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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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.