Spring Hive Cleaning

After bee school and before dinner at Lavomatic, I did some work with the bees. The weather was gorgeous, and it was the first time since fall that I could spend some time in the colony without disturbing things. So, I smoked the bees and then dug around in the brood boxes and examined 80% of the frames.

This is what I found:

  1. There was far less honey stored than I thought. Spring came just in time.
  2. The bottom box was a ghost town…no bees and no honey. Several of the frames had a grayish-colored mold on the comb.
  3. The bees had completely eaten the foundation from a couple of the frames.
  4. All the bees have moved up into the top box. This is the winter pattern…the cluster starts in the bottom brood box and it eats its way upward as the winter progresses.
  5. They have begun to store more pollen and raise brood in the top box.
  6. You know, I completely forgot to take pictures. That would probably help you see what I’m talking about…but once I get involved out there, I forget about documenting anything. I’ll try to remember next time.

This is what I did:

  1. I cleaned up the moldy frames. I cleaned the extra lumps of comb from the frames, too.
  2. I unstacked both brood boxes and removed the bottom board (which was loaded with winter debris…the amount of debris surprised me).
  3. I replaced the old-fashioned bottom board with a new screen-bottom board (this improves ventilation, and it gives me a way to check for mites as the season progresses).
  4. I reversed the brood frames as I restacked them.
  5. The box with all the bees went on the bottom, and the ghost-town box went on top. Bees work their way upward, so now they know there’s room above them and won’t decide to swarm (when they sense they’re out of room, they develop a new queen and swarm).
  6. I removed the queen excluder and the honey super I put on there a few days ago (I added that super to give the bees room so they wouldn’t swarm. But reversing the brood boxes gives me the same benefit while also assuring the bees first fill the two brood boxes with honey for themselves. Always insure the bees survival before harvesting the honey).
  7. I put a few lumps of bee candy on the inner cover. Though things are bustling, there’s still not enough pollen to keep the engine going. So, I’m supplementing.
  8. Today I’ll feed them concentrated sugar water in an entrance feeder…2:1 sugar to water. Moisture is a problem in hives at this time of year (and based on the mold I saw, we’ve got a moisture issue), so we want less water and more sugar.

Live Blogging from Bee School

Sometimes I dread these things because I think I’ll get bored. But if I blog about this as I go, I might like it more.

There’s honey everywhere.

9:11 am

This guy, John Tew, PhD—from Ohio State University—said I should attend the Hive Management I and II sessions. He’s our Ohio bee guru, so, that’s why I’m sitting right now in Hive Management I.

9:21 am

We’re talking about varroa mites and lost colonies and the beginning beekeepers’ steep learning curve. Apparently I’m gonna lose a few hives before I figure out all these patterns. Good thing I like spotting patterns.

9:28 am

I need new glasses. I can’t see for shit from where I stand near the back of the room.

9:50 am

There’s a young woman sitting next to me. I’d say she’s 15 or 16 years old. That’s cool. Mostly, there are guys in Carhart and Farm Bureau caps, but there are a lot of lesbians here, too. The lesbians take notes as if their lives depend on it. Crazy lesbians. I wish I could get one to pose for you with her notebook and pen. That would be funny.

10:02 am

Remember: Dandilions are good..it’s the first source of the season that supplies both pollen and nectar. The hive just explodes when those little yellow flowers bloom.

Clover, too.

Too bad I’ve spent so much time and money trying to eradicate all those flowers-otherwise-known-as-weeds that are just perfect for bees. Who are the bozos telling us to destroy everything but grass? And why do we listen to that bullshit? What’s wrong with us?!

10:09 am

The ONLY job I have with a new colony is to get the bees through their first winter. Feed them until they won’t eat any more. Year One is not sexy.

10:52 am

Getting a little bored because this second session is a too theoretical for me this year. I want only practical stuff right now.

I’ve seen a couple of people I know.

11:06 am

The guy sitting next to me wears argyle socks. He’s sort of out of place here, don’t you think?

12:08 pm

We’re eating lunch. Here’s my friend Jim.

12:35 pm

Now I’m attending “Getting Started Installing Bees,” but this guy’s talking about his kids. What a bore. This place is packed. All kinds of people.

12:53 pm

I had to leave that session. They should ask me to facilitate a breakout session next year. I can sure as hell do it, and I guarantee you people wouldn’t slip out like I just did. Problem is, I don’t know anything yet. Well, that shouldn’t stop me. I think I’d call my breakout thingy “Things You REALLY Need to Know to Get Started, and I’m Not Blowing Smoke.”

Anyway, it’s pretty outside, so I’m gonna go get some air and sunshine.

1:33 pm

One session to go, and if this guy’s no good, I’m hitting the road. I’m dying for a a diet Coke. I’m also dying for a bike ride.

1:38 pm

I’ve seen only one African American here. Otherwise, we’re all caucasian. Three hundred ninety nine caucasians and one black person. Something’s wrong here.

And, as usual, I did not win a door prize. Shit.

2:08 pm

Nap time. I’m getting soooo drowsy. This always happens to me at 2:00 pm when I’m in meetings. I’m still trying to listen, but my eyes are closed. Someone should turn a hive of bees loose in here and wake us all up.

2:39 pm

Signing off from Bee School.

Going with My Gut

I think my Amazon girls are getting ahead of me. It was at this time last year that this very group swarmed; and based on the activity I see out at their hive, it wouldn’t surprise me if they didn’t try that trick again.

But I don’t have time in the next few days to inspect the hive, so I won’t know until the weekend if the girls need me to add another super to their home. Old-man Higgins (from Higgins Construction Company where I get my local bee supplies) said I should add room before I think the bees need it…which is NOW.

I think I’m going out there after work late today or ┬ábefore work early tomorrow (inopportune times to visit a hive) and simply add a queen excluder and their first shallow super. I do NOT want these girls to swarm… I want them to stick around here and make us some honey.

Okay. I’ve made my decision. I’m adding a super within the next 24 hours.

Pine cones on the bee hive, and candy at the door

Bees Are Everywhere in the Yellow

The bees are feasting…absolutely feasting out there, and I’m sooooo happy about it.

Today is cloudless, and the temperatures are hovering right at 50 degrees. So, I made my first batch of bee candy and delivered it to the hive. When I got there, those girls were already kicking ass. I mean, they were hauling dead bees out of the hive, and they were flying in and out and getting down to business. I was thrilled to see them so alive. They were noisy. I was elated.

I took my smoker with me in case they were a little pissy and rambunctious after being so cooped up, and I smoked the entrance just to calm them down a bit…and the moment that smoke hit the entrance to the hive, a fat mouse scampered out. Ooooh. That made me mad. I should have put an entrance reducer or a mouse guard in place because those little rascals can create havoc in a hive.

Anyway, I removed the protective, black cardboard box for the season, and I plugged up those little air holes with pine cones so the cold air that’s coming later doesn’t make thing any harder on them than need be. I placed a layer of bee candy inside the top lid of the hive, so they can eat it when the weather gets bad again. But I also decided to simply leave a pan full of the stuff at their front door so they could come outside and have a little sugar party.

But then I realized that they were already having a party…a yellow-flower, first-bloom-of-the-season party. We’ve got these tiny yellow flowers that bloom mid-March on our hill, and I realized that the bees were going deliriously crazy in the flowers. I stood out there with them, and I could literally hear the buzzing. And once my eyes relaxed, I saw bees everywhere in the yellow. I am so so so so happy.

Pine cones on the bee hive, and candy at the door
Pine cones on the bee hive, and candy at the door

The Sweetest Sound

It’s March, but it’s still cold. Too cold to open the hive boxes and check on the bees. But I sort of did it anyway. I did it because on Sunday I discovered that my friend Jim lost his second hive. All dead. And then yesterday I discovered that my friend and bee mentor Chris lost all five of his hives this year. So, I braced myself for what I thought was the inevitable and lifted the lid of my Amazon girls.

I didn’t have to do much…I simply lifted the lid…and when I began to lift the inner cover, I heard them—loud buzzing. I put my ear right to the inner cover, and—sure enough—they’re still alive in there. I closed them back up as quickly as I could and practically danced my way back into the house.

On Saturday, we’re supposed to have temperatures in the 50s. Which means I’ll get to open the boxes and feed the bees. Hang on girls.