Nov 07 2015

Sad day – closing up shop for the winter

I’d been putting off winterizing the girls party because every day I was home it was raining and partly because once I winterize them it means that’s it, really, for inspecting them.

But it’s gotten below 30 degrees 3 nights in a row and very cold during the days, or rainy.  So yesterday, I went out and wrapped the one hive in black roofing paper. I put staples in the top of the wrap so that it would stay very close to the boxes and water won’t leak down between the wrap and the boxes. I wrapped all the way around about 1 1/2 times. The roofing wrap stands out from the bottom of the hive (kind of like a tent) by about 1 inch so that if water does get between the paper and hive it doesn’t get trapped – there’s some air.

I then put the rigid foam insulation along the bottom sides of the hives abutted with bricks so it won’t move, but NOT across the back of the hive which would entirely cut off air flow.  This way, there is no way for cold winter air to sweep in across the ground, under the hive.  But air can flow down over the back of the hive, and underneath the hive and up through the hive for air flow.

I topped the hive with a piece of rigid foam insulation that is about 3 inches larger on all sides so that there’s a kind of rain roof on top. Then I put 5 heavy bricks on top of this to hold it down in windy weather.

There are 4 1/2 boxes of honey on the top of this hive, which is the equivalent of 2 1/4 10 frame deep boxes.  Most big beekeepers only keep one big 10 frame deep of food on the hives for the winter so I’m satisfied my girls have enough food.  It’s going to be up to them to be smart enough not to eat their way up the middle of the box and leave food on the sides.

It’s supposed to rain tomorrow, but currently it got up to 49 degrees and is amazingly sunny. I’m assuming the black wrap really heated up the hive in the sun because the girls are just all over the door, coming in and out, waiting in line to get in and flying and flitting all over in the sunshine. They’ve been cooped up inside for a while now so they’re probably out singing and enjoying the sunshine.

Fly in the warm sun while you can, little girls.

Comments Off

Oct 12 2015

trying to keep the bugs out

I haven’t tested or treated for varroa mites coming into the fall. I didn’t want to sacrifice 300 bees for an alcohol wash when I was combining the hive. Then I was out of town and it was cold or rainy.

The varroa treatment I use is the Mite Away Quick Strips, known as MAQS, and you have to leave it on for 7 days when all the days high temperatures are from about 55-85 degrees, and hopefully not rainy as sometimes the girls want to stay out of the hive when you put this stuff on.  We have a stretch this week of sunny weather in the low 70’s for about 8 days.

So I decided that instead of sacrificing the bees to test and then having to wait until Saturday to get the MAQS from the bee supply store, I’d just treat them for fall.

I found the strips at our local farm store, which sold it in sets of 2 treatments, so I’ll have one stored in the bee shed for next year. I was going to inspect the girls today but the instructions say that on the day you install them, you should disturb them as little as possible.

So I went out all suited up, with rubber gloves on, got the smoker going, took a pair of scissors to open the package, knocked on the front door and under the lid.

Then I took off the top 5 boxes that have honey and nectar – I noticed they are still heavy but not as heavy as previously.  So next time I inspect, I should take out some of the extra frames of honey to install if they need it.

I then looked quickly just in the middle of the bottom two boxes, and found capped and open brood on the middle frame so the queen is still brooding up.

I placed the MAQS strips crosswise across the top of the first brood box and under the second brood box, like the instructions said, after smoking the bees down in the hive. Then I put everything back together and closed her up.

Supposedly, you don’t have to take these strips off as after 7 days they are no longer potent and they are actually biodegradable and the bees will tear it apart.

But I have on the calendar to inspect next Monday (or next week on a sunny day). At that time, I’ll remove the strips to save the girls some trouble, winter up the hive with tar paper after making sure there’s enough honey on the hive and then say bye bye to the girls. If we end up with another month of Indian summer, I’ll go out in a couple of weeks after that and make sure they are topped off with honey for the  winter.


Comments Off

Sep 30 2015

Quick fall check up

Today was going to be very clear and sunny, so at about 11am, when it was 64 degrees, I went out to inspect my one and only hive left – the yellow hive with Queen Frejya.

Just in case, I took out a big tote with extra frames of honey and nectar and a box to collect empty frames if there were enough, along with an empty sorting box.

box full of bees

box full of bees

The activity around the hive entrance was good – lots of girls coming and going, zipping up and then straight as an arrow through the upper reaches of the yard and beyond….second star to the right and straight on til morning.

I have some fall asters coming into bloom, my cosmos still have bees on them, and actually a few new dandilions have blossomed with bees on them. I also have some other fall flowering blossoms, so I’m sure the neighborhood has the same kinds of plants.

I saw girls with pollen, bright orange, on their little hind leg bags coming into the hive.

Yellow hive inspection

There are currently 7 western boxes on the hive.

I smoked the hive front door (which still has it’s metal screen guard) and a little under the roof.

The top three boxes are extremely heavy and all the frames are full of honey or nectar. The next box had all the frames about half filled with nectar or honey and there was actually quite a bit of new nectar being brought in. There was a good 9 frames of bees.

There were 3 good frames of pollen and a couple more frames of honey on the outside edges of the next 3 boxes. So the hive has plenty of food going into winter.

There were about 7 frames that were cleaned out and nearly empty, but they were bringing in nectar to the corners.  I kept these for expansion.

girls working on filling a frame of pollen

girls working on filling a frame of pollen

In the bottom two boxes I found 5 frames pretty full of closed brood, 4 frames that had all stages of open brood and fresh eggs. In the bottom box, right in the middle, I found Queen Freyja.  Here’s a video of her scuttling around on the hive.

The girls were busy and pretty gentle, although when I first opened up the hive, I got a few thumps on the head. I only took about 20 minutes inspecting the hive, quickly moving through and not taking out every frame. It’s fall so prime time for robbing and VSD’s trying to get in the hive and it’s the time for the girls to be extra protective of their food stores. But no one tried to sting me.

Way to go, Freyja. Kan Gud holde deg sunn.


Comments Off

Sep 14 2015

More honey – the good part of bad news/good news

So Sunday was supposed to be hot like Saturday, around 85. I planned to have a friend and then my Bro and his wife come to help extract about 3pm.

Turns out it was overcast and not cold, but certainly not hot. So I set the totes out in the “sun” for about 2 hours prior to 3pm to help them warm up.

When Bro go here, he suited up in his brand spanking new shiny white bee suit and we took one last look in the yellow hive/last hive to see if they’d turned any of the 32 frames of nectar on the hive into honey – no such luck. They were about 1/2 capped.

So we all went in the bee shed and commenced extracting 3 boxes of honey previously pulled. Sent Bro home with 2 quart jars of honey.

Hubby and I bottled them up this morning all in quart jars. One quart jar has 2.75 pounds of honey (actual honey, not the jar/lid).

We ended up with 60.5 pounds of honey, total.


So my new yearly totals:

  • 2010 – 18 pounds
  • 2011 – 85 pounds
  • 2012 – 27 pounds
  • 2013 – 75 pounds
  • 2014 – 60 pounds
  • 2015 – 135.5 pounds

I’m holding up a teeny weeny flag waving it and saying woooohooo because I don’t want to celebrate the honey too much as it was only there because I lost 2 hives. On the other hand, you can’t shake a stick at 135.5 pounds of honey in a season.

Comments Off

Sep 12 2015

Good news Bad news or 2 steps forward 3 steps back

Well well well. It’s been interesting. So, there’s good news and bad news.

Bad news first:

I lost another hive, presumably to drought

I thought I lost the 3rd hive to drought

I once again have just 1 hive going into winter

The planet is going to heck in a hand basket on a slow downward slide

Good news:

I have more honey to harvest

I learned stuff


I inspected the blue hive on Thursday. It had 6 boxes on the hive. The top 3 were stuffed 24 frames of nectar about half capped off to honey, with about 3 frames of pollen.  HOWEVER, there were maybe 2 frames of bees, not a single closed or open brood in the entire hive and obviously no queen, along with 3 boxes of empty frames.


So I kind of panicked and thought I should take a peek at the yellow hive, even though I just looked at it on Sept 1 to see what was up there.

The yellow hive has 6 boxes and the top 3 are stuffed with 24 frames of capped honey and nectar. There were a ton of bees and 4 frames with capped brood. But as I quickly went through the bottom two boxes I could not find any open larvae or fresh eggs or Queen. It was a little difficult because it was getting on evening so the sun wasn’t shining on the hives and the frames were covered in bees.

I shut up the hive and went in to think.

I then sent out a plea to the Queen Bee and Bee Mentor. Bee Mentor said he’d come over Friday morning at 8am and take a peek with me.


Bee Mentor came over at 8am with his suit. We talked for a bit. He said that he has 13 hives and had several of them lose a queen because of this drought, even though they were packing on the nectar, so it wasn’t anything I’d done.

Then he inspected my hives with me.

Sure enough, blue hive is shot.

He then went through the yellow hive. There is a huge amount of bees in here. When we got to the 3rd box around the middle frame he said he was sure he saw some open larvae and then he shoo’d away the bees on the frame and sure enough, there was tiny little larvae and fresh eggs. It’s way easier to see in the morning light because the sun is at an angle to just hold up the frames and look down into them. This is probably why I missed seeing them the evening before.

Just as he put the frame back down into the hive I spotted the Queen right on the top bar scuttling around and pointed her out. Yeaaaaaah!

So yellow hive has Queen Freyja, she’s laying up and there are plenty of bees.

Bee mentor said he’d combine the 2 frames of bees with the yellow hive using the newspaper method, putting them above a couple boxes of honey and below the third box of honey.

Friday afternoon:

So late Friday afternoon at 4:30pm I went out to do the deed. I gotta tell you – fixing these hives when they go sideways is a LOT OF WORK!

I gotta get these things to be self sufficient.

I had to tear apart the blue hive. Of course, not a single frame in here has enough honey capped off that it’s good to extract. Which means I have way more nectar than I need for two hives.

So I had 5 giant rubbermaid totes, each with a box inside to hold frames and frames of frames stuffed with nectar but only 1/3 to 1/2 capped off.

I’m then brushing a few bees of every single frame, quickly shoving them in the totes, shutting the lids, starting over. Til I have 2 boxes left.

Then I started to tear apart the yellow hive because I needed to move all the brood down to the bottom, get rid of frames that were empty, harvest frames that were capped off, and put back on frames that were full of nectar. I then put newspaper on top of box 5.

Then I’m trying to brush 2 lousy frames of bees from the blue hive down into one box, or dump them into the top of the two boxes of nectar on top of the newspaper. That means trying to dump them frame by frame, knock them off, they all go back to their hive stand and the screened bottom board and clump up there, and I’m still trying to get them all over on top of the yellow hive. And I’m still trying to harvest frame by frame of capped honey into the totes.

I finally was so sweaty that I actually couldn’t see because my glasses had pools of drying sweat and were cloudy from the salt. So I just went Oh well, the rest of the girls will have to just be out in the wild. I saw a couple little piles of two bees rolling around fighting each other, bees were all over in the air, extremely grumpy.

I had boxes all over the deck, totes just bursting with empty frames, frames of nectar and frames of honey, trying to keep them sorted so I can know what to harvest and what to store. Meanwhile, I know there are about 10-12 bees in each tote that has frames, so when I do harvest the honey, bees will be in there.

After 2 hours I finally quit the whole process.

Saturday morning:

I went out, jacked up the two top boxes and tore 1/2 the newspaper out and figured what will happen will happen – they can just get used to each other. I cleaned up all the boxes off the deck. I dragged the rubber totes into the bee shed that had honey.

I now have 3 more boxes/24 frames of honey to harvest and about 3 boxes/24 frames full of nectar that is not capped and is not on the hives to be capped.  I guess I’ll just store them to put on the hives in the spring or winter for my honey bank.

I found the bottom screened blue board with about a cup and a half of bees all clumped up trying to stay warm. So I dumped them on the metal roof of the yellow hive with the sun hitting it to warm them up and hope they figure out how to get along and creep into the yellow hive and find a home without getting rejected.


Comments Off

Sep 01 2015

Yellow hive peek

So I had to put off inspecting the yellow hive for a couple of days because it’s been windy. And suddenly, the day time high’s are no longer in the high 80’s or 90’s but about 72 – Fall at last.

Yellow Hive inspection

This hive started with 6 boxes.

This is the entrance reducer. It's just wire screen mesh held down by pushpins on top and bottom, leaving about a 2 inch gap for the bees. This way it doesn't reduce their airflow, but keeps robbers out. I'll leave this on for the rest of the winter.

This is the entrance reducer. It’s just wire screen mesh held down by pushpins on top and bottom, leaving about a 2 inch gap on the right for the bees. This way it doesn’t reduce their airflow, but keeps robbers out. I’ll leave this on for the rest of the winter.

I took out one of the big totes with frames of honey, a couple of sorting boxes and got the smoker going. I knocked on the front door and under the lid and counted to 10.

This hive is actually doing really well, better than I thought it would be with the dry weather.

I ended up removing 4 entirely empty frames and putting back in 3 frames of honey from my honey bank.

There were 16 frames of bees in the hive, 22 frames of nectar or honey, 3 frames of pollen, 9 frames of brood, mostly capped, but there were a couple of frames with open brood, tiny brood and fresh eggs. I did not see the queen.

The bees were very friendly, busily working around me. There were a lot of bees in there so I was trying very hard not to squish any while I was inspecting.

Here's a nice fat fresh kernel of pollen on a frame left by a bee

Here’s a nice fat fresh kernel of pollen on a frame left by a bee

I managed the brood down to the bottom two boxes, although nearly all of it was already in these boxes. In the 3rd box I checkerboarded with empty frames for expansion and honey frames. Then the top 3 boxes were food.

So these girls are doing really well going into the fall so far. I looked closely for mites, but that doesn’t really count. I hate to treat them for mites “just in case” but I also hate to kill 300 of them for an alcohol mite count. I’ll have to do this within the next 2 weeks any way, just not today.

Comments Off

Sep 01 2015

Boo boo and weather

So just before I left town for work, I had moved an entire box of honey over to the top of the yellow hive from the absconded orange hive.  I had already put a piece of newspaper between the top box of the yellow hive and this new box of honey because I was thinking I might have some bees left from the absconded hive and this would let them slowly integrate over a few days.  However, there were no bees.

Instead, by late afternoon, I realized I had created my own robbing situation.  Because the top box of honey was separated from the yellow hive boxes, bees could freely come into the top door of the hive, rob honey, and the bees in the yellow hive couldn’t surge up to protect the honey.

There was the telltale zillions of little brown dots all over the front of the top honey box outside the top door. There were bees just going in like crazy.

When you have robbing, you’re supposed to put a wet sheet over the whole hive for about 2 days to stop the robbing and reduce the entrance so the bees can better protect the hive.  I didn’t have this luxury because I had to leave for the airport the next morning at 4:30am.

So about 1:30pm I went out and reduced the entrance with a screen and put a big wet sheet over the whole hive and left it there until about 10pm that night, when I snuck out and took off the wet sheet and crossed my fingers.


Don’t close off the rest of the hive from a big ol’ box of honey on top.



On Saturday, we had a massive dust storm on top of the choking smoke. It shut down the entire middle of the state and the interstate freeway and rolled into town about 11am. This was on top of the already choking fire smoke.

Then on Sunday, we had rain – RAIN! OMGoodness! It’s the first measurable rain since early May. It rained about 3/4 of the day – wonderful wonderful wonderful rain.



Comments Off

Aug 22 2015

A really rotten summer finally takes its toll

It’s been a really rotten summer.  Record breaking heat, record breaking drought, another record breaking fire season, and yesterday, our city was the city with the most unhealthy air in the nation, due to the smoke from all the forest fires hanging over us. It’s been absolutely nasty for a week now, with the brown, the sun a hot orange and casting a dull orange, creepy light everywhere. But yesterday and the day before were the worst. I’ve had the windows in my house shut up tight for days  now and yesterday when I went outside, it was literally choking and acrid. You couldn’t stop coughing until you went back inside. It kept me up until midnight because even with the windows closed, everything reeks of bitter wood smoke.

Yesterday, I noticed that the girls were out, but acting weird. Instead of their usual flitting like little jets in and out of the hive, sparkling up into the sun and zooming back in, they were just kind of twirling slowly around the hive in super slo-mo, not really going anywhere.  At the bee supply house today they said the bees were all disoriented and they found a bunch of them away from the hives, by the house, on the grass, moving slow and looking around like they were totally disoriented.

It makes sense – their whole world is about living and navigating by smell and everything smells like smoke.

I’ve been worried all summer about the drought and whether my bees will get enough food to last them into the winter. Then these last few days, I was scheduled to inspect the orange hive but I didn’t want to go into it because I figured if I was out there gagging and choking it couldn’t really be good to totally open the hive up.

Today was much, much better as we had pretty good winds overnight (NOT great for the fires). So I decided about 9am, when it was 61 degrees to go out and inspect the orange hive. Last time I was in there was 3 weeks ago and they weren’t doing as well as the other hives, with not nearly as much brood as the other two.


CCD – Colony Collapse Disorder

What it looks like: All the bees in the hive suddenly disappear, like overnight or in one day. No dead bees on the ground. The brood and food all left in the hive and the bees just – gone.

Causes: Not determined completely yet, although consensus is that contributory factors are mono-cropping and the widespread use of neonicotinoid pesticide use.


What it looks like: The bees leave brood in the hive, with about half of the bees, which are nursemaids, behind to take care of the brood. They take some food but leave plenty of food for the growing brood. They leave either a live virgin queen in the hive, or several queen cells ready to hatch so that the hive has what it needs to survive. This usually happens in the spring, but can happen later in the summer.

Causes:  The hive has been growing, and the queen brooding up, so quickly that the hive feels it’s running out of room. So it sends out scout bees to find another good spot for a hive. They start to prepare the hive by creating new queens. Then they take what food they need for their journey and take the existing queen with them to find another home, leaving a healthy half-hive in the original spot.  It’s their way of dividing and multiplying, like dividing daffodil bulbs.


What it looks like:  Everybody and everything is gone. The bees have all left, absconded with the all the food they can possibly carry and left nothing – no brood, no or little food, no bees.

Causes:  This usually occurs during a drought, or dearth, and the hive feels there is not going to be enough food and/or water to keep them alive, so the stop laying babies, scoop up all the food and leave to find better hunting grounds.

My orange hive absconded. I have no idea when in the last few days or week this happened, but I believe it happened a few days ago.

Orange Hive inspection synopsis:

5 western boxes to start. There were a scant 2 frames of bees, but I don’t believe these belong to the hive (more later). There were 12 frames that had some honey (half a frame or honey in the corners). There was no brood at all, no queen and all the frames, were entirely cleaned out.

Hmmmmm. I wondered if this could have happened because of the smoke? So I went up to the bee supply house to hopefully have a talk with The Wiz.

The Wiz wasn’t in, but his faithful worker Laura was. She said it sounded like they absconded and that there was probably not as much food because other hives, including my own, were robbing the hive of it’s food.  She said if there were little brown dots all over the front porch of the hive, this was a sign other bees were coming and and robbing the hive.  I discussed with her and decided I needed to combine what was left of the orange hive with the newer yellow hive since it was healthy.

About 3pm, I decided to go out and see what I could do. I took a piece of newspaper, a razor cutter, and then moved several of my big rubbermaid totes/lids and several empty boxes out to the bee deck.

I took apart the orange hive. Sure enough, I don’t think the activity in this hive was it’s own bees. There was quite a lot of furor (I didn’t see any wasps or hornets so that makes me think this hasn’t been going on for long) and any frame that had honey had bees all with their heads stuffed down in the cells and their butts up, which means they’re sucking up honey.

I decided there wasn’t really any hive to speak of to save and I need to get the robbing situation under control so the wasps don’t move in and I don’t end up with local bees who think it might be fun to move on to one of the other two healthy hives and start robbing them.

So I need to get rid of every trace of this hive.

I tore it down, smoked it and started moving frames. I managed to fill one box with 8 frames that had quite a bit of honey on them. I moved this box over to the top of the yellow hive. First on top of the current top honey box, I put a single sheet of newspaper with a tiny 1/2″ slit cut in the middle. Then I put on the new box with honey. That’s just in case some “riders” came with the honey and I don’t want them in fights. They’ll take a few days to tear a big hole in the newspaper and by then they’ll all be used to each other. And the yellow hive will have more honey then they had before.

Then I took each and every frame, one by one, out of the orange hive. I brushed it off and put it in a box in a rubbermaid tote. The bees were pretty wild and angry, although not aggressive and stinging. They just did not want to let go of any frame that had any amount of honey. So I had to keep brushing them until the second before I popped the lid, put the frame in and slammed down the lid.  That tells me that there’s a dearth of food since they are trying so hard to get at all the food.

It took me a good 45 minutes to get through the whole orange hive.

By the time I was done, I had the one box of honey on the yellow hive. and 3 totes with boxes that have frames with at least some honey and nectar. I had brushed all the bees of all the equipment and put it all, along with the sealed totes, into the bee shed and closed the door tight.

The bee deck was quite chaotic with bees all over in the air, so I backed out after cleaning up and let them be.


I read up on Absconding on the web and several beekeepers said that when their hive absconded, it was always during a dearth/drought and it was always a hive that was a little concerning already because of their lack of food or brood.

Blue and Yellow hive:

I quickly checked both the blue and yellow hives to makes sure they weren’t in the same situation.

The blue hive still has 3 absolutely full and heavy boxes of honey on top and in the middle of the top brood box I found lots of capped brood and some open brood so I went no further.

The yellow hive still had 2 absolutely full boxes of honey, and now has a 3rd full box on top. In the top brood hive, I spotted the queen, so I left them alone, too.


I’ll be gone next week for work, but instead of waiting 3 weeks between inspections right now, I’m going to check on the other two hives food stores at least weekly.  Any time I find empty frames, I’ll go into the totes and replace them with frames that have honey/nectar.

With the bees building up for winter, they can go through a lot of food really quickly and if there’s no more food out there, I need to make sure they have enough.

This could be a fall when I have to feed the girls just to get them through, although I don’t think so. Between the honey bank and what I took off today, I have about 3 boxes of honey.


So that’s why I got a 3rd hive. In case one goes belly up, I still have two healthy hives instead of just one.

It’s still a bummer, but not devastating like it would have been my first two years.


Comments Off

Aug 16 2015

Thank you girls

butternut squash in the making

butternut squash in the making

plums getting ready for picking, making chutney, jam, spiced plums, plum syrup...

plums getting ready for picking, making chutney, jam, spiced plums, plum syrup…

So here are some pics of literally the fruit of the girls labors. If it weren’t for my girls (and possibly a few visitors), I wouldn’t have this delicious stuff to eat.

Thank you girls.

gorgeous eggplant, almost too pretty to pick - almost

gorgeous eggplant, almost too pretty to pick – almost

Comments Off

Aug 15 2015

Blue hive time for a peek

So today’s high was 79 degrees – yeaaaaa! I went out to inspect the hive at 9am when it was 68 degrees, which turns out was still about an hour late. All suited up, in the end, I still had sweat puddles on the inside of my glasses. But I did a little more work today.

Today was blue hive inspection.  I took out two sorting boxes, took out a big tote that had a box with 8 empty frames, and an extra big tote just in case.

Then I suited up, got my smoker going and went out to the deck.

The blue hive started out with 7 boxes, the top two above a queen excluder.

All in all, there were 27 full frames of honey, but most of them were not half capped off. There were 4 frames full of pollen; 3 boxes of bees; 7 frames of brood. I did not see Queen Siste Sjanse and I did not actually see any fresh eggs.  I did see quite a lot of uncapped brood and even just 3 day old tiny brood. But the bees were also so numerous they were just completely covering the frames and I was having a hard time seeing what was in the frames. So I’m not worried.

I went ahead and pulled 2 frames of capped honey and put these in storage.

I also pulled off 6 empty frames and put them in storage, thereby getting rid of one entire box on this hive. I then managed the hive down, by putting brood in the bottom two boxes with food on each side.

The end result is that this hive now has 6 total boxes, with the top two full of honey above the queen excluder and more honey below, with room for expansion still in the hive.


I then moved over to the yellow hive. They had so much honey the other day, I went ahead and removed 6 very overstuffed and fat frames of capped honey and 2 empty frames.

So I now have 8 full frames of capped honey in storage in the bee shed. For now, I’ll use this as my “honey bank”.  There is a LOT of honey still in the blue hive, if they’ll cap it off.

Next week, I’ll inspect the orange hive and if there’s an excess of capped honey, I’ll remove it, too. I’ll just store this all until September and decide how much to put in the honey bank, how much should go back on the hives if they’re short for winter, and if I can extract any more honey.


Comments Off

Next »