Tag Archives: bees

What the heck are these bees doing?

I took a look at the hive and got a bit of a fright that they were swarming (on foot?).  That clump hanging off of the landing ledge…?

But then I looked at the other hive:How similar is that!!?  My theory is that it had something to do with the heat and the time of day.  In another hour, they were all in the hive for dark.

I was looking forward to going in the hives today, but then there was a sudden (glorious) thunderstorm!  Good thing I wasn’t in the hive thing -the catastrophe would be hard to overstate.  The storm appeared fast and dropped a quick deluge and a breath of cool air relief, and passed by fast.

The chickens all got dampened, to various degrees.  The lightning was still about two km away but the thunder cracked so hard, while I was out feeding the chickens, that the hens all simultaneously started running, flapping, and screaming, but they had nowhere to go to!  Very funny.  They just reconvened a minute later under the trees and coops when the rain came down.

The insects are back

First bumblebee window rescue of the year.  There will be many more.    The mosquitoes are back, but they aren’t at plague proportions yet.  The blackflies are back, with their horrible parasitic bite, like they are drilling into your skin with their head, which is what it feels like.   The ticks are back, but are either just beginning, or my guineas are shielding me from the full horror show.  The bittern is gallunking; the peepers are singing.  It is almost time for the screen doors, the window screens, and the secondary line of defense- the mosquito bed tent.

But for now, it’s still just cool enough and just not buggy enough, to have doors and windows wide open with the air rolling through, which means bees might bumble through too. The chickens are still fully utilizing the greenhouse.Especially the Silkies.  They are quick to learn where they go to bed, though.  That’s good.Outside, I have to get a fence around my new garden (old greenhouse site), before the hens clean up all the resident worms.  They’ve been assiduously working at it, churning and breaking up my mulch quite nicely, but I want to keep my worms, thank you.

Bee Bizarre

The bees are doing the strangest thing.  They are obsessed with the chicken food, groups of them buzzing and crawling over it all day.

The chickens are a little nervous about this, but they eat anyway.

It started as soon as I opened the last bag of chicken food, so the only thing I can guess is that this particular batch has a lot of pollen in it.  If there was some weed in the field or one of the grains in flower at harvest time, pollen might have come to be ground into the feed, and the honeybees are scavenging it right out of the chicken trough.

Every day, the bees are in every chicken dish, all day, working.  I’ve never seen such a thing before.

Bee skyscraper

The old bees (on their third summer) are not dividing.  I added a fifth super in July.  It’s not like five full size supers is unheard of, but it’s tall!  I thought they were going to split this year, and I’ve had inviting accommodations all set up, should they feel like swarming.  They didn’t.

Now they likely aren’t going to, since it’s too late to set up housekeeping and build up honey stores before the winter.  So that’s a huge hive.  I guess that means they’re happy. They may winter in three supers this year.  Next year, they’ll surely split.

It’s tall!  I can’t see into the lounge to check on their syrup, I can’t lift the lid, and I can’t see in if I do, without a ladder.  And working off a ladder is terribly hard.  I had my first taste of it installing the fifth super, and wow, I kind of wish I’d opted for mixing small and full supers.  Moving heavy weight very slowly and smoothly to not crush bees, in a bee suit, is quite a workout – I was dripping, and shaking.

 

Newbees

Three weeks ago I got a second hive of bees.  Yes, late in the year, but they were from my bee guru, and he was confident I could take them through the winter by putting the syrup to them hard. 

I brought them home in the night, seatbelted in on the front seat.  They were very quiet.  I set them in place on the pre-established base of the hive, with the lid right on top of the nuc box.

First thing in the morning, there was a bee walking about, investigating.  Later in the day, there were many bees flying around, mostly backwards, getting their bearings (they leave the hive backwards and hover around a bit, getting a visual impression of the hive’s location, before they leave to work), and some already hard at it, carting in pollen.

I transferred them to the super, but because these nuc boxes have slots in the bottom to prevent frames from clanking around, I couldn’t knock the loose bees out into the hive.  I had to leave it leaned up against.

The bees inside were all confused, and slowly moved up the box as a group.  Where’d everybody go?  Gravity just changed direction too.

Since these bees were unexpected and I didn’t have time to make a batch of bee syrup the first day, I opened a jar of wax and honey from last year and set it in the lounge.  Just to get them through that night.

The few jars of wax I have are quite solid, with a bit of honey precipitated out on the bottom.  I pushed my finger down the side of the wax chunk so they could get at some of the honey, but it wasn’t soft enough to ooze out.

Next day when I went in to give them syrup- WHOA!  They cleaned out that jar of wax.  In 24 hrs.

In fact, they made quite a mess.  Wax flakes everywhere.  I took the dry jar out and gave them syrup.

Inside the bee lounge (eke)

Inside the first beehive, the art studio is still going strong.

They continue to sculpt the chunks of burr comb and wax that I drop in there to their liking, but don’t do anything with it. Just art.

Opening the hive

May 13

I got my first chance to get into the hive.  We´ve had a warm, early spring, so I’ve been feeding them, and anxious for the right warm day to come, so I can give them the third super.  They´ve been unwrapped since the end of April, but this is the first time I´m going to the bottom of the hive, and the inner lid is coming off.

 

 

Phew, a chance to dump/brush all that scrap straw off the inner cover.

 

Since I´m going right to the bottom of the hive today, I´m wearing my bee suit.  They might get testy before I get done (They didn´t.  My bees are so laid-back).

The hive´s doing very well.  Saw the queen – she´s so huge.  Two queen cells, so they´re up to something, but I don´t think division.  They might be replacing her, as there was caped brood but no brood less than a week old.  I´m leaving that alone.  Still, or already, a few solid frames of honey.

It get´s a bit out of hand with all the frames, and spare supers, etc, planning how I´m going to shuffle and redistribute frames.

I´m also happy to get these original plastic frames that the nuc came with up to the top super, so I can take them out this year.

Mostly my bees have been well behaved, only a little bit of bulging honey frames.  A couple of burr combs full of honey that I had to break, and honey dripped all over- that keeps them occupied. 

Putting it back together now.  

The bee lounge cleaned off, with their ongoing art installation, now with new burr comb t play with.

Three stories tall now.  No stings, no crushed bees.  A good hive opening.  I didn´t even get thumped on the head.

Unwrapping the bees

April 28

I have woodenware now for another hive.  This year I want to get a second nuc, and still be prepared in case hive #1 splits.  This will step me up to a different league of beekeeping.  A not-yet-serious, but not-quite-casual league.  Bees take quite a bit of time and work, more than is immediately apparent, and I´ll notice the difference if I double them.

I was in the apiculture supplier´s retail space, waiting for my order to be gathered up, when the cashier commented to me “That´s so nice, that you still use wood and wax”.

As in, “Isn´t that quaint”.

I was actually startled.  I had been marveling at the towers of styrofoam prefab hives, but when she said that, I was hit by how now wood is the exception.  That´s why they have to dig it out of the back room.  Everything is plastic.  Plastic frames, plastic foundation, plastic hive parts now.  No assembly, nails, or skill required.

Someone rolled through a minute later inspecting my growing pile of un-assembled woodenware and thoughtfully told his partner that that wood would “probably be nicer, for when you have to burn them”.

Yeah!! On the awful occasion that you have to bonfire hives because of disease, YES, it might be “nicer” to torch wood and wax and wire than 40 pounds of plastic and extruded polystyrene!

This left me thinking:

  1. What is the world coming to?
  2. What about when the plastic runs out?
  3. How awful for the BEES!

If it´s bad for us to drink out of plastic water bottles and live with off-gassing carpet, are the bees supposed to be unaffected in a 100% plastic house, growing from larvae on a plastic bed, living in a plastic box sitting in the sun?

I unwrapped the hive a few days early.  Hot weather.  By all signs, they wintered well and are thriving.

i ripped the tarpaper off the front, and the styrofoam insulation, and scooped most of the straw out of the bee lounge.

There was a moisture breach and quite a bit of mold on the front corner of the bee lounge (aka eke), but I guess that´s what it´s there for – there doesn´t seem to be water or mold incursion past the inner cover.

The bees are polishing off syrup jars quite rapidly already.

Cleaner Bees

I’ve got my bees at work cleaning up the frames that were centrifuged last year to get the honey out.

Since that whole event was a catastrophe of timing, FAR too late, I held these sticky frames over the winter in Rubbermaids, which worked really well.  Now it´s warm I set one out by the hive with the lid off for the cleanup crew.

The frames fit in there like they would in a super

The bees cleaned out this whole boxful in a couple days, except a couple spots.  Licked totally clean, no longer even sticky to touch.

Missed a spot. Bees concentrating on their work.
Bees hanging out at the hive upper entrance, still wrapped in tar paper.

The cleaning job is of an indescribably high quality.    The frames go from this:

Wet, sticky, leftover honey everywhere

to this:

Clear, clean, and dry

Pristine.  And a boxful in a couple days.  They get a snack out of it, too.

 

Gift wrapping the bees

It’s time to wrap up the bees for the winter – December 1st or before the snow flies.

This year my hive is much stronger, and larger, and they will be wintering in two supers, plus the Salon.

One 2×8´sheet of rigid styrofoam is perfect for a two-super hive – three 32″ pieces.img_4765

Three sides get wrapped with foam, tar paper only on the front, so the black helps them heat up inside on sunny days, maybe enough to go for a cleansing flight.  All this is what I learned from my “bee guru” at Bello Uccello.img_4766 I cut the foam very precise to use the overlap designed into the foam (which means the back piece is custom).  Otherwise the corners will leak cold.  Then a couple of pieces of Tuck tape to hold it all in place for the tar paper wrap.

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The white tarp stuff is actually the normal lid- built with scrap lumber and some tarp stapled over the flat top.

The 2″ thick foam sticks out farther than the outer cover/lid, so I also cut a step in the foam to nest the lid into.  I’m doing it a little different than last year.

Then the paper:img_4768

It wraps flat around the front of the hive, covering the doors and shutting the bees in completely for a few minutes.  They can’t love that.  img_4769

There’s a little artful paper slicing required to make everything fold flat and smooth around the alighting board.  Lots of staples on the front – no wrinkles.

Then it’s time to cut out the doors.img_4772

Oh!  There’s a bee!img_4775

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No one at the downstairs door.

The Salon, aka drone cafe – the empty/feeder box above the inner cover (I’ve called it the Salon since they started doing art installations in there) is already filled with straw (to help insulate and absorb moisture), and the bees just finished their second last jar of syrup for the year.  Now they will be closed in with their last jar.

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The Salon filled with straw
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Last jar full, situated directly over the inner cover hole

I did this thing last year with the lid/outer cover, and it worked quite well so I’m repeating it.  One piece of basic “pebble” styrofoam cut exactly to size, jammed into the underside of the lid.

Then a piece of corrugated cut to size as well, so the bees aren’t in direct contact with the styrofoam ever.  This gives them an inch of insulation on the ceiling.  When I took it apart last spring the cardboard was damp on the edges and I threw it away.

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Just after I closed the lid and was doing the final touches on the edges of the tar paper, the bees started buzzing outside in droves.

I thought I’d agitated them, but it may have been that time of the day, or the sunny day had warmed up enough right then to go for a fly, but they were on a group cleansing flight, which I realized when I noticed all the bright yellow poop dots on my hands and sleeves!

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This is what I’m doing differently this year.  My final step was taking another piece of tar paper over the top of the lid, folding gift corners and taping it down to the sides (instead of tacking the tar paper to the lid).  In theory, if I need to get a jar in there in the early spring, I can take off the lid by slitting the tape and tape it back up; it won’t be very disruptive.

Then I put a metal sheet (actually a piece of shelving that happens to be a perfect size) over top of the whole thing and ratchet-strapped it down.  The oversize temporary winter lid puts an extra 8-10″ of eave over the front doors.

Only two days late- that’s as close to on time as I get around here.  Seconds after finishing, while I was carrying tools away, snowflakes started to fall.

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Last year I was so worried about them.  They’d re-queened three times in the year, their first,  I got them late, and they didn’t have good numbers.  But they made it through.

This year I’m a little more confident.  It’s interesting to me, all the local former beekeepers (no one nearby currently has hives) never wintered their bees!  They bought nucs in the spring and they died in the winter.  Sounds expensive.

Having been told how to do it, it seems easy.

Honey!

I harvested (stole) honey from my bees this year.  How exciting!

They filled four supers this year, I took two, and they’ll winter in two.  This is my first “harvesting”, as I took no honey last year.  It was a revelation, also known as a comedy of ignorance.

First I had to get the supers off the hive.  I had no idea how to do this, so I made the best of it, and it worked.  Well, I think the right thing to do is put a one way valve thingy between the supers to move all the bees into the lower levels.  I took them off in the afternoon, first lifting several frames out of each box (they are SO heavy.  I should have gone with  short boxes) until I could lift each box down. I also shuffled frames around, to make sure they had only frames fat with honey in their wintering boxes.

Then in the interest of putting the bees back into the hive, I took each of the frames I was going to keep for honey, held it over the open hive, and gently brushed the bees off with the bee brush.

Ooooo, they HATE the bee brush.  They go mad trying to sting it, burrowing into the bristles with rage.  This method put many of the bees back into the hive, but it was obvious I was never going to get all of them back.

Also this took a long time.  The hive was open for a goodly length of time, and it’s all very disruptive.  My bees are so nice.  They hardly sting me, and they’re staying very organized, only storing honey and not brooding in the upper storeys.  But still, they were losing their patience, especially with that @#$% bee brush!

So I left the boxes, and frames I was taking, outside until dark.  Just sitting there next to the hive.   It worked like magic!  Almost all the bees returned to the hive at dark, leaving the frames of honey behind.  At dark I went to get them, putting the frames into a big Rubbermaid one at a time.  Each bee I found that had got caught out too late I put back into the hive doorstep.  Bee casualties of the day: 2 (one sting).  Not bad.  This actually worked so well I’ll probably do it like this again.

Then I took the honey over to my neighbour’s extractor, another thing I’d never seen.  It holds four frames at a time and centrifuges the honey out, which drips down the walls of the cylindrical chamber, to run out a tap at the bottom.  Wow.

First you must artfully slice off the wax caps with a hot knife (“What’s that?” I said – luckily, he had one), then drop each frame into the frame-holding basket in the extractor.

It’s time-consuming!  Slicing off the wax, corralling the stray drips and mess (all contained in the same Rubbermaids, which will be returned to the bees to clean up – zero waste), and finessing the extractor.  The extractor is revved up slowly, then you flip the frames and run it again to get the honey off the other side of each frame.  It’s amazing.  The frames come out feather-light, all the comb intact.

When they were all done we cracked the tap and started filling jars.  I knew out of two supers I had a few serious bricks of honey, but I also had a half-dozen totally empty frames (from the sides of the supers), and several partials.  I wasn’t expecting much from my two not-full supers.  I was hoping to get 6 half-pints to give away for Xmas.

WELL!  The honey started flowing, and kept flowing.  I filled all the jars I had, and then he had to round some up.  An astounding (to me) amount of honey.  The only thing I expected to need, that I brought, was a spatula.

Also, I was under the impression that when you open the tap, store-ready honey comes flowing out.  Nope.  There are hundreds of wax caps and chips, some debris, and the odd dead bee that gets centrifuged out of the frames.  Filtering is a second process (that I haven’t done yet).  The right thing to do is to decant the honey into a big vessel or bucket, and then strain it later into giveaway ready jars.

After a rest, all the wax floats to the top of the honey so I’ll probably skim it off and then strain.

Naturally, I completely forgot to take any pictures until nearly the last jar was full, and then found I had only my phone, with a fogged up camera.  Yay!