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.
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.
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!
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.
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!