No split, swarm!

When I was a kid, I used to tell this nonsensical joke to people:

Two ducks are sitting in a bathtub.  One duck says, “Pass the soap.”  The other duck says, “No soap, radio!”

I’d laugh and they’d look at me like I was insane.  I still get a kick out of that joke. As my wife frequently says to me, “You’re an idiot.”

Yesterday I planned to split BnB2.   My new friend K came over to see my “operation” and provide assistance.  She had some experience keeping bees a while back, but not as intensely as I have.  My apprentice,  Duncan,  also came over to help. 

BnB2 had lots of bees and the last time I looked, had plenty of brood and there should be some drones that should have emerged or just about to. The plan was to split into Laura’s hive which I had cleaned out last week.

Ready to split BnB2

Ready to split BnB2

I was hoping to find some queen (swarm) cells with larvae which meant they were already raising some new queens.  The plan was to move the old queen and capped brood into Laura’s hive, add some bars of honey that I have stored up and let the queenless hive continue rearing the queen larvae and crown the first to emerge as queen of the hive.

We started in the back and found that the moldy comb of honey was mostly cleaned up.  They have been eating through their honey stores as their numbers have increased, but there was already new nectar being stored in the combs and they still have plenty of honey.

As we worked our way forward toward the brood nest, I pointed out the different things on the combs to K.  Duncan was doing most of the explaining – he’s really taken in what I’ve been teaching him.  He pointed out all the queen cups before I saw them.  Like I told K – my first year I couldn’t tell the difference between pollen and capped brood.  Newly laid eggs are the hardest to see, but K and Duncan were finally able to see them after several tries.  There were a few new drones and some patches of drone brood, so they were coming along.

There wasn’t as much capped brood as I was expecting for a split, the two queen cups Duncan spotted were empty and we never found the queen (though the eggs proved she was around).  If we had found the queen, I probably would have done the split and let them raise a queen from one of the eggs. But I decided since there wasn’t as much capped brood as I would like to move over and no queen to be seen, I’d postpone it for a bit.  We could get snow next weekend, so the weather might no cooperate with my plans.  I don’t want to wait too long since I would like to have a queen raised, mated and laying in time for the honey flow in May.

Since we didn’t have to take the time to do the split, we also took a peek in BnB1.  Her queen hasn’t been as productive this spring with only small patches of brood.  This time when we looked, there was a little more brood and uncapped larvae, and we also found one whole side of a comb with new eggs.  So, I think she’s just been slow to start increasing and there’s hope yet for this hive.

Later in the day, just as I was going to do my afternoon meditation around 5 pm, the phone rang and it was a call from the manager of the swarm hotline saying he had a swarm for me to get in Boulder if I wanted it.  As much as I enjoy meditation, the choice to pass on this opportunity and meditate, or go catch a swarm was a no brainer.  I called to make sure the swarm was still around, gathered up my equipment and took off.

When I got there, I found the swarm about a foot off the ground.  It was a good sized one  – probably 5-6 pounds of bees.  They were just hanging out, waiting to decide where to go next.  I could see some scout bees doing their waggle dance, pointing the way to a potential new home, but I was going to thwart their plans.

Swarm a foot off the ground

Swarm a foot off the ground

My biggest dilemma was which box to put it in.  I have a banker’s box that I keep in my truck as a swarm catcher with screen over the holes, but I wasn’t sure if the swarm would fit in there.  I had also brought a small top bar hive that I had built as a swarm trap, but realized that wouldn’t be practical because the bars might move as I was transporting them.  I also had a cardboard nuc, but thought that might be too small. And, since I was going to dump this into a top bar hive, I didn’t want them clinging to the Langstroth combs in the nuc.

In the end, I used the banker’s box.  I put a tarp down under the swarm and had to lift up the branch to slide the box underneath since it was almost touching the tarp.  A couple of good shakes knocked most of the bees into the box which ended up being plenty big enough. But now I had a mass of bees climbing up the insides and out over the outside and I wasn’t sure how I was going to get the lid on to transport them to their new home.  I eventually scooped them up with my (gloved) hands into the box and put the lid on.  I had two clusters of bees on the outside covering the handholds, but was sure that the queen was in there.

I put the box with the bees on the outside into the cab of my truck and drove to Sarah’s house with my bee jacket and veil on.  My veil kept falling down over my eyes and it wasn’t that easy to see the road. I figured I could get out of any ticket for speeding or erratic driving once the cop saw that my cab was filled with bees.

I got to Sarah’s, dumped the bees into her hive (which filled it up pretty full), added a couple of bars of honey that I had brought and they seemed happy.  It was around 6:30 pm and getting cool, so I figured they’d hunker down for the night which will help the acceptance of their new home.  I’ll drop over later today with some more bars of honey and see how they are doing.

All in all, a fun bee day!

Two beekeepers are in the yard.  One beekeeper says, “Let’s make a split”.  The other beekeeper says, “No split, swarm!”.  My wife’s right.  I am an idiot.   Happy Spring!

Posted in Bees, Splits, Swarms | 2 Comments

Springing ahead

March has been pretty dry and warm in Colorado and we finally got our first precipitation of the month yesterday.  Luckily, we missed the snow which went south of us and today it’s supposed to be back up in the 60’s again.  With all this warm weather, flowers and trees are starting to bloom.  The flowering crab apple trees are in full swing as are the hyacinths and daffodils (crocuses are already past) and the tulips should be springing up soon!  Another bee keeping season is upon us!

Hyacinths coming up

Hyacinths coming up

Last weekend the weather was nice, so in addition to cleaning up the yard, I took the opportunity to do the first inspection of the year into my two remaining hives, BnB1 and BnB2.  Over the past several weeks, there has been much more activity from BnB2, but now it was time to take off the insulation and have a look-see inside.

BnB1 still insulated

First up was BnB1.  The queen in this hive could be the original from 3 years ago and if so, that means that she’s almost ready for the nursing home.  Queens generally live 3-5 years, but these days, most beekeepers replace their queens after 1 or 2 years.  I never saw any signs of supercedure in this colony over the years, so I think she’s the original, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.  She came over from BnB2 in the split last spring. 

Opening up the back there was still plenty of beautiful capped honey and then some combs with capped and crystallized honey.  In the brood nest, there was not a whole lot of new capped brood, just a couple of frames with some small patches on the west (warm) side of the hive, surrounded by pollen.  I moved some of the crystallized honey to the front of the hive, per Les Crowder’s suggestion for springtime management and moved the nice capped honey far to the back so I could take it if needed for other hives.

Not much brood in BnB1

But there were some signs of mite droppings, also, so maybe that’s why they aren’t building up as quickly.   This hive had a pretty high mite load last fall and I was experimenting to see if these bees could survive the winter with the mites.  They did do that, but I’ll have to wait to see if they can continue thriving, despite the mites.  The queen looked good and there were lots of new eggs, so I’m hoping that they will start building up their numbers.  But that also means the mites will be building up their numbers as well.

BnB1’s queen

So, although it survived the winter, BnB1 doesn’t look like she’s going to be ready to split anytime soon and the jury is still out on whether she’ll make it with the mites.  But I’m committed to not treating for mites and we’ll see how this experiment plays out.  I have 5 frames of nice honey in the back and if the bees don’t need it, I’m sure I’ll find something to do with it.

BnB2 is the “daughter” hive from the queen in BnB1 and also had a lot of mites going into the winter, but was showing a lot of activity at the entrance.

BnB2 still insulated

Starting in the back, there were lots of dead bees on the bottom from the winter and there was still some capped honey.  On a couple of the combs, there was some mold that had me concerned.  I posted some pictures to a treatment free beekeeping Facebook page and was reassured that the bees would clean that up once their numbers got big enough to expand into the back.   They’d also clean out the dead bees, but I helped them and got rid of most of them during the inspection. 

Black scale/mold on honey comb in BnB2

Black scale and mold on comb in BnB2

There was lots of pollen, brood and bees so this hive is doing much better than BnB1.  I even found a queen cup on one of the back frames, but didn’t find any drone brood.  In the spring, the queen will lay drones as the hives prepare for swarming – the reproduction of the colony.  Once there are some capped drone cells, or even hatched drones, it will be time to think about splitting this hive.  Other beekeepers in the area have reported drone brood in their hives and there reports of swarms in Denver already.  I’ll check back in a couple of weeks for signs of drones, swarm cells and to see if they cleaned up the mold.

Pollen and queen cup, BnB2

I found the queen in this one also, merrily going about her business laying eggs.

BnB2’s queen

This year, I’m not buying any package bees.  All my package bees that were bought and brought in from California died from mites last year.  I’m trying to build up some survivor stock that can last here in Colorado.  So this year, I plan to split BnB2 at least once, maybe twice and catch a few swarms.  I’m going to build some swarm traps to put next door and at Sarah’s house and I’m also on the swarm hotline list, so hopefully I can get a few more bees through swarms.  I am also going to buy a nucleus hive (nuc) from a local beekeeper who has survivor stock, but that won’t be until late May or early June.  And, I might try my hand at queen rearing if I have the time, to propagate the good genes of BnB2.

And this year I plan to inspect my hives less and just let them just go about their business.  I’m now at a point where I can judge the health of the colony by watching the activity at the entrance and I have windows in most of my hives if I need a quick peek inside.  I won’t be totally hands off, especially with new colonies from swarms and splits – I have to make sure they are doing what they are supposed to.  But for the established hives, it’s time to let them just bee.

Bee hives unwrapped and bee yard ready for spring cleanup

Posted in Bees, Hive inspection, Mites, Queens | 2 Comments

Meditation and Gratitude

This is not a post about bees (but I might mention them in the course of things).

Meditation

After I was diagnosed with prostate cancer, my urological oncologist suggested I use meditation as part of my therapy.  Meditation has been scientifically proven to help people with certain medical conditions, like high blood pressure (which I had) or emotional stress. I had watched my wife meditate for years, but it wasn’t something I thought I could/should do.  Leave it to a life threatening situation and advice from someone other than my wife to change my mind.  I took up meditating through the Eldorado Mountain Yoga Ashram and found it was something that resonated with me.  It took me a while to get into it, but eventually, I settled into a twice daily practice and have been doing that for the past year and a half.  My blood pressure went down and I find that I am much more centered in my approach to the world. It helped me deal with the emotional stress of my treatment until I was cured.

During our daily lives, our minds are constantly going as we interact with the world. Sometimes it’s not pretty. The goal of meditation is to still the mind so you can search for your Inner Self – which is a state of being described as sat-chit-ananda (being, consciousness and bliss).  Yogis have been searching for that Inner Self through meditation for thousands of years. But, meditation is not the property of any religion or nationality – it is universal. There are many different ways to meditate. For example, some Christians use contemplative prayer as a form of meditation.  And it’s not something you have to do at a set time, in a special place, wearing special clothes.  You can do it anywhere, any time.  I frequently use my practice while driving – it’s really cut down on my penchant for road rage.

Many times, we seek happiness through the accumulation of stuff, but eventually, the stuff gets old and we aren’t as happy with it, so we get new stuff.  In this quest for happiness, we never really find true happiness. Swami Muktananda said, “The truth is that the joy you find in all things is simply a reflection of the joy of your own inner self.”  Truer words have never been said.  If it was the thing that gave us our joy, then we wouldn’t feel the joy in us when we remember that thing, even several years later.  By stilling the mind through meditation and looking inside, you can find that inner joy. Just like anything else, it doesn’t happen right away – it takes practice.  You need to practice, practice, practice to build your spiritual muscles.

This past weekend, I completed a Level 1 Meditation Teacher training program, another step in my journey.  I’m now a certified Shambhava Yoga Meditation Teacher – something I never would have imagined!

I passed!

I passed!

Besides learning how to teach meditation, it really helped me deepen my own practice.  I learned almost as much from my fellow students as I did from my teachers.  Most of them had been doing this practice for many years – I was just a newb.  Each had a special gift that they brought to the class – it was really amazing to hear their takes on a particular practice or sharing their experiences.   I shared some honey and lip balm from my bees with them to express my gratitude for all they taught me.

At the start of each class, we would chant a blessing, part of which is the Om Sahana Vavatu mantra.  Lately, this has been popping into my head all the time.  I find it comforting in these troubled political times. It goes like this:

Om saha naavavatu
Saha nau bhunaktu
Saha veeryam karavaa-vahai
Teja-svi naa-vadheeta-mastu
Maa vidvishaa-vahai

Om Shantih Shantih Shantih

Translation (one of many):

Om. May we all be protected. 
May we all be nourished. 
May we work together with great energy. 
May our intellect be sharpened (may our study be effective). 
Let there be no Animosity amongst us. 

Om, peace (in me), peace (in nature), peace (in divine forces)

Here’s a version of this from George Harrison and Ravi Shankar:

I still have a long way to go on my spiritual journey, but I feel I’ve got a good start.  I hope to share what I have learned with others.

Gratitude

One of the practices we learned is a gratitude practice which I’ve written about before.  For those of us living in the USA, we have so much to be grateful for.  Most of us don’t have to worry about where our next grain of rice is coming from or whether we have clothes to keep us warm.  We often take these things for granted and don’t spend our energy contemplating gratitude.  For the past year and a half, I’ve been spending a few minutes at the end of each meditation session doing a gratitude practice.  It’s not always easy – some days I don’t feel particularly grateful.  But just the intention, cultivates gratitude.  And gratitude begets more gratitude.

In our teacher training, we learned to be grateful for the teachers that came before us and gave us these practices.  That is something to be truly grateful for.  But it got me thinking about other teachers in my life and the gratitude I owe them.  They have come from all walks of life – school teachers, co-workers, relatives, beekeepers – all bringing me something to learn.

This past Monday would have been my Dad’s 89th birthday.  He was an avid skier and last skied on his 85th birthday – a year before he died.  To celebrate, my wife and I went to Steamboat and skied on his birthday.  I was thinking about all he taught me in life and was grateful for his life and the lessons.   I remember when I was just learning to ski that I was afraid of riding a chairlift.  My dad went up the lift with me, trying to make me forget my fear of heights.  He told me, “The fall never killed anybody – it’s just the sudden stop at the bottom that gets you.”   That actually relaxed me.  I learned many other lessons from him and give thanks for him (and my mom) almost every day.  I missed skiing with him, but know that there’s more skiing for him in the next life.

Dad skiing at 82.

So, for all the teachers in my life, the good times and the bad which have all led me to this point, I just have to say, “Thanks”.  And I look forward to new teachers and life lessons in the future.

Posted in Gratitude, Meditation | 4 Comments

Late-winter notes

We’ve had some unusually warm weather in Colorado for the first half of February.  On February 10th, I hit 77.4°F in the bee yard (Denver broke the record high temperature for the month at 80°F that day) , but most days have been in the low to mid 60’s for much of the month.  Heck, today it was 70 according to my weather station (I was off skiing in the mountains where it was warm, but not that warm!).  But, this is Colorado, and we are expecting a good snowstorm on Thursday, so winter isn’t done with us yet.  And our snowiest months are March and April anyway – typically it snows the week after package bees arrive in mid to late April.

So, what does this have to do with the bees?  Well, it means that spring is on it’s way and these warm days are a chance to gauge how your colonies are doing.  Of the 7 hives I tended last year, only 3 made it going into the winter – the 2 in my backyard (BnB1 and BnB2) and Laura’s hive down the street.  All had plenty of honey stores, but as I noted in a previous post, Laura’s colony didn’t have their honey very well distributed.

I had been seeing activity in the hives in my backyard on the warm days – first from BnB1, but later more from BnB2.  I asked Laura to check on her hive. She said she didn’t see any activity, but there were some dead bees on the landing board.  I asked her to clear those away and see if more appeared – that would mean someone was cleaning up the hive. Then I got a text from her saying she was seeing bees going in and out of the hive!  It was a couple of days before I got down there, but when I did, I also saw bees going in and out.  However, Laura’s bees were golden Italians and these were darker.  So, I guessed they were robber bees and that the colony was dead.  I took off the insulation to look through the window and sure enough, this colony was toast.  There were dead bees all over the floor and just a couple of the robbers running around on the combs.  I blocked the entrance and took out the good honey combs to save for a new colony.  So, I guess not having honey bands at the top of the combs was a bad idea after all.

As HB at Backyard Bee Hive Blog noted, the silver maples are blooming in our area.  I also had a Facebook friend post a picture of some crocuses in bloom.  Sure enough, my backyard bees have been bringing in pollen for the past couple of weeks. 

Bees bringing in pollen in February to BnB2

Most of the pollen I’ve seen is grayish/green, but the past few days, I’ve been seeing some yellowish or orange pollen (I’m colorblind) coming in like on the bee going through the entrance – maybe more crocuses are blooming somewhere?

I also looked through the windows of BnB1 and BnB2 in the past couple of weeks. It can be deceiving at first because the bees eat the honey along the comb edges so when you first look in, the combs look empty.  But when I peered in between the combs, I could see plenty of honey in there.  It’s still been a bit too cold to open up the hives, but I think for now they are okay.  I need to do a heft test to see how heavy the hives are – heavier means more honey.  I have lots of honey combs stored in my basement for spring feeding if need be.

But now that we are going into winter again, it’s time to start monitoring the remaining hives more closely to make sure they have enough honey and if not to give them some more.  It’s also time for me to start building some new equipment – I need another nucleus hive with the Hardison dimensions and I think I’ll build a couple of swarm traps.  And I need a couple of new supers and frames for the Langstroth hive.  Plus, I’ve still got some bee books to read!

Posted in Bees, Hive inspection | 1 Comment

Wintertime Musings

Seems like all my beekeeping blogging buddies are posting for the new year, so I guess I’ll have to follow suit.  I’m really feeling that we’ve turned the corner after the winter solstice and am excited for another new year of beekeeping.  My first seed catalog arrived and I’m feeling the lengthening of the days.

Getting bee related loot for Christmas surely helped.  My wife came through with a new bee helmet/veil, a ventilated shirt, some cardboard nuc boxes for swarm trapping (and nucs of course) and Tom Seeley’s “Honeybee Democracy“.

Christmas Loot

Christmas Loot

The nuc boxes are going to be great for swarm catching.  I can keep them folded up in the cab of my truck and assemble them on site using top bars instead of frames.

I got another “B” related item for Christmas to stoke my bacon fetish as well.

"Bee" is for Bacon

“Bee” is for Bacon

One of the best Christmas presents was seeing the girls of BnB1 out flying on Christmas Eve.  Maybe the insulation was helping!

I didn’t see any signs of life from BnB2, though, but I hadn’t given up hope on them.  Of course, true to form for Colorado weather, it snowed (briefly) on Christmas day, so the girls of BnB1 were hunkered back down again.

As we headed towards the new year, we got another warm day on the 30th and this time, the girls of BnB2 headed out to enjoy the warm sun and carry out their dead sisters.

So, going into the new year, the 2 backyard hives are alive.  There’s still a long way to go until spring, but this is a hopeful sign.

Here’s hoping that 2017 is good to you.  Happy New Year from Buddha And The Bees!

Christmas Day 2016

 

Posted in Bees, Gratitude, Weather | 3 Comments

Bee Bathrooms

(I originally wrote this post last spring, but am just getting around to posting now)

The house we live in was built in 1967 and very little has been done to update it since then by us or the previous owners.  When we moved in, all we did was paint the walls and replace the carpet – and that was 15+ years ago.  It’s very functional for the most part.

Most of our money/effort has gone into transforming the yard which is where my passion lies.  When we moved in, we had a couple of trees taken out that pretty much decimated the lawn.  So, we had a blank slate to work with and I’ve spent plenty of time making gardens, adding lawn (which I’m starting to take out now) and building the bee yard.  So while the house has great curb appeal, the inside has lagged behind.

When my dad died a couple of years ago, we inherited a little money and while the bulk of that is going towards our kids’ education, we also decided it was high time to make some updates to the interior of the house.  Although Diana deserves one of the finest kitchens to go with her superb culinary skills, we opted to update the 2 bathrooms since it would be cheaper. (Plus she reminds me that an excellent chef can make a gourmet meal on a hot plate if need be – at least our kitchen is a little better than that).  Our 50 year old bathrooms were definitely dated (I was hoping for that style to come back around, but alas no) and you couldn’t get parts for the shower faucets anymore.  You could either have water pressure or hot water – but not both. Over the years, I’ve replaced the sink faucets and a toilet, but not the infrastructure. Definitely time for an update.

Guest bathroom before remodel

Guest bathroom before remodel – too much tile and an ugly floor

Master bath before remodel

Master bath before remodel

Master bath cabinet and sink - before remodel

Master bath cabinet and sink – before remodel

Our bathrooms are small, but mirror images of each other (they share a common wall).  All we really wanted was to have a more modern and functional bathroom – not add in bells and whistles like jetted tubs.  Toilets that flushed, sinks that drained, hot shower with pressure – that’s all we really needed.  The old bathrooms had tile on all the walls and ugly linoleum flooring.  We wanted tiled floors and only tile in the shower/bath area.  I also wanted a rain head shower –  I first had one of those in Australia in 1999 and have been wanting one every since.  They are not very water efficient, but boy do they feel good.

This was our first encounter in dealing with contractors.  We got some references from some friends and started the process of getting bids.  We settled on Brent from Roots Construction. (website is down at the moment) He had done some work for one of my colleagues and Diana and he hit it off.  (Brent knew some people up at the Shoshoni Ashram.)  We’ve become friends in the process and he’s been great to work with – I highly recommend him.  Next, we had to figure out what we wanted in the bathrooms.

I hate shopping in general, but trying to figure out what I wanted in tile design was just overwhelming.  I have no sense of artistry or color matching (due to my colorblindness).   The only requirement I had was that we needed some hexagonal tiles to satisfy my bee fetish.  I had seen some honeycomb flooring at my friend Anne’s house and knew I wanted something like that.  I would have done the whole bathroom in honeycomb, but that would have been a little over the top. 

Guest Bathroom

The project started in November on the kids/guest bathroom.  My son Patrick went to college this year, so we needed to have an nice bathroom to go with the new empty (guest) bedroom.  I was impressed that the demo took only a few hours and thought, maybe I could save some money by doing the master bath demo myself.  I used to change the oil in my car by myself, but then I realized that I could pay someone to do it for me for under $30.  When I thought about how much my time is worth, I decided that it was well worth the money to pay someone else to do this.  Same goes for the bathroom demo.  They had to crack the old cast iron tub in half to get it out – that would have taken me a whole day!

Tub removed - guest bathroom

Tub removed – guest bathroom

Demo day on the master bath.

Demo day on the master bath.

It took about 7 weeks to finish the remodel due to the Thanksgiving break and busyness of the contractors.  All the sub-contractors were great.   I was particularly impressed with Aaron from CustomExpressions who did a masterful job with tile work (and our guest bath nook made it into his photo gallery!)  I’d always defer to his sense of artistry in designing the layout and it came out great.

New shower/tub in guest bathroom

New shower/tub in guest bathroom

And, I got my honeycomb flooring!

Honeycomb tile in guest bath

Honeycomb tile in guest bath

Master Bath

The master bath was a sore spot for me.  When we first moved in, I re-grouted all the tile which was a chore way beyond my liking.  Removing the old grout was a pain – the tiles were so close together that normal tools didn’t work.  And they were small tiles which meant there was a lot of grout to remove.   Over the years, mold started growing on the tiles that was impossible to remove.  It wasn’t an appealing place to try to get clean.

After the new year, we started on the master bath.  We told Brent we wanted this one to go faster than the other and he said he’d try to do what he could.  My old boss used to say that you might want things to go fast, but TTT – Things Take Time.  And, so it was with the master bath.  Things have to be done in a certain order, and it still took 5 weeks to get the majority of the work done.  But, at least we had the nice new guest bathroom to use while this one was in progress!

For the master bathroom, we took out the tub and replaced it with just a shower.  The back wall has a vertical strip of hexagonal tiles for my bee theme.  It looks like it should have a waterfall constantly running over it.  That would have been cool.

New shower in master bath

New shower in master bath with my rainshower

Honeycomb accent

Honeycomb accent on back wall

Honeycomb accent

Closeup of the honeycomb accent

One nice thing about redoing the bathrooms is that we changed from 50-year-old water hogging toilets to low flow ones which should save some water.   And our city has a $50 rebate/toilet when you switch these out ($100/toilet if you get dual flush), so I ended up with a $100 credit on our utility bill.  I initially wanted dual flow toilets (which I also first encountered in Australia), but settled for single flush/low flow.  Since we live in a drought prone area (and Diana grew up in California), we adhere to the “If it’s yellow, let it mellow, if it’s brown, flush it down” philosophy, so if we are only flushing for #2 with low flow, I don’t see the point of dual flush. (Maybe that’s a little TMI).  Hopefully, these new toilets will offset my increased water usage from the rain head shower.

I no longer cringe when I get in the shower now.  My biggest challenge is to not stay in there too long (which I do on a daily basis).

 

 

Posted in Home remodel | 4 Comments

Baby It’s Cold Outside!

After an exceptionally warm and dry fall, the meteorological winter finally arrived at the start of December to bring in some colder (and wetter) weather.  Last night, the temperature hit -8.5 °F (-22.5 °C) – the coldest weather in 2 years.  We’ve also gotten some snow with the cold, so it looks like it will be a white Christmas this year.

Beeyard at -5 F

People often ask me whether my bees hibernate in the winter (short answer – they don’t).  As fall approaches, a few things happen in the hive.  First, all the males (drones) get kicked out of the hive since they are mostly just a drain on the hive – eating and lying around, not helping to raise new bees or gathering stores for winter.  So, out they go.  The number of bees in the hive starts to reduce as the queen’s egg laying slows down and the summer bees are replaced by fatter winter bees who can survive through the cold weather.  Normally, worker bees (the females) live 4-6 weeks which wouldn’t get them through the cold of winter, but the winter bees can live 2-3 months.  The winter bees cluster together in a ball, eating honey for energy and beating their wings to keep warm.  The queen is in the middle of the cluster and the other bees keep her and any brood warm with the heat they generate.

If there are not enough bees and honey to keep the hive warm enough, the colony will die.  This happened to BnB3 which was decimated by mites and was queenless going into the winter.  You can see in the picture below the dead bees all clustered together.  There is honey at the top left, but they bees won’t break the warmth of the cluster to go get it.

Dead cluster from BnB3 with supercedure cell

Going into winter, I had 3 of 7 hives remaining – BnB1, BnB2 and Laura’s hive.  Duncan’s hive (Hello Kitty) had very few bees and I gave up trying to save that.  The 3 remaining hives all had good honey stores and of the 3, Laura’s hive had the most bees.  Interestingly, these three hives all use the same design – the Marty Hardison top bar.

For best results, a colony will store a band of honey above the brood comb so they can eat that without venturing away from keeping the eggs and larvae warm.  Here’s an example from  an old picture with honey at the top and capped brood below.

Comb with capped honey above the capped brood.

BnB1 and BnB2 have always organized their honey and brood like this.  At the last inspection, Laura’s hive had lots of bees and brood, but on the brood combs, while there was very little to no honey at the top of the comb, there was plenty of pollen and honey on the combs on either side of the brood.  We’ll see how that works out for them. 

In past years, I’ve always placed a layer of bubble wrap like insulation across the top bars under the hive cover and also some between the window and window cover for added warmth.  This year, since my colonies are pretty small, I decided to add some more insulation to the sides of the hives (and bottom on BnB1 & 2 since they have screened bottom boards).

I went out an bought a sheet of 2″ foam board and use my circular saw to cut it all.  This worked out nicely to cover all 3 hives (mostly).  For the flat sides and ends, the foam fits snugly.  For the sides with the windows, I had a dilemma.  The foam was not easy to carve out by hand and I didn’t want to use a router given the amount of nasty dust that it would produce.  In the end, I carved out as best I could a hole for the window cover handle and pressed the foam as tightly as I could to the side.  I used 3″ screws to tie it all together.

Insulation around BnB2 – gap on window side at left

BnB1 all insulated – insulation bulging on right side over the window

One problem with insulating a hive is that it can retain moisture that is normally vented through the natural gaps in the hive construction.  Each of these hives has a vent hole at the back which is covered by this new layer of insulation.  (BnB2 had the hole propilized closed anyway).  Since our winters are generally very dry and since at the last inspection, the combs were dry and brittle and since the colonies are small, I’m hoping this won’t be a problem.

So, another beekeeping winter is at hand, and another experiment under way.  After the first cold snap a week or so ago, I found dead bees in front of the hive and in the snow on the ground in my backyard.  To me, that means someone is still alive to drag out the dead bodies (undertaker bees).  

BnB2 insulated. Dead bees on the doorstep

But that cold snap only got down to the teens.  This is a colder, longer snap. Maybe if it warms up to the upper 40’s this week, the undertaker bees (if there are any) will show me their work.

Next week is the winter solstice which typically signals the start of the new beekeeping year.  As the days get longer, the queens start laying eggs, gearing up for the spring to come.  With any luck, the insulation will give my bees a bit more of a chance against the cold to survive into the new year.

Wishing you all a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Pancha Ganapati, and a Blessed New Year!

Posted in Bees, Weather | 6 Comments

Mites and Robbers

Sarah’s hive was one of the most productive of my hives this year.  Even though the bees did a lot of cross combing, they made some of the most beautiful and tasty white honey combs.

Nicely capped honey - Sarah's hive

Nicely capped honey – Sarah’s hive

The colony had been booming all summer and there where no obvious (at least to me) signs that this hive was not going to do well going into winter.   One of the problems I have with this hive is that since it’s not in my back yard, I don’t tend to get out to inspect it as often as I should. (Note to self – check the outyards more frequently next year).  So, there was a 3-4 week period between September and October where I didn’t check in on this hive.  That was all the time the nasty little varroa mites needed to totally decimate the colony.

When I finally did take a look, the first thing I noticed was very few bees at the entrance.  A normal, healthy colony will have bees coming and going – and this day there were hardly any.  When I looked in, I saw that there was very little capped brood, fewer bees and there were lots of uncapped, dead larva  – classic signs of PMS (parasitic mite syndrome).

PMS in the hive

PMS in the hive

Dead brood

Dead brood

The queen was still alive and laying new eggs, but I could see signs of mite poop in some of the cells.  That meant that any new larvae probably were going to be infested with mites.  I decided to condense the hive down so they wouldn’t have as much space to care for.  I removed some of the combs with the dead larvae (hopefully taking some of the mites too) and some of the cross-combed honey bars.  I don’t treat for mites but I’m not sure that would have helped in this case anyway at this point.  I was amazed at how fast a colony could be overrun with mites and go from boom to bust.

A week later I came back to check on the hive and when I looked through the window and saw a yellowjacket running around, I knew the colony was toast.  When I opened up the back , there were dead bees all over the bottom of the hive.

Dead bees in the back of Sarah's hive

Dead bees in the back of Sarah’s hive

As I moved into the combs, I found that robber bees and wasps had cleaned out every bit of honey from the combs.  I was glad I took out the other honey!  There were more dead bees and the bottom was littered with chewed up comb.

Dead bees and shredded comb at the bottom of the hive

Dead bees and shredded comb at the bottom of the hive

Honey comb shredded by robbers

Honey comb shredded by robbers

At this time of year, bees have very little sources of nectar and start robbing honey from other hives.  A strong hive will have guard bees at the entrance to fend off the attack, but a weak hive can be quickly overcome.  A hive like Sarah’s can be stripped of all it’s honey in a matter of hours.  I don’t know how long it took in this case, but the devastation was total.

I took all the comb from the hive, scraped down the sides and dumped out the dead bees. I’ll take a torch to the insides in the spring to clean it up some more before adding new bees.  The comb will be melted down for lip balms and candles.  Some of the brood comb that I took out the week before still had honey on it.  I froze them to kill off mites and wax moth larva, then trimmed off the empty comb below the honey.   I’ll store the honey on the comb for feeding back to the bees in the spring if needed or to help start the new hive.  I harvested some of the nice white comb that I got before the robbing and bottled that up on Friday.  I even made up some little sample jars for the folks at my wife’s birthday party – which they all loved.

Diana's Double Nickels Honey

Diana’s Double Nickels Honey

Next year, instead of buying a package, we’ll repopulate this hive with a split from one of my other hives (assuming one or two make it), or a swarm that we catch.  I need to check on the hives more often to circumvent any problems before they get out of hand.  And, I’ll try to buy or raise local queens that hopefully have better mite resistance than this one.

But for now, the sweet honey will take the sting out of the bitterness of a failed colony.

 

 

 

Posted in Bee Products, Bees, Hive inspection, Mites | 1 Comment

Endless Summer

We’ve been experiencing a dry, warm Autumn in Colorado.  Although we had our first hard freeze the other day, temperatures have been in the mid 80’s the past couple of days.  The bees are still out collecting pollen from the few remaining cosmos and asters, but their foraging resources are rapidly diminishing.  The boys (drones) have all been kicked out of the hive and the population of girls (workers) is dwindling as the queen slows her laying.  They may have to start dipping into their honey stores more than normally for this time of year if they keep flying in the warm weather.

Bee on the cosmos

Bee on the cosmos

I’m not complaining about the weather.  I’ve got arugula and spinach coming up in the garden and we’ve been treated to many bluebird days.  There have been dustings of snow on the mountains which add to the beauty of these days.

Cattle grazing under the snow capped mountains

Cattle grazing under the snow capped mountains

Out of my 7 hives, 5 of them seem to be doing well at last check, despite signs of mites in some of them.  I’m experimenting to see which ones can deal with the mite loads – if any.  If I can get at least a couple through the winter, then I’ll split and requeen the survivors in the spring.  So far, watching the hive entrances, these 5 seem to be doing well.  I reduced the entrances down to keep robbers at bay.

Late autumn shade on BnB1

Late autumn shade on BnB1

Entrance reduced on BnB2

Entrance reduced on BnB2

Down to one entrance on BnB3

Down to one entrance on BnB3

A couple of weeks ago, I checked on Sarah’s hive which had been a real producer of honey and bees this summer.  The last time I checked, 3 weeks before that, all seemed good.  When I walked up to the hive, I noticed that there were very few bees at the entrance – not a good sign.  And, opening it up, I found that they had been devastated by mites.  There was very little brood and there was lots of uncapped, old larvae – classic signs of PMS (that’s parasitic mite syndrome in beekeeping lingo).

PMS in the hive

PMS in the hive

I found the queen and she was laying new eggs, but I didn’t think they have a chance.  I reduced the hive down to just a few frames in hopes they could rebound, but I wasn’t hopeful.

This weekend, I checked on the hive again.  There were no bees guarding the entrance and when I looked through the window I only saw a couple of bees and a yellowjacket.  This hive was toast.  I’ll detail this in another post.

I also checked in on the Left Hand Hive this weekend.  Last time I checked, it was brimming with bees.  I even did a mite roll and there were very few mites so I was optimistic that this hive would survive.  Here’s what it looked like then.

bees

Lots of bees in the bottom box of Left Hand hive

However, yesterday, there were very few bees flying in and out which was not a good sign.  I opened up the top cover and there were a few bees, but not as many as a few weeks ago.  I’m debating whether I should go through the hive and perhaps condense it down to one deep, or just let it bee.  They had the top cover glued to the inner cover and at this time of year, I’m reluctant to break all the propolis seals that they made.  But, we’re still having endless summer weather so perhaps they can still get things sealed back up.  And winter will be here before we know it.

Posted in Bees, Hive inspection | 7 Comments

Agastache Autumn

As summer winds down and we are now in the meteorological autumn, the bees are getting ready for the coming winter. Pollen and nectar sources are winding down, but in my yard, a couple of different agastache plants are still blooming and the bees are loving them.

In my front yard, the Coronado Red Hyssop (Agastache Pstessene) has been booming this summer.  This plant has small tubular flowers.  After a few years of just being small 2 foot plants, this year they have grown to over 7 feet high. We’ve had a pair of humming birds that have been visiting for the past month or so and the bees are there in full force too.

Out at the back of the bee yard, I have a couple of different agastache plants – the Giant Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum).  These flowers are more like a mint cluster – not tubular and the bees just love this plant.

There are still some cone flowers blooming and sunflowers all over the county.  The blue mist spirea is almost done – I plan relocate a bunch of the little seedlings popping up in my lawn-to-garden project next spring.  This year, I have a volunteer sunflower in that garden that has done magnificently despite me never watering it.

Sunflowers

Sunflowers in my new lawn-to-garden area.

In the beeyard, the silver lace vine is in full bloom, but it doesn’t seem to be a big hit with the honey bees.  I see wasps and native bees on it, but very few honey bees.

Silver lace vine and bee yard

Silver lace vine and bee yard

I did my last full inspections a few weeks ago, but decided to take advantage of the nice Labor Day weather to check into the hives in my backyard and neighborhood one more time.  All except Laura’s hive are still chock full of bees and seem to be doing well.  Laura’s was recently requeened and the new queen seems to be slow to start building up new brood. But, there were new stick eggs and larvae, so maybe she’s just getting into her groove.  I gave the hive a frame of brood from BnB1 a couple of weeks ago and today, we could see that some of the dark Carniolans from BnB1 had hatched and were mixed in with the pretty golden Italians.  Today, I gave Laura’s hive a couple of frames of honey from BnB2 so they can concentrate on raising bees.  They have plenty of pollen and honey now – they just need some more bees.

I’ll have to keep an eye out for wasps and other bees trying to rob the hives, but they seem capable of fending off any attacks.  I reduced the entrance on Laura’s hive since they have fewer bees, but will keep the others  open full unless I see signs of robbing.

I’ll try to do one more quick check of Sarah’s hive and the Left Hand Lang next weekend, but for the most part, my summer beekeeping task are almost over.  The honey has been harvested, the hive health has been checked and now it’s time to watch and wait.

Posted in Bees, Hive inspection | 2 Comments