Tag Archives: honeybees

Move-in day for the bees

Time for the new bees to go from their nuc boxes (temporary housing), to their forever homes.Sheltered from the rain with a hive lid.

These bees were also midnight bees.  They came from a agreat distance, and with the aid of caffeine and chatting on the phone, I did very well on the drive back, until I was 10km from home and the black dogs struck.  At midnight there was no one else on the road so I crept, 40kph the last few klicks.  My theory was if I fall asleep and go in the ditch, I’ll go in slow.  So tired. 

I got home and fell fast asleep in the driver’s seat the moment I shifted into park, sleeping next to the boxes of bees belted into the passenger seat until dawn.  It was really neat, a different, dreamless but not completely unaware sleep, with the light humming of the bees next to me.  Not often one sleeps next to bees, I suppose.

I was annoyed by the ping of rain in the morning, that forced me to move, to put the bees in place on their prepared stands, and cover them for the day’s downpour.

The following day came move-in day.

The four frames in the nuc box get placed into a super, alternating with brood-ready comb frames, and a frame heavy with honey on each side, for insulation.

These bees had built some significant burr comb on the bottom of the frame, so much it wouldn’t go in the super, and I had to slice that off.  While I was doing that, always a delicate job, I did the unthinkable:  I dropped a frame.

I’ve never done that before.  Immediately I heard Klaus’s voice in my head saying to stay prepared (in the event of a sudden sting), and never drop a frame.

I didn’t drop it from very high, it slid before it fell, but with a frame, however it lands is going to be bee side down.

Right away my feet were stuck where they were.  I picked up the frame and there was a pool of bees rumbling around on the ground, all around my feet.  Not to mention suddenly three times more airborne as a moment ago.

I finished with the other frames, then crouched and started scooping bees into my hand with the bee brush, and dropping them in the super.  I got most of them this way, and the rest were forming a group and on the march.  Here they are starting up the leg of the hive.  So smart!

I picked up the straggling individuals until I could move my feet; the group seemed to have it handled.  Amazingly, I did not get stung.  More amazingly, not one bee was killed!  Not one bee body from the drop.  Inside the empty box, the remaining bees are doing the same thing, grouping up, here on the wrong end of the box.  The fallen bees have finished their journey in.  20 minutes later all the bees had found their way inside. The other hive went much better.  Phew!  Nerve wracking, but no casualties.  Moving day never goes all well as you expect.

Where there’s life, there’s hope

My bees might just make it!  This weird, hot-cold “winter” can’t be good for them.

It was warm enough for me a couple days ago to take the lid off and give them a jar of syrup (amazing.  In February!), but I was sick with worry.   No bees outside, on a warm day.  I was pretty sure I was going to find a dead hive when I lifted the lid.  Ugh.

But instead, I found a black knot of bees around the empty jar!  Yay!  And hardly any dampness, or mold in the eke insulation, which indicates moisture.  In fact, it was more dry than last year. I gave them a full jar, put the the lid back on, and then the guard bees came shooting out while I was taping them back upHey!  You’re jostling us!

Good:)

Will they or won’t they?

So far, so good.  The bees are still alive.

This winter with its crazy yoyo temperatures has to be hard on them, but they are still humming in there.  Hope they can make it. I can’t open and feed them again yet.

I lost the big hive, my original hive, quite suddenly at the end of last summer, and these, the new bees, didn’t have long to get established, and God forbid, they may have been infected with the crisis from the other hive.  But so far, they’re ok.  I’m tense about it.This is two bees at the upstairs door, walking around on the tarpaper the hive is wrapped with.  On warm enough days, a few come out walking around or flying.

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.

Proved: honeybees can sting and NOT die

After rescuing another half-drowned bee I ended up crouched by the hive, captivated by the drama and taking pictures.  When my camera battery died I got up to go, and then the really cool thing happened.

I got stung.

When I got up and walked away, lifting my foot squeezed the bee that had fallen or explored into the top of my shoe, and she stung the top of my bare foot.  I froze, setting my foot down to relieve the pressure on her.

Remembering that my bee guru said “If you give them time, the bee can work itself out after it stings you, and go unharmed”, I thought, well, I’ll just give her a chance here.  I bent down to watch.

The bee stuck to the top of my foot by her stinger was agitated.  She made a couple clockwise revolutions, but then turned the other way, and decisively started running circles around her stinger anti-clockwise.  She paused, hunching like she was trying to pull free, and rubbed her stinger with her back feet.  Then she resumed running counter clockwise (quite fast).

She was obviously unscrewing her stinger from my skin.  Amazing!

My skin was reddening and swelling in front of my eyes, beneath the bee.  I wondered if the swelling would “grab on” to her stinger.   Of course, it felt like I’d been stung on top of the foot.  That hurts.

She would pause and tug and rub with her feet, and then run some more.  She made at least three dozen revolutions around her stinger.  I couldn’t believe I was watching a bee unscrew herself from the top of my foot.

Did I mention the camera batteries were dead?

Near the end I could see her whole stinger, about 2mm, and it looked like the tip of it was barely attached to my skin – the weight of the bee was tugging on the very surface layer of my skin.  She made a couple more turns, came loose! – and promptly fell back down into my shoe.

The whole extrication took somewhere around two minutes.

I waited, and she came walking back out, climbing my foot.  I tried to pick her up, she tried to fly and she fell in the grass.  She was all flustered, behaving weirdly drunk.  Maybe she was simply dizzy.  After a few more attempts to pick her up and dropping her, I got her to the hive and deposited her on the doorstep.  Totally fine.

Then I went home to lie down.  I get stung on my feet at least once a year.  This time I got all the same hot, swelling, feeling like a big bruise symptoms, but I did fancy that this time, I got a smaller dose of venom.

When one gets stung on the hand, flinching or the reflexual flick is enough to throw the bee and rip the stinger sac out of her body.  The sac speared into your skin by the stinger then autonomically pumps more venom in, pulsing like a disembodied heart.  I feel like this time, I only got the one hit when she first stung me.