Monday, January 21, 2013

Feedin' Time!

In an ideal world,the bees collect enough nectar to store honey in the hive to keep them alive through the winter. But that's not always the case (especially when those nasty beekeepers steal the fruits of their labor [honey] for their own use!). So you generally have to supplement the feeding.

During the fall you can feed sugar syrup that the bees will store. But if they run out of that, you need to feed "bee candy." When the weather is cold, bees can't take the liquid. But they can consume solid sugar. It's not ideal, but if it's a matter of life vs. death, you do it.

There are a number of ways to feed solid feed to bees. The "easiest" is called the Mountain Camp method. It's basically where you put down some paper towels on the top of the bars, and simply sprinkle a couple of pounds of sugar,. The bees eat through the paper towel and consume the sugar.

I did that one year, but it turned out to be a disaster. Sure, the bees survived the winter, but in the spring I had a mess to clean up with all the sugar which fell down through the frames (and sometimes into the frames) cluttering up the bottom.

Another way is to make "candy boards." A candy board is basically a hard inner cover (or a frame with a wire mesh) with sugar candy molded into it. You put the board on the hive (upside down with the sugar pointing down) and the bees when they get to the top they can eat the sugar. These are somewhat involved to make since you need special equipment (the cover) and then you have to pour the sugar candy into it to harden. You can buy them, but it takes forethought and preparation to do this. I didn't, because I'm cheap.

The third way is to make bee candy and pour it into paper plates, then you have candy discs you can put on the hives. This is what I did.

There are a variety of bee candy recipes, but our bee club published one in the newsletter which I used. Basically you boil the sugar syrup to "soft ball" stage, and then pour it into the paper plates. Here I am boiling the sugar:

I did this last year as well, but I had a problem: the candy stuck to the paper plate surface, so a lot of the paper ended up stuck to the candy. To prevent this from happening this year, I coated each plate with a piece of aluminum foil.

Here are the paper plates after the candy has cooled. Exciting!!!

I had the same problem I had last year - I don't think I cooked the sugar hot enough. I was a little scared to overcook it, so I ended up under cooking it. The sugar solidified, but when I removed some of the discs, they broke apart and crumbled a little. I should have cooked it a little more. But the bees won't mind.

Since it was in the 40's and almost 50's last weekend, I decided to check out each hive and see how it was doing, and add the sugar candy. This would be the first time I've checked things since about October, so I was a little aprehensive to what I would find.

Blue Nuc

I didn't have too much hope for the Nucs surviving. I've never tried overwintering a nuc, and I probably didn't do all I could do. I fed the blue nuc in the fall, but when I found it, it was cold dead:

I don't know if it died of starvation or of the cold - I suspect the cold, since the bees were all in the lower part. They didn't move up and run out of food.

Brown Nuc

Same story for the Brown Nuc - dead.

I really didn't have any other choice but try to overwinter the nucs. These were "extra" hives, a little insurance in case I needed a queen. I couldn't combine them to make a new hive, as I didn't have any extra equipment. I suppose I could have insulated them better or fed them bee candy earlier. May next year I'll make a shim for them and feed them better. There are people who successfully overwinter nucs, but they tend to wrap them and stack them with full hives so they can share the heat. Live and learn.

Green Hive

Popping the cover, I saw a cluster at the top of the bars. It didn't look too bad:

I gave them some sugar candy.

Pink Hive

This one had an even smaller cluster:

This may be too small a cluster to survive, but I gave them some bee candy as well.

Brown Hive

When I prepared the Brown Hive for winter, there were a few frames in the honey super that they hadn't completed. So I just left that super on the hive, and fed sugar syrup on top of that. I suppose they added sugar syrup to the honey super (I won't be able to use the contents next year for honey extracting since it has sugar syrup in it). When I lifted up the outer cover, this is what I found:

The bees were filling up the 2" space between the inner cover and the top of the frames. This is a lot of bees! I didn't lift up the inner cover fully, as it would have separated the cluster of bees and exposed them to the cold. So I just lifted it up slightly and slid in a couple of discs of bee candy. They were buzzing away! I have the most hope for this hive.

Sutton Hive #1

I hadn't done my usual winter prep on this hive (lazy). It still had 3 (empty) jars on it, and I didn't put insulation on it yet. I found a lot of dead bees on top of the inner cover (where the jars are), but that's probably because of the cold.

This hive also had a partial honey super on it, which I left when I fed the syrup.

When I lifted up the inner cover, I saw just a couple of bees on the top bars. I thought, uh oh! But as I watched, a lot of bees started coming up to the top bars:

I suspect the bees were down in the hive, which is a good sign, as that means they didn't run out of food! I left them with a couple of discs of sugar, and added my usual insulation over the inner cover:

(this was the only hive I took a picture of the discs, but they all pretty much looked like this).

Sutton Hive #2

There is no hive #2 - it succumbed to the wax moths. I order a new hive for the owner, and it arrived last week.

So at this time, all of the hives are alive. I'll check them again in a month and see if they need more sugar (I made extra discs).

When springtime comes, I have some work ahead of me to make a new hive stand for my backyard hives. When the weather warms up, I plan on moving the hives out into the yard a few feet, and then making a new stand for the hives. I won't reuse the stand I had been using, as I need something a little wider, and that stand was a little tall (with a couple of honey supers on I can't reach the top). So I plan on using some landscape timbers (4x4's) with cinder blocks, and set the hives on there.

Here's for a hopeful winter!

Hello?? Anybody home???

That's probably what you are asking - is anyone home at this blog? I just checked, and it's over 4 months since my last blog post.

Don't worry - I haven't given up on beekeeping; I just have been less-than-diligent at updating the blog. So I thought with the new year I'd play a little catch-up. This blog post will cover the last 4 months of the life of the bees, and is long and full of pictures.

9-29-2012 - Start the Fall Feeding

At the end of September I started the fall feeding. This is where you want to have the hives put away food for the winter. In my case, I feed sugar syrup at a 2:1 concentration (2 parts sugar to1 part water). The normal feed during the spring and summer is 1:1. This concentrated solution is supposed to encourage the bees to put the syrup away in comb.

For most of the hives, I put inverted jars on top of the inner cover, then put an empty super body over the jars. It makes the hives look extra tall:

With the construction of the extra nuc-sized hive body, I had one to put on one of the nucs:

But the other nuc had to do with a special cover I made for another nuc a few years ago. It has a jar lid-sized hole in the top, with 1/4" screen under it (so I can change the jar without bees escaping):

I don't really like it, as the hole isn't perfect, and if/when it rains, water can get in the gap. But it's all I had for this hive, and it worked fine.

The goal is to have the bees put away enough food for the winter. I've never succeeded in having any of my hives put enough away. I've always had to do supplementary feeding during the winter with "bee candy" (and probably will this year as well).

10-29-2012 - A Bad Storm!

We had a couple of bad storms in late fall, with lots of high winds. My bee hives are right against the woods, so the wind doesn't generally bother them. But this evening I saw the wind had moved the top (empty box) on the blue nuc. So I went out and added a larger stone on it.

Then later I heard a loud crack, and looked out back to see this!!!

Yikes! Bad news. You'll notice behind the hives you see a fallen tree - the wind had brought down the tree, and it had knocked over my hives! What you can't tell is that it is raining cats and dogs, and is cold and windy. Not good bee-weather at all! You can see on the nuc the wind had dislodged the top.

So I suit up in my bee suit (including the pants and boots, since I knew the bees would be a little miffed), and went out to set things right. I didn't want to hassle with the hive stand, so I just set the bees up right on the ground. And I was right - they were MAD! In their mind, 1) our house is destroyed, and 2) here comes a human. Therefore HE DID IT!!!

When I was done there were about 50 bees still clinging to me. My wife was in the garage with me using a broom to sweep the (now mostly dead) bees off of me. She got bothered by one or two.

In spite of the bee suit, I got two stings on my arm, and somehow one had gotten *inside* my veil. So I'm out there beating myself with my hand trying to squish the bee before she stings me. I lost - I got a sting on my ear.

I don't know if any queen bees were killed by the accident. I didn't do any looking - I just wanted to get the hives put together as fast as I could. A few of the feed jars were broken, so I took all of them off.

11-03-2012 - Sutton Inspection - Uh Oh!

I don't get out to Sutton as much as I'd like. It's out of the way to get there, so I don't check them as often as I do my backyard hives. Last time I was there (2 months earlier), I was worried about Hive #1 - it was very weak. But this day was nice so I paid them a visit.

I knew there was a problem right away. There were no bees flying in and out of this hive. Also, here is the stoop / entrance of hive 1:

You'll see it's covered with junk. Bees are pretty fastidious - they like a clean entrance. By contrast, here's the entrance of Hive #2 (which had bees flying in and out):

So I used my hive tool to pry up the outer cover. That's when I noticed more wrongness. Instead of being maybe stuck with propolis and making a "pop" when it comes up, this made a sound similar to a large piece of Styrofoam being pried apart. Here's what I found inside the outer cover:

Each of those white things is a Wax Moth cocoon - yuck! They are the bane of beekeepers. In a good hive, the bees can keep the wax moths out. But with no bees, they move in and take over. Apparently this hive died sometime earlier. And this hive hasn't been checked for a couple months.

Here's the top of the inner cover (and we haven't even gotten to the interior of the hive!):

There were a few live ones crawling around - you can see them.

So I pried down some more (and more Styrofoam sounding noises). Here's the top of the hive - even *more* packed with wax moth cocoons!

It's a regular Hotel California there! I pried up the top super, and you can see the webbing in between the boxes. Yuck!!

The very bottom of the hive - the bottom board - was covered with all the stuff that had fallen down.

If there is a minor wax moth infestation, the hive parts can usually be recovered. You may lose a frame or two, but the wood can be reused. In this case, the hive had been so thoroughly infested that all of the supers had to be pitched. The moths had built cocoons right along the wood, and it had eaten into part of the wood. Plus, they were so packed in there that getting the frames out was impossible.

So I left the boxes separated (so the cold would kill the moths) and told the owner he had to just pitch the whole set up. He wants to rebuild, so he's going to pay for a new hive next season, with a new package of bees.

On a good, note Hive #2 looked good, so I left it with some feed jars:

We're full into winter now, and I am caught up. Thus ends this beekeeping season. I've completed 4 seasons now, and I learn something new each year.

Had some new experiences this year - was moths. Filthy creatures - hope they don't come around again (I need to be more diligent on the inspections). I had a swarm in my hives as well, plus had my first call to go pick up a swarm. But I got a good deal of honey from my hives. Hope for more next year.

So happy new year, a little late.  I'll try not to let things go so long in the blog, but no promises.

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