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.

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.

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.

New Hives

Starting Over Again After Six Years

We still can’t figure out what happened to our honeybees.  They were gone, without a trace last winter.  There was plenty of honey still stored in each hive but just a few dead bees in there, most of them were young bees.  There was no foul smell in any of the hives and the frames looked clean.  After six years of tending them, they were gone in one season.  We also haven’t seen very many wild bees lately either.  So far just some Carpenter bees and Mason bees.  Not even a Bumblebee.

We think we might have been hit either by the CCD (Colony-collapse Disorder) or Zombees (Apocephalus borealis) but it could be anything at this point.  As discouraged as we are we won’t give up.  We received three new packages of bees to start over with.  The first two came in mid-April but we had to keep them in their boxes for a few more days after we received them.  The weather wasn’t on our side to hive them, either raining, too cold or to windy.  We sprayed sugar syrup on the screens a few times a day to keep them well fed while they remained confined.  We were finally able to hive them on April 23, freedom at last.

The first two packages, we were so happy to see them
Anxious to get out
Poured them in the super after attaching the queen box. I kept the corrugated sheet under the base to keep them warm since the weather is still on the cold side.
Added a top tray feeder filled with sugar syrup. I adapted this tray feeder by adding fine screen mesh on top of the floating bars to prevent bees drowning. It works very well.
Two new hives. I left the empty packages in front of the hive so the bees that are still in the box can find their way to new home

We did the first inspection of these two new hives ten days later, May 2nd.  Each hive had freed their queens and built comb.  Both top tray feeders were empty.  There was some pollen as well.  We couldn’t see the queens but didn’t want to stress them further by searching for her.  Over all there are good signs that they have settled in to their new homes.  We removed the top tray feeders and changed to bottle feeders instead because they had built comb between the feeder gap and inside one of the feeders.

It’s a beautiful sight to see on the first inspection. Bees are busy building combs and some pollen.
Very busy at the entrance

It’s been raining almost everyday with the temperature hovering a little above 50°F on the days that we are home.  As a result, since the 1st inspection, we haven’t have a chance to check on their feeders again.  I think we will have to continue feeding them until the weather condition is improved.

The third package came in on May 5th and I was able to hive them that evening.  This particular package is much calmer than the first two, maybe because they weren’t in confinement for a long time like the first two packages.

The third hive

Hopefully these three new hives will survive the season.  My fear is not just the CCD now but the commercial elimination of mosquitos and ticks that is encroaching into the neighborhood.  Any sensible person knows that spraying insecticide will not just kill mosquitos and ticks but all insects that come into contact.  But advertisement and convenience seem to trump commonsense.  So we set the new hives further inside our property and will keep our fingers crossed.

Spring Has Sprung

…With A Cold Shoulder

I took the day off from work yesterday and the weather was on my side.  Still plenty of snow on the ground but the temperature had soared to nearly 60°F.  The honeybees should have been out and about now with a temperature this high, but alas, none to be seen.  So I decided to inspect one hive.  Intrinsically I knew I had to face my fear somehow.  It’s better to know early than not know at all.  I suspected they may have died of starvation since the weather has been inconsistent.  That forces the bees to consume their stored food faster leaving them with nothing inside and nothing for them to forage outside.  But I wasn’t expecting what I saw.  There were no bees in the hive.  None at all.

I ended up opening all the hives.  My worst fear had come true.  There were only a few dead bees in each hive which was otherwise empty.  There were plenty of capped and uncapped honey frames in each hive but no live occupants.

First sadness hit, then depression, then self-doubt….what did I do wrong?  I’ve been taking a mite count throughout the season and it’s been very low.  We provided clean water.  We provided food, with the supporting evidence of plenty left over in each hive. The only thing I did not do was treat them with chemicals.  But I have never treated them from the start.  They were fine and happy for many years, from one generation to the next, living their lives naturally.

I’m still sad and depressed but giving up is not in my nature.  I will clean up the empty hives on my next day off and have them readied for new occupants.  New honeybee packages are coming in next month and I hope we will work well together like their long gone relatives.

But there was a bright part of the day…I finally dug my way to the igloo, my cold frame.  What was left in there were carrots, Mustard greens, a few Pac choi too.  The lettuce I had sown in January had come up, barely reaching half an inch.

The path I had to dig to get to the cold frame
Pulled some fresh carrots from inside the cold frame. Small but tasty.

I pulled weeds out, watered the soil a little and sowed a few more seeds: Mizuna, Mustard greens, Radish, Arugula, Chinese broccoli, and more lettuce.  They should start to sprout in a week and within a couple more weeks I can have my first salad of the season.

Sowed some seeds after pulling carrots and clearing some dead vegetables

Our resident Eastern Bluebirds are also looking for a nest box in our yard and haven’t given up despite harassment from the House sparrow.

A pair of Eastern Bluebirds enjoy their meal and keep their eyes on their prospect home

As the Buddhists say, ‘all is impermanence.’  There will be more honeybees.  The garden is still there and this year’s seedlings are all sprouting high in the house and itching to get their feet in the ground outside.  I really can’t complain.

 

Spring Is Coming

And It Will Not Be a Good One

We came back from our vacation to a sharp drop in temperature.  Our friends told us that while we were gone the temperature had gone up to the 60°F for a couple of days and mostly hovered above 50°F for the rest of that period.  I can see the result of warm temperatures in our garden.  Roses, hydrangeas, tree peonies started to bud.  The silver maple in the front yard has blossomed.  The crocuses and snowdrops are blooming.

Many of over 200 crocuses we put randomly in the lawn last autumn have blossomed.
Many of the over 200 crocuses we put randomly in the lawn last autumn have blossomed.
Flowers open up with out bees to pollinate since the temperature was a little bit too cold for them to come out
We put crocus in as early food for bees but this spring the flowers opened up without the bees to pollinate since the temperature was a little bit too cold for them to come out

Then two days after we came back, the temperature dropped again, combined with a high wind that resulted in a wind chill below 0°F.  Last night the temperature was in a teens and today it is barely above freezing.  It’s de ja vu of last spring.  Plants started budding only to get frost burn.  We didn’t have any hydrangeas last year for this reason and the first round of roses looked awful.

Plenty of Snowdrops pushed themselves through mulch leaves
Plenty of Snowdrops pushed themselves through mulch leaves
Two bulbs of rescued tulip have become a healthy clump
Two bulbs of rescued tulip have become a healthy clump
Young leaves of Anise Hyssop stay close to the ground. Hopefully they won't get frost burn.
Young leaves of Anise Hyssop stay close to the ground. Hopefully they won’t get frost burn.

I don’t even know how the honeybees are.  They’ve been so quiet, no sign of dead bees in front of the hives.  We weren’t here when the temperature soared up to see if they were out cleansing.   They’ve been too quiet for my liking and I have no way of checking on them.  It’s either too cold or too windy to open the hives up for inspection.  To be on the safe side, I have ordered one more package of bees to be delivered in May.

Beehives, all wrapped up, amid snow when we left for vacation. Due to lack of storage, we left empty supers out in the garden, unwrapped.
Beehives, all wrapped up, amid snow when we left for vacation. Due to lack of storage, we left empty supers out in the garden, unwrapped.

Though it will not be a promising spring, I still look forward to it.  It’s time for me to start tomato, pepper, and eggplant seedlings and prep tropical plants in the basement for a warm and less seesaw temperature outside.  In a little bit over a month the seedlings should be able to set their roots in the garden and tropical plants will enjoy real sunlight.  And, hopefully, the hives will have survived another winter.

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