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.

Little Insects, Big Investment

There’s no two ways about it — getting into beekeeping is a costly endeavor. To make it worse, it’s generally advised that you buy new equipment. The reason is simple, and you probably know it already unless you live under a rock, in which case you wouldn’t be reading this blog. Raising bees these days means launching yourself into an ongoing battle against diseases and pests. Buying used equipment can mean buying another’s problems, definitely not the way to start.

Since I’m the queen of thrift shops and garage sales, and The Engineer is strongly (and intelligently, I might say) anti-waste, starting a new activity with completely new equipment is a rare exception to our usual mode of operation. A sense of foreboding warns me beekeeping may prove to be an exception in a lot of other ways too.

To begin with, it’s best to take a class. Ours was held at the local library on two Saturdays and cost $85 per person or $100 per family. We spent fourteen hours learning about the fascinating world of the honey bee.  If you ever take up beekeeping, I highly recommend you do the same. The $100 included a book, The Backyard Beekeeper, by Kim Flottum, which has rapidly become our bible.

I must add the world of the honey bee is also a frightening one. And that has nothing to do with their sting. It’s those pests and diseases I mentioned, especially the Varroa Mite.

A Varroa Mite is a scary thing. Their scientific name, Varroa Destructor, is well-earned. These nasty creatures latch on to bee larvae and pretty much devour them alive. But that’s not the scariest part. They also latch on to the adult bees, thereby making the bees vulnerable to a laundry list of other diseases and pests. (I won’t share that list. Just thinking about it is a little worrying.)

Varroa_Mite

Varroa Destructor  See what I mean? Scary! Photo credit: Wikipedia

Still, forewarned is forearmed and all that. <crosses fingers>

We also learned what we’d need to start a hive. Having already visited a beekeeping store, we weren’t too shocked, but the list of required tools and equipment can be daunting.

Here’s what Flottum recommends:
Screened bottom board
At least 3 assembled medium-depth brood chambers (sometimes called supers) with assembled frames and foundation (30)
At least two additional medium supers for honey
Entrance reducers for the hive’s front door
Inner cover, outer cover

We chose to use “deeps” for the brood chambers, which meant we only needed two. Getting them plus honey supers, entrance reducer, inner and outer covers, bottom board, and all the frames and foundations in a kit for $275.00 (unpainted, but assembled). 

 

Parts-std-hive2

Photo from articles.extension.org

Queen excluder (optional) $10.95
Mouse guard $2.95
Bee suit with veil (Some people say the suit is optional, and many recommend gloves, but everything I read said you need the hat and veil at the very least. Also, many people wear a jacket instead of a full suit.) My jacket with veil, and my gloves came to around $150.00. It’s very chic.
Hive tools, at least two $6.00- $15.95 each
Smoker and fuel $34.95-$42.95 — we went for the medium priced one at $38.95
Hive stands to hold heavy hives (should support at least 500 lbs) The Engineer made ours out of lumber we purchased using a Lowes gift card he got for being such an exceptional engineer. His preliminary design, the design he used, which he ammended from one I found online, and the final product are pictured below. It’s pretty sturdy, will be set on four patio paving stones, with mulch around the area. 


Hive-top sugar-syrup feeder pail, jar, or hive-top feeder, can use mason jars. I’m a canner, so we have plenty.
Books, magazines, catalogs, and other information Along with Flottum’s book, we got lots of catalogues at our beekeeping class. Subscription to beekeeping magazine was about $20.00, and I also bought a few additional books costing a total of about $40.00.

Honey bees and a queen Cost depends on what kind you get, and where you get them. I will do a separate post on this later. 

To our list, we added baby powder (for gloves, figure a couple of dollars) 2 mist bottles (one for sugar water and one for alcohol to make clean-up easier, Lowes gift card), paint for the hive (also Lowes — it was less than $5.00), duct tape (always useful and always on hand — what design do you think the bees would like?), a frame perch to hold empty frames while inspecting the bees (The Engineer is making), blocks for on top of hive (on hand), notebook (plenty left over from Darling Daughter’s school years), pail to hold tools, a piece of board to scrape waste on, a bee brush ($6.00), and a cell cap scratcher ($8.00). We will purchase or make velcro scraps to discourage bees from exploring up our trouser legs (not sure of cost), pollen or pollen substitute ($6.95 – $82.00 depending on how much you need) and an eating stimulant ($30.00- $150.00, depending on how much you need). These were all recommended in one book or another and made sense to us.

I should note here that you can save money by making, assembling, or even just painting your own hives and stands. There’s also another type of hive that’s more easily constructed, and thus more economical, called a “top bar hive.” Click through for more information.

And when we get to the point where we can harvest honey, there are more supplies to purchase.

You can total it up if you like.
I’d rather not.