Weight and See

Summer is slowly winding down, and the bees have been making the most of the fine weather. They’ve been in a foraging frenzy, perhaps sensing the forthcoming temperature changes.

They’re finally visiting the goldenrod in their own yard!

It cooled down over the weekend, with rain on and off all day today. Each time the showers stop, the foraging begins again.

And yet, when we checked the hives a week or so ago, Buzzers’ Roost had no honey, and FreeBees had very little. Instead, we saw loads of pollen, lots of nectar, and a surprising amount of capped brood.

Still, with all that nectar, there’s bound to be some honey soon.

Check out the graphs below. Notice any trends?

The first two graphs show the weight of the hive over the last month — finally trending upward. The next two show a week each, and you’ll notice daily ups and downs, probably from when the foragers are out.

So, we’re not too worried about honey levels, at least not yet.

Below is a picture of a frame containing both nectar and pollen. We also found several that were filled solely with nectar or solely with pollen. Theoretically, we should be able to identify the source of the pollen by its color, but unfortunately, I’ve not found an accurate chart online. Here are links to two if you’d like to try: Sheffield Beekeepers’ Association and Metrobeekeepers.net. My guess is mostly goldenrod because the fields are full of it.

While we had the hives open, we did alcohol rolls on both. This is supposed to be a more accurate way to count Varroa.

Our count was a big fat zero on both hives.

Yeah, we must have done it wrong.

Either that or the hive beetles are eating them. Don’t even ask how many of those we found. It was too many to count.

Little bastards.

The weird thing is, the bees mostly ignore the beetles. Once in a while, they’ll herd a particularly brazen one into a corner, but then the bees go back to whatever they were doing, and the beetle scuttles away. (Unless we get it first!)

There was propolis everywhere, especially around the beetle traps, which makes me wonder if this is the bees’ response to the pests. There were a few beetle corpses in some of the propolis, so who knows?

Unfortunately, our girls don’t seem to grasp that the traps are there to help them and had propolized the openings where the beetles are meant to enter. At least one trap had every opening completely blocked.

But let’s get back back to the subject of the main hive pest — the dreaded Varroa. For two years, we’ve used drone foundation as part of Varroa control, with very little success.

Last year, the hive used the drone foundation mostly for honey.

This year, both hives have ignored them.

Until now.

This year, a few short weeks — okay, a few short months — before the workers start kicking out drones (to lower the number of mouths they have to feed in the winter), FreeBees has decided to make drone cells. Half the foundation was full of capped drone brood, and there were more cells on the top of some of the other frames.

Weird. Also unusual in placement. Drone cells are usually at the bottom of hive frames.

Whatever. It’s their hive. They can do what they want.

As we’d been instructed, we removed the drone foundation and opened the cells to check for Varroa, but found none there either.

I can’t believe there are no mites at all, but am willing, even eager, to believe the treatments have been working, and the threshold is safely low.

Just to be sure, we will treat both hives with Oxalic Acid before winter after we take off the supers.

I’m still holding out hope that we might be able to pull at least one frame of honey for ourselves.

Glory Bees! They’re Still Alive!

Yesterday morning, the ambient temperature outside was 4* F.

The hive was a toasty 82*.

We know this because the first thing I do each morning after I jump (or stagger) out of bed is aim my phone at the precise point where it receives Bluetooth reception from the hive. (It’s right under a spot where a bird made a small mess, which means I can never wash that window.)

Anyway, 82*.  What a relief!

We had been bracing ourselves for the inevitable truth that the bees wouldn’t make it through winter.The daily readings had been dropping steadily since cold weather began until they were skirting the low 40s.

You see, bees die when their bodies hit about 40*. To survive winter, they form  a “bee ball” and vibrate their bodies to generate heat. (See HoneyBeeSuite for a better explanation.) When there aren’t enough bees, they can’t generate enough heat, and the hive will die.

Between the Yellow Jackets and the Varroa, we weren’t sure we had enough bees.

Still, we clung to the hope that maybe the bees hadn’t reached the part of the box with the temperature sensor. Also, from time to time, bee corpses appeared on the “porch” and in front of the hive, leading us to believe they were still moving around inside, trying to keep order.

Or it could have been the bodies of bees mistakenly went out for some reason and froze.

IMG_3223

See the bee bodies on the snow on the porch and the ground?

The hive scale was also showing a slow decrease in weight, but we’re new at this and weren’t sure how much to read into this, though we hoped it meant the girls were eating.

We just didn’t know.

Then, just a few nights ago, the temperature shot up an amazing 20 degrees overnight!

Glory bees! They’re still alive in there!

I’m trying not to get too excited. This doesn’t mean they’ll make it through winter. Many bees make it through the cold part of winter, but die in March because they run out of food.

But for now, they’re okay.

Side note and catch-up time: I was stunned to see my last post was all the way back in November! I apologize for the neglect, and proffer this small catch-up. We managed to move the hive away from where the Yellow Jackets appear to nest and where we hope it will get a little more sun. As part of the procedure The Engineer also shortened the legs of the stand and set up the scale. Then, on the last warm day in early December we seized the opportunity to replace the full honey super, and re-wrap the whole thing.

If we get a warm spell in January or February (above 50), we’ll take a peek and add sugar patties if they are near the top of the hive.

We’ve also learned a good snowfall can add ten pounds to the hive’s weight.

On an unrelated note — though maybe it’s an excuse for my lapse — we’ve been busy cracking black walnuts.

Yes, they fell in November, but you’d be surprised how many nuts two aging trees can produce. Every year, we think they’re dead, and every other year, they surprise us with a crop. This year, it was a bumper one. Harvesting them is a major pain, but that’s a post for another day.

Meanwhile, I hope you can follow our bees’ example and stay warm!

One more thing, if you’re really interested, you can check the temperatures (and in some cases, the weight) of hives around the country by visiting Beecounted.org.

Update: It’s -5* this morning, and the girl’s are still at 77*.