New Bees, New Style

We’ve had a lot of issues with keeping the hives leveled in the backyard, so we tried something new before our bees’ arrival We threw down some gravel and some cinderblocks, threaded the wooden posts through, and BAM!

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Next, we used that hand tiller to uproot all of that grass. It was a pain in the back, so we only did the bare-minimum before Katie’s birthday electric tiller showed up.

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Why all the tilling? Well, it’s time to say goodbye to grass back here. Dan’s crazy bee attack last year was triggered by the lawn mower, so we figured we should do our best to avoid that.

Besides…clover is prettier and easier to manage.

We are throwing down a layer of topsoil and then sprinkling it with a million clover seeds. We’ll let you know how that goes.

School 46

We also have 2 colonies at School 46 for our future Beekeeping Club:

We picked up these honey bees from Hungry Bear Farms

If you are interested, visit our YouTube videos where I introduce the bees to our students!

As with all our other hives, we plan to check on these every 7-10 days.

Interesting Fact: 2 out of 4 of these hives are currently queenless. Eek!

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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“Shut up and let us do our jobs”- bees

I have made it a point to not check on the girls in weeks. Also, it’s been raining a whole heck of a lot. With all this time, they have been able to work without steady interruption, and in some cases, their progress is really showing.

Here is hive #1.

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This is currently competing for the award of “Weakest Hive.” On April 30th, this was the strongest hive, but since it swarmed 3 times, it is now just a tiny little thing. The last and final swarm of the season left their honey supply almost empty and without a queen for several weeks. There is still a chance it could make a comeback, as there are 2 frames filled with worker cells.

 

Here lies Hive #2, our first swarm caught, and the hive we are pretty certain that Dan is allergic to.

IMG_0284Do not let the 3rd box, our honey super, fool you into thinking that this one is doing well. This hive was once thriving and full of jerks, but it is now struggling to survive. While I was in there, I saw a queen emerge from a supercedure queen cell. Some of the worker bees noticed this happening and decided to get in there and murder her. Selfishly defying nature, I gently pushed away the worker bees so I could watch the queen. She climbed down the frame, where I’m sure the murder was completed. This hive has a whole lot going on that is all wrong. There are spotty worker cell frames in places where they shouldn’t be. There are several queen cups all over the place. I might downsize them to a nuc box if they don’t get it together soon.

 

Here is our precious hive split, now in 2 nuc boxes. Hive #3

IMG_0285While hive #1 couldn’t stop swarming, we decided to try hive splitting. We took one of the many frames with a capped queen cell, a few frames of worker bees, and some empty frames, and threw them in one of these boxes. We were pretty sure this was going to be a failure, but figured it couldn’t hurt to try. You may not be able to tell from the photo, but these boxes can only fit 5 frames, where our other hives fit 8. They are really working hard to fill up the second box. I plan to leave them alone until I treat them for mites.

 

Here is hive #4, our bees from swarm #2.

IMG_0286Ignore the crooked hive cover. These girls were mad at me for messing with them. Dan was stung twice, and I was stung once. I figured I best adjust that cover once they calm down. These are the bees who swarmed between 2 fences back in May. They appear to be doing really well right now. I do not expect to be taking any honey from them this year, but hopefully they will make it through the winter and be awesome for us next season.

 

Lastly, hive #5. Our sweet Carniolan bees who have never swarmed on us, and the lovely Queen Ruth.

IMG_0288This is what we call success. I harvested a ton of wax from them, and gladly saw that our first honey super is 90% finished with capped honey. They are working hard on the second one.

Swarm town

Today was a perfect day for swarming.

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They hang off the edge, they make a loud humming buzz that can be mistaken for a weed whacker, they crawl up the front of the box, and then they swirl through the air before landing at their first stop.

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As discussed in our last post, we prepared to have them land in a box that is perched on our tree. They chose a different location in our neighbors’ yards, in between two fences.

IMG_1916We “rescued” them by having one of us pound the fence on the wooden side, while the other swept the bees into a box on the wired side.

So are swarms really bad? They aren’t ideal for beekeepers, but they are part of the bees’ natural order. This will slow down the honey flow, which means less honey for us.

BUT! Since we were able to capture them, it’s like we got free bees! We started the year with 1 hive that survived the winter. We purchased 1 more.  Now, because of 2 swarms and one hive split, we have 4 1/2 hives.

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Interesting fact: Our Carniolan bees, the type that are known for swarming, are showing no signs of taking off soon.

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For the love of lemongrass

This is our first year being proactive with catching swarms. Our hive that swarmed a few days ago is prepping to swarm again. To increase the chance that they conveniently land in the same tree as the last swarm, we sprayed the lower branches with a mixture of water and lemongrass essential oil. Lemongrass oil mimics the pheromone that the scout bees send out when they are looking for a new place to live, so they are naturally attracted to it.

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Since we now both smell like lemongrass, the bees are attracted to us. We’ll be staying out of the yard for a couple hours.

Wish us luck!

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Package bee installation

Have you wondered how new beekeepers get bees in the first place? Many people have asked if we just set out some boxes and hope to lure them in. If only it were that cheap and easy!

In previous years we installed nuclear colonies, or nucs, which we can talk about some other time. This was our first time getting package bees. Occasionally you might find a company that will literally mail these to you for pick-up at a local post office. Most likely, the postal workers won’t appreciate it. We ordered these through a local business and picked them up in Canandaigua last Saturday afternoon.

The package bees came in a well-ventilated plastic box. Within this box was a can of sugary syrup, 1 caged queen, and 3 pounds of Carniolan bees.IMG_0031First, we followed the advice of several YouTube videos and sprayed the box down with sugar water. This helped the bees concentrate more on eating and cleaning each other off rather than attacking a potential enemy.

Next, we removed the can of sugar water and searched for the queen cage. This is what it looked like when we found it. The worker bees either really like her already, or they just want to eat the sugar candy.

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We picked out a mostly empty frame from last year and strapped on the queen cage with a rubber band. There is “candy” inside that hole you see at the top of the cage which keeps the queen inside. The worker bees will eat the candy, and will eat their way through it until they come face-to-face with the queen. The idea here is that they are given time to get to know her highness, and will hopefully respect her enough to accept her as their queen.

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Next came the fun part. We turned the box over and shook them out of the package until the majority of them were in the deep super. It took a lot of shaking- you’d almost believe they wanted to live in that plastic box forever.IMG_0040

We plan to quickly open up the hive this weekend so that we can remove the rubber band and queen cage.

Here is a link to a very brief video of the seemingly violent shaking that had to be done to get the bees out of the package.

Shaking in the bees

Interesting fact: Carniolan bees are more prone to swarming, so this should be fun.

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God save the queen

We did the spring inspection before picking up our new girls today. I knew they were active, but I was pleasantly surprised at how well they were doing. Those are some worker cells in the top left of this first photo. Can you find the queen?

fullsizeoutput_a4fThere she is! She is seriously beautiful. Look how all of her workers are doting on her.

fullsizeoutput_a51We had to pick up our package bees this afternoon, which meant we needed to clean out one of our dead hives. I chose this one. This is what it looks like when a colony starves over the winter.

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Starvation causes them to drop directly to the bottom board. What was extra gross about this one, is the hive was tipped back a little due to the ground settling, and water gathered in the back of the bottom board. The scent of dead, moldy bees was absolutely foul. They sure had enough honey- in fact we are extracting honey from a few of the full frames they left behind. This was a weak colony, and I was not expecting them to survive.

Interesting fact: I did not get stung today, but I should have with all the time I spent harassing them.

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