Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Road Trip!

Earlier this month our family made a 2250-mile (ugh!) road trip to Ohio and back. It was a lot of driving! As I was planning the driving route, I noticed that we passed along I-80 right by Brushy Mountain Bee Farm, a beekeeping supply place from which I have ordered in the past. One of the difficulties in getting beekeeping equipment is paying for the shipping charges. A lot of the equipment is heavy (as in solid wood), so that accounts for a lot of the cost.

I figured as we were passing so close, I'd stop in and pick up some supplies. So about a week before the trip, I called in an order and told them when I'd be by to pick it up. I calculated I would save around $60 in shipping charges, so it was definitely worth it. So I planned to leave some space in the van to pick up the items.

Well, it turned out that we ended up bringing back from Ohio some extra items (including a big dresser which we strapped to the top of the van). The space planned for the beekeeping equipment was used up fast. But I did end up fitting in pieces in the nooks and crannies where I could. Here's what it looked like when we arrived at home:

We made it back just fine, and now I have some more wood to assemble!

On a nature note, on the way home we stopped to get gas in NY and on the concrete I found this interesting bug. It was about 3 inches across (wingspan). Here's a picture of it on my 9-year-old's hand (with a comb, so you can see the size comparison):

Tracy looked up on the internet, and found out it was a Pandorus Sphynx Moth. It is common in New England, and the boys were just fascinated by it. The detailed coloring was amazing.

While in Cincinnati, I visited with a former middle-school classmate who I haven't seen in literally *30* years! But with the technology of Facebook, we reconnected and paid her a visit. Her 9-year old son likes to read this blog, and said "I really like your videos - you need to post another one!" So, Will, I made a new video just for you! It is my bee yard, focusing on the busy bees in the evening:

With this warm weather, the hives were very busy. I haven't inspected them for about 2 weeks now; I think tomorrow I'll take a peek and see how they are doing. I'll be sure to report here!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

It's All Right (Queenright, that is...)

Had a chance to do a complete inspection of all hives (Sutton and Home). This is a longer post than normal, but with some good information (and questions) and pictures. So let's dive right in...

Sutton Hive 1

I fully expected this hive to be queenless, based on past inspections. I hadn't seen any new brood in a few weeks, even after pulling over a frame of eggs from the other hive. So I purchased a new queen yesterday, expecting to install her today.

When I started going through the hive, I was surprised to see very young brood - it looks like this hive had a queen! Now I was very confused. The only thing I can think is that either the queen stopped laying and resumed, or they made a new queen and she is laying. I still haven't seen a queen in this hive, but see definite evidence. There were lots of bees, and they weren't as jumpy this time. You can see the bees in the top box before I smoked it:

Lots of bees - that's a good thing!

I looked in the honey supers, and it looks like no further activity has occurred in the last month! :-( The two shallow supers have nectar but it is not capped yet, so it isn't ready to be called "honey." The medium super doesn't have any more progress on drawing out the frames.

But back to the queen issue. Now I have a problem - a queen without a home! (I couldn't put her in a hive with an existing queen). Luckily, I took with me my first nuc I built a year ago, so I pulled over some frames from this hive and brought the nuc home, along with the queen in the cage. More on that nuc later.

Sutton Hive 2

I remembered to bring the extra hive body so I could put on the sugar jars. I did a quick check and they seem to be doing well. So I fed the hive - here's what it looks like (the top deep simply encloses the feeding jars):

Green Hive

Back on the home front the green hive is doing well. I saw eggs in one of the frames, which was enough to tell me the queen is there (I didn't see the queen this time).

I had a chance to visit another beekeeper when I was picking up the queen yesterday, and he has a hive which was made from a package in April of this year. I compared the amount of bees coming and going in his hive with my green hive (which was an overwintered hive), and while the green hive has by far the most activity of all of my home hives, it didn't look as busy as this other person's hive. I think it may do with the fact that I did a split earlier (to prevent swarming), which reduces the number of bees. But the queen should have had a chance to raise the population since then. I don't know if it is location (this person's hives were more out in the open, in the sun, while mine are shaded part of the time) or what.

This afternoon I saw the typical flurry of activity in front of the hive for the orienting of new bees, plus there is a pretty steady stream of incoming and outgoing bees. But they aren't putting up honey to any degree - the center couple of frames (which were already drawn out) have some honey, but the rest of the foundation is basically untouched.

Brown Hive

This hive still has significantly less traffic than the green hive. Given I installed a new queen back on May 22nd, the first bees are just being born from the new queen. It takes another 3 weeks before those new bees "graduate" to be foragers, so I guess I am jumping the gun a little.

What does surprise me is that the lower deep hive body is almost 100% empty comb - just a little pollen in the frames on the edge. I would have thought the queen would like to use that to lay, but she hasn't gone down there. I thought about doing a reversal, but I heard the voice of my "just don't mess with it!" friend from work, so I didn't mess with it. Besides, I don't want them all of a sudden filling the brood frames with nectar.

I was worried that the queen wasn't there, but I looked specifically for her and found her:

(the blue dot is hard to see here - it's kind of faded out in this shot). Seeing the queen tells me she is there - I'll let her do her thing and decide when/where to lay. I don't know if you can see it in this picture (enlarge it), but this queen's body is almost black - she might be a different race than Italian. I didn't notice that before.

Gray Nuc

I wanted to see if this nuc has a laying queen - it's about the time it could have one. When I pulled out one of the frames, this is what I found:

Those milky white cells contain bee larvae! The larvae are anywhere from 4 days old to almost ready to cap. So this nuc has a laying queen - I'm 2 for 2 this year - yea!!

Here's the foundationless frame I put in the nuc when I made it. You can see that they have almost completed building out the frame:

At this stage of the comb creation, you have to be very careful in handling the frame. The wax is held only at the top, and with the bees on it (and starting to use it), the weight of the comb means that any tilting side-to-side can cause the wax to break. So I didn't manhandle this frame too much.

I really wanted to find this queen in order to mark her, but even looking through the nuc twice I didn't spot her. You'd think with only 5 frames it wouldn't be to hard, but they are crafty. But that's OK - I'm happy to know she is there. I'll mark her another time.

Brown Nuc

I pulled out the first frame of the brown nuc, and look what I saw right away:

That blue dot sure makes things easier! This nuc is doing fine, and had almost completed drawing out the foundationless frame. So I thought I'd give them a little more to work with.

I mentioned last week that I made a medium "super" for my nuc. I asked my 9-year-old son to draw me a bee on the face of the super, and I went over it with black paint. Here's the finished item installed on the nuc:

Zoom in - it's super cute!! One thing you may notice is that the corner of the top cover has come up - the wood warped! I didn't expect that, but I made this cover a little different than normal. Other covers have a horizontal piece of wood fastened to the front and back edge of top cover (as shown in this post). But here I put some rims of wood underneath, and there wasn't anything to keep it from warping. So I'll put together a more normal cover and replace it.

White Nuc

Ah, the white nuc. This is the new one which contains bees from the Sutton Hive 1, but without a queen. Hey, what a coincidence - I happen to have an extra queen with no home! What are the odds...

So I put this nuc in my back yard, took out one of the frames, and wedged in the queen cage in between two of the frames, with the candy plug accessible to the workers so they can release the queen in a few days.

Once I put the queen in the nuc, some bees at the front entrance started "scenting" - lifting up their tails and using their wings to spread the pheromones from the Nasonov gland. This tells the other bees of the hive that "this is where home is!" It is only done when there is a queen present, so they recognized the new queen cage I put in there. Here is a closeup picture of a couple of the bees scenting:

Now I have a White Nuc.

So here's where the craziness sets in. Counting all the nucs and the hives in Sutton, I am now taking care of 7 hives! Five of them are in my own back yard!!! Take a look:

What do you think? Should I make an appointment to see a psychologist? Any 12-step groups I can join? "Hi, my name is Steven, and I'm a beekeeper." [group] Hi Steven...

I'll probably put an ad on Craigslist to sell one or two of the nucs. But there's something comforting having those extra queens in reserve. Comments from my more experienced beekeeper friends?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Amazing Queen Bee...

QUEEN BEE Pictures, Images and Photos

I made a comment on the forum that I wanted to make here.

On May 20th I made a nuc from a frame with a swarm cell (to prevent swarming of one of the hives). I checked last Saturday and was amazed to find a laying queen in the hive. The thing that amazes me is when I think that a queen was born in the nuc, found her way to a DCA, mated, and made it back to my nuc all on her own. And now she's laying.

This nuc is nestled under a tree along the same tree line (I don't exactly have the best locations for my apiary). Not exactly visible from the air - you have to go up over my house (which looks like a lot of the houses in the neighborhood). This is the first time I successfully made a split and a new queen.

Here's an overhead picture of my house in my neighborhood:

and here's the nuc sitting under a tree (the brown one):

Bees are amazing critters!!

That is all...

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


In the olden days, it was up to each individual beekeeper to build whatever beekeeping equipment he needed. Later, companies were started to provide woodenware to those beekeepers who were less inclined to make their own.

One nice thing about this hobby is that you can do as much or as little as you want. I know of beekeepers who make all of their equipment, including frames; others use salvaged wood for hive bodies. You can purchase unassembled wooden equipment from all of the major beekeeping supply houses, as well as completely assembled (and painted) hives.

I think every hobby beekeeper feels the need to do at least some amount of work for the hives. I know I do. In the past, I've done a bit of woodworking for the hives, but I am far from an expert (or even competent in some cases) in working with wood. I usually cut pieces wrong, and end up wasting wood, and take way too much time to do even the simple things. But it is fun at times.

Recently I felt like I wanted to do some woodworking for the hives in my "spare time," so I took on a couple of small projects.

I purchased some older used equipment from a fellow beekeeper, which included an inner cover. I used this inner cover at one of the Sutton hives, and found that the bees were attaching it to the tops of the upper frames, generally making a mess of things, and it was hard to lift up. Then I got to looking at it, and it looked like it didn't provide the correct bee space. Most inner covers have a rim on both sides which keeps the main part of the cover about 3/8" away from the top edge of the hive box. This one I have looked like only one side had a rim; the other was flat. I don't know if it was intentional, or if it had some missing pieces. So I decided to add a simple 3/8" rim around that side.

Here's a view of the finished modification. The light colored wood is the new part I added. You can see by the side view how the cover on that side would have been flat.

It was by far not a complicated modification (basically ripping strips of wood). But I think the bees will appreciate the modification.

The other mini project has to do with one of my nucs. I have that laying queen in the brown nuc, and I don't have any place for her to go immediately. I may keep her there for a while, and eventually she'll run out of room to lay eggs.

I decided to build a super for the nuc. Since I had a lot of extra plastic medium frames, I made it a medium size. I'll put it on the nuc in a few weeks and hopefully the bees will start using it. If nothing else, it'll get me more drawn comb for honey supers later.

Here is the nuc-sized super hanging up to dry:

The yellow paint comes from a can of paint we've had in the garage since we moved in here. It was left over from the previous owners, when they painted the pantry walls that color (yes, we have a pantry painted this garish yellow - ask my wife how much she loves that color!). Beekeepers are notorious for using whatever paint is available (the bees don't care). When the paint dries, I'll paint some kind of a bee diagram on it just for some variety.

I've got plans for some more simple pieces of bee woodworking that I can build later "for fun." If nothing else, these projects give me a chance to make a lot of sawdust...

Sutton Hive Inspections 5-7-2010

I stopped by the Sutton hives, as I know that Hive 2 (the new one) probably needed a refill of sugar syrup. So I went in the late afternoon and did an inspection.

Sutton Hive 1

Based on the last inspection, I suspect this hive is queenless. As I went through the hive, I still didn't see any eggs or new brood. The strange thing is that the frame I pulled over from the other hive (which had eggs on it) had no evidence of any queen cells. I'll do a thorough inspection next time, and if I'm probably going to have to get a queen for this hive.

I was excited to see how things are going in the honey supers as well. There are 2 shallows and one medium (the medium had undrawn foundation). The bees are starting to cap the honey in the shallow supers - maybe a few weeks it will be ready to harvest. They aren't doing much in the medium - they have drawn out some of the comb, but have more to go.

Sutton Hive 2

The new hive is doing very well. Last time I gave them some empty drawn comb, and I found that they have used it almost exclusively for nectar storage. They finished drawing out the rest of the frames, and that means it is time to add the second story.

I planned on adding some more undrawn plastic frames. But based on my experiences with plastic foundation, I decided to give them a little edge. So last night I melted some more of my beeswax and added a coating of wax on the plastic frame. When I did that on the plastic in my hives, the bees were more inclined to draw out. I think that's going to be my usual mode of operation on plastic - I'll add some more wax, and then stay away from plastic and use wired wax.

I did remember to bring a spray bottle of sugar syrup to spray each frame before adding it to the super. Plus, I brought up one of the frames with brood on it from the lower to the upper super. Both of these actions help the bees accept the foundation.

So here is the hive with the second story added (taken with my cell phone since I forgot the camera):

I forgot to bring along an extra hive body, so I couldn't add the sugar syrup feeders. I'll have to stop by sometime later to do that.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

I Made A Queen!

Did an inspection today of the home hives, and I'll share the good news first.

Brown Nuc

I know I said I was going to leave them alone until June 12th, but I couldn't resist. I first looked at the frame with no foundation, and saw that the bees were building more comb. Here's a picture:

What is interesting about this picture is the fact that in the middle and along the bottom edge of the rightmost piece of comb is a solid clump of bees (you can see the grass through the clump of bees in the middle). This is called festooning, and is how bees make comb. Some bees hang together on each other while other bees take the wax from the wax glands (here is a blog post with great pictures of bees and wax glands - fascinating!). They also use the hanging bodies as a guide, as you will, on now to shape the comb.

I looked at the other frames, and I saw something that made me do a double take - on one of the frames, I thought I saw a bunch of young larvae. I looked closer in the sun, and sure enough! That means the brown nuc has a new laying queen!! To the old time beekeepers, this may not be a big deal, but to me it is. It is the first time I did a split and made a queen successfully (last year I had a swarm and a new queen, but that was without my involvement).

I looked on that frame more, and actually saw her majesty scampering across the frame. I was very elated!! I wanted to mark her with a blue dot, but didn't have my bee tool box (with the paint pen in it) near the nuc. I put the frame back, and went and got the pen. Then when I pulled the frame out again, I couldn't find her!

I looked at the next frame, and no queen. Then I looked at the frame on the other side, and there she was. I was able to gently grab her and now she is sporting a nice pretty blue dot on her thorax (I hear it's all the rage in Paris!).

Gray Nuc

After my success at seeing a queen in the brown nuc, I was excited to make it a two-for-two day. Unfortunately, the gray nuc doesn't show any sign of eggs or larvae. You'll remember last week I saw those unexpected queen cells in this nuc, and as such, it is too early to see any eggs. So I'll give that box some more time. If a couple more weeks pass without any eggs, I'll probably combine those bees with the brown nuc. My wife suggested I make a new full size hive - we'll see.

Green Hive

The green hive still hasn't done much with the honey super on top. There is a drawn frame with nectar, but it isn't close to being capped. The other undrawn frames are basically untouched. But inside the hive there are a couple of deep frames in the upper super which are full of nectar - when I split the hive a few weeks ago, the bees decided to use the upper brood chamber to store nectar. That's OK - if they cap it, I can always spin it out and get the honey.

But in this hive I saw a lot of eggs and larvae. Look at this wonderful brood pattern:

If you zoom into the second picture above you should be able to see eggs and young larvae.

This queen is from last year (green dot) and is still going strong. It's a good thing to see. I thought about replacing her, but since she is still doing so well, I'm going to let her be.

Brown Hive

The brown hive is doing absolutely nothing in the super - no nectar whatsoever. That is understandable, since the bee population is so small. But I did see the queen down below, and saw some eggs. Look here:

There are a few frames in the upper deep which have honey, but I am not inclined to extract those, since they were there when I was doing some feeding of sugar syrup. So I can't guarantee the honey isn't just my processed sugar. If I do any extraction (to free up space for laying) I'll keep the "honey" to feed back to the bees later.

All in all things are going fine. These hives may not yield much if any honey, but that's OK. I'm happy to have healthy and thriving hives. And who knows, later in the year they may surprise me.
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