2018 Bee Season Opener

Bee season has officially started for me. On April 16, 2018 I picked up eleven packages of bees! Only four of the packages were for my hives. The other packages were for some other beekeepers that I know. The drive out to the get the bees was quite an adventure. Where I live there was rain and a lot of it. The bees were about an hour west of me and the weather was a lot more wintery there.

This year I ordered the bees from another provider. After spending some time looking around at what was available, I found this farm that provides Varroa Sensitive Hygienic queens, https://www.autumnmorningfarm.com. This was an interesting option and I wanted to learn more. I did some research and decided that I would order the bees from this farm and get the VSH queens. Every little advantage that we can get is a good one.

When I got to the farm to pick up the bees, I checked in and then went to move my car closer to the trailer to protect the bees a little from the bad weather. There was a lot of slush on the ground and my car had to be pushed to get up to the trailer. We packed the eleven packages into my trunk and I tried to drive off. Again, I was stuck in the slush. Luckily, there were a couple of helpful people nearby to push me out. Once off of the farm, it was easier to drive.

Things improved as I drove east toward home and the slush turned to rain. It was not a good day to install the bees, so when I got home we put the packages into our mud room. It was strange to think that there were over one hundred thousand honeybees in my house! The mud room is unheated and not well insulated, so it would provide them a little warmth and protection until we could get them installed.

This spring has been on the cold side and the weather has been more wintery than springlike. The plants are blooming much later than usual due to the cold and late snow. The temperatures are slow rising, but there are still nights that get down to freezing. I always worry about these bees that are coming up here from the south to this miserable weather. My past beekeeping years have been a little warmer than this one, but last year was cooler than the previous ones. Forage has also been available later these last two years.

With all of this in mind, I plan to be feeding the bees a little more this year that I have in the past. The bees are going to need a little boost when they get into the hives to try to strengthen each colony. Even though some of the night time temperatures are near freezing, I am still feeding them one to one sugar syrup. The day time temperatures will be warm enough that the bees will be able to get to the syrup. This season, in three of the hive I was able to put bars with honey from the Willow Hive to give them a little of the good stuff.

After the rain had passed, the morning of April 17 the weather was going to be good enough to install the bees. As I stated earlier, there were eleven packages total for four beekeepers. I am not going to write about all of the installations that I was a part of, only the ones into the hives that I maintain. This year is an exciting one for me since I will be working with four hives. Two of the hives are at Old Frog Pond Farm, one is at the Virginia Thurston Healing Garden, and one at the Maynard Honeybee Meadow.

The morning started at about 9:00am for me. The first install I did on my own at the Maynard Honeybee Meadow. The sun was out and it was almost fifty degrees. In this hive, I was able to put two bars of drawn comb in for the bees. It is nice when they don’t have to start with nothing. My plan was to hang the queen on an empty bar that was between the two bars with comb. Then I would dump the rest of the bees in on top of her.

The weekend before the bees were to arrive, I had prepared all of the hives. The hives had been cleaned out earlier to get them ready for the bees. Last season there were wax moths in both of the hives, so I needed to go through and only keep the comb that looked clean and free of wax moth debris. Most of the comb from the Willow Hive was okay and it had honey in it. The comb from the Orchard Hive wasn’t as good looking, so I chose not to use much of it. Each hive got two or three bars of drawn comb to start the season with.

The hive in the meadow is a hive from Gold Star Honeybees, https://www.goldstarhoneybees.com/deluxe-top-bar-hive-complete-kit-with-observation-window-screened-bottom-removable-bottom-board/. This is the first time that I am working with one of these hives. Last year, I was able to work a little with a woman that has one so I have some experience. The hives are not that different from the ones that I have, but the bars are shaped a little differently. Picking them up and putting them back into the hive feels different. The bars that I have had also fit into the hive, so I am able to give them some comb from my other hives.

The meadow install went easily, although there was some stress with it. The first thing I did was to put the prepared feeders into the hive. The feeders are two quart size glass jars. Once the hive was open and the bars were out to create the bee bowl, I took the top piece of wood off of the package. I held onto the strap that holds the queen cage and pulled up the can of syrup. When that was out, I pulled the queen cage out and placed the wood piece back onto the top of the package. The next step was to check on the queen, she was dead. Not a great way to start the day.

Despite the fact that she was dead, I put the queen cage into the hive. Then I did the bang and pour method of installing the bees. They went in easily and things went well. When most of the bees were out of the package, I placed the package out in front of the hive to allow the remaining bees to find their way into their new home. The bars all went back into place easily and I closed the hive. The holes in the front were plugged, so I took one of the plugs out to allow the bees to fly. They were very happy to relieve themselves all over the place.

Since the queen was dead I called the farm that I had ordered them from to let them know. They had extra queens and asked me to bring the dead queen in her cage when I came out. I let them know that I was going to be installing ten other hives before I would be able to drive out there to get a new queen. Honestly, I was not looking forward to the drive again since the day was already going to be a long one. It had to be done though.

We installed two more packages and then it was time to install the bees into the Healing Garden Hive. The Healing Garden is a cancer support center with a lovely garden that is enjoyed by the people that use the services and the people that work there. The bees are a natural extension of the garden and will be a pleasant addition for them. The hive is placed far enough away from the garden to ensure that the bees do not become a nuisance to the people there. The garden has a beautiful water feature and many bee friendly perennials.

The installation into the Healing Garden Hive went very smoothly. For this and all of the remaining installations, I have help. It’s nice to have many hands available to provide assistance. Again, I started with putting the jar feeders into the hive. Then it was time to open the package. The queen was alive and the bees seemed happy to have comb with honey available right away. I hung the queen cage on an empty bar between the two bars with honey on them and provided a couple more bars with drawn comb for them. Once the bees were in I opened a entrance hole for them. At this point, I have the reducers in the entrance hole to limit access to the hive.

That install went very quickly and then we were off to Old Frog Pond Farm. At the farm we were installing four packages. The other beekeeper at the farm has a double Langstroth nuc that he keeps there. We installed his hives first and then it was time to install the Willow Hive. I really love the location of this hive. It sits right on the pond and has an amazing view all year long. This install was another smooth success.

Then we headed over to the Orchard Hive for the final install into my hives. Just like before, I added the feeder jars and then put the bees into the hive. The one thing that we all had to keep reminding one another about was taking the cork out of the candy side of the queen cage. Luckily, we remembered at each install so there was no repeat of last year. During the Orchard Hive install there were a few drops of rain, but nothing came of it. The bees were happy to get out of the package and into the hive. They had comb with honey and they had syrup to enjoy. This install also went very well.

There were three more installations before I could head back to the farm to get the new queen for the Meadow Hive. All of those went well and all of the other queens were alive. It was only the one queen that didn’t make it. We had stopped at the Meadow Hive after installing the bees at the farm. I collected the queen cage and closed up the hive.

The drive to pick up the new queen wasn’t as bad as I though it would be. The final installation was closer to the farm than I thought, so the drive there wasn’t as long. I gave them the dead queen and they gave me a live queen with attendants. She needed to be kept warm, so she got to ride in the car instead of the trunk.

At the meadow, I opened the hive for the third time and put in the new queen. The bees were already festooning and it looked like there was some very beginnings of wax being placed on the guides of some of the bars. Even though I was disturbing them again, they handled it well and didn’t not seem to mind. This queen cage did not have the strap attached to it so I had to improvise. I wrapped a rubber band around the queen cage and then tied another rubber band to that one. With the rubber band that I tied on to it, I put that one around the bar to allow the cage to hang into the hive. Of course, I removed the cork before I put her into the hive.

The only difficulty that I had was getting all of the bars to go back in without harming the bees. The bars were very tight and there was very little room to work with. Since I don’t have a bee brush, I picked up a big leaf from the ground and gently guided the bees on top into the hive and then had to gently scrape the bees off of the last bar to be able to get the bar in without harming bees. It took a little time, but it all worked in the end. I closed up the hive and headed home after an exhausting day.

The next day we had some sunshine in the afternoon and the temperature was warm enough that bees would be flying. I decided to stop by each of the hives to see that the bees were out. Each hive looked good, the bees were out exploring their new homes and hopefully looking for forage. My plan is to go out on Friday or Saturday to check in on the queens and make sure they have been released. This will also be a good time to check their syrup levels and top them off if needed. I am really looking forward to this beekeeping season!

Trunk full
Bees in the house
Meadow package
Queen cage strap
Dead queen
Happy bees
New home
Healing Garden
Removing syrup
In the hive
Bee bowl
Loving the comb
Willow Hive
Everyone in
Nice view
Orchard Hive
Bees installed
New queen
Hanging the queen
Happy to be home
Sunshine

2017 Wrap Up

The 2017 season seemed to get away from me quickly and I have fallen way behind in getting posts up. My goal for 2018 is to take less on and focus more on what I really want to be doing. This post will be about the 2017 season end and the things that I tried out.

In the middle of October the weather was still nice, but nectar sources were diminished. At the Willow Hive there were some yellow jackets going after the sugar syrup that I had been feeding the bees. They were not being aggressive with the bees, they were going straight to the syrup. Other people had suggested that yellow jackets don’t eat sugar syrup, but I now know that is not the case.

Then over at the Orchard Hive, I saw a very different scene. The yellow jackets were very aggressive with this colony. They were going after the sugar syrup, but they were also throughout the hive. I tried to get as many of them as I could out of the hive. I also made sure the bottom of the hive was tightly closed to keep them out of the gap that was there.

Don and I met up at the farm to check in on the robber bees. Don had heard that if you throw powdered sugar at the bees, you can than follow the white bees back to their hives. Don tried this with the Orchard Hive and we followed the white bees back to Don’s hive. When I went back to the Orchard Hive, the yellow jackets were eating the powdered sugar off of the front of the hive.

The sugar needed to be cleaned off the hive right away. I used my hive tool and some water and cleaned off as much of the sugar as I could. The yellow jackets were getting intense. The next step was to figure out how to reduce the entrance even more so that only one bee could get in or out of the hive at a time.

Once at home I figured out how to make a baffle to put over the entrance. I built a rectangle out of four pieces of wood, but I left a 3/8” hole so that only one bee could get through at a time. I covered it with small mesh wire. I made two of them and brought them out to the farm. Then I nailed them over the entrance holes of the hives.

Unfortunately, the Orchard Hive lost their battle with the robber bees and the yellow jackets. On the upside, I have learned a lot this season about what I should be doing to help the bees deal with robbers. Next season, I will put up their protection earlier to try to keep the robber bees and yellow jackets out as much as possible.

Some of the other changes that I am going to make are to remove the wire mesh at the bottom of the hives. It was a mistake to add them into the hives, they seem to be more problematic than good. Having the gap under the hive allowed the yellow jackets and robber bees to smell the sugar syrup in the hive. It seemed to be a bit of an invitation for the bad guys to come and cause trouble.

The Willow Hive was still going in October, but they were a small colony. When I inspected them on October 18th, they had 7 bars with capped honey and 2 more bars that had nectar on them. There was 1 bar with brood and I found the queen on that comb. They seemed to be doing very well.

The hive needed some protection from the winter elements. Above the bars, I put some insulation sheets and then wrapped some black plastic around the bottom of the hive to create some warmth underneath the hive. The plastic was not on the body of the hive, it was only attached to the bottom board. I also put the plastic down in front of the hive to try to create some extra warmth for them. Then I surrounded three sides of the hive with hay bales. I left the south facing side of the hive, the bees entrance

I was hopeful that they would make it through the winter, but when we had some warm days in February I went to check on them. There was no activity in or around the hive. There weren’t any bees flying and when I looked in the observation window there wasn’t any movement. I have not completely opened the hive, I keep telling myself that this is “just in case”. We have also had some strange weather. It had warmed up, but then it got really cold again.

There was a day in March that I was able to go and clean out the Orchard Hive. I took the entire hive apart and cleaned out as much as I could. I need to go back and remove the mesh bottom piece and put the bottom board on tightly before the new bees get here. Mother Nature has not allowed me to clean out the Willow Hive yet. That will be a project that I need to do soon, the new bees will arrive on April 16th.

The 2017 season was a rough one for me. It had gotten off to a rocky start and I was so busying with the creation of the Maynard Honeybee Meadow that I wasn’t a very good beekeeper. For 2018 I plan to be more present, not necessarily intervening just paying attention. It would be good to be proactive this year, as opposed to reactive like last year.

Hay fort

Baffle
Powdered sugar
It’s ready
Building the baffle