Tag Archive | honey

Bee Keeping Journal – 20170515 – May is swarm season

Weather

The spring weather has been a little wetter than normal. Over the course of 5 days we got 12 inches of rain. Needless to say we had river front property! The river was near record flood, but still not a danger to the house. It is just that we can see it from the deck when it gets that high! It also causes the bees trouble when they should be out looking for spring stores, they are locked in the hive by constant down pours.

Hive 201601H

This hive has been a study in patience and a test of my lack of bee knowledge. They came out of winter looking good and appeared to start building up as expected. But after all the rain stopped an inspection showed they had not built up at all and maybe even shrunk. I had reversed the boxes in early spring, but the top box (old bottom box) remained empty. So I removed the remaining sugar brick and the top box on the first of April. At that time there were about 3 frames of bees, only one of capped brood. I decided to leave them alone and hope for the best. Well that only lasted a couple of weeks, three to be exact before I had to get involved. I then checked and they were still about the same size. I had frames of capped honey (sugar water really) from the other hive that died over the winter, so I decided to add two frames of honey to see if that would help get them going. It has been another three weeks and they are looking much better. There are about six frames of bees with 2-3 in brood of various ages. So again I will leave them alone. Just hoping I can get them back to two deep boxes by summer’s end to make it through next winter.

Swarm update

I placed my swarm trap out on April 1st. I also set out the NUC box I built last year and baited it with LGO and some old black comb, just in case. While there was absolutely NO activity at either trap, I went ahead and set out my empty hive body around April 15th and baited it with LGO and old black comb. Last year there was scout activity at the trap for about three weeks before the swarm showed up. Not this year, I noticed nothing except a lot of wasp until about May 11th. Then all of the sudden there was a ton of activity at the main trap. Bees coming and going with purpose. So I waited until today, when I saw several bees bringing in pollen to declare we had captured a swarm.

Now it gets complicated. The rule of thumb as I understand it is that you move bees either less than 3ft or more than 3 miles. If you don’t, foragers will return the original location and eventually die without the protection of a hive. My swarm trap is about 50 yards from where the new hive will be located and we don’t have anywhere more than 3 miles away to move it first. The other option as I understand it is that you confine the bees to the hive for 24-72 hours, then place tree branches in front of the hive entrance to confuse the bees when you allow them to leave again. This forces the bees to reset their internal GPS and re-orient to the new hive location.

Our plan is this, since this is a new colony without any stores I have added a frame of honey (sugar water really) from the old hive to the swarm trap. This should keep them from starving during confinement. Tonight after the foragers have returned, I will close the trap entrance. It has holes to allow ventilation and we will leave the trap in the tree where it is shaded and should be cooler for the next day or two. Then I will move the trap to the hive stand, place branches in front for the entrance and reopen it. After a couple of days and before the forecasted rain for this weekend, I will move the bees and the frames to the hive body and place it on the stand in the same location the trap was sitting. This will hopefully allow the bees to first orient to the new location, before they also have to reorient to a new hive box.

Let me know in the comments if you think this will work and why not if you disagree. Then check for an update next week to see what happened!

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 – 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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