Saturday, December 19, 2009

Snow Bees

Eleven inches of snow this weekend, much more than we usually get. The bees are snug in their hives, snuggled in a cluster of bees, shivering to maintain the constant temperature of the hive, eating honey.
Nothing really to do except clear the entrance of snow.

We also knocked that nice mound of snow off the top of each hive, but it looked good while it was there.

The view from the hive back toward the house.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Treating Varroa Mites in the Old/Combined Hive

We decided to test our hives to see if our varroa mites were at levels that required intervention. We did this by placing our plastic board under the screened bottom board for 24 hours. It was a sticky board test. The board was sticky due to a coat of vaseline. One of the bottom boards is pictured above, covered in pollen, tiny pieces of newspaper from combining the hives, and varroa mites.

The varroa mites are the little brown football shaped critters. I have a video of a couple of them walking around at the end of this post. The mites lay eggs in brood cells before they are capped and then treat the pupae in the capped cells like giant milkshakes, which needless to say, is not good for the baby bees. I took both the picture and the video through a magnifying glass.
The new hive had a low mite count, so we left it alone. The old/combined hive had more than 200 mites on the sticky board, so we decided to treat. First, we took off the top two boxes...the honey super and the top deep, using the black topped fume board and Bee Quick spray. The honey super had two frames with some honey, which I froze to give back to them later. The top deep was basically empty. All the action is in the bottom two deeps.
We're treating with Apiguard, a thymol gel that comes in little aluminum trays. I think thymol is considered a "soft" chemical treatment. Probably more than the "natural" beekeepers would use, but not one of the nastier chemical treatments.
We opened the tray and added a spacer so the bees will have room to access the gel. They will distribute it throughout the hive.
Then we popped our feeder back on top. We're down to two deeps, a spacer and a feeder for the old/combined hive. The top deep looked full of bees and honey. The newspaper that had been between the old hive and the swarm hive was completely gone, except for tiny little crumbs of it that we found on our sticky board. Watch the video below to see varroa mites tooling around.

Meanwhile, we took the plastic feeder off the new hive and replaced it with a mason jar feeder, more conducive to cold weather feeding.

For more info and more video, look at the varroa mite page at

Happy September!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Combine the Hives, Hope for the Best

From left to right: "New Hive," started this spring, "Old Hive," the combined hives from last year, and "Swarm Hive," also known as "Dying Hive with Two Queen Bees."

Having explored Old Hive yesterday and found it booming with bees, honey, pollen and capped brood...but showing no signs of a queen, uncapped brood or eggs, and having found TWO QUEENs in the poorly populated and poorly stocked Swarm Hive, we decided to combine the two hives and let them work it out. is Old Hive with a carefully chosen piece of newspaper (selected for interesting story and picture) topped with Swarm Hive. There is a honey super on top that we stole from Old Hive yesterday, hoping that its couple frames of honey would keep Swarm Hive from starving while we worked out a plan. (We poked pin holes through the newspaper so they can start getting to know each other by scent while they think about eating through the paper.)

We'll get things down to two deeps before winter. Goodness only knows if this is the best plan, but Swarm Hive was definitely not going to make it through the winter without reinforcements.
Oh, here's a bad thought. What if the youngest queen had not yet taken her mating flight?? Who knows? I'm always just happy to not get stung. Best wishes, Combined Hive.
[Combined hive=Rachel + Sylvia + Swarm]

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Saw Bee Hatch, One Hive with TWO Queens!!??!!

****Old Hive****

Did a thorough inventory of the hive today. Capped brood and pollen in the bottom deep. Capped brood in the middle of the top deep. We actually SAW A BEE EMERGING from it's capped cell, all grown up and ready to work. Several frames of honey on either side of the top deep, and corners of honey in the brood frames in the top deep.

We used the fume board, took off the empty super. The empty super is on the party porch, for the bees to clean out before we store it for the winter.

We took off the super that had a couple frames of honey and gave it (without the bees) to the swarm hive.

****New Hive****

We've been feeding them with the plastic top feeder since we swapped the deeps and took off the supers. The plastic top feeder is great for summer, because you can dump a gallon of sugar water in, and they can access it quickly. We will go to a central mason jar feeder when the weather gets cooler. We did not bother them today, but have fed them over a gallon of sugar water in the last week or so.

****Swarm Hive****

Breaking news--we saw TWO QUEENS in that half-assed hive today. That hive is a mystery a minute. It is still looking pathetic, with no honey, very little capped worker brood, too many drone brood cells and a lot of empty frames. But there were TWO QUEENS, on the same frame. We decided to start feeding them with gusto and see what happens.

I bought half gallon mason jars this morning and am going to go to the hardware store later today to get some boards cut to make mason jar feeders that fit the wide mouthed jars.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Early August Adjustments

We inspected the hives today, and moved stuff around. Here are before and after diagrams. I'm not sure our logic would make sense to someone else, but it made sense to us while we were working in angry clouds of bees.

"X" means that we plan to remove the marked boxes later.

First, the oldest hive, which has some honey we can harvest:

Then the "new" hive that we started this spring:

Then the "swarm" hive, also known as the "mostly dead" hive:

Ultimately we plan to combine the two weakest hives, the new and swarm hives:

We will use the fume board to get the bees out of the honey super and out of the deep that we're going to remove from the new hive, insert a piece of newspaper and stack the rest all back together.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Chapstick, Success!

Made a double boiler with a pot of water and a pyrex measuring cup. Then added one part beeswax (with some honey still included) and, if memory serves, three parts olive oil. Then added the fluid from some vitamin E tablets for a preservative.

I've saved small tins for a couple years. Cleaned them up and poured in the hot mix.

The chapstick is very smooth. I'll try different types of oil in the future. I also need to buy some tins, as the Altoid tins are now all dispersed to the guinea pig friends who wanted to try the chapstick first. So far no complaints.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Honey drained from the Wax Cappings

The new decapping tray, pictured at harvest time, was fabulous. They say that the honey drained from the wax cappings (the wax you cut off the frame before extracting the honey) is the very best honey. We got almost four whole pints of honey from the decapping collector. Two freezer containers of wax cappings for later wax projects, currently stored in the freezer.

The cappings honey is not strained, so it has little bits of wax floating in it. It is kind of like chewing gum, munching on the wax.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Calculating Pints of Honey

For the record, this is how the math teacher determines how many pints are in the bottling bucket.

The volume of a cylinder: volume =Pi * radius squared * height.

Volume answer is in cubic for table of "cubic inches to pints" conversion.

The radius of our bottling bucket is 5.5 inches.

Another measurement of this harvest: the bees filled their top deep and two supers with honey. We harvested from the two supers (small boxes): five frames from one, six frames from the other.

We put the supers back on the hives, including five partially filled frames. At least a couple of the frames we returned to the bees had capped honey on one side and uncapped honey on the other side.

23 pints and some new tools

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Postscript on DRAT

I'm to report that the assistant bee keeper "is NOT limping." She says that makes her sound like a wuss. Actually, you can barely see where she was stung, so that is a good thing.

We had further thoughts on the new hive. It could be that this hive was the source of the swarm, and that instead of having no queen, they may just have a NEW queen, who hasn't gotten her egg laying groove on yet. We're hopeful. But we're also trying to find someplace to buy a queen, just in case. If we can be sure of a queen in that hive, we may recombine it with the swarm hive, which we believe to be completely a queenless mess.

Poor bees. We just figure it all out as we go along.

Well, drat all around.

A problematic day in beekeeping.

1. The good news: I have still not been stung. The bad news: the assistant beekeeper suffered our first sting. We made it over a year with no injuries. Today a bee crawled up her pants' leg and got squashed and gave its life and its stinger. The ABK is limping around with a baking soda poultice on her leg.

2. The good news: The swarm hive has drawn out frame throughout their box. The bad news: they are looking suspiciously queenless. Not much uncapped brood, too many drone cells and drones hanging out. Could we have another laying worker hive?

3. The good news: The original hive is chock full of honey. We put on a bee escape to see if we can harvest honey from the two supers on Monday. The bees should go out of the bee escape into the rest of the hive and not be able to get back up into the supers, so we should be able to just lift the supers off and take them in the house in a couple days. Their top deep is also chock full of honey. The uneasy news: we couldn't get into the bottom deep to check on things there. The top deep was REALLY HEAVY, and seemed to have frames stuck to the bottom box, so we gave up without fully assessing the situation of the hive. We are hopeful that the bottom box is not full of honey and that there is a queen and brood and a normal situation down there. We should have harvested honey a week or two ago, but have been out of town and unavailable.

4. The good news: well, heck, let's just skip to the worries of the hive that we started this spring. "The new hive," not to be confused with "the swarm hive." We didn't find a remarkable lot of brood or honey in the new hive's box. The bottom deep box had lots of bees in it, but not much of anything in the cells. The top deep box had honey around the top edges, but we didn't see much evidence of a queen. Could we be losing both of our two newest hives?

Drat. I took a couple pictures of the swarm hive frames, but was having trouble with the blogging program, so I'll maybe post those separately.

Sunday, May 31, 2009


So yesterday, I'm sitting in my living room drinking my morning coffee, enjoying the peace and quiet of the morning, when my next door neighbor comes over and rings the doorbell. "I think I've got something of yours," she says.

We trudge next door and she points to a small pile of bees on the ground, probably fifty or so bees, a pile the size of a small hand. "Huh," I said. "That's not a swarm. There's not enough bees. Plus, swarms usually aren't sitting on the ground. They're up in a clump in a tree." I pointed upward, vaguely. We all looked up. My neighbor took a few involuntary steps back toward her house. There, up in the tree, was a swarm, tens of thousands of bees clinging together. We all paused for a quick think. Then I launched into reassurances. "Hey, wow. No problem. Swarms are not looking to sting anyone. They just want a home. We can call a local beekeeper, and they'll be glad to come get them. Free bees!

We would have thought about getting them ourselves, but they were twenty feet up, and we didn't have any swarm catching bucket on a pole, no big ladder, no hive. We called our friend who keeps bees professionally. He was on his way out the door to go camping with his family, but said he would call someone. By the time we got a call back, it was too late. We had a plan.
*We made some sugar water and put some of it in a spray bottle. We got the cardboard nuc (small box holding five frames of bees) that our latest bees came in. We put on our bee suits. We went in one of our hives and stole a frame of drawn out comb full of baby bees (see below) and put it in the nuc, along with four brand new frames with wax foundation. We grabbed an old white bedspread, a small ladder, and the tree trimming extension pole that has a hook on the end.
The assistant bee keeper climbed up the small ladder with the pole. I held the ladder and helped with the pole. We hooked the branch, looked at each other and counted to three. On three we gave the branch a huge jerk. KERFLUMP! Down came the bees, mostly on the blanket.

We hit the bees with fast squirts of sugar water. We figured they were hungry, and bees licking sugar water off themselves are usually too busy and happy to sting you. Then we picked up the bedspread and dumped a bunch of bees in the cardboard nuc onto the frames.

The bees figured out that they had arrived, and that there were BABY BEES that needed their care. The old beekeepers in the area tell me that if you hive a swarm with baby bees, they will almost always stay put and not swarm out again. Sure enough, they had hardly hit the box when some of the bees put their tail ends in the air to send out pheromones indicating that this was home and everyone else should come.

We put the top on the box, leaving the little round entrance open. Pretty soon the vast majority of the swarm was in or on the box. Then we went home to wait a spell.

When we returned around four, most everybody was inside the box. We corked the entrance and took them to the backyard.
(Meanwhile, I had spent some frantic time on the phone trying to find a hive. Many thanks to Orr Bee Supply in Old Fort, North Carolina, for opening on a Saturday to help me deal with my emergency.)

We transferred the five frames into the new hive, spraying everybody with sugar water as we went. We dumped the bees out of the bottom of the box into the hive, put a sugar water feeder on top, and left the box near the entrance for any stragglers to find their way home.

I just checked the neighbor's tree. The morning after there is a fist sized clump of bees hanging there. They were the bees that were out and about gathering and hunting when we moved the cardboard nuc. I'm sad about them, but these things happen. For a hive, it is not the loss of the individual bees, but the survival of the hive. This hive has a happy new home.
*I'm not sure how my neighbor feels about the remaining small clump of bees, but I'm sure this is preferable to tens of thousands.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Chapstick Postponed

I saved the wax cappings that we cut off of the honey comb last year, and they spent the year in the freezer. One package from each honey harvest. Recently, I got all motivated to MAKE CHAPSTICK.

We thawed the cappings, then I put them on the strainers in the bottling bucket and ran water over them to rinse out some of the excess honey that was still stuck to them. I left them to drip dry.

During a house cleaning that week for company, someone (probably me) put the lid on the bucket and moved it to the basement out of the way.

I went to find it last night and discovered that the wax cappings had turned to a pile of science project looking mildewed mess. I did not take a picture. I just threw out the mess, strainers and all.

Here's what I've figured out. Honey keeps forever, but if you add water, it ferments. We fermented those cappings and then closed them up and grew some wicked mildew.

I'm eventually going to try again with either the cappings in the freezer or the new ones when we collect honey in the next couple weeks. But I'll consult with some experts first about how to avoid this mess.

I put in an order last night for metal strainers. The bucket is fine, polished clean and ready to go. I also ordered a fancy uncapping tray that will be a little easier to use than last year's frying pan arrangement, and will allow the honey to drip through a built in strainer below. The honey from the cappings is reported to be the best honey, so we'll be able to bottle it separately.

I'll stick with Burt's Bees for now.

Friday, May 15, 2009

May 12, Two Honey Supers on Each Hive

For my own records: The Junior Hive bottom super has nine frames of drawn out honey comb from last year, with one frame of capped honey that was in the freezer all winter. The Junior Hive also has a queen excluder below the bottom honey super. The top honey super on the Junior Hive has six new frames of foundation only and three frames of drawn out honey comb from last year.

The bottom super of the Senior Hive (pictured in a previous blog) has all new foundation except for the one frame of capped honey from last year. There were bees all over the frame with honey, but not much going on with the foundation frames, so we removed the queen excluder on this hive. The top honey super, added on May 12, has four frames of new foundation and five drawn out frames from last year.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Honey Flow

The Tulip Poplars and the Honey Locust trees are in full bloom, as are the blackberries...all present in our neighborhood and quickly turning to honey in the hives. The Poplars and Locust have both been in bloom all week. Here is a link to a page with our local bee flowers....

Western Carolina Flower Sources

The senior hive had still not moved much into the super we put on top this week, and it was evident without much poking around that the top of the frames of the top deep were full of honey. We removed the queen excluder and added a second shallow on top, which had several frames of drawn out comb and a few frames with just foundation. The drawn out comb will definitely hasten the process since it takes large amounts of nectar for the bees to create comb.

The junior hive has moved up into the second deep that we added last week. They are also storing honey in it for their own uses. We did put on a queen excluder (which I may take off later) and gave them a shallow with a mix of drawn out comb and frames with new foundation as well. I put dates on the frames so I'll know which frames are which as time goes on.

The queen excluder is supposed to keep the queen out of the honey supers, since you don't want baby bees in your honey, but we think it was slowing down the senior hive. We did fine without excluders last year, and there was enough honey at the top of the upper deep to keep the queen down below.

My fourth super box was in use until today as a box around the mason jar feeder. I'll add it to the new hive soon, so there will be two honey supers on each hive. We'll check their progress from week to week. If this is a big honey year, I might have to add even more supers. Hope springs eternal.

No pictures today...I wanted to be more of a beekeeper and less of a photographer. Still, while we had intended to pull frames out of the deeps, it was evident that the honey flow was on, so we went with the basic rule of "don't mess with the bees any more than you have to when the honey flow is on."

Go bees, go.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

New bees' new wax and new deep

We took a peek in the new hive. They have branched out from their original five frames. The two outside frames still have just foundation, but they've built gorgeous new wax on the others. Here is a frame of bees that was one of the new is now covered with drawn out comb and busy bees.
It won't stay this white. As they track their dirty little bee feet over it, it will go from bright white to black.

They are also busy making babies. This solid brown below is capped brood...babies almost ready to hatch out as working adult bees. I'm thinking the new bottom board must give them a little extra room at the bottom, because they've stretched out their comb below the frame.

Since they had almost filled their deep box, we added a second story. The deep we put on has all drawn out comb. It is the deep box we took off the bottom of the leaning tower of bees last fall. I kept the frames in the freezer part of the fall and then stored them with chemicals to deter moths the rest of the winter. They've aired out and are ready for occupation and use.

When I went out to put a new bottle of sugar water on this hive, the bees had already moved up into the new deep. They looked happy to be there.
We also checked on the older hive. They have not moved up into the new super, despite me hanging a frame of honey right smack in the middle of it. We'll keep an eye on it over the next week or so. If they continue to balk, I might take out the queen excluder. I suspect they just haven't needed it yet.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Adding a Shallow Super

The senior hive is bursting at the seams, so we stopped feeding them, and I went ahead and added a shallow super (a short box full of frames) for them to start storing honey. The metal grate, above, is called a queen excluder. It went just below the super to keep the queen out of the honey box. Plenty of room for her to lay eggs down below. Most folks don't want baby bees floating about in their honey.

Eight of the frames are new ones with a sheet of foundation for them to build their own honey comb. The middle frame is a frame from last year with one side full of honey that we collected last year and kept in the freezer all winter. The honey on that middle frame will entice them up through the excluder and get them moving on the rest of the frames. Before you know it we'll be harvesting honey.

The feeder board and mason jar go into storage. The hive is now topped with an inner cover and the usual outer cover and rock.