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.

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)

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

I Don't Know If This Is Good or Bad

This is a video of either 1) the Amazon swarm robbing Tomboys and Girls of Summer, or 2) new bees doing their orientation flights. This is either a good thing or a bad thing, and I can’t tell the difference. Ignorance is making me nuts.

For some reason, I feel as if this is simply the sign of a healthy hive, but I’ve taken action as if it’s the sign of some strong bees taking advantage of two smaller, less established colonies. I think I’ve got enough experience and enough knowledge to begin practicing the “art” of beekeeping. At some point, you just have to go with a gut developed by information, instinct, and experience.

Okay, I’ll stick my neck out: I believe this is simply some vigorous orientation flights. There are no dead bees being hauled out of the hives which would indicate robbing. I’ll give it another day with the entrance reducer and with the ventilation holes plugged against intruders, but I’m opening the hives again soon so these vigorous girls can get to work and haul in the goods.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Po7CKaE_Gw

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.