My First Split

I discovered a couple of swarm cells in Tomboys before I left for Florida last week. I thought for sure Tomboys would swarm before I returned, and they may have…hard to tell.

Today the swarm cells were still there, so in order to keep the bees from swarming and to take advantage of the new queen cells, I used the swarm cells from Tomboys to make a split and create a new hive.

(I KNOW…I should have taken more pictures, but here’s the problem: My iPhone operates by touch, and my gloves aren’t exactly like skin, so in order to use the iPhone for pictures, I have to take off my glove, take the picture, put the glove back on, etc. Time consuming and awkward.)

Anyway, I took Michael Bush’s advice from Beemaster.com: I stacked two medium boxes together; in the center of the top box, I put 4 deep frames (one containing the swarm cells [these will supply the queen], one containing honey [this will supply food until there are active foragers] two containing brood [these will build up the colony with workers]; I filled the remainder of the boxes with empty, medium-depth, foundationless frames. The bees will certainly build some funky comb beneath the deep frames because there’s so much empty space there, but I can clean that mess up later.

I scooted Tomboys over a little bit, and I placed the new, as-yet-unnamed hive facing the entrance of where Tomboys previously sat. The foragers who left Tomboys this morning (before the move) should be confused as to which hive they belong when they return—50% should enter the new hive and build up the population there; 50% of them should head back into their Tomboys home. I’ll to reverse the two hives in 7 days to balance it all out.

I don’t know if I should name the new hive yet or not. This thing feels quite experimental, so I don’t want to pin any hopes on its survival.

Here’s what the set up looks like now:

On another note: Girls of Summer are building great comb on their new foundationless frames. Neither Amazons nor Tomboys are doing a thing with theirs yet…but I think each of those hives is trying to build up post swarming, so they aren’t drawing any comb whatsoever.

Swarm Cells Every Darn Time I Turn Around

Gosh darn crazy bees are driving me nuts.

I decided to begin my transition from 10-frame deep and shallow boxes to all 8-frame mediums, and I began the process today. I added a new smaller box to each of my three hives. Now they look a little bit lopsided and goofy, but transitions are tough, I tell you.

Anyway, as I was checking things out in the hives, I discovered a number of queen cells in Tomboys (yes, I should have taken a picture for you, but I forgot again). Crap. Which means I need to make a split of that hive or risk losing half its bees to the woods. But I’ve never split a hive before. I swear, I always have to do these things before I’m prepared…I haven’t though this situation out yet. Oh well. What do I have to lose, Reader, but a bunch of bees?

I’d better do it tomorrow or risk their swarming while I’m out of town.

So, as I understand it, to make a split I need to separate my current two deep brood boxes and create two separate hives from them…one hive will contain the queen cells, and the other hive (hopefully) contains the current queen. If something should happen to the queen or the queen cells as I’m making this split, the bees will probably rear another queen…so long as there are eggs and/or uncapped larvae in some of the frames.

I guess that’s my job for tomorrow. Split Tomboys into two hives and add another 8-frame medium super to one of the newly created colonies so they have room to grow. Before I know it, I’m gonna have yard full of beehives. Deb’s gonna kill me. She’s already very very worried about driving to the farm with one or two bee colonies in the back of the car.

Returning Bees to the Farm

This morning I brought up the idea of keeping a few hives of bees at the farm, and Deb did not say “No.” Actually, I think I heard an actual “Yes” somewhere in her response.

The 80-acre farm in Waco, Kentucky is a 2-hour drive from here, and we get down there for a couple of days about once every 6 or 8 weeks. We wouldn’t need to check on the bees any more than that. I’m inspecting my backyard hives weekly only because I’m trying to learn what goes on in there…what patterns and signs to attend to. But it’s not necessary in the long run.

We’d need to do some adding of supers in the spring and some taking of honey in the fall, but really, we could just let them generally take care of themselves. And Deb’s uncles would be happy happy happy to have bees in the yard there once again.

Oh gosh. Now my mind is going gangbusters trying to figure out the logistics of having bees in an outyard so far away.

Unleveled hives

Transitions Are Tricky

I spent a little bit of time yesterday leveling my beehives. Why do that, you ask? Well, I’m slowly shifting from using foundation in my frames to using only foundationless frames, that’s why. And when bees build comb into thin air (and it is beautiful and perfect comb…I don’t know why we ever ever ever ever switched to using preformed, recycled beeswax as a guide) they let gravity lead them. And gravity always pulls one way…if the hive isn’t level, the comb will not be straight in relation to the hive. See? It could get quite messy.

So, as nice and “homey” as those hives look up on the unlevel hill, I had to straighten them out.

From Home Depot I bought enough cinder blocks (of various sizes) and 8′ 4×4’s to construct a platform for the colonies. I have enough room on this platform to add one more hive; and I have enough material to construct another platform. Deb’s gonna freak out when she learns we now have material enough to hold 8 hives.

I also raised the hives a little bit. This will keep the rascal mice out and the skunks and possums from disturbing the bees.

In the after-leveling picture, you’ll see a blue tarp in front of the hives…I’m killing the tall grasses that grow right in front of the boxes because I think it may be disrupting flights.

I’m transitioning all around…from using foundation to foundationless frames; from 10-frame deeps and 10-frame shallow supers to all 8-frame mediums; and from bottom-entrance hives to top-entrance hives. These transitions will take some time, but I think they all make great sense. So, once I move to top entrances, the grass won’t matter too much because the bees won’t need to reach the bottom of the hives. But, for now, I have to kill the grass and raise the boxes.

Unleveled hives

Don’t you think the raised cover below makes Tomboys (center hive) look like a little tomboy with her baseball cap tilted back? I love it. She looks like my friends do in the summertime…happy, relaxed, sweaty, worn out.

Leveled and raised hives

I’ll be glad when I get to lower the new platform a little bit. I don’t love seeing it, but I guess it’s the best alternative for now.

View from the yard of the leveled hives

We're Making Some Changes around Here

My weekly Sunday hive inspections yesterday revealed:

Amazons—No signs of the queen yet. I’m choosing to remain patient, though, because I think it’s a little too early to see signs of her post swarm. Amazons swarmed 16 days ago, and it should take about 22-25 days for the new queen to be born, orient, mate, and begin laying.

But I was surprised at how few stores the Amazons had in their hive. They need a queen, and soon.

Tomboys—Loads of new bees hang out and orient to this hive, but the inspection shows no sign of a queen…no eggs, no larva, etc. And there were supercedure queen cells on several of the frames. This really surprised me, but it’s becoming a common story in regards to packaged bees and their queens (another reason to begin using locally raised, hardy, disease-resistant queens. Or learn to harvest the queens raised by my own bees). These supercedure cells (they look a lot like peanut shells) are a sign that the colony either doesn’t have a living queen or they don’t have faith in the quality of the queen they have. They’re making plans for a new one. You gotta hand it to them. They don’t tolerate disfunction.

Girls of Summer—These girls haven’t required much attention at all. They’re the quietest of the three colonies, and though there are some new bees orienting, I thought I’d be disappointed in them. Not so. They are healthy, and the queen is laying in a great brood pattern.

I replaced three old frames in Girls of Summer because the bees are avoiding them…the frames I removed are three I inherited from Chris last year. I replaced them with three frames of fresh foundation, but I wasn’t thinking well when I did that. I need to go back in and replace those three new frames with foundationless frames…frames in which I’ll use popsicle sticks to guide the new comb building.

“Iddee” on Beemaster forum suggests I take one frame of brood and larvae from Girls of Summer (because their queen is a good-laying queen) and put it in Tomboys. After 7 days, he says, I should check for queen cells on that frame; if I find more than one, I’m to cut one out and put it into Amazons. He gave me directions for doing this procedure.

This, Reader, is the direction I’ve been waiting for. It’s time to start managing my bees. It may be the only way I can develop strong hives organically.

I’ll totally keep you posted. With pictures (sorry about no pictures. Yes, I take my camera out there, but it’s cumbersome. And I get so involved in things that I forget).

Amazons, Tomboys, Girls of Summer

Let's Go, Tomboys and Girls of Summer. This Year, It's up to You

Yesterday when I got home from work, I jumped into my long pants, my long-sleeved shirt, my socks, my boots, my gloves, my hat, my veil, fired up the smoker and visited the bees. I didn’t know if they’d still be pissy with me for my rude behavior the day before, but they were as hospitable as they could be.

The Amazons are no longer going gangbusters since half their colony hit the road in a swarm, but they’re slowly finishing the job of capping some frames of honey. I took one frame from them yesterday and harvested about 2 pounds of strained honey from it. I like the idea of catching the honey very very soon after it’s capped…I can’t think of anything any fresher than that.

Because I don’t think Amazons will be producing a lot of honey this year, I moved one of their supers to Tomboys and another of their supers to Girls of Summer. Those two hives are still bubbling over with energy and enthusiasm, and they fill every box I give them. And because it’s still so early in the season, I think they may make some honey for us this year. Of course, I said the same thing last year about Amazons, and they didn’t draw a single comb in the super I gave them last fall.

Amazons, Tomboys, Girls of Summer

Good Entrance Reducers Make Good Neighbors

After trimming trees around the house for much of the afternoon, we were taking a little iced-tea break  on our deck. I began to see quite a bit of activity out in the bee yard…more than usual. It didn’t look like a swarm, but there were a lot of bees. You can see them when the sun lights them up against the dark background of the woods behind our house.

When I went to check on things, I found robbing occurring at Tomboys and Girls of Summer. There was bee frenzy going on out there. Amazons seemed far more calm. And the robbing bees were coming from the woods where I assume the swarm went to live on Saturday morning. It was pretty wild out there, and I’m kicking myself that I didn’t capture it on my camera (only a video would show the craziness and capture the impressive sound of this, though). I never think to grab my camera when I go out there. And if I do put my camera in my pocket, I forget it’s there.

Here’s what I assume is happening: I’m pretty sure the swarm with which we’ve just dealt was from Amazons because Amazons are so darn robust. And, more importantly, because we discovered a lot of queen cells in the hive when we inspected it on Saturday…a sure sign the hive is planning to swarm. So now the swarm has found a place to live, but they don’t have food stored up in their new place…they would know, however, that there’s honey near their old house. So they came back to rob their old neighbors, Tomboys and Girls of Summer…those two hives are newer and so have less strength and fewer guard bees to protect the hive. But they’ve stored up good honey already…honey the Amazon swarm clearly wants.

The robbers were not robbing Amazons nearly so much because those girls are their sisters…for real. And Amazons are a more established and stronger hive than the two new colonies and so can defend themselves better against intruders.

This morning I plan to put entrance reducers on Tomboys and Girls of Summer. I’ll also plug the holes I drilled in the brood-chamber boxes for a few days. Those holes are unnecessary openings, and plugging them will allow the guard bees to defend only one (reduced) opening.

I’m still bemoaning the loss of honey production from Amazons this year. The honey we collected on Saturday is so beautiful in their pretty jars. I’ve got them all lined up on the counter now, and they are amazingly gorgeous when the sun hits them.

Happy, Sad, Happy, Sad, Happy, Sad

I go from being happy to being sad about the Amazon swarm. Happy because some mighty fine and robust and healthy bees have propagated, and they live near me. Sad because half my Amazon hive is gone. Happy because half my Amazon hive remains. Sad because I just read in Bee Culture magazine that there could certainly be “afterswarms.” Happy that I’ve now learned a hell of a lot about swarm lures and can set up my lure box to hopefully attract any afterswarms. Sad that honey production is reduced in Amazons. Etc.

See how my mind works?

The article about swarming in Bee Culture sort of got me down. It documented how long it will take my new queen to emerge, learn the ropes, take her mating flight, lay eggs; then it documented how long it will take those larvae and pupae to develop into bees and get to work foraging. I already sort of knew all of this, but when someone lays the numbers out for you, and when those numbers now relate directly to your hive and your honey, your heart sinks. Grand total of at least 65 days. Shit. There goes the spring. Oh well, there’s not much to forage on around here in the summer time, so we might as well use that time to let the new queen do her good work.

On a happier note: upon yesterday’s inspection, Tomboys and Girls of Summer each look very robust. We saw larvae and capped honey and pollen, etc. in each brood box. It’s not entirely out of the question that we could harvest honey from those colonies even though it’s their first year…we’ve had great weather and lots of blooming stuff. They are each healthier than the hive we lost over the winter ever was.

I’m thinking of taking a frame or two of capped brood from Amazons and putting it in Tomboys and Girls of Summer to give them some extra workers. That may give them a boost and increase the likelihood of harvesting honey from those colonies this year.

Good Bye, You Sorry-Ass Mouse

When we installed our two new colonies on Sunday, I watched several Amazon girls hauling grass and twigs and dead leaf material from their hive. Uh oh, I thought.

Today I dug into their hive to check their spring progress, and I discovered a dead mouse between the top and bottom boxes. I scraped his sorry ass off with my hive tool and flung him out into the woods.

Then I saw that he’d eaten away a huge hunk of beeswax foundation from two frames and had built his nest in there. There was more nest material on the bottom board.

I cleaned it all up, all the while apologizing to the Amazons for not installing a mouse guard at their entrance. Of course, those girls had already made mincemeat out of Mr Mouse; but I hate that they’d spent one ounce of energy or precious springtime worrying about him rather than on pollen collection and comb drawing and brood rearing.

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.