I couldn’t believe it has been almost a month since my last post. Not that there wasn’t anything to write about but life has been so hectic. Back to normal again at last and with good news as well.
Four of the hives didn’t make it through winter and the one that showed signs of life we weren’t sure of. So, I placed an order for two new packages bees early on. I wasn’t going to wait since the supplier either runs out or they ship too late in the season for the hive to get established properly before winter.
The post office called today letting me know that I have to pick up the bees. The Post Office will not deliver live animals to an individual home, period. The weather was also on my side: sunny with a thunder storm in the afternoon. So I picked them up and installed them in their new homes.
A few things I do during the installation may be a little bit unorthodox like removing the cork from the opposite end from the fondant. But I figured that the queen had been with the bees for at least three days; it was not like I was introducing a new queen to the hive. Also, with a storm coming, she won’t leave. The installation process had gone well except for the Scotch tape that wouldn’t stick to the frame. That caused an awkward maneuver on my part.
We are very happy to welcome around 20,000 children to the family. And, adding to this, the surviving hive is very healthy and now threatens to swarm.
Here is the hives installation video. Many awkward moments but happy all around at the end.
The first hive swarmed again on the morning of June 7. This is the third time within a month for this hive. I think I should start naming the hives since I’m going to have five of them, and maybe more if they keep on swarming. I didn’t expect to have this many hives since our property is not big, though we have plenty of woodland nearby.
I did my usual walk around the garden in the morning when I encountered the swarm. First I just saw a few bees flying on top of the Wisteria but when I inspected closely I realized that they had already balled up on the branches. I grabbed the same old cardbord box I used to catch the previous swarm, water spray bottle and tried my best to set up a base to put them in prior to disturbing them.
I didn’t have a full set of hive equipment left and the new order was still in transit. Luckily, I still have one old base that I didn’t have time to sand and coat, a winter inner cover, a regular cover and an empty super. I sealed off an opening in the middle of the winter inner cover and set it on the old base as a bottom board and then put an empty super on top. I closed the middle opening of a regular inner cover with a screen for air flow to keep the bees from getting in or out, and to get it ready to be used as an inner cover.
Then I woke my partner in beekeeping up to help me cut the Wisteria branches down. This swarm was the easy one because it balled up on lower branches that we could cut and drop into the box. The fun part was shaking the bees into the empty super. The majority of them just dropped in but there were still plenty of them flying around. Once I saw that some bees were trying to get inside through the top screen, I knew I had the queen in there. I opened the plug at the bottom to give the outside bees access and it was like a vacuum sucking the bees in.
The equipment came in a few days later. We opened both boxes that the swarms had settled in and put frames in, then changed the base and cover. Both hives had already built large comb attached to the inner covers and were somewhat annoyed as we replaced their furnishings. I had linen pants on and managed to get stung a couple of times on the legs. They have settled in now but the weather has not been on their side in the last couple of days, pretty damp, cool and cloudy. I’m debating whether I should feed them.
The good news is my lovely neighbor has offered to house one of the hives providing I look after it for her.
We came out of winter with two out of three hives having survived. One hive was wiped out by starvation. Then one of the surviving hives was attack by skunks. It was the smallest hive that I didn’t think would pull through the harsh winter. I was really discouraged and guilty too, as a matter of fact, by the whole situation. I fed both surviving hives as soon as the weather permitted, one gallon of sugar syrup each, and hoped for the best. Once they started foraging, I stopped feeding them.
On the morning of May 20, with high temperatures and plenty of sunshine, the first hive swarmed. I caught just a few of them and set up a new super to house them. The swarm prompted me to do a complete inspection of both hives right away. The second hive, smallest of the two, had a healthy population, though not plentiful. I couldn’t find the queen but there are some larvae in there. No mites, no moths, so I left it alone.
The first hive is the problematic one. After the swarm, there were still plenty of bees in the hive, too many and too crowded. I decided to take two brood frames with one queen cell attached (wasn’t sure I got the queen from the swarm) and two honey frames from this hive to help the bees I caught from the swarm set up their new colony. I closed all entrances with screen and locked them in for a day in their new home.
I replaced what I have taken from the first hive with new unused frames to provide more room. A couple of days later they acted like they wanted to swarm again. So, I decided to split the colony to prevent them from swarming. I took a whole super with two queen cells (more mature cells than the first one I had taken) and some brood frames and bees from the first hive and combined them with the new hive. If everything goes as planned, the first queen that hatches will kill off the other two.
Back to the first hive, I added a queen excluder and a new super on top of it. I also opened the entrance completely for better airflow. So now this hive has a whole new eight frame super on top of the queen excluder plus four new frames in the brood chamber, and the entrance is also wide open. I thought I had done enough for them but I guess Her Majesty thought otherwise.
They swarmed again on June 3rd. This swarm was larger than the first one. I caught most of them, again wasn’t sure I had the queen. If someone tells you that getting a swarm from the lower bush is easier than from a tree branch, keep in mind that it’s not always true. It suggests that the person has never experienced retrieving a swarm from a thorny rose bush.
I house them temporarily in one of the empty super’s with my last remaining frame in it. No cover either, I’m using a piece of wood and two bluestone pieces to weight it down. Hopefully, an order for new equipment will arrive soon before they start building comb on the inner cover. I don’t want to feel guilty for having to destroy their hard work. It would also be a little set back for the bees as well, to have to build the whole thing all over again, albeit, I am providing them with a beeswax foundation in each frame.
Today was a perfect day. The temperature reached 60ºF, sunny and no wind. I was lucky to be home and used the opportunity to clean up part of the garden. I don’t worry much about the plants since I know that most of them are either native or very cold-hardy. What I’ve been anxious about is the honey bees.
Most information I came across agreed that the Italian honey bees don’t do well in a very cold climate. Last winter was exceptionally cold throughout the US and the North, where I live, the temperature dipped down to -4ºF at one point. Add a few feet of snow and a wind chill factor and it was the coldest winter that I can recall. I held my breath for the bees since there was nothing I could do but wait. Through the whole winter, every time the temperature rose above 50ºF, I would go out to see whether there were any dead bees in front of the hives. If there were, that meant there were still live bees inside to carry the dead out. It’s sad to see but good to feel seeing dead bees because it’s the only sign of life I can count on when I can’t open the hive.
I know today is a perfect day to determine whether they are dead or alive. By 1 pm, the temperature rose to 55ºF, the bees came out in droves from the first hive. They started with their cleansing flight and some began to take their dead comrades out. Then I saw something that made me happier…some of them were bringing back pollen! I have no idea where they were getting pollen from. Trees around here are still bare, only Maples have started to bud. I hope they didn’t raid pollen from porch flowers around the neighborhood. From what I know, flowers from big-box stores are loaded with pesticide. I don’t want them to end up dead after they pulled through such a tough winter.
Then the third hive, the smallest one, appeared. I didn’t expect them to survive as they were the weakest with the least honey in storage. But they did. The majority of them seemed to like using the top entrance. The ones that came back with pollen had difficulty climbing up to the entrance so I put a piece of broken clay pot in as a ramp.
The second hive seems to be gone. Nothing stirred and nothing I can do about it now. I will open it up on my next day off from work. I’ll leave the foam insulation on the surviving hives until the temperature has stabilized. I’ll leave some sugar water hanging by the patio for them, far enough from both hives so they won’t be robbed. I’ll let them do what they do best. I’ll let them be bees.