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!

Queen Cups

It was time again to check on the hives at Old Frog Pond Farm. They have been growing quickly and I need to check to see if they needs more empty bars again. The weather is warming up quite a bit and we are having some hot days. I like to check on the bees when the temperatures are in the 70’s if I can. Wearing that bee suit in hot weather is not very fun.

I started with the Orchard hive, mostly because I was curious about the status of the ants. The ants were no longer nesting between the window and the door of the window. There were some ants crawling on the hive, but that was it. The observation window door still smelled of peppermint and there is still some cinnamon there as well as in the hive.

The bees have been living on 20 bars and they have filled them. They are growing quickly and seem very happy. This colony is so docile and inviting. Everything looked very good in the hive. They had a good amount of brood, pollen, nectar, and honey. As I got further into the hive, I saw queen cups. Not just one or two, but six. The cups were empty at this point. This was a surprise for me. Last year, I did not find queen cups in either of my hives.

The most difficult part of inspecting this hive was getting the bees to go back into the hive. They all just sat up near the top of the bars looking at me. I tried gently rocking the bars back in and gently blowing on the bees to get them to go back in, but those things were not woking. The bees just wanted to hang out. I used the bee brush a little to gently persuade them to get back inside, but I did not brush them. I just nudged them a little.

Once everyone was back inside, I was able to close up the hive. It took a long time to inspect this hive due to the bees not wanting to go back in. I don’t mind taking the time, it makes the inspection much better when I do not feel rushed or try to rush the bees. They can sense when I am in a hurry and they don’t like it. I don’t like when they are unhappy, so I do what I can to try to keep them happy.

Next it was time to inspect the Willow hive. The last time I was out there was poison ivy around the hive that I had to climb over to get to it. There was also poison ivy at the base of the legs. I spoke to the people at Old Frog Pond Farm and asked them to take care of it. When I got there this time, they had covered most of it up and made a path for me to be able to get to the hive. There was still a little bit near the legs of the hive though.

This colony is also living on 20 bars and they have filled it up. During the inspection I added 4 more empty bars to give them more room to grow. Looking through the hive, everything looks very good. They had a lot of pollen stored up, more than any of my other hives have. They also had a lot of queen cups! Eleven queen cups. All of them were empty still. The queen is doing really well laying. There was a lot of brood in the hive. They also have plenty of nectar and capped honey. This colony is looking really good.

The bees in the Willow hive were also more docile than the ones in the Orchard hive. I did not think that was possible. They were so easy to work with and they even went back into the hive without much direction from me. This was such an easy inspection and I really enjoyed the temperament of the bees.

The biggest surprise to me during these inspections was all of the queen cups that I found. This was not something that I found last year and I don’t know what to make of it. I am really hoping that the bees are just being prepared for whatever may happen. I know that swarming is a healthy and natural reproductive behavior, I just don’t want to see them swarm at this point. I am not sure what that would mean for the colony for the winter.

I am very curious what I will find the next time I inspect the hives. I hope that the bees are as happy and as easy to work with. I also hope that the queen cups are still empty.

Checking the Host Hive for Signs of Swarming

Since this colony made it through the winter, I have now been wondering if they are going to swarm this year. If they show any signs of swarming I am hoping to try to split them before they leave. Even though they are my cranky colony, I am still rooting for them to be strong and survive. As for them being cranky, it is only when I am in their hive. They are not causing any problems for the family that is hosting them in their yard.

This colony has been easier to work with this year, but still a bit cranky. I will only open this hive when the weather is warm and the sun is shining. I have done three inspections on this hive in May. Each time I was looking for signs of swarming as well as doing my usual checks. There have not been any signs of swarming yet.

The colony is growing well and during the first inspection in May I moved the colony into two thirds of their hive and opened a second entrance for them. I added five bars for them. They are growing well and the queen is laying well. I spotted eggs, larvae, capped brood, nectar, pollen, capped honey, and the queen. Even with all of the signs that the queen is in the hive or that the hive is queen right, it is still nice to see her once in a while.

After putting the hive back together and closing it up, I still had a couple of angry bees buzzing around my veil. I cleaned up all of my stuff and walked away from the hive. These bees continued to follow me. I walked into the shade, but that did not work. I walked down the street a bit, but that didn’t work either. I walked around a bit more and then decided that I would get into the car in full gear, just in case. I climbed into the car with my full suit and gloves on and then waited to see if there were any bees in the car with me. Luckily, there were not.

During the second inspection in May I only got through about half of the hive. The bees were very cranky and so many were trying to sting me through my gloves and pelting my veil. I decided that it was not worth stressing them any more, so I only checked about half of the bars. I saw everything that I needed to including the queen. I added a couple more empty bars for them.

At the end of this inspection, I put the hive back together and closed it up. Again, I was followed by grumpy bees. They buzzed around my head for a while. I walked around for awhile and went into the shade, but they were relentless. Once I thought the coast was clear I got into the car in full gear again. I don’t want to take any chances of getting stung. In the car when I realized I was alone then I took off my veil for the short drive home and unsuited once I got there.

I went back a week later to check them again for signs of swarming. This time my plan was to work only the half of the hive that I did not check the last time. I also decided to use the smoker. After lighting the smoker I looked in the front of the hive to see what was going on. The bees were very busy, there were a lot of foragers going in and out. I also noticed that they have covered about half of the entrance hole on the left side with propolis. There were no bees coming or going from that door only the center, but there were bees there working to cover it up.

This time I did not see any eggs, but they can be difficult to see when the lighting is not perfect. I was also being a little quick with my looking to try to keep the peace. I did not see the queen this time either. I was looking through the half of the hive that I had not gone through the last time so that may be why.

After this inspection I was able to close the hive up and clean up without being followed by angry bees. It looks like I may need to use the smoker for this colony every time that I open the hive. They seemed more calm and spent less time trying to sting me. Of course, I didn’t get into the brood nest so that could be one reason. I will just have to continue to evaluate their temperament and be prepared.

There were no queen cups at all in any of my inspections. I am hopeful that it means they will continue to stay a while. I don’t really have a plan in place if I do need to make a split, so I am kind of hoping that I can avoid it for now. If it comes down to it, I may just let them swarm and let nature take it’s course. I am not sure that I want a second hive full of grumpy bees to work with. If they swarm and they create a new queen who then mates with different drones maybe they will be more docile.

Messy entrance
Messy entrance
Coming in
Coming in
Window view
Window view
Close up
Close up
Full comb
Full comb
Busy bees
Busy bees
Drone brood
Drone brood
Growing quickly
Growing quickly
Closing the door
Closing the door
Hello
Hello
Met this snake on one of my walks to get the bees away
Met this snake on one of my walks to get the bees away

Ants!

On April 29th I went out to Old Frog Pond Farm to inspect the hives. The Willow hive looks great. The bees are very active and foraging. They are bringing in a good amount of pollen. The colony is growing nicely. They have built new comb and are working on filling the cavity of the hive that they are in. I added some more bars to give them extra room. These bees are so calm and nice to work with. They don’t seem to mind me in their hive at all.

Then I headed over to the Orchard hive to inspect it. After watching the bees at the entrance, I went to the back of the hive and opened up the observation window. To my surprise a colony of ants were nesting on the outside of the window!

There are some ferns growing right near the hive, so I picked some. I used the ferns to brush the ants off of the window. I was hoping that brushing them off would solve the issue. Then I continued the inspection. This colony seems to be even a little stronger than the Willow colony. They are growing quickly and needed some more space. I added some more bars for them.

In both hives I saw everything that I needed to see. There were eggs, uncapped brood, capped brood, pollen, nectar, and capped honey in each hive. I was also able to see each of the queens. They are somewhat easy to spot right now since the colonies are not at full strength yet. I am sure that as the season progress it will be more and more difficult to find the queens. As long as I see eggs, larvae, and capped brood I know that the queen has been in the hive within the last three days. Most likely she is still in the hive.

On May 6th I went back to check on the Orchard hive and see if there were more ants. Much to my dismay, the ants were back and nesting on the window again! I brushed them off of the window again and made sure to get all of them off. Once they were gone, I put peppermint essential oil on the observation window door to try to deter them from coming back. I put quite a bit on there, luckily the bees don’t mind peppermint.

While I was there I checked in on the bees. They are doing well and building new comb. Everything looks really good inside the hive. So far the ants have not gone into the hive. I also opened up the Willow hive to see how things were going for them. Each of the colonies look very good and doing very well.

In the spring it is common for there to be more drone brood than during the rest of the season. I have heard some beekeepers mention concern about it and they try to eliminate most of the drone brood. The queen creates the drones in order to spread her genetics and if we continue to interfere by getting rid of most of the drones than we risk loosing out on the diversity of genetics that we have left.

I know that I am still a new beekeeper, but I also know that there are a lot of things working against the honeybees. I don’t want to work against them, I want to work with them. Last year both of the colonies that I had followed the same pattern. They had a larger amount of drone brood in the spring and then there was a greater focus on worker brood as the season went on.

One of the arguments about eliminating the drone brood is that the varroa mites prefer the drones. One of the reasons that I went with the top bar hives is that the bees get to build the comb the way that they want to. My hive that did not survive the winter was not over run with mites, their mite count was actually very low. I have continued to do visual mite checks with my Host hive and they seem to be okay so far too. I will continue to watch them.

On Mother’s Day I thought I would go check in on my other children again. I walked over to the Willow hive first to see what was going on with them. On my walk to the hive I got to see goslings and their parents. It was a beautiful day to be out at the farm. The Willow hive looked good and I spent some time taking pictures of the scenery around me.

When I was done there, I walked over to the Orchard hive to check on the ants. The bees looked happy and didn’t seemed bothered at all. I opened the observation window and there were no ants! I put some more peppermint essential oil on the door in the hopes of keeping them away. I hope that they are gone for good, but time will tell.

Small comb
Small comb
Brood
Brood
Drone brood
Drone brood
Mama and chicks
Mama and chicks
Mother's Day
Mother’s Day
Lily pads
Lily pads
Willow Hive
Willow Hive
Willow
Willow
Orchard Hive
Orchard Hive
Ant nest!
Ant nest!
Ants!
Ants!
New full comb
New full comb
Peeking inside
Peeking inside
Willow entrance
Willow entrance
Orchard entrance
Orchard entrance
Sweet little bee
Sweet little bee
Purple dead nettle
Purple dead nettle
Apple blossoms
Apple blossoms
Ready to bloom
Ready to bloom
Bumble bee
Bumble bee

First Full Inspection of Host Hive for 2016

The last time I came out to the host hive I inspected a little, but the main reason for my visit was to add more empty bars for them. I have been so happy that they made it through the winter and are growing quickly. This visit was to do a complete inspection of the hive. It was a little on the cooler side today, but the bees did not seem upset about it. The were mostly calm while I was inspecting their hive. This colony tends to be very picky about when I inspect them, so I was happy that they were not angry with me.

During this visit I went through each bar and looked at everything. One of my main concerns now is the possibility of swarming. With this queen making it through the winter, I don’t want to lose her. I am hoping to come up with a plan to split the hive before they can swarm. The reality is that honey bees are wild animals and they will do what they want to do. I am not going to interfere with the process in a way that can harm them. If I split them, it will only be if they are in good condition for it.

I did come across two queen cups, but they were both empty. The bees are busy preparing for spring and summer. There is a good amount of drone brood in the hive. The queen has a good laying pattern for both drone and worker brood. I did not actually see eggs, but there was a lot of larvae at different stages of development. Sometimes it can be difficult to see eggs in the comb with the way the lighting is at this hive.  I had this same problem last year.

Last year I did something that I should not have done though. When I could not see the eggs, I would take the bar with the comb and walk away from the hive to get different lighting. The issue with this was the possibility that the queen could fall off of the comb and land on the ground. If she is on the ground it increases the probability of her getting stepped on. I was very lucky not have that happen, but this year I am much more cautious.

I am also much better at spotting the queen now. I have been able to spot queens pretty quickly these days and I saw her on one of the newly built combs. Since I was able to spot her, I was not as concerned about not seeing the eggs. There was a lot of brood in the hive and everything else looked really good.

While watching the bees, I was relieved to see that they are no longer using the raised divider board as a door. They had all gone back to using the hole that is actually their entrance. It was nice to see that there wasn’t much activity on the side of the hive with the observation window. Now we could look in the window without worrying as much about the bees getting defensive.

I went through the entire hive this time and there were no signs of dysentery inside. My plan is to just keep an eye on them and see how things go. There wasn’t a lot on the outside of the hive either, but as a new beekeeper I have my concerns. From what I have read, a strong colony can get through a bout of dysentery without any intervention.

The bees still have a decent amount of honey is the hive. They are bringing in pollen and nectar and they have some good stores. If I am lucky, I will get to enjoy some of the honey from them this year. I will only the it if they have more than enough. But I am curious to taste it! The two hives from my yard last year each had honey that was very different in taste, so it will be interesting to taste the honey from the host hive.

I will have to be out here again soon to check on the hive. They are growing quickly and I want to make sure they have plenty of space to continue to do so. I am also going to need to keep an eye on the possibility of swarming, but let’s hope that I can convince them to stay!