Progress

Things have been getting better in the backyard since we put up the screen across the perennial garden. There are fewer bees flying low in the yard. I have been able to spend more time out there, which has been good for me and my garden. Now that I am feeling a little more confident, I think it’s time to inspect the hive again.

I invested in a new bee suit. After reading many, many reviews I decided to get the Ultra Breeze Bee Suit from www.ultrabreeze.com. From what I had read it seemed that this suit was the best for me. Out of all of the reviews, there was one that said they got stung. However, the sting was on their foot and the person admitted to not wearing proper shoes. The suit has three layers of fabric which makes it difficult for the bees to sting you while you are wearing it.

The smoker is a tool that I have not invested much time or energy into learning about or using. Early on the bees seemed to be fine without me using the smoke. As the colonies grew, that changed. I have spent some time learning about lighting the smoker. I found a video online from www.mahakobees.com that showed the beekeeper lining the smoker with cardboard before lighting the paper and adding the fuel. The night before I was planning to inspect the hive, I gave it a try. The smoker worked well for about 45 minutes, which is a lot longer than I have gotten it to work in the past.

A few days before the inspection I was out in the yard watching the hives. I noticed right away that the Langstroth colony was kicking the drones out. I spent some time watching the top bar hive too. They had also begun to remove the drones. The bees seem to be starting their winter preparation early this year. I spoke with another beekeeper and she said that she is witnessing the same thing. She feels that the bees are letting us know that winter may be coming early this year.

Armed with my new bee suit and smoker technique, it was time to open the hive. I decided to inspect the top bar hive in my yard first. The colony is smaller than the other and they have always been less aggressive. I made sure that the day was a sunny and warm one.

Once I was inside the hive, I went through each bar with comb on it. I was carefully looking at everything. I wanted to see what was going on and I was looking for signs of mites. The bees seemed very calm and that made me feel even more confident.

This colony didn’t get very big and now the brood pattern is even smaller. They also have very little honey, capped or uncapped. Although I have never spotted the queen in this colony, there are signs of her. I found fresh eggs, larvae, and some capped brood. The capped brood is all worker brood at this point.

I did a visual check for mites this time. I took time really looking at each bar and the bees on it. I did not find any evidence of varroa mites. I have not done any other mite tests. I spoke with a customer service rep at Bee Thinking and he had suggested using tape on the bottom of the hive and see what shows up. If I feel a need to, I may try that the next time I get into the hive.

Since the bees have very little honey, I have decided to feed them. There is still empty space in the hive since the colony stayed small, so it will be easy to get the feeders in. I will also be adding essential oils to the sugar water. I will be adding lemongrass oil and spearmint oil. I have heard that some people also add tea tree oil, but I will start with these two and see how things go. I also did some checking into what ratios I need to use to feed the bees. What I found was that in the fall people tend to feed 2 parts sugar to 1 part water. At this point these bees seem to need all the help that they can get.

The new bee suit worked very well. I didn’t get stung at all. I felt so much more comfortable this time. I am feeling confident enough that I am ready to inspect the other top bar hive.

DSC_3373

DSC_3376

Plan Bee!

I am not ready to give up on beekeeping, despite the challenges that I have run into. I am really hoping to find a way to peacefully coexist with the bees in our backyard. I just need to be creative when coming up with new ideas to try out. In search of harmony, we are moving on to plan bee!

One of the things that I learned about bees is that when there is something in front of their hive, when they come out they will fly up and then out. The top bar hive entrance did not have anything in front of it so the bees were flying low in the yard. I think that they are also feeling a bit territorial about us being so close to their front door. The bees in the Langstroth hive tend to fly up higher since there are some flowers in front of their hive.

The Langstroth bees are also flying low though since the hive has a piece broken off of the top of the second deep. So in the center of the hive is a hole that they have now made their front door. The plants that are in front of the hive are not as high up as the top of the second deep, so there is a bit of low flying traffic there too. However, the bees from this colony seem very docile and don’t seem to mind us at all.

There is also a possibility that the top bar hive is being pestered by skunks. I know that we have them and there has been evidence of them in our yard for years. The last several years they left holes all in the grass from digging up grubs. I can’t prove it yet, but it may be an issue. From what I have been told about skunks, they scratch on the hive entrance to get the bees to come out and then they grab them and eat them. If this is happening, it would help to explain why this colony is so grumpy with us getting near the hive. I will look at the hive more closely for scratch marks when I do my next inspection.

With all of these things in mind and with it being late in the summer I didn’t want to make any very big changes to the hive. The idea that made the most sense is to turn the hive around 180 degrees. Turing the hive around will mean that the bees are facing our six foot fence instead of our yard. That will mean that they will have to fly up higher than six feet to get above the fence and that should help to keep them out of the yard.

My husband and I got up at five am on August 4th and suited up. Our plan was to plug both of the entrance holes and then pick up the hive and stand at the same time to turn it. After we turn the hive we have make sure that it is still level. Then we can reopen the hive. We spent time discussing every step of the process before we started so that we would both be fully prepared and know the plan.

We lit the smoker to get the bees that were sitting on the outside of the hive into it. Some of them were reluctant to go inside, but we finally convinced them. Once they were all in we plugged the holes up. The hive was heavier than we had expected it to be and I had some trouble getting a good grip on the hive and the stand together. Once I was able to we turned it.

Everything went very well. We checked if the hive was level and we had to work with the ground a bit to level it out. It didn’t take long though. Once we were done we reopened the hive and quickly moved away. The bees were so confused that they didn’t bother looking for us!

Watching the foragers during the day was interesting. The were pretty determined to find the holes where they used to be. It took them much longer to get back into the hive. Many of them ended up landing on the hive and then walking on the underside of it to get to the entrance. By the evening there were a lot fewer bees hovering around the wrong side of the hive. It will be interesting to see how long it takes them to figure it all out.

The first three days were the worst for them. By the fourth day they were doing better and within a week they had it figured out. We did see some improvement with the amount of low flying bees, but there was a lot of confused bees hanging around. The confused bees didn’t seem to mind that we were in our yard, they were just looking for their front door. After about a week there were a lot fewer confused bees. We felt more comfortable in our garden and we were even able to get some work done.

As for the Langstroth hive, I called Best Bees and explained our situation to them. I asked them to bring a new deep box to exchange with the one that had a large crack in it. They agreed to do so and came out the day after we turned the top bar hive around. For the next couple of days we had a lot of confused bees around the hives! The colony in the Langstroth hive figured out their situation more quickly than the top bar bees. In less than a week they had accepted that their entrance had changed and adjusted themselves to that change.

The next plan was to encourage the bees to fly up higher when they come out of the hives. I had met a beekeeper that used tall trellis fences to encourage his bees to fly higher. I was reluctant to try anything too big because the hives are in the perennial garden and I still want to be able to see and enjoy the garden. One thought that I had was to have trellises just in front of the hives and plant trumpet vines to crawl up the trellises. I think that it would work, but it’s not ideal.

My husband came up with the idea to try a temporary solution first, to make sure the bees will fly up and out of the yard. He decided that we should put up some kind of screen across the front of the perennial garden. This would provide a barrier between the hives and the rest of the garden. We decided that a mesh screen would be best. It allows air to continue to flow through it so there isn’t any pressure on the hives if a strong wind blows and it allows us to still see the perennial garden.

We made a quick “curtain” to put up in front of the hives. It stretches from one end of the perennial garden to the other and it is about five and a half feet from top to bottom. We put this screen up around two weeks after we turned the top bar and fixed the Langstroth, so now we confused them again!

This time it did not take them long to figure out that they needed to fly up to get out. It was a little more difficult for them to find their way back into the hives. Again the Langstroth bees figured that out before the top bar bees. Once they all figured it out our yard felt like ours again. There were a lot less bees flying low in the yard. At this point, it looks like the screen is a success. We will have to figure out what we should do next year and on an ongoing basis.

For now, we are very happy with the arrangement. The bees are flying higher and we have spent more time in our garden. Which is very nice right now since there are lots of veggies ready for harvest.

Confusion
Confusion
Still looking
Still looking
Flying under
Flying under
Crawling under
Crawling under
Garden curtain
Garden curtain
Finishing up
Finishing up
Plan bee!
Plan bee!

Host Hive Inspection with a Guest

A member of the beekeeping club that I belong to has shown interest in top bar beekeeping. I invited him to inspect the host hive with me. We met up at eight am on August first. The weather was good and the sun was out. We looked in the observation window first. They had a couple of empty bars still. The rest of the hive looked full and busy.

The smoker was proving to be difficult for me. It took a bit of work to get it lit and going. I smoked the entrance of the hive and then opened it. The first bar that I took out, the comb broke. When I looked at the comb they had “glued” it to the side, there was quite a bit of propolis on it. The comb was empty and unused. There were three more combs that were full, but unused. I got a little further into the hive and inspected several more combs. There was uncapped and capped honey, but no brood it the any of the combs that I looked over.

The bees were getting very agitated by this time. The hum of the hive had turned into a very loud buzz. At this point the smoker went out. My guest and I agreed that it was time to close up the hive. Neither one of us wanted to continue into an angry hive especially without a smoker. The colony is strong and seem to be doing well, so I felt comfortable ending the inspection.

As it turns out, it was a good thing that we closed up the hive. Not long after we did the dark clouds rolled in. There wasn’t any rain or thunder, just thick cloud cover. This colony has already expressed how little they like cloudy days. I will have to come back when the day is clear.

Window view
Window view
Small comb
Small comb
The smoker
The smoker
Next bar
Next bar
New comb
New comb
Full comb
Full comb

Inspection of Host Top Bar Hive

On June 16th, I inspected the hive at the host house. The weather was warm, but it was somewhat cloudy. The bees seemed grumpy today, I am assuming that they do not like me opening their hive on a cloudy day. I have spoken with the family at the host house to see if the bees have been at all agressive. They let me know that the bees are very active, but have not been aggressive.

This colony is growing and building comb quickly. They had sixteen bars and I added seven more. While inspecting the bars I found eggs, larvae, capped brood, pollen, and honey stores. The bees had also built three queen cups, but they were empty. The colony is looking very healthy and doing well.

As I said earlier, the bees were very aggressive today. Toward the end of the inspection I got stung on the leg through my jeans and my rain pants. She must have worked very hard to sting me! I finished the inspection and got everything closed up. I found some plaintain leaves, chewed them up, and put the salve on my leg where I was stung. It helped some and my reaction wasn’t too bad until the evening. Then my leg had a very large welt on it and the burning started.

My husband was also stung. One of the bees crawled into his boot and stung him through his jeans. At first he said that it wasn’t too bad, but by the afternoon his leg was completely swollen from hip to toes. His leg stayed swollen for about two weeks. This was the first time that his reaction was worse than mine.

In the future I am going to do my best to inspect on a sunny day, I am hoping that the bees will be happier. I will also be using the smoker, which means that I have to practice lighting it! I am am not very good at having the smoker stay lit long enough to get me through the inspection.

Hive entrance
Hive entrance
Inside view
Inside view
Brood
Brood
Moving a bar
Moving a bar
Drone brood
Drone brood
Hexagons!
Hexagons!
Emerging drone
Emerging drone
Queen cups
Queen cups
So many bees!
So many bees!

Inspecting My Top Bar Hive

I recruited help again for this inspection, I needed someone to take the pictures! I have been feeling comfortable enough to not use the smoker when I open the hives. Using the smoker feels like a big project to me. I still need practice lighting it and keeping it lit. Sometimes it works well for me and other times it just burns out. I like not feeling like I have to use it every time.

This colony has ten bars in use, but one was still empty and two had small combs on them. The bars with small comb also had festooning bees hanging from them. I did not want to disturb their comb making process, so I did not move those bars. I added four empty bars and placed them in between the bars that had full combs drawn.

On this inspection I found lots of larvae! The larvae was very obvious this time. I was relieved to see so much larvae. I also saw plenty of eggs and capped brood. I did not find the queen, but there was plenty of evidence of her being there.

Some of the comb was bulging out toward the top of the bar. I tried to fix it a little, since the wax is still soft. I am not sure of the best way to fix this though. I didn’t want to make too much of a mess of things. I did move each of the bars that had full combs on them. I wanted to make sure that the combs are not stuck to the sides of the hive.

When I move the bars that the bees have started building comb onto the sides, the bees swoop in quickly and begin to fix the comb. They also collect any honey that may have spilled from moving the bars. When they are taking care of that they are less likely to care what I am doing.

The bees did not seem angry today when I opened the hive. They seemed mostly calm, of course there are the guard bees that were trying to protect their home. They were not aggressive though and the inspection went very well.

Feeders are empty.
Feeders are empty.
Removing feeders.
Removing feeders.
Scraping comb.
Scraping comb.
Nice brood pattern.
Nice brood pattern.
Capped brood.
Capped brood.
Emerging bee!
Emerging bee!
Closer look.
Closer look.
Capped honey on top.
Capped honey on top.
Bulging comb.
Bulging comb.

Full Inspection of Hive at Host House

I had mentioned to my husband that I needed to do an inspection of the hive that is in the host yard. We got everything ready and went over. For some reason, my husband thought shorts were acceptable to wear when opening a bee hive! Needless to say he got stung and even though I had pants on one got me too. We headed home without inspecting the hive.

I chewed up a plantain leaf and put it onto the sting, many people swear by it’s healing properties. I kept it on for about fifteen minutes. The area where I was stung seemed to be okay until the evening, it swelled up. I had another welt on my leg that was the size of a soccer ball. That night I went out and bought rain pants. Trying on pants with a huge welt on your leg is not pleasant!

The next morning I decided that I would inspect the hive on my own. I made sure that all of my gear was on tight and I put my new rain pants on for extra protection. The weather was good, so I was hoping for happy bees.

The first thing that I checked was under the hive lid for wasps. The lid was clear, so I continued on with the inspection. The colony has fifteen bars, one of them is empty and I added one more. The colony seems to be growing very quickly.

While looking through the hive, I spotted the queen and watched her for a moment. She seems healthy and active. There is many signs of her presence within the hive. There are a lot of eggs, larvae, and capped brood.

There was a section of drone brood on one of the bars. I was able to watch one of the drones chew threw the cap and come out of the cell. It was interesting to see the nurse bees come and attend to the drone so quickly.

Some of the combs were not built straight down. There were some bulges near the top of the bars which caused some of the other combs to be shaped funny. When I removed those bars for inspection, some of the capped honey spilled from the bulge being broken open. The bees were very quick to come and clean up the spilled honey. The bees that came to clean up the honey had no interest in me at all, they just focused on cleaning up.

I saw everything that I needed to. The main difference between this hive and my other hive is that the colony is growing very quickly with this one and the other hive seems to be putting more focus into honey production. It will be interesting to see how things progress through the summer.

Once the inspection was over I took off my coat and rain pants. It was quite warm today and all that gear did not help. The rain pants got very hot and I was happy to get them off. I may need to consider a beekeeping suit.

Honey Bees vs. The GoPro

I inspected the Top Bar  hive in my yard. I used the GoPro camera, the videos are below. I had to cut them into three videos to more easily upload them to YouTube. I decided to look through all of the bars that had comb on them. The bees have 8 bars: 3 of the bars are empty, 2 bars have small combs on them, and 3 of the bars have full combs. This colony seems to be slower than the other at building up their hive.

As I was looking through the comb I found capped honey and capped brood. I only noticed one egg on bar number thirteen. Bar seventeen felt heavier than the other bars when I pulled it out. It had more capped honey than any of the other bars. It was interesting to be able to feel the difference when lifting the bars.

The one thing that I did not see was larvae. I am pretty sure that I must have just missed them, but I did not see any at all in any of the combs. I thought it was strange to not see any since they were so obvious just the day before in the other top bar hive. I came to the conclusion that I just wasn’t looking in the right places and that my eyes are not well trained yet. I am not going to worry since I saw evidence of the queen in the form of eggs and capped brood.

When you pull out a bar with comb on it there is so much to see. There are usually a lot of bees on the comb and they move around quickly. On many combs you will find nectar and honey at the top and then some pollen stores. Spotting eggs can be quite a challenge, it is easier when there is sunlight to hold the comb up to. Capped brood looks different than capped honey and if the laying pattern is good, capped brood is easy to see. There is also larvae to see and as they get bigger they should be somewhat easy to find. Hopefully next time I will spot the larvae more easily.

I only added two more bars since they still had 3 empty bars and two with small combs on them. I will check on them again in a few weeks to see how things are going. If I don’t find larvae next time, then I will seek out some help.

Using the GoPro camera during inspections was very fun. I think it is great to be able to go back and watch the inspections. One of my favorite parts of the video is when the bees are coming face to face with the camera lens!

Home Sweet Home Part 2

On April 28th the small cell, treatment free bees arrived. The post office called me right before 8am asking me to come pick them up. Their hive was ready and I had prepared 1:1 sugar water for them. When I got to the post office, they let me know that the bees were out on the dock.
There were two packages that had been delivered that day to my town. The postal workers were not happy because some of the bees had gotten out of the packages. They thought that I was picking up both packages and when I told them that I had only ordered one, it forced them to actually read the label to see that there was someone else that ordered some too. I am sure that they called that person right away as well.
I put them in the car to drive them home. There were a few bees on the outside of the package, but they seemed to want to stay there. It wasn’t a problem for them to be out, they stayed on the side of the package for the short drive home.
The weather was decent and the bees had been in the package for around 7 days, so I needed to get them into the hive. The lid on this package was a little more work to pry off. The bees had begun to put wax on the can of sugar water that they had, but it came out easily. The bees seemed to be a bit agitated.
I got the queen box out and checked the queen. She had three attendants in with her. All of the attendants were dead. The queen was still alive. After taking the cork out, I attached the queen box to bar 13. I had the bees between bars 13 and 29 and they had open access to the feeders. Once the queen was in I shook the package to get as many of the bees into the hive as possible.
I noticed a sharp pain in my leg and I ignored it. The pain got worse and I realized that I had been stung. I stopped the installation, cleaned the sting site with rubbing alcohol, and changed my pants. I didn’t want to give these grumpy bees any more reasons to sting me.
The rest of the installation went without incident. Once the bees were in the hive I went inside to check on my sting. That worker bee left quite a welt for me. The area swelled up to about a 4 inch diameter and was bright red. After that I was feeling grumpy too.
The next day is when I realized that I needed to fix the feeders, just as I had with the other hive. In the morning I looked through the observation window to see what they were up to. The bees were all balled up, but they were nowhere near the queen. They were right next to the feeders though.
The sting that I had received was still hurt quite a lot, so I was not thrilled to think about opening this hive and disturbing these bees. Of course, I knew that if I didn’t it would be a lot more difficult to deal with the feeders later and I was concerned about them not taking care of the queen. When it was warm enough out, I opened the hive.
The first issue to deal with was the feeders and putting it behind the divider board. I had two more pencil pieces to put under the divider board to provide space for the bees to go in and out. The bees were not as grumpy this time, so it was a bit easier to be in the hive. I was still nervous about getting stung again though.
After the feeder was dealt with, I needed to check on the queen. I removed the cork from the other side of the queen box to allow her to just walk out. I also moved the bar with the queen cage to  the middle of the ball of bees. The bees had begun to build some comb and some of them were already foraging.
I found it strange that the bees were ignoring the queen and I wanted to talk to someone about it. I called Christy Hemenway from Gold Star Honey Bees. I ordered this package of bees from her. I am so glad that I called her. When we were talking she mentioned that it was possible that there was another queen in there that was not in a separate box. That could explain why they were not taking care of the queen in the box. I had heard of that happening, but I did not think about it. She also told me to give them about 3 days to let the queen out and then check on them again.
On Saturday May 2nd it was time to get back into the hive. I decided to use the smoker to try to help calm the bees. Their sugar water was still almost full, but I think that they have been eating out of the hummingbird feeder and I have seen them bringing pollen in. I took out the queen box and the queen was no longer in the box. I checked the hive a little, but I didn’t want to be too disruptive.
The bees seemed clam while I was inspecting the hive, but I wanted to keep in short. They had started to build a few combs and I looked at them a little. I did not spot the queen nor did I see eggs. There was some cells with fluid in  them and I saw bees continuing to bring in pollen. I will check them again in a few days to see how things are progressing. In the meantime, I can open the observation window to get a quick peek at what’s going on in there.