Tag Archives: honeybees

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. 

bees snugged II

The bees are all wrapped now, after getting their insulation.

This time I tried to wrap the tar paper so that it was sealed and went up under the flange of the beehive lid, so in theory the water sheds over the tar paper wrap, but I can still get the lid off anytime. We’ll see.

I put a piece of tape on the corner before doing the fold so the paper doesn’t tear- that worked well.

Like gift wrapping. The paper is all folded down tight and taped to the eke. That lid is upside down by the way, just for while I work.

That’s what it looks like inside- the straw, and the bottle of bee syrup that they can access from the hole in the inner cover.

Here the lid’s back on.

Hello bee!

The bees were out, because it was a nice day (about a month ago). They were flying and curious.

Hello bees!

When I wrap them all up they are shut in entirely for a few minutes before I cut their doors open again.

Bees at the door

This one is done. Except I have a bigger sheet of ply I put over the lid like a second, bigger lid.

The one in the background has not been done yet:)

Will they winter?

This year I have three hives to winter for the first time, since I purchased a second hive (nuc) this year, and I had one split (dramatically) and caught the swarm. I also have three sizes. 1,2,3 – my largest is three supers (Violet), and Pansy is one super. I’ve only lost a hive once, so I’m currently one for three, so this year will be interesting, based on the size of each hive, and of course the weather is the biggest factor. I’m also hopeful that being able to feed them in warm windows and replace the straw if it gets wet will be a boon.

Swarm catching, part 2

At “dusk” (ok, dark), I got the hive box ready.  One super full of drawn comb and fresh foundation, another empty super, and an eke.  The whole empty upper box thing is to imitate a spacious swarm box.  So they can all crowd up in the ceiling.Then I went to get the nuc box from the woods.  Whoa!  Quite a few bees on the outside of the box.  More than before.They’re  so neat.  They’re like lined up in stacked rows.  And quiet, just a low hum.  It was bedtime.

Ok, so my big idea was just to put the box inside the hive, and let them flow out of the box in their own time.  I was in no mood for dumping.Only problem, the nuc box is taller than my vacant woodenware is tall.  One more super would be perfect, but literally the day before, I’d bumped up Violet  another super, (I name my hives- this one will be Pansy, if all goes well) and had only two left.  Would be plenty, except for unexpected eventualities.

Therefore, I improvised.One tub, and a hammock repurposed as a gasket, to close up the little gaps (about a quarter inch), because Rubbermaids aren’t Langstroth compatible.  Quite close to the right size though.

Then I got to spend a half hour picking bees off myself.    They were walking around; I think they’d walked off the box up my arms during the transfer, and were just dopey and confused.  On my head, in pockets, on my back.  You don’t want to peel off the suit and crush them in the process (sting, sting) or release bees in the house. I’d pluck them off and poke them back in and walk towards my door, dying to be finished and then buhzzz, buhzzz.  Another one! Another two, four, eight, twelve.  Finally I was clear.

The next day: Uhoh.  There’s a breach in the gasket.  They’re acting swarmy still, which could mean that they’re still sending out scouts to shop for the next place.  Good, though, because it means I have to go in.  I wanted to get in and take the nuc box out, and get rid of this stupid Tupperware arrangement, but was reading how I had to keep them locked in, and was conflicted.

Look what’s inside!   Walls of bees.  They’d vacated the nuc box alright, and I lifted that out, and there were straggling bees all over the it and the hammock.  Many of them flew back while I was adjusting- pushing all the bees back off the edge so I could get a lid on them.After the lid was on, in the interest of no bee left behind, I went over each object (hammock, box, tub) one by one, cleaning off the bees and dropping them in the hole in the cover.  Lots of them were walking.  When almost all of them were in, and the rest airborne (they’ll be fine), I closed up the hole.

Bye bye now

They had a completely different vibe today.  Instead of the intense, excited potential, it was a much more chill, Sunday morning after the rave vibe.  No casualties, no stings, and based just on their mood, I think that means they’ll stay.  It could mean that they’re in a content waiting state, but I’m hoping it’s just cool down after the swarm, and soon they’ll go back to work.

Much better

Lots of wasps out lurking around, and the bees weren’t mounting their usual vigorous defense.  I hardly see wasps now since their colonies seemed to “stop” at the beginning of August, but there were several, different kinds, getting involved today for some reason.

Oh, and Galahad is sitting on the keets!  Sitting on them!   Adorable. 

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.