Walkaway, Walkaway

Well, I was going to open this post with something about that Dire Straits song, you know the one with “Walkaway, walkaway” in the words.

Except it turned out to be the lyrics were actually “rock away, rock away” in “Tunnel of Love.”

This is a classic example of a mondegreen, or misheard lyric. More examples are here, and I’m sure if you’re honest, you’ll admit (at least to yourself) that you’ve had your own experience with mondegreens. If I can confess, you can too.

Anyway, part of our bee work today was making a “walkaway split” from OH, Girls. This is the hive that was formerly known as California Girls before earning their new name by successfully overwintering in a cold Ohio winter.

Yes, I know we split them once already in mid-May, but in our last check, the hive was overflowing with bees despite having two deep boxes and three honey supers on.

Also, there were many (many!) queen cups, some that seemed to have larvae in.

It turns out we were wrong about the larvae in the queen cups, but there were even more cups this time, and tons of brood.

This new queen is one busy female!

Too bad we didn’t see her today.

The plan was to split the hive, moving the “old” queen to the split, and leaving eggs and queen cells/inhabited cups in the original hive.

Despite the “old” queen not really being old (since she was made from the split six weeks ago) and despite the queen cups being unoccupied, we still needed to split this hive before they began making swarm queen cells for real.

So that’s what we did.

We split the two brood boxes into two separate hives, added an empty brood box with waxed frames and a few frames started with comb to each, and split the honey supers between them.

When I say, “empty brood box,” I mean a new brood box filled with empty frames and a few frames of brood from the box below. Putting brood in the upper box will encourage the workers to move into their new box.

They went from this setup

to these.

The Engineer behind the two hives.

While we were in the hive, we also stole a peek at the honey supers. Although there were still no completely capped frames, there were many that appeared on the brink of being so, and we are hopeful we may be able to extract honey next weekend.

In the meantime, today we also finally gave in and attempted to extract old honey that’s been in and out of hives and discovered there’s a reason the bees haven’t been using it.

The comb and filling were practically solid, probably because most of it was made from sugar water. At least, that’s my best guess.

In the end, we scraped and power-washed all the foundation, cleaned off the frames, re-waxed the foundation, and used some of it today to create the new second story brood boxes on both hives.

Almost everything that has anything to do with honeybees involves stickiness.

We’ll see how the girls take to it. If they reject it, we’ll be investing in some new frames and foundation.

In short, we spent most of the day working on bee projects. And then we’ve spent most of the rest of it cleaning up after working on those projects.

And once again, we are crossing our fingers that the bees will be successful in creating a new queen.

Orientation Day

The nurse bees we shook into the OH, Girls split seem to have segued into the next stage of their working lives.

The Engineer took this picture of them around the bottom entrance of the hive. He said they seemed to be orienting. Bees do this before flying away from their home so they can find their way back.

They are such incredible creatures! Click through the link above if you’d like a more detailed explanation of the orientation process.

We’re just happy because it’s exactly what they should be doing at this point.

Meanwhile, the OH, Girls main hive continues to be quite active. With the weather seeming to have finally turned (please, God!), and lots of nectar coming in, we’ve decided it’s time to put another box on for honey. After all, while they wait to grow their new queen (please, God!!), they have a bit of a break in eggs being laid. Ergo, less brood to rear, so they can spend more time making honey.

This type of break in brood rearing — whether initiated by the beekeeper with a split or naturally occurring — also helps with integrated pest management. No new eggs and larvae means nowhere for Varroa Mites to lay eggs = a good thing.

As for Olga, The Engineer and I had the following text conversation yesterday while I was at work.

10:56 am
Engineer: Bees eaten through candy plug, but Olga still left inside so left alone again.

12:49 pm
Me: Maybe look Sunday.

1:24 pm
Me: Still alive is good.

2:29 pm
Engineer: Shes out. So many bees inside and outside the cage she was trapped so I released her.

2:33 pm
Me: Were they friendly bees?

2:33 pm
Engineer: To her yes not to me.

2:34 pm
Me: Stung?

2:34 pm
Engineer: No.

Well, that was a relief.

Later I learned he’d been unable to locate his bee jacket (which zips to the hat and veil) because when I washed them on Wednesday, I forgot and left them in the washer. Whoops!

Next steps:

  • We put a box on OH, Girls and hope for honey.
  • We wait again, this time to see if Olga begins to lay.
  • And we wait to see if OH, Girls are successful in making a queen.
  • If they aren’t successful, we may have to buy one.

The excitement never ends.

In other news: I got my second vaccine yesterday (Pfizer), and am okay so far. I did wake up at 6:30 with a bad headache, but thankfully ibuprofen took the edge off. (What did our ancestors do without aspirin and other analgesics? Bayer only began manufacturing and selling asprin in 1899. Imagine having to find willow tree bark to make tea or chew on at six in the morning.)

My co-workers told me to expect to fee super tired, but I don’t, at least not yet. What I do feel is sort of off-kilter, with vertigo and lightheadedness. Odd and disorienting enough that I don’t plan to do much today.

Splitsville

On Saturday, as planned (and hopefully not too late), The Engineer and I stole a frame of brood from OH, Girls to help encourage the Olgas (OH-lgas?) to accept their new queen. When you have laying workers, this is meant to make them think the new queen is laying, and therefore is a good queen worthy of their hive.

Yes, I do realize I’m ascribing them with human attributes. It’s the only way I can make sense of honey bee habits.

At any rate, that’s one of the suggestions Bee Culture magazine offers in requeening a hive with laying workers. Of course, their article says this should be done at the same time the queen is introduced and that the hive should be switched with a stronger hive.

We didn’t switch them, and the brood was added a few days after the queen. However, as I mentioned in the last post, we lucked out once before introducing a queen to a hive with laying workers in much worse circumstances, and they accepted the queen. (It was the very beginning of spring when there were no queens to be had for several weeks after The Engineer discovered the dead queen and certainly no brood to add or strong hive to switch with.)

This time, when we discovered the then-named GeeBees (now Olgas) had a dead queen, we put in a frame of eggs, hoping they’d make a queen. They didn’t, but at least for a few weeks they had brood. They now have brood again, as well as a queen, so I’m hoping this at least confuses their tiny minds enough to give Olga a chance.

We also checked OH, Girls, with the intention of splitting the hive. Her Royal Blueness has been laying so well we were worried the hive would swarm. Splitting a hive is sort of like a fake swarm controlled by the beekeeper.

There are many (many!) ways to split a hive. The easiest is called a “walkaway split.” Basically, you divide a strong hive into two, and walk away. The idea is the hive that has the old queen continues on their merry way, and the other raises a new queen. To do this, both hives need to have eggs, or at the very least, very young larvae.

We used this method last year, mainly because we knew the hive was getting ready to swarm and when we went to split it, we didn’t find the queen.

This year, however, we were going to try to do a proper swarm control split, where you take the queen and put her in a new hive with food and brood. You also shake in some nurse bees so the the split is populated.

Nurse bees will stay in the “new” hive, while any foragers caught up in the divide will return to the original hive. I believe this is because the nurse bees haven’t yet oriented to their hive. You see, when bees come out of their cells, their first job generally is cleaning and capping cells. Next, they become nurse bees, tending the brood and queen. Later, they cycle through other jobs (guarding, foraging), only orienting when they start to go outside the hive for their work. For more details, you can read this article from American Bee Journal.

So, by shaking in extra nurse bees, the beekeeper ensures the hive has enough bees to survive.

Meanwhile, both hives think they’ve swarmed. If all goes well, the queenless hive makes a new queen, and the split soon grows into a full-sized hive.

That was the plan for Saturday. However, things didn’t quite go as we intended.

It was a cool day (about 50 F, the coolest we’ll usually do a hive check), but OH, Girls were out foraging, and we thought we’d be okay. We probably would have been, had we not made the mistake of trying to catch the queen to move her when we could have just moved the whole frame.

Her Blueness fell (into the hive, thank heaven!). Unable to find her again, we closed up shop and decided to try again today (Wednesday), when it would be warmer.

GIven the weather that followed on Sunday, it was probably just as well we hadn’t made a new split/nuc. Bees don’t usually swarm when it’s cold, and a full hive has more bees to keep it warm.

Ah, yes, it was a lovely Mother’s Day here, worse even than the cold and rain that was predicted. Dear Readers, we got snow — a lovely, wet, slushy snow, slippery enough that I saw several cars in the ditch when I drove to visit my mom.

This is our deck, after the snow had started to melt.
And here (in this blurry photo — sorry) are some poor, bedraggled birds trying to shelter from the cold.
And this is a picture of the birds on our feeder, taken through the window. I just like the effect of the water on the window. It reminds me of a kaleidoscope.

It finally warmed up today, and I spent a few hours hauling around bags of soil and mixing them with compost (to be fair, The Engineer did most of the mixing). Then I moved all the tiny little plants I’d grown from seed into pots, along with a few others I’d picked up from the nursery. Ground cherries, lemon basil, tomatoes, and more ground cherries, if you want to know, plus I split off some chives and Hen and Chicks for Darling Daughter.

In retrospect, I probably should have first asked if she wanted them.

Ah, well, at least she wants the lemon basil and tomatoes I also potted for her. And the chives and Hen and Chicks needed splitting anyway.

Here would be a good place to mention that the “last frost date” for this area is meant to be May 15, a mere three days away. Also, I checked the weather report before starting, and it didn’t mention anything about frost.

The alert came up on my phone when we finished and came inside to have a cup of tea and a snack.

Sometimes I hate living in Ohio.

Sorry, I digress. I’m supposed to be writing about bees, and so I shall.

After our tea (me) and snack (The Engineer), we again turned to our favorite insects.

Both hives were busily foraging, even though it’s still a bit cool — sunny and maybe 60 F as long as you stay out of the shade, but the breeze is chilly.

You can see OH, Girls are quite active.
Olgas were also foraging, with fewer bees going in and out. It’s a smaller hive, so this makes sense.

A (very) quick peek at that hive today revealed the candy plug still in the queen cage, though they are working their way through it. Also, the bees didn’t seem overly agressive on the cage, so that could be a good sign too.

We turned our attention to OH, Girls. Once again, my observant partner found the queen — unharmed, thankfully, though her blue is wearing off. And this time, we moved the whole frame into the waiting nuc box, gave her another frame of brood and some food, shook in the nurse bees, and closed up shop.

From left to right: OH, Girls nuc, Olgas, and OH, Girls.

Will OH, Girls make a new queen?
Will the Olgas accept their queen?
Will my tomato plants freeze?

I wish I knew. We’ll all have to wait and see.

I hope you can handle the suspense.

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 wedid 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 newsetup 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 mightsomeday 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.