Showing posts from 2013

Who's Scratching At My Door?

I went out today on a very welcome 20 degree day--partly sunny, no wind--springlike after what we have been having already this young winter--to check on the bees.  I noticed right away that there were dead bees in the snow in front of hive #1 but none in front of hive #2.  On closer inspection, I noticed the scratch marks in the foam insulation above the entrance.  I tapped lightly on the hive and very quickly brought forth several bees, each of which flew a short ways and then dropped to the snow.  They apparently are still agitated by whatever had been scratching in the night.  Skunks are the most likely candidates, but we certainly have our share of oppossum and raccoons as well.  I couldn't make out any discernible tracks in the snow.  There were similar scratch marks on the eight frame hive, seen below.  No dead bees out in front of it, though.
Seeing no dead bees in front of hive #2, I decided to take a closer look.  I pulled the slide out from the screened bottom and list…

Mid-November Inspection

Temperatures warmed into the low-mid 50's today, so I took the opportunity to make a check of the winter stores.  Our 8 framer, hive #3, was sitting in the sun and that really made a difference as it had many bees flying while the others just had a few timid souls peeking out the bottom entrance.

All three hives had full frames of honey in the top boxes, which is the only place I peeked.  There were few bees in each hive in the top box, which is a good sign as that means they are clustering lower in the hive, which is where they should be this early winter season.  Should we get an exceptionally warm day I still would like to dig a bit deeper into #1 to see if there is any sign of a queen.  That may have to wait until spring.

Ready for Winter

With highs only in the low 50's today, but cool, wet weather coming the rest of the week, I decided I had better get the winter covers on.  Again, I went with the 3/4 inch styrofoam, which has seemed to work well in the past.  The 8 frame hive is in the top photo, with hives #2 and #1 shown below.

A peek into the top box of each indicated they have a full top box of honey supply.  I will check again in several weeks.  Last year, I thought I had great surplus going into winter only to have hive #1 die off.  I'm still a bit concerned about this hive.  A couple weeks ago I looked through the entire hive and found only a few capped cells, but zillions of bees.  Hopefully the queen just shut down for awhile, due to the crowded, fall conditions.  Time will tell.  I'm not sure what I would do anyway at this point in time, with winter approaching and such a large population.  It will be interesting to see what happens.

Marla Spivak on the Disappearance of Bees

Click here to see the Sept. 15th talk, about 15 minutes long, that she gave on TED:  Ideas Worth Spreading.
In case you are not familiar with Dr. Spivak, she has worked for some years developing a strain of bees which are vigorous in their hygiene behavior, which helps dislodge varoa mites.  She works out of the University of Minnesota.

With our bees, I checked honey supplies, which are very good in each hive, removed all queen excluders and put partial frames in a box atop each inner cover.  I put the lid securely on top and turned the inner cover so the open slot is down in the main hive body.  In a couple weeks I'll check again for food stores and also check to see how brood looks, and hopefully will get a nice warm day yet to do that.  I put the entrance reducers in place as well.  Highs in the coming week to ten days should be in the low 70's with lows in the low 50's, so cooler weather is on the way.

I had thought we might get a bit more honey, but none of the frames…

Almost 3 Gallons

Still a little in the strainer, but we'll finish this just shy of 3 gallons.  These are the new gallon jugs we bought this summer at Mann Lake. Ltd. in Minnesota.  They should work nicely for pouring, since they have a good handle.  The honey is light and sweet.  We've noticed no indication yet of goldenrod honey (no dirty sweat sock smell!).  It is in full bloom, so perhaps we'll still see a late surge.  I have probably 7 or 8 frames that are not far from being finished but won't be able to get to those until late September or even October.

We enjoyed the evening at the Iowa City library last night where they screened the film "More Than Honey".  It was certainly thought provoking.  At what point do we vastly overdo it insofar as managing the bees, and how much of the problems we're facing with bees comes from our very own manipulations.  And it isn't just the problem with our management of the honey bee but what we've done overall to the enviro…

Labor Day Harvest

Just a quick update.  We collected frames of honey from all 3 hives, though we'll extract only 11 frames.  We left a super on each hive.  Some frames are completely filled and capped on one side, while others are about 70% capped.  It will be at least a couple weeks until  I can check them again.  This may be our final extraction, though, since I may save those frames for late fall feeding.  Given the weather and the fact that two of the three hives were started this summer, we've done all right with honey and will have over 100 lbs. for the season.  I'll update this tomorrow or the next day with some photos and the amount we extract.  I'm guessing a bit over 2 gallons.

Tomorrow night we're going to a screening in Iowa City of the film "More Than Honey".  Our state apiarist, Andy Joseph, will introduce the film.  I've seen the trailer and it should be very interesting visually at least.

I Hate Bugs

Well, except bees.  But it seems these days that every time you turn around some new pest has materialized out of the blue.  Or out of Asia.  Or Australia.  Or somewhere.  My blueberries had the best crop I've ever had this year.  The early picking was great, with only a few berries showing some signs of disease (probably anthracnose) and then the usual onslaught from the Japanese beetles.

Although they're still out in pretty good numbers, they are starting their seasonal decline and aren't being quite the pest they were.  Then, I began to notice some very soft berries and discovered small holes in the berries that oozed juice when slightly squeezed. Opening them up, I discovered a small white grub.  A little research led me to an insect I had never heard of before:  blueberry maggot.  So, I pretty much abandoned the blueberries for this year, deciding I would severely trim them back, remove all dropped berries and mulch around the plants and do dormant spraying when ther…

Fall Treatment

I finished treating the hives this morning.  It was a bit cool (71 degrees) and overcast, and the bees were a bit testy.  It seems there is always at least one who takes her guarding very seriously and has to get in my face to let me know it.  No stings, but a couple tried in my shirt.  This is the final treatment I will do with hopguard, and will switch next year to Apivar.  I did put a sheet below the screen in the bottom board of hive #2, my most vigorous hive, and after 3 days there were very few mites on the sticky sheet, fewer than 50 after more than 3 days.  I'll be happy with that anytime.

 The hives all look good.  You may not be able to see in the photo above, but each hive has a top box full of capped honey, quite heavy.  This plus additional honey below should be adequate stores for the winter.  Also, each hive is still producing brood. Pulling a frame from hive #1, I saw the queen down in the box on the side of another frame. This is the first I've seen her since …

( How to ) Mind Your Beeswax

I decided to go ahead today and process the beeswax we harvested with our first honey extraction.  It was a warm day outside but nice and cool in the barn, so I thought working in there would be a good idea.  The wax comes from the cappings on the honey from the two medium supers we extracted a few weeks ago.  After thoroughly washing the cappings, I laid them out on layers of newspaper on a sheet of plywood, turning them every time I went into the barn for the next couple of days and changing the newspaper daily.  After a few days, the wax was dry and crumbly and only mildly sticky, as wax should be.

I process the wax in a double boiler.  Beeswax has a melting point of around 145 degrees F (about 63 C.), so you don't want direct heat.  In fact, about 185 degrees will discolor the wax and you won't get the nice, creamy yellow color.  I put a few inches of water in the bottom pan and set it on the burner to heat up.  In this whole process, my water never got to the boiling poin…

Good Harvest

It was a nice day for extracting honey.  The outside temp was about 83 degrees, but fairly pleasant in the barn with fans on.  Warm enough for the honey to flow pretty well.  We pulled 18 frames off hive #2, our strong hive.  We weighed each frame, and had 86 pounds prior to extraction.  There were some very nice looking frames and some not as perfect, but still held a lot of honey. 
Extracted, we have 4 gallons drawn off and the wax cappings are still draining with what looks like at least one more gallon. With the weight of a gallon coming in just around 12 pounds, that would give us about 60 pounds extracted.
Here Kathy is putting the wax cappings into the filters.  We put the filter pail out into the back of our truck, which has a topper.  It's pretty warm in there and we'll draw that off in the morning and then I'll wash off the wax to save for processing later.  The honey has great taste but is distinctly darker when compared with last year's honey, even the lat…

Extracting tomorrow

I checked the bees a week ago and knew then that we'd probably be able to take some honey this weekend.  As you can see above, the bees have drawn out a lot of comb, filled it and capped it already.  It has been a great honey flow, and probably will still go on for some time with lots of clover.  We pulled two boxes (18 frames) from hive #2, but the two hives started from splits have all filled their top box with honey, most of it capped. I have supers on both now.  So they will have great stores going into the winter and we may still get another harvest later in the summer.
I pulled the frames out and shook most of the bees off, while Kathy used a soft brush to get the rest of them off then put the frames in the bins behind her.  It all went pretty smoothly.
I dumped the bees back in front of the hive  As you can see, they made quite a pile.  I checked later and they had made their way back up into the hive, thanks to the inner cover I left as a ladder.  Tomorrow we'll extra…

Progress Check

Since it has been about 9 days since I last looked at the bees, I thought it was time to see how they were doing drawing out new comb and bringing in nectar.  In both respects, things are looking like they are making adequate progress.
I spent the most time in the new 8 frame hive, #3.  I still cannot find the queen, though I've looked very thoroughly 4 times now.  All I can think is she must be pretty small.  She is a laying machine, though, as there were 3 frames solidly full on both sides in the middle of 3 boxes, with many other frames having some capped and uncapped larva as well as numerous eggs.  The eggs are looking better centered.  I posted a question about this on and the feedback basically indicated not to worry, as long as she is laying a good pattern I shouldn't be concerned.

With the recent heat and humidity, the bees have been washboarding on hives #1 and #2.  It's fascinating to watch.  If you haven't seen it, this is a great video showin…

All Things Blooming

Floods, tornadoes, lightning storms aside, it's been a pretty remarkable spring--particularly regarding fruit, of which we try to grow a variety.  That is part of the reason we decided to get bees in the first place, to assist in the pollination of all the things we try to grow.  We've been surprised both at some of the plants  bees choose to "work" and some they do not seem to work.  As I went out to check the hives to see if I needed to add boxes, switch frames out, and just see how they are laying, I took some photos of some of our plants.
On the way out back, I passed the first prairie.  Spiderwort is a dominant plant right now and the prairie is full of it.  The flowers open in the daytime and close at night.  Bees don't seem too attracted, unfortunately.
These lovelies grow along our garden shed.  Again, no bees.  They don't like blue?  It seems I've read about colors and bees before and will have to check that out again.  One upside to starting to …

All Hives Queen Right

Computing the time it would take for worker bee larva to be capped, I decided today would be a good day to look at my hive #3, the 8 framer.  Temperature right around 80, lower humidity, clear skies and gentle breeze--nice day to look at the bees. 
First, in the top box, I found a number of frames with eggs.  Many did not seem to be planted right in the center of the cell, which continued to bother me.  I saw no capped cells or even older larva in the top box.  Right away looking in the bottom box, however, I found frames with good looking patterns of capped worker cells.  Fantastic.  This must be a very shy queen, since I did not see her again but then once I satisfied myself that I had a laying queen, not laying workers, I put the hive back together and closed her up.

It's a bit hard to see with so many bees covering the cells, but the center of each frame was solidly filled with capped worker cells.  I did not see any new drone cells.
Then I looked at the hive which I expanded …

New Hive

I moved the bees from hive #3 into their new home this afternoon.  For now, I put them into two medium supers of the 8 frame hive.  It will be interesting to see how this does throughout the year, the winter in particular.  From what I've read, they should do no worse than my 10 frame hives.  Time will tell.

As I moved frames over, I noted quite a number of eggs.  Surprisingly, I saw no young larva.  The lighting was not the best, however, and many of the frames have newer, white wax so seeing small 1 or 2 day old larva would have been difficult.  I'll look again in several days when there should be some larger larva.  I again did not locate the queen. 
I then moved the frames from the nuc into one of the boxes I had just taken the frames out of to put in the 8 frame hive.  The queen had emerged, but I did not see her.  She should have emerged last Sunday, so I'll give them another week or so to see if there is a laying queen.  If not, I'll combine these bees with #3 a…

Queen Right! and other things

Whew.  Our near catastrophy at doing a direct release of the queen into the new hive seems to have been averted.  We introduced her last Thursday, 4 days ago, and weren't sure whether or not she made it into the hive.  We filled the rest of the medium super with frames and closed it up, hoping for the best.  Today, I opened the hive and noticed all the bees were clustered on one half of the hive.  I guessed, correctly, that if there was a queen and eggs or very young larva, that's where the bees would be concentrated.  I did not find the queen, but did find a good number of eggs, some sticking straight up, which would indicate one day old eggs and a number of 2 to 3 day old eggs laying on their side.  I looked carefully, since I couldn't locate the queen, to make sure they were centered in the cells and there were not multiple eggs in the cells.  It looks good, and I will look to see if they develop properly into worker cells in about a week.  Bees looked happy and busy an…

Installed queens

Sorry, no photos.  Too windy, a little drizzle, but had to get the queens in.  They were a day later arriving than we had thought, so I didn't want to wait until "perfect" weather.  No such thing this spring.
Installed just fine in hive #1, left in cage between two frames.  I'll check this one in two days and release her if she isn't free yet.  Had possibly fatal release in the new hive.  First, I moved frames from the nuc into a regular medium hive body.  On the frame I thought might have some queen cells there were queen cells, so I left that frame in the nuc.  We'll see if that will develop a queen.  I wanted to directly release the second queen into the new hive, which I'll call #3.  I pulled the plug and right away the attendant bees emerged, but the queen was reluctant to come out, or so it seemed.  I lifted it up from the top of the frames, and Kathy saw her drop out.  We looked but couldn't find her, and I hope she fell into the hive.  I shoul…

No Queen

I checked again yesterday to see if hive #2 had a laying queen yet.  I went through the entire hive, but no eggs or larva.  I ordered a Minnesota Hygenic queen from B & B Honey Farms for both this hive and the nuc I started.  I didn't check to see if they had made a queen cell or not.  I'll check when I get the new queen and remove any cells I might find.

This is an example of the weather we've had the past several days and is forecast to continue until Sunday.  It'll be tricky finding a dry time to try to introduce the new queens, when they arrive near the end of the week. 

Suddenly, in the past several days, it's gotten very lush, green out there.  The white clover is just starting to show, but as wet as it is I don't know how much the bees will be able to get out and harvest much nectar. This is a foggy, damp view out back of our house.  The hives are at the far end of the field, beyond the garden and vineyard.  After rain all morning yesterday, there w…

No sign yet of laying queen

Hive #2 is still not showing signs of a laying queen.  I went through both boxes frame by frame and found no queen and no eggs/larva.  The eggs from which a new queen was developed would have her at about 22 to 23 days old now, having emerged probably a week ago.  Doing more reading, however, I read that a number of beekeepers, having placed a queen cell in a hive with hours to go until emergence, may not check for a laying queen for 15 days.  So, I will check again in about a week and see if there is anything.  If not, I will order 2 MN hygenic queens and put one in the nuc and one in this colony.

I had not seen any pollen coming into the hive so I suspected there was not a laying queen.  However, the bees have brought in a lot of nectar so I will have to monitor that closely.

On another blog, I found a link to this short, 2 minute  video.

 A beekeeper, Steve Ellis, who also works out of California, is joining several other beekeepers and organizations in filing a suit against the EP…