Jul 16 2016

Well. That was interesting

So I got home from work in CA on Friday about 6pm and decided to run out and do a quickie inspection of the two hives with the queens and quick release the queens into the hives. I was supposed to rain on Saturday and I didn’t want to delay.

It was about 64, overcast, and a little windy and the bees were not out, so I knew there would be a LOT of bees in the hives and they may get grumpy. They didn’t get grumpy – they were perfect ladies.

I suited up quick like, got the smoker going, took out a blade to pull up the wire screen on the queen cages.

Orange Hive

I just moved the two top boxes of honey over to the deck. I then smoked the Queen excluder to get the bees down, put aside the queen excluder and started to just quickly inspect to see if there were any eggs in the hive.

As you look down into the hive, you can see bees working or covering the frames.  If there are eggs or brood, they will be completely covering the frame like a blanket. If there is honey and nectar, there may be a lot of bees on the frame, but they’re moving about.

So I grabbed basically the middle frames of each of the next two boxes as they had a lot of bees on the frames. I looked and no eggs. OK, so far good news – no virgin queen was laying.

I then revealed the bottom box with the queen cage wedged between the 2nd and 3rd frames on the right.

The first thing I thought was – wait a minute – I didn’t buy a queen with attendants – why are there bees in the queen cage?

queen cage with the very stiff wire mesh pulled up

queen cage with the very stiff wire mesh pulled up

I pulled out the queen cage and – interesting. The very stiff wire mesh on the cage, which is held down on the cage by a runner on each side of the cage (see picture) was pulled up from the cage (see picture) and the queen was not in the cage.  That means somehow several bees have to have really really pulled hard on that wire and bent it up to let the queen out. Whaaaaaaa?! The candy plug in the cage was also entire gone and cleaned out.

Now I’m wondering – so where’s the queen? And why aren’t there any eggs in the hive if they released her? If she was out for more than a day, she should have been laying. Great.

So I looked again at frames as I put the boxes back together, looking for eggs and a queen, but not in huge detail because it was getting a little cold and darker and I needed to get to the purple hive. Soooooo, I closed up the hive.

 

Purple Hive

I did the same, moving the top 2 honey boxes off, smoking the excluder, moving it off and quickly going through the next box.  In the 2nd box from the bottom, I found eggs.

But wait a minute – there were eggs all over this frame.  First, a digression.

Sometimes when bees are panicked without a queen, the worker bees start laying eggs. These eggs are all sterile and produce only drones. And since the worker bees don’t really know what they’re doing, you can tell they’ve been laying because they’ll lay 2 or more eggs in a cell, or lay the eggs up the sides of the cell – all wonky because they’re not queens and don’t know what they’re doing.

OK, back to the frame with the eggs…..these cells had 5, 6, 7, 8 eggs in a cell. All over the frame. Most of them were not floating in royal jelly – they had just dried up where they were at.  A few were in the tiny stage (2-3 days old) in jelly, but 1 or 2 in a cell. There were about 3 frames with this same scenario on both sides. Whoooboy. I wish I had my camera or cell phone on me, but I didn’t.

I then exposed the bottom box and there was the queen still in her cage. I pulled the cage out and inspected the bottom box and found 3 more frames with these eggs all over. This is the first time I’ve ever seen workers laying eggs.

Here’s the problem – some of the cells have just 1 egg.  So were there all worker cells? Or was there also a virgin queen laying? I have to go with the most likely, which is these are all workers laying eggs.  So I took all the frames with eggs in the cells and scraped and scored the cells to destroy the eggs.

I then put the queen cage down in between two frames, peeled back the stiff wire mesh and tapped the queen cage hard. No more queen in the cage. I assume she went down in the hive. I hope she went down in the hive instead of flying away (they usually won’t do this).

I quickly closed up the hive.

So my plan of action?

Leave them both alone for 2 weeks. I’ll then take a peek.  If either of the hives is still not laying eggs, I am not buying more queens. I’ll let the hive cure their honey and slowly die a natural death and then any bees left in the hives end of August, I’ll combine with the one or two good hives left for the winter. I’m not spending another $100 this year on queens.

 

Comments Off on Well. That was interesting

Jul 09 2016

The deed is done

bumblebee on pink yarrow

bumblebee on pink yarrow

So I talked to The Wiz at last nights bee meeting and he agreed it’s getting too late to let the girls make their own queen. He also said it’s no big deal to put the queen in her cage in the hive and leave her for a week.

black bumblebee on salvia

black bumblebee on salvia

Because I’m not totally sure that they don’t have a virgin queen running around, he suggested I put in a new queen into each hive, in her cage (do not quick-release her), leave her there the whole week (the ladies will feed and take care of her through the holes in her cage) and then next Saturday when I get home, first look in the hive to make sure there are no eggs laid.

If there are eggs laid, it means I did have a virgin queen, she’s finally laying and I just take out the queen in her cage and take her back to the honey house and they’ll take her back.

If there are not any eggs laid, we’ll assume there is no virgin queen and I’ll release the queens into their hives.

So I went up today to the bee supply house to get my queens. They have Carniolans and Italians for $40 each (yikes). These are the queens they always get from Chico, CA.

one of the girls on a daisy

one of the girls on a daisy

But one of the OF’s, the big teddy bear, who has written some papers on bees and was experimenting with Russian bees for several years, has apparently been working on making local queens for the last several years.  This year, he has a few local queens ready to sell that he’s mated.

They are the product of 3 year old queens – queens who are still going strong. That’s a crazy long life for a queen nowadays. You’re lucky if they last two years. My great queen that they just replaced lasted 18 months.

These are a combination of Caucasian and Carniolan and are supposed to be gentle, and bred in this environment. He’s calling them “Mt. Spokane queens” since he lives on Mt. Spokane. The catch is that they’re $50 each.

one of the girls on the pink yarrow

one of the girls on the pink yarrow

So I’m thinking – ta heck with these pansy little California wimps that can’t hack it up here. The ski lift at Mt. Spokane is 25 minutes from my back door. So these girls are super local.

So I bought a couple of Mt. Spokane Queens. They are labeled “C” and “BT” – don’t have a clue what that stands for but I need to keep track so I can report back to him how they are doing. It’s something to do with tracking their breeding/genetics.

I came home and since it was sunny and 72, at about 11am I suited up quickly, took the new queens in their cages out to the bee deck and warmed up the smoker. The queens are not chocolate brown like Carniolans and they’re not a glowing light amber color like my new Italian queen. They’re a kind of darker golden with brown tips on their tails.

fuzzy orange bottomed bumblebee (my favorite BBs) on the white lavender

fuzzy orange bottomed bumblebee (my favorite BBs) on the white lavender

In both hives, I first really quickly looked at each frame in the brood boxes one last time to see if there were any eggs – zero, nada, zip.

I popped the “C” queen in the orange hive, bottom box, between the 2nd and 3rd frames from the right, tipped with the candy plug down so that if it gets hot, the candy won’t melt all over her. I wedged her in tight between the frames. Immediately she had girls all over her cage, not jawing that I could see, just covering her.

I popped the “BT” queen in the purple hive, same place with the same results of bees covering her.

I quickly put the boxes back together and was done with it.

I also bought myself a new bee brush since the old one was starting to get stiff bristles instead of nice and soft. And I bought a newfangled uncapping roller. It looks like a combination pet-hair removal roller brush and medieval torture rack that’s round. Instead of tearing apart the wax cappings like the metal fork, it rolls over them with these long spikes and pierces them. Probably a lot less wreckage to the cells prior to spinning.

one of the girls on the oregano. Notice the absolutely stuffed pollen bags on her back legs with nice orange pollen

one of the girls on the oregano. Notice the absolutely stuffed pollen bags on her back legs with nice orange pollen

It poured rain last night and the sun is out today, with all my flowers in bloom and there were my girls and all sorts of visitors all over the garden.

 

I have in bloom right now rudbekia, the last of the purple lavender, white lavender, cosmos, daisies, several kinds of salvia, the second blossoming of the sage (after shearing), mustard, coriander, calendula, white and pink and yellow yarrow, coreopsis, russian sage, goldenrod, echinacea, cucumber blossoms, 3 kinds of squash blossoms, bean blossoms, new chives, campanula, hosta, vinca, oregano, several blossoming thymes and all sorts of day lilies.

 

So I’m off to work next week. You girls play nicey with the new queens and take care of them.

This is some kind of little wild bee on the pink yarrow. She was black and shiny and about a third of the size of a honey bee

This is some kind of little wild bee on the pink yarrow. She was black and shiny and about a third of the size of a honey bee

 

I also had a telling-the-bees session and whispered a secret to them.

 

 

Close your eyes, kids. Here are two pretty little butterflies, back to back, mating on one of my calendula

Close your eyes, kids. Here are two pretty little butterflies, back to back, mating on one of my calendula

Comments Off on The deed is done

Jul 07 2016

Full inspection, all 3 hives

So today I needed to find out if there was any kind of queen in any of the hives. I have to leave for a week on Monday, so my only chance to buy any queens is this Saturday. It’s getting late in the year so I can’t wait another week to do this. Besides, as the bees numbers dwindle in the hives, there may not be enough bees to take care of the newly hatched babies.

This is the conundrum about letting them re-queen themselves later in the summer.  You don’t have to spend $35 a queen, but on the other hand, if they make a queen, there is less chance she’ll mate well because they hives are not laying up drones.  Then she still has to spend 2-4 weeks mating and getting ready to lay.  By that time, there may not be enough workers in the hive to take care of her baby bees.  On top of that, she needs to get the hive full strength to about 60-80K bees to get ready for winter and that may not happen in the late summer.

So at 10:15am it was overcast, 72 degrees with a very slight breeze. By the time I was done with all 3 hives, it was 12:15pm and it was still 72 degrees.

I went out to the bee deck, took a box with wet frames from last year; two boxes to hold any honey I pulled; and a sorting box. I suited up and got my smoker going. I decided just to move from left to right – orange, yellow (former FlowHive), purple.

In all hives, the girls were pleasant and busy. There was no aggressive behavior.

Orange Hive 

Inspection synopsis:

This hive started with 6 8-frame western boxes, with 2 boxes on top, then a queen excluder and then 4 boxes.

There were 12 frames of bees. I pulled 5 frames of fully capped honey. There were 17 frames of honey/nectar and 8 frames with pollen. There was no queen, no capped brood, no open brood and no eggs.

I pared the hive down and it ended with 5 8-frame western boxes, with 2 on top, queen excluder, then 3 boxes.

Problems:

Clearly, no queen, at least not laying up.  There could possibly be a virgin queen running around, but I didn’t see one (not that I would) and there is no evidence she’s laying.

 

By this time I was just starting to get sweat dripping down my face so I decided not to be miserable. I went out of the bee deck, soaked a do-rag in cold water and put that on my head, then soaked down the front and back of my T-shirt under my bee suit. That made me completely comfortable enough to last the rest of the hour and a half.

Yellow Hive

Inspection Synopsis:

This hive started with 5 8-frame western boxes, with 3 on top, a queen excluder and 2 on bottom. It ended with 5 boxes, but with 2 on top, a queen excluder and 3 on bottom.

There were 8 frames of bees, I pulled 3 full frames of capped honey. There were 18 frames of full but not yet capped honey and 1 frame of pollen.

I found one of the shredded open queen cells from the last inspection.

shredded open queen cell on the bottom of a frame

shredded open queen cell on the bottom of a frame

In the 2nd box from the bottom on the frame 2nd to the outside, I found about a dozen cells that had – taadaa! Open milky white brood.  WHAAAAA?!

I flipped the frame over to see if there was more and I found about a dozen more cells with open brood and about 3 eggs.

So I started looking for motion on the frames by the bees, like when they surround a queen and – BAM! I saw the new queen.  

You can see the pearly white open brood larvae in the center cells

You can see the pearly white open brood larvae in the center cells

They clearly rolled their own queen. And, of course, because they do this every time they make their own, she’s Italian.

Queen Freya was a purchased Carniolan and I put her in April of 2015. So she was about 1 year 3 months old. I thought she’d last until next spring.  They’ve made an Italian and she’s starting to lay up. Regardless, she’s in the family now, which means she’s a viking queen, so I’ll name her Queen Løper, which means Renegade queen.

I simply managed her entire 2nd box down to the bottom, put the next box on top, gave her the 3rd box for expansion, then put on the queen excluder and honey boxes.  I didn’t complete an inspection of the other 14 frames in the bottom two boxes because I know I have a young queen laying up. Sweet, sweet Løper!

welcome to MooseMoon hives, Queen Loper.

welcome to MooseMoon hives, Queen Loper. She’s the amber yellow long bodied bee at the middle top of the frame, head north, butt end south

 

Purple Hive

Inspection Synopsis:

This hive started and ended with 5 8-frame western boxes, with 2 on top, a queen excluder and 3 on bottom.

There were 8 frames of bees, I pulled 1 frame of capped honey. There were 21 frames of uncapped honey/nectar and 2 frames of pollen.  There was no queen that I could see, no eggs, no open or capped brood.

So this is also either queenless or has a virgin queen.

 

So what’s the plan, Stan?

Well, I’m going to go to the bee meeting tomorrow night and gripe and moan with the rest of them about how my bees are not cooperating with my well thought out plans.

I think it’s way too late in the summer to encourage them to make their own queen and there wouldn’t be enough bees left for the babies. So unless I just want two hives to completely die, I’m going to have to buckle down and spend another $70 buying two queens.

These two hives that are queenless had two purchased queens put in them just this April for $70. Grrrrrrr!

What I’m going to ask the OF’s at the meeting is if I should put the queen, in her cage with attendants, in the hives and then leave her in her cage until I get back next Saturday.  I’m wondering – IF there is a virgin queen running around, if I release a new queen, the virgin will just kill her (there goes another $70 and still no babies guaranteed). But I’m wondering if I leave a queen in the hive for a week, will the rest of the hive determine the one in the cage is mated and they want her, and then go ahead and kill or kick any virgin queen to the curb?

We’ll see what the OF’s and The Wiz say. Either way, I’m real sure I’m going to be out another $70.

Comments Off on Full inspection, all 3 hives

Jul 01 2016

oh.good.grief

So yesterday, Friday, I inspected the purple hive. At 7:45am it was 68 degrees. It was warm enough for the girls to be out, but since the hives are shaded from the very early morning sun, no sun was shining on the front doors and only a few girls were up and at ’em. I guess I’d need to roust them out.

I took out to the bee deck my sorting box and a box with empty frames. Got the smoker going, smoked the front door and under the lid.

I then spent some time weeding in front of the beehives since that’s gotten out of hand and I can only do this in the bee suit. I knocked down a good amount – the girls no longer have to feel they’re living in a jungle.

Purple Hive inspection synopsis:

a really decent frame of nearly capped honey with beautiful white wax cappings. Put into storage

a really decent frame of nearly capped honey with beautiful white wax cappings. Put into storage

The hive started and ended with 5 boxes. There were 16 frames of nearly half-capped honey and 3 frames of well capped honey, which I harvested and put in a tote for storage for extracting later in the bee shed. There were another 9 frames full of nectar, 1 good frame of pollen and 13 full frames of bees.  

There was no queen sighted, no eggs, no open larvae and no capped larvae – no brood at all. The entire bottom box was cleaned out frames. There were two queen cells which had clearly been fully capped and were now open and chewed out. WTHeck?

Management:

I pulled 3 good capped frames of honey into storage. There were 3 boxes completely full of either partially capped honey or full of nectar. I went ahead and moved all three boxes full of honey/nectar to the top and put a queen excluder between box 2 and 3. If they need more food, they can always move up into the top boxes.

I inspected each of the three boxes for a virgin queen – although I’ve never seen one live and wouldn’t expect to be able to tell if I actually saw a virgin queen. I then shook the bees from these boxes down into the bottom two boxes and also smoked the dickens out of them to drive the bees down. I don’t want a queen caught up in the top honey boxes. Then I put the queen excluder on.

The bottom two boxes have about 4 frames of food and the rest of the frames are empty, ready for brooding up.

Problem Discussion:

So I now have all of my hives queenless – or at least original queenless.  One had a great queen from last year, and the other two I spent $70 this year on putting queens into them. They all have or had queen cells.

I’m going to wait until the end of next week and look at all of them again to see if I have a laying queen.

If not, I’ll head up to The Wiz’s on Saturday morning and see what he thinks, because I’ll be out of town the week after that.  I don’t mind having them make their own.

Here are the issues with that:

  1. If they haven’t already made a queen, there’s no chance now because there are no fresh eggs anywhere to make a queen
  2. It’s starting to get late in the year, and it could be there are no more drone (or not enough) out there anymore to mate well with even if they did create a queen
  3. At some point, you get late enough in the season that ANY queen won’t have time to brood up 60-70K bees to get themselves through the winter so you need to get a queen in there

PLAN:

I’ll peek at them next Thursday and Friday

If they have queens laying up, I’ll leave them alone

If any of them don’t, I’ll get a queen on Saturday, put her in on Saturday and quick-release her on Sunday into the hive and hope to heck there isn’t a virgin queen running around in the hive to kill the purchased, mated, $35 queen so that I have to start all over.

Comments Off on oh.good.grief

Jun 29 2016

Yellow hive inspection – upside down, too

So I went out to inspect the yellow hive, Queen Freya’s, this morning. At 8am it was 66 degrees and by 8:30 when I finished it was 75. Not too hot, but again a high of 93 today so these early morning inspections are going to be routine.

I took out a sorting box and a box full of empty frames just in case I needed it.

Yellow hive inspection synopsis

This have started and ended with 5 boxes. This is the hive that had 30-35 fully formed and capped queen cells last time I looked.

There were 17 frames of bees, 15 frames full of honey but only partially capped, 4 frames of nectar and 2 frames of pollen. There was no queen sighted, absolutely no brood whatsoever – no eggs, no larvae or open brood and no capped brood at all.

Soooooo, everything has hatched out, and there is no follow up brood.

However, there was absolutely not one single solitary queen cell left in the hive. That means all of them have been destroyed.

 

So I now have two hives that have gone queenless.

Assumptions:

I’m going to assume they made at least one queen out of the gazillion in there they were making and that I have a virgin queen running around in there waiting to get her mojo on and she’ll either get mated or has already mated.

Plan:

I’m going to go ahead, like on the orange hive, and just wait them out another week. I’ll check them in a week and see if there are any fresh eggs to show that they made their own successful queen.

Meanwhile, tomorrow I’ll inspect the purple hive, just for giggles, and see if they have a queen and any extra eggs. If they do (they’ll have to have eggs on two frames that they can spare), I’ll pop a frame of fresh eggs in each of the orange and yellow hives.

Comments Off on Yellow hive inspection – upside down, too

Jun 28 2016

You girls can be frustrating; orange hive inspection

Sometimes, I almost want to say that the girls can be frustrating enough that I’m ready to call it……nope, I won’t say it. OK – quits. Nope, not really.

So I WAS going to quickly inspect all three hives this morning about 8am, but it was so hot, I could only get through one. At 8am it was already 75 degrees and by 9am it was 80 (high today, 93).

I took out 2 tubs with empty boxes in case I needed to collection honey off the hives; took out a box with 8 empty frames; and took out the new queen excluder since my orange hive doesn’t have one.

I got the smoker going, suited up, knocked on the front door and under the lid and opened up the orange hive.

Orange hive Inspection synopsis

This hive started and ended with 6 8-frame western boxes.

There were 6 frames of capped brood, no open brood or eggs at all, no queen sighted, 16 frames of bees, 3 frames full of pollen, 21 frames of honey half capped, and plenty of other frames of nectar.

2 frames had 1 queen cell each that were almost capped, just the tip left uncapped yet.

Hive management

one of the girls in the blooming lavendar

one of the girls in the blooming lavender

I put all the brood in the bottom box and put only 7 frames in the bottom with room for an empty frame (see “Plan”). I put the queen excluder between boxes 4 and 5 so there are 2 full boxes of half-capped honey on the top and this will keep them from brooding up in the honey.

Problems

As you can see, I have a queen problem. Clearly no queen has laid up for at least 9 days (when they cap the worker cells).  14 days ago at inspection in this hive, I saw Queen Frodig and fresh eggs. I didn’t see Queen Frodig at all, but I wasn’t looking really really carefully because I was seeing no eggs.

I have no idea if they’re two little half hearted queen cells have queens in them, because the queen cell is capped at 7 days.  If there are no fresh eggs, that means she quit laying 9 days ago and they need a fresh egg for the queen cell.  So they would have to have put a 2 day old egg in the queen cell – which is right on the ragged edge because they make queens out of eggs 3 days or less old.

So where did Frodig go? Did she die somehow? Get sick?

It’s clear they didn’t swarm because there are so many live bees in the hive – there would be half or less that many if they’d swarmed.

this is a northern California bumblebee I took a picture of this week at work, up in Humboldt county

this is a northern California bumblebee I took a picture of this week at work, up in Humboldt county

Plan

Tomorrow I’m going to inspect the yellow hive. If they’re doing well and they have a spare frame with fresh eggs, I’m going to brush off the bees and put the frame of fresh eggs down in the bottom brood box of the orange hive. Then if they want to make more queen cells, they can. I’ll just leave them to it, rather than going out and buying another queen for $35.

Here is a movie of a tiger swallowtail butterfly pollinating my lavender.  This is Pollinator week – go bugs!

 

Comments Off on You girls can be frustrating; orange hive inspection

Jun 17 2016

Removed FlowHive from Yellow hive

About 5pm it was sunny and cooler so I went out to remove the FlowHive from my Yellow hive before it got too heavy for me to lift again.

This is the hive that may swarm.

I took a big rubbermaid tote with lid out to store the FlowHive, and another box with 8 empty frames to replace the FlowHive.

The hive started with 4 boxes and the FlowHive. It ended with 5 boxes.

I moved the FlowHive to the tote, about 10 feet from the hive.

I then pulled off the top box which is entirely full of honey (peeked first to make sure there was no brood). I put the queen excluder on above the 4th box and put the box of honey on top.

I then took each FlowHive frame out with the bees, took them over to the top of the hive and shook and brushed all the bees off the frame and into the box and laid the frame aside. I did this with each FlowHive frame until they were all free of bees and then put them back in the FlowHive box, in the tote, put the lid on and put the tote in the bee shed.

Comments Off on Removed FlowHive from Yellow hive

Jun 17 2016

Purple & Orange inspection June 15

On Wednesday at about 10am it was 58 degrees and sunny so I decided to go ahead and inspect the Purple and orange hives since it’s been about 2 weeks.

I took out 2 sorting boxes and 2 boxes with 8 empty frames in case they needed some room.

Purple Hive – Queen Lilla

This hive started with 5 boxes and ended with 5 boxes.

Synopsis:

12 frames of capped brood, 16 frames of bees, 6 frames of capped honey, 8 frames of nectar, 2 frames of pollen, about 10 empty frames.

Problems:

No Queen Lilla spotted. Not a single cell that had any open larvae at all  – no eggs, no tiny larvae, no open brood – nada.  There were 4 complete and capped queen cells.

2 of the capped queen cells in the purple hive

2 of the capped queen cells in the purple hive

Hmmmmmm.  So how did this hive manage to go queenless? It’s been that way for at least 8 days because that’s when they cap their brood.

Conclusions:

Clearly the hive is healthy – there are a ton of bees, a ton of capped brood, tons of food and they’ve created queen cells.  So I’m going to leave them as is and let them work on it.

I managed the hive down so that now the bottom two boxes have brood, 3rd has all empty frames, 4th has food, then a queen excluder, then the 5th has honey

I talked to The Wiz at the farmers market that night and he said he had a hive that went totally queenless, too and he has no idea why. Always makes me feel a little better when it’s not something I’ve done and it happens to the best of them.

Orange Hive – Queen Frodig

This hive started with 5 boxes and ended with 6 boxes.

Synopsis:

There were 10 frames of capped brood, 16 frames of bees, 15 frames of nectar, 3 frames of pollen and just 3 empty frames. The top box had one frame with brood.

I saw Queen Frodig and there were fresh eggs and small larvae. I also found 2 queen cells.  

Here is a short video of Queen Frodig on her hive. 

Management:

I managed the hive down so that the bottom two boxes had brood checkerboarded with 2 empty frames, the 3rd box had brood checkerboarded with 4 empty frames, 4th box had food with 3 empty frames, 5th box is all empty frames, and the 6th box is entirely nectar.

Conclusions:

They’re doing great. I need to get another queen excluder for the top two boxes on this hive so they won’t brood up in the honey.

Comments Off on Purple & Orange inspection June 15

Jun 14 2016

Yellow (FlowHive) inspection and FlowHive pros and cons

So after we extracted the FlowHive, I needed to do an inspection of the Yellow Hive because the last one was May 18, about 3 1/2 weeks ago.  That’s a long time for an 8 frame western hive – they need to be done every two weeks (I’ll explain below).

But the FlowHive is so heavy when it has honey, I estimate about 65-70 pounds,  that I actually could barely lift it off the hives and I can’t get it back on top of the hive. So I have not inspected, waiting until I could extract the FlowHive and get rid of some of the honey weight.

My Bro actually hefted the FlowHive off the hive and we set it aside and I did a quick 10-12 minute inspection of the hive. I actually found not only what I expected to find, but actually a worse version of what I expected to find.

Yellow Hive inspection

The queen had “chimneyed” all the way to the top, just under the queen excluder. The top box (beneath the FlowHive) had a good 5 frames full of capped brood and all the brood were in the top 3 boxes.  The bottom box, as I thought it would be, was basically a bunch of empty frames.

There were probably 30-35 fully formed and capped queen cells, all lined up along the bottom of the frames of several of the frames in the top 3 boxes.  These are swarm cells. I’ve never seen so many in any of my hives, ever. This is telling me they are really ready to swarm. Bees want to swarm when they feel crowded.

I saw a lot of teeny weeny larvae, like 2 days old, but I could only find a very few (half a dozen) brand new fresh eggs laid that day.  That’s not always a sign, but just one of the signs of getting ready to swarm is stopping the queen from laying new brood. So this has me more concerned.

I managed the hive down by putting all the brood back down in the bottom two boxes, putting all the empty frames in the 3rd box up, then the 4th box has honey/food, then the queen excluder, then the FlowHive.

I did not remove any of the queen cells.  If they are going to swarm, they’re going to swarm. I’m hoping that managing them back down will slow them down and make them not swarm.  But that is an awful lot of queen cells they made.

I could split the hive right now to try to keep it from swarming, and that might do the trick. But if they have in their heads to swarm, it’s going to happen no matter what I do.  So call I can do is wait a few days and see if they settle down or if they swarm.

So here’s what I had to think about the last two days.

First, a synopsis of beekeeping in 8 frame Western hives and why I use them.

It takes 2 8-frame western hives to equal 1 10-frame deep hive (the regular size boxes used by commercial beekeepers – all big burly men).

A 10 frame deep box full of honey can weigh anywhere from 85-95 pounds.

An 8 frame western box full of honey weighs about 35-40 pounds.

I started beekeeping from the beginning with 8 frame western boxes because I want to do this a long time and I can handle 35-40 pounds.  All the OF’s in beekeeping constantly brag about how you know a beekeeper by their bent back, how they all have bad backs, etc.  I don’t find that funny. I want to keep my back in good shape. Over the past 6 years, the local bee supplier has gone from keeping nearly no 8 frame western equipment to a very huge supply of 8 frame western equipment, because a large majority of the backyard beekeepers are women and they want the lighter weight boxes. It’s no longer exclusively a man’s world in beekeeping (move over, drones).

The only “problem” (if you want to call it a problem) with keeping 8 frame western hives is that the bees, more than in any other of the hive types (10 frame western, 8 and 10 frame deeps), tend to “chimney” – which means that the queen quickly moves straight up the middle of the hive as she lays, to the top, ignoring the side frames, and as the bottom frames hatch out, she does not go down to lay there but just keeps going up to the top.  So she gets to the top, thinks she’s run out of room, and instead of going back down, she wants to swarm to find more room.

That means that you have to “manage the hive down” constantly. That means, moving all the brood back to the bottom of the hive, the food to the top of the hive, and the empty frames/expansion frames above the brood and below the food.  You put the open brood in the bottom, then the capped brood, then empties, then food.  It’s just a cycle that you get in and each time you inspect, you also have to manage.

I’ve found over my very few 6 years in beekeeping that the perfect inspection/management cycle is 2 weeks.  Last year I tried waiting 3 weeks instead and found that they started building queen cells and were crammed along the top of the hive.  But at two weeks, the queen will have just laid some fresh eggs in one frame in the top of the hive and I can easily manage them down again and get her back on track.

This “managing down” issue would not be an issue if I kept larger boxes – 10 frame westerns would be less managing and of course 8 or 10 frame deeps would be less of a problem. I could wait 3-5 weeks between inspections.

But I can’t comfortably lift 50-85 pound boxes, and it would limit my lifespan of being able to beekeep.  So the answer is NOT to move to bigger boxes.

The Pros and Cons of the FlowHive for me

PROS

  • way less work and way less time extracting honey (note: I kind of like the old fashioned process of putting the frames in the extractor, cranking away and filling the bucket with the honey)
  • only pre-clean and sterilize jars, not equipment (note: it took about 20 minutes to extract into clean jars. On regular extracting day I need to clean and sterilize the equipment the day before so it can dry, then spend anywhere from 2-3 hours extracting, then wash all the equipment again)
  • much less waste – honey goes in jars, any left over honey stays in the hive. During regular extraction there is a lot of honey you just can’t get off the sides of the stainless steel tank and it gets wasted as you wash out the tank
  • don’t have to brush angry bees off honey frames as you remove them from the hive
  • bees didn’t engage or even seem to know extraction was happening (at least from the outsiders view)
  • not necessary to wait for the honey to “filter” because there are no exploded bee body parts or chunks of wax thrown from the centrifuge of the extracting machine. Regular extraction spins the combs fast, throwing both honey, bee parts and wax chunks out, which go into the honey bucket. You then have to filter out the big bee parts and wax chunks

CONS

  • The FlowHive 8 frame deep box empty weighs in at 18.5 pounds. Full of honey, it weighs in at about 78 pounds according to FlowHive
  • I can’t inspect the hive at all while the bees are making honey in the FlowHive, prior to it being cured and ready for extraction, because the FlowHive box is so heavy, I have to get a big, burly man over here to move the FlowHive off the top of the hive. If this takes longer than 2 weeks, I risk my queen feeling cramped and the bees swarming

 

So that’s really the only con.  However, it is such a big, unworkable con that I’ve decided, regretfully, that it can’t work for me.

I can’t risk my bees swarming or having to hire some guy every 2 weeks to come over and move the FlowHive box off the hive, then back on again after I’ve inspected.

My wonderful HB is a big, burly man. He has built the bee deck, built all my equipment, built my hive stands, built my custom bee shed, built the protective see-through screen fence around my beeyard, carted countless equipment around for me. But from the beginning he did not want to be actually suited up and out in the bees – which is just fine with me. He does all the work, I get all the pleasure. He’s a little freaked out about being in the bees. I’d be freaked out completely if he started keeping spiders as pets. So to each their own.

Conclusion

Until FlowHive manufactures FlowHive honey boxes that weigh in full of honey at about 35-40 pounds, this is not the method for me and possibly for a large amount of women beekeepers the world over.

So I’m going to sell my FlowHive to my Bro and let him use these for his hives. He already has an entire FlowHive package of one hive and now he can have the equipment to have two hives next year.

 

Comments Off on Yellow (FlowHive) inspection and FlowHive pros and cons

Jun 14 2016

First extraction with the FlowHive

So in this entry, I’m only going to talk about the experience of harvesting honey with my FlowHive. I’ll then post an entry about the subsequent hive inspection and my conclusions.

On Sunday afternoon, about 2pm, it was sunny and warm. My Bro and sis in law came over to help and film our first FlowHive extraction.

I cleaned and sterilized several quart jars and took out 6, plus a large roll of plastic wrap. We took out the jars, plastic wrap, all the drainage tubes to the bee deck.

We needed to build a little shelf to hold the jars while the honey was draining from the FlowHive because you can’t just stand there with a jar in your hand that’s going to end up weighing in at 4 pounds for – 15? 30? 60? minutes waiting for it to fill up.

So just behind the hive boxes, on either side, we put a cement construction block (8″X 16″) horizontally on the ground (8″ tall), then stacked another one on top of that one the long way up (16″ tall), then stacked two regular bricks on each side, then put a 2X6 board straddling the two bricks to make a shelf.  When I placed a quart jar on top of the shelf, the lip now sat about 2″ below what would be the drainage tube for the FlowHive.

We were suited up, smoked the hive a little, and went ahead and popped the top to quickly look at each of the 6 FlowHive frames to see if they were ready for harvesting.  4 were very nearly full and 2 were about 3/4 full.  All were about half wax capped, but they have remained this way for a couple of weeks.  So I tilted the frames and there was no moving of the honey (so it was very thick or cured) and tipped a tip in one of the cells and the honey did not drip, so the honey is cured and ready for harvesting.

We then opened up the back of the FlowHive. We placed a jar beneath one of the frames, took the plastic cap off, put the drainage tube in, then took plastic wrap, went around the jar and tented over the drainage tube and sealed it in the back so there was a little tent of plastic wrap around the whole top and no honey smell could leak out to attract bees, wasps or robbers.

We then put in the magic FlowHive “key” and tried to turn it to “crack” the wax seal and open the channels for the honey to flow out.  This was a lot harder than it seemed it should be. It took enough downward pressure to turn the key/handle that I was a little worried about bending the key. But at one point, you feel a little tiny breakthrough when the wax cappings crack, and then you just slowly and smoothly turn the key the rest of the way.

We could see the end row of cells on both sides of the FlowHive frame, filled with honey and you can watch it run down. Then it was in the drainage tube, filling it up, slowly creeping to the end and drizzling into the jar. Hooraaah!

And we just stood around watching it fill up the jar.  It actually filled up much quicker than we thought it might. We had to do a quick switch between jars when the first one got full, which can cause a little bit of a mess – not too much. We then replaced the plastic wrap tent and let it drain again.  We staggered the timing of the jars and made sure we were only draining two jars, far apart, at a time so that we didn’t have to be swapping out jars in the middle of a honey flow out of the drainage tubes at the same time.

Here is a link to 3 videos of the process. Go to this YouTube channel and watch the videos of “SlowMo Bees” which is my bees coming and going from the hive;  “Flowhive 1” which is a picture of the honey actually coming out of the FlowHive frames, into the drainage tube and into the jar;  and “honey feast”.  This is a great video of girls on top of one of the frames where honey spilled and pooled and you can see a circle of girls with their maroon “tongues” (proboscis) lapping up the honey and their little antennae seem to be dancing in time to some music.

I had to run in the house and get more jars.  Within about 20 minutes, we had 8.5 full quart jars of honey – that’s about 24-26 pounds of honey. It came out perfectly raw.  No bee body parts, no other little parts of wax or anything – just honey and bits of pollen.

honey harvest from 6 FlowHive frames

honey harvest from 6 FlowHive frames

We went ahead and decided to leave some pretty wet frames for the bees, so while it was still barely drizzling honey into the jars, we took the key and closed the frames, which aligns the cells back closed and put the caps back in the openings. The entire time the bees just worked around and on the frames.

FlowHive need for improvement

The little round caps that are on the end of the drainage holes, where you insert the drainage tubes are flawed. You just “push” them back in – there is no screw.  So twice, the pressure from the honey backflow popped them out as they are quite loose and I had honey draining out of the hive.  They need to put just a quarter screw in this capping mechanism so these will stay put.

 

Comments Off on First extraction with the FlowHive

Next »