Where is the Honey?

It’s close to the end of September, the weather is beautiful. It’s warm and sunny out. At this point in the season I am looking for the bees to fill up their hives with honey. The farm that they live on has plenty of forage all through the year and the bees have constant access to water. It would be much better for them to fill their hives with honey than for me to feed them sugar syrup.

Opening the Orchard Hive first and finding them very grumpy. The hive has 26 bars with comb on them, but 8 of those combs are empty. There are 17 bars with very little capped honey on them and 13 of them have some nectar too. On 12 of the bars there are capped brood and 5 of them have larvae. I only saw 1 bar with some eggs and the queen was there too.

There should be more honey than this at the end of September. It looks like I will need to start feeding this hive as soon as possible. I want them to be able to build up enough stores to get through the winter. Right now they don’t have nearly enough. This is usually the inspection where they surprise me and have lots of honey stored up. That’s how it has been the last two seasons, I guess these bees didn’t get them memo.

The other concerning things that I found were deformed wing virus and mites. I spotted 15 bees with deformed wing virus and I saw 4 bees with mites on them. These things could be one of the reasons that the bees don’t have enough honey. The mites can cause so many issues within a colony and the diseases that they carry can confuse the bees. This could be causing the bees not to act like bees and the deformed wing virus means less forager bees to bring in the nectar.

Now to the Willow Hive. Luckily, they were much more pleasant to work with. It is so much easier to inspect a happy hive. This little colony has not built any new comb since moving into the hive. They have 11 bars, 2 of the bars are empty and I removed 1 of them. There are also 2 bars with comb on them, but the comb is empty. For now I will leave those and hopefully they will fill the combs with honey.

They have 2 bars with capped honey and on 6 bars there is nectar. The 2 bars that have some capped honey have a decent amount of nectar on them, the other 4 bars have only a little bit of nectar on them. There is capped brood on 5 bars and 3 of them had larvae too. I did not see any eggs nor did I find the queen this time.

In this hive the pest I found was small hive beetle. I found 7 of them and I squashed them. During the inspection, I also kept an eye out for small hive beetle larvae. This time I didn’t find any. This colony looks good, but I am concerned about the lack of honey in their hive too. It seems like these honeybees forgot how to be honeybees this season. Let’s hope they kick it into high gear and build up their stores for winter. In the meantime, I will start feeding them 2 to 1 sugar syrup for fall.

Orchard Hive
Peek inside
Willow Hive
Small colony
Hive beetle chase
Inspection done

Solar Wax Melter

Last year I tried to render wax in my kitchen in a large stock pot. That was such a mess! For a long time I was finding bits of wax here and there. I needed to find another way to deal with the wax that I am collecting from the hives. After doing a little searching, I decided that a solar wax melter would be the best way for me to go.

I spent some time on the internet looking for ideas. Many people seem to use stock pots and crock pots and I don’t want to deal with the mess that comes with those. When I tried using the stock pot before, I didn’t get much clean wax. There was a lot of crud though. When I came across the solar wax melter, I really liked the idea of it.

There are so many different ideas for how to make one, several were set up specifically for frames from a Langstroth. I found this one at blog.corujas.net/building-a-solar-wax-melter. The design is simple and it is easy to get the parts needed to build it. We have plenty of wood laying around here from the many different outdoor projects that we have done over the year. I purchased the metal sheet at the hardware store and I ordered a piece of glass from the framing shop. The total cost was probably between twenty and twenty five dollars.

My husband is very handy and was able to build the solar wax melter quickly. At the bottom to catch the clean, melted wax I put a food grade silicone bread pan. The thought behind the silicone was that it would be easy to remove the wax from it once it had hardened. The wax melter from the blog has legs attached to it in order to have it sit up at an angle, but we did not put legs on ours. When it was ready to be used, I just propped it up on the raised garden bed to create the angle that it needed.

This solar wax melter worked beautifully! As the wax melted it drained down into the silicone pan, but all the other crud stayed in the upper area of the box. This meant that the wax that I was able to get from it was really clean. There is no filter at the end of the metal, it comes to a small point and that helps to keep any of the other stuff from falling into the pan. It was really surprising to me how well this worked. Such a relief to not have to think about rendering wax in the kitchen again!

Inside the metal tray, I was able to fit between three and four bars worth of comb. Overfilling the tray seemed like it might not be a good idea. Testing with a reasonable amount of comb was the way to go. The first day it didn’t get enough sun to warm up and melt much of the wax, but the second day was much better. The wax melter sat in the sun most of the day. When I opened it to look at the remaining stuff in the tray, it was mostly just the leftover gunk. Most of the wax had melted and drained into the pan.

It is so exciting to think about all of the things that I can make with the wax now that I have an easy way to render it. Last year I made lip balm, lotion, and healing salve using the beeswax from my hives. Maybe I can get into making candles too. Of course, it will depend on how much wax I can get from the hives. Making items out of the wax will have to be a winter time activity. I will be able to enjoy the delightful products and scents from the hives even when I can’t go visit the bees.

Softening
Melting
Wonderful!
Into the pan
Clean wax
It works!

Ugh! Small Hive Beetles!

On August 26th the weather was wonderful! It had been a month since I had checked on the bees. I was lucky enough to spend a large chunk of that time visiting my husband’s family in Norway. The weather there was cooler than home and there was quite a bit of rain. It was good to get back to the sunshine and warmth of summer.

The summer at home has been nice, but we haven’t had a lot of hot days and the humidity has been lower than in the past. In my garden I noticed the affects of the changes in weather. The heat loving plants that I sometimes grow, were not doing well this year. They just didn’t get the heat that they need. I am wondering how these changes are affecting all of the plants that the bees depend on.

The humidity has also been much lower than in the past, which leads to it being drier out. We had a very wet spring, but now there is not enough moisture. This may lead to a nectar dearth and make the fall harder on the bees. The last time I checked in on the bees, they had almost no nectar or honey stores. Old Frog Pond Farm is not lacking in forage, but if the nectar is hard to come by then that creates challenges.

During this visit, I started at the Willow Hive. When I opened the hive, I found mouse droppings on top of the bars. Yuck! I cleaned off the bars with some of the brush around the hive. I need to fill all of the open space with bars to try to deter the mice. They had five bars with brood at all stages, but very little else. They also don’t seem to be building any new comb, the amount has not changed in a month now.

The things that I did find several of in the hive was small hive beetles! I took out the empty comb that a few of them were on and I squashed them. I also found some larvae in the hive and I got rid of them too. Looking at the bottom of the hive, I saw that there were some larvae between the screen and the bottom board. I used the hive tool and squished them.

Then I was off to the Orchard Hive. The last visit with them was very pleasant and they looked good. They had lots of brood and some honey stores built up. They were not at all pleasant this time! Several bees lost their lives trying to sting me through my gloves! It was just too much, so I closed up the hive and decided that I would return another day to check in on them.

On August 30th I went back to look in on both hives. Again, I started at the Willow Hive. This time I did not open the hive and look in on the colony. I only opened the bottom board up to clean all of the small hive beetle larvae off. It looked like I had taken care of most of them the last time I was out. It was easy to remove the board and scrape it off. When I put it back on I left it open a bit for ventilation. Everything else looked good with this colony and there is no need for me to bother them again so soon.

Then I needed to try with the Orchard Hive again and I needed to inspect them. When I opened the hive they seemed a lot less grumpy, but still a bit uneasy about having me there. They were not trying to sting my gloves this time, but there was a bit of buzzing in my face. This colony also seems to have stopped building comb at this point, so I removed two bars that were empty.

The colony was still large, there were eighteen bars with brood on them. It looked like there was only one bar with eggs on it, but that may not be the case. The eggs can be difficult to see. There were three bars with larvae on them and the rest were capped brood. Even though the colony is still quite large, I closed off the second opening that the bees had. I prefer that at this point in the year they only have one opening to protect.

This time there was more pollen, nectar, and honey in the hive. Even with some stores built up, there is not near enough for them to make it through the winter. I have seen this same thing for the last two years. The hive doesn’t have much at the end of August, but my mid September they have plenty. I will come back in a couple of weeks to see how things are going.

I have been doing visual mite checks through the season and I have not seen many. There was only one mite that I saw on a worker bee today. Of course, there is a large number of bees away foraging while I inspect the hive. This may mean that there are a lot more mites than I know about. At this time the bees look really good and they seem to be doing what they need to be doing.

The drone population has started to dwindle. While I was inspecting the hive, there were some workers that were evicting drones right in front of me. I was happy to see that since their food stores are low. The other thing that I saw was there were bees in the area outside of the divider board and it looked like they were collecting some of the propolis that was there. It could be that it is getting harder to get it from the trees at this time, so they could be repurposing what is there.

Willow Hive
Yuck!
Willow Queen
SHB larvae
Orchard Hive
Lots of bees
Strange eggs
A peek inside

A Belated Birthday Present!

My birthday was a week ago and our family was heading to Norway for two and a half weeks, I wanted to check on the bees before we left. I also was planning to clean out the Willow Hive and bring it home so that rodents did not move in. At this point it has been over a month since I had looked in on the Willow Hive. I figured that there would be no-one left in the hive.

Even though I thought the hive was empty, I still put on my suit and gloves. I didn’t want any surprises. The fear that I felt is less, but I still have some fear about being stung and I would rather be over prepared than under. When I got to the hive there was quite a lot of activity around it. My first thought is that these bees are here robbing what is left of the honey.

Once I opened the hive, I realized that the bees in the hive were calm and not robbing it! These bees live here! Luckily, I was suited up and had all of my equipment with me. I went through each bar to see how things were going. This was such an exciting inspection and I could not wait to examine each bar. They had lots of brood and some capped honey. I was thrilled to find the queen! Everything looks great with this new little colony.

After inspecting this new colony, I was feeling so good. It was my lucky day in beekeeping and now I am just hoping that luck will continue. I headed over to the Orchard Hive to inspect them. The weather was nice and the bees were calm and happy. This always makes the inspections so much easier.

The Orchard Hive is looking strong. There is a large colony in there. They are on 26 bars and I added two more empty bars for them. Eight of the bars had nectar and capped honey on them. There are eighteen bars with brood in some form on them and a mix of workers and drones. There is a lot more worker brood at this point than drone.

The queen let me find her today. I wasn’t sure that I would see her since the colony has gotten so big, so I was happy that I got to. I have been visually checking the bees for mites and I didn’t find any today. I hope that means that the mite load is low and the colony is strong. This colony looks really good right now and I am happy that I can go to Norway feeling good about the bees.

Two days later, on July 28th, I headed back to the farm. I only needed to give the Willow Hive two bars with empty comb on them. My thought was to give them more space to continue to grow. I am not sure how much comb they will build at this point in the season. It will be good for them to have the extra comb. Hopefully they fill it with all the things they need.

Focusing on the Orchard Hive

It’s quite sad to be down to one beehive so early in the season this year. I started the season with some high hopes to split one of the colonies to put bees into the hive in The Maynard Honeybee Meadow, but now my plans have changed. The meadow will have to wait until next spring to get bees. I really don’t want to weaken my only colony at this point. Now the plan is to put my focus into the Orchard Hive colony.

There were ants in the window again, but I just left them alone this time. They should be finding a new place to live soon and I am sick of shooing them away. Upon opening the lid, I was happy to not find any more wasps! Maybe they are gone for the season. They had to build their nests elsewhere, somewhere where I am not knocking them down every two weeks!

This colony has twenty two bars and I added three more empty ones today. The two bars on the outer most edges of the hive are still empty. The new bars that I added I placed in closer to the brood nest. The brood pattern looks really good. This queen is very productive. The hive has mostly worker brood now, but there is still a little drone brood.

The bees have built six queen cups, but all of them are empty. They build them to have them just in case they need to replace the queen. My past colonies have always had several ready during the active season and then they take them down late in the fall. I do not ever cut the queen cups off or mess with them in any way. If the bees need to make a new queen, I don’t want to be the reason that they can’t.

There is very little capped honey at this point, but there is plenty of nectar. In the years before, the bees wouldn’t have much and then in August they would fill the hives with capped honey. Old Frog Pond Farm has forage for the bees all through the season, but they seem to create their winter stores in August and September. My first year beekeeping, I was really worried in July when I didn’t find much in the hives and then I was very relieved in August when the hives were almost full of honey.

Her majesty was easy to find today, but as always she was trying the best she could to hide from me. I enjoy watching the queens, but I try not to do so for too long. They don’t seem to like me gawking at them and I understand. The other thing that I saw walking around on the comb today was a varroa mite! I tried to kill it with the hive tool, but it was too fast for me. I decided to open up the bottom of the hive for ventilation and to hopefully let mites fall out of the hive. I need to put something on the board under the screened bottom so that I can do a mite count.

Today’s visit was a nice one. The bees were so calm and gentle with me. We also had great weather today which I am sure helped them to feel at ease with me opening their home up. These bees are so pleasant to visit each time. Visiting them has made me feel better about beekeeping this year. I started the year with a bit of a negative feeling due to loosing all of my colonies last season, but they have helped change that for me. I am sad that I lost the Willow colony, but for whatever reason they were just not meant to be. Now I can put my energy into the Orchard Hive and continue to learn more about keeping bees.

Front Door
Overgrown
Ant eggs
Peek inside
Her majesty
Open bottom
Screened bottom board

Trouble Under the Willow Tree

It’s been almost two weeks since I have checked in on the hives. This time I started at the Orchard Hive. It seems that the wasps have finally given up and moved somewhere else. What a relief is was to not find them in the lid. Maybe this winter I need to study up on how to deter wasps.

Out of the eighteen bars that the colony is living on, I checked out eight of them. This colony is looking wonderful. They have everything that they need and they are growing well. I added four empty bars for them to build on. This was a quick and easy inspection. Since they are doing so well, I don’t need to go through the entire hive.

Now off to the Willow Hive to find out how they are doing. When I opened the window, I only saw five bees walking on the sides of the comb. Inside the lid there were two wasps still trying to build their nests. I wonder if the size of the colony is a deterrent to the wasps? Now that the Orchard Hive colony is so large it could be that the wasps don’t want to nest so close to them. With the Willow Hive being such a small colony, that makes them more vulnerable. I did knock down the two small nests being built.

As I was going through the hive, it was obvious that nothing has changed much. There is no queen nor is there an emergency queen cell on the bar of brood that I had given to them. There was a handful or so of capped drone brood left, but they were all dead. The bees had begun chewing off the caps and trying to remove them.

After seeing this, I decided that I am no longer going to interfere with this colony. For some reason they are not healthy enough to take care of what they need to take care off. I can’t justify buying another queen for them to kill her too. I am just going to let them live out their lives. In about a month the hive should be empty and I will clean it up and store it for next year.

I am continually learning from the bees. This year I am learning how to stand back and let them figure it out. The bees have been on this Earth a lot longer than we have and they know what they are doing. They don’t need us micromanaging them. It’s frustrating and sad not to be able to help them, but there is no sense in me trying to nurse a dying colony. It’s best to just let them live it out. I guess now I can put my energy into focusing on the Orchard Hive.

Another Lost Queen

It’s June 10th and it’s only been six days since I checked in on the colony. I wanted to check them so soon again though to see how the queen situation is coming along. Since I didn’t see her or any evidence of her, I am concerned about them If she is no longer in the hive, I hope that they are using the brood that I gave them to make another queen.

The weather is great today, seventy six degrees and sunny. I spent some time watching the foragers before I opened the hive. They are still acting like everything is normal and they are bringing in pollen. The main give away is that they are so grouchy all the time. They get up into my face even before I open the hive up. I am glad that I am fully suited before I even get near the hive.

Once I got into the hive, it was obvious that things are not right. They are not building any new comb and at this point they don’t seem to be making an emergency replacement queen from the bar of brood that I put in. I did not find the queen again this time, so now I know she is gone. The number of bees is getting smaller. That will change a little when the capped brood from the bar hatch, but things won’t get better if they do not replace the queen.

After giving it a lot of thought, I have decided not to requeen the hive. I have already given them two queens and a bar of brood to work with and they have chosen not to for some reason. Now it is just a matter of waiting to see what happens. It seems that they should have already started to make an emergency queen, but maybe they still will. It will be there only hope for survival.

Finally the Sun is Out!

It’s June 4th and the sun is finally shining here! With the weather being so nice, I thought I would stop by the hives again and see what they are up to. Today I started at the Orchard Hive, since they have been so wonderful to work with. I also did not need to do a full inspection of them since I was here about a week ago.

They are doing very well. The colony is growing nicely and they are so sweet. Working with them is such a pleasure. They seem to be filling up the hive quickly so I gave them three more empty bars to build on. I stole one beautiful bar filled with brood at all stages to give to the Willow Hive. Since the queen in this hive is laying so nicely, I don’t think they will mind too much. It was actually very easy to convince the bees to come off of the comb. I used some of the fern leaves from the plants around the hive and gently brushed them off.

On this visit I did not see the queen, but there is plenty of evidence that she is there. There was a lot of brood at all stages and the colony was so calm. Those things are good enough for me, I don’t actually have to see her to know that she is there. I often do see the queens and I have gotten quite good at spotting them, but it is not always the case.

Now it’s time to tighten my gear and make sure that I am fully protected from the angry bees of the Willow Hive. Even before I opened the window they were in my face. The ants had moved out of the window area, so that was nice to see. When I opened the lid up there were the wasps again. I waited for them to fly away and then I scraped their little nests off of the lid. Then I found the ants, they had placed their eggs in between some of the bars. Ugh!

This hive is really taking me for a ride this season. I went through the hive twice today and did not find the queen. There is no new brood and the colony size is dwindling. I added the bar of brood from the Orchard Hive into the Willow Hive and I gave them a empty bar with drawn comb. The comb that they have is filling up with pollen and nectar and they don’t see to be building new comb. Honey bees are best at making wax between days twelve and eighteen of life and with the shrinking colony there are less and less bees at this stage.

Adding the bar full of brood now seems to be the only hope for this colony, unless the queen was hiding from me today. I will be checking in on them again soon to see how they are doing and if the queen is there or they are making a new one. This season is going to keep me on my toes.

Cold, Wet, and Cloudy Spring

This spring has been very wet and cold. There has been so much rain and almost constant cloud cover. The benefit of this has been that we are no longer in a drought, but the downside is that inspecting beehives in this weather is a challenge. The bees really don’t like when I open up their home in cloudy, cool weather. It seems like it has been raining everyday and I am sure that the bees sense that the rain is going to pour into their house.

Today is like all of the others, cool and cloudy. It looks like it might rain, but I am hoping it will hold out until I am done checking in on the bees. Since the Willow Hive is having issues, I decided to start there. That way if I can only get to one hive, it will be the Willow. Before I could even check on the bees, I had to deal with the wasps that have decided they really want to live in the hive lid. They seem to be determined to build here even though I remove their nests each time. Hopefully they will get it soon that they are not wanted here.

It has only been five days since the new queen was released into the hive. I did a little research and found that the new queen will typically start laying eggs within seven to fourteen days after her release. This new queen is not laying eggs yet, hopefully it will not be long before she does. She looks well and the colony has accepted her.

The hive has plenty of capped honey, nectar, and pollen. Now I just need to make sure that they do not become nectar bound like last year. I need to watch and make sure that the queen has room to continue to lay eggs. Avoiding late season swarms is a big goal of mine this year. I added two empty bars for them to build on.

The colony is still very grumpy. I was hoping that once they had a new queen they would feel better, but maybe they want new brood too. It’s just not as fun to work with angry bees. The bad weather doesn’t help either. The sun has to come out at some point!

I came back to the farm two days later to check in on the Orchard Hive. The weather is still not good for beekeeping. My plan is to do a quick check and give them a couple of bars. They are growing very well and the colony looks great. I only checked five of the nineteen bars since it is pretty windy.

I was able to find the queen, but I did not take the comb that she was on all the way out of the hive. There was a gust of wind and I didn’t want the comb to snap off of the bar. I found everything that I needed to see and I added two empty bars for them. I am feeling good about the Orchard Hive and how they are doing. The bees were calm even with the yucky weather. It is so nice to visit this colony, they help me to feel so much better about beekeeping.

Beginning of a wasps nest
This interesting bug greeted me from the top of the Willow Hive (on the outside)

Queenless

It’s the 20th of May and we are finally having some really nice weather. Today it is 70 degrees and sunny! I stopped at the Orchard Hive first and spent some time watching the bees coming in from foraging. These foragers were bringing in lots of pollen and there was quite a bit of traffic in the doorway. Since this colony is growing well and seems healthy I removed the entrance reducer to help relieve some of the traffic.

I opened the observation window and there was a large colony of any nesting there. The hive is surrounded by ferns, so I picked some and gently brushed the ants off of the window. Then I put peppermint essential oil on the window door to deter the ants. The ants are just a nuisance for me, as long as they stay out of the hive the bees do not care that they are there.

The Orchard Hive is on twelve bars right now and eleven of them have comb. I opened up the hive and the bees were so calm. A few of them came to greet me, but they were not upset and they were very gentle. I really enjoy the buzz of a happy colony. I am sure they are as thrilled as I am about the weather today!

The queen is laying a very nice brood pattern and this colony is growing well. I was able to find the queen easily today. There are eight bars with capped brood on them. Most of them are worker brood, but there is also drone brood. There was uncapped larvae and eggs too.

They have nectar on almost every bar and a good amount of capped honey. They had pollen stored on four bars. I added two more empty bars for them to continue growing. The colony is growing nicely and everything is looking great. I closed up the hive and headed over to the Willow Hive.

When I got to the hive, I looked around at the front to see how they were looking. There were some foragers coming and going, but not as many as at the Orchard Hive. Next, I looked in the window and saw that the colony seems to be growing a little. They are not growing as quickly as the other colony.

Once I got into the hive and began looking around, I realized that the queen was not there. I know that they were hoping to replace her, but it looks like she was only able to lay unfertilized or drone eggs. Now the colony has some brood in it, but it is all drone brood. The colony has plenty of pollen, nectar, and capped honey.

These bees were very grumpy today, even with the nice weather. That is one more signal that the colony is queenless. I decided that I would requeen the hive, but it would have to wait until tomorrow when I can get a queen. I closed up the hive and spent some time pulling poison ivy that is around the hive. I wasn’t able to get all of it, there is a lot. The bees were also very upset with me and letting me know it by slamming themselves into the suit. When I got enough of the poison ivy pulled out I left the bees alone.

The next morning I went to buy a new queen to put in the hive. When we got to the hive I opened it up, shooed out the wasps again, and removed the bar that I wanted to hang the queen cage on. I chose a bar that had a tiny piece of comb on it. I removed the cork from the candy end of the cage and hung it on the bar.

The bees seemed interested in her and were checking her out. Hopefully they will fully accept her and things will go well. The weather is not looking agreeable in three days, so I will come back in two days to check on their progress with the candy. This was a quick hive opening and I am very glad that it was because the bees are so cranky.

On May 23rd I went back to the Willow Hive to check in on the queen. Again I was greeted by wasps and angry bees. I opened the hive took out the bar with the queen cage on it and looked to see if she was still in there. I had to blow on the bees that were on the queen cage to get them to move and I saw her still in there. I then looked at the candy and it looked like it had barely been touched. Of course, this is hard to say for sure, but I decided that I would remove the cork on the top of the cage and put the bar back into the hive.

The next several days we are looking at rain and clouds so I needed to just take care of this today. I left the queen in the cage and just put everything back the way that it was. Now if they don’t let her out quickly enough, she can climb out the other end if she figures it out. We will see how things go. I will come back soon to check in on them, I just need to wait until Mother Nature lets me.

New Queen
Queen Cup
They found her!