Tag Archives: honeybees

Where there’s life, there’s hope

My bees might just make it!  This weird, hot-cold “winter” can’t be good for them.

It was warm enough for me a couple days ago to take the lid off and give them a jar of syrup (amazing.  In February!), but I was sick with worry.   No bees outside, on a warm day.  I was pretty sure I was going to find a dead hive when I lifted the lid.  Ugh.

But instead, I found a black knot of bees around the empty jar!  Yay!  And hardly any dampness, or mold in the eke insulation, which indicates moisture.  In fact, it was more dry than last year. I gave them a full jar, put the the lid back on, and then the guard bees came shooting out while I was taping them back upHey!  You’re jostling us!

Good:)

Will they or won’t they?

So far, so good.  The bees are still alive.

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.

Bee skyscraper

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.

 

Newbees

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 bee lounge (eke)

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.

Opening the hive

May 13

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. 

Putting it back together now.  

The bee lounge cleaned off, with their ongoing art installation, now with new burr comb t play with.

Three stories tall now.  No stings, no crushed bees.  A good hive opening.  I didn´t even get thumped on the head.

Unwrapping the bees

April 28

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:

  1. What is the world coming to?
  2. What about when the plastic runs out?
  3. 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.

Cleaner Bees

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 frames fit in there like they would in a super

The bees cleaned out this whole boxful in a couple days, except a couple spots.  Licked totally clean, no longer even sticky to touch.

Missed a spot. Bees concentrating on their work.
Bees hanging out at the hive upper entrance, still wrapped in tar paper.

The cleaning job is of an indescribably high quality.    The frames go from this:

Wet, sticky, leftover honey everywhere

to this:

Clear, clean, and dry

Pristine.  And a boxful in a couple days.  They get a snack out of it, too.

 

Gift wrapping the bees

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.img_4765

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.img_4766 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.

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The white tarp stuff is actually the normal lid- built with scrap lumber and some tarp stapled over the flat top.

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:img_4768

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.  img_4769

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.img_4772

Oh!  There’s a bee!img_4775

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No one at the downstairs door.

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.

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The Salon filled with straw
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Last jar full, situated directly over the inner cover hole

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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

Having been told how to do it, it seems easy.

Proved: honeybees can sting and NOT die

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.

 

 

Ant attack!

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.

Rush to the internet.  Quickly learn that ants can be disastrous for a hive, in short order, especially the nasty red and black ants (my ants!).  I don’t love interacting with these ants. They pinch, or bite.  It stings.  Ant colonies abound here. The hens are using their mounds for La-Z-boys.

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.  20160617_192622

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.  20160617_192637

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!

 

New bee boxes

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.

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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.

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Immediate investigation

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.

The bees are thriving

Everyone has been asking:  Are your bees ok?

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.

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Bees have pushed the stick open themselves

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.

 

Bee sculpture

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:

2015-08-28 09.14.13and 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!