Friday, October 16, 2015

Fall Harvest and Winter Prep

After first thinking we might have a banner harvest, and then awhile back seeing fewer frames drawn out, we ended with a moderate harvest of about 4 gallons, or 48 pounds.  Now, starting from the one hive that survived the winter and making three splits, I didn't expect much from the starter hives.
However, it was hive #2, the strongest of the splits, that produced the most honey.  This is with a qualification--at one point, upon inspection I had looked all through hive #1 trying to see how the queen was doing.  I did not find her and found that the hive was pretty much honey bound.  They did produce a lot of honey, just not in the supers.  After putting in some fresh frames, the queen eventually began to lay again and all was well, but they had put so much energy into filling those frames we just didn't get honey from them like I would have liked.

So, next year, these are things I really need to keep in mind:  watch closely for bees filling all the frames in the brood box.  Get honey supers on plenty early.  And remove supers once full so the bees don't begin to consume them in late summer, when food becomes more scarce.

Kathy scraping off the cells.

Drawing off the honey after it has gone through two filters.
After honey extraction, our focus has been on winter prep.  Getting all 4 hives through the winter is our prime goal.  Hive #4 is certainly the weakest, but it has more bees than I want to combine with another hive.  My biggest concern with them has been winter stores, so I've been feeding them a lot and hope they will have enough.

Last winter, moisture in the hive was a considerable problem, and no doubt contributed to bee kill.  So, I've made a quilt box for each hive, filled with DRY wood shavings.  I put muslin on the bottom of the box, with one inch holes on all sides for ventilation.  These sit on top of the inner cover, which is on top of a spacer that gives room for the food patties.

We again used MAQS as our mite treatment.  I plan to wrap the hives with roofing felt this year instead of the foam insulation.  And, we'll keep our fingers crossed!

Friday, September 11, 2015

Goldenrod still going strong

It's funny.  I have been looking at the goldenrod for several weeks, without seeing bees.  Honeybees, that is.  There have been the ever-present bumblebees and other small bees and wasps, but few honeybees.  Today, however, with temps struggling to get into the 70's under a partly cloudy sky, the honeybees were out in force on the goldenrod.
I checked with the bees two days ago, and did not notice the "smelly sock" odor that accompanies uncapped goldenrod honey.  I'll never forget the panic I experienced the first time I noticed the odor--certain that my hives had AFB!  Fortunately, I did some reading before torching them to find out that it is not a concern.
In my inspection the other day, I was surprised to see that hive #4, which at last inspection was basically out of food and had no larva and few capped cells, had many more bees than I recalled and were filling cells both with nectar and royal jelly!  I did not see the queen, though I didn't look in the bottom of the two boxes.  I do suspect that they have made a new queen and she is hopefully about to begin laying.  I "think" I saw a few eggs, though not for sure since the lighting was poor at the time.  The other hives certainly have some honey ready in them, though there seemed to be a lot of frames full of honey that wasn't ready to be capped.  I'll give them more time.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Honey Check

Bees were definitely hanging out on this nice, sunny, low 80's, low humidity day.  Many were flying as well, as I decided to take a look to see how the hives were doing.  It's been several weeks since I've taken a good look.  I was a bit disappointed the last inspection, not with the number of bees and how well they were producing but with the amount of drawn comb and honey collection.
A great spangled fritillary is a beautiful pollinator enjoying our butterfly milkweed.
Today I saw good brood production in all hives, as well as honey production in hive 1 and 2.  I should have moved some of the frames that were newly drawn and filled out of the top brood box and put it up above in the supers, but that can wait.  That third box was extremely heavy, with each frame completely drawn out and filled and capped.  They have their winter stores!
Bearding, up close.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Lookin' Good

Bad words to use, I suppose, but I'm feeling pretty good right now.  I've had some difficulty with hives this spring, which seems to have become the norm.  Trying to split one hive a couple ways can be tricky.  For example:  I thought I'd take a couple frames from hive #1, the strong hive, that made it through the winter and, despite taking a couple splits from it, still seemed overflowing with bees. I was putting those frames of bees in hive #3, which has been a bit slow to grow.  I had gotten a new queen for #1, which, despite having a huge number of bees, seemed to be queenless.   Workers were filling all the frames with honey and there was no larva or eggs present.
So, I got the new queen, very pretty with an iridescent blue marking, into the hive, having also removed a couple of frames to put in the weak hive.  Now, #1 is a big hive, 5 medium boxes--48 frames total.  I put the queen in and put the hive back together. I picked up one of the frames I had set aside and--guess what--there was the big fat queen from number 1.   She apparently just shut down for a bit.  What was the chance that I'd have the queen on one of 48 frames?  Crazy.  So, what to do?  I had an extra queen and certainly wasn't going to let her go to waste.  I quickly put together a new hive and put the queen in there with the two frames and closed things up.  I added more bees later, and now have 4 queenright hives.

Can you spot the queen?

It has really been a fantastic growing spring and early summer, with mild temps and abundant moisture.  The prairie is growing well, and pollinators of all sorts are taking advantage.  Too bad the bees and butterflies like the thistle--we're doing our best to kill it off.  The buttterfly milkweed is popular too.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

More Queen Woes

I looked at my new hives a couple of days ago.  Hive #2 was looking strong, needing a third box on top.  Hive #3 had some capped pupa and very young larva.  I did not see the queen in either hive but she must be there.  The third had many fewer bees so I planned to add some with a newspaper divide.  I couldn't do it that day so I planned the next.  I would take them from the strong, #1 hive.
The next day I went into #1, removing the two supers and looking for some frames with larva.  Found none.  Not in any of the boxes, and bees were filling every frame with nectar.  No wonder they have been nasty. I've been too busy with other projects to look at them much and the queen had been laying well several weeks ago.  So, I need a new queen for this hive now. It seems to never end.  At least there are a ton of bees in this hive, so hopefully they can get back on track.  My problem now is, though, what  to do with all those frames filling up with nectar.
Ted Talks had a nice little video showing bees in their first 21 days of development.  Check it out.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Installed Queens

Just a quick note.  I installed two queens May 5th.  Checking 3 days later, they were both released.  Hopefully there are enough bees in the new hives to be able to manage.  Weather has been a real mix, with rain, sunshine and coolness.
My main hive still seems to have way too many bees.  I'll need to do something about that.
Thanks to Adam Ebert for the queens.  You can check out his blog at Adam Ebert's Tales of Bees.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Surviving Hive Looking Good

Upper sixties today, so I wanted to get the liquid feeder on, with a spring dosage of fumagilin-B for nosema), and check on the hive's status.  Bees were flying all around.  The first thing I noticed was the large amount of pollen sitting on the landing board.
Bees were bring in pollen like crazy, a good sign.  I hated to see all that pollen wasted, though.  I think they are having a hard time getting into the hive with their loads, given the small entrances both below and above.  To remedy that, I drilled a hole through the spacer above the top box which I have on to give room for patties.  They seemed to love that.
I did pull all three boxes apart and pulled a frame or two from each.  I thought maybe the queen had descended to the lowest level, which has many empty frames, but she apparently is in the upper box since that is where I found the larva, some capped.
So, there are a lot of bees in this hive.  That's good news.  I should be able to do one, possibly two splits.  I'll try to order queens tomorrow.  Temps for the extended forecast are looking good, with highs in the sixties and lows in the 40's, with a little rain now and then.  Crocuses are beginning to show blooms and the rhubarb is really coming up.  Grapes, blueberries and raspberries are trimmed and ready for spray.  Spring is finally on the way!

Friday, March 13, 2015

Love This Weather--and I Do Too

The bees are loving it.  From the one hive I have left, they are out looking for any source of food available.  As I have noticed in the past, even before the crocuses poke up, the bees are hitting my birdfeeder, getting as much pollen or protein they can.

They're even on the ground around the feeder, picking at seeds and things the birds (and sometimes the dam*! squirrels) kick out of the feeder.
After lunch it should be in the mid-sixties.  I need to check on feed and reduce the hive by removing  a box.  I won't do a full inspection but I hope to be able to tell if a queen is active.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Winter Woes

Three hives going into winter.  Now two.  Again, really disappointing.

I went out about 2weeks ago to check on the hives.  We had a +40 degree day.  I had fed the bees sugar about a week before that, and all 3 hives looked fine.  All had honey, all seemed to have a lot of bees.
Now, the one hive I had thought to have the best chance for survival was dead.  A pile of dead bees covered the sugar I had fed them earlier.  Half a pattie still sat on the frames as well. I was really disappointed.  Late in the afternoon and upset, I just closed the hive back up.  The other two hives looked great.  Each had eaten some of the sugar I had fed earlier.  I added to this and closed them up.

The next day I went out to the hives again.  It was still above 40 degrees, so I thought I'd take a better look at the dead hive to try to find out what happened.
 The first thing I noticed was the size of the cluster.  It covered several frames, plus several hundred dead bees on top of the sugar.  Not a huge cluster, actually smaller than I had anticipated.  As you can tell in the top photo, though, the cluster sat right inside of about 6 frames full of honey.  There really was plenty of available food, and the weather had not been particularly cold.  The bees just wouldn't move to go to the available honey.  Even the side of a frame that had plenty of honey was not touched.

I didn't see any sign of disease.  Unlike the hive that had died out by January last year, I did not see any of the signs of nosema.  Just a soccer-ball cluster, plenty of food, and dead bees.  I got 12 frames with at least one full side of honey out of this hive.  I split that up and gave it to the other two.

Today, a couple weeks later, I went out just take a look.  Mid-twenties, too cold to open them up, I saw fresh claw marks on the front of one hive and the foam was really torn away on the back of the hive.  There was a pile of scat on the ground behind the hives I didn't recognize.  I have seen a possum out by the bird feeders, but it may have been skunk or racoon.  Hard to say.  The weather has been decent, in the 20's and low 30's for highs, so mammals have been out and about.

I've ordered patties and hope for a nice day to throw some in.  My fingers are getting cramped from keeping them crossed.
UPDATE  #1 (Feb. 7)  44 degrees today, so I went out to the hives, fearing the worst.  We ordered patties from Mann Lake.  I saw one bee outside the smaller hive, #3, so I knew at least one of the two was alive.  On opening them, both seemed vibrant and in good condition.  Each had almost all of the honey in the top box I added last time still untouched, which was a very good sign.  Bees were feeding on the sugar.  I put two patties in each and quickly closed them up.  Each was open only less than a minute.  Very good sight.

UPDATE #2 (Feb. 28)  One more hive dead--#3.  The low yesterday was -15.  This morning it was -10.  This is the end of February.  Usually I'm out with just a sweatshirt in mid-March trimming grape vines.  This year I'd better wear my boots or stand in the snow.
It was 28 degrees this afternoon so I walked out to the hives.  No sign of bees, so I listened to both hives.  Nothing on #3.  A solid hum coming from #1.  I opened #3 and, sure enough, all dead.  All the honey I had put in the upper super seemed untouched.  The forecast calls for temps in the upper 30's at one point this week, though lows will still be in the single digits near zero some days.  I'll try to get in the hive for a look-see on the plus thirty day.  Have to keep these bees alive.