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

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

Powdered sugar
It’s ready
Building the baffle

Moving Day

For several reasons the Willow Hive needed to be moved. The area was covered in poison ivy which was getting difficult to deal with. The hive wasn’t getting as much sun as it needed. The willow tree that it was under was quite large and created a lot of shade. Another major reason to move the hive is that in the winter, once there is snow on the ground it will be very difficult to get to the hive. There needs to be at least some kind of access to the hive so that I can clear away any snow that may be covering their doorway.

Linda and I walked around a bit to try to find the perfect new home for the Willow Hive. We decided on a spot that isn’t too far away from where the hive is sitting. This spot will provide more sun for the hive and there is no poison ivy! It’s also right off the driveway, so I will be able to easily get to the hive in the winter if I need to. The new spot is about 30 – 40 feet away from the current spot.

When reading up on how to move a hive, I came across a lot of info that stated you either move the hive 3 feet or 3 miles. Some suggestions were that if you were moving your hive more than 3 feet, you should move it in 3 feet increments. This move needed to be done at one time, there was no way that I was going to move this hive several times.

There were a couple of people that suggested that if you move the hive more than 3 feet but less than 3 miles to create a barrier in front of the bee’s doorway. Once the hive is moved, you keep the bees locked inside for 3 days. That way when they come out of the hive, they will reorient themselves. This was the best choice for me. Creating an artificial barrier would allow me to move the hive the approximately 40 feet that I needed to move it without the hassle of moving it several times.

This colony was very low on nectar and honey stores, so I have been feeding them. Before the move was to happen I made sure that the bees had plenty of sugar syrup since they would be locked up for 3 days. I also packed the feeders in with plain packing paper. This would help to prevent the bees from coming out and it would hold the feeders in place during the move. The other factor that I was looking at was the weather. I wanted there to be some rainy days after the move to ensure that the bees reorient themselves and can find their way back to their new location.

The longer they stay in the hive, the better. This makes reorientation much more likely and the move should be successful. Needless to say, my nerves were getting the better of me. The biggest concern that I had was breaking the comb, that would be devastating. This colony was not building new comb at all and if it broke during the move there wouldn’t be any chance of them being able to fix it.

A couple of days before the move, we took the extra set of hive legs and set them up in the new spot. We had to make sure that the legs were sitting level, so that the hive would be level. This took a little work, but it wasn’t too bad. The new spot was much easier to make level than where the hive currently sits. Preparing this site was fairly quick and easy. The legs are now ready for the hive.

At night, 3 days before we were going to move the hive, we went out and closed it up. I plugged the entrance holes and made sure all of the bars were tightly placed together. After the hive was closed up, I placed a cotton sheet over the top of the bars that hung down in front of their doorway. This sheet would be the barrier that the bees would have to adjust to. I opened the bottom a little to make sure that the bees had some air circulation while they were locked in.

The morning of moving day, Don met us at the farm to help move the hive. Everyone covered their legs and feet with plastic bags to protect from the poison ivy and even though the bees were locked in, bee suits were on. The hive was picked up and carefully carried to it’s new location. Once in place, we made sure the hive was level and stable.

Then it was time to open the hive for the bees. They still seemed calm even after all that they had been through. The cotton sheet worked just as I had hoped, The bees had to come out and take orientation flights. I opened the observation window to make sure nothing broke. Everything looked fine. I was so relieved!

Once the weather was good, I opened the hive for a quick peek. Everything looked great. The bees didn’t seemed at all phased by the move. A gust of wind had blown through and the cotton sheet came off. Everything worked well and went smoothly. The bees adjusted to their new space very well and I think they are happy about getting some more sunshine!

Protective gear
Trash bag pants
Closing it up
Hive at night
Packing the feeders
Replacing bars
Cotton sheet
New location
Moving day!
Carrying the hive
Careful movement
In place
All level
Time to open it up
Still lots of food
Front view
New barrier

Fall Feedings

Since the bees had forgotten how to be honeybees, I needed to try to help them. Both of the hives were very low in food stores. Feeding them was the best option to try to boost their stores. Fall feedings are different than spring feedings. In the fall the bees are given more sugar which makes a thicker syrup. The ratio is 2 parts sugar to 1 part water.

One of the big factors in fall feeding is the temperatures. Once it gets too cold the bees no longer take in the syrup and the beekeeper needs to switch to solid foods for the bees. Once the bees stop taking in the syrup, if the feeders are left in the hives it can cause excess moisture. In Massachusetts, extra moisture in the winter is a concern. If it happens to freeze, it can be devastating for the colony.

The syrup feeders that I have for my hives are double feeders and hold two 1 quart jars each. Each batch of syrup that I made was 10 cups of sugar to 5 cups of water. I found a lot of conflicting information online about wether you should boil the water or not. For the syrup I made, I did not boil the water. I heated the water enough so that I could dissolve the sugar into it. When I am making food for the bees, I make it the morning that I am going to feed it to them.

There is a lot of debate about essential oils and if they provide any benefit to the bees. Of course there is debate about wether essential oils provide benefit for anyone, I believe that they do. I use them in my home and with my family for different things. If they can provide any assistance to the bees I will continue to put them in their food. I found a recipe from Don “The Fat Bee Man” on YouTube for essential oils to add to the winter syrup here; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NvhlTufUV3Y.
I used my immersion blender to make it and it worked really well.

Both of the colonies took in a lot of syrup before the temperatures got too cold. I also learned quite a bit this year during the fall feedings. Having the bottom of the hives open is a very bad idea. The hungry wasps, that get much more aggressive in the fall, can smell it and they want it. Closing up the bottoms of the hives and putting up some kind of baffle over the entrance is the safest way to go. Both of my colonies were on the small side this year and they needed all the help they could get.

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.

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
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
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.