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.

 

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.

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.

“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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To catch a swarm

The beginning of May is also the beginning of swarm season. Hilariously, we posted a note to one of our neighborhood social websites early in the morning informing that if anyone sees a bee swarm, to please contact us, and we’ll remove it for free. A few hours later, this was found in our own tree.

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Swarms are inevitable, and we’ve been fortunate enough to witness at least one per year. It’s fortunate because it is one of the most mesmerizing things to see. We knew a swarm would happen soon, as we noticed that one of our hives was in the process of creating 2 new queens. We decided to try splitting the hive and creating a new one. This could create a couple different scenarios. Ideally, with a lot of luck, the original hive would decide not to swarm.  That would result in having the original hive with a new colony being created. Sadly, the queen made up her mind, and decided they have to take off anyway.

When bees swarm, their first stop is not far from the original hive. Typically, they stay in one large clump for up to 48 hours. All swarms that we have witnessed from our hives have landed about 40 feet high up in a neighbor’s tree, completely unreachable, and then they leave for their new “permanent” home within 5 hours.

You can see where our hives are located. The swarm landed right where this beekeeper is pointing:

fullsizeoutput_a7dAs a first time swarm catcher, he asked for some advice, but ultimately figured it out on his own. The bees were attached to a branch, so the branch had to be cut off. The girls were placed into a cardboard nuc box, and then we began the fun process of installing them into a deep super.fullsizeoutput_a7bWe provided them with some food, a few empty frames, and hoped for the best.

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Interesting fact: Swarming bees are harmless. Be nice.

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

Honor thy queen

Our new Carniolan queen has been accepted! We named her Queen Ruth.fullsizeoutput_a5dWe made this 2 minute visit only to remove the queen cage. Every time we go into the hive and mess around with the frames, we set the worker bees back a few days.

Within this time we were able to see that Queen Ruth is busy building her brood. Her ladies are hard at work and have already filled up some honey frames in the second deep super.

Interesting fact: Queen bees can lay up to 1500 eggs per day.

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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