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.

 

 

 

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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.

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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.

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The Queen is Not Dead!

In my last post, I mentioned that Laura’s hive was queenless and there were no signs that any of the queens that had hatched made it back from their mating flights.  I spent the week trying to buy a new queen locally, but all my efforts turned up empty handed.  The last person I tried wasn’t going to have any queens until next Tuesday and I’ll be taking my son to college, so that wouldn’t work.

Yesterday, Laura and I took one more peek into the hive on the off chance that one of the queens made it or at least to figure out if there were enough bees left to combine with another hive.  Lo and behold, there was some brood and larva, so she had survived!

Larva and capped brood - Laura's hive

Larva and capped brood – Laura’s hive

Capped brood - Laura's hive

Capped brood – Laura’s hive

The one thing I’ve (hopefully) now learned this season is that I need to be more patient when waiting for signs of a newly hatched queen to get mated and start laying.  Since I didn’t really know when this queen had hatched, I guess I can give myself a break this time.

So, it seem like this hive is queen-right again (although we never saw her).  They did have a queen cell that looked like it had a larva in it, so that’s kind of worrisome.  Unfortunately, I crushed it a bit when I was doing the inspection.  If they do need another queen, I hope I didn’t damage the larva, but if they don’t then maybe that was a good thing.

I’m not sure if this hive swarmed or the old queen just died (there were both swarm and supercedure cells).  There are definitely fewer bees in here than earlier in the season, but since there’s wasn’t any brood in here for a while, I’m thinking it was attrition rather than swarming.  This hive came from a swarm, and some think that swarms tend to beget swarms, so I’ll have to keep an eye on this one.  I’ll probably give it a frame of brood from one of the other hives just so they can bring their numbers up quickly since it is getting late in the season.

They seem to have enough honey and pollen stores for now.  There is one funky looking comb of capped honey that I got a kick out of.  It’s been like this for over a month – they just never seem to expand it further.

Funky honey comb in Laura's hive

Funky honey comb in Laura’s hive

I didn’t see signs of active mites (no mite poop, no deformed wing virus, no mites on bees), so I’m hoping the brood break knocked them down to a manageable level.  It looks like the new queen has laid some drone brood (larva in old drone sized cells) and maybe I’ll cull that when they are capped.  No need for drones this time of year, except to raise mites, so getting rid of that is probably a good thing anyway.

So, as of today, all my hives are queen-right and all seem to be doing well going into the fall.  Only time will tell!

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August Musings

It’s been a hot, dry summer for the bees, but that hasn’t stopped them from making a good crop of honey.  Normally, first year packages spend their time building comb and enough honey to get them through the winter and a honey harvest is not in the cards.  But mine got a head start this year since they each had some pre-built comb, so they could spend less effort on building comb and more on making honey (a win-win in my eyes).

More Honey

Since all but one of my hives has excess honey, I did some more harvesting – this time from BnB3, Sarah’s hive and the Left Hand Lang.  I took one bar from BnB3 because it was held together with hair clips after it broke off early on.  I replaced it with an empty comb I had laying around and hope they can fill it with honey before the winter.

Comb from BnB3 held together with hair clips

Comb from BnB3 held together with hair clips

Sarah’s hive had lots of cross comb that I wanted to clean up.  She isn’t as keen on harvesting honey as I am and wanted to leave it for the bees. But I convinced her that they had an excess, so we took out the 3 bars that were cross combed and an extra bar for some comb honey.  They still had plenty left and room to expand.

Nicely capped honey - Sarah's hive

Nicely capped honey – Sarah’s hive

Sarah tried her hand at inspecting the combs this time.

Looking for the queen

Sarah looking for the queen

The Left Hand Lang is pretty full and they had built out one of the foundationless frames with just honey, so I decided I’d harvest that frame.  The place where I have the hive was having a new driveway poured and one of the workers came by as I was closing up.  He said where he was from in Mexico, the bees had open combs in the trees and that he was always getting stung.  I let him dip his finger into a tear in the comb I harvested for a sweet reward – no stings here!

Foundationless frame ready for harvest

Foundationless frame ready for harvest

Inspections

Fall is just around the corner, so I started doing my final full inspections of the hives to make sure they are all ready for the coming winter.  I peeked in BnB2 and found they had already made some new comb on my wobbly wedge bar.  So, I guess Julie was right – it wasn’t as bad as I made it out to be.  BnB1 has lots of honey and the queen seems to laying well, so I shouldn’t have to go in again.

New comb on the wedge bar - maybe it's not so bad

New comb on the wedge bar – maybe it’s not so bad

We had a cool day earlier this week, so I took the opportunity to do a full inspection of BnB1.   I started off in my long sleeved shirt and veil, but they were pretty agitated and kept trying to get in my veil.  After a glancing sting to the neck, I decided to put on my bee jacket for more protection.  That wasn’t enough of a deterrent – one of them stung me on the back through the suit!  I think they were pissy because the last time, I stole some of their honey.  As I was going through the hive, I looked down on the front of my jacket and saw some bees clustered there.  Then I saw that one of them was the queen!  Yikes!  I tried to brush her back into the hive, but she landed on the top bars and my attempts to herd her into the hole weren’t going well.  She was headed for the edge and onto the ground when I finally was able to get her into the hive.  But for a few moments there, I was freaking out!  She’s been laying well as there was lots of capped and uncapped brood.   So, I think this hive is all set for Fall.

The only hive that isn’t doing well is Laura’s hive that was the swarm I caught in May.  The last time I looked in, I saw some mites at the back of the hive and was thinking I’d have to do something like cage the queen for brood break.  But, the bees were smarter than me and apparently, they were already raising a new queen.  When I looked in this time, there was no brood, no queen, but some opened queen cells and supercedure cells.

Opened queen cells in Laura's hive

Opened queen cells in Laura’s hive

But there was no sign of a virgin queen.  I was hoping she was out for a mating flight, but I checked again 8 days later and there was still no sign of a queen, eggs or larva.  There were still a lot of bees in the hive though so I thought buying a mated queen was the way to go.  But none of my local suppliers have queens and I’m going out of town and it’s too late to get one shipped, so I think I’m going to have to combine this hive with one of my others.  I’m reluctant since this hive had mites but I have to do something with them this weekend.

I still need to do a full inspection of Duncan’s hive.  The bees were just too agitated to do it when we harvested the honey.  Maybe I can get that done this weekend, but if not, it’ll have to wait until I get back.

Transitions

My youngest son leaves for his first year of college next week.  He, his brother and I hiked a 14er last weekend to celebrate this passage.  It was quite emotional for me on two fronts – I just beat cancer and now my boy is heading off.  He’s ready and I think I’m ready (Diana, maybe not). Just like the bees, we’ve given him a place to call home and tended him with loving care.  All we can do now sit back and let nature take it’s course.

My boys and me on top of Mt. Sherman - 14,036'

My boys and me on top of Mt. Sherman – 14,036′

 

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Honey Pops

On Saturday, it was time to harvest some honey from Duncan’s hive (aka Hello Kitty).  His sisters and parents joined in the fun – watching, laughing, videoing and getting stung.  What should have been an easy harvest, turned into a bit of a mess because there was a lot of crossed combs and lots of bees!

Ready to start the harvest

Ready to start the harvest

The hive was full to the back and when I pulled out the first comb, it broke off and the one in front of it was attached all the way to the back.  That wasn’t a good sign.  The next few combs were crossed and covered in bees.

Cross comb mess

Cross comb mess

Then, there was a comb that had collapsed previously and when I tried to move that, it broke off.  So, I had to work around that one for a while.

There were a couple of nice combs that we were able to get for comb honey, but most were destined for the crush and strain.

One nice single comb

One nice single comb

My previously perfect method for getting comb out of the hive and into the nuc didn’t work so well this time.  At one point, I was just trying to figure out what to do next when Duncan’s father came along and asked me how I was doing.   I’d been stung on the belly 4 times, Duncan had a bee in his suit and ran away, his sister got stung on her ear, the bees were everywhere and I was just standing there dumbfounded.  It was a pretty funny sight (at least in retrospect).

Unhappy bees, Unhappy Don

Unhappy bees, Unhappy Don

But finally, we got all the combs out and most of the bees off them and took them over to my house to crush and strain.  While I was cleaning off one of the bars, I cut into the kerf along the bar and it went into the bucket.  But when we pulled it out, we ended up with a new treat – a honey pop!  Watch how it was created in this video.

Once we got all the honey into the bucket, Duncan got to mash it all up.

Duncan crushing the comb

Duncan crushing the comb

We poured it into the strainer and then it was time for cleaning up the tools!

In the end, we got about 27 lbs from 7 combs – about 21 liquid and 6 for comb honey!

Despite the bumps and stings, I think they all had a good time – I’m sure the honey pop helped!

 

 

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Comb Honey

I took advantage of a change in the weather (30 degrees F cooler than yesterday) to harvest some of the honey out of BnB1.  In past inspections, they had been making brand new white comb in the back and capping some delicious looking honey in it – perfect for taking and processing as cut comb instead of doing the usual crush and strain.

BnB1 before the harvest

BnB1 before the harvest – blue mist spirea in bloom

Nuc ready for the honey

Nuc ready for the honey combs

My plan was to take 3 bars from BnB1 and one bar from BnB3 that was held together with hair clips.  But when I got into BnB1, there was so much capped honey, I couldn’t help myself and ended up taking 5 bars from BnB1 and left BnB3 for another day!

First bar... yum

First bar… yum

I took advantage of the cool weather to do a fuller inspection up into the brood nest, which I hadn’t done since early June, to make sure the queen was laying and that the colony was in good shape.  I found lots of new larvae, so there will be another big hatch in a few weeks.  Everything looked good and they still have 5 full bars of honey left in the back.

Finally peeking into the brood nest

Finally peeking into the brood nest

Of the 5 bars I took, 2 of them were good for comb honey, 1 good one got mangled when I put it into the nuc and it rubbed up against the comb next to it and the other 2 were on older comb, so they were destined for crush and strain.

Diana took some beautiful pictures of the first comb.  She has quite the eye for capturing their essence.

First comb before cutting

First comb before cutting

Beads of honey on the comb

Beads of honey on the comb

This was my first time processing a lot of comb honey, so I learned a few things along the way.  First, I found that the knife I was using got coated in honey and needed to wiped off with each cut.  They sell special cutters to get consistent sizes and maybe I’ll look into that in the future.  But you’d still have the same problem.

Cut and ready for boxing

First comb cut and ready for boxing

The second thing I learned (after the fact) was that you should let the combs drain before putting in the boxes.  As you can see from the picture above, there is a lot of honey that drips out of the cuts and in my case, it ended up at the bottom of the box since I didn’t let that drain off.  Next time.

The second comb had more texture to it than the first – probably a product of some of the cross combing that this colony seemed wont to do.  It was still gorgeous.  I put this in as a small image because when small, it looks to me like a human torso – pecs with nipples, abs and a belly button.

Second comb ready for cutting

Second comb ready for cutting – can you see the torso?

I ended up with 12 pieces and put them in some clamshell boxes that I bought recently.  The clamshells work okay, but next time, I think I’ll buy the harder cased comb boxes like you see in stores.  I posted this picture on Facebook and someone asked if I would sell it.   So, maybe it’s time start making some money off this hobby!

12 packages of cut comb

12 packages of cut comb

I took the other 3 combs and the leftovers from the cut comb and crushed it all up.  It’s really easy to crush up this new comb – there are very few hard bits like with older comb. It looks like I’ll have a least a gallon and a half – I’ll find out tomorrow when I bottle it1

Pan full of cut comb

Pan full of cut up comb for crushing

Comb all crushed up

Comb all crushed up

I still have friends that I like to give honey to, but maybe it’s time to start thinking about selling some of it and recouping some of my costs.  After all, I’ve got at least 2 mores hive that I can harvest from!

 

 

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Harvest Time

Since BnB2 was completely full last time I checked, I needed to pull out a couple of bars of capped honey to make some room.  The nice thing about top bar hives is that you can open up the back, steal a few bars and close it all back up without disturbing most of the hive.  And using the crush and strain technique below, you can process just a couple of bars pretty easily.

The Steal

During the last inspection, I moved 2 fully capped honey combs to the very back of BnB2, so it should have been an easy in and out.  Unfortunately, the last bar was right up against the wall.   I fashioned a slim cutting tool out of a coat hanger, but I just didn’t have enough room to use it (but will be useful in the future). I also tried to make a one piece wedge bar following the instructions from my friend Julie over at Happy Hour At The Top Bar to replace the combs I was stealing.  She has much better woodworking skilldazzles (and better tools) than I have. Mine is a bit wobbly, but I used it anyway.

My wedge bar

My wedge bar and coat hanger tool

So, I took my chance that the comb wouldn’t break and lifted it out, and fortunately, it all came out in one piece.  Since it was right up against the back edge of the hive and the comb next to it, a lot of bees got crushed as I pulled it out, which always makes me sad.  It also didn’t make the bees none too happy as you can see in the video below.

The second bar came out much easier.  It was on newer comb and looked delicious.

Beautiful comb of honey

Beautiful comb of honey

Some people cut the comb right there next to the hive, but I find that I end up killing lots of bees that don’t get off the comb or fall into the bucket and get stuck in the honey.  So, I put my combs in my little nucleus hive to carry to the processing place.  I brush off the bees before putting them in the nuc.

Nuc to put combs in.

Nuc to put combs into.

Cutting the comb

I use my garage for my processing.  Extracting honey is a sticky mess.  I think I will eventually set up a processing station in my basement, but since the garage is a straight shot from the hives, it’s easier to do it there for now.  I blew out all the dirt and debris that was hanging around and put down some cardboard and newspaper to keep the area cleaner.

Setup for honey processing

Setup for honey processing

I got my tools all ready – the knife for cutting the combs, the hive tool for cleaning off the combs and the spatula for scraping out the bucket.

Extracting tools

Extracting tools

First, I cut the combs into a nice, new stainless steel pot that I took from some friends before they sold it in their garage sale (thanks, Kim & Tom!).  One thing I’ve found is that it’s good to cut the comb in half up the middle, otherwise, the cut comb might fall over the side. (which happened on the first comb)

Second comb being cut

Second comb being cut

Cut comb at the bottom of the bucket

Cut comb at the bottom of the bucket

Second comb after cuts

Second comb after cuts – yummy goodness still on the comb.

I try to get all the comb off the bar using the hive tool.  The second comb was one of my two piece wedge bars  – a bar with a piece of triangular wood trim nailed on.  Much easier to make and less chance to lose a finger to the saw than the one piece wedges.

Cleaned up bar

Cleaned up two piece wedge bar.

The Crush

The next thing is to crush up the comb to release the honey.  I use rubber gloves – I’m sure someone will tell me they are not food safe – because there is the occasional bee in the combs and I don’t want to get stung by a dead bee.

Mashing the comb

Mashing the comb

A soupy, sticky mess

A soupy, sticky mess

The Strain

Once the comb is all crushed up, I pour it into the strainer.  I use a paint strainer that I get at the hardware store – cheap and it works great.

Pouring into the strainer

Pouring into the strainer

Strainer full of mash

Strainer full of mash

This particular honey strained really quickly.  In the past, when I’ve harvested others, it took a bit longer (plus there were only two combs in this case).  I was able to take the comb and crush it all before I went to work.

The Pour

The next day, the honey was drained from the comb and it was time to bottle.

Honey all strained, waiting for bottling

Honey all strained, waiting for bottling

I took a piece of Saran wrap and laid it across the top to remove the foam.  It doesn’t get it all, but most of it.

After straining the honey, I put the wax on the lid of the strainer and then put it out for the bees and wasps to clean up.

Crushed comb ready to be cleaned

Crushed comb ready to be cleaned

I put it in my front yard, on a rock surrounded by lots of bee plants, away from the hive to prevent other bees from robbing the hives.  I also put the bars out there to be cleaned up.

Leftover comb for the bees

Leftover comb for the bees

The Result

I bought some real honey jars this year instead of just using canning jars and bought some real lids to go with them.  I ended up with 7 pounds of honey (honey is measured by weight, but essentially it was about 3/4 of a gallon liquid).  I figure each of my bars from this hive weighs about 4 pounds (mine are narrower and shorter than some others).

Honey Harvest #1 - BnB2

Honey Harvest #1 – BnB2

The best part of all this is getting to taste the yummy goodness.

Breakfast of champions - eggs, bacon, cappucino and honey on toast

Breakfast of champions – eggs, bacon, cappuccino and honey on toast

That’s the first hive to harvest this year, but the others have more honey for me.  I need to keep enough for the bees to make it through the winter, but there’s plenty for all of us this year.  The weather is supposed to turn a little cooler at the end of the week, so I’m hoping I can get in and harvest honey from the other hives.  BnB1 and Hello Kitty should both have some bars that I can use for comb honey.  Yum!!!!!!

I’ve already given away all the honey except for a couple of jars that I kept for myself (maybe I’ll share with my family).  I give it to people I know will appreciate it.  One of my friends told me she finds herself making toast just so she can have honey on it.  I feel grateful that I can share the bounty I’ve been given by my bees.

 

 

 

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Do I Get Stung?

When people find out I’m a beekeeper, usually the first question is, “Do you ever get stung?”  I usually reply, “Only when I do something stupid”, which is pretty much the truth.  Honey bees are judicious with their stings because to sting you is to die.  Every now and then, though, it seems like there’s some little kamikaze out there who is just itching to get me – death be damned.

I don’t keep track of my stings like some people, but I’d say so far this season, I’ve probably been stung 10-15 times.  Some of these were from my stupidity of not wearing a veil when I did my package installations, or not putting rubber bands on my pant legs to keep the bees from crawling up, but most of the stings have been on my hands when not wearing gloves (which some would say is stupid).  I’ll be going along, merrily inspecting the hive when, BAM!, one little girl will get it in her mind to zap me.

I generally cover myself from head to toe, mainly because I don’t like getting stung.  To paraphrase Daffy Duck, “I’m not like other people.  I don’t like pain.  It hurts me”.  However, with gloves on, I can’t really feel whether I’m crushing bees when moving bars, and things are generally easier to manipulate without them, so I would prefer to not wear them.  Earlier in the season, when the bees are concerned about building up their numbers and collecting pollen and nectar, they are not usually aggressive, so I can get by without gloves.  However, at this time of year, when they have lots of honey, they are more defensive and hence more likely to sting.  For example, today,the bees were very riled up and were stinging me through my gloves.   Fortunately, those are more like glancing blows with just the tip of the barb making it to the skin and very little venom went in.

When a bee stings, it releases a pheromone which tells all the other bees to sting that same spot.  So, when I do get stung, I usually put the gloves on to hide the sting spot.  The first thing after getting stung is to get the stinger out as quickly as possible.  The longer it is in there, the more venom gets pumped in.  But sometimes, when you are in the midst of an inspection and depending on where you got stung, that might take a while.  For remedies, I find that icing the sting spot helps keep the swelling down.   The worst effect is the lingering itchiness – the pain goes away pretty quickly.

Before I started beekeeping, I had no idea whether I was allergic to bee stings or not.  If you are going to take up beekeeping, it’s probably wise to find that out beforehand.  I waited until after I already had bees and fortunately, am not allergic.  When I first started beekeeping, I had worse reactions than I seem to have these days.  My whole arm would swell up from a sting to the hand.

Swollen hand and arm from bee sting

Swollen hand and arm from bee sting

For most of the 27 years I’ve been married, I have rarely taken my wedding ring off.  But this year, with all the stings to my hands, I’ve taken to removing my ring before inspections.  The last thing I need is to have my hand swell up so badly that the ring will cause too much constriction.

In a recent post, HB over at the Backyard Bee Hive Blog brought another issue about stings to my attention – the importance of being stung.  Being around bees, beekeepers (and sometimes their family members) are exposed to bee proteins which can cause a sensitivity to bee stings.  By not getting stung, their bodies don’t develop a resistance to the venom and they can become allergic (as HB has unfortunately found out).  The video in HB’s post (reposted here)  has really changed my way of thinking about being stung.  I’ve even taken to washing my own beekeeping clothes – much to the delight of my wife.  It does make me worry about the kids like Duncan that are around my hives – fortunately, they are not around them too often.

So yes, I do get stung and although I don’t relish it, I guess it’s good for me.

 

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The Heat Is On!

One of the downsides to top bar hives is that new comb is very fragile since it’s only attached to the top bar.  In a Langstroth frame, the comb is attached to the foundation that provides stability, or if you are not using foundation, it gets supported on the 4 sides of the frame when it’s built out.  You can generally flip Langstroth frames in any direction, but full top bar frames need to be turned in the plane of the comb. During very hot weather, inspections become problematic in a top bar hive, especially when there are heavy new combs full of nectar and honey.  My bees usually attach the honey combs to the sides of the hive and this needs to be disconnected when moving frames during an inspection.  Once this support is broken, it’s only held by the top bar and on a really hot day, the combs can collapse.

Late June and early July is generally the hot time of the year in Colorado.  It’s also the time of year when we have generally dry conditions.  Starting in late July, the large heat low over the southwest US sets up the monsoon circulation and we start getting afternoon thunderstorms that help cool us down.

Boulder Daily Temperatures Boulder Precipitation

The past few weeks have been typical for us with temperatures in the upper 90’s to low 100’s (around 40 Celsius), so I’ve had to plan my inspections carefully on the few “cool” days when the temperatures are only in the mid 80’s (30 Celsisus).  Generally, I try to get in early while the air is still cool (before 11am) and hope they can re-attach the honey combs to the sides.  Even with that, I’ve had some mishaps. Unfortunately, the “cool” days don’t usually fall on the weekends, so working full time and keeping 7 hives means I’ve had to take some vacation time to get my inspections in (only 8 more year until retirement!)

BnB3

On the last inspection report, I didn’t get a chance to look in BnB3, but did look in a couple of days later.  Stupidly, I didn’t have spacers on the ends of the hive next to the walls.  In previous inspections, the end bars were empty so this wasn’t a problem, but this time, when I went to take out the first bar, the bar came off and the comb stayed behind.  The upside is that once I removed the comb, it had a small patch of capped honey on it.  I cut it out and we shared it with our dear friends who have been bugging me for more honey.  It was so sweet and had a slight lemony taste – delicious.  When I put the hive back together, I added some shims to either end so the next time should be less messy.

BnB2

These girls are finally starting to cap the honey that they’ve been filling the old drone comb with.  The other hives have more capped honey, but I think that’s because it’s all in brand new comb.

BnB1

When I opened up this hive, the first thing I found was a collapsed comb.  I’m not sure if it’s a new comb that got too heavy, or the result of my last inspection.

Collapsed comb in BnB1

Collapsed comb in BnB1

I cleaned up the mess and rearranged some of the back bars (some of which were cross combed), but I should be able to harvest some honey from this hive later in the summer.

Hello Kitty

After the mess in BnB1, I went next door to check on Duncan’s hive.  It has a screened bottom and when I opened it up, I could see honey below the screen and above the bottom board which means that this hive also had something collapse.  This is the best hive (in terms of bees and honey) so far and they only have 3 empty bars left.  But, they also have a lot of cross comb.  The one thing I’ve learned is to leave cross combed honey comb together and not try to break the bars apart, then harvest these en masse.  I found the collapsed comb – the bottom half of one comb fell down in place, but the bees were already fixing things up.  Duncan gets back this week, so I think we’ll have a family honey harvest in the near future.  Four young kids harvesting honey – guaranteed to be a sticky mess!

Laura’s Hive

Last time I looked, they had not capped much of the honey, but this time they had more capped and some new combs as well.  They also had filled up the drone comb I moved to the back with nectar, so I think they’ll have plenty of honey.  Right after I took the picture below, I got nailed on my middle finger by a gal who obviously didn’t want me there.  She really stung me hard, so for the other inspections, it was back to the gloves!

Nice capped honey - Laura's hive

Nice capped honey – Laura’s hive

The one thing that concerned me was there were a bunch of dead varroa mites on the floor at the back of the hive.  I did see a couple of bees with deformed wings, but the one drone cell that I popped open was free of mites.  I’ll have to monitor this hive closely – maybe a late season split is in order for a brood break.

Dead mites at the back of Laura's hive

Dead mites at the back of Laura’s hive

Sarah’s Hive

Last time I looked, they had taken advantage of my lack of intrusion and cross combed a bunch of the honey bars.  In just a little over a week, they had managed to make an even bigger mess, so I spent some time trying to clean things up.   There are 2 sets of cross combs – one with 3 bars and one with 2 bars. We’ll probably harvest the 3 bar set this year and leave the other for the winter.

Cross comb with honey - Sarah's hive

Cross comb with honey – Sarah’s hive

Left Hand Hive

I put a honey super on the Langstroth hive last time and when I went back this past week, they hadn’t built any comb in it.  I’ll give them another week and if I don’t see signs of comb building, I’ll pull the super off.  We are going into our summer dearth, so I expect they won’t do any more than they have.  They are making honey in the top deep box along with brood.  Given the pattern I’ve seen so far, they’ll probably start moving down into the bottom box again, especially if I pull off the super.  I pulled out the foundationless frame that they were putting drones in (and now some honey), replaced it with another foundationless frame, took it home and put it in the freezer to kill any mites.  I haven’t checked for mites on the frozen drone larva yet, but next inspection, I’ll put the comb back in the hive and the bees will clean up the dead drone larva and reuse the honey.  There were no mites on the bottom board below the screen, which still puzzles me.  Perhaps the ants that were there are taking them away.

One nice thing about the hot weather is that it’s great for melting wax.  I have a small homemade wax melter made from an old Omaha Steaks styrofoam shipping box.  I had two 5 gallon buckets of old comb and was able to melt it all down over the past few weeks.  After the last batch, I ended up with this beautiful chunk of clean beeswax.

Good wax harvest

Good wax harvest

So, for now, except for the cross comb, I’m pretty pleased with the way this beekeeping year is going.  Once it cools down a bit, I hope to do full inspections on the top bar hives.  It looks like the monsoon rains will kick in next week, but for now, the heat is on!

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