Saturday, January 15, 2011


At Friday's Bee Club meeting, Ken Warchol (Worcester County Bee Inspector) mentioned that he is seeing a lot of starvation in hives this winter. We had a poor nectar season last year, and it didn't get cold until later, so the bees ate their stores more (when the bees are cold and in cluster, they don't consume as much food).

I made some bee candy last week, and took the opportunity today to put some on the hives. Usually you don't have to do this until mid February, but as Ken said, a lot of bees are starving.

I hadn't been out to the Sutton hives in a while, so after wading through over-knee-deep snow to get to the hives, I took a look at them.

It turns out that I think the left hive is dead. This was the hive which was started up from a package last spring. When I opened up the top, I could see unmoving bees in between some of the frames. I cracked open the two hive bodies and took a peek, and saw more dead bees. I tapped on the side, and heard nothing. So I fear for the worst. I went ahead and put the shim on and some bee candy, but I am not hopeful. But I was surprised by one of my hives last winter that I thought was dead, so who knows!

The second hive, which was the hive which came through the winter last winter, had about a 6" cluster of bees visible at the top bars. In the following picture, you can see them in the upper right corner (in between the bee candy).

That's a very small cluster, but they may make it through the winter.

Back home I went to my backyard hives to put some bee candy on them as well. I started with the Green Hive, and saw no life there as well. Saw some dead bees, and no sound. I wasn't too pleased - that was a good hive going into the winter. Again, I put a piece of bee candy on it just in case.

The then opened up the Pink Hive (middle hive) and didn't see any bees on top. But then I heard the hive start to roar (in protest), and a couple of bees came up to the top bars. I quickly put some candy on and closed it up. Because I didn't see bees all the way to the top, I am hopeful that they had honey in the hive they hadn't eaten all of, and still had a good amount left.

Then I opened up the Brown Hive, and woah! I was very surprised to see this:

They were all over the top bars, and on the inner cover as well. While that is a great number of bees, it also means they were out of food. I gratefully put on about 4 sugar patties, and the bees were very agitated. They flew up into my face (I was just wearing my winter coat and hood, which is usually find in the winter), and I got a sting on my forehead for my efforts! (as an aside, that was my first sting for the season - I made it through the spring, summer, and fall without a sting, only to get one in the winter!).

So the tally so far:
  • Sutton Hive 1: small cluster, may not make it
  • Sutton Hive 2: dead
  • Green Hive: dead
  • Pink Hive: cluster low in the hive, will probably make it
  • Brown Hive: big cluster high on the top bars, with feeding will probably make it.
I'll keep up on the feeding for he winter and hopefully those 3 will pull through. My plan for the spring is to do some splits to make some nucs.

Bee Club January Meeting

Yesterday was the January meeting of the Worcerster County Beekeepers Association. I hadn't been to a meeting since October, as for November and December I had conflicts for those meeting dates.

That night's meeting was a dinner meeting (always a good affair, as beekeepers love to eat!), and we had a special presentation by Loree Burns, who wrote a book The Hive Detective. The book is a science-oriented book geared toward children (6-14), and discusses the Colony Collapse Disease (CCD) problem facing bees.

Her presentation wasn't about the book itself; instead it was about what she learned while researching the book. It turns out some people in the WCBA were instrumental in helping her with the book. Loree isn't a beekeeper herself (yet, she says), but she has attended bee school in the past, and thinks someday that she would like to be a beekeeper.

The presentation was extremely interesting, and what I found fascinating is some of her observations coming from an "outsider" to the beekeeping community. Some of the things she said she learned:
  • Bees are not scary. That's the first impression that kids and adults have when they hear about bees - the stinger!
  • Bees are fascinating. The biology and social structure of bees and beehives is very interesting
  • Honey is good for everything. You can use it in most cooking
  • Beekeepers are passionate. They love to share their knowledge and are very selfless about it.
As she was discussing these points, I found myself nodding in agreement with most of the other members of the club. Beekeepers really are a different sort of folk, and it's all good.

She ended the presentation with a quote: "Keeping bees is an art, a gift, an obsession... and a mighty fine way to spend an afternoon."

Before and after the meeting she was selling copies of her book and signing them if people wanted (I didn't pick up a copy for myself there). Another member of the club donated 3 fully functioning beehives (with bees) to use for raffles, and tonight was the first raffle for one of the hives (the bees are available for pickup in April; obviously the winter isn't a good time to move beehives!). I bought some tickets, but the Christensen luck holds true and I didn't win.

It was good to see people I hadn't seen for a while at the club. This year has some exciting events planned; I'll post details on the WCBA Facebook Fan page later.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Flying and Candy!

Happy New Year! And what a wonderful way to start the new year - with temps about 52 degrees. I decided to walk back to the hives (first time in a couple of months) and see what was going on, and I was very pleased to see bees flying in and out of all three of my hives!!!!!

I was so excited about it, I even made a short video:

It started getting cold around the first part of November, and I hadn't checked on the bees since then, so it was very gratifying to see that there is some activity in all the hives.

I have my doubts that the hives have enough food to get the bees through the winter without some help, so today I decided to make up some Bee Candy. It's basically sugar candy that they can eat in an emergency. I got the recipe from another beekeeper's blog. I bought a candy thermometer a while back so I had all of the tools.

Here's the pot of sugar with the corn syrup and water:

Let me tell you, stirring 10 pounds of sugar with corn syrup sure puts my muscles to the test! I even had to switch to a stiffer spoon, so I didn't bend it. After a lot of stirring and a lot of heating, things finally got a little easier. But it still took over 1/2 hour of cooking (and did I mention stirring?) before the solution got thin enough to easily stir.

I had never made anything needing to boil sugar for candy, so it was a learning experience. Item #1 learned: boiling sugar syrup is HOT if you get some on your fingers. Item #2: EVERYTHING is going to get sticky, so be prepared.

After the candy reached the correct temperature, then cooled down a bit, I poured it into paper plates:

Item #3: you should not use the simple thin paper plates. Even though I used two plates per patty, it was a little flimsy and some of the sugar syrup spilled (see item #2 above). Next time I'll get Chinet plates.

Now that the candy has cooled mostly, it doesn't seem to set up as hard as I would have thought. Maybe I didn't let the temperature get high enough (although it did say 240 on the thermometer). But it'll do just fine when I put it in the hives. All in all it made about 13 plates of candy.

I'll probably put these in my hives this weekend; and maybe make a run to Sutton as well.

Here's to a prosperous new year for the bees!!

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