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!

Hurray for the Host Hive!

It’s after the middle of April and the host hive bees seem to be going strong! I have been told by many beekeepers that we can’t be sure that the bees have made it through the winter until May. I am optimistic though. The colony seems to be growing well and they are very active. The next step that I need to take is to add more empty bars in the hive.

On April 18th I went over to the hive to check in on them and add three empty bars. Before I could get into the hive, the hay bales had to be moved. After that I spent some time watching the bees at their entrance. The entrance reducer had fallen out of the entrance hole, so I picked it up and decided that they didn’t need it. The bees were very active and bringing in lots of pollen.

The bees had also been using a small gap at the top of the divider board as another entrance. They were going in and out freely from the side of the hive with the observation window. I don’t really want the bees using that side of the hive as their door. Having them there makes using the observation window almost impossible. I am going to have to figure out how to make the divider board fit more securely into the hive.

Once the hive was opened, the first thing that I did was to remove the feeder with honey and the candy block. The bees had not touched the honey, but they did eat a little of the candy block. I was happy to know that the bees had plenty of honey to get them through the winter.

Then I opened the hive to check in on the bees. The colony is growing and there is still honey left for them to eat. The colony had 16 bars and I added 3 more for them to continue to grow. The first thing that I tried to do was to scrape the propolis off of the window and the divider board to try to make the divider board fit better into the hive. I got it down at little bit, but I don’t think that it is enough. I will have to work on it again during the next inspection.

The last bar that I was inspecting, the comb broke off. I seem to be doing that a lot lately! Rachel got a plastic bag and we got the bees off of the comb and put it into the bag. The comb did not have any brood, it had some honey in it. I gave the comb to Rachel for her family to enjoy.

When I looked around the outside of the hive I noticed something that looked like dysentery. There were no signs of it inside the hive. I will do some more research into it and keep an eye on things. I hope that it isn’t anything serious. Other than that the colony looks good. They are expanding quickly and very active. I will check them again soon to see if I need to add more bars for them.

Peeking in
Peeking in
Looking at the bars
Looking at the bars
Dysentery?
Dysentery?
Raised divider
Raised divider
Opening the hive
Opening the hive
Comb that was stuck to the divider board
Comb that was stuck to the divider board
Honey!
Honey!

Broken Comb

In my most recent blog post I had forgotten to mention that when I was checking in on the queens one of the combs in the Orchard hive broke. After I finished installing the bees into the Orchard hive the comb must have fallen off of the bar that I had hung the queen cage on. So when I was checking on the queens I found that the comb had been reattached to the divider board that was next to it. The bees are very able to take care of things.

I knew that I was going to need to get back into the hive in order to scrape the comb off of the divider board. I decided that I would take care of it the next time that I was there to check on the queens. I wanted to make sure that I had a plan in place and supplies that I would need.

On April 16th I went back to the hive to scrape off the comb from the divider board of the Orchard hive. I also checked on the queen in the Willow hive. Both of the queens had been released into the colonies. The Willow hive was in good order and did not need any adjustments.

The Orchard hive needed more of my attention. I brought a bag to put the comb in and I planned to use my hive tool to scrape the comb off of the divider board. I took some time to look at the comb and how it was attached to the divider board. The comb was not completely attached to the divider board, so there were bees on both sides of it.

I started scraping the comb very slowly, I did not want to hurt the bees that were on it. I also did not want the comb to just fall off of the divider board. It did not take very long since it was only attached at the top of the comb, but I did end up taking the lives of a few of the bees. One of the bees was larger than the others and I was not sure if it was the queen or not. I did not want to tear through the hive again and disrupt the bees. I closed up the hive and decided to check it again soon.

Of course, I was up all night thinking about the bees. Mostly I was worried that I had squished the queen. I decided that I needed to inspect the hive that day. Once it warmed up enough in the morning, I went out to Old Frog Pond Farm to check on the Orchard hive. I needed the answer to the question that had kept me up through the night.

I went through the hive slowly and carefully. The only bee that I was looking for was the queen. I was so happy when I found her. It was such a relief to know that I had not harmed the queen, but I was sorry that I had harmed any bees in the process. I closed up the hive and breathed a sigh of relief.

Willow Hive
Willow Hive
Foraging
Foraging
Orchard Hive
Orchard Hive
Looking Good
Looking Good
Returning Home
Returning Home
Guarding the Door
Guarding the Door
Bringing in Pollen
Bringing in Pollen