, and if you add in any additional stressors, all bets are off.
If the hive has gone too long without a queen, and workers have begun laying eggs, you might be able to get them to accept the new queen, but the process is more complicated.

You didn’t know workers could lay eggs? Generally they can’t because a strong queen’s pheromones will suppress workers’ ovaries. However, if the queen is weak — or dead like ours — workers can and will lay eggs. Since these workers are unmated, all offspring will be drones. You remember drones. They’re the male bees, the ones who do nothing but eat and fly out to try to mate with queens.

Some say the workers lay eggs in a desperate, hopeless effort to raise a new queen, but no one really knows the minds of the bees.

In a beekeeper’s mind though, laying workers are nothing but trouble.

Now you can understand the saga of our deceased queen.

In a previous post, I mentioned The Engineer always checked the dead bees we cleared from the hive this winter to be sure the queen wasn’t one of them.

About three weeks ago, she was.

So we had a look at the hive, going through all three boxes to see what was happening. There was lots of honey, a fair amount of bees, but no eggs, and therefore no supercedure or emergency queen cells.

After speaking to our bee gurus (we now have two), we discovered that we should be able to requeen the hive because the workers probably wouldn’t be laying this early in the season.

The problem was there were no queens available until 10 April. We again consulted bee guru #2 who thought we’d be okay.

We ordered a queen, picked her up Tuesday, and received very specific instructions on how to introduce her. (Remember, this weather makes the bees cranky too.)

On arriving home, we opened the hive to find drone cells.

This was bad news.

I have to emphasize this doesn’t mean our gurus’ advice was wrong. It’s just — repeat after me — no one knows the minds of bees.

Still, it was bad news.

I’d read up a bit on queenless hives, and generally the consensus was once the workers start laying, it’s difficult (if not impossible) to stop them. And if you can’t stop them, the hive will kill any queen you try to introduce.

Yeah. Bees are ruthless that way.

I won’t go into detail on the methods a beekeeper can use to try to introduce a queen into a hive with laying workers except to say due to several factors, none of them are available to us.

All we could think to do was put her into the hive, and let nature take its course.

We have a friend who’s getting a new package of bees in a few weeks. If we still have any bees left by the time her bees settle in, we’ll give them to her. Bees from a hive with laying workers can be introduced into a hive with strong, laying queen (a “queenright hive”) because the laying queen’s pheromones will suppress the laying workers.

By that time, though, our bees may be dead. They are winter bees, which means they’ve been alive a long time and, in the normal course of things, would be dying off as they are replaced by new bees.

It’s likely we’ll have to buy another nuc this year (if we can find one).

Meanwhile, I’m praying for a miracle (because no one knows the minds of bees). Maybe they’ll go against all reasonable expectations and accept her.

Right.

The bright side in this year’s adventures is we now have drawn comb, which will give any future hive a head start on the season. And we have plenty of honey if they come up short for the winter.

 

 

Busy As Bees

Sorry. I couldn’t resist.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_2244

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

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

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

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

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

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

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