Checking for Honey Stores and a Devastating Loss

It’s August nineteenth and I am thinking more and more about winter for the bees. The main purpose for today is to make sure the bees are storing enough nectar and honey to get through the winter. Of course I will also check on the bees and see how they are doing. During this inspection I am not at all rushed, so I am hoping that the bees will feel better about me being there. Last time they were not happy about my feeling rushed.

The first hive that I visited was the Orchard Hive. The weather was great, it was seventy seven degrees and sunny out. As usual I started with checking around the outside of the hive. Everything looked good, the bees are bringing pollen in. The entrance to the hive was busy with bees coming and going. The flowers nearby are covered in honey bees. Looking in the observation window of the hive I saw a nice big colony.

When I opened the lid I could hear a friendly hum from the bees. I was already feeling better about this inspection. As I removed the first bar some bees came out to say hi, but they were not at all aggressive. What a relief to feel relaxed and have relaxed bees. This colony can be too relaxed sometimes and it can take quite a while to get them to go back into the hive. Since I wasn’t in a rush I didn’t hurry the bees. I took my time gently nudging them to go back in or to get out of the way of the bars.

That first bar that I removed was full with beautiful capped honey. There were also two queen cups on the comb, but no brood at all. I decided to steal that bar from them and they didn’t seem to mind. As I continued through the hive, I found everything that I needed to. I saw eggs, larvae at all different stages, capped brood, pollen, nectar, and capped honey. Most of the bars in the hive had some amount of honey. The bars with brood had less honey and the other bars had more.

In the brood nest I added three more empty bars and I removed a couple of empty bars on the end. I had one comb break that was full of honey, so I stole that one too. This colony has plenty of honey and I need to make sure the queen still has some space to lay eggs. I don’t want another late season swarm, especially this late.

There was still some drone brood in the brood nest. Some beekeepers are concerned about that and they kill off the drone brood. I believe that the bees know what they are doing and we interfere too much in what they do. I am not concerned to see some drone brood even at this point in the season. There is always much more drone brood in the spring. I also found the queen during this inspection, so I know she is there and there is not a laying worker. All of the eggs that I saw were one to a cell and right in the center. I do feel a bit sorry for the boys because once they emerge there is not much time left for them, the workers have already started removing the drones in preparation for winter.

The Orchard Hive looks great and they have a lot of nectar and honey stored up. It was about this time last year that my hives barely had any nectar or honey stores, but by mid-September they had plenty. This colony has already surpassed that. It helps that they have such amazing forage all around them. Old Frog Pond Farm is a heaven for honey bees. There are wild flowers and other sources of nectar everywhere you look here. The hive is also close to a water source, so even though we are in a drought the bees have constant access to water.

After finishing the inspection and stealing some honey, it was time to walk over to the Willow Hive. The first thing that I noticed when I got to the Willow Hive is that there isn’t a lot of honey bee activity. I checked the front door and there were bees coming and going, but not as many as usual. I know that this colony is small due to the late season swam, but I was hoping that they would be growing. Looking in the window was worrisome, there were not many bees in the hive either.

I knew that the inspection needed to be extremely thorough to make sure that I found out all I could about what was going on. The hive was completely full of honey and nectar which is why the original queen and most of the colony swarmed. There was no brood to be found even though it has been 10 days since I had inspected last and found the new queen. I thought by now there would be eggs and some larvae.

After going through the hive completely, I went through it again just to make sure I did’t miss anything. Sure enough, I hadn’t. There was no brood at all and I did not find the queen. I decided that I would take a bar from the Orchard Hive that I knew had eggs on it and put it into the Willow Hive. My plan was to come back the next morning to do that.

August twentieth I returned to Old Frog Pond Farm. I was still hopeful that the colony could be saved. After looking at my notes from the day before, I decided which bar to take from the Orchard Hive. I started at the Orchard Hive and removed the bar that I was going to place in the Willow Hive.

Walking up to the Willow Hive I knew that something was not right. There were a lot more bees than yesterday and they were acting frantic. That usually means one thing, robber bees. That’s exactly what they were. The bees had killed off my little colony and they were robbing the hive. Once I was sure that my colony was dead, I decided to take all of the honey and comb away as quickly as I could. Luckily, I had another beekeeper there helping me. Between the two of us we removed the comb, got all of the bees off, and filled my reusable grocery bags with the bars of comb and honey.

Once everything was removed from the hive I spent some time looking in at the bees. I found the dead queen on the bottom and I collected her and a worker. I decided that I would use this devastating loss as a way to educate people and I am going to have the bees mounted and framed. I will have the queen, a worker, and a drone in the frame. I also collected a sample to send to the honey bee diagnostic lab in Maryland. For more information you can go to https://www.ars.usda.gov/northeast-area/beltsville-md/beltsville-agricultural-research-center/bee-research-laboratory/docs/how-to-submit-samples/.

As any beekeeper will tell you losing a colony is sad. This time it’s worse for me because had I have been on top of things and removed some of the honey earlier the bees may have stayed. If they would have stayed they would have been strong enough to fight off robber bees. I have learned a lot from this though. It’s so important to be really paying attention to what is going on inside the hive even if it means that you do things that you were previously told not to. The hive was too full of honey and the queen had no where to lay eggs, but I had been told not to take honey from a first year top bar hive. In the future I will pay closer attention to the individuality of each hive and understand that just because it’s how things may have been done doesn’t mean that I have to follow that advise especially if it doesn’t apply to the situation.

Orchard Hive
Orchard Hive
Capped Brood
Capped Brood
The Queen
The Queen
Very Few Bees
Very Few Bees
Robbers
Robbers
More Robbers
More Robbers
Lost Colony
Lost Colony
Devastating
Devastating

Feeling Rushed and a Late Season Swarm

The weather was somewhat cooperating and I needed to check in on the bees. My plan was to go out to Old Frog Pond Farm and check in on both of the hives, but I had a time limit. I don’t really like to visit the hives when I am in a rush, even if it isn’t a big rush. The bees can always sense when I am rushed and they do not like when I am in their home and rushing. Even when I am feeling rushed I do not do anything differently while I am in the hive, but the bees know how I am feeling and they react accordingly.

I started at the Orchard Hive. I looked into the observation window and the hive was very full of bees. I opened up the hive and began inspecting. Right away the bees knew that I was feeling rushed and they became upset. They were trying to sting me through my gloves and trying to get to my face. This was new for this colony, but I understood.

I only checked ten of the bars. The colony looks good. There is larvae , capped brood, pollen, nectar, and capped honey. I did not see the queen or eggs, but the larvae were at different stages and that leads me to believe that the queen is there. The bars that I looked at had a good amount of honey in the comb. They also had good stores of pollen.

They were getting so agitated and so many bees were losing their lives to trying to sting me, so I decided that I needed to end this inspection. I did not want to continue with the way things were going. I closed up the hive and had to walk into the brush around to try to get all of the angry bees away from me. They were acting similar to my Host Hive bees and I did not want that to continue. Hopefully the next visit I will be more relaxed and the bees will be too.

Even just checking ten bars, it took me a while. The Orchard Hive is always slow to get back into the hive. They love to take their time when I am trying to but the bars back in. One of the tactics that I have used is to gently blow on them to get them to go back into the hive. These bees don’t even pay attention to that. They hate the brush, so I only use that when I am desperate to get them back in. I have to just gently rock the bars back into their spaces and gently talk to the bees to convince them to go back into the hive.

Since I was feeling so rushed I decided that I would only look in the window of the Willow Hive. I headed over to the Willow Hive to have a quick look. When I opened the window I got a bit of a shock, there were very few bees in there. What happened? Where did they all go?

I came back to the hive the next day to inspect it and find out what happened. I spent some time looking around the outside of the hive and the activity looked normal, but there were a lot fewer bees. Looking in the observation window was more of the same, a lot less bees. My only hope was that they had swarmed and that is why there were so few bees in the hive.

This colony is on thirty bars, but one of the bars were empty so I removed it and two were beautiful capped honey so I stole them. I did not find any brood, but there was a lot of nectar and capped honey. The bees had filled the entire hive with nectar. There was also quite a bit of pollen, but that was not on every comb. I was amazed to see this much nectar and honey in the hive. Neither of my hives last year had filled up like this.

I was able to find the queen. I think that she is a new queen since I am fairly certain this colony swarmed. She looked good, but she had almost no where to lay eggs. I had a bar with a full comb that was empty so I put it into the hive to give her somewhere to lay eggs. I was very concerned to see the hive with no brood at all, but since I saw the queen I hoped things would change.

One of the bars the bees had connected the comb to the divider board. Luckily, it was full of capped honey so I took that too! It was exciting to get so much honey from the hive already. Last year my bees barely produced anything. It wasn’t until September of last year that my hives had enough honey to get them through the winter.

The honey from the Willow hive is some of the best honey that I have ever tasted! My two hives at Old Frog Pond Farm have access to some amazing forage. The Orchard Hive makes good honey too, but the honey from the Willow Hive is incredible! I am glad that they have enough so that they can share a little with me.

Who Are These Bees?

After a year and a half of working with this colony, I am completely shocked at their new temperament! They have never been so nice to me! I started the inspection very worried about them, the last time that I checked in on them I thought there was something very wrong. I was so scared that they were dying. The colony had gotten very small and they seemed to not be doing well. I had also found a couple of wax moth larvae during the last inspection.

For this inspection I borrowed a macro lens to try to get close up pictures of as much of the hive as I could. I knew that I was going to be doing this inspection by myself. Since I was so worried and not going to have any help, I wanted all of the pictures that I could get. I love that Lens Pro to Go is so close and I can pick up equipment whenever I need.

While inspecting this hive I spotted the queen, eggs, larvae, and capped brood. There was also a lot of honey and nectar. There were lots of eggs and larvae in all stages. The bees have stored up a good amount of pollen. There were several full bars of honey in the hive. I did not find any more evidence of wax moths or any other pests. The conclusion that I have come to is that they must have swarmed in early July and that is why they looked so weak.

With these bees being so pleasant, it was very easy to do a very thorough inspection. The bees barely paid attention to me. One of the bars had some honey comb that was bulging out a little. When I took that bar out I bumped the bulge and some honey spilled. The bees were so quick to clean it up. I got some great pictures of the bees working hard cleaning up the mess that I made.

In the end, everything worked out fine. I was able to get a lot of pictures of the bees and the comb. As I was inspecting the hive, I had a sense of relief come over me since I was able to find the queen and lots of eggs. It was so good to know that they were actually thriving and not dying. They have everything that they need and they are growing well. Since I was feeling better about the colony, I did not feel the need to get pictures of all of the combs like I had planned to. This all made the inspection much more relaxed.

The very best part of this inspection was the temperament of the bees. They were so pleasant for the first time in a long time. During the inspection no one tried to sting me, they seemed to not mind me at all. After the inspection, no one followed me. I was able to walk easily away from the hive and to my car without any company. I hope that things stay this way!

The doorway
The doorway
Propolis
Propolis
Wax moth damage
Wax moth damage
Welcome in
Welcome in
Cleaning up
Cleaning up
Look at those faces!
Look at those faces!
Clean up crew
Clean up crew
Young bee
Young bee
Chubby larvae
Chubby larvae
Glistening nectar
Glistening nectar