2019 – The season of doom

2019: Uncatchable swarms

See the top of that tree? That’s how high they went. Every. Time.

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For the first swarm, we called Chris Veazey who climbs trees for a living. He graciously climbed this pine tree covered in poison ivy and with no bee jacket.

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Alas, they re-swarmed across the street while he was attempting to remove them. Huge kudos for the effort.

We had a total of 7 swarms (that we know of) with every one of them completely out of reach. While swarms are a “good” and “natural” thing, it didn’t help us much. We replaced 3 queens, but they weren’t able to recover.

2019: A new allergy

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Dan has had some ridiculous reactions to bee stings; especially if they got him in the foot. It would turn red and swell up like a balloon for days. On one special occasion, while mowing the lawn, he got attacked – his face turned red, he had trouble breathing, and he puked on the way to our (thankfully super close) doctors’ office. He had his first ambulance ride to the emergency room at Strong where it was confirmed he was in anaphylaxis.

I was ready to quit beekeeping because I prefer he not die, but instead, he started going to an immunologist for weekly bee venom injections. These are 97% effective in preventing allergic reactions and they are currently reduced to one shot per month.

2019: My first year doing this:

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Do you see her? I found her, smushed her with my hive tool, and watched her insides come out.

 

I replaced her with a “nice” queen immediately after.

 

We were able to extract about 10 gallons of honey in July and absolutely none in the fall. The hives were so weak after all the swarming that I combined our hives into 4. I treated them for mites, made sure they had enough food for the winter and closed shop for the season.

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Dan got this extra gigantic full-body bee suit for Christmas to prevent the girls from sneaking in for a complimentary sting.

He also promises to wear shoes AND socks in the backyard from now on.

 

 

 

2020: An adventurous year so far

Screen Shot 2020-04-12 at 6.53.22 PMI gave them a bunch of sugar patties to make sure they were still well fed and hoped for the best. A month later we were down to 2 hives. A week after that, 1 hive.

And then last week, this happened:Screen Shot 2020-04-13 at 11.01.32 PM

IMG_2789So, so, so, lame. This is the first year since my first year of beekeeping that I lost 100% of our colonies. Three hives appear to have died from mites, and one died from humidity/mold.

Some positive things:

  • We completed our first course in the eCornell Master Beekeeping program and start our next course next week
  • We sold out of honey thanks to our amazing neighbors
  • Without honey, we were able to expand a little and sell lip balm and bath bombs
  • We’ve made some new friends
  • Our new set of bees will be arriving soon

Interesting fact: Our amazing health insurance, which I am forever grateful for, is the only reason that we can afford both immunotherapy and EpiPens, and therefore continue beekeeping (for now).

 

Bee Updates

Yes, I’m a slacker with blogging!

But that doesn’t mean we quit the most expensive hobby. I’ll give a list of updates and then try to remain consistent throughout this season.

1. This has been a very successful year with honey and lip balm sales. We’ve really  gotten to know more of our neighborhood, which is awesome!

2. The lip balm container problem may have been resolved.

3. Mighty Mite Thermal Treatment is our current attempted method for dealing with mites.

4. We went into winter with 6 hives and entered spring with 3.

5. We did another on-site presentation with some of our neighborhood children.

6. We attended the annual Geneva Bee Conference.

7. Two more package bees were purchased and we briefly had 5 hives.

8. One of our hives that swarmed (quite an event that I’ll write about another day) actually absconded.

9. With 4 hives left, another one swarmed- much too high to catch.

10. For the first time, we purchased a queen.

11. With 10 queen cells brewing (as potential replacements for that last swarm) several hive splits were attempted.

12. More than anything, we really want to figure out queen rearing. $$$

13. We’ve decided to enroll in the eCornell Master Beekeeper program.

Here’s a little swarm video:

Interesting Fact: Our hive that absconded? That was the last of the mean-queen descendants, so we are glad they left.

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Lip balm container annoyances

Putting together lip balm has been a frustrating task.

What I’ve tried:

1. Setting up lip tubes from Mann Lake on the counter and pouring the melted concoction in each tube with a beaker. The problems I encountered- a sloppy mess was created, containers were knocked over onto the counter, it took forever, and it created a sunken in look on the lip balm rather than an even pour.

2. Setting up lip tubes from Mann Lake on the counter and pouring in the melted concoction in each tube with a pipette. This resulted in fewer sloppy messes and fewer containers knocked over. The problems I encountered- it still took forever, I had to keep a close eye on the level of melted concoction and continuously squeeze in more to create an even look, pipettes had to be disposed of after only a couple uses due to wax solidifying inside of it.

3. Lip Balm Filling Tray from Bulk Apothecary. This was a genius idea which got me really excited. The problems I encountered- The Mann Lake tubes didn’t fit the tray, therefore I needed to order a new brand of tubes. I was advised to by Milliard brand.

4. Lip Balm Filling Tray from Bulk Apothecary and Milliard brand tubes from Amazon with Onlinelabels.com Lip Balm Labels. 18318771_10212462425292288_290528891_oThese tubes fit the tray perfectly, which had me so excited. I was able to fill 50 tubes at once. You can overfill the tray to prevent the sunken in effect. Once it dries, you can use the scraper to remove excess wax and leave it with a perfect, even top. The labels fit perfectly. The problems I encountered- It left a tiny mess on the counter, the Milliard caps were a little too loose. Loose caps result in the lip balm easily getting a dirty film around the opening of the tube.

5. Milliard brand tubes from Amazon with Milliard brand lip balm blank labels. I purchased these labels because they have a tab that can help keep the cap on (at least before someone decides to use the lip balm). The problem I encountered- the label doesn’t wrap all the way around the lip balm tube. Like…what? I’d understand if they were different brands, but they aren’t. What a waste of money.  Garbage.

6. Milliard brand tubes from Amazon. This batch of Milliard brand tubes had such loose caps, I contacted the company to complain. They sent me a free pack of 50 tubes and an apology. Hooray for nice customer service! The problem I encountered- The caps were still too loose. Even worse than the last batch. If I tipped the lip balm upside down, the caps would fall right off. Time to give up on this brand.

7. California Home Goods Lip Balm Crafting Kit and Onlinelabels.com Tamper Evident Tab Lip Balm Labels. A new pouring tray from Amazon that came with 50 tubes. I read reviews from other people that said that most tubes would fit this tray. The 50 tubes it came with fit perfectly, with only 2 or 3 loose caps. My new tamper evident lip balm labels are also awesome. The problem I encountered- California Home Goods does not sell lip balm containers separate from this kit and they brag that all standard sized tubes should fit. I purchased more from Amazon and hoped for the best.

8. 25 Lip Balm Containers – Empty Tubes sold by Pure Acres Farm on Amazon. I haven’t poured any lip balm into this yet. Why not? The problems I encountered- It does not fit either the California Home Goods tray OR the Bulk Apothecary tray. I will try rubber banding them all together and trying the pipette method again with these, but I won’t be purchasing this brand again.

9. Premium Vials, Empty Lip Balm Containers on Amazon- To be updated upon arrival.

Interesting fact (opinion): I confidently recommend onlinelabels.com for labels.

Stay cool with bearding

It is over 90°F outside for the 3rd day in a row. You’d think that because honeybees keep their hive at an average of 95°F throughout the year, that this temperature would be no big deal.

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Imagine having a small and nicely air-conditioned house on a day like today. You decide to invite 100 people over for a party. The house no longer feels pleasant- it’s overcrowded, stuffy, and you can tell that the central air is struggling to maintain the temperature. What would you do? While I’d have no shame in telling everyone to go home (and admit this was a terrible idea), maybe you’d offer up hanging out outside.

For bees, this is where bearding comes in. At this time of the year, the honeybees may be heading toward their peak in population (up to 80,000 bees in one hive!) In order to regulate the heat on the inside and keep the queen at her preferred temperature, many of the bees form a beard on the front of the hive.IMG_0893

Speaking of hive population, the amount of bees bearding on each hive can give an idea of how well it is doing. This hive, one of my 2 winter survivors, is looking weak considering there is no beard.

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To compare, this is our second winter survivor. As you can see, they have an almost full beard. There are more boxes on this colony because they are doing very well with producing honey. Surprisingly, there has been no sign of swarming. The hive on the right is currently empty.

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Our third hive, the Carniolans that were purchased as package bees in the spring, have a cute little beard that is growing every hour. These girls are also doing very well.

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Our last hive, a nuc we purchased in May, has a much bigger beard than I would have predicted. When I checked them last week, they had 3 capped emergency queen cells and no living queen. The bottom box had frames that were mostly filled up, but the top frames were completely empty.

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With this crazy heat, this is another perfect opportunity to remind people to provide water for the bees. They are thirsty too!

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Interesting fact: Some bees are given the job of collecting water to bring back for evaporative cooling- this includes bringing water, then fanning their wings to move the cooler air through the hive.

 

Treat for mites, or nah?

This is a hot topic in the beekeeping community, and no opinion is necessarily correct. Mites are currently the main killer of honeybees. They are parasitic bugs that weaken the bees, damage their wings, and kill them off relatively quickly.

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See the little round mite on the emerging drone bee

The mites lay eggs on bee larvae, and the eggs usually hatch at about the same time as the new bee emerges. The mites remain attached to the bees and suck their blood out for food and sustenance. This affects them in the following ways:

  1. It weakens the bees and the larva
  2. The bees weigh less than normal
  3. Their lifespan is shortened
  4. They have less ability to navigate their way around and find their way home
  5. Bringing home less pollen and nectar means less food for their family
  6. They can be born with deformed wings, which results in the inability to fly

10541396_823646644063_86980994505566243_oThis was a drone bee climbing up a blade of grass. It would continuously climb up the blade over and over again. It could not fly because it was born with damaged wings from mites. 

So, obviously the bees should be treated for mites, right? That is very debatable.

For many people, the idea of using chemicals to control the mite population is painful to think about. Honeybees have existed just fine for all of eternity until recently. Leave them alone.

Personally, I wanted to avoid using treatment. I lost about half of my hives because of that.

  • The 1st year, I used no treatment. All of the hives died.
  • The 2nd year, I treated 1 out of 2 hives as an experiment. The untreated hive died in early fall.
  • The 3rd year, I was planning to wait until fall to treat the hives. One died by early September.
  • Last year, we had so many swarms (new hives) we didn’t know when to do it. Our strongest, most honey-producing hive died in September.

What we are doing this year (so far):

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On our 2 surviving hives (not our new Carniolans), we treated them with Mite-Away Quick-Strips which is made of Formic Acid. There are multiple methods of treating mites, and there is no certain one that we consider to be best. We chose this because the treatment could be done in 7 days before we put honey supers on the hives.

These photos show how much the bees do not like the strong scent of formic acid. They spent much of the first 24 hours bearding on the front of the hive to avoid it.

Hopefully, someday, honeybees will be able to build up a tolerance to survive the mites without human intervention. But until then, we plan to treat them as needed.

Interesting fact: Varroa mites really like the nurse bees.

But, is it organic?

“Is the honey organic?” is a question that is often asked.

Nope. Let me tell you why.

Honeybees can travel up to 5 miles to gather their pollen and nectar. Right now, the girls are all about the Dandelions. Are the Dandelions in your yard certified organic? Is the soil organic? Maybe your yard is organic, but is your neighbors’?

I have no idea where they came from to get their bright yellowish Dandelion pollen.

So, why do some honey businesses call themselves organic? Well, if their hives are placed in the center of an at least 5 mile radius certified organic farm, then they can label their honey organic.

We live in the city in Rochester, NY. We cannot prove that everyone’s yard is free from chemicals, herbicides, pesticides, etc. Harvesting organic honey would be completely impossible here.

Interesting fact: If you buy raw, local honey that also claims to be organic, the business is either lying or ill-informed.

Spring into spring

It’s amazing how quickly winter weather can turn into springtime. We’ve been rushing around with bee related things, and are finally able to take a moment to give an update.

Winter survival

Every few weeks during the winter, I place my ear directly on a hive and listen for action. It’s usually a consistent humming sound that I hear when they are doing well. As of February, this was how they were doing:

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While it is sad, it is also to be expected. One of those hives was weak to begin with, and 2 others were tipped back like this one in the middle:

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Something similar happened last year, so I imagine that they died from excessive moisture getting in there when the snow melted. The frames of honey and the dead bees are moldy. To fix this problem, we are throwing down some top soil to try and have the hives on a tiny incline.

Don’t worry, we got some more bees!

We enjoyed our sweet Carniolan bees so much last year (even though they died), that we ordered more from Hungry Bear Farms. We got notification on April 5th, along with a letter telling us not to panic about installing them in winterish weather.

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We pretty much never see bees leave their hives when it is below 45 degrees (brief bathroom breaks only), and they supposedly can’t even fly if it’s below 55 degrees. It was in the low 30s and snowing on April 7th. Feeling too bad about torturing them with the cold weather, we went with this option:

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It ended up being in the mid 40s, so we went for it that afternoon.

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We decided to put them into a nuc box to help keep them insulated while it was still cold. An entrance reducer made out of foam was taped to the front, and we gave them (along with the other living hives) some sugar patties to keep them well-fed. Now we have 3 living hives.

Interesting fact: The bees create a cluster around the queen in the wintertime that keeps the inside hive temperature between 81-95 degrees.

Attempted robbery

I took some videos last weekend. The ladies were in full force of fighting off robbers. They are trying to get ready for the winter and have no space for thieves. If you are interested in seeing some serious security guard work, check the links to YouTube.

Video 1: a 5 second long video that shows the quickest way to get rid of a robber. https://youtu.be/5vdw3e3MrWs

Video 2: Watch them push away the wasp.   https://youtu.be/D3YjSsCtr4U

Video 3: If the intruder tries to fight back, they will lose.  https://youtu.be/1bfmOlEROt4

Interesting fact: Bees rob other hives because their source for nectar is scarce.  They tend to attack other weak hives so that they have a better chance of surviving.

Sorry, we’ve been busy as bees

Our blog has been on the furthest back burner since July, but that doesn’t mean that the bees have been abandoned. Here’s what has happened since our last post.

“A Swarm in July, Let Them Fly”

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I thought about letting them go, but they were right in front of my face. There are risks with capturing swarms later in the summer. Firstly, they are supposed to be grumpier at this time of the year which means the beekeeper is more likely to be stung. Secondly, the chances of them building up the hive in time for winter are slim. This was a risk I was willing to take, if for nothing else, the learning experience of catching a swarm in July.

“Hey Dad, can you build me a nuc box, like right now?”

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When catching a swarm, you need a place for them to live. Well, we were out of hive boxes. They lived in a styrofoam nuc for about a week, and then my father constructed this for us. They have since filled the first box with 5 frames of honey, but the second box is empty. They haven’t even started building up comb on the frames, so we will have to insert some capped honey frames from other hives.

We extracted 6 gallons of honey at the end of July.

After extracting the honey, we rendered more wax than we’ve ever rendered at one time.

 

Then we got married and gave honey as our wedding favor. Super cute label by our Allie.

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As for September, this is what the ladies in our 6 hives have looked like for the past few weeks:

 

We should be extracting more in the coming weeks. Stay tuned!