Mar 08 2015

Yippeeee! Bee season

I probably shouldn’t be so happy (but I am sooo happy that it’s bee season again).  The fact is, we’ve had a record breaking warm winter. We’re in the 60’s at the end of Feb and first of March.  This sounds great, but this can be pretty bad for both the bees and their food. Things are starting to bud and blossom and when we get that hard frost (and we all know we will), entire flowering crops like apples and pears can be entirely shot for the year.

If the bees start brooding up like it’s April, but there’s no food out there, or if a hard freeze comes, then some of the consequences are that the bees could just plough through the good food stores I left on the hive and I’ll have to feed them sugar water. Or they could freeze their brood because they normally don’t have brood this time of year.

I went to the bee house yesterday and talked to the Wiz. He said he went out and inspected his hives and it scared him to death because he found nearly all of them had brooded up, and the queen was laying brood all over in the top of the hive. He said he moved all the brood down to the bottom, packed honey on both sides of the brood and a box on top and then empties above that so that when the hard frost comes ( and we all know it will), they’ll have food all around them and the nurse bees won’t have to make a choice of either having to cover and warm the brood or venture into the corners of the hive for food.

Hive Inspection

So today about 1pm it was 64 degrees outside and sunny.

I went out to the bee shed and brought out to the bee deck a couple extra boxes for sorting, pine shavings for fire started, more burlap (thanks to sis-in-law), a new lighter, and a broom.

I suited up – boy, there is no better smell in the spring then the first time you put on your bee suit after a long winter. It smells of beeswax and sweet propolis and wood smoke. Tucked my pants into my boots and put on long gloves because I didn’t know how grumpy the girls would be when I shake them up.

I first took all the winter insulation and bricks off the hives and took off the roofing paper from around the hives. I then got my smoker started, got out all my tools and set the sorting boxes out.

I started with the blue hive and then moved to the orange hive.

I smoked the front door and under the lid each time. Then I started digging through the hives from top to bottom, frame by frame.

They are sure a mess. Everything is stuck together really well with propolis,  which had the consistency of peanut butter laced with honey. Every top of every box, all the runners just thick with it, all the frames stuck together with it.  I spent most of my time actually scraping the sticky gummy goop off everything. I had to scrape my hive tools off over and over in my little gathering bucket.

Each hive still has a good 1 1/2 boxes of honey. They also both had a good 2 frames of new pollen that the girls are bringing in.  I’m assuming they’re finding crocuses because there were a lot of girls in the hives with very full bags of super light creamy yellow pollen and then some darker yellow, but not orange. And there was a lot of new pollen being stuffed in frames.

girls on the lid with pollen baskets

girls on the lid with pollen baskets

I did see a mite on the back of one girl in the blue hive. I’ll need to do a mite count later in the spring, in about a month, when they’re strong enough to take the hit of a mite count.

The blue hive had 2 frames of closed and open brood in the 3rd box up on the right side. I didn’t see the queen. The bottom box  had a huge mess of mildewed dead bees in the entire middle of the box and piled up the sides of some of the frames. Obviously, they couldn’t haul them all out during the winter.

Throughout, the girls were very gentle, not grumpy at all.

Blue Management:

I removed the bottom box, brushed all the dead bees off the screen and out. Then I put on a new bottom box, put the 2 frames of brood in the middle, put pollen and honey on either side with 1 extra empty frame one frame away from the honey for expansion. I then put the two boxes of honey and pollen on top with a few empty frames. I was able to get rid of an entire box and it’s empty frames.  So this hive now is down to 4 boxes.

final configuration of the hives

final configuration of the hives

Orange Management:

The orange hive had 4 frames of open brood and fresh eggs up in the 3rd box. I actually saw Queen Håper. I again removed and cleaned the bottom box and screen, then moved the queen and her  brood to the bottom, in the middle, with 1 pollen and all the rest honey. I also topped this box with a box of honey, with 1 empty frame above, and the other box of honey and a 4th with food and some empties. I was also able to get rid of a box and it’s empty frames so it’s also down to 4 boxes.

 

I then swept and cleaned the bee deck, put everything away, left my hive tools in the smoker to burn off the propolis.  The girls were quite active after managing them as they always are.

 

 

 

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Feb 16 2015

some death, some life

the winter's toll on bees in the hive so far

the winter’s toll on bees in the hive so far

Today it got up to 52 degrees. This has been a freaky winter – a dump of snow at one point, a few weeks of bone chilling cold and then unseasonably warm and dry. It’s the middle of February, which should mean just coming off our yearly 2 week bout of sub zero arctic express and hoping for more snow to show it might get up to 28.  But we have this weird, warm weather.

So the girls were out today.  There is plenty of detritus so far on the bee deck from the girls cleaning out all winter. But they were also flying pretty steadily. Not summer crazy out in bulk type flying, but not slow lazy barely getting out to go poo flying either. Here’s a video link of the girls wandering in and out of both hives. This is better than last year, when I realized girls were only going in and out of one hive and the other one ended up dead.

I also took a look around in the yard and the chives are poking up their green stems (weird) and, most awful of all – the pussy willows are already out. They shouldn’t be out til end of March. However, that means there will be some very very early pollen for the girls in just 2-3 weeks when the pussy willows fluff out and create their pollen.

pussywillows already fat and fluffy in the garden

pussywillows already fat and fluffy in the garden

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Jan 18 2015

Potty break

There’s snow and ice on the ground, but it’s very sunny and bright and got up to 45 degrees just now at 2pm. Out the front windows, we saw a flurry of sparkling and flashing bees zipping out of the hive to do their potty duty. They’re not foraging or looking for food so there’s no beeling and they don’t look like they’re headed anywhere. Just OUT. They pretty much keep to within the yard and you can see them circle and flip out to the sides and zoom around.

They’ll have their fun in the sun, then zip back in after a few hours in time to get all clustered up and ready for a cold night.

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Dec 22 2014

The girls got out today

It got up to a balmy 42 degrees for a couple hours today and very sunny. The girls started coming out, one by one by one, around 1:3opm.

Then it got pretty active with girls zipping straight out and straight back in. No lazy hanging around in front of the hive or anything. Just get the job done and back in to cluster up, I guess.

I saw several bodies dragged out and over the front porch. I went out to clean up a bit and swept up the piles in front of the hive. I’d say there was altogether about 1 1/4 cups of dead bees, so nothing out of the ordinary for winter.

Then by 4pm it was nearly dark and very cold again, at 32 degrees.

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Nov 27 2014

Freedom

Yesterday I noticed that there was about 3/4 cup of dead bees on the bee patio outside the beehives. So they’re still in there doing some winter cleaning.

Then today, about 11am, we got a Chinook and the temperature spiked up to 52 degrees. HB said “ohmygosh – look at the girls fly!” And were they ever flying. They were just going crazy. Not the regular summer rhythm of getting their bearings outside the hive then zipping off in a straight line on a fixed destination.

They were on “cleansing” flights, which is a polite way of saying they’ve been cooped up in the hive and since they won’t pee or poo in the hive, if the temperature hits above 40 they fly outside just to poo. During these times if you go outside, just barely outside the hives all over the ground you’ll find tiny little mustard brown lines of poo about 1/2″ long.

So the yard was very, very heavy with girls just flying crazy, zigzag, dashing in all directions and all about. That lasted about a good hour and a half and then about 12:30pm – boom – nothing. No girls out at all, the hives were quiet again.

Hope you had a nice little time out in the sunshine, girls.

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Nov 02 2014

All wrapped up for winter

It got so cold last night there was a hard frost on the grass and street this morning when I went for a walk with the dog, Juju.

And it’s supposed to rain all week, yet today was supposed to get up to 51 (got up to 48) and it was clear and sunny. I needed to take advantage of the weather and wrap up the girls for the winter.

I went ahead and just left the inline feeder in the one hive since they have enough food, and if there’s a warm day and I peek in and know they need food, I can give them a little.

The girls were actually out and about a little – not a big volume, but they were one by one steadily going in and out of both hives. I actually saw one girl with bags of very light yellow pollen on her legs. Maybe some asters still blooming somewhere in a neighbors yard.

So I suited and gloved up, got the smoker going and just gave them a few puffs at the front door so they might settle down or know it’s me. I was going to be making a lot of noise and shaking.

I had a good pair of scissors and a new roll of black felt roofing paper. I unrolled the roofing paper around the two hives and cut off a swath with plenty of extra, then moved the rest of the roll aside. It’s REALLY HEAVY and I didn’t want to be struggling with it.

I then held it up to the hives and found it was about 5 inches too long so I went around the bottom and cut off 5 inches.

I had an electric stapler (not a giant staple gun – just a little craft electric stapler), plugged it in to my extension cord and was ready.

hives from the front. Pink insulation panels on the open sides, roofing wrap around both hives, notches for the top entrances.

hives from the front. Pink insulation panels on the open sides, roofing wrap around both hives, notches for the top entrances.

I held the top edge of the roofing paper tight up against the top of the hive, and right under the roof overhang, pressed the stapler in tight to the hive body and punched the trigger and it stapled it in real tight. I did this carefully all around both hives, putting 3 staples in the tops of each side the hives.

When I got to the front, I cut good sized notches in the tops so the bees could get in and out of the top doors. I had measured it just right so the paper was about 1/2 an inch higher than the front door so the bees can come and go without obstruction.

I only stapled the top of the paper, pulled it tight as I went around, but it still flares out just a little at the bottom.  This will still keep the wind out of the cracks between the boxes, but IF it gets wet between the paper and the boxes, this allows some air flow. The rain and moisture should hit the roof, go down and miss the paper (since the roof overhangs the paper) and go down the outsides of the paper instead of the inside next to the hive because the paper is so tight up against the hive at the top.

I decided not to put screen over the front door this year (at least, not yet) with a small hole to act as an entrance reducer.  It just seems to cause issues with the girls being able to clean out the hive and I have to go out several times during the winter, unhook the screen, reach in with a ruler and pull out all the dead bodies piled up against the screen at the front door.  I think leaving off the reducer will let them more efficiently clean out the hive. If there seems to be an issue in the early spring with wasps, I’ll put it on at that time.

This year, with the girls on their new deck, they sit on the ground with cement blocks as a floor. Previously they were on a wooden deck with slats, over an entrance to the basement. So there was air flow coming up from beneath them.

Back of the hives. Pink insulating panels on the open sides; on top of the hive stands so no air gets down through those openings; and across both hive roofs. Bricks and blocks holding everything down.

Back of the hives. Pink insulating panels on the open sides; on top of the hive stands so no air gets down through those openings; and across both hive roofs. Bricks and blocks holding everything down.

So when I put the insulating panels on the sides, and the tops of the hive stands, there are a few places where there is 2-3 inches of open space where air can get in. I think this will be better, even though it could be cold air, just so they don’t end up so airtight they have moisture problems.

Because of the telescoping lids, the hives can be exactly together. But they’re wrapped together. So this should create about a 3″ air space between the hives which can act as insulating.

I watched to make sure the girls were getting in and out of both the top door and front porch door well, and they were. Throughout the whole process, even though I was thunking and banging and stapling on the hives, none of them took a dive at me.

I took some pics of the front and back of the hive as they are now, with cement blocks on top of the insulating panel on top of the hives and bricks holding on the other panels on the back and sides.

Alright, little girls. It’s up to you now. I’m sure you’ll still be flying any day it gets sunny and up to 40, but I won’t be digging around in your house until next spring.

I’ll miss you……..I already do.

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Oct 27 2014

Checking out the girls now that it’s colder

So October 10, I fed each of the hives 1 gallon of 2:1 syrup in the morning.

I decided to keep the feeders in until the last minute to make sure that if they needed food, I could quickly add some before it got too cold.

This morning, at 8:30am, it was 38 degrees out and I decided to see if they still need food. It’s supposed to get down to 35 tonight so I think the cold snap has actually started.

I put on HB’s bee jacket – momentico –

There is nothing worse than having poor equipment. I have my great bee suit, but there are times when I want to get in and out of the hives in 5 minutes so I really just need a jacket or veil and gloves, rather than getting into the whole suit thingamabob, which can be a pain. So I’ve been using HB’s jacket. It’s a size 3XL, which means that the jacket is so loose around the bottom that bees could just fly up my jacket by the hundreds. It also has a safari style built in hat with a veil, but the hat part is so big (for a 3XL guy) that it continually falls down over my eyes so I can’t see anything. I spend (and spent today) the entire time shoving the hat up, trying to see through the veil and as soon as I let go of the hat, the whole contraption falls over my face and I can’t see a thing. I need to break down and this Saturday, go to the bee supply house and just get a jacket/veil in my size.

OK – I’m back –

I put on HB’s bee jacket, my gloves, 2 gallons of 2:1 syrup and dug out 4 frames in storage, 3 of which have bits of honey and the other was a drone frame with a few frozen drone pops. This was in case they no longer need feeding, I could pull the feeder and replace it with two frames each.

Orange Hive

I popped the top of the orange hive first (no smoking since I was only going to be 2 minutes. This one has a regular lid and then an inner lid/cover with the vent hole in the top. When I pulled off the inner lid the bees were glommed on to the underside of the lid. I laid it gently upside down on top of the other hive. The girls are moving like a super slo-mo movie because it was cold.

The feeder in this hive still had about 1/2 the syrup from 2 weeks ago with about 50 dead girls in the syrup. So they think they have plenty of food for the winter and weren’t eating any more. Last time I inspected them, they did indeed have a lot of food in there.

So I pulled the feeder permanently for the winter and replaced it with two of the frames, put the lid back on carefully so as not to squish any girls. I hosed out the feeder, then cleaned it and the screen ladders with warm, soapy water and rinsed well and stored in the bee shed.

Blue Hive

I then popped the single insulated lid of the blue hive. This feeder was dead dry and there were girls crawling around inside of it.

Last time I inspected the blue hive, they had plenty of food but not as much as the orange hive. So I went ahead and put in 1 gallon of syrup in this hive.  I’ll check again in a couple of days and see if they drained it. If they do drain it, and it’s still not freezing at night, I’ll give them another gallon.

There were a few girls that were a little irritable, but they were so slow moving they just kind of plopped on my suit and buzzed. I brushed them back into the hive and desuited.

 

When I got back in the house, I was working on the computer and about an hour later, all of a sudden, a girl pops off my T-shirt in the back and buzzes to the window by my desk. She must have been sitting on me the whole time. I put her in a jar and took her out to the hive and let her go on the front porch.

Nearly time to start thinking about actually wrapping them up and insulating them. I don’t want to get them too warm too early as I want them to huddle up and stop eating so much and see if the queen wants to shut down for the winter.

Cozy up, little girls and help each other get through the winter.

 

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Oct 09 2014

It’s been too long…

It’s been 3 weeks since I was in the hives. That’s a lot of self control. It helped that I’ve been working out of town so much that I didn’t really have time.

So yesterday it was a beautiful, warm (72) fall day so about 2pm I went out to see how the girls were doing.

My goals were to:

  • check the food stores
  • check on the size of the hive
  • determine if they need food
  • get both hives down to 5 western boxes
  • move them together so I can prepare them for winter when the time comes

I wanted to make the inspections thorough, but quick, as the girls are usually crabby in the fall when you go digging around in there, as they’re protective of their food now. And the wasps can be a royal pain this time of year, too.

I got 3 extra boxes to haul off any empty frames, suited up, and went out and started the smoker. The smoker was being a kind of bugger, wouldn’t keep a fire going. I kept having to pump it and pump it to get it going again so the burlap would smoke. I can buy an electric smoker that has a battery (not plug in) which is absolutely guaranteed never to go out while you’re using it and supposedly has the right amount of heat to make perfect smoke. But it’s about 120 bucks and I paid $10 for my good ol’ metal smoker with the little hand pump bellows. So I’ll stick with that.

Orange Hive – Queen Håper

This hive started with 6 western boxes.

The top box has 6 frames and an empty and dry gallon feeder with wire mesh ladders.

As I went down through the hive, I set the boxes aside so I’d be able to move the hive stand over once I got to the bottom.

I was pleasantly surprised in this hive. They have a lot of honey – the top 3 boxes were pretty heavy and the 2nd box from the bottom was all new nectar. I have no idea where they’re getting this from. They had 2 frames about 1/2 full of pollen.  I was able to pull out 6 empty frames and get this hive down to 5 boxes with the feeder still on top.  I did see the Queen in the bottom box with some (not a lot) of capped brood.    Video of Queen Håper on the move. There were a lot of bees in this hive, about 20 frames, very full.

Once I only had the bottom box, I moved the stand over halfway to the other stand and then put it all back together.

Blue Hive – Queen Siste Sjanse

Blue hive box full of bees

Orange hive box full of bees

This hive just had 5 western boxes. The top box also has an empty and dry feeder with ladders.

This box also actually had a lot of food in the top 3 boxes and some pollen further down. I didn’t spot the queen, but she’s wild. I did spot a frame in the 2nd box that had fresh eggs so she’s still laying some. There were also about 18 frames of bees in this box so quite a few.

When I was down to the last box, I moved this hive stand over to meet the other hive.

I was pleasantly surprised that the girls weren’t touchy at all. They were active but really quite nice – no thumping or dive bombing and no girls lined up on the bars glaring up at me (that’s always a bad sign).

I’m leaving the feeders in right now even though they have plenty of food. If the fall remains warm for quite some time and the food sources go away, they could eat up some of their food before huddling up for the winter. So I’ll go out every once in a while and give them a gallon of syrup and see if they take it in a day or two just to keep them topped off with food.

Way to go girls. I missed you but you did amazing without me.

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Sep 21 2014

I’m home, Lucy

Well, I got home from a long week away working. The girls appeared really busy outside the hive.

So last night I made up two gallons of 2:1 syrup and this morning about 7am I went out, put on a jacket/hood and gloves and really quickly popped each top.

Both hives had quit a bit of bees in the top, and up under the lids. I carefully poured a gallon in each feeder and then shut them back up.

They’re really funny early in the morning when it’s a little chilly (not cold). They walk in slow motion like someone put the film on super slo-mo. Move right front leg forward, left front leg forward, right middle leg forward, left middle leg forward……

They look kind of funny, like they’re all drugged up.

I’m pretty busy tomorrow morning so I’ll pop out early and feed them if they need it. Then Tuesday is supposed to be around 80 so mid morning I’ll go out and do a quick inspection of the food stores. It’s getting too late in the year to do a low and slow inspection of the whole hive – they’re a little bit grumpy the longer you stay in the hive. But I’ll see if I need to keep making more food for them.

I’m still seeing them all over the sedum, Russian sage and a few new dandilions getting pollen.

Right now it’s 89 out and they’re very busy around the front of the hive and darting in and out and up into the sunshine. I’m assuming they’re having to go farther afield for food now (maybe the Home Depot garden store about a mile away?). There’s certainly not much left in my yard.

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Sep 13 2014

checking for food stores

It was a lovely, sunny afternoon today, so about 2pm it was 75 degrees and I decided to do a check on the girls for food stores. I suited up, got a couple of sorting boxes and started the smoker going out on the bee deck.

Blue Hive

The girls were active around the front of this hive, but not really active. Just bees going in and out, maybe 5-10 at a time.
There are still just 5 boxes on this hive

I smoked the front door and under the lid, then opened her up.

The top box had the empty feeder, then 4 full frames of honey and 2 frames 1/2 full of nectar.

The next two boxes had 8 frames about 3/4 full of nectar.

I started spotting wasps snooping on the open boxes and the girls started getting a little grump, bumping my head on the suit. It’s fall, so they’re a lot more guarded about their hives since they don’t want anyone taking any honey and they know the VSD’s are active.

So I quickly pulled some of the center frames from the 2nd box from the bottom and found 4 frames with capped brood and some cells with fresh eggs. I found 3 frames with a good amount of pollen, too.  There were plenty of bees in the hive, in just the boxes I looked at about 15 frames of bees.

So I quickly put the hive back together.

Orange Hive

The girls were very active around the front of this hive, with quite a bit of activity and bees, very loud humming. This hive has 6 boxes.

The top 2 boxes are very full of honey, and they have the empty honey feeder. The 4th box had about half the frames with honey or nectar.

I started seeing capped brood in the 2nd box and again, wasps started showing up and I started getting bumped by the girls.

I did not see any fresh eggs, but I didn’t get down into the bottom box as I wanted to get out of the hives. There were a couple of good frames full of pollen. Again, lots and lots of bees in this hive.

I closed the hive back up.

Food

I think I’m going to go ahead and put a gallon of food in each of the hives tomorrow morning before they’re up. Even though they have a couple boxes of honey, there are frames only half full and I want them to really fill up for winter.

It’s going to be warm this week, back up into the low 80’s again, but it’s been getting cold at night, near 38 and I’m going to be gone all week, so I’ll top them off with food tomorrow, then when I get home I think I’ll feed them for about 4 days in a row (if they go through it each day) to get them really stocked up.

 

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