After the Swarm

A Successful Split

One of our hives swarmed last month.  It wasn’t a surprise, but I didn’t expect them to do it this early since the weather has been seesawing with cold temperatures, rain or wind.  I put off inspection of the hives because of the weather.  I knew from the last inspection that the hive in question came out of the winter with a lot of bees but there were no queen cells.  I thought the weather would make it more difficult for them to forage for food, staving off any early swarming.  But I was wrong.  They swarmed on a sunny day and didn’t even stop in the garden.  They just took off headed for the woods.

As soon as the swarm was gone, I opened up the hive and found plenty of queen cells.  I promptly split the hive.  I moved a whole super, not just a few frames, since there were too many bees in this hive.  I also made sure to scrape off all the queen cells but one- the biggest one.  I added one new super to this new hive, closed the top entrance with a screen, reduced the bottom entrance to an inch and tucked a clump of grass in to close it off.  They will clear the grass to free themselves eventually.  Then I fed them.

As for the main hive I split from, I added a new super to the remaining two supers.  I also scraped off all queen cells but one.  I didn’t spend time looking for the queen.  If she in there she will kill off any  emerging potential queens anyway.

I inspected the new hive two weeks later.  A beautiful queen has emerged.

Bee-queen
A beautiful healthy looking queen, the one without the dark color bands

I inspected all hives yesterday.  They all looked great.  All have brood combs with uniform patterns and with pollen and honey on each side of the frame.  The main hive that swarmed, that I made the split from has built up the population and has plenty of honey already.  I may have to split it again to keep them from swarming.

Bee-brood
Uniformity of brood with pollen and honey at each end of the frame. Queens in all hives have been doing a great job of laying eggs.

The season is still young and there are plenty of flowers around.  Hopefully I can take a couple of honey frames next time I inspect them.

World Bee Day

Time To Recognize Our Little Friends

The United Nation has designated May 20 as World Bee Day and this year is the first observance of this day.  I’m so happy that the importance of these little pollinators is finally and officially recognized globally.  Hopefully it will bring a change in the rules and regulations to help make the environment safer for them, protecting them.  You can read more about World Bee Day here.

We keep a couple of honeybee hives in our garden but we don’t just put up hives for our honeybees.  We also put some structures up for native bees as well.  There is a good variety of native bees in our garden and they are avid pollinators, especially Bumblebees.  Some are an annoyance like Carpenter bees which love to drill holes in our patio beams to put their larvae in.

In honor of the World Bee Day, here are some of the little, hardworking friends in our garden.

Two native bees working together on Echinacea
Bumblebee on Borage
Sweat bee on Echinacea
Wool Carder bee on Thai basil
Bee on Goldenrod. I’m not sure what it is. It’s too hairy to be our common Bumble bee.
Mason bee on Yarrow
Bees on Onion flower. I think the one on the left is a young Bumble bee.
Cuckoo bee on Dill
A male Carpenter bee on Butterfly bush. Male has white marking on the face.
Honeybee on Common Milkweed

More information about bees:

  • Bees in your backyard: A guide to North America’s Bees by Joseph S. Wilson & Olivia Messinger Carril, ISBN 978-0691-160771
  • Bee: A Natural History by Noah Wilson-Rich, ISBN 978-0691-161358
  • Bumblebees: Behaviour, ecology, and conservation by Dave Goulson, ISBN 978-0199-553075
  • Bumble bees of North America by Paul Williams, Robbin Thorp, Leif Richardson & Sheila Colla, ISBN 978-0691-152226
  • Mason Bee Revolution: How the hardest working bee can save the world one backyard at a time by Dave Hunter & Jill Lightner, ISBN 978-1594-859632
  • Our Native Bees: North America’s endangered pollinators and the fight to save them by Paige Embry, ISBN 978-1604-697698
  • Bees of the world by Charles D. Michener, ISBN 978-0801-885730.  This is more like a text book.

Spring Colors

Getting Vibrant Again

Spring is finally here or should I say summer is finally here.  The temperature was over 90°F for a couple of days which broke the record.  I’m not complaining after months of snow and freezing temperature.  The plants in our garden are not complaining either.  They’re pushing out shoots and buds all over the garden.  Dragging on as winter did, spring is still giving us a very promising new life especially after the recent rain.

After we successfully fended off the deer for the last two years, and relocated the last rabbit last year, we decided to grow tulips in the garden again.  I’ve been planting tulip bulbs I rescued for years but only a few of them survive the animal raiding parties.  But as I didn’t spend a penny on them, it didn’t feel very wasteful.  Last autumn, I picked tulip bulbs from the catalogs for the first time and they’re looking good so far.   Hopefully these beautiful flowers will come back up next spring.

Mixed color tulips accompany our ‘Pollinator Habitat’ sign.  By early summer this area will be filled with variety of flowers especially the ones that have plenty of pollen and nectar

We cannot be certified a ‘Wildlife Habitat’ since we’ve fenced off most of the four-legged locals around here: deer, rabbit, woodchuck, raccoon, skunk, fox and coyote.  We would’ve welcomed fox and coyote but once the deer net went up, that was it.  Access to the garden is limited to birds, insects and small rodents.  Any gardeners who have a problem with deer, I would recommend a deer net.  It’s the only thing that works.  I no longer have to spray a mixture of garlic and rotten eggs in the garden or use other methods only to find that they aren’t effective.  The fact is there aren’t any plants that the deer will not eat.

Anyway, we have colors and the scent of perfume in our garden again after a long wait.

Primrose after rain
Bleeding heart is another indicator of the Hummingbirds arrival
Hellebore is one of the flowers I grow as an early spring food source for bees
Common blue violet, a beautiful weed soaked in rain

It’s nice to see colors again.  It’s even nicer to see not just our honeybees but many local bees getting busy looking for pollen and nectar.

 

 

 

Spring At Last

Some Colors In The Garden

I see the spring light at the end of the tunnel, a little dim but still a cheerful light of hope.  Snow still covers the majority of the garden but in the bare specks there are colors.  Crocuses in the front yard bloomed nicely this year.  Last year they became deer food.  At least deer left the bulbs alone so they came up with a variety of colors.  We planted a lot of crocuses in the previous two autumns to provide early spring food for our honeybees.  Many of them became food for squirrels, chipmunks, deer and rabbits but the survivors continue to come up in spring before disappearing underground again.

This deep purple crocus was planted by a squirrel. It’s in the middle of the iris plot by the garage. I know I didn’t put it there.
Light purple crocus in the front yard
Pale yellow with beige coloration under the petals
Deep yellow with brown stripes under petals
White

Our back yard is still covered with snow but it’s melting fast with high daytime temperatures.  Some tulips and daffodils braved the cold pushing themselves up above it.

Daffodil pushing up through the snow
A clump of tulips I rescued years ago enjoying the cold spring

And, look at the busy girls.  Yes, we call them girls because the worker bees are all female and they’re like our children.  The weather is warm enough for them to go out foraging and most of them came back with baskets full of pollen.  They’ve also taken in water from the birdbaths.

The majority of honeybees that flew back in carried big loads of pollen. I’ll have to check on them this weekend to see if I have to give them more sugar or not. It’s still too cold to feed them syrup.

Spring is here after all.  Thank you Mother Nature for giving us a break from the Nor’easter in the last few weeks.

Winter Emergency Feeding

Just In Case…

It’s over 50°F again today and the honeybees came out of their hives even though it’s cloudy.  I observed them carrying out their dead and picked up a few for a closer inspection.  I found that dead bees from hive #2 have their tongues sticking out, a sign of starvation.  So I decided to open the hives for emergency feeding.

Dead bees from hive #2 with their tongues stuck out. Dead bees from hive#1 have no sign of this.

Even with heavy feeding last September, hive #2 still shows signs of depleted food storage.  I think either they were robbed then or new bees emerged during a few very warm days early this month to reduce the supply further.  As I mentioned in the previous post, hive#2 seemed to have more bees than hive #1 now.

I took my cue from them, even though it’s a cloudy day and the temperature is slightly over 50°F they still came out, so it’s ok to open the hives.  What I saw in both hives is very encouraging.

As soon as I opened the inner cover on hive #1 the bees come up to greet me. I looked inside, found plenty of capped honey combs. I decided to feed them anyway so I don’t have to open them again until spring.
There are many bees in hive #2 but they are down below in the middle super. There are a couple of empty frames in the top super. They crawled up to look at me.

After I saw inside hive #2, it confirmed my belief that I made the right decision in an emergency feeding today.  I don’t know when the next warm day will be and I don’t want to find too many starved bees by then.  Mid-winter emergency feeding can be done either with fondant (mixed sugar with high-fructose corn syrup), or granulated white sugar.  I tried to make fondant once but it didn’t come out well.  I didn’t want to buy the fondant either since most corn syrups are made from non-organic, GMO corn and there is no guarantee that the company I buy from uses quality ingredients.  So, I use granulated sugar.  It’s easy too.

  • I put a shim on top of the super to provide a little room between the sugar and the inner cover when re-placed on top.
  • Put a sheet of paper on top of the frames, either make a little cut in the middle or leave a gap.  I used plain natural packing paper, newspaper is fine too.
  • Pour white granulated sugar on top of the paper.  Level it down to a little bit lower than the shim height.  I put 3 pounds in each hive.
For hive #1, I cut a hole in the middle of the paper and poured sugar on it
For hive #2, I left a larger gap between the papers so they have more feeding space. This hive has less food left over than hive #1
More bees from hive#2 came up to inspect the sugar as soon as I poured it in
Put the inner cover back on top of the shim then put the top back on

I find that winter emergency feeding this way is fast and painless.  The moisture in the hive will rise up and condense which will help soften the sugar.  The bees will slowly feed on it.  They will chew the paper, which will be wet with moisture making it easy to chew off, and carry out of the hive.

I feel better now after feeding them.  I also removed dead bees off the screen bottom of hive #1.  I saw that bees from this hive had been using only the top entrance lately.  I checked the bottom entrance and found it blocked with dead bees, too many for the bees to carry out.  Once I cleaned out the dead, they started using the bottom entrance again.

Bees started coming in and out of the bottom entrance of hive #1 again

Hive #3 is confirmed dead.  There are plenty of dead bees and plenty of food left in the hive.  I think they froze to death when the temperature dropped to -5°F earlier in the season.  They were the smallest of the 3 hives.

Seesaw temperatures make it difficult for both bees and their keepers to maintain the health of the hives.  The bees wasted energy coming out in warm-mid winter weather with nothing to take back to the hive to replenish their stores.  Then they starve if not closely monitored.  In my earlier days of beekeeping, one of my hives died of starvation.  It wasn’t a good feeling to see them that way so I do my best not to repeat it again.

 

 

 

 

 

Mid-winter, A Warm Day

Cleaning Up

Today, January 23, the temperature rose up to 62°F and the rain stopped around noon.  Our honeybees from hives #1 and #2 came out to relieve themselves and get some fresh air.  Hive #2 went into winter with fewer bees than hive #1, but today, many more bees emerged as the population clearly has grown.

Honeybees from hive#2 on the bottom landing

It seemed more bees than from Hive#1.  With only a .75 inch entrance, there was a lot of traffic in front of the hives.  I managed to shoot a quick video of them

Some of the bees were taking their dead out.  Many of them flew off with the bodies but some of them just dropped the body right in front of the hive.  They have little hooks on the bottom of their feet that are non-articulating therefore difficult to manipulate, so I watched them struggling to dislodge the bodies.  From the clip below I counted eight bees that made the trip out with bodies.

One the one hand, I’m happy to see them alive and well after a couple of zero degree temp’s, but I’m afraid that they will run out of food before spring arrives.  The sad part of the day is that I don’t think hive #3 made it.  No one came out today.  There was one dead bee just inside the entranceway.  Probing the entrance with a twig will always bring a guard bee to investigate.  But this time it brought no live bee to investigate.  A very bad sign indeed.  Still, quoth the song; ‘two out of three ain’t bad.’

 

Happy About The Honeybees

They Survived

After a week of Arctic blast temperature here, we have a balmy 60°F temperature this morning though raining.  The rain will continue for the rest of the day and is expected to stop by Saturday morning.  But 60 degrees Fahrenheit is high enough for the honeybees to come out of their hives and start cleaning themselves.  This weekend the temperature is predicted to drop below freezing again.  After I looked at the thermometer on the patio, I promptly took an umbrella and cellphone out to the garden.  What I saw really made my morning.

Despite the rain outside, bees from hive 1 have come out to enjoy the 60 degree temp’.
Not many of them came out of hive 2 but enough to make me believe that they are alive in there.
I haven’t seen live bees in front of hive 3, just fresh dead bees, but someone had to take them out.

We’re so happy to see them pull through a brutally cold, -5°F some nights, and uneven temperatures throughout.  If they pull through this winter, the next generation will be more adaptable to the climate in our neighborhood.  My concern is hive 3, the smallest one.  There were a lot of dead bees in front of the hive when I checked on them the first time this winter.

Hive 3 on January 7th
January 7th, dead bees in the snow in front of hive 3

My consolation is that they have to have live ones to carry the dead out.  Even this morning, there are fresh dead bees on the landing.  I have hope for them.

At least two more months before spring comes, I hope they have enough food to last until then.  Heavy feeding since late summer should help.  In the meantime, the squirrels are making a lot of pockmarks in the lawn, digging up crocuses that we planted for the bees.

Happy Holidays

A Dandelion Wish

The dandelion flower tells us that life is short, delicate, and you never know where the winds may take you.  Irrespective of that, don’t forget to dream, wish, and remember the bigger joys that come from the little things in life.”  Anonymous

May you find peace.  May you find happiness.  May you find the key to unlock your dreams.  May your garden be abundant.  May your beehives prosper.  May you succeed in everything you do.  

All of this is within you, within your grasp, and from it may you find joy every day. 

Happy Holidays

 

Beekeeping In The Age Of Climate Change

I’m Keeping My Fingers Crossed

Losing all six hives last winter took the wind out of my sails.  I set up three new hives in spring but the weather has been uneven through the whole season.  The cold weather had lasted much longer than usual and the temperature has been seesawing from spring into autumn.  Some days we had 40°F in summer and 70°F in late November.  Heavy rain washed out flowers when there should have been plenty of them around at the time.  All in all our honeybees couldn’t build much honey storage this year.

When I inspected them in September, they barely had a full 8 frames in the super.  My gut told me I had better start feeding them.  I fed them from early September until the end of October when the temperature started to drop.  The total amount of sugar syrup I fed the hives amounted to around 4.4 gallons each.  I hope this helps them through the winter as the last inspection before closing them up showed they have plenty of food stored now.

Fed with sugar syrup, ratio 2:1 (sugar/water), in a 800 ml bottle each time
Covered with 2 inch foam board, leaving only 3/4 inch top and bottom entrance open
Then wrapped with an industrial-grade plastic bag. Fastened the hive with bungie cords.

I closed them up just in time as the temperature dropped down to below 20°F for a couple of nights.  I thought they should be fine for the winter, but the weather wasn’t on my side.  The temperature shot up to above 50°F for many days and one day, even above 70°F .  We’re talking about late November here.  The bees came out every warm day.  They even did their flight orientation.

November 25: warm & the honeybees came out. Some even did flight orientation

Nothing out there for them to bring back home since frost had killed most of the flowers, so they have to depend on their food supply in the hive.  I cannot feed them again without opening the winter cover and the bottom entrance.  I hope the temperatures stabilize to something more seasonal so they can just ball up in there.  I also hope the winter doesn’t drag on like the last one did.  We have done so much damage to this planet that we are starting to see the effect of our self-inflicted wounds every season.  I’ll do the best I can for the bees in my care and keep my fingers crossed.

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