Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Winter Prep (a little late...)

Not much has happened since the fall. In November I put on some jars of sugar syrup, but probably not enough. During the week of Christmas the weather wasn't too bad, so I finally did my winter prep, which consists of:
  • Remove any feed jars and extra supers (which are simply covering the jars)
  • Close up the screened bottom boards with pink styrofoam boards
  • Add 2" shims under the inner cover in preparation for any winter feeding (provides extra space for the sugar candy)
  • Add styrofoam insulation in between the inner and outer cover
  • Add mouseguards to the entrances
I was a little late in doing this, so I took a flashlight to make sure there were no mice in the hive (don't want to trap them in!). When I opened the backyard hives, I saw the bees at the top of the bars. So I'll make up some sugar candy feed and put some on early just in case they don't have enough food. It's not perfect, but it'll let them survive.

Here are the backyard hives ready for winter. Note that I don't wrap them - they sit against the woods, which provides enough wind break (in my opinion).

P.S. Being a beekeeper, I always am the recipient of interesting bee-related gifts. Here's what my stepmom sent me for Christmas! :-)

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Extracting we go...

Thanks to the generosity of the Sutton hives, I have honey to extract! I got out my new Maxant extractor that I bought this year, and gave it a good cleaning (didn't need it, but I wanted to get rid of any new residue).

I purchased also a stand for it, but I didn't have time to mount the stand on a solid wooden base (that'll be next year's project). So I just set it on the kitchen table like last time. Here's the setup:

First comes the uncapping of the frames. Like last time, I used a simple serrated bread knife. It seems to work, and I don't feel I need a heated knife. I use a rubbermaid container to catch all the cappings.

My youngest son Jacob was anxious to help - he held the extractor body as I spun it, because the frames were off balance a lot.

Liquid gold! I noticed that this time the honey was very dark.

There's always some honey which doesn't come out the spigot - I solved that problem!

Here are the cappings - I strain those to get the honey out and then let the bees clean up the rest.

So here's the take from the fall - around 25 pounds. Not bad! Enough to give as Christmas gifts as well as sell to recoup a little of my investment.

Notice the difference from the spring honey (on the left - very clear) and this fall honey (right - dark and thick). It all depends on the flowers the bees visit.

Here are the cappings set out for the bees to reclaim. I also made a video so you can see the activity. Especially in the fall (when there are no flowers) the bees are anxious to reclaim all of the honey the can!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Sutton comes through!

Saturday (2 days ago) I performed the pre-winter maintenance on the hives in my backyard. Since I took today as a vacation day, I decided to do the same for the hives in Sutton. I hadn't been out there since (gasp!) the first week of August! It seems the frequency of my visits is about 2 months. But the bees don't seem to mind (almost as if they know what they need to do without my intervention, right Tom?).

I got there around 4:30PM, a little later than I would have liked, but still plenty of light. I pried up the top inner cover on the right hive, and this is what I saw:

You can see all that goopy stringy brown stuff - propolis. It's a type of "bee glue" they use for many things, but especially for filling in places that are narrow. These bees are italians from Georgia, and they (the italians) are known for how much they propolize everything.

When I lifted up the honey super to set it aside, I got a nice surprise - it was actually heavy. What's this? Maybe some honey? I was excited to look. But first I inspected the top brood chamber.

You can see by this picture that there were a good number of bees hanging out. This hive was doing well. They must like the location.

I pulled out a couple of frames from the brood chamber, and this is what I saw:

This is a frame *full* of honey. That's what I like to see! About half of the frames looked like this. These bees are well on their way to preparing for winter - filling the upper chamber with food. I won't have to feed this hive much.

I didn't go into the lower chamber - just took a peek by tilting up the upper brood chamber. Guess what? More bees :-)

Here's what things looked like when I finished my inspection. Messing around with a hive always brings up more bees:

Now I started looking at the honey super. This is what I saw!

Yay! Honey! I used my bee brush and started brushing off the bees (which for some reason they objected to) as I moved the frames to another super (covered with a towel to try to keep out the bees). Maybe one day I will purchase a fume board, but with the few number of hives I have (and the little amount of honey they produce) using a bee brush isn't bad. I wasn't expecting to have to deal with bees in the super, so it took me longer there (and was more work) than I was thinking.

Then I went to inspect the left hive. Again, a heavy honey super, and a good amount of bees on the top of the frames:

Like the other hive, this one put up a bunch of honey in the upper brood chamber. I didn't take a picture of it, but it was a little less than the other hive, but well on the way for winter. Again, for this hive I will not have to feed much.

This hive has a peculiar habit of building brace comb between the upper and lower brood chamber, in all different directions. I used to scrape it off, but they just put it back so I leave it alone now.

Before, there were drone brood in the brace comb. But now they filled it with honey. Here's what the top of the lower brood chamber looks like - the clumps of bees are along the brace comb, and you can see how it zig-zags around.

Again the bees surprised me and put up a bunch of honey in the honey super:

On both hives I put a 2" shim, then an empty medium super (to cover the syrup jars). I didn't have enough of the deep bodies, so I had to make do with these two parts (the medium super is not quite tall enough to cover these jars, so I needed the extra shim).

So the Sutton hives are also ready for winter.

I ended up with 18 frames (two 9-frame honey supers), and I'd estimate there were about 12 frames of capped honey ready for extraction (the other frames are either empty, or had mostly uncapped nectar). Wouldn't you know it? I just did a major cleaning and put-away of my extractor, thinking I wouldn't have to use it any more this season! My youngest son is excited about the prospect of doing more extraction - I'll probably do it this weekend.

Old Man Winter...

Well, not really - it's a while until Old Man Winter arrives. But it is time to start getting the bees ready for winter.

In the wild, bees have a certain behavior when the days get shorter and the temperature starts dropping. They start to adjust their nest and move down, and any last bit of honey gets put up above them. The kick out the drones to die (since their usefulness has ended with the end of the summer), and the queen starts slowing down on her laying. But this preparation doesn't always allow the bees to survive the winter (for example, if they don't have enough food).

With managed hives, since we do rob them of some of the excess honey, we also try to help them get ready for winter. For me it's a matter of making sure they have enough food, and they have places they can store it.

This last weekend was a bit of Indian Summer, with temperatures in the high 70's / low 80's. The bees were out in force with the good weather (my wife has some Shasta Daisies growing in the back yard, the bees [including mason bees] are all over it). I decided it was a good time to do some winter preparations.

I needed to do the following:
  • Take off the honey supers (since the bees haven't put anything up there)
  • Check the top box to make sure they have room
  • Put on an empty brood chamber above the inner cover, in preparation for adding jars of sugar syrup
I also dug out my storage bins in the garage that I use to put away some of the frames for the season. I got a surprise - I forgot that I had stuck in 3 full size frames which were pretty much full of sugar syrup "honey." They came from one of the Sutton hives which died last year. I put them there intending to put them on an active hive. Well, that will happen this weekend!

Brown Hive

I started with the brown hive. I started on the bottom box, and this was what I saw:

It's not a terribly large number of bees, but not too bad. I saw some bees bringing in pollen (probably from the daisies and something else which is bright orange). I marked them in the following picture:

There was also a good amount of pollen in the lower brood chamber:

Up top, the bees had collected some amount of nectar, but not enough for winter:

In the honey super I saw that the bees had some nectar stored, and about 1/3 of a frame of capped honey on two frames. These I will scrape open and set out for the bees to rob and put back into the hive.

Pink Hive

On the Pink Hive, I put the honey super (undrawn) on the brood chamber without a queen excluder. I didn't expect them to do anything with it, but it was worth a try. I was right - they didn't do anything with it.

But I did see the queen in this one:

Note that there isn't much brood - it looks like she's already cutting back on production.

Green Hive

The Green Hive got a pretty good makeover. You'll recall that this was a hive from a late summer nuc, so it hadn't really started going up into the top brood chamber (I added the top chamber a few weeks ago). I did see that they had started putting up some nectar there, so that's good.

I also had a Grey Nuc over at a friends house. It turns out that the queen in that nuc was really bad - she hardly had any brood production, even when it was in a nice environment away from other hives pestering it.

So I brought the gray nuc back, and let's say I left the queen there :-)

I decided to combine the bees from the grey nuc into the green hive to boost the number of bees. I did that.

Since the green hive had the least food, it got two of the frames of food from storage. Here is one of those frames:

So I have the hives ready for winter. I set out all of the supers a little way away from the hives so the bees can reclaim whatever nectar and honey is there.

Here are the three hives (the top box is an empty cover so I can easily add jars of syrup):

The empty box of the Grey Nuc is sitting off to the side so the bees that are left in there (there are always some) can go to their new home.

I'll mix up some 2:1 syrup to feed the bees at a later date.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Lazy Queen?

So I've had a nuc in a friend's yard for quite a while, and for some reason the queen is just not laying like she should.

Here's a nice shot of the entrance:

Plenty of bees coming and going.

The nuc has 5 frames. The first frame was totally dry. The second frame, one side was empty, the other had some nectar and pollen:

Then there were a couple of frames of meager brood - nothing like I'd expect from a solitary nuc with no competition. Then on the last frame, which was empty, I saw the queen:

I'm convinced something is wrong with her. There's no way this nuc will make it through the winter. So I'll probably combine it with the green hive (after pinching the queen)...

Inspection, Removal, and Extraction

On 9/5 I did an inspection of the backyard hives. It is getting late in the season, so I decided to also take whatever honey there was in the honey super and extract it. Last time I checked, there were about 5 frames which could be extracted. Since then there has been a nectar dearth, where there weren't any flowers producing nectar. I wasn't sure if the bees were going to eat any of that honey.

Brown Hive

This was the hive with the honey in the honey super. Look at this nice frame!

Last time I saw a lot of uncapped cells, meaning they hadn't finished evaporating down the nectar to become honey. This time I saw that there were either capped honey or empty cells - not a lick of unfinished honey to be found. My theory is that when they need food, they first eat the unfinished honey before they start uncapping the honey and eating it. That's a good plan - that means that I didn't have any unfinished honey to worry about!

In the brood chamber the queen is doing well also:

There was plenty of young larvae as well:

Pink Hive

The pink hive had absolutely no honey in the honey super - none. Oh well, they must be storing it below.

I saw the queen, and she is doing well:

Green Hive

The green hive also has plenty of bees, although it is only one brood chamber:

I added a second brood chamber with drawn comb, and I am going to feed the heck out of this hive to get it ready for winter.

So here's the take from the backyard hives: about 4 1/2 frames:

I finally got a chance to unbox the new extractor I bought a few months ago!!

Here we are, all ready to extract my impressive 5 frames!!

I use a regular serrated bread knife for uncapping, which seems to work just fine:

My youngest took this picture; he was fascinated by the hexagon pattern in the comb as seen in the cappings.:

The cage on the extractor can theoretically hold all 6 frames (as shown below), but because the frames weren't uniformly filled, it was unbalanced and shook like a sonofagun! Even with doing just 3 frames each time, it was a bucking bronco. But we got them spun out.

Here's part of the take. It was amazing how clear the honey was this time - last time it wasn't as see-through.

Again, I didn't plan ahead enough to purchase actual honey jars. So I did what I've done in the past and used Ball canning jars; half pint (which holds 11 oz. of honey) and full pint (with 22 oz. honey). I put a round label on the lid, as the jar isn't smooth enough to hold a sticker.

I then set all of the equipment (and wet frames) out for the bees to reclaim. They were having a heyday, as you can imagine!

This year's harvest was a meager 12.5 lbs, but it was enough to share with some friends and sell a few jars.

Now it's time to focus on getting the bees ready for the winter...
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