Monday, September 30, 2013

Late Summer/Fall Beekeeping

Please remember, we are first-year beekeepers.  This is an account of what we're observing and doing, NOT a recommendation of what to do.  Only time will tell if we're on the right track.  So in the meantime, read along, look at the pictures and appreciate all the amazing skills that the BEES possess.

Wow.  The last time I posted about bees, it was July 19th.  Did you all think we gave up? Not in the least. Different things have been going on since then so we have a lot to catch up on.  I have to warn you- this is going to be a lengthy post so settle in.

In mid-August we began treating for mites.  Now, we hadn't seen any yet but from what we understand, all hives have them to some extent.  What's most important is to make sure that the fall bees are healthy so they raise super-healthy (and mite free) winter bees- the ones who may live up to six months (instead of the standard summer three).  There is a lot of discussion as to whether dusting bees with powdered sugar is a viable approach to mite control.  I'm not going to go into all of that here but we decided to give it a try.  The idea is to dust all the bees with powdered sugar for a total of three time times with intervals of 7-10 days between each dusting.  We only got two treatments in.  The bees will groom themselves to get the sugar off, knocking off mites and the mites have trouble hanging on to the powder-covered bees.  The mites drop through the screen in the bottom of the hive and are unable to hitch a ride back up into the hive since they're out of the reach of the bees.  At least that's how it's supposed to work.

The first time we tried it, we spaced all the bars apart and dusted in the sugar. The coated bees flew out of the hive in droves after a few minutes and then bearded on the hive.  It was pretty freaky seeing all these ghostly white bees flying around.  I had several land on me (as usual I wasn't wearing protection- just the color white) but didn't get stung. They were much more concerned about their new white coats.

The second time we powdered them, we only separated two bars at a time.  Jamey held the bars at an angle and I dusted them, then we moved on to the next two, keeping the rest of the bars tight together.  This worked much better and the bees stayed inside.

a bee chain

We continued trapping small hive beetles in our homemade traps.  In August we were seeing quite a few, but last week saw very few and all the traps were empty.  

capped brood- soon to emerge adult bees

Since all four hives (we had three regular sized top bar hives and one nuc)  contained first-year colonies and re-queened at least once this summer, they seemed to have lost some momentum.  As a result, it was looking like only one hive had the potential to have enough honey stores to make it through the winter.  We felt we had no choice (unless you consider letting them die a choice- we don't like that one) but to start feeding the three weaker colonies sugar syrup (2 parts granulated sugar to 1 part water).  We've been feeding them all September and will continue with syrup until it gets too cold for them to be able to drink it without chilling their little selves.  Then we'll switch to sugar patties/candy.  

Canning jars have infinite uses- a jar feeder in the back of a hive.  The bees crawl under the jar and take syrup from small holes tapped into the jar lid. To the right of the divider (seen on the right) are the bars of comb.  The divider doesn't go all the way to the bottom of the hive so the bees can crawl under it and get to the syrup.  The blue container is a small hive beetle trap.

The syrup has helped quite a bit with increasing their stores.  There is some golden rod and clover around, but not much else.  

The capped cells that you see are either honey or brood- the brood is toward the center and the honey is at the tops/side.

Just the other day while I was checking the bee water...

...I noticed a lot more activity than normal at the nuc's entrance.  There was also wrestling and stinging so I knew that the nuc was being robbed.  Jamey came home shortly after and covered the nuc with a wet sheet, leaving a small opening at the back of the nuc.  The idea with the sheet is that nuc bees will be able to follow the scent of their queen bee and find their way inside, but the sheet will greatly confuse the robbing bees who now can't find the entrance that was danced for them.  The next morning, we pulled the sheet back a little bit- the robbing had slowed.

Somersault had been drinking out of the bee water- brave kitty.

In light of the robbing and the fact the nuc had very little honey stores, we felt it was time to combine the nuc with another hive.  We chose our second strongest hive.  Before we could combine the bees we had to get rid of the queen in the nuc.  If the queens were combined, they might fight and both could die, leaving us down a needed queen.  We hated to just kill her, so we called the beekeeper who sold us our bees in the spring (and gave us queen cells when we needed them).  He was happy to have her.  Here she is with some attendants and some honey, waiting to be picked up.

The fish was a bit confused.

If you place two colonies together, war will literally break loose.  They have to get used to each other's scent, so a popular way to do this is to use a newspaper barrier.  Damp newspaper is is placed over an empty bar at the back of the receiving hive, forming a seal so that bees can't crawl into the back.  Then, the nuc's combs and bees can be placed in the back.  The newspaper separates the two colonies.  The bees will begin to chew through the paper but by the time they get through, their scents will combine and mingle and they will accept each other.  Hopefully, the combined numbers will give both hives a better chance at survival this winter.

With the newspaper barrier in place, Jamey smokes out the remaining bees from the back of the receiving hive so it's ready to receive the bees from the nuc.

Here he's adding the nuc's frames into the back of the receiving hive.

With the nuc gone, homecoming bees were very confused.  Unfortunately, these bees likely died.  They couldn't be accepted into the receiving hive unless the two hives mingled their scent before nightfall.  Left outside overnight, they likely chilled and died.

We noticed something odd a couple weeks ago which has since seemed to cease- uncapped brood cells with raised edges.  Our best guess (and a guess is what it) is that some pest laid eggs in the larva and the bees were wise to it. We've read that they can uncap the developing bee, drag it out and dispose of it.  On one inspection I actually saw two bees drag a large-white-larva-looking-thing up to the edge of the hive.  I thought they were going to dump it out over the side, but no.  Instead, one bee grabbed hold and that girl flew away with the unwanted guest.  Because of her heavy load and since she was twice her usual size, we could see her plainly and watched her fly, not just a few feet away, but up into the sky and out of our yard!  A hero bee, indeed.

The light-colored capped cells are developing bee pupa .  The golden-colored stuff in a few of the cells is pollen.  The open cells with raised edges (we're guessing) hold infected larva.  The dark grey/black hole in the cell at 10 o'clock is an adult bee's head just emerging from it's cell.

So, that's where we are now.  We have three hives- two of which seem to have a good chance at overwintering (food-wise).  We will continue feeding them and making sure they have access to water. Otherwise, we will try to leave them alone.  The queen will start contracting the brood nest and laying less. The bees will organize the hive in the best way to give them the best chance of moving through the hive in their cluster, eating up the honey, all winter.  We don't want to disturb their best laid plans.

We're not quite done with them for the year though.  There is some wintering of the hives we'll do at a later date, but now we just cross our fingers and hope that with our help, they'll save up enough food to get them into and through spring.

Sometimes it feels like it will be an all-out miracle if they do.
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  1. SO incredibly interesting!! I do hope all goes well for you and you are rewarded with some wonderful honey!! Your photos are terrific. Happy Fall to you my friend! Love, Camille

  2. I suspect your bees are killing off the drones because they no longer need them. The girls get rid of most (not all) of the boys once they're no longer useful and this time of year is isn't mating time for sure. I've heard they'll do the same when they don't have enough to eat as well since the food needs to go towards raising productive bees. Those lazy drones have it good for awhile, but all good things must come to an end :-)

  3. Dennis L Depew, NYJune 10, 2014 at 10:16 AM

    I to am a new bee guardian with two top bar hives that I built. I bought two three pound packages of bees from two different suppliers. Reason being comparison of the two which does better. So far both hives are working well though they were started two weeks apart. The first at five weeks old has a total of eight combs built and are very fast at construction. The second is three weeks old and has four combs and a little slower in construction. I have been feeding them 1 - 1 sugar syrup with tea tree and lemon grass oils added. They use a little over two quarts a week.
    I will follow your idea of the small hive beetle traps to see what happens.


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