Festooning is more fun than sulking

Don’t Sulk—Festoon!

Festooning bees rebuilding comb

Perhaps the quality I admire most in honeybee colonies is resiliency. I can’t tell you how often I make mistakes that set the colonies back: I mishandle individual honeycombs; I squish bees; I’ve accidentally dropped an entire eight-frame super filled with brood and honey and pollen…eight frames rich with bee economy and life was strewn on the ground around the hive while the air filled with displaced bees. I’ve mutilated queens that eventually died. I’ve been neglectful when the colony needed nectar or sugar water. I am sometimes a klutz, and the hive pays the price for my mistakes.

But here’s the miracle in it: the bees don’t fret. They don’t hold resentments. They don’t attack me in anger or act out in retribution. Actually, it seems to me that when I make my bad moves, the bees don’t even acknowledge my presence. I am invisible to them. Why? Probably because they sense that I don’t have a single thing to offer them when it comes to their recovery. They know I am powerless when it comes to helping them repair my ignorant or careless mistakes and that the rebuilding must come from their own efforts. They organize and set about IMMEDIATELY repairing. They waste zero time in looking back with regret; instead, they festoon—they link themselves together, Reader, and they channel their combined energies into what needs to be done to set things right again.

So, on this day following the 2016 US Presidential election, the results of which did not swing my way, I plan to link up and start the rebuilding, too.

Sam Comfort and Anarchy Apiary queens

So far, so good from Anarchy Apiaries

Sam Comfort and Anarchy Apiary queens

 

The temperatures these past couple of weeks have given those of us in Ohio an opportunity to check on the bees and to feed sugar candy or honey to those colonies running low on stores. I’ve made a wonderful discovery, Reader: By my calculations (which might be off by a smidgen because my record keeping isn’t perfect), every single hive in which I introduced a queen from Anarchy Apiaries is still living. What a joy to open a hive in which a colony is quietly working toward spring.

Colonies with genetics from my own queens…queens that I started from local surviving stock…are still flying as well. Though I’m not ready to produce quantities of queens, Sam Comfort is. So, if your hive died this winter, I suggest you consider replacing your queens mid summer with those from Anarchy Apiaries.

 

Simon and the Monster Hive (before we added box #10)

The Monster Hive is Now Ten-Boxes Tall

I was fully prepared to find the bottom boxes in the Monster Hive emptyish. The Monster Hive is queened by a Zia Queen Bee that I purchased last season, and let me tell you, Reader, it is a phenomenon. I’m buying more of those queens this year.

To my surprise, the hive—which was 9 medium-depth boxes tall when Simon and I dug into it yesterday—was booming. From top to bottom, each and every hive body was brimming with bees and brood and honey.

So, instead of reducing the overall number of stacked boxes in the hive (as I had planned), we added to it! Which now makes the hive 10-boxes tall. Aghhhh.

Ten-boxes tall is probably too tall, Reader, but it’s hard to change something that seems to be working so well. So, we left it alone other than to stake it down against the wind with a good rope.

The next time we dig into the hive…probably in a couple of weeks to harvest the honey in it…we should split the Monster into two hives. Which I hate to do. However, I hate for them to swarm, too, and that’s probably on the horizon in a hive of this size.

Simon and I both got decked out in our full bee suits for our hive visit yesterday…and let me tell you, there were some rambunctious bees to deal with.

 

20120525-063255.jpg
Simon and the Monster Hive (before we added box #10)

There was also some yummy yummy honey to deal with! Simon took 2.5 frames, and I ended up with 3.5 frames. Simon weighed his…just over 4 lbs per frame of glorious honey.

20120525-063547.jpg
Honey!
Rebecca Chesney: dead bee. again and again, 2008

A Nuc Hive of Dead Bees :(

Rebecca Chesney: dead bee. again and again, 2008

I revved up the table saw and made three inner covers for my nuc hives, and I cut a round opening in each through which I can feed the bees their syrup.

But when I opened the hives to give the bees their snug, new, inner covers, I discovered one of the hives dead. A dead hive is soooo quiet. Creepy. And disheartening.

Wow. The dead hive really surprised me…this is not the time of year for a colony to completely die off. And the other nucs, all of which have the same arrangement, were doing fine. So, I presented all the living hives with their fancy new inner cover and a new jar of syrup, and they’re all still flying.

After sort of reviewing the situation to figure out what happened, I scraped the pile of dead bees into the grass. I’m leaving the comb from that hive in its box and out in the sun so wax moths don’t destroy it before winter hits us.

What happened to the Nicola hive? I’m not sure, but the comb and all the dead bees were wet. Either condensation (warm days + cold nights = condensation build up) had collected on the top cover and dripped onto the bees, or (and this is my suspicion) I didn’t let a proper vacuum seal the inverted jar of syrup I placed atop the hive, and it dripped onto the bees. And they died.

Either way, I guess I killed them. Dang.

I’ve learned to cut myself a lot of slack when it comes to making mistakes that cost either bees or honey. It’s disappointing, but I try to consider these lessons learned. And I’ve found that it’s good for me to immediately get over the situation…analyze the hive, say some sort of thank you to the bees, and scrape them out onto the ground. Then I clean up the equipment for the next colony.

 

 

If You're Drinking Up, Please Send Your Corks My Way

It’s turned cold these past few days. By “cold,” I mean the low temperatures are in the high 30s or low 40s and the highs are in the 50s. We haven’t yet turned on the heat, but we are sleeping with the electric blanket on low.

And a few of my hives have those augur holes drilled in them. Which means I need to plug those holes so the bees can more easily regulate the temperature in there. This hole-drilling practice was something I saw done by Chris, the guy who started me beekeeping…so I did it too. I thought it was a great idea to give the bees some more air. Maybe because I like to have a lot of fresh air myself. Funny how we project our need on others, isn’t it?

But I’ve since learned that the bees don’t need me to give them air. They do better when they regulate the temperature and moisture in their own homes. It’s as if someone were to come into your home and open or close all the windows or fiddle with your thermostat. That’s just rude…and then I’d have to go around spending unnecessary time and energy readjusting your decision for me.

Anyway…it’s cold, and those augur holes need to be plugged. I want to use corks from wine bottles because they’re made from natural material. But I don’t drink alcohol, so it’s tough coming up with corks. Last year I plugged the holes with pine cones. So, if you’re sitting around drinking bottle after bottle of wine, please forward your corks my way. I need about 6 or 8 of them.

The Good News

Here’s the good news as promised, Reader. The bad news, as you’ll recall, is that the bees from the tree have now been combined with the Girls of Summer, and the small swarm I collected last week absconded.

But on Sunday’s inspection of the remaining four hives, I found two absolutely gorgeous queens at work. The queen in Tomboys was moving around on comb the bees had drawn on their foundationless frames. It was beautiful to see. And the queen in Girls of Summer is HUGE. I was spellbound watching her (also moving about on comb drawn on foundationless frames). I don’t know why it’s so uplifting to spot the queen and then to see how healthy she looks and how calm she is and how wonderful the hive is doing. But, I was uplifted.

Another thing that really surprised me was the health of the split hive. In July I took a frame containing one or two queen cells from Tomboys; from other hives I added two frames of brood and a frame full of honey, and I started a new hive. And though they haven’t drawn new comb since then, they’ve certainly filled the frames with which they began, and those frames were covered with bees. The colony seemed calm and relaxed and healthy.

I’ve decided to move the split hive into a 5-frame nuc for the winter, though. There’s too much empty space around the filled frames (they’re currently living on 4 deep frames hung in a stack of 2 medium boxes), and that’ll be hard to heat in the winter.

One thing I’m learning about beekeeping…timing is everything. Seriously…that “To everything there is a season” thing from the Bible makes more and more sense as I get older.

Wax moths on comb collected from the bee tree

The Bad News

I have good news, and I have bad news, Reader. Let’s go with the bad news first and get it over with. It’s not the worst news in the world, and we all sort of knew it was coming anyway. And better that it came early rather than late. Everyone said it would happen, and they are 100% correct.

First and worst bad news: The August Boatwright hive—the bees we collected from the tree—is a goner. I’m gonna recycle the comb, and I’m gonna recycle the wonderful colony name, but as of yesterday, the bee-tree colony is a thing of the past. But it was a wonderful experience, wasn’t it?

I inspected all the hives yesterday, and when I got to the August Boatwright colony, I discovered no eggs, no brood, no queen, no stores, no pollen, and only a very very few bees. And the comb I collected from the tree was quickly filling with wax moths…it’s like peering into a home that’s been vacated…you know how the thing goes to pot right off the bat without people to care for it…how grass grows where it isn’t welcomed, etc. I’ll go into the reasons for this some other time…for now, all you really need to know is that I dismantled their hive, and I scooted another colony over near the spot previously occupied by the tree bees so the returning bee-tree foragers (if there were any) had a place to call home when they returned.

The second other bad news (which isn’t too bad…see how things are already looking up?): The little swarm I spent an afternoon capturing from our tree last Tuesday absconded. That means that every single one of them flew the coop. They’ve sought greener pastures. I hadn’t yet grown to love these bees. I hadn’t set them on their permanent site. I hadn’t named them. I hadn’t even peeked into their box to see how they were doing. But with no drawn comb and no food and nothing to make the place feel lovely, they left. I would have made it wonderful for them, Reader, but I don’t have any more comb to give them. All my other hives need everything I’ve got, and that late-season swarm had little chance of survival to begin with.

So, that’s all my bad news. Two late-seasoned bee experiences are a bust. I do feel awful about the tree bees. The triple traumas were just tooo much for them: their removal from the tree and their relocation; their getting dumped on the ground when I accidentally turned their box upside down (still cringing when I think of it); and their being robbed of all their nectar and sugar water by other bees who sensed their weakened state.

Tomorrow…I report better news (not earth shattering, just better).

Wax moths on comb collected from the bee tree
Wax moths on comb collected from the bee tree
Wax-moth larva weaving through the comb cells
Wax-moth larva weaving through the comb cells

The Universe Forgives My Ineptitude

I had a happy sighting yesterday. Remember that split I made exactly 24 days ago? No? Well, let me remind you:

I took a frame containing some queen cells I’d found in Tomboys, and I made a split…which means I began a new colony from an old one by placing that queen-cell-containing frame in a box of it’s own. To it’s new box I added a nice frame of honey (in order to provide food until the new colony begins its own foraging), two frames of brood (so there’ll be a force of nurse bees available once our newly hatched queen begins laying her eggs), and all the nurse bees that were on those frames at the time of the split (to care for the brood I’d moved in there as it develops).

But I worried about how few bees there were in the new colony, so a week later I did a swap: During the day when all the foragers were out in the field, I moved the entire Tomboys colony to the place occupied by the new split and the split to Tomboys’ old spot. I hoped that all the foraging bees who thought they were returning to Tomboys would actually return to the new split (with their food stores) and decide to live there. This is one way to build a work force in a weaker hive.

But there’s been little activity over the past week or so in the new split. I thought that perhaps the queen had failed and the whole colony had absconded. I really had little hope for this experiment’s success.

Yesterday, though, I noticed a little activity in front of the hive…it looked to me as if new bees were orienting to the front of the hive. It’s a cool thing to see. So, I went to check it out…sure enough, new bees were hovering around the front of the hive trying to zero in on home. They always do this late afternoon around my hives. At around 4 PM, all the new bees fly all around the face of the hive—they face it—as if to say, “Okay, if I leave this place, this is what I’m gonna look for when I come home. This is home. It looks like this at this time of day. I don’t go to the hive next door. I come here.”

You know when you park your car far away from wherever you’re headed? And you sort of look around to get your bearings? You turn to look at your car; then, you turn all around to see where it is in relation to where you’re going; you say to yourself, “Okay, I parked near this big light post…the light post nearest the entrance to the Great American Ballpark. The one from which you can see the river.” Well, that’s what bees do. They do it before they ever leave their hive, and then there’s no need for them to reorient unless I move them.

I’m so happy to know that new bees have just emerged from the split hive…these new bees have to be those which were only eggs when I moved the brood-containing frames from Tomboys. It’s still too early to expect brood from the new queen (if she’s in there). It’s been 24 days now since I created the split. The new queen should begin laying eggs about 21 days after she emerges—that should be sometime this week. I’m not gonna check for at least another week. Well, I might pop the top and peek inside, but I’m not gonna pull any frames. I’m not gonna upset their delicate balance so early in their game.

I’ve held off giving them a name for fear they wouldn’t make it.

Two shallow boxes fashioned with medium-depth, foundationless frames---to be used as a single box.

More Space Has Stopped the Bearding

Success!

Yesterday I inserted a box I fashioned from two shallows between my two brood boxes in Girls of Summer. They’re the most robust of our colonies, and they’ve been mighty crowded and hot and bearding like crazy.

So, I pulled deep frames of brood up from the bottom box and into the center of the new box; I interspersed medium, undrawn foundationless frames among all the fully drawn comb in the bottom two boxes. Then, I restacked them. This should give them the room they need to operate.

Yep, I’ve got a real mishmash of frames going on in there now, and there’s quite a bit of empty space that the bees will surely fill up with wild comb, but I guess I can figure out how to deal with all of it later.

My goals:

  1. Keep these bees from swarming before winter.
  2. Keep these bees alive over the winter.
  3. Switch from deep boxes to medium-depth boxes.
  4. Harvest some honey next year.
  5. And do all of this without introducing any chemicals.

So, now that I know this addition of space and new frames has stopped the bearding in Girls of Summer, I need to do the same thing for Amazons and Tomboys. Which means I’ve got to head down into the basement and make 20 frames today.

Here are some pictures. They don’t show you much other than what it looks like to rearrange a bee colony.

Two shallow boxes fashioned with medium-depth, foundationless frames---to be used as a single box.
Rearranging a bee colony. (The lighter colored frames are foundationless and are interspersed among frames already drawn)
Rebuilt Girls of Summer (including the two-shallow box in the center)

Tricky Box and Frame Configurations

Those bees are bearding like crazy. Which means they are hot and crowded. But they won’t move up into the new supers I’ve added in order to give them some extra room. And yesterday I found swarm cells in Tomboys again. Shit.

I would normally add an empty box below one of the brood boxes in each colony, but I’m trying to transition from using 10-frame deep boxes to 8-frame medium boxes…I won’t go into it here because it’s so danged confusing, but this translates into some tricky box and frame configurations.

Yesterday the light came on in my brain about this. Of course, the light went on about two hours after I’d inspected the bees…which means I get to go out there and do it again today.

Here’s my plan: I stacked together two shallow supers (to form one box) and filled them with 10 medium, foundationless frames. Today, I’ll insert the two-shallow unit between the deep brood boxes in Girls of Summer. This way, they’ll have room to work and frames on which to draw comb in which the queen can lay eggs. AND, because these are medium depth frames, once they’re drawn, I can eventually move them into my 8-frame medium boxes.

I hope this works. I’m proud of myself for thinking outside of the box about this stuff.

Yes, the bees will most likely build some funky comb in the gap that shouldn’t be there…between the bottom of the frames in the two-shallow box and the top of the deep brood box. But I guess I can cut that excess comb off and tie it into it’s own frame later. Which means that I’ll get a lot of bang for my buck if they draw comb below these new frames.

I’ll need to move some already filled deep frames containing brood into the two-shallow box in order to encourage the bees to move up. This interspersing of differently sized frames is going to make for a very very interesting situation when I dig in there next spring.

I have two concerns: first, that they won’t draw any comb whatsoever and that they’ll still feel crowded; and second, that I’ll forget that I experimented this way and I’ll have a real mess on my hands when I unsuspectingly discover the interspersed medium and deep frames and the medium frames with that huge gap beneath them.

One reason I’m posting some of this dull information is so I can refer back to them later…so I’m not surprised (more than usual) during my inspections—or, if I am surprised, I can refer to these posts and see what on earth I was thinking.

I TRIED to take pictures for you yesterday, but that dang iPhone just will not respond to my gloved fingers. I got the phone all gooped up with propolis before I decided I just couldn’t spend the time taking the pictures for you. Sorry. I have to work at a better system and use another camera.