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.

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.

 

 

Between Winter And Spring

Time to Start Seedlings

There are still a few feet of snow in the garden and the temperature remains below the freezing point.  There’s no sign of spring in sight aside from a few confused American Goldfinches that have started to molt early.  We chiseled a path around the house but not much else. House bound, pretty much.

Reading books and plant catalogs keep me busy in winter.  With plant and seed catalogs coming in non-stop, they have been keeping me going like a kid in a candy store.  With limited space, I will only add one or two new plants a year.  Since I started keeping honeybees four years ago, the first reason for selecting a new plant is whether it’s good for the bees and fragrance comes in second.

Some interesting plant and seed catalogs
Some interesting plant and seed catalogs

This winter I found an interesting book while searching for plants for bees; Garden Plants for Honey Bees by Peter Lindtner.  The great thing about this book is that it provides a variety of plants that bloom month by month, starting from February.  The book also provides information on the level of pollen and nectar each plant provides, from (*) as the least and (*****) as the most.  So, I keep going back and forth between plant catalogs and this book to make a decision for what to add this spring.

Good information on how much nectar and pollen each garden plant provides
Good information on how much nectar and pollen each garden plant provides

My friend, Andy, has given me an advance copy of The Triumph of Seeds: How Grains, Nuts, Kernels, Pulses, & Pips Conquered the Plant Kingdom and Shaped Human History by Thor Hanson.  It comes with a package of pea seeds.  I’m not sure I will plant them since there is no indication that the seeds are organic.  The book is a fun read though.  I’ve learned a lot about chili pepper.  I’ve been growing a wide variety of chili peppers for years and just realized how little I know about their biology and evolution until I read this book.  I also learned that the coffee plant has developed a delicate caffeine balance to repel various types of insects and at the same time lures in pollinators that ‘lined up like morning commuters at their favorite espresso stand’.  It gave me the idea to try using coffee as a natural insecticide in my garden.  The book won’t be in stores until April though.

How plants evolve to ensure the survival of their species
How plants evolve to ensure the survival of their species

Yes, late winter is the time for me to start seedlings.  Side stepped to the subject of books and lost track while I writing this post.  I will have to start my tomato and chili pepper seedlings this week otherwise they will not have enough time to mature and bear fruit.  I will add Japanese Shishito, a very mild pepper and Indigo Cherry Drops tomato to the vegetable list.  A variety of Helleborus will be added to the flower list for early spring flowering for bees.  I can hardly wait to get my hands dirty.

Honey Bee In Winter

Never Been So Happy To See Dead Bees

We have over a foot of snow on the ground and it is threatening to drop another 8 to 10 inches this weekend.  The snow itself is not bad for the honey bees but the frigid cold that follows may wipe out our hives.  We have seen a few days and nights of single digit temperatures this winter and today is barely above ten degrees fahrenheit.

As tightly as I have wrapped all hives with insulation, this winter is unusually colder than normal so I am keeping my fingers crossed.  It was a little bit warmer two days ago, above 30ºF, and not windy.  Yesterday I decided to wade through snow up to my knees to check on the hives.  I know that if it’s warm enough outside, no matter how high the snow gets, the bees will come out.  So I was looking for that sign of death outside the hive that would indicate life inside the hive.

Two out of five hives had some dead bees on the snow in front of the hives.  The other three had no sign of activity.  I’m so glad to see these dead bees on the snow.   It’s an indication that the hive is alive.  There have to be a live bees in the hive to carry the dead bees out. But I haven’t give up on the other three hives yet.  They may be trying to conserve energy, staying tightly together to pull through the winter.  I won’t know until the end of March or mid-April or when it is warm enough to open the hives for inspection and feeding.  At this point they are necessarily on their own.

Each hive is wrapped up with insulation and industrial grade black plastic on the outside for heat absorbtion
Each hive is wrapped up with insulation and industrial grade black plastic on the outside for heat absorbtion
With snow piled up on top and on the ground.  The black spots on the snow in front of the hive are dead bees
With snow piled up on top and on the ground. The black spots on the snow in front of the hive are dead bees
Frozen bee
Frozen bee

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