Friday, December 31, 2010

End of the Year Recap

I got an e-mail from a work friend wondering if I had taken ill, as I had not updated this blog in a while. I was touched by his concern for my health, but I explained to him that during the cold weather, there isn't too much to do with the hive. Since I haven't updated the blog since November 13th, I thought I'd do an end-of-the-year recap, with some ideas for next year.

Looking over the blog posts for 2010 (there were 61 of them), I would rate the year as "good" for the bees. I didn't have any catastrophic losses - just a queen here or there. But I counter-balanced that with the few Nucs that I created. I started a new hive in Sutton (from a package), and those hives did well. The yearly inspection from the county bee inspector gave me a clean bill of health - no parasites and pests to speak of.

One thing which did not go well was my honey production - or should I say my lack of honey. Only the Sutton hive produced any excess honey. I am at a loss to understand why the hives in my backyard don't thrive. Even the numbers of bees was less than I would expect (based on comparisons of the Sutton hives).

I ended the year with a lot more equipment than I started with. Between buying some used equipment, a run to Mann Lake in PA (during my vacation), and constructing some items, I am all set with enough frames, etc. to handle any issues. I also have about 3 Nuc boxes.

I hope that the bees make it through the winter - I am planning on cooking up some "bee candy," which will be supplementary winter feeding for the bees. There's not much to do in the way of inspections until spring, so I'll just lay low and get back into the habit of going to the WCBA bee club meetings (in Nov. and Dec. I had some conflicts, so it's been a while).

What's coming up in 2011? Who knows! I think I'll make some spring Nucs like last year. Hope to be able to extract some honey! Other than that, we'll just play it by ear.

So if you are a reader of my blog, I say thank you. If you haven't been to my Facebook Fan Page, please go and "like" it.

From my family to yours, many wishes for a prosperous 2011!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Ready for Winter? Not Quite...

Today was great bee-weather! The temperature got up to 60 degrees, and the bees were out this morning. Here is a picture of my backyard hives:

I took the opportunity to go visit the Sutton Hives. I hadn't been over there for a couple of weeks; last time I left some sugar syrup. Sure enough, it was empty when I visited today. But I also saw that there wasn't much in the way of stores there, so I am going to have to feed some more. I thought I would be done for the winter preparations, but not so!

Here is a picture of the Sutton Hives:

I'll probably feed my backyard hives as well.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

More Winter Preparations

The bees are into the winter mode of operation - with the weather being cold (less than around 50 degrees) they don't go out. So they stay huddled in the hive passing the time (do they have cable TV in there??)

I have a couple of liquid syrup feeders still on the backyard hives, and I went out to check / remove them. I still had some feed for the Pink hive (since I used smaller jars on that hive), so I put that jar on that hive. It turns out the Green hive still had about an inch of syrup in the feeder. I didn't take off that feeder - I'll check in a week or so and remove it if they still haven't taken it all in.

Some people wrap their hives with black roofing paper for the winter. The purpose is to keep drafts from the hive (since hive bodies don't always fit together perfectly, especially over time). Last year I didn't wrap my hives, and I won't this year either - they sit at the edge of a wooded area, and I feel that the drafts won't be too bad there.

There are two other pieces of preparation I do. One is to add a piece of Styrofoam insulation in between the inner cover and outer cover. I buy a large pink sheet of it from the hardware store:

Then I put an inner cover on the sheet and cut out a piece slightly smaller than the inner cover. Then I cut a small channel from the middle of the piece of Styrofoam (where the hole in the inner cover) to the outer edge (where the notch is in the inner cover). This allows air to flow out, taking moisture out as needed. Here's a picture of an inner cover and the resulting piece cut:

One of the things which will kill a beehive over winter is for moist air to hit the top, condense, and then drip cold/freezing water on top of the bees. Having the channel is supposed to keep the air moving a little. I also put a piece of Styrofoam loosely under the bottom screened board, just to keep the wind from whipping up through the screen unimpeded. Last year things worked out well with this arrangement, and I am hoping for similar success this winter.

The other item for winter is a Mouse Guard. Since a beehive is nice and warm in the winter, it makes an attractive place for a mouse (or family of mice) to spend the winter. Since the bees are in a cluster and can't leave it, the mice won't be bothered. But they make a terrible mess of a beehive - they chew the wax, bring in nesting material, and urinate everywhere. So you put a metal guard over the hive entrance with holes big enough for the bees, but small enough to keep out the mice.

Last year I forgot to put in the mouse guards, and was lucky to not have any visitors. This year I wanted to put them on. But I had a problem - I didn't have enough (I forgot to buy one when I bought the Pink hive, and the Sutton hives don't have any).

Here's a picture of a regular wooden entrance reducer (in the foreground) and the metal mouse guard (background):

So I decided to make my own. When I was at the hardware store buying the Styrofoam, I bought a strip of aluminum corner material you use when you put up wallboard. I cut the pieces to size (easy to do with heavy scissors) and drilled some 3/8" holes (same size as in the other mouse guard). Here are the results of my labor:

Pretty inexpensive! I went out and put the mouse guards on my hive (using thumbtacks and a hammer). I had a lone bee come out and check me out, since I was pounding on their door!

I still need to put together a few 2" shims to use when/if I need to feed some fondant in the winter. I'll put the shim under the inner cover, so it leaves a gap for the sugar fondant.

[Update 1/8/2012 - corrected hole size from 3/4" to 4/8"]

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Pack it up, girls!

We've had a few weeks of really fall weather now, but today was amazing - a true "Indian Summer" day. The temps were in the high 70's, so it's time to check the bees. I had wanted to see if the pink hive was going to finish off the honey, but it was not meant to be. So I removed the queen excluder, whipped up a batch of 2:1 sugar syrup (from 20 lbs of sugar), and prepared to feed.

Brown Hive

A few weeks ago I put a pollen patty on this hive, and today when I checked, the patty was just about gone. So I can remove the shim I put in to leave space for the pollen patty.

One thing I noticed when I lifted the inner cover was that there were a ton of bees clinging to the underside of the inner cover! Here's a picture:

They weren't agitated or anything, just hanging out. The only thing I can figure was that there was extra space under the cover (from the shim for the pollen patty) and they were just resting.

Green Hive

The green hive also got a pollen patty last time, but they hadn't eaten it all. Here's what was left (which is most of it):

So I left it on, and left the shim on as well.

Pink Hive

Nothing remarkable to report on the pink hive. It is still the strongest (based on the number of bees I see coming and going) of the three hives.

So I put the feed on all three hives. It is 2:1 sugar syrup, which should encourage them to take it and store it away for the winter. I also added a bit of my "secret ingredient" (which is a little lemongrass and spearmint oil) as a stimulant.

Like I said, the bees were very busy due to the nice temperatures. They were actually finding some pollen to bring in!

And I made a video so you can see how fast they are coming and going:

I guess bees don't let any opportunity to gather more and prepare for winter go to waste!

As far as preparations for winter go, I have very little left to do. I need to add the top and bottom pieces of insulation, and the entrance mouse guards (don't want any visitors!). I don't wrap the hives for the winter, or do any other preparations. Hopefully they will come through OK!

Here are the three backyard hives with the extra supers (covering the feed buckets):

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The House Smells Like Honey!

Yesterday evening I started the process of extracting the frames I had. I wanted to spin them out last night, so the honey would strain through the strainer over night.

So I starter by setting up the extractor that I borrow from my friend Joe:

Here are the frames that I am planning to extract:

First step is slicing off the caps. I don't have an uncapping knife, so I just use my wife's bread slicing knife. It works just fine - I don't need to heat the knife or anything - it cuts through just fine. I did have to use the capping scraper a little, as some of the frames weren't built out enough to cut with the knife.

Then came the fun part - the spinning! For some reason this time the cage holding the frames was very off balance. It shook like an unbalanced washing machine! I had to get my kids to hug the extractor to try to keep it from walking off the table. I didn't have anything to secure it to, so it was an experience.

Here is the first of the honey coming out of the extractor:

You can see that I have a 2-stage filter set up - a 600 micron (coarse) filter, followed by a 400 micron (fine) filter. I initially had a 200 micron filter on the bottom, but hardly any honey was coming through. I suppose I could have set up a space heater to heat up the honey and make it flow more, but I just swapped the 200 for the 400 and it worked fine.

I was left with the cappings which still have hone in them. I put them in a colander and strained out a little more honey.

No, this isn't the level of honey in my bucket (I wish!). It's the honey sitting in the 200 micron filter which wasn't flowing.

I ended up with only about 3" in the bucked, which I weighed out to 11.5 lbs. It isn't a lot of honey. I probably left a pound or 2 in the frames, as I couldn't really spin the fast (due to the shaking). Heating up the frames a little would have helped, but oh well. I'll put out the frames for the bees to clean up so nothing will be wasted.

Here are the jars I filled. I'm probably going to use a lot of it for Christmas gifts for family and friends.

I thought the honey looked darker, but a side-by-side comparison of a jar of this honey and a jar from back in August had them looking identical. But the flavor this time seems a lot stronger, maybe due to some goldenrod.

I was hoping to extract some frames out of my backyard this weekend also, but I did a spot check and only about 15%-20% of the frame is capped - way too unfinished to extract. We've had a lot of rain this last week, so I am hoping with the dry weather, the bees will evaporate and finish off the honey. If they don't, I'll just leave the honey for them for winter.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Sooooo close!!

My friend Tom keeps reminding me of the last time I updated the blog - it was September 6. So it's been a little over a month.

I had a chance to do a couple of inspections the last couple of weeks. On Saturday 9/25 I checked out the hives in my backyard. It was nice to spend some time arm deep in bees - it had been too long, and it really felt good to get back in (strange as that may sound). I'm going to have to come up with a better way of documenting what I see in the hives, as I can't remember hive to hive what needs to happen, and just taking pictures sometimes doesn't do it. But I did take lots of pictures for this post!

Pink Hive

This was the hive I did not put sugar syrup on. I wanted to see if the hive would collect any honey, as they had a start last month. Well this time I found something very interesting.

The hive had filled the top super with nectar, but hardly any of it was capped, as you can see in this picture (look at the shiny syrup in the open cells):

To further add to my confusion,I found a lot of uncapped nectar in the next super down (the medium, which was being used for brood).

Now, the optimist in me says, "yea!" the bees are doing what they are supposed to do. But then I remembered that early in the month I put sugar syrup feed on the other two hives, and it is possible that the bees from the pink hive went to the other hive and stole some sugar. But I really haven't seen any evidence of robbing - no nervous bees, no bees crawling in the access hole, etc. Adding to this thought is the fact that up until now, this hive hasn't put away much nectar, and now a bounty? Suspicious.

I'm going to let them continue to work on the super, since they are soooooo close to capping it off. We've had a bunch of rain in the past week, so it could be they haven't done much. I'll check this weekend.

I also saw the queen in the pink hive - it's been a while. Look along the bottom wooden part of the frame:

And here's a good shot of some brood in the hive. Nice pattern:

And a good number of bees on top of the bars of the lower box:

And more good patterns in the bottom box:

You can tell I like taking pictures of the bees! This hive is the one I have the most hope for coming through the winter.

Brown Hive

The bees in the brown hive are doing a great job putting away the sugar syrup I have been feeding them:

You can see a good crown of capped "honey" with the nectar in the middle (with pollen) still to be capped. Good brood pattern in this hive as well:

Green Hive

The Green Hive also is putting away syrup for the winter. You can see the food along the edge of this frame, with brood in the center:

And I saw the queen in this hive too - I haven't seen her since I did the combine to create this hive:

Last Saturday I also got a chance to go out to the Sutton hives. It has been even longer since I visited these hives - clear back on 8/13.

Sutton Hive #2

This was the hive started this year from a Nuc. I had a difficult time prying up the top inner cover - the bees had attached it with a lot of propolis, and connected it with a stiff wax (which I think was mixed with a lot of propolis, as it was very stiff). In this next picture, look along the top and bottom edges at all the propolis, and you can see the wax on the top bars:

They had also added a lot of propolis along the side of the frames under the frame rest, so I did a lot of scraping (almost chipping) to get the frames out. I accidentally broke one the of the frames trying to lift it out. It was full of honey, so I just put it back, after marking it with a paint pen so the spring I can swap it out.

Here is what I found in the hive, a large frame of capped honey:

But I am not fooled in this instance - I know this is probably sugar syrup mixed with honey, since early in the summer I fed this hive a lot of sugar. They put it away nicely. Generally I don't like messing with the "honey" in the brood boxes since you can't be sure that it is honey (especially if you feed).

I did a frame-by-frame inspection of this hive, and saw lots of good brood:

I didn't see the queen, but saw lots of young larvae so I know she is there.

There was a medium super of undrawn foundation on the hive, which I took off, since the bees had done absolutely nothing with it.

I put a bucket of feed on this hive; it looks good for the winter.

Sutton Hive #1

When I stole the honey from this hive, there were some frames which hadn't been capped which I left on the hive. I also put on some empty frames to see what they would do. All told, there was one medium super (with undrawn frames), and two shallow supers (with drawn frames). I checked, and here is what I found:

Since I was going to start the winter feeding, I pulled off all of the frames. There were about 8 total frames with something in them; every side had capped honey except for two sides (which contained uncapped honey). I will extract all of the capped honey, and leave the unfinished honey in the frame, so when I set them out for the bees to clean, they will reclaim the nectar.

Here's a nice shot of the Sutton hives, looking good for the winter:

Monday, September 6, 2010

Feeding time...

As we start getting toward fall, it's time to think about feeding the bees for the winter. You need to make sure they have enough food stored in the hive to make it through the winter.

For feeding sugar syrup, all I have is quart jars. I end up refilling them a lot, which is a pain. I heard from another bee buddy about these feeder pails which hold 2 gallons. That would be great, so I went looking for something local so I don't have to pay shipping. I found at Lowes a 5 quart plastic paint bucket with a lid, so I bought some of them to try it out. Not quite 2 gallons, but better than 1 qt.! I made up some sugar syrup and drilled some small holes in the lid and I'm going to give them a go. Here's what I ended up with:

The blue ovals on the lids are where I drilled the holes (I like to mark with a marker where the holes are to make it easier to line up the holes on the hive).

Did a quick inspection to day of the home hives as well. In general I saw a lot of pollen coming in, so hopefully with this sugar syrup, the queens will do well.

Green Hive

The hive made quick progress at removing the newspaper between the supers. When I opened up the 2 supers, there was no sign that there ever was newspaper, except for the part outside the hive! The bees were nice and calm (except for 1 or 2 who always make a nuisance out of themselves every time I inspect this hive!).

Didn't see any new eggs or brood, but I didn't do a lot of looking. I suppose the queen was still getting used to the new digs, especially since I severely rearranged the frames when I combined the hive. I'm going to give them a couple more weeks and then check.

Pink Hive

This hive still has the shallow honey super on it, and last inspection it wasn't hardly used. I planned on putting the sugar syrup over the super, and letting them fill the honey super with sugar syrup (to be eaten over the winter). Well, I took a look at the honey super and believe it or not, there was quite a bit of nectar in it! I decided not to add sugar to this hive yet, to see what they might do with any incoming nectar. Worse comes to worse, I'll add 2:1 later and they will finish off the super. But if I am lucky, maybe I'll get some honey. Hey, a guy can hope, can't he?!?

I found the queen in the middle super, along with some good brood patterns. I can't resist taking a picture of the queen when I find her:

So I did not add any sugar to this hive at this time.

Brown Hive

Didn't look too deep in this hive. Saw some brood, but no queen. But I am not worried with this hive. I closed up the hive, and right before I was going to put on the feeder pail, I saw a line-up of bees scenting. I t was cute, so I took a picture:

It's a little hard to tell from the picture, but those bees are all in a line with their tails in the air, beating their wings.

By next week the bees should have taken in all of that sugar syrup. Next week I plan on adding a pollen patty to each hive (since I have some left over and need to use them this year). I still need to go to Sutton to check those hives - maybe next week.

Finally, it's been a while since I posted a video. Here's one of the bees outside the hive today in the early afternoon.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Early Fall Inspection 8-31-2010

I was reminded by a co-worker that I have been a little lax in updating my blog. Part of that is due to the fact that I have been busy on the weekends and haven't had a chance to inspect the hives.

I took today off as a combination wedding anniversary celebration and first-day-of-school celebration, and had some time in the afternoon to take a look in the backyard hives. The last inspection was on 8-13, but in the meantime I have been watching how the hives are looking from the outside.

We had a rash of rain last week, about 3-4 days of it. The bees couldn't come out at all. But as soon as the rain stopped, the bees were making up for lost time! I've noticed the strongest hive looks to be the pink one. The brown hive is 2nd, and the green hive looks the weakest.

It was about 90 degrees when I did the inspection, so when I was done I was a dripping ball of sweat! But that was the best time to do the inspection, with a lot of bees out foraging.

White Nuc

The white nuc continues to have a lot of activity. Here are pictures of the top and bottom boxes of the nuc. You can see the (empty) yellow feeder in the top box:

I've usually had good luck finding the queen in this nuc, and today was no exception. She was on the first frame I pulled out:

This is a George O'Neal queen, and she has some Carniolan genes which give her the black coloring.

This hive had some OK stores, some nectar and good brood patterns, but I know I'll need to feed to get it ready for winter.

Green Hive

OK, now for the one which concerns me the most. I opened up the hive, and under the top cover I didn't see as many bees as I would have liked / expected:

I started pulling frames for inspection, and I didn't like what I saw. Every frame was completely empty of brood - nothing. Everything had hatched, and obviously there was no queen in this hive. I saw a lot of open swarm cells - so the hive tried to make queens in the past, but no go. There wasn't even very much in the way of nectar and pollen - all that the bees were bringing in was used to feed the current bees.

What we have here is a doomed hive - no queen, and fall fast approaching. If it were earlier in the spring, I'd simply move over a frame of eggs from another hive and let the bees make a new queen. But it's way too late in the season for that. Besides the delay in adding to the population, by the time the queen is hatched, it will be too late to find any drones for mating.

I've heard Ken Warchol preach about combining weak hives for the winter, so now I get to put that into practice. Hmmn... which hive to combine it with.... Hey, there's a nice strong white nuc sitting here!! So I decided to do a "newspaper combine" with the white nuc.

The first step is reducing the brood chamber(s) down to a manageable size. This hive has a medium honey super on it (totally empty too), and 2 deeps. Luckily due to the queenlessness, I could remove the honey super and 10 empty frames. I shook off the bees all into a single deep (they all fit - that shows you how much they were hurting for population).

After the hive was reduced to a single box, I laid a single sheet of newspaper on top:

I used my hive tool to make some slits in the paper, and then I put an empty deep super on top. I then proceeded to transfer the frames of the White Nuc over to the new super. Let me tell you, those bees were very confused. While I was making the combine, the nuc's foragers were returning to ... nothing! They were very disoriented and were buzzing around like crazy. I decided to leave the empty nuc in the original place, and then tonight I'll go out and dump any bees I find in there into the new hive.

The ending configuration was: bottom deep with queenless bees; newspaper divider; top deep with queenright hives. The purpose of the newspaper is to give the bees time to become acclimatized to each other, during the time it takes the bees to chew through the newspaper and removed it. I also put a fern in front of the hive entrance to cause the bees to notice that things are changed, and the bees from the nuc will re-orient to the new hive. So now I have a new hive with a jump start in population (basically doubled the number of bees in that hive) with a good functioning queen.

I think for the next few days I'll have some confused bees coming back to the old location, but since the old location is about 6 feet from the new one, maybe they will figure it out.

Pink Hive

As expected, the Pink hive is doing really well. I put on a super last time hoping to get something from any goldenrod flow, but it is completely empty.

I didn't see the queen, but saw lots of brood and young larvae:

You can see a good pattern in the 2nd picture above, and in the 3rd picture if you zoom in you can see larvae.

I didn't go too deep in this hive, since it is doing well.

Brown Hive

The Brown Hive was inspected next, and I saw a good number of bees in the top box:

But I was a little dismayed at what I found on the very first frame I pulled:

It's a little hard to see in the picture, with the sun coming through leaves behind me, so I circled my concerns. What I circled were a bunch of queen supersedure cells or emergency queen cells, all with larvae in them. They aren't as large as some I have seen in other hives, but the same concerns with letting the green hive raise their own queen also hold for letting this hive supersede the queen: no drones for mating. I didn't want to indiscriminately wipe out the cells, in case the hive really was queen less. So I laid this frame aside and went looking for the queen.

I didn't have to go but 2 more frames before I found her:

This is another dark George O'Neal queen. For some reason, her blue dot has worn off a little. But you can see here in the picture above.

In addition to the queen, I saw lots of brood in all stages of development. So I decided I didn't want another queen possibly superseding this one, so I ... "took care of" the supersedure cells on the first frame.

With that, I buttoned up the hive for another time.

So what do I have to look forward to next? I think given the fact that I haven't seen them bringing in anything from goldenrod, I should stop dreaming and start preparing for winter. I'll start feeding a 1:1 concentration of sugar syrup to keep the queen producing, and then later switch to 2:1 to get the bees to start packing it away for the winter. I've got some pollen patties from last year I'll feed them too.

I was at a large blue box hardware store, and found in the paint department some 5 quart buckets with lids. I wanted something larger than the quart canning jars I was using, so I don't have to add feed too often. So I'll prepare those as feeding pails, and mix up some sugar to feed them.

I still have to check the Sutton hives - I may get some more honey from them yet. We'll see.
Blog Widget by LinkWithin