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Posts Tagged ‘Swarm’

Mary Beth: This will be my last bee update from Block Island for a while because Ray and I are on the road. Durango, here we come!.

Monday, May 3: The apple trees are blooming on the Island. The buds started opening up around April 27th, which is really early. As I mentioned in an earlier post, this season everything seems to be about 3 weeks or more ahead of schedule.

I’ve had a nagging feeling that the nectar flow would be early this year. I also have a feeling it’s going to be a strong one. Last year it rained a lot and my girls were cooped up for so long during the bloom that they missed most of the early nectar. This year our weather’s been great and the bees may actually get to the apple blossoms.

So what’s been nagging at me is if my bees remain healthy, they’re going to need more room than they currently have in the Top Bar Hive, but I’m not going to be around to remove the combs if they get honeybound. Sooo… I built a super on my TBH! Yes, with all the spare time I had in between packing, weeding, pruning, cleaning, answering last minute calls from my clients, and a million other things, I decided to make a super to fit my TBH. I’ve been wanting to try it since I read Mistress Beek’s blog post last year about putting two supers on her TBH. (Great blog by the way.)

Here it is folks, it’s not pretty since I didn’t have time to paint it or, better still, to convince Ray do it and it’s a little rough around the edges to say the least!  (You would never know I was a carpenter for a few years.)

Here’s what I did:

I cut a Langstroth hive box down to fit on top of the Top Bar Hive — kind of like a bee penthouse.

I made two small ventilation holes for when the weather warms up. Then I cut off part of the cover of the TBH so the super could sit on top of the bars and made an inner cover, a new top and spacers for the TBH.

Next I cut some of the Langstroth frames to make bars with starters strips of wax and nailed on spacers.

I pulled a bar from the TBH that had a little comb on it and placed it into the new super to entice the girls to move “upstairs.”

It went pretty well except for dropping a few spacers into the hive which I did not remove because the girls were in good mood and I didn’t want to stick my hand in and piss them off.

Then I put the super on, snugged it up to the newly-cut edge of the old cover and viola!

What I’m hoping will happen is that the bees will begin to create comb in the super and store their honey in that. That should give them enough room so they won’t feel the need to swarm.

While I was looking through the observation panel on the TBH, I saw the weirdest thing. I saw the queen, twice. It’s weird because in all the many (many!) times I opened the panel to peer into the hive, I’ve never seen her. A couple of thoughts ran through my paranoid mind. Are they running her around because they are preparing her to swarm? (Bees will run the queen to make her lose weight in preparation for the swarm flight.) Or, did she run out of room to lay more eggs? Neither of those options is good so let’s just hope I was lucky enough to see the queen before I left and leave it at that.

One bit of good news is I haven’t spotted any more mites, although I have noticed more dead bees than usual. It’s hard to say what any of this means. I’ve done everything I can think of to prepare the hive, so I’ll just have to wait it out and get the occasional report from my beesitter.

I’ll try to send updates from the road. I’m so excited to get back to my garden in Durango and by the time I’ve traveled across the country I’ll have redone it at least three or four times!

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Mary Beth: Winter is coming, I think, and even though the weather continues to be unusually warm for this time of year, I’ve been getting the bees ready.

So, what about the bees? Every time I tell someone that Ray and I are moving back to Colorado (Ch, Ch, Changes), I hear this question. I’ll say, “We’re leaving.” and then, wait for it, wait for it…a look of dismay and “What about the bees?!” Of course it’s logical, but I’ve been a little surprised and amused that the fate of my bees worries them. On the other hand it’s nice that my friends and readers have become so engrossed in this story that one of their first thoughts is for the bees.

So here is the answer.

Out of the three hives that I ended up with after the swarm season, the Top Bar Hive is the only one that survived.

The Hippie Shack

For some reason the other two lost their queens after they swarmed (read about it here and here) and I ended up shaking out the remaining bees in front of the TBH in hopes that they would be accepted into the hive. Losing the Blue and Green hives made me very sad — I was surprised by how much I’ve come to love my bees.

As for the Hippie Shack (named in honor of the laid-back nature of these bees), I checked it recently and it didn’t have as much honey as I thought it should. I think the hive was being robbed. I put an entrance reducer in to make the the hole smaller to give the guard bees less area to defend. Now, even with the warm weather prolonging the season, I’m worried that they won’t have time to store enough food to make it through the winter.

Since Ray and I decided to leave after the holidays, I’ve been trying to figure out how to leave the bees with enough food. I researched fondant ‘bee candy’ and it seemed like a good solution, so I made a frame to hold it and placed that in the hive.

This small frame holds 5 pounds of sugar fondant!

Another good thing about the bee candy is it won’t cause the moisture problems inside the hive that the sugar syrup did in the early spring. I placed the fondant between the false back and the last comb hoping it wouldn’t attract any more robber bees.

I hope the warm weather will last long enough to let them build up their supplies. Every day they’ve been coming in with a lot of pollen, which is a very good thing.

I think she's posing!

Dandelions and the last of the aster are blooming, so I think this is where they are getting the bright orange pollen.

Another sign that the bees are preparing for winter is each day a few more drones have been getting kicked out of the hive. I watched this play out one day — those girls are ruthless!

Poor drone!

One poor male was pulled by his leg and tossed out like yesterday’s paper. It’s a cruel, cruel world my friends, but there is not enough to go around in winter for lazy freeloaders.

I moved the hive from it’s original spot so it will get maximum sun exposure all winter. This should allow the bees to break cluster on sunny winter days.

I also wrapped the hive to give it a little more insulation and to keep the wind out. Now it’s up to the bees. Other than a few more feedings before we leave for Colorado, my girls are on their own until March.

You may wonder why I haven’t given the hive away. I did consider moving the hive to my friend’s property, but I was afraid if I moved it up the steep, bumpy road to my friend’s house, a comb or two might break off ruining any chance of the bees’ survival. So I decided to leave them where they are on my family’s property. I’ll fly back east in the spring for a visit and check on the bees and I’ve arranged for my beekeeper friends to check on them now and then. Fortunately the TBH needs little maintenance and the bees will take care of themselves.

Becoming a beekeeper has been a wonderful journey. Learning about honeybees opened up new worlds for me, not just the world of honeybees in my garden, but the important roles of all pollinators and how critical every last one of them is. It’s led me to examine the negative impact we’ve all had on our environment. I’ve been reading about the decline of the honeybee from Colony Collapse Disorder — just one of many examples of our carelessness towards our environment. But the good thing is it’s made me more aware of what I’ve been doing.

So, with that new-found awareness, I try to do my part to help by adding native plants to the existing flower gardens. And I’ve decided that I will delay mowing the outer fields until after the first frost to allow time for the last of the butterflies to emerge from their cocoons and to let the wildflowers reseed themselves for next year.

Of course, at the center of it all is the honeybee, the incredible little powerhouse.  If you have not yet read any books on honeybees, you should. Some of the things you learn will astound you.

It’s been a great year even with the loss of two hives and no honey to harvest. And next spring I will have a hive in Colorado with even more challenges — bears, skunks and who knows what else, but I have a plan!

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Bees from the third swarm moving into Green Hive.

Bees from the third swarm moving into Green Hive.

Mary Beth: Crazy days! For a couple of weeks things were so chaotic that I got the point where I didn’t want anything to do with my bees. Thankfully they’ve settled down, but those bad girls sure gave me a run for the money. At the end of the swarming, four in all, I ended up with three hives — the original Old Blue, home to a much smaller, much crabbier bunch of bees; Hippie Shack, the Top Bar Hive which houses the very laid-back bees from the first swarm; and Green Hive, the bees from the third, much smaller swarm. The second swarm was the one that got away.

I’m not sure what will happen over the winter, but based on what I’ve seen in the last few days I’d predict that the Hippie Shack will make it through just fine. I’m a little concerned about Old Blue, but if they can expand their numbers enough I think they’ll limp through. Unfortunately Green Hive looks underpopulated and there really isn’t very much activity in the hive, so I’m thinking that they may not have the resources to survive the long, cold Block Island winter.

Old Blue on the left and Hippie Shack to the right.

Old Blue on the left and Hippie Shack to the right.

Swarms aside, the thing I’ve found most interesting about this first bee season is that the honeybees haven’t been hanging out in the garden much. I had high hopes that I’d be watching the girls working hard to pollinate my vegetables, fruits and ornamentals, but that hasn’t been the case.  It’s most likely because I don’t have large enough patches of any one type of plant. Honeybees typically visit only one kind of plant during each outing and, while my garden has lots of plants, they are probably too scattered to make it worth their while. So instead of heading to the garden, the girls been gathering nectar and pollen from the plants in the swamp and beyond.

Rose petal in the swamp behind the hive.

Rose petals floating in the swamp behind the hives.

This week the milkweed is in full bloom and the bees are going crazy for it. They are working this area all day. One very curious thing I’ve noticed is that some of the bees get stuck to the leaves. They eventually work themselves free, but the poor things kind of flop around for a while until they get their feet unstuck. Has anyone else seen this?

One of the girls working the milkweed.

One of the girls working the milkweed.

Poor little bee with her foot stuck to the milkweed leaf.

Poor little bee with her foot stuck to the milkweed leaf.

Another thing that I’ve noticed is that the real workers in my garden have been the bumblebees. These plump fuzzballs have been feverishly pollinating the garden while my prissy honeybees wander off in search of greener pastures. I’ll have them to thank for my tomatoes, squash, beans and the like. Kudos to the bumblebees!

Marybeth puts sage and lavender into the smokepot.

Marybeth puts sage and lavender into the smokepot.

Barbara and I suited up and opened Hippie Shack to see how the hive was doing. We were so relieved to see how very hard at work they’ve been building their new hive, which is about halfway full of comb. And my worries about a virgin queen were laid to rest when we found lots of larvae in the comb cells. There was also a decent amount of honey.

Workers tending to bee larvae on the TBH comb.

Workers tending to bee larvae on the TBH comb.

The Top Bar Hive, what some call a more natural hive, is designed to let the bees build their combs without a foundation. Most of the combs in the Hippie Shack were nice and straight and there was only a little wild burr. What little there was was easily removed with a small tool I made from a piece of copper.

MB lifted out a few of the bars so we could inspect the comb. This one is still a work in progress. A finished TBH comb extends all the way to each side and tapers to a squared-off bottom, matching the shape of the hive box.

MB lifted out a few of the bars so we could inspect the comb. This one is still a work in progress. A finished TBH comb extends all the way to each side and tapers to a squared-off bottom, matching the shape of the hive box.

When I removed the burr a little honey got on my glove, the tool, and the wall of the hive. The girls rushed in to recover it — no way they were letting any of it go to waste.

The bees were determined to recover every last bit of honey that got smeared onto my tool and glove.

The bees were determined to recover every last bit of honey that got smeared onto my tool and glove.

My biggest challenge with the TBH was putting the hive back together without squishing anybody. As you can see from the pictures, the bees were everywhere and that made it really hard to slide the bars back together. Unfortunately I did crush one of the sister bees and everyone, including me, got all worked up. I had to smoke them a bit more to get them calm enough to close up the hive. Too bad that smoke doesn’t work on me. I get really upset when that happens, but the bees seemed to take it in stride and they were back to business as usual a few minutes after the top was back on.

Trying to move the bars back into place without crushing any bees was extremely challenging.

Trying to move the bars back into place without crushing any bees was extremely challenging.

My girls have their work cut out for them. Over the next few months they’ll need to reproduce enough workers to lay in a nice amount of honey to get them through the winter months. Hopefully it’ll be smooth sailing from here.

One of my largest garden beds.

One of my largest garden beds.

Deer News: From looking at Tweets and search keywords it appears that deer troubles have increased a lot in recent weeks. The deer fence that Ray and I built around our garden has kept the deer out of the vegetable garden, but the flower beds are still vulnerable. For these areas I use an organic spray recipe that I got a few years ago in my Master Gardener class. I’ve had great results with it and highly recommend that anyone having trouble with these pesky, destructive animals give it a try. I’m not guaranteeing anything, with deer you never can, but this concoction will give you a fighting chance. Be forewarned, its pretty stinky, but it’s definitely worth the trouble. Try it out and let me know how it works for you.

Deer Spray Recipe:

There are many recipes for homemade deer spray online. Here’s how I make it.

4 raw eggs
1 tablespoon or more of hot sauce, the hotter the better
1 teaspoon dish soap
2 teaspoons of garlic juice or garlic powder
2 teaspoons of white pepper

1. Blend all ingredients in a blender with a quart of water. It helps to strain it before putting it into your sprayer because it will clog it, which is really annoying.

2. Pour in a gallon sprayer, add more water to top it off to a gallon and let it sit out of the sun for a couple of days so it gets good and smelly.

3. Spray your plants with a fine mist to coat all the foliage and flowers.

4. Respray new growth and after it’s rained.

I no longer measure anything out because I make gallons of this stuff every season. I use it on my gardens and all of my client’s gardens as well. I think the secret is to switch it up a bit from time to time, because deer will get used to the spray after a while and it won’t be as effective.

So you should add things like a few drops of clove oil, peppermint oil, cinnamon oil, or 1 cup of milk, etc. to change the smell and taste a little. I’ve been adding a sliver of Irish Springs soap to my batches lately and this seems to work really well. I find that the deer may take a bite here and there, but after tasting the spray they move on.

We’ll be posting more photos from the garden soon. Meanwhile, Barbara’s back on the West Coast working on a special post about farmer’s markets. Until then, bee well!

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Barbara: Remember when Mary Beth told you to stayed tuned for updates about the old hive? Well, we do we have updates! Here’s one from a couple of days ago. And I’ll mention that we’ll follow up soon with this morning’s excitement, which is still unfolding as I type — lord have mercy!

 

Preparing to capture the second swarm. A third hive for Mary Beth?

Preparing to capture the second swarm. A third hive for Mary Beth?

Mary Beth: My learning curve in the last two weeks has been steep, real steep! My blue hive swarmed. Again. I felt like I was in the movie Ground Hog Day.

I walked down to the hive to say hello to my girls on my lunch break on very busy sunny day (sound familiar?) exactly a week after the first swarm. Bees were flying everywhere and they were headed to the very same poison ivy-laden bayberry bush that they gathered on a few days ago.

Now, that first swarm was exciting. I felt great because I’d been successful in catching the swarm and putting it into a new hive — the Top Bar Hive that Ray built for me. This time, not so much. This time was like, “Been there done that!”  Was I missing something? I mean, obviously I saw the starting of queen cells, but I left them because “they” say hives almost never swarm the first year, so don’t worry about it. So I ignored the first signs. If you’ve read anything about beekeeping you soon realize there’s a lot of conflicting information out there and everybody has very specific ideas about beekeeping the “right” way. Well, the bees also have their own ideas. My word of advice is take it all in and then watch and listen to the bees.

Anyway, I got the swarm into the super that I screwed back together a second time and I left it perched on a bucket. The first swarm in the TBH was so happy that Barbara and I decided to experiment with keeping the second swarm in a hive made of large supers.

Alas, it was not my day. The super had fallen over sometime while I was running errands and the bees were gone when I got back. I felt very sad and dejected, but, honestly, relieved because the thought of three hives was a little daunting. But who knows, craziness abounds so I left the temporary hive out near the swamp in a stable place this time. I thought I just might need it again, feeling as I do that the blue hive could swarm again. I say this because when I went to see what was left in Old Blue (as I have now named it) I was surprised to find it full of bees. I counted over 7 queen cells and there were about 6 frames of full brood, some emerging as I was working through the hive.

The frames were filled out nicely and, even though the hive had swarmed twice, I saw lots of honey reserves, which leads Barbara and me to believe that Old Blue is still very healthy. We’re thinking that perhaps it was too productive and it became overcrowded because the bad weather has kept the bees inside for most of the spring. Another factor was that the bees weren’t going up into the super I added because of the queen excluder. So I put everything back the way I found it except for taking out the queen excluder.

About an hour later the bees were all over the front of the hive with their butts in the air. WTF! Now what?! You girls are killing me!! Thankfully they finally settled down and went inside.

The next day I put my ear up to Old Blue and there was a queen bee piping in there. (YouTube has a few videos of Queen honeybees piping if want to hear what it sounds like — really cool.) I could hear her loud and clear when I was kneeling next to the hive. Hopefully she’ll take over and get rid of the other queen cells and that will be the end of it. I keep wondering if I should’ve taken some of the queen cells out. I wasn’t sure, so I decided I would wait and see.

Meanwhile the TBH, which I’ve named the Hippie Shack, seems pretty laid back. They’ve built up six combs already, so I removed the feeder and slid the false back to the end opening the whole hive to them.

Old Blue is going to be the experiment hive. I’m going to learn as much as I can from this crazy hive, helping it out if I can and letting nature take its course. My hope is since Block Island is so lush from all the rain and the current nectar flow is high, that we’ll have an additional large flow in the fall with the Goldenrod and that will help Old Blue pull it together before the cold weather sets in.

I wish the swarm that got away all the best. I hope they find a lovely new home. As for the girls that are left, take a word of advice from Mary J Blige — No More Drama!

Lying in bed last night I was thinking, “Thank god I didn’t get any chickens this year! With my luck it would have been a freak show!!”

Addendum: Well, it’s been a wild ride. This second swarm got away, but we have our answer about whether or not Mary Beth should have destroyed the additional queen cells. I can hear you experienced beekeepers shouting, “Yes!” And, of course you’re right. We thought we should, but hesitated. In our first year, we are bound to make mistakes. Clearly, this was one of them.

So a few months into our adventure, we’ve made good on our promise to tell it like it really is – successes and failures. Our biggest mistake so far was to miss the signs of an imminent swarm. We compounded that by not getting rid of the excess queen cells which led to the second swarm — and the third one that followed, which was the morning excitement that I mentioned at the beginning of this post. Another mistake that we think we made was to use a queen excluder. This led to the overcrowding that was another reason for the swarms.

We’ll be filling you in on the story of the third swarm and the status of the hives as soon as we regain our composure. Hopefully, things really have settled down and Mary Beth can get some gardening done. For now we’ll leave you with a picture of one of the queen cells that started it all.

Queen cell — one of a few that we should have gotten rid of.

Queen cell — one of a few that we should have gotten rid of.

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Mary Beth: How is it when you think your life couldn’t get anymore hectic, it does? It’s been raining like crazy in these parts and that’s messed up my schedule in a big way. I’ve been trying to squeeze my clients in on the days it doesn’t rain, but there’s way too much work to do and not enough time which is just driving me to distraction. So, on this rare and very busy sunny day guess what my hive decided to do.

I went home for a lunch break and walked down to the hive to say hello to my bees. Hmm, something wasn’t right. Little clumps of bees were scattered on the ground near the hive, which I’ve never seen before. I touched the clumped up bees and they didn’t fly, they just kind of scootched out of the way still holding on to each other. And, strangely, in spite of the nice weather, there weren’t many bees flying in and out of the hive.

I wondered, “Are they sick? Did someone spray chemicals nearby?” I started to go back to work, but something was really nagging me. I looked at the clover near the hive and there were no bees working the flowers. Walked down to the swamp to look at the blackberry blooms, again no bees. Really odd!

As I was making my way back to the hive I heard buzzing, a lot of buzzing, and, really, because I have been so exhausted lately I thought, “Wow I’m losing it. Now I’m hearing bees buzzing in my head!” I stopped and looked towards the swamp. Holy S**!

My bees?!

My bees?!

There was a swarm clustered on a branch hanging over the water and it was bigger than I could’ve imagined. Lots of bees — too many. Were they from my hive? Denial briefly took hold, “It can’t be. Bees usually don’t swarm the first year.”  Then panic seized me, the adrenaline started pumping, and my only thought was, “I’ve got to get my bees back!”

Even though I’ve read a lot about catching swarms, let me assure you the theoretical situation is WAY different from being confronted with a boiling mass of bees. Every bit of information I’d stored away was lost in my panic. That panic ramped up as my Internet connection crawled and then I was too worked up to read through any information.

I tore into the shop, running in circles and smashing into stuff. I took a few breaths to compose myself. (What I really needed was someone to slap me like you see in the movies.) I grabbed a super and attached some strips of wood saying a little prayer that Ray wasn’t planning on using that wood for a project. (Of course, he was. Sorry, Honey.) I added a piece of plywood for a bottom, then made a top with screen-covered holes.

My "in a hurry" hive.

My "in a hurry" hive.

I grabbed my suit, muck boots, gloves, loppers and ran down to the swamp. Stared at the swarm. Damn! I needed something to put the supers on. Back to the shop. Ran around in circles a few more times. This time my dogs joined in. “Look, Mom’s playing a new game, let’s chase her!” Grabbed a garbage can and a pruning saw. Ran back down to the swamp, dogs chasing me. Ugh, poison ivy was everywhere and the bees were attached to some of it. Sh**, sh**, sh**!

I pulled on my suit and my muck boots and splashed into the swamp. Splashed back out of the swamp and dragged the dogs into the cottage. (The last thing I needed was for them to get stung.) Barreled back down to the swamp. Turned the garbage can over, dropped the super on top and tried to shake the bees into the box. Didn’t work so well and things got a bit wild with the bees flying and crawling all over me. (Breathe! Remember to breathe!)

I sawed through the poison ivy and bayberry branches and carried everything onto dry ground. Wrangled the bees into the box and put a super with frames of foundation on top of that. Next I drilled a hole in the bottom and attached a feeder on top. A little overboard I know, but I wasn’t thinking clearly. So far so good, but then I remembered the poison ivy. I stripped down and took a shower. I hate poison ivy!

I called Ray, “Um, Sweetie, what time do you think you’ll be home tonight?”  Ray asked, “Why?” “We need to build a hive.” Silence. “What?!” I told him the story and it was painfully obvious that he wasn’t happy about coming home after work to do more work.

Coming in for lunch, Ray took one look at me and said, “What’s up with your eyes?”  “Oh no,” I thought, “poison ivy rash already?!” “They’re the craziest green I’ve ever seen!”  “Adrenaline, I think.” And we started to laugh about our crazy day.

Ray asked me how much it would cost to just buy a hive. “Too much.” I sighed. I told him it would be easier for me if he’d build a brood box so I could just slip the bees onto the new hive. But no, he told me he only had time to build me a Top Bar Hive. Ohh. Hmm. Okay…

Ray building the Top Bar Hive.

Ray building the Top Bar Hive.

Two nights later, it’s pretty much done. I need to make more bars, but this will do very nicely for now. It’s beautiful and Ray wondered why we didn’t we do it this way the first time. Compared to the Langstroth Beehive, the Top Bar Hive was fast, easy, and no expense because he made it from scrap wood. Let me say this, if you’re thinking about getting a new hive, make a Top Bar. It even has a little window to so you can look inside and watch your bees. Aside from it being one more thing to distract me from work, it’s brilliant!

The new Top Bar Hive that Ray built is a beauty.

The new Top Bar Hive that Ray built is a beauty.

Peeking into my contraption of a holding box, I saw that the bees had built some comb and that feisty little queen had started laying eggs less than 48 hours after swarming. Amazing! I shook each frame in to the new TBH and filled the cool little feeder we made, copying a clever design we’d found on the Internet.

Cleverly designed feeder for Top Bar Hive.

Cleverly designed feeder for Top Bar Hive.

Now I have two hives just as I’d hoped when I started out. A word of warning here, be careful what you wish for because it may come at an inconvenient time! I was planning all along to have a Langstroth Hive and, eventually, a Top Bar Hive. Just not this way.

My bees seem happy with their new home.

My bees seem happy with their new home.

Looking through the window the next day it seemed like the swarm was planning to stay. I saw lots of flecks of wax on the floor of the hive and the bees have spread out over the bars. I’m crossing my fingers and hoping they stay put.

Oh, and the old hive? Stay tuned.

Two Hives!

Two Hives!

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