Category Archives: Bees

Beehive reduction

It’s that time, time to reduce the size of the beehive stacks in preparation for winter, and steal their honey.

I hate it.

I don’t like taking their honey, and I don’t like the degree of disruption it causes, nor the death.  In the process of taking the hives all apart, robber bees come from the other hives and there are disputes and battles to the death.  Bees are very good at killing each other and the bee bodies pile up.  I don’t know how to mitigate this yet.

It has to be done, though.  The hives need to be in a compact space packed with full frames of honey for the winter.  It’s not heat efficient to be in a silo.

Pansy:Late afternoon, not finished sorting frames, and a bridge for the bees to get back to their door.They aren’t interested in going home though, they are in a frenzy of emergency cleanup operation, trying to save the honey that is suddenly outside their house.  It’s mayhem.

After taking the frames I’m keeping and sweeping them free of bees (time consuming, multi-stage process), they had three partials to clean up and move the honey back inside.  They will probably be at that most of today.

Pansy has the most vitality of the hives.  Despite swarming twice (and I lost one), she has been reproducing like crazy and building fast.  Marigold and Sunflower, this year’s swarm/split hives, all done.  They adjusted well, minimal death.  Marigold is maybe a little frustrated, bearding on the front like they don’t have enough space (they do), and they aren’t letting go of that completely empty frame yet, even at night.

Three down, one to go:I saved the doozy for last.

Today I get into the skyscraper.  This is Violet, my oldest hive, who has never swarmed (I split her to Sunflower this year).  Pansy is swarmy, Violet refuses, no matter how big she gets.   She’s also a bit crankier than the other three hives, less patience.  I expect she’ll winter in three supers, but I guess I’ll find out today.

The weather is perfect this week, warm enough at night for bees caught outside on salvage missions to survive.  The long term forecast says this is my last chance.  Now the bees will be contracting, working closer to home on final stockpiling, and producing their last brood for their winter population.  I hope there’s a warm spell in October too, but you never know anymore.

The bees are working like they’ve had coffee

After the frost we’ve had a warm spell, and the bees are going so hard.  It’s their last charge to get their stores in.  I feel bad now taking their honey, but they have more than enough, at least the big hives Pansy and Violet do.The other pollinators in the giant wasp nest have made their home bigger than ever.  I’m terrified of them, although they’ve only stung me once, for banging on the wall, and I am looking forward to a long wasp-free future. 

Bees in the goldenrod

I have a field full of goldenrod.  Mowing and discing it a couple years ago benefited the goldenrod more than anything else, and now there is less grass, clover and diversity than before.

I’m ok with that, for now.  I have a bee forage field now, and it seems like the bees are coming from miles around for it.

I barely saw any bumblebees all spring and summer; I was worried.  It was notable when I did see one.  But when the goldenrod started, the bees were back in bigger numbers than ever.   Now I’m finding them in water buckets, in my hair, in the house – getting into their usual trouble.   Just about every flower head has a half dozen bees bumbling around in it, and looking over the top of the field, it’s just dotted with bees dangling in the flowers and their hum is a quiet roar.  They sleep in the goldenrod, too.  In the morning they are all stock still (it’s cold), just paused in their work.  Some of my honeybees are among them but most are bumbles, and the goldenrod has a long season, with flowers ripening in stages, and even parts of the same plant blooming in succession.  It’s a big bee party.

Seriously. Not again!?

Pansy swarmed AGAIN.  This time I got pictures.

I heard the roaring sound again and looked out.  Pansy?!! What’s it been, five days?  Since a giant contingent of the bees just departed from Pansy, I had a hard time even believing what I was seeing, although, a swarm is pretty unmistakable.  Not possible.  There aren’t enough bees left to split again.  There were.

I was completely expecting Violet to swarm.   Violet hive is huge and strong. Both V and P were full of queen cells when I checked them, so I’m sort of hoping for a Violet swarm, but who knows, maybe they needed to requeen.

I was planning to do other things, but I had a swarm to rehome, so I did that instead.  I got my outfit on, and  set up a box to put them in.

They were so good to me.  They balled up at knee level on a branch I could snip, right next to the hive yard.  What a relief, and change of pace. Look how easy they’ll be to move!  A very small bee ball, but there is also a pile of bees on the ground, almost as many, and still many in the air at this point.After my first snip dislodged a clump of bees from the hanging ball, I got  a box.  Not too helpful.  I placed a stick as a ladder, hoping the ground bees would go up and rejoin.  They didn’t.I snipped the main ball off, walked it over to the box,and in they go.I went back to collect the pool of bees on the ground.

I picked up the loose twigs one at a time and knocked them into my box, which really just made them airborne again.  Unfortunately, they were piled up centralized on a big dirty root ball.  I thought, can I just pull that whole root ball out? Yahoo, I could.  However, have you ever tried to yank a root out of the ground smoothly?  Doesn’t happen.

I put the root by the hive box and took a break to wait for them all to walk inside, with a helpful twig ladder. I come back out.

The root ball is completely clean of bees, cool.  But what’s this?Bees have regrouped on the next branch over!

Repeat: snip, carry, deposit bees in the box. (this is bee shipment #3)There is still a big pool of bees on the ground.This time they are wrapping around a larger piece of wood.

Around this time I notice that there seem to be more bees outside the hive than inside.  They are walking out and walking all over the outside of the hive.  The sticks inside the box are clean of bees, so I can clean up in there.Now the bees are pooling on the ground where the root ball was, and I can’t imagine why this spot is so interesting.  I get the big branch with the bees on it on the box, and then start scooping bees by hand.  Let no bee be left behind.  Then I bring bee shipment #4 to the hive.  Turns out there are many more bees involved here than it originally looked like.  Calloo, callay!  They’ve gone back inside!  The tide has reversed and they’ve chosen to stay, at least for the night.   Bees are so neat when they’re swarmed.  Tickly, all vibrating and buzzing, but for a change, they aren’t on the job.  Bees normally are at work, and tolerate your disruption in the hive because they’re just too focused, mostly, until you really get in their way.  Bees in swarm are like they’re on vacation.  Not on any mission at all, relaxed.  Look at the handful of bees, walking off my hand and in the door. At this point it started to rain, like clockwork (2pm before an evening downpour is apparently optimum time to swarm), so I put a big lid on, sheltering the ball of bees in the box at the threshold, and left them to walk in, now that the decision to stay had apparently been made.

Yay!  A new hive!  I’ve barely got enough hive parts now to catch one more swarm, should Violet split as I’ve been expecting.

A thorough bee day

I had a big bee day, doing all things bee.  Building frames and parts, hive inspection, expansion, and more.  They needed all kinds of things, including a yard cleanup.   I doubt I would have lost that swarm if I was on this a few days earlier, but what’s flown is flown.

Now  all the hives are set on concrete pads, all the wood scraps are cleaned up, and the bee yard looks more classy bee apartment structures, less bee shantytown.  They even got their hive names labeled. I’m pleased with the look now.

Both Violet and Pansy had a short move.  I had to shift them a couple feet to get them on the pads (while disassembled down to the last super, so that I could lift them).  For over an hour, there was a swirl of bees in the space where Pansy hive had been – the workers returning and finding the hive missing from where they expected it to be, then noisily drifting over and discovering it.  Where’d everyone go?!  Oh, there y’all are.  Phew.  Man, my gps must be off today.  Yours too?Violet adjusted better.  I did a comprehensive hive inspection, checking every frame  on all the hives, which takes quite a while for a tall hive.  Amazingly, I didn’t get stung at all in all that shifting and working within a cloud of bees, and killed very few individuals.  Only one for certain. They were very patient, although there was a tense moment when I tried to use the bee brush and they lost their minds.   They hate the bee brush with a berserker level  intensity.  I should probably just get rid of that thing; it’s dangerous to be associated with.  One swipe!  I stood perfectly still, holding it at arms length and wincing while the bees went nuts stinging it and making rage sounds, then put it away and resumed being patient when they subsided.  Phew!  We showed that brush.  That brush won’t be showing its bristles around here anytime soon.

They’re all thriving.  Violet has also grown out of their terrible habit of wildly building burr comb and gluing all the frames together, which is very nice.

All this and I finished putting them all back together minutes before the sky started to drip!

Well they’re gone

I had a hive swarm yesterday (What is that roaring sound?  Oh.)

They went up in a big pine tree, and while they landed on a nice 3″ branch that could be sawed off, they were 40’+ up, and very much out of my reach this time.

I quickly prepared a bait box (inviting new home, move in ready), with that new hive smell (lemongrass, honey and old comb).  They ignored it. I prepared a second one, too, in another location.

Then they left.  I heard them leaving and tried to follow them, but they lost me.  They can fly.

I hope they found a nice place.  I won’t be able to help them survive the winter now, but if they do, perhaps the next split will return.  Apartment living with food included maybe not so bad.

I’m out here restoring the wild bee populations.  This was a huge swarm, too, twice the size of last year’s.  I took pictures but they didn’t save, unfortunately (memory card error?), so I’ll have to rely on the mental picture.  It’s actually the same split that swarmed last year and I collected (Pansy hive), that just split again.  And left.  They clearly lean to swarminess.

I’m disappointed to lose a whole hive’s worth of bees like that, but there was nothing more I could do.  I got the bait box out promptly, and I didn’t have a chance to have gotten them out of the tree, even if I had made the attempt, because they left so fast.  In less than an hour, they departed, headed northeast into the woods.  It’s like they’d decided on the new place already and just paused on the pine to regroup.  Or else the scouts worked quick, which means their new location is close, and there’s a possibility I will find them in the woods.  I’m not betting on that.

You catch some you lose some.

Flyday

T.G.I. Flyday here today.  All my hives are alive, and many, many bees were out flying today in the warmth.

I got to feed them, and replace some straw in the top of their hives; I was happy to find that the wet mouldy straw was only around the top and outside edge – where it was nearest the roof and corners.  Nested around the bottle of syrup and the opening in the center the straw was dry and golden, bees dry.Bees were everywhere, all over the paths, in the chicken bucket, and all over.

The guineas were unperturbed, scritching around right in the middle of the hive while the bees were thick in the air.  They don’t care.  This is the first time we’ve had guineas that come and hang out at the house (thanks to Galahad raising them), which is great, because this is where they need to do their tick-eating thing.  That’s what I hired them for. 

Spring break for the bees

It’s just SO weird to put on a bee suit in January. However, it was a warm day, so my bees came out to poop, and I was able to feed them.

By warm I mean that in 24 hours the temp shot up from -10°C to the opposite, plus 10°C, wiping out all the snow, and exposing all the gross wet wood and dirt (now the mercury is rapidly falling again). It’s the February melt look; it can hardly look worse. Everything is hideous.But such warmth meant that the bees were very excited, and all three hives came airborne in big numbers! It’s good for bees to get warmed up a few times in the winter, enough for them to be able to fly, so they can leave their house and poop outside. Yes, bees poop, and they’re housebroken, so they hold it until they can get outside rather than foul their house. It’s not good for them to hold it too long. I was planning to seize the warm day to feed them, but seeing the bees pouring out, bearding on the fronts of the boxes and making a cloud around each box, I figured I had to suit up. They were mild, not testy at all, and seemed excited to shake their wings out, get their buzz on.
 Small hive first- this is my swarm hive of 2018 (my first! eep!)

They have 2″ of styrofoam around three sides, and tarpaper, to promote sun-warming on the face of their box. For the first time, this year I wrapped their hives such that I could still get the outer lids off and replace their jars of syrup in the eke/lounge. I’m so happy with this; I have already been in twice, and the big hives have emptied their jars each time. It’s nice to see if they’re surviving, and feeding them will increase those odds.The cafe (top section) is filled with straw to absorb condensation. It’s doing its job- it’s wet and mouldy around the edges. Hopefully I can replace it once this winter too, because, mould spores. The empty jar lifts out and the full one goes in.
There is a ball of bees in there!
Because of the knot of bees, complaining *Hey, where’d our jar go?!* I have to set the jar back in *verrrrrry* slowly and carefully, so they can get out of the way. I don’t want to crush anyone or trap a leg.
Now dissuading bees to vacate the danger zone to re-lid.
Also verrrry slowly…
Hoo! No bees squished.

Again, January!!! Bees filling the air like it’s August. Crawling all over me, pooping everywhere. Little yellow dots speckling everything – my suit, the roofs, the ground.
Some poops are bigger than others. That’s one pictured low center.
Lastly, the largest hive, wintering in a three super stack.
I worked from a ladder in the summer when this was a skyscraping bee tower.I’m so glad all hives seem well.

There’s a big PS to this.

I wrote this yesterday (originally posted Jan 26 on Steempeak) and had trouble with the uploads, cursing my browser as my bedtime passed and the rain started and the wind picked up and picked up some more, and up, and up…

The wind got a little scary, rattling the house (overnight it ripped two pieces of roofing off the woodshed), and I abandoned blogging and ran out, afraid that a hive would blow over. The two bigger hives are ratchet strapped to the ground, but still. A gust of wind broke an alder off right on top of me, and the big hive shook. I put a few more clicks on the ratchets, and then I noticed the bees.

There were dozens of living bees on the ground in front of each hive, and all around – there are little twig-like plants about 8″ high all over – there were bees in singles or pairs clinging to the top of dozens of these, like life rafts. They didn’t look very alive, motionless with water beaded on their fur, but they were. Also little groups of five or so with their heads together (like a star anise) were clumped together on the flat wood “footings”. They’d been caught out. As it cooled in the afternoon, they’d been stuck outside on the ground, and climbed up as high as they could, and were clinging on in the wind and pelting rain to the tips of the twigs and each other.

The little twigs didn’t break by hand so it was easiest to get scissors and cut them off, and then use the stick it was gripping to poke the frozen bee back into its door and they dragged themselves inside. They were slow to let go, and could hardly walk or hold onto my fingers, but one at a time, I moved dozens of bees back into safety by flashlight, out in my bathrobe in the pelting rain. A few found my legs, clinging to me for warmth. This counts as an exciting night for me, but I did not get stung.

Bees Snugged I

The bees are almost wrapped.  They have their foam on, and I think I’ve really sorted out my wrapping method this year.

The hives each get foam on three sides plus tar paper, that wraps the front of the hive too and absorbs heat.  The foam I’ve figured out how to get it on quick and easy.  First, the three sided “box” is made.Look at my fancy two step carving- a nice seal.  Foam is so easy to carve. Then I tape that together with Tuck tape, including a strip up the whole seam.

All that crap needs to come off the hive first- the strap holding the supers together (in case of wind), and the scabs on the eke, and the arms that hold the lighting board.  Nothing screwed into the hive parts any more.  Then the foam hugs the hive, right up to the bottom of the outer cover, and two straps of Tuck tape right across the face of the hive hold it on – avoid the handles and openings so nothing sticky is accessible.  Done.  The tar paper will be next stage, but in the meantime, they just got a big R-factor upgrade.Naturally, I did this one after dark,  with a headlamp, because temps were falling, and I forgot the critical step: sealing the bees inside the hive, temporarily.  I was hugging the hive, jostling the foam into snug place, and then bzzzzz!  What’s going on out here?  My sleeve came away from the upper entrance with eight cranky bees on it, and more came out the bottom door.  Then I had to be very patient (I was in no mood to be patient- in the dark with a headlamp in falling temps), while each bee decided there was nothing to be concerned about and wandered back inside, one after also exploring the inside of my sleeve.  I did not get stung.  After they went in, I sealed them in and finished up.  They all have absurd and excessive extra “coverings” at the moment because of the forecast rain and snowstorm (right now hammering down).  It’s important to not get any water down between that foam and the hive, soaking into the wood, before I get the tar paper wrap, and I want to wrap them dry.  It’s very wet right now.  My lids all need a rebuild before they’re winter ready too, so in the meantime- draping.

My big idea this time is to wrap the tar paper in such a way that I can still get the lid off.  Then I can feed them through the winter, and monitor the moisture in the straw.  If we get wild episodes of warmth like we did last year, I’ll be able to take those lids off without unwrapping them.  We’ll see if I can do it.