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.

Happy Holidays

Coming And Going Of Seasons

Another year just about to end, a new one to start and life will go on.  Nothing keeps your perspective on life in check like gardening I believe.  I can see the full cycle life, from beginning to end in one season.  And, nothing keeps your perspective on society in check like beekeeping.  As Marcus Aurelius stated in his Mediations “That which isn’t good for the beehive, can’t be good for the bees.”  I witnessed one of our hives swarming repeatedly, until it was too weak to defend itself from being robbed. By the end of the season it had perished.  Divide and conquer seems to work every time, in any group, any society.  What else did it teach me? – what isn’t good for society as a whole, can’t be good for an individual.

I don’t mean to be pedantic.  I just love to read philosophy and watch nature unfolding for fun…and I learn in the process.

I captured this summer snowflake (Queen Anne’s Lace) below and wanted to share it with you during this holiday season.

holidays-card-2016

Wishing you very happy and healthy holiday season and a productive New Year, 2017.  Hope your new year and new season will be even better than the last.

Thank you very much for reading this blog.  I will try my best to be more consistent.

End Of The Growing Season

Back to Blogging

I’ve been away from blogging for six months but it’s a busy six months.  Started with erecting a deer fence around the garden, which ate up most of my spring.  It turns out that black, plastic net deer fencing has become an ‘IN’ thing for gardeners who have deer problems this year. It has even made the news.

The first round of fence-plastic from the ground up-can only fend off the deer.  Rabbits and woodchucks immediately chewed big holes through so I added a foot and a half of chicken wire at the bottom.  Then they chewed through right above the wire.  I added more chicken wire up to about waist high.  Bravo!  Finally, we have a deer, rabbit and woodchuck free garden.  No more spraying the plants and we still have plenty of flowers for bees and other pollinators.

Then our honeybees kept swarming.  I split a hive for the first time to prevent one of the hives from swarming.  They swarmed anyway. We managed to capture two out of three swarms.

Some of the hives in our garden
Some of the hives in our garden

On top of all this was catching up on cleaning, pruning, transplanting, feeding and other garden chores, plus a full time job.

I would like to express my sincere apology for being A.W.O.L. from blogging.

At the end of the growing season, I can only say that I am satisfied with the garden this year.  We have plenty of flowers and vegetables and not stumps left over after being chewed off.  Our bees are happy and healthy. We were also able to put up a ‘Pollinator Habitat’ sign.

Pollinator Habitat sign from Xerces Society
Pollinator Habitat sign from Xerces Society

As much as we would like to put up a ‘Wildlife Habitat’ sign, we couldn’t since we’ve fenced off the herbivores.  Not much choice there as they can denude a yard in less than a month.

I intend now, to be a tad more prolific than I have been in the past few months.   …At least until the fence is breached.  Then, it’s battle stations once again.   I love deer, rabbits and chucks, just not in my garden.

Honey Bees And Water

Thirsty Bees

It’s getting warmer now but I still wear a sweatshirt while working in the garden. The temperature was a little bit above 50° F but the bees were all over the birdbaths, especially the heated one.  I put a couple of stones in each birdbath for the bees to use as a landing and for small birds to enjoy taking a bath in a shallow area.

A day at the beach: sun bathing on stones
A day at the beach: sun bathing on stones

The bees seem to come for the water in the last few days.  I’m not sure if they need water to soften sugar syrup they have taken in earlier which might have turned crystalized when the temperature dropped to below freezing in the last few nights.  Or, they need to feed new lavae which, in this case, is a good sign.  I don’t think cooling the hive is the reason at this time of year when the temperature is still below 60° F most days.  Some of them prefer to get a drink from tiny droplets on grass.

This one just finished drinking from a tiny droplet on the grass
This one just finished drinking from a tiny droplet on the grass

Whether they drink from birdbaths, blade of grass, the end of the hose, it’s fun to watch.

Some of them even line up and drink together
Some of them even line up and drink together
Up close
Up close

The bees also serve as a reminder for me to clean birdbaths often.  I know they can drink from any sources as long as it’s not toxic but  seeing them drinking from a dirty source and taking it back to the hive just gives me a yucky feeling.

A Very Warm Day, Hooray, Hooray

And Very Productive Day

According to the calendar last Wednesday was still winter, but the weather was more like summer.   The temperature had gone up above 80° F.   I had a day off from work and because it was so nice outside I spent most of my day in the garden.  I achieved my main priority: removing the winter insulation and inspecting our beehives.

I finished the first two large hives but debated on opening the smallest one. I wasn’t sure if the temperature will drop down below freezing again or not.   My concern was that the little hive, which looks more like a nuc than a full hive, will not have enough bees to keep themselves warm if the temperature drops.   But after observing them for a while, watching them fan the air into the hive to cool it, I removed their insulation as well.

I was happy to see that they all survived and still had plenty of stored honey, especially the main hive, #1.

Plenty of bees in this hive. My concern now is that they will most likely swarm in late spring
Plenty of bees in this hive. My concern now is that they will most likely swarm in late spring
Hive #1 still had a super full of honey. It's still early March and not much is blooming yet, so I left it for them.
Hive #1 still had a super full of honey. It’s still early March and not much is blooming yet, so I left it for them.
New nectar and pollen
New nectar and pollen

They had been bringing in pollen, nectar and sugar syrup that I put out for them throughout the day.  There was a pollen rush at certain point.  Nothing much is blooming at this time except the Silver Maples (Acer saccharum) in the yard helping to supply them with plenty of pollen and nectar.  I’ll put sugar syrup out for them until the Dandelions bloom.

Silver maple flowers provide plenty of pollen and nectar in very early spring
Silver maple flowers provide plenty of pollen and nectar in very early spring

Hive #2 also has a lot of food remaining in storage but a lot of combs are attached so I only removed a pair of them and let the rest stay attached.  I will replace them after the bees have drawn all the honey from them.  This hive exhibited another strange behavior, they chewed off wax at the bottom of each frame in the bottom super.  Since the bottom super is usually empty at the end of winter, I replaced them with new frames instead of switching the supers.

Wax was chewed off at the bottom. I don't know if they used it to connect the combs in the top super
Wax was chewed off at the bottom. I don’t know if they used it to connect the combs in the top super

The #3 hive that has the fewest bees, pulled through the winter well.  This is the hive that had closed off the top entrance and left just a pin hole for the warm air to come out.  The survivors are grouping in the middle of the hive straight up in both supers.  I expect in order to keep warm with a small number of bees, staying in the middle of the hive helps.  They are busy taking in sugar syrup and pollen now.  Hopefully, the queen will do her duty and produce a bigger brood this coming season (otherwise she’ll be dethroned).

Hive#3, the smallest, the bees only gather in the middle four frames of both supers
Hive#3, the smallest, the bees only gather in the middle four frames of both supers

In one perfect day I managed to do all the beekeeping spring chores:

  • Remove winter insulation, both outside and inside
  • Inspection: looking for disease, mites, and sign of wax moths
  • Switch supers, move top to bottom and bottom to top
  • Change frames, if necessary
  • Feed the bees, with 1:1 sugar/water, to give them a head start when not much is blooming yet

I’m happy to find that they look healthy, disease free, so little mites and no wax moths.  However they glued everything tightly with propolis and I had a hard time inspecting.  There will be a lot of scraping when I have to change supers.  But clean bees are happy and healthy bees.

 

 

Winter Pollen

Bringing Christmas Gifts For The Hive

It’s Christmas day but the weather feels more like mid-spring.  The temperature has been hovering around 60° F and the bees have been busy feeding on sugar syrup.  Some bees prefer fresh Chinese broccoli flowers which are the only flowers left in the garden.

I  looked at all the hives and to my surprise they were taking in pollen as well.  Not just one or two bees but many of them bringing pollen back to their hives.  I have no idea where they are getting pollen from but it’s noticeably two different colors.  I hope they are just bringing it back for storage and not for rearing a new brood.  It’s the beginning of winter and next week the temperature is expected to drop down between 20-30° F and snow is predicted.   We still have two or three more months to go before anything starts to bloom again.

Here are the busy girls taking in Nature’s Christmas gift:

Bees bringing pollen into the first hive
Bees bringing pollen into the first hive
The second hive were busy as well
The second hive were busy as well
More pollen.
More pollen.
One lone bee in front of the third hive
One lone bee in front of the third hive

Though the third hive is the smallest, they were busy as well. They widened the hole at the top entrance a little bit.  I think it might be too hot for them in there so they needed more air circulation.  Two days ago it was almost completely closed and it was a little too wet out side from heavy rain.  I’m glad they are still active, since they appeared to build up the hive very slowly.  If the winter continues to be mild like this I think they will pull through.

 

Very Warm Autumn

Feeding Honey Bees In Mid-December

Sunday was a record breaker for high temperatures in New York.  With 67º F in Central Park, it breaks a high temperature record set back in 1923.   Where we live the temperature was only slightly over 60º F and it was warm enough for the honeybees to come out of their hives, cleaning themselves and looking for food.  Daytime temperatures will stay above 50º F for the next couple of days and they will come to forage though there are hardly any flowers left for them this late in the season.

We have insulated all hives for the winter so opening the top to feed them is not an option.  We would have to remove the tape, foam, and inner insulation in order to put the feeder in.  A front feeder is not an option either because we would have to crack open the entrance to slide it in.  Anything we open forces the bees to spend more energy in sealing them again with propolis.  So I put the feeder out in the open and let them take whatever they can back to their hives.

Insulated with 2 inches of foam board and tape all around
Insulated with 2 inches of foam board and tape all around
The smallest hive even sealed off the top entrance with propolis and left only a little, round hole just big enough for one bee to go in and out at a time
The smallest hive even sealed off the top entrance with propolis and left only a little, round hole just big enough for one bee to go in and out at a time
This girl was trying to make a perfectly round hole and I didn't want her work even harder by opening the top
This girl was trying to make a perfectly round hole and I didn’t want her work even harder by opening the top

The advantage of feeding them this way, aside from not having to open the hives, is that they tend to clean themselves carefully afterward.  The surface they are walking on is coated with sugar syrup and dry sugar particles that stick to their legs, body and wings. After taking some sugar syrup, they will land on any dry surface near by, myself included, and clean themselves before flying off to their hives.  It’s not only to get sugar off their body, also get mites, if any, off themselves as well.

Bombarding a sugar syrup tray
Bombarding a sugar syrup tray
Some line up neatly along the side
Some line up neatly along the side

The disadvantage of this ‘communal’ feeding is that if there is a disease around it would easily spread from hive to hive.  As far as I know, there is no one keeping bees within a few miles but I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

A clean bee takes sugar syrup from a bee with legs and wings smeared with syrup
A clean bee takes sugar syrup from a bee with legs and wings smeared with syrup
Another pair doing the same routine, then the clean bee flies off leaving the other bee to clean herself
Another pair doing the same routine, then the clean bee flies off leaving the other bee to clean herself

I took the opportunity to do a mite count.  There were hardly any mites on the corrugated sheet with printed grid that I inserted under the screen bottom board.  I keep the sheet on from late autumn to spring, not just for mite counting, but to keep other insects from getting in under the hive and to help keep warm air in.  I think they can use all the help they can get to keep them going through the deep freeze of winter.

Finished checking for mites, cleaned the corrugated sheet and smeared olive oil on it before inserting it back under each hive.   Cleaned birdbaths, added clean water, not just for the birds but the bees drink it too especially when the syrup turns to tiny sugar particles.

Honeybee drinking water perched on a stone in a birdbath. I leave a stone in each bird bath to serve as a landing
Honeybee drinking water perched on a stone in a birdbath. I leave a stone in each bird bath to serve as a landing

Thus ends my record breaking mid-December day chores.  After all, the bees are my family and family always looks after one another.

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