A Fresh Start

Early in the morning on April 24th the Post Office called to let me know that the bees had arrived. It was a chilly day, so I waited a while for the temperature to go up. While I was waiting, I got all of my supplies ready. I had my “bee bag” already packed with the tools that I needed. I carry my hive tool, alcohol wipes, baby wipes, bentonite clay, and zip ties to each inspection. This season I added tweezers to my bag. They are helpful at uncorking the queen cage and sometimes helping me get things that fall to the bottom of the hive.

Since I had lost all of my hives last winter, I had comb with honey left over and decided that it would be better to feed it to the new bees. Honey makes so much more sense to me than sugar water. The bees seem to like it more too. I took eight bars to split between the two hives. When I set it up I would put four bars in each hive with four empty bars in between each comb.

This is the first year that I would be installing the bees by myself. I was feeling pretty confident since I had done several installations now. I was also excited to get back to Old Frog Pond Farm, I love my time there. It’s such a peaceful place to visit and there is always fun things to see.

My plan was to start at the Willow Hive. I got everything ready and opened the package to remove the queen cage. The queen was alive and active. I used a push pin to hang the queen cage on an empty bar after removing the cork from the sugar end of the cage. Once she was in there securely it was time to dump the rest of the colony in. I noticed that there was something in the way of the bees, they had a large piece of comb that they had built that was blocking the hole. After pulling the comb out it was much easier to pour the bees into the hive.

The installation went very smoothly. I put the package with the remaining bees under the hive entrance so that they could make their way in when they were ready. The bees seemed very happy to be out of the package. The can for sugar water was empty and they were happy to be put into a hive with honey. I put the bars closely together and closed the lid. It was a relief that things went as well as they did.

Then it was time to install the bees into the Orchard Hive. I headed across the way to get to the hive and prepare. I put all of the bars into the sides of the hive that I wouldn’t be putting the bees into. Then it was time to open the package and take out the queen cage. This package was easier to deal with since they didn’t have any large pieces of comb that they had built. When the queen cage was out I hung it onto an empty bar with a push pin and put it in the hive. Then I went through the process of dumping the bees into the “bee bowl” of the hive. They poured out very nicely, but there are always bee left in the package.

Once most of the bees were in the hive, I put all the bars in and tightened them up. The package with the remaining bees was placed in front of the hive to allow them to join their colony when they were ready. Then I closed up the hive, picked up my bag, and removed my protective gear. Both installations were done and went very smoothly. I was feeling really good about everything.

Once I was home a beekeeper that I met last year sent me a message about installing her bees in the hive. She was telling me that everything went well and she removed the cork from the queen cage then added the bees easily. Removed the cork from the queen cage? That comment struck me like a ton of bricks. I had forgotten to remove the cork from the queen cage in the Orchard Hive!

I headed back out to the farm, suited up, and opened the Orchard Hive again. I only removed the bar that the queen was on and carefully took out the cork from the sugar end of the cage. I put the bar back into the hive and then I stood there for a moment to think if there was anything else that I could have forgotten. I am so glad that I got that message and that it hit me right away. When I told the other beekeeper about what had happened, she said that she was god to help me since I had offered her help last season. Needless to say, I thanked her for the message!

Now that I realized that everything was done and taken care I could relax. I removed my protective gear again and went home. It always seems so strange to me to go home after dumping thousands of honey bees into a box, but that is how things go. They are wild animals and they don’t need me hanging around too much bothering them. Both of these colonies seem to be happy bees, let’s hope that they stay that way.

On the 28th, I went back to check to see if the queens had been released. The weather has been wet and cold here, so timing for things is off this year. I typically check in on the queens between two and three days after installation. Mother Nature has different plans this year.

This time I started at the Orchard Hive. I did a full inspection even though there wasn’t much to inspect. The queen had been released, I removed the queen cage, and they had started building comb on three of the four empty bars that were in the hive. I was able to find the queen and she looked good. She was busy checking out the comb and the cells. The bees were so calm as I inspected. It didn’t take very long to get through all the bars and see what I needed to. The colony looks great.

After inspecting the Orchard Hive, I went over to the Willow Hive. I was a bit surprised that they were not building as much comb as the other colony since they had the large piece of comb in their package, but they were building some so I was not concerned. The queen had been released and I removed the queen cage from the hive. I was able to locate this queen too and she was also busing checking out the comb. Everything looked good in this hive too. These bees were calm through most of the inspection, but at the end they were a little upset. The clouds were rolling in and there was a threat of rain.

I am relieved to have the installations completed and that the queens have been released. After losing all of my hives last year I was worried about getting into it again this year. I am glad that I decided to try again, I really enjoy being with the bees and learning more about them every time I inspect their hives. Now if we could just get Mother Nature to provide time to be out checking the hives, that would be great!

Queen Cage
Bee Bowl
Closing up
Remaining Bees
Package Comb
Orchard Hive
Installed!
Stragglers

Hive Modification

Winter had taken it’s toll on my bees and me, but now spring is here and things are looking up. I decided last season that I needed to modify my hives. I just needed to come up with a way to do it. I want my Bee Thinking hives to have a screened bottom that can be closed during the colder months. I really like that option with the Gold Star Honeybees hives. After reading up about Varroa mites, I think that it’s a good option to help try to control them.

The challenge that I have is that the hive sits on a stand, so I am limited in how I alter them. I decided that I would just cut the bottom piece out between the stand. This leaves some space on each side where the bottom will stay solid. At least there will be a large area in the middle that will be screened, with the option of closing the bottom up during the off season.

We started with cutting the area of the bottom board that is between the stand. Once the bottom was cut off in the area between the stand, we stapled the screen on. After that was set we added brackets to the piece of the bottom that was removed and one large screw on each of the other sides. This will allow me to have the hives open during the warmer months and closed when it needs to be.

Luckily, the modifications were pretty easy to do. Now we just have to see if it benefits the bees. I am sure that having more ventilation in the summer will be nice for them. Now I am just awaiting their arrival.

I Finally Ordered Bees!

It took me a long time to finally order my bees this year. I was so reluctant to order my packages. After last season, I am feeling a bit put off. I had the hardest time getting myself to oder the bees, I didn’t want to think about the upcoming bee season. I gave in and finally ordered two packages from Gold Star Honeybees. I really like the fact that the bees are untreated and mutts.

I did only order two packages though. I am only going to replenish the hives at Old Frog Pond Farm this spring. The Host Hive is going to be removed from it’s home and put into storage for now. If the need arises for a hive during the season, I will have that one available for use. I think that it will be good for me to start slowly this year. I want to spend more time focusing on the bees and what is going on in the hives.

Mites and all of the diseases that they bring into the hives are really becoming a big problem. The Orchard Hive had a high mite load and deformed wing virus that I am sure led to their demise. I have a strong feeling that it was the mites that led to the loss of the Host Hive too. I did not send in a sample from the hive because I am fairly certain that the bees had been dead since December at some point and I did not get to open the hive until mid January.

When I finally did open the Host Hive, I found a good size colony all dead in the middle of the hive with honey filled bars on both sides of them. I have read that some of the diseases that are brought in by the mites can cause the bees to be indecisive. If the bees are unable to make the decision about which direction to move in as a group than they will die from starvation. It looks like that is what happened to the Host Hive.

It seems that mites are going to be one of the biggest challenges that I will be facing as a beekeeper, so I want to try to figure out how to help the bees. We will be modifying the hives before I put the bees in them. I believe that it is important to have a screened bottom, but I don’t want the hive to be exposed to the weather in the winter. We will be modifying the Bee Thinking Hives to be more like the Gold Star Honeybees Hives. I think that Christy Hemenway put a lot of thought into the design of her hives and that it is beneficial for the bees to be able to have screen bottomed hives during the good weather with the option of closing up the hive during the cold.

Having a screened bottom means that the mites fall through if they come off of the bees instead of just falling down and crawling back up onto the bees. The screened bottom will also allow for more ventilation during the hot months. The other benefit that I see to the screened bottom board is that I can sprinkle the bees with pure powdered sugar if the mites get to be too much. The idea behind the powdered sugar is that the bees will work hard to clean themselves and each other, ideally picking off many of the mites that will then fall through the screen and be unable to get back to the bees.

My other plan is to plant mint around the bases of the hives. I have read that the mites are repelled by the mint oil and honey bees love mint plants. I had hoped to do this last season, but I didn’t get the chance. This season I am going to do the planting as soon as I can to make sure that the mint can get established and hopefully be blooming later in the season when the bees need more help in dealing with the mites.

At this point there is a little less than a month before the bees get here. I have a lot of work to do to get ready for their arrival. Spring is my favorite season and I am very excited for it’s return. There are already seedlings sprouted in my little greenhouse that I set up in my living room, giving me hope for what is to come. This year I plan to put a lot of my energy into my garden, the honeybee meadow, and caring for the bees. I am looking forward to a productive season.

Where Have I Been?

The blog has been very neglected over the last four months. There have been so many things taking my time away from being able to write. The biggest of these things is the Maynard Honeybee Meadow. This spring the meadow started as a small idea to put a beehive in an empty lot behind ArtSpace Maynard and now we are looking at installing an amazing wildflower meadow with filled with art and an active top bar beehive!

When we first started, we had no idea how we were going to fund this project. Now we have just successfully completed a crowdfunding campaign through Patronicity and MassDevelopment will be giving us a matching grant. There has been so much excitement and positivity around the development of the honeybee meadow. We had several events during the fundraising campaign to help raise awareness for the project and for honey bees. It was a great learning experience for me, I had never done anything like it before.

Once the crowdfunding had come to an end I was focusing on getting the work done in the meadow that I can do before winter got here. We tilled the plot and put in some wildflower seeds and bulbs in the hopes of some color in the spring. Of course winter came more quickly than I had thought. The ground is now frozen and we can’t really do anymore work in the meadow. We have asked the artists to start working on the pieces that they will be creating for the meadow.

Now the meadow project has slowed down and I will have some more time. My own garden didn’t get as much of my attention as I would have liked, but it did well. I grew tromboncino squash for the first time and they did very well. The largest one was 4 feet long and weighed 13 pounds! Now with the freezing temperatures, the garden has been put to bed for the winter.

My beekeeping year was a rough one. I lost the Willow Hive in August and in November I lost the Orchard Hive. I think that the mite load in the Orchard Hive was too high and they had deformed wing virus. They may have had other issues, I am not sure. At this point, I am not sure if the Host Hive is alive or not.

I went to check on the Orchard Hive in early November on what I thought would be our last decent weather day. My plan was only to look into the window since I had checked them not long before. When I looked in the window, I saw one bee walking around. It was later in the afternoon and the sun was going down so I should have seen more bees than that.

I went home and picked up my nuc box just in case. I wasn’t sure what I would find. Back at the hive, I opened it up to look around. I found the queen and about 12 bees. The rest of the colony was dead at the bottom of the hive. There were probably 10 or so yellow jackets in the hive. I grabbed the queen and all of the live bees and put them in the nuc with bars full of honey. I decided to take them back to my house and see if there was anything that I could do for them.

It didn’t take me long to realize that I couldn’t help them. They would need to be a much bigger colony in order to make it through the winter. It was a devastating realization for me. I had lost two of my three colonies and winter wasn’t even here yet.

Winter was fast approaching, I knew that I needed to figure out a way to protect the Host Hive from the wind. That hive is out in the open with no protection. This year I decided that the hay bales would not work and the family hosting the hive didn’t want the hay bales either. I found 3/4” insulation and put it on three sides of the hive. I did not put any on the side where their entrance is, so that they can get out on the warmer days.

A couple of weeks ago we had one of those warmer days. My husband stopped by the hive to check in on them. He said there were no bees flying so he knocked on the hive to try to get the guard bees to come out and no one came out. There should have been bees out, it was the middle of the days and the temperature was in the 60’s. There have not been any more warm days for me to get over there and look. To be honest, I am also putting it off a bit. There has been so much loss for me this year with the bees.

I have learned a lot this season and I know that all of that will help me in the future, but right now the loss hurts. Looking on the bright side, I am hopeful that the Willow Hive and Host Hive swarms are doing well. I have been telling myself that I am helping to repopulate the feral bees.

Looking forward to the new beekeeping season I have been thinking about things that I can try to see if I will be more successful. There are options as far as what kind of bees I get to put into the hives. I am considering ordering small cell treatment free bees from Gold Star Honeybees and I am thinking of looking into getting Russian bees from a beekeeper here in Massachusetts. It is possible that I can do both since I will have four hives to populate.

The other thing that is on my mind is the design of the Bee Thinking top bar hives. When I bought the hives, I had the option of screened bottom or solid bottom. Since the bees would be living here with the cold winters, I went with solid bottoms. I am excited to work with my first Gold Star Honeybees top bar hive because I did not have to choose. The hives have a screened bottom as well as a solid board to put up when it’s needed. Now I am wondering if I can modify my current hives to have this kind of option.

My thought is that having the option to have the screen bottom in the summer and fall and the solid bottom when the weather is cold will allow the bees to try to reduce the number of mites when the bottom is open. This choice also gives me another option if I choose to use it, I can “treat” the bees with powdered sugar if the mites are proving to be too much for the colony.

The problem that is presented with modifying the Bee Thinking hives is that the stand gets in the way of being able to have a complete screened bottom and being able to raise up the solid board for winter. I am going to look at just modifying the middle section and the sides will need to stay as they are. At least that would allow some chance for the bees to try to chase some of the mites out. Now I just have to bring myself to get the hives and bring them home to work on them.

One of the other things that I am planning to try out and learn more about it using plants and essential oils to help the bees deal with the mites. I will be planting mint close to all of the hives. I had read that the mites do not like the oil from the mint plants that the bees will pick up when they visit the plants. I have been using essential oils for many different things inside my home, so now I plan to expand my knowledge and use of them to include the bees.

There were also so many things that happened while I was inspecting the hives this year that taught me many new lessons. I will be restocking my tool bag and making sure to carry things with me that I hadn’t even thought of at the beginning of last season. I will be adding zip ties and thumb tacks to my bag for when the comb falls off the bar. I will be keeping my nuc box with me whenever I head out to the hives, just in case. Also small collection containers for when things don’t go well and I need to collect a sample of bees. A flashlight will also be in my bag for when I have a hard time finding the eggs.

To every inspection I carry a checklist that I made to keep notes of what is going on in every hive. The basic things that I have are two hive tools and alcohol wipes to clean them with. I also keep bentonite clay around in case anyone gets stung, cinnamon and peppermint essential oil to deter the ants, extra bars and a sharpie to mark them with. During beekeeping season I keep my bag as well as all of the bee suits we own and gloves in the car to make sure that I am always ready.

Now with January almost behind us, I will get more serious about preparations for this year. At this point in the year I also get to start planting seeds for the garden. This time of year always feels so refreshing, it’s a time to start over and enjoy what the year has to bring. I am hopeful that 2017 will be a great beekeeping and gardening year for me! Happy New Year!

What Happened???

It’s been more than a month since I have inspected the Host Hive. The last time I inspected this hive the bees were so nice and so sweet. I guess a lot can change with their temperament in a month! They were back to their usual grumpy selves this time. I was so hopeful that we had turned things around and that they were going to be more tolerable of me. That hope is gone now.

On the upside the colony seems to be doing very well. Looking in the doorway there was a lot of activity. Next I looked in the window and there I saw more of the same, a good looking colony with lots of bees. I was planning to get some pictures today, but the bees had other ideas. They seemed to only want to let me know that it was not okay that I was in their home. I tried to reassure them that I understood and I was only making sure things were well. I think that they were trying to tell me that they have been doing this a lot longer than I have and that I needed to butt out.

When I am inspecting a hive, I like talk to the bees in a soothing voice hoping that it will somehow make them feel better about me rooting around in their home. After trying for a bit with this colony today I ended up not talking much, I was trying to make this inspection as painless as possible. Unfortunately several bees lost their lives trying to sting me through my gloves. I always feel bad when that happens. I did try to save the bees attacking me by using my hive tool to try to gently remove them from my gloves.

This colony has twenty six bars in use out of the thirty one possible bars. I removed two bars that were still empty, the bees had not even built comb on them yet, but I left two empty bars and one bar with a full comb that was empty. I just want to make sure that they have space if they need it. As it gets closer to winter, I will reevaluate what is in the hive and if it needs to be there or be removed.

There was a good amount of honey in the hive. Last year the colony waited until mid September to fill the hive with honey. This year I would like to see more honey going into the winter than last year. I am not sure how things will go though. There has been a drought here all season and that may disrupt the fall flow.

They have good store of pollen and nectar too. The brood pattern looked good and I spotted the queen. It has always been a challenge to find eggs in the comb of this hive, so I really like when I can see the queen. There were plenty of larvae at all stages, so I knew she was in there. It’s just good to actually spot her. There was still a little bit of capped drone brood and they had not started removing the drones from the hive yet.

With all of my hives, I have been visually checking for varroa mites. This hive seems very clean, I have not seen any mites on any of the bees. I have seen some dead mites at the bottom of the hive, but usually on the other side of the divider board. I am still trying to figure that out. I am not sure if the bees are cleaning them off and flinging them there or how they are getting to the other side of the divider board. I have seen this in some of my other hives too.

I am sad that the bees were grumpy again, but I am happy to see that they are doing well. The hive looks and smells good. The bees seem to be very strong and protective of their home. Luckily, they are not bothering the family that is hosting their hive! I will have to try to get to the hive sooner that a month for the next inspection and I need to start preparing for winter.

Last winter I put hay bales around the hive. It worked well, but it was impractical for me and for the family that is hosting the hive. I will need to research other options to protect the hive from the wind. This hive is out in the open and very exposed to all of the elements. That means that I have some research and reading to do. Maybe next time the girls will let me take their pictures again!

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

Honey from Old Frog Pond Farm

The two colonies at Old Frog Pond Farm are really thriving. This summer has been a challenge with the drought, but these two colonies have access to amazing forage and water. It’s been about three weeks since I last visited these hives. The last time I inspected the hives, I found a lot of queen cups. At that time the cups were all empty so I hoped the bees would stay.

Today did not have the best weather, but the bees were still patient with me. I started with the Orchard hive and I needed to work somewhat quickly. They are filling up the hive nicely and are in need of more space. I added three more bars for them. I also took one bar of capped honey.

When I added the three empty bars, I ended up putting them all next to each other. I usually do not do that. I like to add one bar at a time in between two fully drawn out bars. That encourages the bees to build the comb straight down. Today I was just concerned about the possibility of rain and I did not want to have the hive opened if it did rain.

After I closed up the Orchard hive I walked over to the Willow hive. At first, I just thought I would look into the window and open the hive another day. When I opened the window I got a surprise. The bees were building comb on the bottom of the hive! I had no choice, but to open the hive up and clean up the mess.

Luckily, the comb on the bottom was filled with capped honey. I gently scraped it off the bottom and put it with the bar that I had taken from the Orchard hive. It was very exciting to get even more honey. All I had time for with the Willow hive was to clean up this mess that they had made. It looked at felt like the rain was coming at any moment. I closed up the hive and right after I put the lid on a light rain started.

Even with the weather not being ideal, these bees were all still very calm and relaxed. It is so pleasant to inspect these hives. I am really enjoying working with such easy going bees, it makes beekeeping so much more fun.

I headed back to the farm about nine days later. I needed to rearrange the empty bars that I had clumped together. I opened up the Orchard hive, hoping that they had not made a mess of the bars. The bees were a little bit grumpy today, but they had not built any crazy comb. I didn’t move the bars around too much, I just put them in between some already drawn out bars toward the end. This way I don’t rearrange their hive too much.

Everything else looked good so I closed up the hive and headed over to the Willow hive. I looked in the window and they had not made any more messes. They also still have some space left. I did not need to open the hive today. It was nice to just watch the bees without disturbing them.

At home I processed the honey that I had collected. I cut the comb off of the bar and put it into cheesecloth. Then I use my hands and I crush the comb to squeeze the honey out. I squeeze out as much as I can and then I let it sit in a stainer over night to let the rest drain down. Once it comb is strained, I put it with my collection of comb to be melted down. Then I put the honey into jars. I just scoop it out of the bowl and pour it into the jars. It is such a simple process.

I got about four pounds of honey from the one bar and the chunk of comb that I had collected. The bar that I had taken was only half full with capped honey and it gave me about three pounds of honey. The honey from the these hives tastes amazing! They also taste different from one another. The difference is not huge, but it is there.

Orchard Hive
Orchard Hive
Peeking In
Peeking In
Nice Comb
Nice Comb
Queen Cup
Queen Cup
Little Door
Little Door
Festooning
Festooning
Willow Hive
Willow Hive
Hanging Out
Hanging Out
Ugh! Ants!
Ugh! Ants!
What a Mess!
What a Mess!

Slow Down in the Host Hive

On June 17th I went over to the Host hive in the evening. My plan was not to open the hive, but to look around and in the window to see how things are going. There was plenty of activity around the outside of the hive. The bees were still very active even into the evening hours.

They had three empty bars still, so there was no need for me to open the hive. I did open the lid. Living up there was a bold jumper spider that I shooed away. I am sure the spider will be back. There was also a bar that had popped up and the bees had begun to fill the gap with propolis. I cleaned that up and got the bar to go back down where it should have been.

I put everything away and closed up the hive. I am a bit concerned about the lack of growth with this colony. When they came through the winter they were growing quickly and looking good. They seemed to have slowed down now and I am not sure what that means. My other two hives are growing very quickly and seem to be doing better.

Since I was concerned during my last visit, I decided to do a full inspection on July 4th. I haven’t been able to do many full inspections due to the temperament of this colony. It seems that it is very stressful for them when I am looking around in the hive. The are always grumpy and so many of them come out and try to sting me. I am very happy that I have my Ultra Breeze bee suit!

While preparing to do this inspection I decided that I was going to use sugar water to spray them with instead of the smoker. I really don’t like using the smoker because I don’t enjoy the smoke, it bothers my eyes and nose and throat. I have read that some beekeepers spray their bees with sugar water to help to distract them. My hope was to give them something other to focus on than me then maybe they won’t be so angry.

I mixed up one part sugar and one part water. I also added a couple of drop of spearmint essential oil, hoping to please the bees. If I can get them to relax a little things will be much easier. I usually carry peppermint essential oil and cinnamon with me to, but I use those mostly to deter ants.

Once I was at the hive, I did my usual visual checks around the hive. I looked at the front of the hive and watched the bees for a little bit. Everything that was going on in the doorway looked normal. There were plenty of bees going in and out of the hive. There was pollen coming in and I am sure there was nectar coming in. The bees have filled one of the entrances three quarters of the way with propolis. I guess they don’t want to use that hole. I am not going to put the plug in it yet to allow for ventilation.

I opened the observation window to see if there has been any more progress. Things looked about the same as they had two weeks ago. This hive does not have as many bees in it as my other two hives. I am really getting worried about this slow down. They don’t seem as healthy as they were in the early spiring.

I opened up the lid and the bold jumper spider had returned. I guess it likes the nice little cave that it found. I just left it be this time, it doesn’t seem to be bothering the bees at all. The weather was good, 78 degrees and sunny. I had my sugar water ready to spray. I also made forms to fill out at each inspection so that I can keep all my data together in a binder. My little notepad was not holding up well.

After I started the inspection, Rachel came outside and wanted to join me. I always keep extra gear with me, so others can join in if they want to. She got suited up and helped me dig into the hive. The bees did not seem to mind that I was spraying them with the sugar water. It actually seemed to occupy them. They were a lot less grumpy during this inspection.

I spotted everything that I need to except the queen and eggs. It is very hard for me to see eggs in this hive. Last year, I had the same problem and I was taking the comb away from the hive to get a better look at it. I have learned that taking the comb away from the hive is a very bad idea. The queen could fall off the comb and you could step on her! That would be awful! I witnessed first hand a queen falling off of a frame when I was helping out another beekeeper with his hives this year.

Since I have such a hard time finding eggs in this hive, I just really pay attention to what else I see in the hive. When I am able to see eggs, it makes me feel more at ease. There were four bars with larvae on them and several bars with capped brood. The brood pattern is not looking as strong as it should.

The colony has plenty of capped honey, nectar, and pollen in the hive. I am very happy to see that the bees are still bringing in all that they need. This summer has been very dry here, we are actually in a drought. If you visit my garden you wouldn’t know it though. I grow a lot of food and I need to keep it watered in order to be able to enjoy that food. I also grow a lot of food for the bees. My front yard is lined with buckwheat and borage and the bees have been really enjoying it.

Much to my surprise I spotted two wax moth larvae in the hive! I had never seen them before, but I looked them up and they do damage to the wood in a hive as well. That’s how I figured it out, they had damaged one of the bars a little bit. I squished them and got them out of the hive. I did not see any moths or any other signs of them. I will check thoroughly again the next time I am in the hive. I really hope that they don’t become a problem, this colony seems to be having a hard enough time.

The only downside I found to spraying the bees with sugar water was that everything was sticky afterward! I had to really clean off my gloves, tools, and phone. When I don’t have help to take pictures, I use my phone and it got covered it sugar water. Luckily, I have it protected so it was the cover that I had to clean. I use alcohol wipes to clean my tools after every inspection anyway. I also try to clean my gloves after every inspection. I don’t want to take chances spreading any possible diseases between the hives.

Now I am going to try to find an experienced beekeeper to come out to the hive and help me inspect it in a couple of weeks. It is always nice to have an extra set of eyes, especially ones with experience. I hope that things get better in the hive and I hope to get some answers soon.

Not many bees
Not many bees
Space in the hive
Space in the hive
Some activity
Some activity
Not very full
Not very full
Where are they?
Where are they?
Capped honey
Capped honey
Still looking?
Still looking?
There they are!
There they are!
Sticky mess!
Sticky mess!