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And then there was one – beehive that is

Well as a new bee keeper I figured there would be some loss, but I also expected to find out about it next spring.  We purposely started with two hives in case of a loss and good thing we did.  I had been noticing on the warmer days there was some activity at only one of the hives.  I gave it a while thinking it was just not warm enough.  Well it finally got back into the 70’s (go figure in early November) so I popped the top off the hive to find nothing, well almost nothing.  The was not a single bee alive or dead, but what there was turned into a full out invasive of hive beetles.  They were in every nook and cranny!

While I knew I had hive beetles in both hives, I believed to have them under control.  I was fogging the hives every 10 days until the cold started and I had beetle traps in the top boxes.  Not really sure if the beetles caused the evacuation or if they just took over after the bees left, the result is the same.  After disassembling the hive further I found honey stores in the top box and nothing but empty comb in the bottom box.  If anyone has any insight besides the beetle infestation please share in the comments.

So now we baby the remaining hive and hope they are still here in the spring.  Specifically we will be adding a candy board in early December to make sure they have enough food and adding a pollen patty in mid to late February to get them though to first bloom.

Feel free to share though s on what happened or your own stories of hive losses.

Fall 2015 Update

So I wanted to post a quick update on all the things around here as Fall begins.

Bees
The hive without a queen seems to have settled in, too new to all this to say who won the three way queen death match since I cant find the queen. There is brood and lots of bees in the hive over a month later. They are bringing in pollen like crazy. We get a late flow, mostly goldenrod per my local bee chapter, that is great for winter reserves. Everyone in the chapter and online it seems says goldenrod honey taste fine, but smells funny so it is hard to sell. They leave it for the bees to overwinter.

Chickens
The flock remains at 12 (11 hens and 1 kazooster) and 2 guinea fowl. I am considering “getting rid” of the guinea fowl. They are loud, annoying, and beginning to bully my hens. So far my lovely wife keeps me from taking action against them. Everyone is laying well, with 12 layers I get at least 10 eggs a day. Actually it is almost too well, I have 11 dozen in the fridge right now, so time to give some away. I may cook a bunch of them up and feed back to the girls.

Rabbits
I have thinned herd down to winter numbers, i.e. seven. I have kept three of the new three blue eye white (BEW) bunnies to mature over the winter for spring time breeding and sales. I may do one final breeding of the larger meat rabbits next week to be ready to butcher just before winter really sets in.

Gardening
So no post on this so far because all we have so far is rocks and woods. We recently had 2 yards of top soil delivered and we are clearing a hill in the front yard of trees and rocks to build a garden area. It is a little bit of an experiment. From the bottom of the hill going up, I am building a row of rocks as a mini-stone wall. I back fill that with dirt to use as a garden area. We finally planted the 5 blue berry bushes purchased in the spring into the first row. Behind the planting area I am building a mini-hugelkultur mound to act as a water reserve and a nutrient source that runs down into each garden bed. The main idea is water run off protection. When we get a heavy run the water gushes off the hillside, I am hoping this layout will soak in the water and save the garden beds from erosion. The basic idea on how we are building the hugelkultur row is we have branches and leaves from the trees we cut down to clear the area as a base. To that I am adding grass clippings and waste from cleaning the chicken coop. This is all covered with dirt and wood chips (again from cut trees) to hold it all together. We should end up with 4-5 rows up the hill ready to plant in the spring. Finally the rest of the removed trees is going to fire wood. Waste nothing!

Maple Syrup
Another area I haven’t posted about yet. Last year we collected maple sap and boiled it down to syrup, mmmmmmm. I will be posting all the details and pictures of that process soon. Mean time we are going to make a pass through the woods this weekend to tag the rest of the maple trees. Last year (out first year here) we tapped the ones we could FOR SURE identify since it was winter time and all we could go by was the bark. Our plan this weekend is to mark others now that we can see the leaves and try to make a plan to tap the ones closer to the road for ease of access.

River
Our property boarders the river. I was originally overly excited since I love to fish. Soon all hope was dashed as we realized our river access was basically a muddy swamp that my wife referrers to as quick-mud. It will suck you and your boots down fast. I think our winter project (last year it was the chicken coop) will be a deck/dock over the mud bank to have better fishing access. I’ll post something if this materializes.

I hope everyone has a great long Labor Day weekend!

Bee Keeping – What have I done? Part 2

So having a little trouble with one of the hives, see part 1 for the details.

The new queen finally arrived almost two weeks later! I was amazed at how little packaging there was for my precious cargo. Just an envelope with a couple of air holes and a small wooden cage.

Out to the hives I went with tools and smoker in hand. I opened the hive and there were still a lot of bees in there. So I started looking around. Still nothing in the bottom box in terms of capped cells. Then I pulled a few frames from the top box. Due to the panic attack I had the last time, I didn’t pay close attention to which was the frame I pulled from the strong hive that was full of capped brood. Just know it was one of two older frames in the top box middle section. One of these frames was empty cells. The other had some capped brood and appeared to be eggs and larva. Ugh! Do I now have a queen?? Or is it a laying worker?? A laying worker will happen in the absence of a queen, but because of genetics she can only raise drones (male) and will not be able to produce a new queen.

I looked around for a new queen, but since she would have been newly hatched and she wasn’t marked and easy to spot like my original queen I wasn’t able to find her. Looking further I found a supersede queen cell. A supersede queen cell is typically built out in the middle of frame and is done when the hive decides to replace a bad or failing queen. A swarm cell is typically built on the bottom or edge of the frame and is intended to replace the queen when the original queen takes half the hive and swarms off to a new location. So again I PANICKED! I closed back up the hive and went to the internet.

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I couldn’t find anything specific to my situation, so I went the Facebook page of my local bee club and explained the situation. I either had a laying queen, laying worker, or would soon have a supersede queen. What was I supposed to do with the newly arrived queen? I didn’t have more equipment to start a new hive with her, although my lovely wife seeing my distress offered to buy some. After a day there was only one response and it was a vote to install the newly arrived queen and let the hive work out the details. Good enough for me!

To install a new queen you remove a frame and suspend the queen cage in the open space. The cage comes with a candy/sugar plug and a wooden cork. You are supposed to remove the cork and make a small hole in the candy. If introduced directly, the bees would kill the queen because they don’t know her and assume she was an invader there to steal the honey. After placing the cage, the bees will slowly eat the candy plug and in the mean time become familiar with the new queen. Then when she is finally released they don’t kill her, but accept her. The mail order queens typically come already mated, so once freed she gets right to work laying eggs.

So I prepped the queen cage by screwing a flat shim to it allowing me easily to hang it between the frames. Placed it in the bottom box and closed it up. The instructions say to leave the hive alone for a week. Then check that she is free, remove the empty cage, and replace the removed frame. If she is not free, I am to open the screened part and allow her to walk out onto a frame. It also said she should be able to survive in the cage for up to three weeks. So I am trying to be patient and wait a week, but all I can imagine is that the supersede cell hatched, there was already a laying queen, and my new queen is released from the cage. So right now there is a three way death match going on inside the hive and I am missing it. Ugh!

Bee Keeping – What have I done?

It appears I am learning something about bee keeping, like it or not. After using all my will power and staying out of the hives for two weeks (before now I was in them at least once a week) I went into the hives this weekend only to determine I had lost the queen in one of the two hives. It appears it has been a while as I could not find ANY capped brood cells. I did find the start of a couple of queen cells and so I panicked and grabbed a frame of capped brood from the stronger hive thinking they would need something to put in those queen cells and closed it all back up.

After a little (actually very little) internet searching, I realized what I needed was eggs and not capped brood. 🙁 So instead of opening the hives again and causing more stress I went online and ordered a new queen. Hopefully it is not to late in the season to save this hive. Stay tuned for an update when the new queen arrives.

On a positive note, both hives started building nice straight comb on the foundationless frames I gave them two weeks ago. So I swapped out two more frames on the stronger hive. That might be all I do this year to give them time to make a strong run at the fall/winter.

Bee Keeping – a matter of opinion – Part 3

So now we have a hive (Part 1), bees (Part 2), what we need to talk about now is frames. Actually we should have talked about them after the hive and before the bees, but this is where we are!

This post is going to be a little short on details mostly because there are some many details that I could not expect to do a decent job of covering them all. My plan is to give you some things to think about and research and make up your own mind, because like I said each beekeeper has their own opinion.

There are two basic types of frames: full (four sided) frames and top-bar only frames. The full frames come in two basic types, with foundation and without. Top bars do not have foundation.

Regarding foundation here is what I know. Using foundation has a couple of advantages: one it gives the bees a clear indication of where and how (meaning cell size) you wan them to build comb. Two it strengthens the comb so that during inspections and honey extraction the comb has less damage for the bees to repair. The disadvantages that I have read about are if you use the wax coated plastic type, the plastic can off-gas and hurt the bees or even you. If you use the wax foundation, rumor has it most of it is made from old, dirty, toxic wax that is unusable for anything else. You decide! When looking at full frames there are different ways to secure the foundation to the frames: wedge, slotted, grooved, solid. Then there is also wired frames and/or foundation. The wires help strengthen the comb so that it can hold up to mechanically extraction.

Bees

Bees on Frames


Going with a foundation-less frame or the top bar frame allows the bees to build comb they way they want! Most would argue this is better for the bees, but not so for the bee keeper. First, to allow the bees to build the comb from “scratch” means they will build the cells in the sizes they need and would use naturally. Do a search on “small cell bees” or “natural cell size” for more information. The downsides are they don’t always build nice straight comb and when it is time to extract the honey you have to completely destroy the comb. The bees will have to start over with an empty frame next year. This means less honey because the bees have to first use resources to build honey comb.

UPDATE: Found this great series on converting to foundation-less hives. In the following link, it is is explained how to rotate the frames so that bees will naturally regress to the “natural cell size”. I was assuming I just swapped out the empty frames, but this makes more sense as each generation of bees will reduce or regress the cell size of the next generation until the get “right sized”!
Foundationless Beekeeping: How to convert to natural beekeeping!

So where am I? Glad you asked! I have full frames in Langstroth hives. Currently my hives are split down the middle. The deep boxes have plastic foundation and the bees have been building it out with no problems. I personally think the artificial materials and cell sizes is not good long term for the bees. I have this setup because this is what came with the nucs I started from and I hadn’t full researched it at the time. On the flip side I have gone foundation-less in my medium honey supers. I will have to report back on that since I just gave them those boxes last weekend. My long term plan is to swap out the plastic foundation in the deep boxes over time so not to disrupt the hives too much this first year. They have enough work to do already to build out the medium boxes and fill them with honey before fall/winter.

I would be curious to hear what others are using and why, comment below!

UPDATE
Found this great link over at Runamuk Acres Farm & Apiary site!
3 reasons to go foundationless in your Langstroth beehive

Bee Keeping – a matter of opinion – Part 2

So now we have a hive (Part 1), what we need next is bees.  There are two main ways to get bees for your new hive: package bees and nucs.

But first lets talk about a little about hive placement. Your bees need a couple of things, water, sun, and protection. They will travel up to 3 miles to collect nectar, but these other items are closer to home. They need a water source and will find their own if not provided, think neighbor’s swimming pool. I have found that something like a small concrete bird bath placed in proximity to the hive works pretty well. Regrading the sun, bees work sun up to sun down, so placing the hive in full sun will maximize there work day. For this same reason it is recommended to face the hives south so they get the most of the sunshine. Finally protection, by this I mean a couple of things. A good wind break will help protect the hive from being blown over and from winter storms. Also, they need to be located to protect people and animals from interfering with their work.

Package Bees

A package of bees is typically 3lbs of worker bees and a single queen. They come with the queen in a special box that has a candy plug to keep her separate during shipping. Once they arrive they queen box is placed in between a couple of frames and the worker bees are coated with sugar water to calm them before dumping them into the hive. After a couple of days you will need to check that the queen was released and has gotten to work. The advantage of this is they are typically cheaper than a nucs and can be used with any of the hive types from the previous post (Part 1).  The downside is the bees are starting from scratch and will need to be feed and watched over more carefully.

Nucs

A nuc is basically an established 5 frame hive.  You will receive 5 mostly full frames of brood, nectar, and drawn comb.  It will include a queen and an already working army of bees.  When you pick it up or it arrives make sure you find the queen and she gets into the new hive.  Another tip I found was to insist on picking them up in the early evening when most of the bees have returned.  Some less than good bee keepers will deliver them during the day and re-queen the nuc with returning workers. Or so I am told.  The advantage here is your hive has a head start over a package and should have brood cells and nectar all ready to go.  One point of “opinion” I found about this was whether or not the new nuc needed to be feed when I got it home.  We decided since they had 5 empty frames to build out that we would feed to help them get established.  The disadvantages to nucs is they are more expensive because you are getting bees and frames, plus you are stuck with the hive type of where you get the bees, i.e. you cant put top-bar frames in your Langstroth hive.

Our story

We decided to go with a nuc since the bees would be established and hopefully know what to do even if we didn’t. The other reason we did this was to get “local” bees that were already adjusted to our climate. You can order packages from a lot of places, but mostly from warmer southern climates because they can raise bees over the winter months and build up the bee supply. We wanted our bees to have over wintered successfully in the expectation that they would do better in future years. What I learned when we picked them up was that while the workers were local, the queen was from California. The bee keeper told me he could split hives to get the workers, but to get queens this early they had to come from out of state. I guess that will have to do since we already brought them home.  Also, a quick link out to a great site “Keeping Backyard Bees”.  I wasnt sure how I was going to get the bees home inside my SUV, but since I am on their mailing list at just the right time we got an email about “Transporting Bees Without Nuc Boxes”.  Check it out and sign up for their free email list.

In the bee yard

Picking up the new nucs

Bringing home the nucs

Unloading one of two nucs

Bee yard

Our bee yard with the first two hives

Bee Keeping – a matter of opinion – Part 1

This is a series of post about our endeavor to raise bees at Stone Hill Ridge.  But lets deal with the title first.  One thing I have for sure learned in a few short months of starting to work with bees, every beekeeper has an opinion and some are better than others!  I have been told the exact opposite things but different bee keepers as we are starting out.  So half seriously we have decided to just make it up as we go along.  At the very least it should be entertaining for you the blog reader.

So this is part 1 and for us that starts with the hives.  There are a couple of different main types: Langstroth hives, Top-Bar hives, and Warré hives.

Langstroth hives

Langstroth hives are the ones you are used to seeing and are used in most commercial operations.  They are square and usually painted white, although I am told that is not necessary and any color will do the bees don’t care.  It is just needed to protect the wood against rot.  As the bees fill a box a new one is added to the top.  One of the things I have found that each bee keeper has an opinion on is how many frames to put into a box.  A frame is a a square wooden frame that holds the honeycombs the bees build, it typically contains a sheet of plastic or wax to get the bees started.  There are both 10 frame and 8 frame hives, but some say put 9 frames in a 10 frame hive or another told me to put 11 in to force the bees to build smaller more natural cells.  This is the type of hive we started with, but more on that later.

Top-bar hives

Top-bar hives look more like a tree laid on its side with legs to lift it off the ground to a workable level.  In this style of hive instead of stacking new boxes, frames are added to the back as the bees fill the ones they have.   This type of hive will be used with empty frames or basically just the top-bar with some bees wax on it so the bees know where to build, thus the name.  It is said to be better fro the bees because it allows them to build a more natural style honeycomb.

Warré hives

Warré hive look similar to a Langstroth in style, but are different.  They have a more complex roof system that contains material to absorb moisture and help the bees regulate hive temperatures.  For this reason they are used most often in colder climates.  They also use an empty frame like the top-bar to allow the bees to do what they do best.  It is hard to inspect the hive because the frames can not be removed without damaging the honeycomb.

Our setup

As I stated we went with the Langstroth design mostly because it was more available and most bee keepers used them and could be a resource if we needed help.  We bought a setup from Ebay that had 2 supers (deep boxes) and 3 mediums (medium depth boxes).  The goal is the bees use the two supers for their own food and raising other bees, while eventually the fill the mediums with honey for us.  Although I am told not to expect any in the first year, but that is a bee keepers opinion and up for discussion.  The hives came mostly unassembled , so here are some pictures of the construction.
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