Thursday, December 10, 2009


Well, it has been awhile since I've posted. I'm sitting here on the day after the season's first big snowstorm, 8 inches of heavy, wet snow following by 30-50 mph winds. I'm looking out towards the hive, which is a bit hard to see because I decided to wrap it with styrofoam for the winter, sealed with duct tape. I have the outer cover pushed forward and the inner cover notched to allow them access from the top of the hive, but I want to go out later and make sure drifts aren't covering the bottom board access. I'll wait until it warms up a bit, though with a high of about 7 degrees today the high won't do a whole lot.
We made it through the season with no stings! Kathy talked with Glen, a long-time beekeeper who taught where she did and he said that is a bit unusual. I think, though, that for the most part we tried to be calm, cautious and careful, not rushing things. I was probably the more cautious. We actually did get attacked the last time we opened to exchange feeding cans. We gave them about 3 coffee cans full of sugar water. A mass of bees was clinging to the bottom of the empty can and Kathy decided to brush them off. They didn't care for that too much and we were stung several times but none penetrated the gloves or clothing. It was late October, fairly cool and I knew they are more temperamental this time of year.
I debated about the feeding. With the price of sugar, it hardly seems cost effective, especially given that we had no honey this year. The hive bodies are very heavy, or were the last time I actually picked one up. The upper of the 3 was very heavy, full of sealed honey. After reading the forum at and checking through the several books we have, I was even more confused since some recommended no feeding to others saying they definitely feed the bees. So we gave them some. I just want to make sure they get through the winter ok. I will feed in the spring as well. Once they are fully into their second year, unless there is a very poor honey production, I probably will not feed as much.
I did modify the bottom board on both hives (only one active now, though, remember) so that I have a #10 screen (from Dadant) and space underneath the screen, with access at the back of the hive, to monitor for mites. After treatment, I did have a fairly large mite count, probably 1-3 per square inch. We used the apistan strips, which were a real pain to remove. We had a nice, warm October day but the strips were really stuck in propolis. I am going to examine alternative mite treatments for the future; also, not real keen on extensive use of chemicals.
So, aside from just monitoring things like keeping snowdrifts away and doing research, there isn't a lot to do now. I do follow fairly regularly the posts at Beesource and also now subscribe to the BEE-L listerv. You can follow that at this web site, which includes information on subscribing:(
I find the beesource a mixture of beginner information as well as technical information, personal experience, humor, etc., while the latter seems to be much more technical in nature and deals in much more depth on disease and information valuable to commercial beekeeping operations. You still find an occasional newbie post, however.
This spring, I plan to split the hive. After deliberation, although I plan to research this more this winter, I think I will order a new queen instead of risking having the bees make their own. I know the latter is a more natural method, but I think that is the way I will proceed. Until I learn more, I think that is a safer way for us to go.
We have regularly walked out and checked on the bees. Even just a couple weeks ago, Kathy observed some of our bees on very late broccili blossoms in the garden. We never did have a full killing frost until this last storm, so there were still a few flowering things around. If the temps got into the upper 50's or 60's, there were always some bees flying around near the hive. They do like to get out if they possibly can.
I'll continue this in the spring, and try to stay warm in the meantime.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Friday September 4

Well, a lot of time has passed since our last entry. I'll summarize here a bit about what has gone on with the bees as the summer went by.
Overall, the bees have seemed to flourish. Weather has been very cool, a record in fact for the month of July. Rain continued throughout the summer, which the bees didn't particularly care for. Since it was cool and pretty damp, we tried to interfere with the bees' activities as little as possible. We did open the hive to check for progress, mostly to see if they were filling out frames and if they needed to be given more space as they continued to grow in population. We did place the third hive body and followed that up with the queen excluder and one super.
Bees had a haydey with the white clover. In late summer, we noticed them in large numbers around the cup plants. Even today, they continue to move in and out of the hive in large numbers.
As late August brought the first real spells of warmer, humid air, we found the bees congregating in large numbers around the opening of the hive. A check of the super found plenty of room. They eventually began to create comb. One thing that impressed me was the change in weight of the hive bodies, particularly the top of the three. It is chock full of capped honey and really quite heavy.
I built a new bottom which had a screen with a pull-out board in the back so we could check for mites. Unfortunately, I made it from screen that was too fine. I will ultimately replace it with the correct size 8 screen we purchased from Dadant. At first we could find no evidence of mites and I assumed it was due to the size of the screen. Last week, though, I pulled the board out from under the screen and did find several dozen mites on the board. We looked at one under the microscope. Definitely a varroa mite, with the legs on one side. We placed the strips in the hive and hopefully will get a warm day mid-October to pull them out.
We will have no honey from the hive this year. We have decided to add a second hive next season but will need to decide if we want to try to split this hive or order a second box of bees. We have the winter to decide.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Busy Bees

The bees are very busy with warm, mild weather. Last week we opened the hive and moved an empty frame into the center of both hive bodies. The activity at the entrance to the hive would suggest their numbers have really increased. We will look at them again mid-week and see if we need to add the third hive body. We're using 3 since we are using mediumsized (6 6/8 inches) hive bodies rather than deeps. We may just have to rotate another frame in the middle. If it looks like there are 8 or more frames with comb, we will definitely add the third body. We also rotated the entrance opening to allow a bigger opening. It might have been a little premature since it dropped into the low 50's last night but I think that will not happen often.
Fruit trees are past bloom. White clover is becoming very abundant. So far, we have seen few bees on our clover. We really wonder where they are going when they pour out of the hive 5 or 6 at a time, flying off.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Nice days

Eighty degree days, mid 50's nights. Bees are loving this. Today they were really active, ganging up at the entrance. I am tempted to open that up a bit more, even though it still gets a bit cool at night. Maybe next week.
Jessica sent a cool link about bees. Here it is:
Kids getting an education about bees. Cool place. I'd like to visit that myself.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Swarm cell inspection

Last Saturday, we had our bee class. We talked about swarming, how to recognize the types of swarm cells and what to do about them. Then we went out to the field and examined several hives. Since it was so cold, in the mid-50's, Bob showed us a method of examining them that did not require pulling frames out, thus exposing the bees and larvae to the cool air. He tilted the hive bodies, looking first at the top of the frames to see how many are filled with bees and then doing the same from the bottom. Also on the bottom, we could see if there were any swarm cells drooping down. He showed how to destroy the cells, which were empty, by just using the hive tool to slice them off. We also discussed this particular variety of bee which we all purchased and their tendency to draw comb out in some irregular manners, with a lot of burr comb.
We got home rather late since we had a graduation party to attend, so decided to check our bees on Sunday. It was warmer and less windy, much more conducive to doing this. We only found one bona fide swarm cell though there was additional comb drawn out on the bottoms of frames and between some frames. The bees seemed to be getting a little restless, so we added the rest of our antibiotic for American foul brood disease prevention and closed the hive. On a warm day later in the week, we will open and clean up some frames a bit better. It doesn't look like we will need to add a new hive body yet but probably soon, since the new bees should begin to hatch out this week.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Queen inspection


Today we needed to go back in and complete what we started unsuccessfully last week. We were unable then to find the queen, so we gave it a week and looked again today. It was warm but windy. I'll have to remember to try to do this with less wind.

We first took a look at the bottom hive body. We found a lot of honey, open and capped, as well as some larvae. Some of the larvae appeared to be capped, which it should be at this point. We did not find the queen in the lower box, so moved to the upper again, which we examined last week. Much more comb had been built up. On the next to the last frame, we found the queen. She was very easy to spot. In the video, she is in the lower left corner of the frame, difficult to see on the film. We carefully put that frame back in and closed the hive. We never did see any eggs, though we could have been more thorough in our examination. Clearly, there was larva present and things looked fine, at least to our untrained eyes. We have class again this weekend and will need to add the rest of the chemical for AFB.

Bees have been very busy and active. There are many dandelions about and the fruit trees still have blossoms, though not as many as a week ago. Other flowers and bushes are beginning to bloom, though. The blueberries are just starting to blossom, and the grapes will be in full bloom in the next couple weeks. We're getting rain tonight and the coming week appears wet, which is great for the flowers but not so much for the bees. We are still feeding the sugar water, however, for those cooler, damp days.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

First Inspection

It was sunny and warm, about 75 degrees with little wind. We dressed up, fired up the smoker and went out to do our first inspection of the hive other than checking the feeding can. Our goal was to see if the bees were building up comb and to see if we could locate the queen. I had wanted to take pictures but we felt we needed to concentrate on the task this first time. I will get photos next time.
Although a number of bees were flying in and out of the hive, it was interesting how many were in the frames and on top of the frames in the top box. There were some up in the box housing the feeding can but only a dozen or so. Once we smoked, then removed, the inner cover, we saw hundreds of bees in the frames and many on top of them. I removed the frame farthest back, which had no bees or comb built up on it. We moved a couple frames over, then pulled a frame out to inspect. The whiteness of the new comb they had built up was surprising. It looked clean and fresh. Our previous experience had been older frames we passed around during the class session, which were dark in color and obviously older. In many of the cells we found yellow substance which we assumed was pollen. There were hundreds of bees on the frame and they simply proceeded on with their work, pretty much ignoring us. I don't think any bees even landed on us the whole time we did the inspection.
We examined several frames similarly. They were heavier than I had imagined and I found it a little difficult to hold them. I need to work out a method for keeping the hive tool handy while having both hands available to handle the frames.
We did not see any eggs or clearly identified larvae. The queen was also not obvious. We did not inspect any in the lower box, however, and most likely that is where we would probably find eggs and larvae. We didn't want to push the bees any further or press our luck, and since they clearly were busy building up on the foundation and appeared healthy and active, we decided to close the hive and wait for a day next week to examine the first hive box. One step at a time.
We also will need to apply the second application of the tetracycline for control of American foul brood at that time.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Feeder check

It was time to check the feeding can yesterday and it was a good thing I didn't postpone that. We used a metal full-sized coffee can and it was down to about an inch remaining. It was full when we installed the bees less than a week and a half ago. We only had enough remaining sugar to refill half of the can so we will need to check it again next week. There were probably a dozen bees in the upper part around the feeder. It was a warm day so bees were busily coming and going. I didn't take smoke and didn't really need it since they paid me little attention. It is to be warm and not too rainy the next several days so they should remain pretty active. I'm getting anxious to get in and make a check of the frames. We may try that Friday.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Nice days

We have been in a short spell of some terrific weather and the bees seem to be loving it. Dandelions are in full bloom and the bees are taking advantage.

videoThis video was shot late afternoon, when activity for the day was winding down, at least outside the hive. Located next to some pine trees, the hive gets late afternoon shade. You can see some bees moving around the small entrance hole in the front. Sometime later in the week we will open the hive and check to see how things are going and try to find the queen. As busy as the bees have been, we think there are certainly some things happening in the hive.

Dandelions are not the only things popping around here. Grant has developed quite a keen eye for finding morels, which were late this spring but have been popping in some pretty big numbers the last couple days.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Free at last, free at last

We went out right after breakfast to do a check to see if the queen had been freed from her cage. It was cool and damp with the forecast to only become wetter the next couple days, so we decided we would do this as quickly as possible. We didn't take smoke, since I figured the coolness would subdue them enough. The plan was simple--take off the lid, remove the feeding can, take off the box surrounding the feeding can and set that on the ground. Take off the top of the two hive bodies, with inner lid in place and set it on the empty box on the ground. Then lift up the bottom hive body from the base to have access at the queen cage. This would interfere much less than removing frames. We figured when we saw the cage it would either be covered with bees and we would have to try to remove the candy ourselves and free her or it would be empty.
Success--it was empty. We didn't risk bothering them any more with the cold to try to locate the queen--save that for a warm day a week or two from now. Otherwise, things looked good, and even with the cool weather a steady stream of bees was flying in and out, so they look like busy little bees. Which reminds me of an ad my mom saw on The Weather Channel about Billy Bee honey. I check out the Billy Bee web site, which is a Canadian company making honey. Funny little jingo, and watch what happens to your cursor when you go to their page. Cute. Check out the video ads.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Waiting and watching

Not much going on as the bees are just taking some time to get used to their new digs. I think they like it ok. The weather has been cool and rainy at times, but when it warms up a bit they are enjoying getting out and the entrance to the hive is a busy, buzzing place. We're giving them several days before we interrupt them again. The next thing that needs to be done is verify the queen has chewed through the marshmallow door to her cage and is being well tended by the nurse bees in the colony. We will need to remove the cage, jsut check that all is well and let them alone again. We will probably do this on Friday.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Installation Installment

The weather for our bee installation was not quite ideal, or maybe it was. Cool and misty, with intermittent periods of light rain. We arrived at Indian Creek Nature center around noon. We met in one of the smaller buildings there. We were dressed in our white outfits--pants with long-sleeved, over-sized white t-shirts, and carried our gloves and hats with veils. There was a big stack of bee boxes in one corner of the room, giving off an easily discernible hum. At least a dozen bees were flying freely around the small room. Better get used to that, I thought. Bob, our teacher, went through some of the diseases bees experience, describing symptoms and suggesting treatments. He said we would need to get a small packet of medication before we left with our bees. This was to be applied in two parts, right after installation and the other half in 3 weeks. It was treatment for prevention of American foul brood, a nasty terminal disease that is easily recognizable by the odor produced as the larva die, hence the name.

We then went out to their hives. He pulled one apart to demonstrate queen recognition and to examine a healthy hive, with capped honey cells, eggs and capped larva. He smoked the bees prior to opening the hive, and they were very well behaved, though we right away had to get used to bees crawling on us, just being curious I hoped, and crapping. They crap a lot, leaving little brown smears all over the nice, clean white outfits.

After spending awhile examining the hive, he demonstrated the installation. The bees come in a rectangular box, about 18x8x8 inches, with screen on the two long sides. On the top is cut a hole about the size of an 28 oz. vegetable can, with a slit cut in the wood about two inches long going toward one end of the box. Sticking through this slit is a metal tab, attached to the queen cage which is inside the larger box. The can holds the sugar water that has been feeding the bees while it was shipped. Here the tab holding the queen box is being unfolded so you can grab onto it, remove the feeding can, slide the tab to the opening so you can pull the queen box out, then quickly replace the can so the bees do not fly out. The queen will need to remain in this little box, even in the hive, for a couple more days so the bees get used to her and accept her. In one end of her little cage is a hole with a cork. You need to remove the cork, place your finger quickly over the hole, take a marshmallow, then stuff the candy into the hole. This will be eaten through in a couple days, freeing the queen if all goes well. Then, the queen box is placed in the bottom of the hive, after removing about 5 frames, in a back corner away from the opening to the hive. At this point, you take the bee box, smack it down firmly to knock the bees down, remove the feeding can, and dump the bees into the hive. Now, all instructions say to spray the bees down with a sugar water solution before this step. Our instructors did not do that, since it was so cool and damp which really slows the bees down. More on this later.

After dumping the bees into the hive, they spread them out on the bottom, making sure a number were around the queen cage, and then replaced the frames and closed up the hive. They did this demonstration with four more hives. We felt pretty confident about things at this point, went back to the small building where the bees were kept, got our box of bees, chemical and marshmallows, and headed home.

Of course, it didn't go quite as planned. We decided to go right ahead and install them as soon as we were home. We suited up again, got a screw to remove the cork in the queen cage and headed out to the hive with our bees. It was still cool and misting. The queen cage part went flawlessly. We were worried about this since one queen temporarily got out while making the cork--marshmallow exchange but Bob was quick and grabbed her bare-handed and got her back in her cage. So we were ready to dump the bees in. I gave them a smart smack down to knock them down, Kathy pulled out the can and I began to dump them. However, unlike the demonstrations, ours did not just fall down into the hive. Many took flight, buzzing angrily as we tried to shake them out of the box. We didn't hear those sounds at Indian Creek, though there were about 20 people around and many bees flying. Needless to say, we got a bit frantic. We decided to quicly close the hive up, let them settle down and try to finish in awhile.

After about an hour, we went back out, this time with the smoker, and tried to get more bees in the hive. There were still about 1/3 of them in the box. No luck--they were still very aggressive. I got one up inside my veil, sounding very pissed. We retreated again. I called Bob. He said smoke will not work since there was no honey in the hive. Just let them chill down some more, then try again. We did but took the sugar water with us this time. We sprayed them down, which immediately made them manageable, and got almost all of them in the hive. We put in a fresh feeding can and closed it up. Success.

The difference between our experience and that of the ones at Indian Creek were that those had been kept outdoors in Bob's truck and were already quite cool and damp and much more easy to handle. Ours had been kept warm and dry in the building and in our car on the way home. Had we used the spray to begin with, I know we would have had much more luck getting them in and keeping our spirits high. Chalk it off to a lesson learned.

The "bee" girl

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Hive location April 23, 2009

Ok, here is a picture of our site for the hive. It gets a.m. sunlight and afternoon shade. Good drainage. We'll need to keep the weeds down. You can see it is tilted slightly forward, which keeps water from running into the hive. The bees will enter/exit from a small opening near the bottom, which I have blocked off now to keep unwelcome guests out. Things are beginning to bloom here in eastern Iowa, so hopefully the bees will find this a good locale.
We may try to get some video of the installation this Saturday--stay tuned.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Beginnings April 22, 2009

Hi. Jessica decided that since we are taking up beekeeping, we should keep a log about the experience. Probably not a bad idea. So, here goes.
Where are we now? Bees will arrive ready to be "installed" in 3 days. Hives are built and ready to go. We need to make the sugar water to feed them after they are put in the hive. They need this since they have no honey reserve yet and there are not many flowers around at this time, since it is a late spring. The sugar water is also used to spray on the bees as we install them into the hive. This helps keep them from flying.
The hive is in place (picture hopefully to come tomorrow). I'll try to take some pics of the installation process, too. Not sure about all this--we'll see what happens.