Friday, June 16, 2017

Day 55: My Last Inspection This Month

Today is a bittersweet day. We are off tomorrow to Montana for the summer. We have left a house sitter in charge of the house, a maintenance person in charge of the garden, and Zaga (backed by John Swann of Wicked Bees) in charge of the apiary. I began my morning by communing with the bees. Considering it was already in the mid 80's when I got outside, there was no way I was putting on a bee suit. I wore a veil, packed the smoker good, and hoped for the best. I also made up two gallons of sugar syrup (1:1).

Hives 1, 2 and 4 all have upper brood boxes boxes on them, and none of the hives' workers have begun building them out yet. They all, however, have built out a lot of new comb since last weekend (I am guessing thanks to being fed). All the feeders were also empty (I am feeding hives 1-4 and 6) and I put two liters of syrup in each of them. Interestingly, the TopBar hive (#5) was just as full of nectar as any of the others, and as it is foundationless, the bees need a lot more nectar to make wax. There were new frames being drawn out in every hive, and in every one I moved or turned them around to encourage the bees to work on other frames too. I wouldn't be surprised if the three hives with upper brood boxes have started building them out by next weekend.

It was my first inspection for Hive #6, Zaga's hive, and the bees were just as sweet as they were when I put them in. The TopBar hive was also good natured as was the formerly cranky hive (the Flow--#4). I did get stung while in Hive #4, but it was only the pad of my thumb when I put it down on a bee. I took the stinger right out and very quickly wasn't bothered by it or any other bees. The poor bee who stung me wasn't so lucky as she lost her life. I always feel bad when that happens.

Yesterday I rescued two bees from the pond just by reaching my hand in and lifting them out. It was fascinating watching them dry and groom themselves after their ordeal in the water. As I wasn't sure how long they'd been swimming and how exhausted they were, I got them each a little sugar syrup. After about five minutes they flew off. I put one of them on my shoulder after fishing her out so I could keep working. It was so cool!

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Day 50: I Fail To Re-Queen

I had every intention of re-queening today. Oh I wasn't going to do the deed myself (regicide is such an ugly thing), but I was paying to have it done. I hired a beessassin. The shame.

Before he arrived I started my weekly hive inspection. Emboldened by Friday's lack of clothes and lack of stings, I wore no protective gear at all when I went into Hives #1 and #2 to check their sugar syrup supply and restock if necessary. Hive #1 was bone dry so I added two quarts of sugar syrup to their feeder. Hive #2 still had a bit so I didn't restock them--I'll look again in two days. Hive #3 needed some syrup... Oh who am I kidding! This all happened yesterday* and a million and two things that I have had to remember and deal with have happened since then. Two or three of the five hives being fed needed syrup, the rest still had an adequate amount. I ended up with one quart of syrup left, and I had made up six quarts. I put two quarts of syrup in each hive I refilled. Do the math.

Then Dan Weaver arrived with the new queen and my moment of truth. We suited up, lit the smokers and headed for Hive #4. First thing Dan did was look at the health of the hive. His impression was a strong healthy hive. He didn't see any of the signs of a hive under stress from varroa. What neither of us saw was an aggressive hive. I thought last week that they were a bit calmer, and this time I really felt that I was seeing the temperament of the queen that came with the nuc. Because all the brood and workers that came with the nuc originally were from another queen, I hoped that the aggressiveness also came from her and that the brood from the new queen would be sweet like my other bees. It now looks like that hope bore fruit.

I love my bees. I have waded into the pond in a dress to save a bee from drowning. Killing a queen who was only a few months old and might not even have been responsible for the crankiness of the workers really went against the grain. So I decided not to do it. I'll continue to monitor for varroa, and if the count worsens, I'll treat all the hives. This isn't the best time to treat as there is both a lot of capped brood and a lot of honey. Most of the treatments aren't appropriate under those conditions.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Day 48: Zaga's Hive

Nuc with bees, smoker, and hive with feeder already in place.
Before we are to the point where day 48 is too far from my memory to be able to accurately document it, I am getting my act together and posting! Day 48 I picked up Zaga's Nuc from Bee Weaver (actually from Dan and Laura Weaver's house just down the road--it's so cool that they live so close to us), brought it home, and installed it. I was tired of suiting up and I figured the bees would be too disoriented with the move to be aggressive so I just put on my veil. I didn't even wear gloves. Oh it was marvelous! I'll be honest: The past few weeks when I've had to cover up entirely and almost died from heatstroke, I questioned the wisdom of keeping bees. The blush was definitely wearing off the rose. But installing Zaga's bees in their new home made it all come back again! Beekeeping should be done naked, but I'll settle for clothes appropriate for the weather an a veil to protect my eyes.

So Zaga's hive is a cute little green and yellow Langstroth from Bee Weaver that sits on a stand that is only about eight inches off the ground. First thing I did was put a closed-top divider feeder in the box and remove the extra frames to make way for the frames in the Nuc. Then I opened the Nuc box and pulled out the first frame. What beautiful, glorious comb it had! It was all fresh and white with fully built out frames full of brood, nectar and capped honey. I put it in the middle of the hive and went on to the rest of the frames. They were all beautiful, and I was easily able to find their industrious queen (shown at left). If you click on the photo of the bees you can see the queen. She's the one with the big yellow dot on her.

Side note: Some queen breeders mark their new queens with a spot of paint on the thorax. They use a different color every year so you can tell the age of your queen by the color of her dot. The system is an international one with white or grey used for years ending in 1 and 6, yellow for 2 and 7, red for 3 and 8, green for 4 and 9, and blue for 5 and 0.

When I had all the frames placed in the hive, I reluctantly closed it up and left the nuc box in front of it so the few bees still hanging around in it could find their way into their new home. The other activity in my bee-day was less pleasant: I had to decide what to do about the elevated varroa count in one of my hives.

The first obvious step was to consult an expert with a different management strategy to see what he does. When I picked up Zaga's hive, I talked to Dan Weaver about his varroa management strategy. Bee Weaver does not specifically test or treat for mites and they haven't for over 10 years. They breed their queens for resistance and hygiene, and they use their lifetime of experience with the bees to recognize problems early enough to manage them by tweaking rather than major intervention. Dan can scan a hive and see mites on baby bees, larvae that is more yellow than it should be, and other early signs of varroa-related problems. I can barely find the queen yet so I can't rely on my ability to see the subtle signs of a hive being out of tune. Most beekeepers lack the experience the Weavers have (five generations of beekeeping will do that for you), so it's not a wonder we have to do more intensive inspections (like the sugar shake).

Going beyond how to determine if you have a problem is what to do about it if you do. Because Bee Weaver breeds their queens for resistance and hygiene, if a colony is showing early signs of varroa, one of their strategies might be to re-queen the hive. Re-queening has two potential impacts on the varroa population. First, it breaks the brood cycle of the bees. The old queen is removed and is therefore not laying, and the new queen is in a queen cage for 3-4 days before she gets out and starts to lay. Varroa reproduction is tied to bee reproduction as the mites lay their eggs in the brood cells with the larvae. Second, the new queen is probably going to have better genetic traits for fighting off varroa as that's what they are breeding for.

Re-queening can also fix an aggression problem. And there, in a nutshell, is my situation with Hive #4. So my initial plan, after consulting with Dan, is to re-queen with a new Bee Weaver queen. As I can be challenged finding the queen, Dan is going to come over and do the re-queening for me on Sunday.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Day 47: Adding New Brood Boxes and Checking For Varroa Mites

Hives 1-4, left to right
Today was the first varroa check for hives and it had to be a really quick one as it was also my birthday and I had pampering to do. I approached the activity as if I were storming the beaches of Normandy and every second counted. Not to imply that getting a massage and a facial is comparable in effort, but you wouldn't know it for the planning!

Today's agenda was simple: collect a sugar sample from three of the fives hives (the ones with either screened bottoms, removable bottom boards, pull-out plastic trays in the bottom of the hives, or some combination of the above), store the samples in individual plastic 1-lb frit jars labeled for the hive the sample came from, put the new medium brood boxes on top of two hives, and add closed-top division ladder feeders to all the hives but the Topbar. Get in, get out, analyze the data later after pampering.

I started with Hive #1 which doesn't have a screened bottom board so I planned to pick up the entire hive body (it was only one deep brood box) and put it on a piece of paper on which I could catch the sugar. The paper was on an aluminum tray across the top of my green garden wagon (I should've taken a picture--it was a great set-up). This initial foray almost got derailed when I picked up the hive to put it on a paper-covered tray because the bottom board came with the hive because it was stuck on with the bees' propolis. Bees don't like gaps in the structure of their hives as they can allow increased vibration and decreased structural stability hives and are a security risk. So the bees collect resin from trees and some plants, mix it with beeswax and spit, and make a glue out of it. They had very efficiently glued the bottom board to the hive so I needed a little help to get it back onto the hive stand after I got it off.

Devon (one of the contractors working nearby on the pond) was conscripted to assist me. Between his nervousness at being naked around the bees (well, naked as in not wearing a bee suit, he did have a t-shirt and jeans on), and my terse focus on getting the job done we fumbled around a bit while I held the hive in the air and he moved the bottom board here and there until he put it on the stand and I was able to put the hive on the paper. Whew! Everything else went easy-peasy. I took the lid and the inner cover off the hive, scooped a cup of powdered sugar out of by baggie and sprinkled it on top of the frames concentrating on the central brood frames, and brushed all the sugar down between the frames. Then I closed the hive back up and moved on to Hive #2. That one has a screened bottom and a plastic tray in it so all I had to do was take off the lid and the inner cover, sprinkle the sugar in as before, and close it up.

The third hive I did was Hive #4, aka the Cranky Hive. Hive #3, the hybrid, has neither a screened bottom, nor a removable plastic insert, nor a removable bottom board so to do a varroa check on them I would have to use the scoop-a-1/2-of-a-cup-of-bees-into-a-glass-jar (that's about 300 bees) method. I wasn't too confident about my ability to do the scooping so I gave this hive a pass for now. Hive #4, the Flow, has both a screened bottom board and a removable plastic insert. However it already had a medium brood box on it so I had to take the new box off and put it on the ground before doing the sugar test. It wouldn't have made any sense to sprinkle sugar through both boxes as there were no bees to test in the top (they haven't started building it out yet) and the sugar would just have got caught up on the frames.

As usual, when I opened the brood box up the bees got all pissy and immediately started dive bombing my head. I ignored them and calmly sprinkled in the sugar, brushed the excess between the frames, and put the lid back on. I left the medium super out for now.

Interesting side note here: I just watched a video on Facebook produced by the wonderful Flow people and they are now making a hybrid honey super which has the patented Flow honey frames, and it also has regular frames for the bees to build their own comb and store honey. The honey super is still protected against brood being laid in it as there is a queen excluder (a plastic screen with holes big enough for the workers to get through, but too small for the queen) but the honey frames in it can either be cut up into comb for harvesting, moved down into the brood box as winter stores for the bees, or extracted like any other Lang hive frame. They happened to have some of the hybrid supers in the size matching the 10-frame Lang hive body in a warehouse sale for 10% off and they are currently offering 15% off everything through the end of June so I got one for 25% off! I'm going to put it on one of my Langstroth hives next summer.

Anyway, back to the varroa checks. I waited 10 minutes from the time of my first powdered sugar sprinkle and then lifted Hive #1 back onto its stand. Then I removed the lid and the inner cover and placed the new medium brood box with the 1-gal closed top, division ladder feeder already in it onto the brood box. The inner cover went onto it followed by the lid. Then I carefully poured the powdered sugar on the paper into a plastic jar and labeled it. Before collecting the sugar from the next hive I turned the paper over exposing a clean side. I know it was overkill as I'm not testing for anything too small to see with even my tired, old, naked eyes, but it made me feel more scientific.

Then I pulled the plastic tray from the bottom of Hive #2 and repeated the addition of a medium brood super. The sugar from the plastic insert got dumped onto the paper and then funneled into the jar which was then labeled. Hive #4 was the same as Hive #2, but instead of adding a new medium brood box, I put the feeder into the existing second box and then replaced it and the cover and lid on the hive. So far so good, time to go inside and do counts in the coolness of the kitchen.

Just a few mites
For the first count I dumped the contents of jar#1 onto a white plate and, wearing my reading glasses, used a corn cow prong to push the sugar around checking for mites. As I've said before, the mites wiggle their legs when you poke them. I counted five mites in this batch which is just below the recommended threshold for treating. Then I thought, hmm, I bet I could be even more sure of my results if I sifted the sugar with a strainer it would pass through but the mites wouldn't. I neglected to tell Dave that I used his fine kitchen strainer for the sifting, but I did wash it really well in really hot, soapy water. After I was left with just a little sugar, mites, ants, and some debris in the strainer I dumped the strainer contents out onto another plate and still counted five mites. Hive #2, the package, netted no mites at all (Huzzah!). But Cranky Hive #4 had so many mites that I stopped counting at 16. There were probably 18 in there--three times the number of the mites you need to see to warrant treating.

Lots of mites
I spent the next two hours researching what treatment I should use and how many hives I should treat. Opinions amongst beekeepers on this subject are strong and polarizing. I followed up with three very knowledgable, very qualified, very strong local beekeepers, and all three of them have vastly different management strategies for and philosophies about varroa mites. At the end of it all, I decided that my best course of action at this time is to re-queen Hive #4. The bees are overly aggressive, and they are not either varroa resistant or hygienic about the mites. To get those characteristics, I need to change the genetics of my hive--which is what they do at Bee Weaver (where I got most of my bees). So Danny Weaver is coming over on Sunday with a new queen, and we're going to find and replace the current queen. It wasn't an easy choice, but there is no way to eliminate varroa from your hives: if your bees don't have now, in a few weeks they will--at least around here. So I'm going to go with bees bred for hygiene and resistance as a first step. I am sorry that I'll have to commit regicide to do it, but it is for The Greater Good.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Day 44: Asking the Experts

Today I did my weekly hive check, and I found what I expected to find after attending yesterday's Ask a Beekeeper get together put on by the Austin Beekeepers Club. I asked a lot of questions--more than anyone else--and as so often happens when you get information from multiple sources, the answers I got yesterday contradicted what I had already been told by other reputable beekeepers. However I think they info I got yesterday was correct, so tomorrow I have more work to do in the hives. But before I go too far down the he said-he said rabbit hole, here's a quick hive status.

First off, the fourth hive is still very cranky. Okay, I might have squished a couple of bees trying to get the frames out--even with the new medium brood box (yesterday I was told "supers" are for honey, and all boxes for brood, no mater where thy are, are called brood boxes) as the bees were mostly hanging out in the bottom box and it was impossible to get my fingers in or the frames back in without squishing bees. This is the only hive where I had that problem.

I didn't even open hive #5 as it was just installed in the middle of last week.

I only found the queen in hive #3, but I found larvae in all the hives. I also found a very well-built queen cell in hive #3 and I'm not sure what that's about.

Now to what I didn't find: 1) lots of nectar, and 2) a lot of built-out comb. According to the information I got yesterday, these two are related--and they are also related to my stopping feeding. Both of the beekeepers yesterday--and one of them was Lance Wilson, who is Mr. Bee. Seriously. That man has all the cred in the world starting with his Master Beekeeper status. Anyhoo, Lance and the other experienced beekeeper at the get together both said you might have to feed your bees for the entire first year. Lance's rule of thumb is that a hive needs 15 lbs of honey in reserve at all times, and if it is a new hive that is building a lot of wax, it should definitely be fed. I had stopped feeding because I thought the bees had adequate stores--they didn't if they need 15 lbs of honey as that is three deep or five medium frames full and none of my hives has that.

So tomorrow I need to put feeder boxes back in (I have decided I don't like the boardman feeders as they leak into the hive, they mess with the entrance reducers, and they don't hold enough). However I'm also going to be putting a second brood box (medium) on two of the hives tomorrow (the TopBar and the hybrid have plenty of room to expand out and they don't take boxes on top anyway, and I already put a new box on one of them) so I need two medium division feeders. I don't want to put the feeders in the bottom boxes as I would need to lift the top boxes off every time I needed to refill the feeders. Unfortunately I only have one medium feeder so I'm off to Busy Bee in Florence tomorrow for another one or two.

My last conundrum with my hives is that it's time, according to Lance, to do a varroa mite check. I like the way he does his (shake powdered sugar into the hive, collect it on a piece of paper under the screened bottom board and look through it for mites). But only two of my hives have screened bottom boards so I either need to get screened bottom boards tomorrow for the others or don't check them that way. The other way I know of includes putting bees into a jar with powdered sugar, shaking them, dumping them on paper, and then counting mites that fall off the bees. I am not thrilled with figuring out how to get the bees into the jar in the first place, and that test isn't as accurate.

Once you've dusted the bees with powdered sugar, it causes the mite to fall off of them. The mites look like black specs in the powdered sugar, but if you poke them they wriggle their legs--unlike real specs. If you have more than six mites in your sugar when you do this test you need to treat for mites as you probably have more than a 2% mite load because of all the capped brood. Bee Weaver advertises that they haven't had to treat for varroa in many years (and as they are the source of my bees, I shouldn't have to treat either, bee genetics being what they are). Lance says he treats 2-3 times per year (based on need--the results of his tests) and commercial beekeepers treat four times.

So my current bee philosophy is continue feeding and check for mites. Tomorrow is the day to finish implementing it. My even more current philosophy is that I'm tired and it's time for bed!

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Day 39: First TopBar Hive

The new bees all clustered around the entrance to their new home.
The days run hot and heavy together and I find myself in the hives more than once a week. This trend will slow now that I have taken delivery of my last bees for the year. Today's bees came from Wicked Bee Apiary and the nuc was built in a TopBar box so the bees had to build everything themselves on foundationless frames. I waited a long time for these bees and my wait was well-rewarded.

The other nucs I got had four frames of bees. John has been holding this one for me longer than he planned because of the weather, and as a result it had seven frames of brood and stores in it. It had eight originally, but one of the combs fell off its bar into the bottom of the nuc. One of the combs was pretty small (I should have taken a picture of it), and when John went to add it to the hive he discovered that the bar was warped so it wouldn't go into the hive without creating a small gap in a couple of places. Apparently that won't do so he told me to take the comb to the house, cut out the finished honey (there was also a lot of nectar, but it wasn't ready so it wasn't capped).

As we finished up and I looked at the comb I saw 12 larvae in the cells and three capped brood. That's fifteen bees! John said to just get over it and process the comb, but I couldn't. I tried. I took it into the house and cut it off the bar, but then I thought, "Why not reattach it but to a straight bar? Maybe even a bar in the hybrid hive so the bees there will be encouraged to move into the TopBar portion of that hive instead of packing nectar into cells in the middle of the brood.

It took a bit of work with a candle and the gas stove, but I managed to attach the bit of comb to a bar from the hybrid, and I put it back into that hive. In the process I discovered a small colony of sugar ants had made their home in the TopBar side of the hive. I encouraged them to move out. I removed the queen excluder from between the two portions of the hive, and as I was finishing up I saw workers already swarming over the little comb. I look forward to checking on them Sunday.

Things I learned today: 1) When you find a new small comb on the end of the row in a TopBar hive, move it in one space between two already drawn out combs to help the bees stay straight and not go 3-dimensional in their comb-building. 2) When you need to move frames around in the hive, make sure to keep all the brood together--don't put a honey and pollen frame between two brood frames. 3) When you go to put the bars back in a TopBar hive, overlap them a little so there is no space between them and then set them down slowly, tight together. Don't try to slide them together.

And that's the bee report.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Day 37: Suiting Up For Inspections

Maybe it's hubris, but I think I am getting a feeling for what's good in my hives and what needs to be addressed. Today I suited up (with hive #4 I can't NOT fully suit up), lit the smoker (I'm getting really good at making it smoke too, by the way), and headed out with nothing more but a hive tool to check in with my hives. Hives #1-3 have boardman feeders on them, and the feeders have all been empty for 2-3 days. Hive #4 has not had a feeder since I took the division feeder out.

Hive #1: This is the established nuc--the furthest ahead of the four hives when I put them in. It still has three or so frames to build out, so no rush to add on a super. However when I look at the contents of the frames that are built out, the first thing I notice is that there is very little nectar or capped honey. There is a lot of brood in every stage that I can see--I still can't see the tiny eggs--through capped. There is some pollen (I'm still not sure how much pollen I should be seeing). But there are no frames built out holding only nectar and/or honey. This tells me that I need to feed this hive. I didn't see the queen, but I wasn't really looking for her. The bees stayed docile for my entire inspection even though I squished a couple (I HATE squishing bees!).

Hive #2: This is the package. These bees are doing GREAT! Still three or so empty frames so no super for it yet, but there are a couple of frames being built out of nectar/honey, and all the other frames have a lot of brood with a bit of capped honey around the edges. Out of all my hives, this one has the textbook colony structure. It does not need supplemental feeding at this time. I did see one queen cell (I'm pretty sure it wasn't a drone cell) and that is a concern, but there were enough larvae in all the stages besides egg (and there may have ben eggs, I just can't see them) that I think I am queen right. This hive had an assassin bug on the outside  of the hive with a dead bee in it's pincers, er claws, er hands, er WHATEVER is at the end of its front legs. There were also a couple of cockroaches in the hive. I removed the boardman feeder and put the entrance reducer back in on the larger size opening.

Hive #3: This hive contains the bees from one of the two nucs that were made up for me the day I was down at Bee Weaver Apiary. It is also the hybrid hive (hives one and two are straight Langstroths). I started my inspection at the end farthest from the TopBar extension, and I just realized that I forgot to check the TopBar portion to see if there is anything happening in there. Based on the status of the rest of the hive, I don't think there is. So back at the beginning... Like the previous two hives, the bees in this one were docile and not perturbed by my presence. I could totally manage this hive in nothing but a veil. As also with the others, there was a lot of brood and a lot of nectar/honey. Problem is that even though there are empty--not even built out yet--frames, the bees are putting the nectar in amongst the brood so that there is capped brood next to nectar. Not good. Don't they know they're supposed to build out the cells in the new frames, put the nectar there, and use the brood cells that have recently hatched bees for new brood? I'm not sure what to do to make them start building out the new comb other than move an empty frame into a spot between two built out frames. Maybe they would get that strong hint. I'm tempted to go do it now, but I'll wait till tomorrow. Saw a hive beetle and a cockroach in this hive. I removed the boardman feeder and put the entrance reducer back in on the larger size opening.

Hive #4: This is the (formerly) cranky hive with the second of the new nucs housed in a Flow hive. It is the one I put a medium super on earlier in the week. I didn't really inspect this hive as I was just in there putting on the super. However I did look in the super box, and while there were some bees in there, they hadn't started building anything out yet. I'm giving this hive another week before I go in there again--and not just because it was a refreshing change not to be chased back to the house. No chance to see pests as I didn't really get into the hive body. I hope to see more movement up in the super next weekend.

I didn't see any of the queens, but given the states of all the hives, I wasn't really concerned/looking for them. I'll look for them specifically next time. I did mix up a pint of sugar syrup for Hive #1 and as I had already removed my bee vestments,  I put on a veil and filled up and installed the feeder just wearing it (well and pants and a shirt and shoes--oh yes, and socks too). And that's it for the Bee Report this Memorial Day. Now go hug a veteran.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Day 33: Feeding and Frame Technology

Today was not a regularly scheduled visit to the bee yard, but I needed to get the super (upper box) on the Flow (the cranky hive) so that maybe they'd get happier with the additional room. I got out the hive body pieces yesterday and put them together, then I stained them... and then I realized I had the wrong size box. Oh I had an 8-frame box alright, but I had a deep instead of medium and it is recommended that you use three mediums, or one deep and one medium for the bees (their brood, honey and pollen) in Central Texas. I already have a deep on the bottom so I didn't want another deep. It's already going to be next year before I put the Flow honey super on the top and start collecting honey for myself from that hive (every box after the first two is for honey collection for the beekeeper).

So this morning I got online and hunted for the closest place I could go to buy bee supplies. I found a lovely place in Florence Texas, about 50 minutes north of our house, called Busy Bee Beekeeping Supplies. At 9:30 am, Gallifrey, Jig and I hit the road. Turns out they are a dealer for Mann Lake--the online place I bought the last frames and hive bodies--so I loaded up on all kinds of fun things. I got a frame board for wiring up my own wax frames, wax foundation (for the frames), eyelets, an embedding tool for the wire, a wire spool rack, honey, books, more hive bodies (mediums this time), and a really cool division board feeder called a closed top ladder feeder.

This feeder is the coolest thing It holds a gallon of syrup and has the same body as the other division board feeders I have, but it also has a top with two holes for the bees to enter to access the syrup. It has O rings to keep the sides from bowing out into the hive from the weight of the syrup, and it has two plastic sock things that look like the wrappings you get on Asian pears at the supermarket. The bees climb down the socks to get to the syrup, and it's easy for them to climb back up so they don't drown! No matter how many sticks I floated in the syrup in two of the last feeders like this I had, I still had a lot of drowned bees. This handy dandy contraption looks like a really good way to save my bees.

While I was talking to the owner she told me that they don't use the boardman feeders because she thinks they encourage robbing and they need to be refilled to frequently. She did, however, show me how to use them with my entrance reducers. Now if I want to continue using them I need to put the reducers back in. And all the feeders were empty today so I should probably still be feeding, and I'll put the reducers back in tomorrow when I fill the syrup jars.

This afternoon I stained the new medium super, let it dry, and filled it with the black and yellow plastic foundation frames I previously bought from Mann Lake. Then I suited up, lit the smoker, and headed to Hive #4. I smoked them good--entrance and under the cover--before I took the top and the inner cover off. I carefully brushed bees away from the top edges of the brood box and set the new box on it. A bit of smoke convinced the bees hanging on the inner cover and lid to go elsewhere while I put them back on, and I headed back to the bee supply shed (the RO system side of the well house right next to the bee yard). Not a single bee angrily buzzed me! No kamikazes, no killer bees. Huzzah!

The video below is done by the wonderful people at the Flow and shows how to put together your own frames. What I am going to do with the wax foundation is shown starting at minute 7:29.

Tomorrow, decorative painting of the hives!

Monday, May 22, 2017

Day 29: Weekly Inspection and Mean Bees

Wax frame with new capped brood (bottom center),
pollen (in the ring around it), and capped honey (the
white cells in the upper right
It's getting difficult knowing what day it is in beekeeping. I guess I'm going to have to keep a spreadsheet so I can just look up the date and the corresponding bee day. Okay, spreadsheet made, yesterday was Day 29.

I suited up fully for my hive inspection as I knew I'd need to remove the entrance reducers and put in the boardman entrance feeders, and all that futzing around was likely to make even the calm hives a bit more agitated. Wow am I glad I did! Yesterday was an overcast day about 70 degrees at 5:00 pm when I went into the hives. Zaga wasn't able to be there so it was my first day doing a full hive inspection by myself. Armed with a loaded smoker, I filled the new boardman feeders with the leftover sugar water from last week, arranged my tools, and went out into the gloaming drizzle. In order to more accurately track what I did and what I found, I took my phone and used voice memo. The problem with the voice memo is that I was out there for an hour and 15 minutes to capture everything I did, I need to listen to the whole memo... Thus the bees take up two hours and twenty minutes of my day. There must be some way to speed this up.

Another picture of the same frame as above, but from
further back.
Ah well. I listened to my loooong memo and transcribed the details about hives, frames, beetles, queens, etc., into a spreadsheet. In my own obsessive compulsive kind of way, I think I want to have a blank form to use for each hive examination with check boxes indicating finding the queen, hive beetles, treatments, frame status--honey, pollen, brood, nectar, etc. That way I can capture the details without either having to talk to my phone or have Zaga take notes. On the plus side, I can condense the status of each hive into a couple of sentences!

Hive #1: This hive is chugging right along. I'm continuing to feed it as the larvae looked a bit dry and the feeder was dry. Saw a hive beetle, no beetle B Gone strips (like dryer sheets with no fabric softener on them, the beetles feet get tangled up in them). I need to add one next time. I did find the queen, and she was quite busy. Long Live the Queen!

A foundationless frame--the bees made all the comb from
scratch, though it looks like they reused wax from the
frames that came with the nuc as some of the cells are the dirty
brown of used brood comb. New brood in the yellow capped
cells, honey along the top in the white.
Hive #2: This one was the package so it started with no frames of brood or nectar or pollen, and it still has about as much brood and food stores now as the first hive which had the greatest headstart of all of them. I think I'll go with all packages next year if I buy more bees. There was some syrup left in the divider feeder when I replaced it with the frame and put in the boardman feeder. I didn't find the queen and I was a bit concerned because there seemed to be fewer larvae in this one. Will need to check carefully next time for larvae and queen.

Hive #3: Four full frames of brood, nectar, honey, larvae and pollen in the middle, a couple more drawn out frames, three not drawn out yet and added a new one. I found the queen. Long Live the Queen!

Another foundationless frame, this one is less drawn out than
the one above, but it shows how the bees build rings of
hexagonal cells and then connect them.
Hive #4: I am beginning to hate this hive. I have been stung twice now--both times by bees from this hive. This time I got stung all the way up by the house, through my hat and hair at the very end of the hive inspection. These bees are just angry. They might be angry because they are over-crowded. This hive is full, full, FULL! It was impossible to do a good inspection as there were so many bees surging around the frames and the hive body that I couldn't move anything without risking squishing them. the hive is definitely more than 90% full so tomorrow I am going to have to put another box on the top. But do I do another brood box which would hold a mix of honey, brood, and pollen, or do I put on the Flow super?

The one thing that was super cool about Hive #4 is that it is the only one in which I used foundationless frames--frames with no existing wax or plastic for the bees to build their cells on (also known as drawing out the comb). They create everything from scratch as they hang from the top of the frame. They did one complete foundationless and a third to a half of another. There might even have been one more foundationless in there, but I didn't record anything about it in my memo. By the time I got to it, the bees were super pissed off and I just needed to be done.

A couple of notes about this inspection. Because of the temps, the weather, and the time of day, there weren't many bees out foraging which made the inspection--especially of Hive #4 more difficult. I need to remember to inspect on sunny still mornings so most of the bees will be out hunting for nectar or pollen.

Today I went to Home Depot and bought some little test jars of paint in a range of colors with which to decorate the white painted hives, and I also got some white paint to paint the new TopBar and the unpainted shallow boxes I will need to add soon. In spite of being stung twice so far and the difficulties I am having with Hive #4 (leading to me no longer beekini beekeeping), I LOVE MY BEES! This is a really great experience.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Day 23: Getting Comfortable Inspecting the Hives

Man is it hard to use the laptop when you also have a lapcat! Harder still when he wants you to use your fingers to pet him instead of typing on the keyboard.

It's hard to believe I left the bees alone for an entire week, but apparently I did as the last post was a week ago. Today I made a gallon of 1:1 sugar syrup and then Zaga and I suited up and headed out to wrangle bees. What a difference this week! Thanks to John Swann and his consultation from Wicked Bee Apiary last week, I felt much more confident about what I was looking at (and for) in the hives today. We found all four queens--even though the yellow dot was completely chewed off of one of them. I am sure the dot-less queen is one of our original girls and not a new queen who superseded ours as she has a clipped wing, and all my queens were marked and clipped. I still didn't manage to spot eggs in the cells (I really need to take a pair of reading glasses), but saw lots and lots of larvae and a ton of new capped brood. The capped brood we got with the nucs had a much darker brown wax. The caps on the new brood cells are almost as light as the caps on the new honey.

So examining your hives... It doesn't matter how many seminars and club meetings you attend, how many slideshows you watch, or how many books you read. Opening your first hive is like having your first kid: Everything you thought you knew completely flees your mind when faced with the immediate visceral reality of YOURS. I knew of the visual difference between capped brood and capped honey. I had seen pictures. It took John patiently pointing everything out to me in my own hives for me to really get it. Today Zaga and I didn't even take out all the frames from the hives. Once we found the queens we did a quick look down the sides of the remaining frames to see how drawn out they were, and then we closed up the hives. I don't know if I squished fewer bees today than in previous visits, but I felt much better about reinserting the frames. Putting the inner cover back on was a snap using John's method of setting it down perpendicular to how it was supposed to go and then turning it in place till it was squared up.

All the hives are looking really good, and the Flow--which only has eight frames as opposed to the ten frame capacity of the rest--is almost at 90%. When John was here we took the feeder out of that hive (which houses the nuc that was established already when I brought it home) so there are eight frames in it and only a couple haven't been built out yet. When it gets to 90% I have to decide whether to put another brood box on it or go ahead and move to the Flow super. I need to find some of the other Flow folk around here to see what they do. It's a good resource to be able to see what the Aussies are doing with their Flows, but as they are the first to say, there's no substitute for getting advice from your local beekeepers.

Finally, I ordered external feeders, an 8-frame brood box for the Flow (just in case I want to use it rather than the Flow super), and a bunch of shallow frames, and they arrived last week. Tomorrow I'll open the box and set them up. Thank heaven I didn't order wax frames as the box has been on the porch in 90 degree heat for a few days now. John was supposed to deliver my TopBar hive over the weekend so I could paint it. Better drop him a note as he is also supposed to delivering my TopBar nuc this week and I need to have the hive painted (outside only) before I put the bees in it. Zaga's nuc (or nucs--she might end up with two too) will come this week or next. We are really rocking the apiary--more bees!!!

Monday, May 8, 2017

Day 16: Getting Help

The Expert Cometh! This morning I called John Swann of Wicked Bee Apiary and he came out and examined the hives. Hah! I was right! I have mean bees! It's not that my bees don't like me, it's that they don't like anyone. John confirmed that one of my hives has very testy bees. These bees are not from my queen--they are the adult bees that came with the nuc. The next bees I will be seeing are the brood bees that came with the nuc--and they are likely to be just as feisty as they came from the same original hive as the adult bees and likely from the same queen. However in six weeks I should start seeing bees from my queen, the current queen, and then it will be time to evaluate temperament. If they are still very defensive, borderline aggressive, then I will probably requeen the hive and start over. Requeening means that there will still be some brood left from the old queen to raise up, but then all the new bees laid after the requeening will have a different genetic makeup and (hopefully) a better disposition. The bees in the other three hives have much better temperaments.

The best news of the day is that the hives all have their original marked queens. Zaga and I had difficulty finding them because the other bees have begun to chew the yellow paint off the backs of the queens, making them a bit harder to spot. But John found them all, and he also showed me lots of new brood in various stages of development from eggs, to larvae, to capped (pupating) brood. We also saw a baby bee chewing its way out of a cell. I'm glad human babies don't chew their way out... Just a thought.

On the feeding front, I am over-feeding. As much as I give them, they, greedy little pigs that they are, will consume. They will take all that sugar water and fill cells and cells in the hive with it--leaving the queen nowhere to lay eggs for more bee babies. So I need to knock off the feeding a bit. A quart at a time, a couple of times a week is enough according to John. And I probably want to go to entrance feeders (feeders that are outside the hive but whose entrance is inside the main hive entrance (so bees from other hives and other bugs don't eat the syrup). The big advantages to entrance feeders are that you don't have to disturb the hive to refill them, you can see when they need filling from the outside, and they don't take up frame space in the hive.

Right now none of my hives are ready to have additional boxes added. They are all healthy and they are all being drawn out (the workers are making new wax cells for brood, pollen and nectar), but they're not 90% full yet. When the two outermost frames are drawn out on the sides closest to the middle (leaving two non-drawn-out sides), then it will be time to pop another box on top. The top box will be a medium--as opposed to the deep that is currently the base for each hive--but it will also be used for brood, pollen and honey. I can't remember what John said about adding more boxes this year--my brain was full by that point, and it's damn hard to take notes while wearing big gloves and juggling bee hive components and equipment.

So, mostly happy bees. Living queens are busily laying eggs--which is better than either of the alternatives (lazy live queens or productive zombie queens). One last note about bee eggs: They are damned hard to impossible to see--luckily the larvae are a bit bigger and it looked today like the same ages of brood were clustered together in the frames so I could find an egg cell or two in the cluster of 20-30 cells with eggs grouped together next to each other. Likewise I was able to find the wriggling little larvae all tucked up in adjoining cells in a frame.

I did suit up completely for this examination (as did John) and it was a good thing or I surely would have been stung. The bees did NOT like being disturbed two days in a row!

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Day 15: Mean Bees

There was a really good title for today's post... Oh yes, Zaga just reminded me, "Off with her head!" We came up with that title after a really big Negroni each, and now I can't remember why it was so funny--and so apropos. Today was a regular bee maintenance day, and Zaga had no end of amusement at my expense because I felt the bees did not like me. Hives three and four seemed--to me--to be more aggressive today than they were two weeks ago. There was even a bee that chased me all the way back to my front door. I was sure she was going to sting me she was so mad at me. Zaga says they are insects and just want to kill us anyway so I shouldn't take it so personally, but I want my bees to like me! The first day we were all so zen. Now at least a couple of the hives--maybe three of the four--seem really cranky to me. I may or may not have been stung today--I'm leaning towards not, though Zaga is still laughing at the way I screamed when I thought it happened. In my defense, I thought a bee was in my sandal and had stung me, and when I yelled "Holy Shit!" it was more in anticipation of further pain to come rather than actual hurt.

So "Off with her head!" felt to me to be the sentiment the bees were showing me today. I, of course was in a dress, veil and gloves with bare arms, back, and legs below the shins. Zaga was completely covered in a beesuit, veil, gloves and closed shoes. She could afford to be sanguine about the bees' irritation as there was no way she was going to get stung through all that clothing.

Stats for the day:

Hive #1--The hive with the cracked feeder that spilled syrup all over the hive on Wednesday : This is the Lang with the older nuc (the one with the established queen) in it. The feeder was not empty of sugar syrup, but it was also filled with bee corpses. We were so rattled by all the dead bees in the syrup that we forgot to take a count of the filled frames. There were a lot of them, however. We did not find the queen.

Hive #2: This is the Lang with the package in it and I was really pleased to see how they're doing. Of the nine frames, 5-1/2 of them were drawn out and in the process of being filled. Filled with what, we are not sure, but filled nonetheless. We did not find the queen, but otherwise the hive looked really good. The feeder was completely empty.

Hive #3: I'm beginning to think these bees don't like me. This was one of the new nucs (nucs that had a queen in a cage vs. already established in the hive) and it is the hybrid hive. The feeder was completely empty. The bees were drawing out comb on the bottom of the frames they were so out of space, but they were ignoring the extra plastic frames which had come with the Mann Lake hive and which I had put in this hive to fill it out. The feeder was completely empty, and I moved it from the third slot from the right, all the way to the left to encourage the bees to spread out more--maybe even to start filling in the adjacent TopBar honey super. We did find the queen in this one (yay!). There were four empty frames in this hive.

Hive #4: These bees really don't like me. This is the Flow and it is populated with one of the two new nucs. We did not find the queen today for the second week in a row. I think this hive has been taken over by Satan Queen and the workers are all Satan Spawn. There were six very full frames in this hive--out of seven--and one of them was completely drawn from a foundationless frame. Very cool. The feeder was also completely empty.

What I most learned from today is that I can't tell brood comb from any other comb (with the exception of capped honey) with any certainty. Clearly this week we need to get an experienced beekeeper in to work with us on our hive inspection, and we need to take some really good notes--and maybe pictures.

I didn't want to go back into the hives a second time today, but I really wasn't expecting the feeders to be dry since Wednesday--especially since I put a gallon of sugar in each of the feeders. But they were dry so I went back in and split a gallon of syrup between the four of them (all I hd made up). Hive #1 we took the feeder out, dumped out the sugar syrup and dead bees that were in it, refilled it, dropped a sheet of Beetle Bee Gone in the bottom of the box, and replaced the feeder. Hives #2 and #3 also got Beetle Bee Gone and more sugar syrup, hive #4 only got the additional sugar syrup (I didn't want to mess around with the cranky bees again).

I still love my bees, but each time I go into the hive just serves to highlight how little I know about them, therefore how much I have to learn, and how much it feels like I'm just winging it. I need to get someone to do the hive examinations with Zaga and me who is experienced and can tell what the heck (s)he is looking at in all the seething cells and if there is anything we should be doing. I also want to know if we should still be feeding because the bees went through about 18 lbs of sugar in water since Wednesday...

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Day 11: Feeding the New Bees

Bee undertakers, what a sad job. This morning when I was out gazing at my hives I saw a couple of bees dragging little bee corpses from the hives and flying off with them. I wondered what they did with them so I watched one. I really thought she was going to bury her charge as she just kept flying it around and then dragging it along the ground as if she were looking for the best grave site. Anthropomorphizing aside, I think the dead bee was somehow stuck to the live bee and the live bee eventually managed to shake the dead one off and then flew away. What a short life individual worker bees have.

It's only Wednesday, I was in the hives for a thorough inspection on Sunday and I'm not supposed to be back in there till this coming Sunday, but I had to go in today to fill the feeders. I was concerned on Sunday because all four feeders were bone dry and I don't want to be starving my bees. So today I went out--no hat, no gloves, no smoker!--and just peeked into Hive #2 (the Lang with the package) at the feeder end (I didn't even take the inner cover off the body, I just slid it back enough to expose the feeder). It was bone dry. Not wanting to mess around, I went to HEB and bought 24 lbs of sugar thinking I'd have some left. I don't. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

I keep telling myself it's a learning curve. You can't remember everything. The first mistake I got halfway through making was that I got out a big enamel pot to cook up the sugar syrup in. We've been having trouble getting that much sugar to dissolve in a gallon of water so I thought I make a good, old-fashioned sugar suspension by heating it up. It got pretty hot and I got to thinking. There was a niggling little worm in my head that said you're not supposed to cook the sugar syrup as it can be bad for the bees. So I hopped on the handy-dandy Interweb and validated my fear. As with many things, there is no straight up answer. What is definitely bad for bees is hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF). Really. It is a "naturally-occurring organic acid with the formula C6H6O3. It is often formed during the dehydration of sugars, especially fructose, and is known to be toxic to honey bees." The original paper referenced by that article is here. So will cooking your syrup kill all your bees due to increasing the amount of this naturally occurring organic acid? Nope. But there is a question about increased bee mortality due to increased levels of HMF caused by applying heat to the sugar, and since I have new bees they are stressed enough without my slipping them some additional toxins with their supper.

After I turned off the stove (the syrup hadn't even boiled yet--much less caramelized which is an absolute no-no) I mixed the hot syrup in with some cold water to bring down the temperature, and then I took the first pitcher full out out to the hives. Because Hive #2 has the package bees--the ones who didn't have any brood, any pollen or nectar stores, just a queen and a bunch of bees--I am the most concerned about their health. I took the divider feeder out of the hive (it was bone dry) and it was full of bees. I shook them out (twice) so I could add the syrup, and after it was filled I replaced the sticks in it so the bees would have something to climb out onto when they fell into the syrup.

Hive #1 with the sugar syrup running
out and down the left front leg.
Before I could do Hive #3, the hybrid hive, I had to refill my syrup pitcher in the house. So I removed my bee garb, traipsed back to the house, and refilled the pitcher--and this time I was careful to put in exactly one gallon so I would know how much syrup the bees were going through in a specific time period. I trudged back to the hive (of course I was trudging: It was 92 degrees out), re-donned my garb, relit the smoker, and opened up Hive #3. This time I decided to leave the feeder in to minimize the intrusion for the bees, and I carefully and slowly poured the syrup in. This feeder was also full of bees, but I poured really slowly so they had time time to crawl up the sides (they're grooved) or onto the stick rafts in the bottom. Yes, several bees got drenched with sugar syrup, but by the time I finished they all had a big grooming party going on so I am choosing to think of it as a spa day for bees.

Wash, rinse and repeat for clothing off and on, traipsing, trudging, and smokering. Then it was time for Hive #1. Did I say this is a learning experience? I didn't mention the process of opening the hive last time, but I did it the same this time: a little puff of cool smoke to the front entrance followed by lifting the top and puffing a bit in there and putting the top back down for a minute. Then I removed the top and slid the inner cover back to expose just the feeder. As I did on Hive #3, I gently filled the feeder with one gallon of syrup till it was almost to the top, and then I relaxed and enjoyed the spa party. The girls were happily grooming and sipping syrup--it was a great party. And then I heard a sound suspiciously like water running... I had forgotten that this feeder that came with the nuc was cracked. Now I really like Bee Weaver, but why would you put a cracked feeder in with a nuc that someone purchased? Give the customer a new feeder for heaven's sake! Nucs aren't cheap.

I looked at the front of the hive and sugar syrup was flowing out the front of the hive and down one leg. Let's get this party started! Bees poured from the hive and flew in from who knows where else for this sugar bonanza. Normally I would be afraid of robbing (where bees from one hive come to steal the honey from another hive by force, as opposed to by stealth) but this is my strongest hive, it was queenright on Sunday, and it's a standard Lang hive with foundation frames (less work for the bees than foundationless where they have to build the comb from scratch). So I put the top back on, carefully nudging the grooming party bees out of the way, and I watched the activity at the front of the hive for awhile. The bees seemed to be trying to grab as much of the syrup as they could. As I stood there, I saw a little whiptail lizard cruising toward the base of the hive where there were a lot of sugar-drunk bees lounging about. Whiptails eat bugs so I wondered if she (they are almost all female) was there to grave rob (from this morning's bee activity) or feast on sugary bees on the ground. I left without finding out.

Thus end the bee adventures for today.