Progress

Things have been getting better in the backyard since we put up the screen across the perennial garden. There are fewer bees flying low in the yard. I have been able to spend more time out there, which has been good for me and my garden. Now that I am feeling a little more confident, I think it’s time to inspect the hive again.

I invested in a new bee suit. After reading many, many reviews I decided to get the Ultra Breeze Bee Suit from www.ultrabreeze.com. From what I had read it seemed that this suit was the best for me. Out of all of the reviews, there was one that said they got stung. However, the sting was on their foot and the person admitted to not wearing proper shoes. The suit has three layers of fabric which makes it difficult for the bees to sting you while you are wearing it.

The smoker is a tool that I have not invested much time or energy into learning about or using. Early on the bees seemed to be fine without me using the smoke. As the colonies grew, that changed. I have spent some time learning about lighting the smoker. I found a video online from www.mahakobees.com that showed the beekeeper lining the smoker with cardboard before lighting the paper and adding the fuel. The night before I was planning to inspect the hive, I gave it a try. The smoker worked well for about 45 minutes, which is a lot longer than I have gotten it to work in the past.

A few days before the inspection I was out in the yard watching the hives. I noticed right away that the Langstroth colony was kicking the drones out. I spent some time watching the top bar hive too. They had also begun to remove the drones. The bees seem to be starting their winter preparation early this year. I spoke with another beekeeper and she said that she is witnessing the same thing. She feels that the bees are letting us know that winter may be coming early this year.

Armed with my new bee suit and smoker technique, it was time to open the hive. I decided to inspect the top bar hive in my yard first. The colony is smaller than the other and they have always been less aggressive. I made sure that the day was a sunny and warm one.

Once I was inside the hive, I went through each bar with comb on it. I was carefully looking at everything. I wanted to see what was going on and I was looking for signs of mites. The bees seemed very calm and that made me feel even more confident.

This colony didn’t get very big and now the brood pattern is even smaller. They also have very little honey, capped or uncapped. Although I have never spotted the queen in this colony, there are signs of her. I found fresh eggs, larvae, and some capped brood. The capped brood is all worker brood at this point.

I did a visual check for mites this time. I took time really looking at each bar and the bees on it. I did not find any evidence of varroa mites. I have not done any other mite tests. I spoke with a customer service rep at Bee Thinking and he had suggested using tape on the bottom of the hive and see what shows up. If I feel a need to, I may try that the next time I get into the hive.

Since the bees have very little honey, I have decided to feed them. There is still empty space in the hive since the colony stayed small, so it will be easy to get the feeders in. I will also be adding essential oils to the sugar water. I will be adding lemongrass oil and spearmint oil. I have heard that some people also add tea tree oil, but I will start with these two and see how things go. I also did some checking into what ratios I need to use to feed the bees. What I found was that in the fall people tend to feed 2 parts sugar to 1 part water. At this point these bees seem to need all the help that they can get.

The new bee suit worked very well. I didn’t get stung at all. I felt so much more comfortable this time. I am feeling confident enough that I am ready to inspect the other top bar hive.

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Plan Bee!

I am not ready to give up on beekeeping, despite the challenges that I have run into. I am really hoping to find a way to peacefully coexist with the bees in our backyard. I just need to be creative when coming up with new ideas to try out. In search of harmony, we are moving on to plan bee!

One of the things that I learned about bees is that when there is something in front of their hive, when they come out they will fly up and then out. The top bar hive entrance did not have anything in front of it so the bees were flying low in the yard. I think that they are also feeling a bit territorial about us being so close to their front door. The bees in the Langstroth hive tend to fly up higher since there are some flowers in front of their hive.

The Langstroth bees are also flying low though since the hive has a piece broken off of the top of the second deep. So in the center of the hive is a hole that they have now made their front door. The plants that are in front of the hive are not as high up as the top of the second deep, so there is a bit of low flying traffic there too. However, the bees from this colony seem very docile and don’t seem to mind us at all.

There is also a possibility that the top bar hive is being pestered by skunks. I know that we have them and there has been evidence of them in our yard for years. The last several years they left holes all in the grass from digging up grubs. I can’t prove it yet, but it may be an issue. From what I have been told about skunks, they scratch on the hive entrance to get the bees to come out and then they grab them and eat them. If this is happening, it would help to explain why this colony is so grumpy with us getting near the hive. I will look at the hive more closely for scratch marks when I do my next inspection.

With all of these things in mind and with it being late in the summer I didn’t want to make any very big changes to the hive. The idea that made the most sense is to turn the hive around 180 degrees. Turing the hive around will mean that the bees are facing our six foot fence instead of our yard. That will mean that they will have to fly up higher than six feet to get above the fence and that should help to keep them out of the yard.

My husband and I got up at five am on August 4th and suited up. Our plan was to plug both of the entrance holes and then pick up the hive and stand at the same time to turn it. After we turn the hive we have make sure that it is still level. Then we can reopen the hive. We spent time discussing every step of the process before we started so that we would both be fully prepared and know the plan.

We lit the smoker to get the bees that were sitting on the outside of the hive into it. Some of them were reluctant to go inside, but we finally convinced them. Once they were all in we plugged the holes up. The hive was heavier than we had expected it to be and I had some trouble getting a good grip on the hive and the stand together. Once I was able to we turned it.

Everything went very well. We checked if the hive was level and we had to work with the ground a bit to level it out. It didn’t take long though. Once we were done we reopened the hive and quickly moved away. The bees were so confused that they didn’t bother looking for us!

Watching the foragers during the day was interesting. The were pretty determined to find the holes where they used to be. It took them much longer to get back into the hive. Many of them ended up landing on the hive and then walking on the underside of it to get to the entrance. By the evening there were a lot fewer bees hovering around the wrong side of the hive. It will be interesting to see how long it takes them to figure it all out.

The first three days were the worst for them. By the fourth day they were doing better and within a week they had it figured out. We did see some improvement with the amount of low flying bees, but there was a lot of confused bees hanging around. The confused bees didn’t seem to mind that we were in our yard, they were just looking for their front door. After about a week there were a lot fewer confused bees. We felt more comfortable in our garden and we were even able to get some work done.

As for the Langstroth hive, I called Best Bees and explained our situation to them. I asked them to bring a new deep box to exchange with the one that had a large crack in it. They agreed to do so and came out the day after we turned the top bar hive around. For the next couple of days we had a lot of confused bees around the hives! The colony in the Langstroth hive figured out their situation more quickly than the top bar bees. In less than a week they had accepted that their entrance had changed and adjusted themselves to that change.

The next plan was to encourage the bees to fly up higher when they come out of the hives. I had met a beekeeper that used tall trellis fences to encourage his bees to fly higher. I was reluctant to try anything too big because the hives are in the perennial garden and I still want to be able to see and enjoy the garden. One thought that I had was to have trellises just in front of the hives and plant trumpet vines to crawl up the trellises. I think that it would work, but it’s not ideal.

My husband came up with the idea to try a temporary solution first, to make sure the bees will fly up and out of the yard. He decided that we should put up some kind of screen across the front of the perennial garden. This would provide a barrier between the hives and the rest of the garden. We decided that a mesh screen would be best. It allows air to continue to flow through it so there isn’t any pressure on the hives if a strong wind blows and it allows us to still see the perennial garden.

We made a quick “curtain” to put up in front of the hives. It stretches from one end of the perennial garden to the other and it is about five and a half feet from top to bottom. We put this screen up around two weeks after we turned the top bar and fixed the Langstroth, so now we confused them again!

This time it did not take them long to figure out that they needed to fly up to get out. It was a little more difficult for them to find their way back into the hives. Again the Langstroth bees figured that out before the top bar bees. Once they all figured it out our yard felt like ours again. There were a lot less bees flying low in the yard. At this point, it looks like the screen is a success. We will have to figure out what we should do next year and on an ongoing basis.

For now, we are very happy with the arrangement. The bees are flying higher and we have spent more time in our garden. Which is very nice right now since there are lots of veggies ready for harvest.

Confusion
Confusion
Still looking
Still looking
Flying under
Flying under
Crawling under
Crawling under
Garden curtain
Garden curtain
Finishing up
Finishing up
Plan bee!
Plan bee!