Apr 19 2014

Checking for queen activity again

Maple tree blossoms

Maple tree blossoms

It was quite warm today, sunny, 64 degrees and calm with blue skies and little white puffs of clouds. The bees from the orange hive were all out in the garden and the flowering pear tree is in full bloom and just full of bees. The dandelions are also popping out and the girls just love those.

Blossoming Pear tree blossoms and buds

Blossoming Pear tree blossoms and buds

There are now a lot of choices in the beeyard and in the neighborhood for pollen and early nectar.

I got my camera, suited up and took out a bin to collect extra wax and went out to the bee deck. I started up the smoker now that I have a TON of newly washed burlap from a generous sis-in-law.  There were 2 wasps on the bee deck actually going at it fisticuffs – pawing and pawing at each others faces, battling it out. So I squished them. So very very satisfying.

Orange hive

I smoked the front door, under the lid and then removed the lid and inner cover. The top box (4th) is still full of honey.

The 3rd box had mostly honey, lots of bees and 1 frame just off center which had – taaaa daaaaaa – fresh eggs in a small spot about the size of my fist. Go Queen Innløse!

fresh eggs laid today standing up in their cells

fresh eggs laid today standing up in their cells

In the 2nd box from the bottom were 3 more frames that had small patches of fresh eggs in among the frames with new nectar. The bottom box had no eggs.

I looked at all the frames again and couldn’t find the queen, but I’m not that worried since she’s laying eggs. I moved the frames of eggs all down to the bottom box. There are plenty of frames which are empty and cleaned out and other frames which were semi-scraped that they’re building out.

They’ve also eaten through several frames of honey and created more space and are bringing in new nectar and some pollen.

I went ahead and put on a 5th box full of honey. Since I’m going to be gone a week, I figured this not only gives them food, but they can eat through the honey stores and make room to lay babies. This will be the equivalent of 2 1/2 deep boxes.

Here’s a video of the orange girls just busily working a frame with honey and buzzing away happily.

Go girls, lots of busy little bees, all over the frames, friendly although quite a flurry around my head and face but no thwaking.

periwinkle flower

periwinkle flower

Blue Hive

I then moved to the blue hive. It still has 2 entire boxes full of honey. The bottom two boxes are empty, with some new pollen and some new nectar.

Absolutely no sign of a queen, virgin queen and no eggs anywhere. There are also still only about 4 frames of bees.

I went ahead and stole one of the frames with a small patch of eggs from the orange hive, after completely brushing off all bees from it down into the orange box, and put it in the bottom of the blue hive. I figure if they want to start yet another queen, they’ll make a queen cell. If they think they have a good virgin queen or one that’s mating, they’ll just raise the babies.

forsythia flower

forsythia flower

Either way, next weekend, I need to inspect this hive. If they don’t have enough bees I should combine them with the orange hive. But I can’t stick a virgin queen in there (been there, done that, lost a queen). So I just can’t do this unless I actually find a virgin queen and kill her.

It’s either that, or I just let them try on their own and they could just dwindle until there are none left.

 

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Apr 16 2014

Desperately seeking Innlose

It was warm yesterday so I decided to see how the new package was getting along and if they had released their queen yet.

I suited up, smoked the front of the hive just a little and popped the top.

The hive is really full of bees. They’ve already eaten through a couple frames of honey and are filling in the holes with pollen and new nectar.

I carefully looked at every frame in all three boxes once, then again, then again and never saw Queen Innløse, even though she has a big fat green dot on her shoulders. The cage was empty so they’d released her. There were no eggs at all I could find.

But I’m not going to worry just yet. I went ahead and popped on another box full of honey from the blue hive.

Orange Hive

Now has 2 lower boxes with lots of empty frames for making babies and 2 top boxes chock full of honey.

 

I then peeked at the blue hive. The girls are still busily working bringing in pollen and new nectar, although there was no sign of any laying going on at all, couldn’t see a queen and there are still just the 3 or 4 frames of bees. I moved the top full box of honey from their hive to the orange hive.

Blue Hive

It now has 2 lower boxes pretty empty except for a bit of pollen and 2 top boxes full of honey.
It’s going to rain for the next two days, so maybe that gives the new queen time to get her mojo going in the hive. It’ll be warm again on the weekend so I’ll check again on Saturday on both hives.

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Apr 12 2014

The new girls have moved into the neighborhood

The new package of bees just after dumping them in their new home, the orange hive.

The new package of bees just after dumping them in their new home, the orange hive.

So today was sunny and chilly about 7am, but by 9am it was nice and warm. Today is “bee day” – when the big semi truck arrives at the bee supply store to deliver all of the bee packages for everyone who ordered them. This year, there were over 800 packages ordered.

I had emailed The Wiz a couple of weeks ago to see if it was too late to order a package. He said it was, but he thought there was going to be a cancellation and if so, he’d save me a package. At this point, I can’t be picky so I didn’t even care if it was Carniolans or Italians.

This morning, I called The Wiz about 9am and asked if he thought there might be one extra. He said he’d saved one for me and to hurry and get over there because it wasn’t a mad house yet. I quick looked at a video on YouTube on how to put in a package and release the queen because it’s been 5 years since I got a new package. I  threw a box in the car just in case, HB jumped in to drive me the 5 minutes over there and we zipped over. The first of the newbies were still at their first class learning how to put in a bee package so they hadn’t arrived yet.

The new queen cage sitting tightly between two of the frames in the hive

The new queen cage sitting tightly between two of the frames in the hive

I talked to The Wiz and one of the experienced guys and told them what I’d done to my queen on the deck and how I think I squished her wing. They laughed and laughed and then told me a story about the OF who had been inspecting one of his bee yards with tons of hives. He was merrily driving back home in his truck with his arm hanging out the window when he looked down and noticed a queen crawling up his arm towards his neck. I took her and plopped her in his shirt pocket, turned around and had to find the hive with the missing queen and put her back. So I don’t feel like such a rookie after all.

The girls in their new box with all the frames in

The girls in their new box with all the frames in

I got my package of bees, they’re Carniolans with a marked queen (wow, I’ve never had a marked queen before). 3 pounds of bees, a queen and a feeding can in a shoebox sized cage for $112.  Not cheap, but there was no way I could go a year with the possibility of no bees.

We put the girls in the back of the car and whizzed back home in 5 minutes. I suited up and took out the orange screened bottom.

I put a box on that had 2 frames of honey, one on each wall and 6 drawn out and empty frames. Then I took another box just like that and a box with 8 frames of honey and a top.

I set up the one box with 6 frames and 2 of honey and put it on the bottom board. I removed the center 5 frames. I took out a spray bottle with thin sugar syrup and started the smoker. I then took out the bee package on the deck and gave a very tiny smoke to the box.

The new orange hive with the package box/cage sitting in front of the door, the tin feeding can that came with it, and the spray bottle of syrup I used to calm the bees.

The new orange hive with the package box/cage sitting in front of the door, the tin feeding can that came with it, and the spray bottle of syrup I used to calm the bees.

You carefully pry out the tin can that has syrup in it, which opens a can sized hole in the cage. Then you reach in and pull out the queen in her cage, which is covered in bees. She has a big green dot on her shoulders.

I lightly sprayed both sides of the cage with sugar syrup to calm down the bees and get them busy licking each other instead of trying to fly out. You then take the whole cage, turn it upside down and just dump those girls out into the box with the frames removed. They just fill up the whole bottom of the box. You kind of thump the cage to get out as many girls as possible.

I then put the cage with the left over bees in front of the hive entrance so they could crawl out when they wanted. I gently pushed the bees around in the bottom of the box to smooth them out so they wouldn’t be squished. I very gently lowered the frames into the box so I didn’t smoosh them.

I took the queen cage, carefully popped out the cork and put my finger over the hole, then inserted a mini marshmallow in the hole. I put the cage, marshmallow side down, between two frames and pushed the frames together so the friction just holds the queen in her cage in there. The bees will eat out the marshmallow and release her, hopefully sometime today.

I put the rest of the two boxes and the lid on top.

I present to you – Queen Innløse of the orange hive- which means “redeemed” because I bought her.

I then decided to inspect the blue hive.

The bees in the bottom box of the blue hive. Just a small cluster

The bees in the bottom box of the blue hive. Just a small cluster

Blue Hive

I removed the top 3 boxes which are entirely full of honey, and the 4th box which is mostly honey.

The 2nd box from the bottom had about 3 frames of bees and when I looked at the 3 frames they were on, they were cleaned out, no eggs, but the girls are packing in pollen and a little fresh nectar.

In the bottom box, there were 4 scant frames of bees, in a cluster. That’s not a lot of bees. I pulled all the middle frames and looked really carefully. I saw no virgin queen, but I’m not sure I’d know it if I spotted her. I saw no eggs but a lot of cleaned out cells.

The 4 previous capped queen cells are all chewed out so at least one queen must have either gotten out or they pulled them all out – who knows. All I can do is wait and see if they finally get a mated and laying queen, or if they all die out before that time. They’re still being industrious and bringing in pollen and nectar and cleaning away. So I put the hive back together.

 

I then put all my equipment away and since it was really warm, I went out in the garden and started watering and weeding. I looked back at the bee deck – now that’s a lot of activity. There were bees all over the place, way up to the roof of the house and all over the yard. They were just flying all over the place, getting used to their new home.

A close up of the 4 previous queen cells in the blue hive that have been torn open on the bottom.

A close up of the 4 previous queen cells in the blue hive that have been torn open on the bottom.

I had one pesky little girl that was buzzing around in front of my face, like 1 inch in front of my face and she just wouldn’t give up. She kept landing ON MY FACE and on my neck and crawling around. I’d gently push her off and back she was. So since I had my hose I put the hose head on “mist” and misted myself which would make her go away. 3 minute after the mist was off, back she was, on my face and crawling around and on my neck. It was freaking me out a little. Was she ticked off and bothering me or did she think I was her mom? I spent a good 30 minutes playing this game until I was pretty wet from constantly misting myself and finally just gave up and left the garden.

I suddenly realized I may have been more at fault for the partial demise of the blue hive. The tradition of the “telling of the bees” says you must tell the bees of all the important events in the beekeepers life, such as deaths and births and celebrations. So you go out to the hive and whisper to them these events. If you don’t keep the bees up on the latest family events, they’ll punish you by leaving.

I’ve kept them up to date on this stuff in the past, but I realized I entirely forgot to tell them that their godfather (our sweet boy) had moved back to town and that he had his own little sweet boy now (4 months old). So I went out to the bee deck and spent a good 5 minutes whispering to the blue hive to catch them up.

 

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Apr 06 2014

what a gorgeous day

So this was the first truly wonderful spring day that held the promise of a real summer. The weather says it got up to 62 but it was so sunny and warm I was working in the garden in my tank top and feeling plenty warm. It was actually balmy – like a soft, touchable warm hanging on you.

A pair of blue orchard bees mating on the pussy willows

A pair of blue orchard bees mating on the pussy willows

The bees were much more active in the sun and around the face of the hive so I’m having some hope for them. I won’t peek at them until next week to see if they made a queen. They were still plenty active out in the weeping pussy willow tree. There are still big fat pussy willows with pollen although you can see they’re starting to look a little ragged.

I planted my onions, two kinds of peas, and 10 kinds of greens today. There are pansies already blooming in the cracks between the bricks out in the raised bed gardens. The forsythia and flower pear buds are so very close to popping out into flower that I felt if I could just pinch one, out would bust a bloom.

I caught this pair of Blue Orchard bees, which are a wild bee, out on the pussy willows mating. Sorry kids, I know it was rude, but my intrusion didn’t seem to spoil the mood any. These are a little shorter and fatter than honeybees, still fuzzy but a shiny blue black and reside all over the U.S. and come out very early in the spring from their winter nesting sights.

I’m going to hang out during the day at the bee supply place next Saturday and hope hope hope that someone cancels an order of bees so I can buy myself a package and come home and put it in.

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Apr 01 2014

First inspection of spring

puffy pussy willows full of pollen with a girl working the pollen, dusted in yellow with bags of pollen on her legs

puffy pussy willows full of pollen with a girl working the pollen, dusted in yellow with bags of pollen on her legs

So today it got up to about 58 degrees, very sunny and mild without wind. At 2pm I decided to go out and do my first real full blown inspection of the only hive left, the blue hive.

I went out and was walking around in my garden and walked right by the new weeping pussy willow tree and the humming was so loud there I had to stop. The pussy willows are past the fuzzy stage and look like they kind of exploded to triple their size and just bursting with pollen.

There must have been 100 bees happily buzzing and humming all around in the tree, all over the pussy willows gathering pollen. They were making quite a ruckus so I left them alone.

I went out to the bee deck after suiting up, got the smoker going with paper and burlap, smoked the front door and under the lid and waited to the count of 10.

Blue Hive inspection

There are currently 5 boxes on the blue hive.

The top 2 are entirely full of wall to wall solid frames of capped honey and I removed these. The third box has 7 frames of capped honey and one frame in the middle that’s about half honey, just to give them a little expansion.

The 2nd box from the bottom has 4 frames of honey and 4 frames in the middle that are mostly cleared out. There were some bees all over two of these frames but not more than about 1/2 a frame of bees on each frame.

Another girl on the pussy willow pollen with a huge pollen sac on her back legs

Another girl on the pussy willow pollen with a huge pollen sac on her back legs

The bottom box was where all the bees were, gathered in the middle, which is where I put the frames with the few brood and fresh eggs that I saw last time when I nearly lost Kriger. I needed to see if I could find Kriger and any fresh eggs. If I accidentally harmed her wing when I tried to pick her up, they may be thinking of replacing her.

I pulled out the 4 frames that had bees.

They were starting to bring in and pack the pollen. One of the frames had one side filled with fresh nectar.

I found no eggs or brood at all.

I did find 4 capped queen cells, although they’re not as huge as a peanut like I’d like to see. I looked and looked and could find no queen. So they’re obviously creating their own queen and I don’t know if they killed Kriger or she died or is hiding in the hive. But I must have damaged her. She would be about 2 years old in June so she was getting on in years.

4 queen cells on center frame in bottom box. Capped but I think a little small

4 queen cells on center frame in bottom box. Capped but I think a little small

So they’re making their own queens and I assume Kriger is dead or on the way out. I have no idea if these are good queens – the cells seem a little small. They really should make queens out of brand new fresh eggs, which they had last time, but I don’t know at what point they decided Kriger wasn’t well anymore.

Once the new queens hatch, they’ll have to get mated. It’s a little early for that, as I’m not sure how many hives are already hatching out drones. It can take a queen 1 day to 30 days to mate, if there are drones out there. Then she has to start laying, and then the babies have to hatch in about 20 days. So at the long end, if this is a successful queen and she can mate, it could be 4-6 weeks before babies hatch out to replace the bees in the hive. And they need enough bees in the hive during that time to cover the babies, feed the babies and forage for pollen.

Conclusion:

Not so sure if this hive will make it on it’s own. I could go buy a queen and stick her in there, but I’d run the risk of them killing her.

bottom box with 4 frames of bees

bottom box with 4 frames of bees

So I’m going to just leave them be, let them make a queen.

And I emailed the Wiz to see if it’s too late to order a Carniolan package with a queen for delivery on April 12. If I can still get a package, that will mean I’ll have at least one good hive. If my blue hive survives, I’ll have two.

So very sorry Kriger. But they would have replaced you soon anyway as you were getting on in years. Conserve your energy girls and eat up the honey I left you so you can raise little babies.

 

 

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Mar 23 2014

it’s finally spring

Pussywillows which have gray pollen

Pussywillows which have gray pollen

I can finally say it’s officially spring. It was 52 today and very sunny, with no wind. The girls were going crazy out there. HB kept commenting on how they usually look so determined, leaving the hive and shooting straight up into the sky and out over the yard. But today it’s just a jumble of bees zigzagging and wiggling all over in front of the hive.

They’re using their “cross” or “figure 8″ flying pattern to orient themselves. But they were definitely out in the air.

yellow crocus

yellow crocus

I decided to go ahead and clean up the boxes and frames I removed from the bee deck from the winter kill/orange hive. So I took them out on the lawn with a chair and a really sharp hive tool and started scraping off the entire winter’s worth of propolis. I had to stop after 3 boxes because being in the sun the propolis just started getting gummy. It’s easier to do this in the cold morning so that the propolis is hard and it just cracks and snaps off easily instead of scraping a gummy peanut buttery mess.

tiny grape hyacinth

tiny grape hyacinth

It also started to attract a LOT of girls, flying all around the propolis on the ground. I assume they’re going to recycle it in their hive. So I can scrape it off those boxes. So they can steal it again and recycle it in the hive. So I can scrape it off again…..

The garden is finally starting to yield things bees would be interested in, although just barely.

Have fun in the sunshine and the new flowers, girls.

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Mar 22 2014

Girls are hummmmmming

It got pretty sunny today around 1pm and it got up to 50. This morning it was 24 degrees out when I got up and when we left the house at 8am the car windows had to be scraped.

But in the afternoon the sun came out and so did the girls. They were flying in and out and it was looking like a regular spring day. I went out to the hive to watch them for awhile and they sounded good, loud buzzing but not angry. I stood right by the hive and watched, with bees all around me in a little cloud, and they didn’t try anything.

Here’s their first video of the late winter season flying about and humming loudly.  Girls getting some sunshine.

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Mar 17 2014

Rookie mistake

It only got up to about 45 today but it suddenly got really sunny so I decided to run outside and check out the blue hive and get any brood and food together.

I suited up, took out two boxes of honey from the orange hive in case I needed it, and went out to the deck. I got the smoker going, smoked the front door and under the lid and popped the top quickly.

The bees were a little grumpy, probably because it was cold. They didn’t try to sting but a few kept hovering around my face mask and flying up from the boxes into my face mask, but none thwacked me.

The top 2 boxes are still very full of honey.

The 4th box from the bottom had honey and quite a few bees on two frames. I looked at those frames and there was a small patch of capped brood on each and a very few tiny eggs. They were eating the food next to these frames. Then in the 3rd box from the bottom, there were also two frames with a tiny bit of new brood.

So I moved the 4 frames with brood into a new empty box, and put 2 frames of honey on each side and put this box aside on the deck.

As I moved down to the last 2 boxes, there were mostly empty frames (cleaned out of honey) and a few dead bees, heads down in cells, butts up, some of the mildewed.

I moved these all aside. The bottom screened board was just jam packed with dead bees, basically covering the entire screened board up to the bottom bars. There was about 5 inches free in front where I had swept out bees, but the entire back was packed. I’ve got to figure out a better way to get ALL the bees swept out in winter when I do this. Otherwise, there won’t be any ventilation. I dumped this bottom board and cleaned it off.

I then moved that box with the brood and food to the bottom position, put another box on top with 3 cleaned out frames of wax in the center so they could move directly up laying eggs, and the rest of the frames honey. I topped this off with 3 boxes full of honey so even if we have a long, rainy spring, they’ll have food.

I was in a hurry because the sun kept going behind the clouds and getting chilly and I didn’t want to freeze them. When I was all done, with the lid back on and the insulation back on top with it’s bricks, I started to clean up the deck and take away the extra boxes of honey. I looked down at my feet to make sure I didn’t step on any live girls on the deck.

Purely out of luck my eyes caught a bee slowly moving across that deck that looked odd. I bent down and HOLY CRAP! It was the queen! She was headed straight towards one of the spaces between the decking. I kind of flicked her away from the space and she started to head for it again. I tried to pick her up with my fingers gently, but failed and I couldn’t tell if I might have damaged a wing. I looked and it still looked intact.

I tore off the bricks, insulation, lid and 3 boxes so fast they were all over the deck. Then I put my finger down and let her just crawl up my finger, put her over the 2nd box from the bottom and set her on the top bars, where she proceeded to go down into the box.

I can’t believe I did that. That’s such a first year mistake. I was in such a rush I didn’t take the time to bump all the bees from the frames I was moving to the new box down into the existing hive. I just moved all the frames – bees and all – over to the new box. She had to have been on one of these frames. Then when I picked up the box to put it on the hive, she must have fallen off. I can’t believe I didn’t step on her.

Stupid stupid stupid (picture me banging my head against the computer).

So HOPEFULLY I didn’t damage her because if they think she’s damaged, they won’t want her, but I’m not sure if the can even make a queen this early in the season or if there were any fresh eggs to do so. This is Kriger, my warrior queen, so I hope she still has enough viking warrior left in her to survive my really terrible faux pas. I’m sorry, Queen Kriger.

 

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Mar 16 2014

Winter Kill

So I went to the bee meeting on Friday and took my pictures and talked to a few of the OF’s and the Queen Bee. They said this was a classic starvation tale. The girls have their heads in the cells, butts out, all in a tightly packed area of the cluster. They said if it happened recently, it could be that the queen was brooding up and when they start to lay brood, they will not ever break the cluster over the babies (it would freeze them) and if there isn’t honey in the frame directly on either side of the brood, they’ll start before they break the “cover” over the babies to go get food.

If there was no brood, they said it can happen just because it was so cold that they simply would not break the cluster even to move up in the hive to get food. I talked to one guy who also had a starvation loss and he said when he opened the hive it was unbelievably smelly and they were all rotten.

The OF’s said I could reuse the frames and boxes, just brush off the dead bees on the outside and any stuck inside the cells, just leave them and when you put them in another hive, the bees will just clean them out. They also said I can just store the honey in the bee shed and use it for my other hives.

They also said the picture did appear to have the queen in the middle, although they think her body was just brown because she died and was rotten and the queen bees kind of have a transparent body, so the Italian gold probably just browned.

Sunday check

Saturday was freezing so I went in this afternoon about 1pm to tear apart this orange hive. Nephew got the big shop vac for me out to the bee deck and I went ahead and suited up even though there wasn’t a single bee poking their head out of the blue hive – it was just too cold. But I figured I’d be making a LOT of noise and vibration right next to the blue hive so they might get grumpy.

I took the boxes from the top of the orange hive and laid them aside one at a time. There are 6 boxes on the hive and the top 4 boxes are still packed full of 8 full frames of honey each, very full and heavy.

The dead bees were all in the bottom two boxes. That tells me this happened pretty early. They never even got past the 2nd box. The cells in those two boxes were entirely empty of honey. There was no sign of any brood at all. 4 frames in the bottom box and 2 frames in the 2nd box, all in a perfectly round cluster pattern and tightly packed together, were dead. The cluster size was about the size of a regular cantaloupe.

I decided it sounded like way too much work for the bees to clean all this stuff out. So I took out each frame with dead bees, pounded it on the bee deck to get out as many bees as I could, then sucked with the shop vac to get most of the rest, then went ahead and scraped off the beeswax where there were any dead bees left that I couldn’t get out. I swept all the detritus out into the garden.

I had nephew move the honey boxes out the bee shed and I cleaned up the deck. I put a styrofoam insulation topper back on the blue hive, although it no longer has tar paper wrap. If it gets warm at all enough for the bees to fly, I’ll run out there, do an inspection and re-organize the hive so that any brood is in the middle frames with honey directly on either side.

Conclusion:

Here’s what I think happened. I think the cluster was just too small to keep the hive adequately heated for the really bone chilling, sub zero temps we had several times this winter, even with the wrap. They were pushed up against the side of the hive that was next to the other hive, so it would have been the warmest wall.

I think it happened pretty early because they were so far down in the box and there was no brood. There was absolutely no stinking or smell.

For some reason, they were weaker going into the winter and had less bees or had more losses early on, so they were too small to keep the hive alive.

Plan:

  1. As soon as the bees start to fly any time this week, I’ll go reorganize the blue hive and get brood in the middle surrounded by honey
  2. I’ll fill in any empty frames with honey from the orange hive
  3. I’ll store the rest of the honey in the shed for when I make a split hive and then they’ll have plenty of honey to eat

 

I don’t feel like I did anything wrong or made some kind of mistake. The OF’s just said, yep, it happens, it was a tough winter, several people had winter kills from starving, including the Wiz. So I just move on and hope the other hive is so robust they want to bust out and swarm in a big way in April or May and I can split them into 1 or 2 more hives of their own.

I’ll have to decide at the time what to do about queens. If they already have started to make their own swarm queens, I’ll just use those queens to split the hives. If they haven’t and are getting over crowded, I’ll split them and buy a queen to put in their new hives.

The great news is…I had my bee suit on today, and it smelled wonderfully of propolis, beeswax, honey and smoke and I was actually in a hive for the first time in many months. Spring is coming!

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Mar 09 2014

I kind of suspected this

Today it got up to 57 degrees and was very sunny. I was extremely busy, didn’t get home from church and errands until about 2:30p and had to leave at 3:30p to go take my nephews out for their birthday. But about 3pm it got super sunny, so I looked outside and saw bees flying.

dead bees hanging on frame and bars

I went around to the front of the hives and saw, again, bees flying out of the blue hive but nothing out of the orange hive. So I decided that I’d quick take a look, realizing that no matter what I found, I couldn’t spend more than about 10 minutes in the hives. I leave for work tomorrow in another state and won’t be back until Friday night, so I know I can’t take a really good look until next Saturday.

I popped on HB’s big bee jacket, and put a belt around it so the bees couldn’t fly up it since it’s so big, popped on my gloves and tucked my pants into my barn boots and headed out. I started my smoker with just wood chips, although that was a treat since 2 out of the 3 fire starters were out of juice. I quick smoked the bottom and top doors of each hive and then decided that I needed to tear off the roofing paper around both hives because it’s stapled in and I can’t remove any of the top boxes without doing this. There may be a few nights in the 30′s still, but it’s not going to get in the single digits again, so the bees can just keep themselves warm without the hive wrap.

I then took all the bricks off the top, took off the sheet of insulation and popped the top to the orange hive.

half of cluster on top bars of hive and up two frames on the left

Top box – all honey, no bees.

Next box – all honey, no bees, but there were some very large puddles of very watery honey on top of the bars. This must mean that somehow there’s too much moisture in the hive causing condensation to drip. Moisture is the worst killer. It also probably means there’s nothing heating up the inside of the hive to evaporate the moisture.

Third box down – almost all honey and one frame full of – dead bees. Just jammed in to the cells, faces first. I pulled out 4 frames and looked down into the 3rd box from the bottom and could see very clearly the cluster in the shape of a very large cantaloup across the top bars and on the far left side of the hive, and spreading up the left side of the hive to the left two frames in the next box up. All very, very dead.

I took several pictures, pulled out two of the frames with dead bees and took pictures. Some of the bees are actually covered in a white mold or mildew.  There was more dime sized drops of sticky water or just water on the tops of the bars in the hive.

I had no more time so I just put everything back and closed up the hive.

The bee meeting is on Friday and I’ll be back in time for that. I’ll ask some questions, although I won’t have been able to get into the hive before the meeting to give a full report of the condition of the hive. I’ll ask what I should look for.

dead bees covering frame with while mildew

List of questions to ask:

  1. Could this have been nosema that they died from, and it’s only moist and mildewy because there was no body heat after they died?
  2. Should I have them tested by sending a bunch down to WSU?
  3. What should I do with the frames – do I just scrape them off or destroy the frames?
  4. Should I re-use the boxes or wait to get the testing back from WSU to make sure it’s not something serious?
  5. How could they have died of moisture if they had a screened bottom board as did the other hive?

Unfounded suspicions:

I suspect that last time I was able to take a top peek about a month ago, the few bees I saw in the top hive and going out the top door were really bees from the blue hive coming over and stealing honey. These bees had been long dead by then.

I suspect that the moisture in the hive is because there was no heating element (bees keeping the hive warm), although they could have gotten damp and died first.

close up of bees with mildew, possible queen

I do not suspect that they starved to death as some bees do simply because they wouldn’t move sideways to get more food when it was cold. Bees always move up and there was honey directly above them and the frames with dead bees still had plenty of honey in them and there was plenty of honey directly above them in the hive.

Next week inspection:

Whichever day is not raining, Sat or Sun, I’ll do a full inspection. It doesn’t really matter if it’s cold since the bees are dead. I want to see in the bottom of the box to see if the screened bottom was covered in dead bee bodies which might have kept the hive from ventilating.

Picture references:

  1. This is the first frame of dead bees I found, above the regular cluster of dead bees. They look soggy.
  2. This is looking down at the cluster which is over on the left side of the box and covers two more frames (which are not seen in this picture) with up the sides of two frames on the far left side of the box above the cluster
  3. This is a frame with dead bees and a swath across the middle and down to the right that are covered in white mildew, with a possible dead queen
  4. This is a close up of the last frame, the powdery white mildew. In both pictures, just above the beginning of the mildew, just above the very center of the picture, it looks like a queen. Her head is pointing down and her upper body and head are covered in mildew. What’s confusing is she has a very dark body, which would be a Carniolan but I know this hive went into the winter with an golden Italian. So could this have been a new queen hatched late? Or could the body just have rotted and turned dark brown? The dark brown body is much longer than the wings which is the characteristic of a queen, the rest of the bees have wings that reach the tips of their butts. This is very strange.

On being a beekeeper:

I was just thinking the other day that I’m sure some people think it is strange that I label this blog as a beginning beekeeper blog even though I’m now going into my 5th year.

But it’s things like this that constantly remind me I’m a beginning beekeeper. I don’t believe even after 20 years I’ll ever be what I consider to be an “experienced” beekeeper. I’m sure the guys who have 500 hives would all be able to take a glance at this hive, say exactly what caused it’s demise, and exactly what they would have done to keep it from happening. But I haven’t a clue either what I did wrong or what caused this.

I do have some experience under my belt. If this happened my first year, I would have cried over the loss, been extremely discouraged and wondered if I should stay a beekeeper.

But I really didn’t feel sad at all. I just went ‘hmmmmm’, knew I had a dead-out, think I’ll find it very interesting to do a post mortem at my leisure poking each bee and trying to figure out exactly what happened, and looking forward to swarming season around May so I can use it to split my blue hive to get either a 2nd or 2nd and 3rd hive. Never even crossed my mind to give up or say I’ll just have one hive. Of course I’ll get her back up to 2 hives – either by buying or splitting.

I can’t wait until the bee meeting and next weekend.

 

 

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