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.

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.

Okay, ladies, that’s enough

If they swarm again, there will be no bees left in that original hive. While we were well-prepared for the previous swarms, this one was completely unexpected.

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Surprise!!!!

Before bees swarm, they gorge a lot of the honey to hold over their appetite while seeking a new home. The hive that all of the swarms came from is now practically empty. The supers can be knocked over by poking it with your index finger.

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In comparison to our previous swarms, this one was a lot smaller. So what is their deal? Why are they doing this? Over the last month, our weather has been all over the place. On days where it was too cold, rainy, or windy, the bees stayed inside their hive. They had nothing better to do than eat and make babies. The hive became quickly overpopulated, so they had to leave. Their mind was made up, and they began the process of creating new queens. The “old” queen went on a diet (so that she could fly again), the workers gorged themselves, and planned to leave as soon as they could.

When a new queen emerges, she is supposed to kill the other queen cells. Well, she didn’t do that, hence the surprise swarm.

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This one was a very easy capture. A couple tiny branches needed to be trimmed, and the bees went right into this nuc box.

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These girls are hopefully going to a new home with another beekeeper.

Interesting fact: After all of this, we smooshed most of the queen cells that remained in the original hive. Girl, bye.

Feed the bees and give them a drink

Part of the whole “Save the Bees” thing is making sure they have food and water. But it’s nature! They can feed themselves, right? Wrong. At least not all the time. If it’s a particularly nice day- temperature is above 50, there’s a calmness in the air, and no signs of an upcoming storm; then the bees are ready to work. They will fly out in search of pollen and nectar, and bring it back to feed the brood. Unfortunately, there is less pollen in early spring, and there isn’t enough food to go around for all of the ladies. This is where bee food comes in. At this time of year, we feed the bees sugar syrup- 1 part sugar, 1 part water. They can suck up a gallon of this stuff in a little over a week.

I don’t expect other people to be ready with sugar water for your local bees, but having accessible fresh water is a great thing. Bees become easily dehydrated and may seek out water in less than pleasant places- like your pool, if you have one.

Bird baths are great for both birds and the bees. Put a couple rocks in there for them to land on and watch them drink. Then, pat yourself on the back for helping save the bees.fullsizeoutput_7af