This winter with its crazy yoyo temperatures has to be hard on them, but they are still humming in there. Hope they can make it. I can’t open and feed them again yet.
I lost the big hive, my original hive, quite suddenly at the end of last summer, and these, the new bees, didn’t have long to get established, and God forbid, they may have been infected with the crisis from the other hive. But so far, they’re ok. I’m tense about it.This is two bees at the upstairs door, walking around on the tarpaper the hive is wrapped with. On warm enough days, a few come out walking around or flying.
The bees are doing the strangest thing. They are obsessed with the chicken food, groups of them buzzing and crawling over it all day.
The chickens are a little nervous about this, but they eat anyway.
It started as soon as I opened the last bag of chicken food, so the only thing I can guess is that this particular batch has a lot of pollen in it. If there was some weed in the field or one of the grains in flower at harvest time, pollen might have come to be ground into the feed, and the honeybees are scavenging it right out of the chicken trough.
Every day, the bees are in every chicken dish, all day, working. I’ve never seen such a thing before.
The old bees (on their third summer) are not dividing. I added a fifth super in July. It’s not like five full size supers is unheard of, but it’s tall! I thought they were going to split this year, and I’ve had inviting accommodations all set up, should they feel like swarming. They didn’t.
Now they likely aren’t going to, since it’s too late to set up housekeeping and build up honey stores before the winter. So that’s a huge hive. I guess that means they’re happy. They may winter in three supers this year. Next year, they’ll surely split.
It’s tall! I can’t see into the lounge to check on their syrup, I can’t lift the lid, and I can’t see in if I do, without a ladder. And working off a ladder is terribly hard. I had my first taste of it installing the fifth super, and wow, I kind of wish I’d opted for mixing small and full supers. Moving heavy weight very slowly and smoothly to not crush bees, in a bee suit, is quite a workout – I was dripping, and shaking.
Three weeks ago I got a second hive of bees. Yes, late in the year, but they were from my bee guru, and he was confident I could take them through the winter by putting the syrup to them hard.
I brought them home in the night, seatbelted in on the front seat. They were very quiet. I set them in place on the pre-established base of the hive, with the lid right on top of the nuc box.
First thing in the morning, there was a bee walking about, investigating. Later in the day, there were many bees flying around, mostly backwards, getting their bearings (they leave the hive backwards and hover around a bit, getting a visual impression of the hive’s location, before they leave to work), and some already hard at it, carting in pollen.
I transferred them to the super, but because these nuc boxes have slots in the bottom to prevent frames from clanking around, I couldn’t knock the loose bees out into the hive. I had to leave it leaned up against.
The bees inside were all confused, and slowly moved up the box as a group. Where’d everybody go? Gravity just changed direction too.
Since these bees were unexpected and I didn’t have time to make a batch of bee syrup the first day, I opened a jar of wax and honey from last year and set it in the lounge. Just to get them through that night.
The few jars of wax I have are quite solid, with a bit of honey precipitated out on the bottom. I pushed my finger down the side of the wax chunk so they could get at some of the honey, but it wasn’t soft enough to ooze out.
Next day when I went in to give them syrup- WHOA! They cleaned out that jar of wax. In 24 hrs.
In fact, they made quite a mess. Wax flakes everywhere. I took the dry jar out and gave them syrup.
Inside the first beehive, the art studio is still going strong.
They continue to sculpt the chunks of burr comb and wax that I drop in there to their liking, but don’t do anything with it. Just art.
I got my first chance to get into the hive. We´ve had a warm, early spring, so I’ve been feeding them, and anxious for the right warm day to come, so I can give them the third super. They´ve been unwrapped since the end of April, but this is the first time I´m going to the bottom of the hive, and the inner lid is coming off.
Phew, a chance to dump/brush all that scrap straw off the inner cover.
Since I´m going right to the bottom of the hive today, I´m wearing my bee suit. They might get testy before I get done (They didn´t. My bees are so laid-back).
The hive´s doing very well. Saw the queen – she´s so huge. Two queen cells, so they´re up to something, but I don´t think division. They might be replacing her, as there was caped brood but no brood less than a week old. I´m leaving that alone. Still, or already, a few solid frames of honey.
It get´s a bit out of hand with all the frames, and spare supers, etc, planning how I´m going to shuffle and redistribute frames.
I´m also happy to get these original plastic frames that the nuc came with up to the top super, so I can take them out this year.
Mostly my bees have been well behaved, only a little bit of bulging honey frames. A couple of burr combs full of honey that I had to break, and honey dripped all over- that keeps them occupied.
I have woodenware now for another hive. This year I want to get a second nuc, and still be prepared in case hive #1 splits. This will step me up to a different league of beekeeping. A not-yet-serious, but not-quite-casual league. Bees take quite a bit of time and work, more than is immediately apparent, and I´ll notice the difference if I double them.
I was in the apiculture supplier´s retail space, waiting for my order to be gathered up, when the cashier commented to me “That´s so nice, that you still use wood and wax”.
As in, “Isn´t that quaint”.
I was actually startled. I had been marveling at the towers of styrofoam prefab hives, but when she said that, I was hit by how now wood is the exception. That´s why they have to dig it out of the back room. Everything is plastic. Plastic frames, plastic foundation, plastic hive parts now. No assembly, nails, or skill required.
Someone rolled through a minute later inspecting my growing pile of un-assembled woodenware and thoughtfully told his partner that that wood would “probably be nicer, for when you have to burn them”.
Yeah!! On the awful occasion that you have to bonfire hives because of disease, YES, it might be “nicer” to torch wood and wax and wire than 40 pounds of plastic and extruded polystyrene!
This left me thinking:
What is the world coming to?
What about when the plastic runs out?
How awful for the BEES!
If it´s bad for us to drink out of plastic water bottles and live with off-gassing carpet, are the bees supposed to be unaffected in a 100% plastic house, growing from larvae on a plastic bed, living in a plastic box sitting in the sun?
I unwrapped the hive a few days early. Hot weather. By all signs, they wintered well and are thriving.
i ripped the tarpaper off the front, and the styrofoam insulation, and scooped most of the straw out of the bee lounge.
There was a moisture breach and quite a bit of mold on the front corner of the bee lounge (aka eke), but I guess that´s what it´s there for – there doesn´t seem to be water or mold incursion past the inner cover.
The bees are polishing off syrup jars quite rapidly already.
Gosh, it´s been too long – I´ve been so busy! It´s garden and greenhouse time – very busy. Everyone is well, the piglets are no longer -lets, just pigs, the bees are busy, the hens are entertaining and entertained. I have lots to share…but for now, a glimpse:
The bunnies are grazing in the field alongside the hens and robins. They are almost all brown- some have tufts of white fur that haven´t fallen out yet, making them distinguishable. There´s always a rabbit around with a frond of greenery hanging out of its mouth. Low-speed chases happen – I suspect they are mating chases.
Sometimes I accidentally count the bunnies in with the guinea fowl.
The guineas stick closer to home than I initially expected.
And traveling as a pack, which I love. They´re all friends.
They can really get into a good dust bath too.
The dust bath is the most popular activity of the season, now that there are warm sunny days to laze around in and wile away the hours sticking a leg out awkwardly…
This is the guinea spot in the woods, right by our path. I suspect she´s laying her eggs here. Can you see all three?
This is the hen who thinks she´s a Silkie, always hangin´ with the fluffballs.
The Silkie tribe is becoming adventuresome (safety in numbers?), and every day venture a little farther into the woods to skritch in the leaves, or come a few feet farther down the path to the house.
Led by their intrepid leader, the Colonel:
The bees are full team ahead hauling in pollen. (I meant “steam”, but that makes more sense)
Returning a soggy bee to the hive, incoming bees use my hand for a landing strip.
I’ve got my bees at work cleaning up the frames that were centrifuged last year to get the honey out.
Since that whole event was a catastrophe of timing, FAR too late, I held these sticky frames over the winter in Rubbermaids, which worked really well. Now it´s warm I set one out by the hive with the lid off for the cleanup crew.
The bees cleaned out this whole boxful in a couple days, except a couple spots. Licked totally clean, no longer even sticky to touch.
The cleaning job is of an indescribably high quality. The frames go from this:
Pristine. And a boxful in a couple days. They get a snack out of it, too.
I was in shorts all day today. The snow earlier this week is all gone in the clear areas, and it was warm! These are the loveliest days of spring. The (very few) days before all the bugs come out. It would have been the first barefoot day of the year, but I cannot go barefoot here. Thorns everywhere – berry brambles and hawthorn, and I’ve had a hawthorn in my foot before. Alas, here I live in boots. The mud season is here. This year the robins are back long before the spring peepers. The peepers will announce the bugs.
My bees obviously made it through the winter well, having a good fly today in the blessing of the sun. It seems like all of them are facing the hive – the backwards flight, calibrating on the hive location.
The pigs are captive and content, so things are a whole lot less exciting around here lately- thankfully!
They’re getting into rooting like old pros in the soft ground now.
And warming up to me. They come snorting up the camera, and then scamper away.
The hens were having a good day in the mud world today. I saw them slurping up worms like spaghetti. The chickens don’t know it, but these are their last days sleeping in the greenhouse. As soon as the rain is done, their coops are out! I´m sure they can’t wait; there´s a week of sun coming, and they´ll be released outside at first light (as opposed to the past frosty interim days, where I keep them locked up until mid-morning when it warms up. . Summer chicken life – FREEdom!
Inside the chicken dome it was spa in the sun time. They make divots all over to bathe in, today’s location (odd) was by the figs and feed sacks (oh well).
I lone that I got this picture proof of how well they get along. As a generality, they tend towards their own birds, but as individuals, the layers and bantams can get in the bath together. I´m so grateful they’re successfully integrated, because I won’t have to surround the Silkies this year to protect them from the other chickens. They can be free ranging too. It will be interesting to see how much space they actually use now the flock is so much bigger. Silkies barely “range” at all.
The Eastern Seaboard of North America is getting snowed on tonight. Mostly it’s a question of how much snow are we getting? In our particular spot the forecast is “not as much as some”. It started about five hours ago here, and a thick blanket has already settled on the world. Outside the light flakes are floating straight down and piling up with determination, and are predicted to keep at it for another 12 hours. So on this snowy night, let’s visit some stored sunshine from earlier this year:
After the honey extraction comes filtration. Have to get out all the bee wings, wax caps and bits of leaves.
See my super high-tech filtration system.
Wow, it takes a long time! The honey has to be warm enough to flow, but not too warm, then it’s not raw any more.
The wax is something else. It acts like glue gumming up everything, especially your filter fabric, but if you can leave it set long enough, it almost hardens into a block sitting on top of the liquid honey that settles out from it. I have about a one pound chunk of wax, sticky with honey and kind of dirty, from my first year’s honey operation.
My fancy setup worked, but it was pretty clearly less than ideal! Embroidery hoop, sewing pins, nylon mesh, and rigid styrofoam blocks.
Next time (there’s always a mythical next time when everything will be better), I’m going to have all the honey out of the extractor in one large vessel, and filter/fill it into gift/sale ready jars in one step.
Aha! I just figured it out! A bucket with a tap at the bottom. The wax will float to the top. Decant the honey from the bottom, and there will be little wax to deal with; the minor other detritus will filter out easily.
It’s time to wrap up the bees for the winter – December 1st or before the snow flies.
This year my hive is much stronger, and larger, and they will be wintering in two supers, plus the Salon.
One 2×8´sheet of rigid styrofoam is perfect for a two-super hive – three 32″ pieces.
Three sides get wrapped with foam, tar paper only on the front, so the black helps them heat up inside on sunny days, maybe enough to go for a cleansing flight. All this is what I learned from my “bee guru” at Bello Uccello. I cut the foam very precise to use the overlap designed into the foam (which means the back piece is custom). Otherwise the corners will leak cold. Then a couple of pieces of Tuck tape to hold it all in place for the tar paper wrap.
The 2″ thick foam sticks out farther than the outer cover/lid, so I also cut a step in the foam to nest the lid into. I’m doing it a little different than last year.
Then the paper:
It wraps flat around the front of the hive, covering the doors and shutting the bees in completely for a few minutes. They can’t love that.
There’s a little artful paper slicing required to make everything fold flat and smooth around the alighting board. Lots of staples on the front – no wrinkles.
Then it’s time to cut out the doors.
Oh! There’s a bee!
The Salon, aka drone cafe – the empty/feeder box above the inner cover (I’ve called it the Salon since they started doing art installations in there) is already filled with straw (to help insulate and absorb moisture), and the bees just finished their second last jar of syrup for the year. Now they will be closed in with their last jar.
I did this thing last year with the lid/outer cover, and it worked quite well so I’m repeating it. One piece of basic “pebble” styrofoam cut exactly to size, jammed into the underside of the lid.
Then a piece of corrugated cut to size as well, so the bees aren’t in direct contact with the styrofoam ever. This gives them an inch of insulation on the ceiling. When I took it apart last spring the cardboard was damp on the edges and I threw it away.
Just after I closed the lid and was doing the final touches on the edges of the tar paper, the bees started buzzing outside in droves.
I thought I’d agitated them, but it may have been that time of the day, or the sunny day had warmed up enough right then to go for a fly, but they were on a group cleansing flight, which I realized when I noticed all the bright yellow poop dots on my hands and sleeves!
This is what I’m doing differently this year. My final step was taking another piece of tar paper over the top of the lid, folding gift corners and taping it down to the sides (instead of tacking the tar paper to the lid). In theory, if I need to get a jar in there in the early spring, I can take off the lid by slitting the tape and tape it back up; it won’t be very disruptive.
Then I put a metal sheet (actually a piece of shelving that happens to be a perfect size) over top of the whole thing and ratchet-strapped it down. The oversize temporary winter lid puts an extra 8-10″ of eave over the front doors.
Only two days late- that’s as close to on time as I get around here. Seconds after finishing, while I was carrying tools away, snowflakes started to fall.
Last year I was so worried about them. They’d re-queened three times in the year, their first, I got them late, and they didn’t have good numbers. But they made it through.
This year I’m a little more confident. It’s interesting to me, all the local former beekeepers (no one nearby currently has hives) never wintered their bees! They bought nucs in the spring and they died in the winter. Sounds expensive.
I harvested (stole) honey from my bees this year. How exciting!
They filled four supers this year, I took two, and they’ll winter in two. This is my first “harvesting”, as I took no honey last year. It was a revelation, also known as a comedy of ignorance.
First I had to get the supers off the hive. I had no idea how to do this, so I made the best of it, and it worked. Well, I think the right thing to do is put a one way valve thingy between the supers to move all the bees into the lower levels. I took them off in the afternoon, first lifting several frames out of each box (they are SO heavy. I should have gone with short boxes) until I could lift each box down. I also shuffled frames around, to make sure they had only frames fat with honey in their wintering boxes.
Then in the interest of putting the bees back into the hive, I took each of the frames I was going to keep for honey, held it over the open hive, and gently brushed the bees off with the bee brush.
Ooooo, they HATE the bee brush. They go mad trying to sting it, burrowing into the bristles with rage. This method put many of the bees back into the hive, but it was obvious I was never going to get all of them back.
Also this took a long time. The hive was open for a goodly length of time, and it’s all very disruptive. My bees are so nice. They hardly sting me, and they’re staying very organized, only storing honey and not brooding in the upper storeys. But still, they were losing their patience, especially with that @#$% bee brush!
So I left the boxes, and frames I was taking, outside until dark. Just sitting there next to the hive. It worked like magic! Almost all the bees returned to the hive at dark, leaving the frames of honey behind. At dark I went to get them, putting the frames into a big Rubbermaid one at a time. Each bee I found that had got caught out too late I put back into the hive doorstep. Bee casualties of the day: 2 (one sting). Not bad. This actually worked so well I’ll probably do it like this again.
Then I took the honey over to my neighbour’s extractor, another thing I’d never seen. It holds four frames at a time and centrifuges the honey out, which drips down the walls of the cylindrical chamber, to run out a tap at the bottom. Wow.
First you must artfully slice off the wax caps with a hot knife (“What’s that?” I said – luckily, he had one), then drop each frame into the frame-holding basket in the extractor.
It’s time-consuming! Slicing off the wax, corralling the stray drips and mess (all contained in the same Rubbermaids, which will be returned to the bees to clean up – zero waste), and finessing the extractor. The extractor is revved up slowly, then you flip the frames and run it again to get the honey off the other side of each frame. It’s amazing. The frames come out feather-light, all the comb intact.
When they were all done we cracked the tap and started filling jars. I knew out of two supers I had a few serious bricks of honey, but I also had a half-dozen totally empty frames (from the sides of the supers), and several partials. I wasn’t expecting much from my two not-full supers. I was hoping to get 6 half-pints to give away for Xmas.
WELL! The honey started flowing, and kept flowing. I filled all the jars I had, and then he had to round some up. An astounding (to me) amount of honey. The only thing I expected to need, that I brought, was a spatula.
Also, I was under the impression that when you open the tap, store-ready honey comes flowing out. Nope. There are hundreds of wax caps and chips, some debris, and the odd dead bee that gets centrifuged out of the frames. Filtering is a second process (that I haven’t done yet). The right thing to do is to decant the honey into a big vessel or bucket, and then strain it later into giveaway ready jars.
After a rest, all the wax floats to the top of the honey so I’ll probably skim it off and then strain.
Naturally, I completely forgot to take any pictures until nearly the last jar was full, and then found I had only my phone, with a fogged up camera. Yay!
I found this bedraggled bee sitting on the plastic of my greenhouse. I don’t know what happened, but she was finished. She obviously was at the end of a run (pollen baskets full) without the strength to carry on.
Luckily, I had just made bee syrup for my bees, and (carrying this nearly-dead bee; I’d already picked her up), I went home, dipped my finger in the pot of syrup, and started walking back.
The neatest part was that a second after getting the syrup on my hand, I felt all her feet suddenly grip my skin, grabbing on. Like a hibernating robot- ACTIVATE feet! Before, she would have dropped off if I tipped my hand.
She turned, her tongue came out, and she started sucking greedily. I held her for some minutes, but after deciding I had to care for some other animals, I had to wipe her and a drop of syrup off my finger onto a perch for her to finish on her own.
I used to save bumblebees that got trapped in the house like this, with a drop of honey on a butter knife. Set them outside together and the bee will come back to life.
My observation is that bees are not truly dead unless their tongues are stuck out, however dead they otherwise appear. I examine bees apparently drowned or froze, curled up like death, and if their tongue is not protruding, I set them in the sun, or in the sun in a flower for a snack. They are almost always gone a little later, or I even see them reviving, revving up their wings. If their tongues are out, it’s too late. All over.
After rescuing another half-drowned bee I ended up crouched by the hive, captivated by the drama and taking pictures. When my camera battery died I got up to go, and then the really cool thing happened.
I got stung.
When I got up and walked away, lifting my foot squeezed the bee that had fallen or explored into the top of my shoe, and she stung the top of my bare foot. I froze, setting my foot down to relieve the pressure on her.
Remembering that my bee guru said “If you give them time, the bee can work itself out after it stings you, and go unharmed”, I thought, well, I’ll just give her a chance here. I bent down to watch.
The bee stuck to the top of my foot by her stinger was agitated. She made a couple clockwise revolutions, but then turned the other way, and decisively started running circles around her stinger anti-clockwise. She paused, hunching like she was trying to pull free, and rubbed her stinger with her back feet. Then she resumed running counter clockwise (quite fast).
She was obviously unscrewing her stinger from my skin. Amazing!
My skin was reddening and swelling in front of my eyes, beneath the bee. I wondered if the swelling would “grab on” to her stinger. Of course, it felt like I’d been stung on top of the foot. That hurts.
She would pause and tug and rub with her feet, and then run some more. She made at least three dozen revolutions around her stinger. I couldn’t believe I was watching a bee unscrew herself from the top of my foot.
Did I mention the camera batteries were dead?
Near the end I could see her whole stinger, about 2mm, and it looked like the tip of it was barely attached to my skin – the weight of the bee was tugging on the very surface layer of my skin. She made a couple more turns, came loose! – and promptly fell back down into my shoe.
The whole extrication took somewhere around two minutes.
I waited, and she came walking back out, climbing my foot. I tried to pick her up, she tried to fly and she fell in the grass. She was all flustered, behaving weirdly drunk. Maybe she was simply dizzy. After a few more attempts to pick her up and dropping her, I got her to the hive and deposited her on the doorstep. Totally fine.
Then I went home to lie down. I get stung on my feet at least once a year. This time I got all the same hot, swelling, feeling like a big bruise symptoms, but I did fancy that this time, I got a smaller dose of venom.
When one gets stung on the hand, flinching or the reflexual flick is enough to throw the bee and rip the stinger sac out of her body. The sac speared into your skin by the stinger then autonomically pumps more venom in, pulsing like a disembodied heart. I feel like this time, I only got the one hit when she first stung me.
The bees are growing. I’ve added two supers, so now they have a proper bee apartment highrise. I need a stool now in order to see in the top when I take the lid off. I don’t know what I’ll do if I have to give them another, and if they fill it with honey. I’m going to need a ladder.
The bumblebees have this strange habit that I don’t understand.
Overnight, they latch onto the underside of the goldenrod flowers, and hang there overnight. It gets cold enough for all of them to go catatonic, and they cling there overnight, curled hard and still as if they were dead, not reacting to being brushed or touched.
This is not just a few bees that get caught out too late. There can be a dozen on one big goldenrod plume, and since we have a lot of goldenrod, in the evening and the morning, we can look across a swathe of it and see hundreds of bees, hanging still like odd fruit.
Then once the sun casts across them in the morning, they reanimate, and take up where they left off, buzzing, grazing, and bumbling. Sometimes it goes badly- the weather will change, and I’ll see them caught out in a cool or rainy morning.
So weird! Is this just a thing that they do? Too busy to go home at night? They do it for many nights in the summer, during the goldenrod rush.
I must draw your attention to how awesome this photo is – I caught the second bee in flight! out of the flower, pollened legs glowing in the sun and wings in motion – something I completely couldn’t ever do on purpose.
I’ve been suspecting that I had bumblebees nesting along our path through the woods. I’ve heard and seen them flying low and sort of furtively in the area, since last year.
Then I learned more about bumblebees and that it’s sort of special to find a nest (they burrow in the ground), so I was keeping a more attentive eye out. Yesterday I happened to be walking out in the morning and caught a medium sized bee in the act of leaving her burrow, rather clumsily and noisily, bzzzZZzzz, like she hadn’t had her coffee yet. I knew it!
I found four little holes in the area, two of which have perfectly clean entrances you can see into before the tunnel curves (so I’m sure those are in use). What do they do in the rain? They remind me of bank-dwelling swallows. They seem to like the clayey soil and the compacted dirt of our path.
I must report to bumblebee watch. It’s going to be awfully hard to figure out what kind of bumblebees live there. It will be a long stakeout, or else I’ll have to set up a trail cam, ararar!
The bees have been in a pitched battle with ants, and I didn’t realize it.
I had noticed they were rather testy lately, quite irritable when I go to close their door at night. They had briskly seen me off a few times and I was even stung. I thought that was odd because they used to be so mild. Now I get it.
Once in awhile I’d seen an ant on the bottom board drawer, but no biggie, right, if they aren’t in the hive. A couple days ago I pulled the drawer and there was a pile of sticks on it, the kind of collections ants like to build, and more ants. Hmmm.
Looking in where the drawer goes, there were ants on the front wall, right underneath the bee entrance/ledge. Well, I thought, the bees I’m sure are handling them. A healthy hive can protect itself from ants. I dumped out the antwork and replaced the drawer.
Last night I arrive to shut the bees at night (they don’t get shut in, I reduce the opening so they don’t have a big draft and can keep it warm more easily) and just as I got there, I saw a bee pop out on the ledge holding an ant, and take off. I assume she went and dropped it somewhere. Wow! And hmmmm.
I checked the drawer and uhoh, there appeared to be a pitched battle taking place at the front of the hive. There was also a high pitched bee distress buzz happening, but I couldn’t locate the distressed bee.
If it’s not one thing it’s another. I blithely thought bees and ants got along just fine. They are related. These ants lived under the hive, dragged off the dead bees… but no, they wanted more!
The only solution on offer that was actionable immediately was powdered cinnamon. I dredged the legs of the hive stand and the front of the bottom board drawer with cinnamon, and also kicked off the board covering the ant colony, to give them something else to focus on.
Today – no ants! I can’t believe it! The cinnamon worked! (but I think I’ll moat the legs of the stand next since some people say cinnamon is only a temporary fix).
The bees are acting differently too, not all crowded along the ledge like they’ve been lately in the evening (instead, they’re filling the drone salon). They’ve been cranky because they’ve been in a prolonged battle with a bunch of stupid ants! – in fight mode.
The ceiling of this space, where the drawer slides in, is the mesh bottom surface of the hive, the main floor that they generally come and go from. Debris and dropped pollen balls fall through it onto drawer. You can see little bee legs poking through as they walk around on it. In the front and the right edge there’s a mysterious hanging garden of sticks and debris, and it seems to be glued or stuck in place (?). Possibly the bees have been building a barrier, trying to block out the ants. I read or heard about bees encasing a dead mouse that died in the hive in propolis, to protect the hive from side effects of the decomposition.
I can’t wait for a decent day to open the hive. Maybe I’ll get to see what’s really going on. I suspect they may already need another super!
I’ve been assembling bee supers and frames. They look so nice, all fresh.
The idea is that if the bees are ready to swarm this year (so far they are thriving and vital, so I’m hoping for the best), that there will be a move-in-ready apartment conveniently right next door!
My idea is to leave the bottom super empty, maybe a couple frames in the top box, to be spacious like a swarm box. Since I haven’t built a swarm box yet, I need to build supers anyway, and I want to have something ready in the event of a sudden swarm, then this is a better-than-nothing measure.
I was assembling frames in my tiny camper, and stocking them outside, when the robber bees arrived. They were doing their nervous, zigzag robber bee thing, investigating the new wax frames with enthusiasm.
More and more bees arrived (they were uncannily camera shy though). I started to get nervous, and promptly put up a box in the field for them to inspect.
They haven’t made any moves on it, but they know it’s there.
This has been such a drab, cold!, protracted spring, that there hasn’t been a day warm enough for me to make a full hive inspection. I feel like I should. I am heartened that it takes a long time to find a Varroa mite on the bottom board, they are sucking back the syrup I give them, and they have at least doubled last year’s numbers, judging by the comings and goings. So far they seem to be caring for themselves quite well. I hope I can give them a third super in time.
Not satisfied with their own hiveside water bowl, the honey bees have taken over the chicken water dish (they line up along the perimeter drinking), and now they have settled on the top of the water barrels as a favorite watering hole.
So thirsty! There are always about a dozen bees, often several dozen, drinking from the crease along the top of the water barrels. It’s a nice safe place for them to drink without falling in, so I have to pour more water on the top every day as the water evaporates otherwise.
I can hear them humming around the barrels outside the window all day.
They are hard to perturb when they’re drinking, too. You can nudge them, nudge nudge poke, and they’ll hold on tighter, keeping that tongue dipping in the water. Serious business.
Happily, they are doing very well. Not bad, since I thought this hive sat on the edge of 50/50 winter survival chances. They are vital and exploratory, polishing off a jar of syrup every few days, and making appearances at the neighbours’. The pollen du jour is now bright orange. Dandelions, perhaps?
Even though I can’t inspect them thoroughly yet, I gave them an empty super, sure that they were gonna bust their seams any moment. All that pollen has to go somewhere.
H.W. has taken more of an interest in them, watching them every day, and reporting that the bees HATE the “door” (the entrance limiting stick). We’ve been having warm days, and the inbound flights start bottlenecking at the entrance mid-morning. Then he pulls out the stick and “the bees BOIL out!”. It takes a few minutes to rebalance, like traffic after an accident is cleared. Then the bees come shooting in and out like a time lapse video of La Guardia at 16x speed.
The bees have decided to share the chickens’ canteen. I don’t understand; they have their own perfectly good bowl. But they line up on the edge, drinking. Every night I have to go and fish out (usually three) soggy bees and deliver them to their doorstep. In the day they can pull themselves out of the pool and dry off and warm up in the sun, but at night they are too chilled to fly home. I hold my finger with three bedraggled bees by their door. The evening arrivals are zooming in and they land on my hand on their way in. I can feel the warm sweet air of the humming hive coming from the entrance, and the grateful swimmers perk up in the warm draft, drag themselves off my finger and indoors.
I tell H.W., who is sympathizing with bee frustration, that the stick still has to go back in at night. “But they hate it!” As it turns out, the bees are more than capable of opening the door themselves. They just don’t shut it.
The bees were coming home loaded today with pollen baskets. A soft snot-green colour- I wonder what is the source. Bees at the end of their workday were zooming in every few seconds with payloads, as the sun ran out.
They are still in winter wraps, but are very lively with this warm early spring we’re having, already polishing off bottles of syrup within a week and thoroughly exploring, sometimes a little too adventurously.
I do a fair amount of bee rescue, returning bees who have got themselves in trouble to the hive. I find them in buckets, or frantically lost in the house, raging at the windows. Half drowned, half froze, half exhausted- I run them back to the hive, transfer them from my finger to the doorstep, and watch as they wearily drag themselves back in the door, or are helped.
Today I had my face quite close watching a sodden bee (who could at first only wave one antenna to let me know she lived), pull herself back inside when a small black flying insect landed on the bee porch for a rest- just a little gnat. A guard bee dashed out, snatched the insect up with her bee forelegs, and then seemed to throw it. It flew away with alacrity, lucky to escape. A beat after she chucked it she zoomed at me. Hey git out of here! You’re too close for comfort too.
We had an extreme cold snap (relative, very relative) here with a -20C night. I didn’t think they’d made it. I kind of had a feeling. I’m really on the fence whether this hive will make it through their first winter. Neither death nor survival will surprise me.
They had honey, but such small numbers….luck, chance, and the weather all have to weigh in before the winter’s out.
After that cold night – brrrr! I couldn’t hear anything when I pressed my ear to the front of the box. The wind was whistling hard, but still.
We’ve had a warm snap. The kind where the above freezing temps suddenly expose all the old dog bones and buckets that blew away and random flagging tape on the ground, and you’re wishing for a snow asap to cover it all up again.
November has been harsh. We’ve had three hard freezes. That’s not supposed to happen yet! I’ve been throwing a duvet over the hive on the cold nights, hoping it helps some.
I wrapped up the beehive for the winter, with 2 inches of rigid styrofoam and roofing felt. I don’t love this. What did people do before plastics and tarpaper? There has to be another way. But anyway, I made the tri-fold foam into a three-sided box (the front doesn’t get foam), using the lap joints and taping it up with Tuck tape. Then I wrapped it all in the felt, stapling it on.
As I worked, a few sentry bees came rocketing out, angry. It was cold though, so these were suicide missions. They would come out, buzz around angrily, then land on something, and be too cold to get back into the hive. I picked one still bee body up off where it was clinging to a branch and placed it on the upper hive doorstep. Within a second, pffft! The bees threw the body back out. I guess that one was dead. I put another motionless bee on the doorstep. They pulled it into the hive! Maybe for a little bee cpr. I put two or three more bees back in when I finished, in case they weren’t dead yet.
I did the front last, because for a few minutes, the bees are entirely closed in, until you cut out their entrances out. They may not like that.
When I cut out the upper entrance, there were two bees sitting inside, looking out. Hello bees!
When I’ve had the hive open (sorry, sorely remiss on bee updates), often there are comb protuberances where the bees decide to build comb between frames, or connect to the lid, or the frame above it.
When I pull out frames and then need to break off these comb “burrs” so that the frame can slide back in, I give the broken off bits back to the bees to reclaim the honey and the wax. They were making a habit of sticking all the frames to the inner cover for awhile so there was quite a bit of comb to scrape off. And tasty…omg!
On top of the supers and above the inner lid, I have a 6″ box to accommodate the feeder jar:
and that’s where I toss the chunks of comb, on top of the inner cover. (The bees crowd this space in the day, supping and sculpting, but in this early morning picture, they are mostly down in the hive).
Thing is, the bees have not recycled all the wax. All the honey is extracted, but only about half the wax I’ve thrown back to them has disappeared back into the hive.
The rest of it, they have made into sculpture.
That’s the only way to put it. They aren’t using this comb for anything, and it’s intricately molded and shaped – changed so that it doesn’t resemble the jagged chunks of comb that were piled in there, and does resemble some fantastic art-deco architecture. Amazing!!!
There’s a fantastic domed archway and a Gehry-esque zigzag highrise. So beautiful!
It was time to inspect the hive, two weeks from installation, and also refill the syrup.
I had an assistant for hive opening, proud to be operating the smoker.
The bees had built a lot of comb on the underside of the inner cover, concentrating on the center of their operations.
I scraped that off and left it inside the top compartment with the syrup. It was all filled with honey and dripping. I’m sure they’ll have cleaned it all up in days, probably transfer it back where it was. We each ate a little nibble of honey comb- WOW!
Every frame I pulled out, honey. Honey. More honey. Where is the brood? Of the four frames that I received, when I received them, three were brood and one was honey. In two weeks, the bees have cleaned out the three brood frames and have nearly finished filling them with honey! The one honey frame has had the honey moved elsewhere and has been cleaned, but no eggs, no brood!
The fresh foundation frames I gave them have some lovely clean new comb started on them… still no brood. The
re was an emergency queen cell, too, open and being attended.
We saw a queen, so she is alive, but I’m not sure about well.
Klaus confirmed that all honey and no brood means the queen is not “working right”. The next inspection will tell if the queen we saw is the emergency replacement and if she has started laying eggs, or if it’s the “old” queen and she’s somehow a dud.
No bees were injured during this inspection of the hive.
Bee transfer day. In which the bees are transferred from their nuc box to their forever home.
Yesterday afternoon I put together my wooden frames (properly, having been taught how) with wax foundation and build a stand for the hive, etc. It took much longer than I thought, although it was easy, fun-fiddly work, like making balsa wood airplanes, or something. All of a sudden the afternoon was gone. My least favourite part was the wiring. Nothing hard about it, I think I just don’t like handling wire. I used a bar clamp in lieu of a jig to compress the sides of the frames to string them and they all came out sounding like guitars. My very favourite part was melting the wires into the wax foundation with the battery charger. That was super fun. Also the very last step. I’m realizing now that no one but my fellow students will have any idea what I’m talking about here, and I didn’t take pictures.
Other than this one. One frame, all done.
Then I got my tools together and went out to handle my bees for the first time. I wore my suit because I was alone, and these stressed bees have every reason to be tetchy right now, so I did not expect them to be “lambs”, like Klaus’s bees. I moved the nuc box forward with the milk crate and took some time placing and leveling the hive stand behind it. I was glad I had the suit on because I got covered with ants. They are not amenable to being evicted. The ants were irritating me a bit (Leiningen vs the Ants in high school made an overly vivid impression on me. Although ants are pretty amazing too, I don’t like too many of them at once) so I took a minute to calm down before the main event.
And then, anticlimax. Bees were swirling all around the nuc box, confused, but I popped the lid, no reaction. I lifted out each frame and glanced at it and put it in the clean new hive, and that was it. No drama, no stings. Not even any agitation, really. I packed them back up with the feeder jar, which they’ve been ignoring.
For a few minutes, there was a crowd of bees hovering in front of the new hive (Something’s different!). I must have matched the height of the entrance exactly, because they immediately started landing on the porch, in the middle, and eventually began to walk inside. One bee led a crowd walk around up and around the front of the hive, and then they started using it like they’d always lived there. The airborne crowd dispersed.
Until I reduced the entrance with a stick.
All the bees still landed in the middle, which was now blocked, and walked back and forth, but not far enough to find the hole on the right. A confused crowd formed again in the air (Too many new things today!).
One bee found the hole. Another bee came out. A few more bees came in and out.
This was more challenging to them than the hive swap. The majority remained in the middle, frustrated. Eventually, another group walk around formed on the front of the hive. This little stroll up and around performed by a small pack of bees seems to be a marker of placefinding, or communication. It happens fast, but I saw it three times, right as they adjusted to change. Doorway change, specifically.
So, they are installed. I hope they like it here.
There are no guard bees, there is a steady but thin squadron of bees leaving and returning, and I saw some with pollen baskets. They seem very quiet.
I have to say, I could sit around in that suit all day. It really takes care of the horseflies. Very comfortable. The dog wasn’t sure what to make of it though.
My brain is full. I spent two days at a wonderful Introduction to Beekeeping course put on by the biodynamic apiarists of Bello Uccello, outside of Digby. I feel tired with all the information, but also grateful, because workshops are not always so intense or packed full of knowledge.
-PHILOSOPHICAL TANGENT BEGINS- My favourite thing I learned is that bees like to work my favourite way to work. They move around the hive, and do whatever comes to hand (antenna?) within their ability at that stage of their development (as they grow bees have distinct tasks that they capable of performing at a given age). I get that! The days that I’m able to work like that are the best. Do what’s right in front of you, and keep slowly moving forward and doing what’s there, and then as you’re carrying something you run into something else to pick up and end up roaming back and forth all over, and not a thing gets done that you “planned” to do, but so very many things get done that needed to be done, and the experience of doing all that work, and usually working quite hard, is quite relaxing to the mind, and blissfully satisfying.
I have a private theory that there is a great and costly expenditure of energy that happens when you direct yourself to do something that “needs” to get done, that you’ve “decided” to do – to meet a deadline, or an appointment, because it is moving against what you feel like doing. Again and again, experience bears out that moving with the feeling-like-doing produces better results. Like this morning, for instance. I popped up to run the dog earlier than I’d “planned” to, because I felt like it then and had the freedom to be flexible, and the moment we got back from our run the sky opened on us. I hadn’t known if it was expected to rain. Alas, there are so many deadlines, and appointments, and plans, to cope with. We keep on making them. It is very difficult to cooperate with even one other person (partner), let alone business hours, when following the feeling-like-doing can get you into zealously emptying the back shed instead of doing firewood together, as planned, or vacuuming out the truck at midnight when you have to go to town first thing in the morning. However, the feeling of the work, which is supposed to be the important part, is so dramatically better when you work one thing to another until it’s time to sleep, and then if you’re lucky, get up again with energy and without an alarm to do it all over again.
My theory continues, to say that if you could continue in this mode A: everything would get done, including the things you have “planned” B: everything truly not important would fall away C: the rhythm of work to be done would come to match and balance the energy you have for it D: the pattern of work would become more consistent and come into alignment with natural patterns, like daylight, and sleep, and E: eventually you would come to harmony and knowledge of much larger and more subtle rhythms, like time to plant the potatoes, and it’s going to be a long winter. To do this, I opine, would require making no commitments, ever, to anyone, including yourself, to ever show up to anything at a given time; accepting the consequences of all that (essentially not participating in society at all); and to have an extremely patient and accepting partner. Until then, compromise. I will revel in the lone days I am able to work like a bee, moving from one task to the next without the tyranny of a to-do list, and maybe in valuing those times, I can create more of them. -TANGENT ENDS-BACK TO THE BEES!-
Also literally tired, because after the second day of class I drove to pick up my bees in the late evening and then drove another two hours home. I’d requested a nucleus (mated queen, couple hundred bees, and four frames of brood and honey) from Kevin Spicer, and he’d said he’d have one packed up for me (too late in the day to put them straight into my box). I got to his place a little early, and saw a nucleus box, obviously mine, waiting on the porch.
During the workshop we’d spent a lot of time interacting with the bees: observing their behaviour, inspecting the hive, standing in the apiary. Klaus was notably affectionate with his bees, as a whole and as individuals, calling them “girls”, “sweetie”, touching them gently, and obviously always concerned about them. “See this bee?” he would point out to us instructively. “She’s [fanning/guarding/cleaning/transferring pollen]. Isn’t she cute?”
I was usually feeling anxious around his bees, impatient to get them put back in the box, concerned for all the jostling and noise that the great lumbering group of us crowded around the hive were causing.
When I saw that box of bees on the porch, though, my bees, I felt an overwhelming rush of love that I really was not expecting. My bees, that were going to come home and be a part of our family, and I would have to take care of as best I could.
I went to sit by the box of bees and immediately bent over it for a deep inhale, to smell them. Instantly, the bees just on the other side of the screen from my face buzzed angrily. Hey! Cut it out with the wind! At the round entrance hole, where the tap would be if this was a box of wine, not bees, the bees there were desperately trying to push themselves through the wire screen stapled over the hole. The whole box had a sound and attitude of frustration and panic. I sat there with it, watching them, and noticed that some bees at the screened entrance were trying to push out clumps of garbage but were frustrated by the screen. There was a pile of small crumbs they’d already pushed out, but they had bundles of fuzz, fibres and dirt larger than them that would not pass through the mesh and were starting to clog up their hole.
I made a tiny wire hook and slowly teased out some of the garbage through the screen, while the sanitation bees pushed from the other side, and the more I pulled out, the more they brought to the door. They’d only been in there for a few hours, but were already “This place needs sprucing up!” like a no-nonsense pioneer wife. The bee box calmed down a lot while I sat there, happily bonding with them and helping with garbage extrication, New Caledonia crow style.
Two bees were on the outside of the box, crawling around on the screen on top. They obviously believed they belonged inside, and I hoped they would stick it out until getting home when they could be reunited.
Kevin arrived and promptly gave me a tour of his whole bee facility, and then I departed, just before dark, with my box of bees in the back seat, but only one of the two hitchhikers remained on top.
I drove off, then remembered I had to give them water. Drove some more, remembered the bee on the outside had no access to fuel, so stopped to feed her. I made it home before midnight, exhausted, wearily singing Tori Amos and K.D. Lang to stay awake. I figured at least the bees’d get used to my voice.
At home HW unloaded the truck and I slowly carried the nuc box to the house.
Me: There’s a bee on the outside of the box, careful don’t squish her. HW: There’s a loose bee?
Inside, the frames were loose and swinging, so even though I tried to carry them like a glass of water, they were getting jostled and they weren’t happy about it. Bump, bump. Buzz, buzz. They stayed in the house for the night because it was kind of a cool night.
In the morning I had to go out and place them in their new location and release them. It was a cold rainy day, so it would not be transfer day. I set the nuc box out on a milk crate and started pulling out the staples. One staple, and it bent the wire mesh just enough for one bee to pop through the screen.
Poppopopopopopop, a steady stream of bees flowed straight out of that hole, head to tail, did a little crowd walk around on the face of the box, and started taking off.
About this time I noticed the “loose bee” was missing. I went and found her in the house, sitting on one of HW’s shoes, and took her to the door and she slipped right into the box. She made it!