Another Spring comes...

The bees have been flying for a few weeks now, and after the devastating losses of last fall and winter, it was really great to see that the queen of the one colony that made it through the winter is starting to really lay heavily.

We are looking forward to that grapefruit sized cluster booming into a strong hive later in the spring.

We decided this winter that we would jump-start the year by bringing in some additional colonies, as opposed to splitting, due to resources being so low. Toward that end, we are buying 8 packages and installing them in the main yard this coming weekend. If any of our local friends want to come on over and join in the fun, it will be an adventure!

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Package bees

We decided to go with packages, because we run with all medium frames. It is exceedingly rare to find nucs in that size, and while I did (with moderate success) manage to cut down deep frames and get them into my mediums last year, it is not something I would like to revisit. Getting the packages, and installing them on drawn comb, while not as strong initially as nuc, will hopefully build up rather quickly and get us closer to on track.

The scarcity of nucs in a medium frame size is actually one of the driving factors in determining the things that we are going to be offering as we ramp up. More people are looking for these and we decided that it was one of the things that, since it was important for us, we would make available. With where we are at right now, it will more than likely not be this year, but most likely next spring.

Fall Cutout

I got a call from one of my beekeeping friends, who was looking for some help with a cutout. He had received a call from a homeowner who had been seeing a lot of bees in their basement for a couple of years and they wanted the bees removed.

Setting up and getting ready to see where they are holed up. 

Setting up and getting ready to see where they are holed up. 

We noticed that the bees were coming in and out of a small gap underneath the bay window at the front of the house, and could see that they were flying in through the hole, and then walking upward.

We did some more exploring, and took a look from the inside of the house as well. We could see that there was a cluster of bees inside the floor joists underneath the bay window in the basement. There was a small gap between the floorboards and the joists, and the bees had a crawl space that they chould come and go from. There was no comb in the basement, so we knew that they were not living in there. WOuld not be that simple.

Hanging out in the drop ceiling

Hanging out in the drop ceiling

We went back outside and disassembled the bottom of the bay window, removing the trim and the plywood on the bottom...

Lo and behold, we found the hive in the space beneath the bay, where they had removed some of the insulation.

"Hey, who turned on the lights? "

"Hey, who turned on the lights? "

If you've never seen a cutout being done, the process is basically to cut out sections of the comb, pulling them out of whatever their current home is, and then securing the comb to empty wooden frames. Most of the younger bees will stay on the comb, and the foragers will generally fly around, making their opinion of the situation known.

One approach to minimize the amount of flying upset bees is to use a bee vac to gently suck the bees off of the comb while you are cutting the combs loose. This helps out in a few ways:

  • it clears the bees off of the comb so you can see where you are cutting, which causes less damage to bees and brood
  • is makes for less flying bees in the air, which makes any non-beekeeper around the cutout pretty happy
  • ideally, it gets bees out of the way so you can more easily locate the queen, who you want to capture and transfer into their new home

We used the Bushkill Bee Vac [https://beevac.com], which is pretty nice to work with, because it integrates with hive bodies, so while you are sucking them in, they are ending up directly in their new home.

We are starting to see the structure of the combs, after clearing some of the bees

We are starting to see the structure of the combs, after clearing some of the bees

Looking into the hive to see what to cut loose next. As you can see, bee veils are really meant to be use while standing upright. 

Looking into the hive to see what to cut loose next. As you can see, bee veils are really meant to be use while standing upright. 

As we clear a piece of comb, we reach up and cut that piece loose, and secure the comb into the frames.

The bees will chew through the rubber bands after they secure the comb to the frames themselves. This young worker just hatched., 

The bees will chew through the rubber bands after they secure the comb to the frames themselves. This young worker just hatched., 

As comb is cut out, it makes it easier to get to the larger pieces, and the cutout starts moving a bit quicker.

About halfway there. 

About halfway there. 

When we get all of the comb removed and relocated into frames and a body, we add this to the top of the stack on the bee vac. After the majority of the bees are recovered, we will remove a divider, and the bees will move up to take care of the brood in the combs.

Here, I am moving the bee vac inside to recover the bees in the basement, but you can also see the hive bodies, which are already pretty full with relocated bees.

Here, I am moving the bee vac inside to recover the bees in the basement, but you can also see the hive bodies, which are already pretty full with relocated bees.

We then took the vac into the basement to capture the cluster in the joists, and John sealed up the gaps between the floor boards and the joists. This allowed us to capture more of the bees, because they could no longer drift into the basement.

Gaps filled with foam.  

Gaps filled with foam.  

When we closed up the bay window, we replaced the insulation that was missing, made sure there were no voids, and replaced the trim with a longer piece, to ensure that the old opening was securely covered.

When we were doing this cutout, we did not locate the queen. We really just wanted to get this one done, since the homeowner was reactive to stings and we did not want anything to happen to him. We knew that, if we did not find her, she almost positively got picked up by the vac, and was already in with the colony.

We cleaned up and I took the colony home.

New colony with the extra hive body and bee vac removed

New colony with the extra hive body and bee vac removed

After setting the bees in their new home and opening up the front door (the vac's input hole, at least temporarily) we let them bee for a few days. After they had had a chance to settle in, we removed the extra body, as well as the bee vac parts, replacing them with a standard bottom board and top cover.

In inspecting the colony, it turns out that we either missed the queen, or more likely, she did not make the transition. The colony has created about 6 queen cells.

Update on the First Split

It just goes to show that the bees will be contrary whenever possible…

The split that we created last Saturday has been busy. It would seem, however, that they are not heeding our "instructions".

Busy drawing comb. 

Busy drawing comb. 

I had placed notches into the comb of the queenless split, but the bees have taken it upon themselves to repair the notches and build queen cells on their own…

4 new queen cells

4 new queen cells

While it is a bit frustrating, it will achieve the same result. They will have a queen, and the extras will be relocated into mating nucs in the main yard.

First Split of the Spring

Over the weekend we started to execute our plans for increase during 2016. This started with our first split. We did it now, because we have our first drones hatching and in the capped brood, so if we need to make queens, we should be in good shape by the time they need to breed.

During inspection, we discovered that one of our overwintered hives had built up to 7 frames of brood in the bottom box, and were storing nectar and pollen in the top box, which was placed onto the hive 2 weeks ago. To have the hive be this strong this early is a great sign, but we wanted to get it split early on, in order to manage swarming and as I mentioned, we want to increase the colony count this year. We also wanted to introduce a new hive into one of our outyards that a dear friend is letting us place hives on.

As we were examining the hive, we pulled 1 frame that was full of fresh pollen and nectar and set that aside for the split. We then pulled 3 frames of brood, both capped and uncapped, including eggs and newly hatched larvae. I placed these into my merrill box and pulled together an empty hive to place into the new location.

The hive we split off of was on deep frames, so the new hive will also be on deeps, using the last of our deep boxes. I grabbed a deep box, a bottom board (screened in this case, because all of my deep boxes are also 10 frame, and I only have screened bottom boards for our deep frame gear) and a telescoping cover and headed on over to the outyard.

When I go there, I placed the empty hive, along with 6 frames of foundation. Then I set about transferring the brood frames into the new box, while showing our friend the combs, pointing out the bees, pollen, nectar and capped honey.

Before placing the last frame, since the queen was back at home in the original hive, I wanted to take steps to make sure the new colony would raise a queen.

I've been researching some great information from Mel Disselkoen, regarding a method called O.T.S. Queen Rearing as a way to raise queens without grafting, and without waiting for swarm cells to be build. Basically you cut out the bottom third out of a small row of cells containing really young brood and the bees will see the cut cells as facing downward instead of horizontal, and they will see this as a que to create queens out of the new brood

two notches cut in the brood comb. They will make queens here.

two notches cut in the brood comb. They will make queens here.

By the time i'd made the second knotch, the bees were already all over the first. It looked like they wer already attending to the brood there, and if all goes well, we will have queen cells to both lead that hive and additional ones to go into some mating nucs.

It's looking to be a great Spring! I have posted below a slow motion video of some of our bees bringing in some bright yellow pollen.

Early Spring Hive Management

It is mid February, and the bees have been moved down south in order to take advantage of the earlier warmth and great weather in order to allow them to start building up faster. We are continuing to work with our friend, the commercial beekeeper that has been so great with us.

Today we headed out at 3 am in order to get down to where the bees are wintering, and our goal is to change them over to a spring feeding configuration to help prompt them to build up quickly.

The colonies were split among 3 yards, each with between 40 and 70 hives each. We would go to each hive and do an assessment as to their general strength and health. We then added an additional hive body with frames to the stronger ones to give them room to grow, and placed a syrup feeder on all of them. to keep them going until the nectar flow kicked in.

Hives with top feeders

Hives with top feeders

It was a long day, we started in the first yard at about 6 am, and by the time we got through the last yard and packed up our gear, it was closing in on 8 pm. We hit the local restaurant and had the smoked pork chops (great stuff) and called it a night.

Mid-Winter Maintenance

We have had the good fortune to have an opportunity to spend some time with a local commercial beekeeper to help with their winter maintenance. We spent 2 days with them while they were feeding and treating 160 hives.

One of the challenges over winter is to make sure that the bees will have adequate food to last the cold months when the bees are not leaving their hives. There are two approaches for dealing with this. The first is to leave honey in the hive to overwinter with. In our area that equals roughly 40-60 lbs. of honey. The other option is to feed over the winter, either feeding syrup, or dry sugar.

For a commercial beekeeper who's primary income is honey, then an average of 50 lbs. of honey per hive at a rate of $4.00/lb. at the bottom end, this is a potential of $200 of revenue that is lost per hive. Feeding sugar or a mix of sugar and pollen is significantly cheaper than what the honey would sell for. Most beekeepers will go somewhere in the middle, looking for heavy hives (with a lot of honey in the box), and then supplement with feeding overwinter.

Feeding

The colonies thaqt we were working with were slated to be used be split to make nucs in the spring, and with the mild winter, we wanted to give them whatever boost we could. We fed them a dry feed into each of the hives, depending upon the weight of the hive and the population.

What We Fed Them

We first mixed up barrels of feed, consisting of:

  • 5 parts dry sugar
  • 1 part pollen substitute

We then added 2-8 pounds of this mix, based upon the strength of the colony and the existing stores. If the hive was heavy, and had a lower population, it would get fed less than a hive with the same weight, but with more bees, as the smaller population could live off the existing stores.

Oxalic Acid Treatment

We applied oxalic acid using the drip method as outlined on the excellent Scientific Beekeeping website. We used the "Medium" table. and dribbled this between each of the frames in the hives.

It was a long, but very informative day. We learned a LOT and got a lot of hands-on time with a lot of different bees.

Consolidation of the colonies for winter

With the colder weather and a lower population in the main yard, we decided that we were going to close up the extra space in the hives in order to help to conserve heat during the upcoming winter.

One way to do this is to bring the colonies together into shared space, with common walls. In this way the heat generated by the two colonies work in concert to keep both colonies warm.

Downhill entrance. "Colony 1.1" 

Downhill entrance. "Colony 1.1" 

Each colony gets its own entrance, which oppose each other in order to minimize drifting between the members of the two colonies.

Uphill entrance "Colony 1" 

Uphill entrance "Colony 1" 

The other thing we did, and this may be early, but we will see, is to install Mountain Camp feeders on the top (see last weeks post) to help them get through the winter with less than ideal stores.

Preparing for Winter

This last week have been really wet and cold and the colonies in the yard at the house have been pretty much sticking to the hives. Since their stores are not the level I would like, we're going to be installing Mountain Camp feeders on both of the colonies.

This is actually a simple project in that what really needs to happen is to provide a little bit of extra space above the top bars and then load that space with dry cane sugar.

The purpose of this is to give them emergency stores so they have something to sustain them through the winter.

We have a couple of different configurations up there right now so I wanted to get rims for all of these sizes put together. I have recently converted most of my equipment to medium from deeps so the piece I cut off of that equipment is serving well to make these rims.

Rims for either Mountain Camp feeders or candy boards

Rims for either Mountain Camp feeders or candy boards

I decided to make rims that could be used for either Mountain Camp feeding, which is just granulated dry came sugar, or to be able to make candy boards which would have a solid block of sugar that is molded into the rim. I figured this would give me more flexibility as time went on.

View from the front and top (notice the small entrance/ventilation hole) 

View from the front and top (notice the small entrance/ventilation hole) 

The rims are roughly 2 1/2 to 3 inches tall. They have half inch hardware cloth stapled to the bottom which will support a paper underlay beneath the sugar.

These rims, when they have sugar in them, are great for winter in damp climates because the sugar absorb excess moisture within the hive. If you look closely you'll notice they have a three eights inch hole drilled in the top portion of it which serves as an entrance as well as a way for extra moisture to escape.

The bottom of the rim, which has 1/2" hardware cloth across it.  

The bottom of the rim, which has 1/2" hardware cloth across it.  

We will be placing these on the hives when we come to a decision as to what the overwintering hive configuration would look like.