Bee on my privet

Sunday, March 29, 2015

The exciting move that was boring

As a small time hobby beekeeper, I have resisted the urge to let me apiary grow to more than five or six hives. Well, it seems the fates have decided otherwise this year. I went into the winter with six hives and lost two. A thirty percent loss is not what I would call success but I know why one hive died and that situation will not arise again.The other, I am at a loss as to why they died.
 Nonetheless, things are looking up at the farm. I ordered what I thought was two nucs back in November 2014. That would have made a perfect replacement pair for the colonies I lost. Apparently I said three, not two. So, no sweat now I have seven colonies. That is only one more that I expected.
Well, I got a call from a friend who I left a hive with and she informed me that she is probably moving and will not be able to take care of the bees. Fortunately, my wife went down to work on the old house days after I received this news.
 This story was supposed to be about the perils and missteps my wife took to bring the bees home while I am off in training for work. The odd thing is everything went well. Suspiciously well. So there is really nothing to write about on that front. She headed out to the hive Saturday evening, closed it off with paper towels and duct tape and between her and my 17 year old shoved it in the truck. Today they got home about four in the afternoon and placed it on an empty spot on one of the stands. They opened it up and let the bees do what they want. No spilling of the bees, no dropping the hive, no boxes shifting during the drive. I guess that is good but admittedly does not make for good story telling.
 Of course this means that I am currently sitting at eight colonies. I am not sure I have that kind of equipment laying around and the Mann-Lake March Madness sale is over. Guess I will have to get by however I can. On top of this, I still plan to put out swarm traps and do some splits of the three strong hives I have.
 I guess next time I will write about setting up swarm traps. I have had a good deal of success with them in the past. Honestly, if you have the wood laying around and are halfway decent at carpentry there is no need to purchase woodenware. So catching swarms is a relatively easy and cost efficient way to get your first colony of bees. Of course you have no idea where they came from or what kind they are. But I think that is for the best. I am more about keeping the bees than getting honey from them so the type of queen does not really concern me as much (as  long as they are not African stock).
 So, with that in mind, until next time.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Why do I do this to myself every year?

Hello bee keeping  friends(or just friends or perhaps bee interested friends). I hope the rapidly approaching spring finds you better prepared than I am. Another story!! Yay!
 Cast your minds back a few posts ago when I was suddenly and violently relocated. Not only was I relocated, I was moved to another division. Not so bad in itself but we do different things...differently. Of course to learn the new and...different...things I have to go to school. On the plus side school is provided by work. On the negative side it takes up a lot of time out of town in big chunks.
 Thus I am currently sitting in hotel in New England instead of in my shop building hive bodies and collecting my soon to arrive nucleus hives. My wife, bless her sweet heart, has agreed to bring thousands of stinging insects home for me and pay my supplier. In addition she is setting up a hive stand for them so they don't have to live on the grass till I get home. I picked a good one (the wife not hives..well maybe both but definitely the wife).
 Nonetheless, spring is here as of a few days ago. What is significant about spring, you ask? (You guys ask the best questions). I am glad you asked. Right about the winter equinox, the queen started slowly building up the numbers in the hive. Now that the warm weather is nearly here, she will redouble, nay triple or better her efforts. Sounds great, huh? Lots of fun buzzing happy bees. Well, it is but there is also a danger involved. Too much too soon and they could starve. But it is spring!, you say. True but the weather is unpredictable. Maybe there will be a nice early supply of pollen and nectar. But most likely there will be slim pickings. Now is the time to check for food stores. As it warms switch to 1:1 syrup if you are feeding syrup. Bees tend to stop taking syrup when enough nectar is available. Also, those pollen patties that I have never mentioned before? Get them out and place them in the hive. "What the heck are the "pollen patties""? you ask wisely. Pollen patties are well, patties with pollen or pollen substitute in them. The are sandwiched between wax paper sheets and generally set right on the top of the frames. The bees eat them in as they go. The bees use them to help feed the upcoming larvae ( I knew you would ask why they need them) in place of freshly harvested pollen.
 Spring is another good time to treat for mites. The overall population is low, there are minimal capped larvae and the temperatures are getting warm enough to get into the hives. Some mite treatments do not allow collecting honey during treatment and sometime after treatment is over. Some of these products must remain in the hive for up to 6 weeks. Plan accordingly.
 Or course you need more hive bodies, bottom boards, cover, and hive stands for the splits you are about to do. You do split your hives, right?
 Well when I get home I will be splitting. Sounds like another fascination episode in the making.
 Make a note when you go out what flowers are blooming when, track when your bees start bringing in pollen when they start bringing in nectar.
 Do you requeen every year? I might every two years. I kind of watch and see how spring build up is going. The bees tend to requeen themselves before I do. If you do, order them now. I recommend the later queens as sometimes the drone population is not high enough for the early queens and I worry there might not be enough genetic diversity or enough fertilized eggs.
 Well, I might have one more second hand adventure to post before I get home so stay tuned!!

Wintering the hives

 Well, for those of you who have followed my somewhat intermittent blog, you know I recently moved north about 260 miles. I went from nice flat warm to very hilly and snow in the winter. I have never had to deal with snow before. Most of the places I lived see 0.1 inches of snow as a full scale emergency. Now I live in a place that apparently can amass several inches of snow in one day. Exciting times.
 Bees (see I got to the bees) are very good at overwintering. They form a cluster in the hive and slowly move around in a bunch eating the honey as they need it. Cold usually does not kill bees. Bees (just for reference, when I say "bees" I am referring to European honey bees unless otherwise stated) die from hunger, mites, and moisture to name a few things.
 Hunger I addressed on a previous blog. Mites. I hate mites. We had bees on out family's farm when I was a kid. The bees took care of themselves and thrived. Varroa mites have changed that. You HAVE to treat for mites. There are people who say they don't. People who say they are breeding resistant bees. I can kind of understand that but mites WILL kill a hive. You have to do something. Honey bees are not native to North America. They were brought over by settlers. They are not really wild and are considered livestock. I have never heard of someone letting their cow herd die off so they can breed resistant cows. Natural or chemical, please treat your bees for mites. You will be happier and your bees will definitely be happier. Rotate your treatments so the mites do not become resistant. I will cover more on this later when I get into honey bee pests and diseases.
 That leaves moisture. As I said, cold does not usually kills bees, but a cold wet bee will die. But you have a lid on your hive, how would they get wet? In the same way you breathing on a cold mirror causes condensation, bees breathing in their hive causes condensation on inside of the cover. There are several ways to combat this. My favorite is a moisture quit. This technology is borrowed from the warre hive guys. Basically, you take a 1x3 and make a really short super. Staple #4 hardware cloth covered on one side with canvas to the bottom of it and fill it with wood chips. Unfortunately, I am not home right now to take pictures. I will add them in a few weeks when I get back. I will try to explain it in a little more detail. Imagine a stack, on the bottom is untreated unbleached canvas (I buy painters drop clothes for this at my local hardware store) on top of this is a piece of number 4 hardware cloth (1/4" squares) on top of that is a pile of wood shavings. I also drill two 3/4" holes on each long side of the box and screen them for ventilation.
 This device takes care of two issues. One, it absorbs any excess moisture and two, it provides slow ventilation as the wood chips keep the air from flowing directly up through the hive. I leave my screened bottom boards on all year.
 Another way is to lean your hive slightly to the rear. This is supposed to cause the drops that form to roll to the back of the hive and drip down the wall harmlessly...except for maybe some mold.
 Insulation can also be added to the inside of the top cover to help keep it at a closer temperature to the cluster. I have doubts about the effectiveness of this. The cluster can be pretty far from the top cover in early winter. Not that insulating your hive is bad I just don't know how well it addresses the moisture issue.
 Another issue you may encounter is rodent invasion. Sounds like a cheap drive in, huh? Well in this case a mouse moves in to your hive and generally makes a mess out if it. They make mouse guards for this. You can also staple #4 hardware cloth over the entrance.
 I usually have my entrances about one bee sized at this time anyhow to help reduce mouse entry and robbing as food runs short and spring arrives.
 A final note. If your hives are in direct path of the prevailing wind, build a wind break of some type. Hay bales,  privacy fence, a tar paper wrap. Just something to help the bees a little to keep warm.
 Now, get your wallet and or tools out. Spring is coming and it is time to get the new boxes built and frames assembled.

The move or what not to do when work relocates you

  So I said I was going to talk about getting the hives ready for winter in this issue. I lied. Of course when i said that I did not anticipate work telling me to pack up and drag all my worldly good seven hours north. Don't get too upset, this is valuable information as well. Plus, I will talk about winter prep next time.
 I really wish I would have taken a load of pictures to help illustrate this. At the same time that is like wishing you had video of your failed bank robbery. As it stands all the incriminating evidence will have to be written.
 Moving bees is done all the time, literally ALL THE TIME. Just not by me, Thank goodness because nothing would get pollinated.
 Again this little adventure began with work informing me that I can move or find employment elsewhere. This was actually a harder decision that you would think. Aside from bees I have kids and a wife. None of them wanted to move. I didn't either. I think the lure (precog pun) of good trout fishing may have had something to do with the final decision but don't tell me wife. To my wife: "Theses are not the droids you are looking for".
 As it stood, I realized I would have to haul my bees with me. They are kind of like family albeit sometimes really crabby and painful family (Like that aunt who keeps asking when you are going to get a real job). I am sure you have gathered by this point that this is new territory for me. But I figured all I have to do is keep them in their hose for a day shove them on the truck and I am home free.
 All my assumptions about moving a hive are false.
Assumption one: The bees will never get past this screen ---- FALSE
  They evaded it like little Hudinis
Assumption two: Propolis is sticky enough. All I need is a cargo strap---FALSE
 The hives separated like Moses was there waving his staff at them.
Assumption three: It will be quick and easy to get the bees in the hive at night---FASLE!
 Apparently the warm snap was an invitation to an all hive porch party.
Assumption four: This will be easy---FASLE!
 walking the Gobi with no shoes and one water bottle full of mud would have been easier.
 So, what went wrong, you ask? What didn't might be a shorter story but here we go.

1: When sealing the hive, I will use a full length wooden entrance block duct taped or even screwed into place. I have even though of replacing the bottom board with one made with a PVC entrance and just capping it off. I have heard this might help with small hive beetles too but I have not researched it much.(More on that later)

2: Propolis is sticky...amazingly sticky but not sticky enough apparently. Next time I will use four angle iron pieces on all four vertical corners and at least one ratchet strap around them as well as one going around the top and bottom of the hive.

3: This is a timing thing. If I had more time I would have waited for a cooler night when the would go back in on their own. I did not think of smoking them and wonder if it would have worked. I might give that a shot next time.

4: It was hard, heavy work. I am actually surprised I had any bees left after I was done. I left bees at every gas station, restaurant and rest stop we paused at. I hated it that I lost all those bees. Every time I stopped I tried to stop up the hives but somehow they just kept getting out.

 What I did right; I had screened bottom boards on for ventilation. I moved them in the late afternoon and night to minimize them moving around or flying. I might should have waited till later but sever hours is a long haul. I had my sites setup and ready for the bees when I got home so I did not have to relocate them when they got to their new home.

Take it from me, if you are moving your hives, make sure you have plenty of ventilation (but keep the vents out of direct wind when driving), Make the hive escape proof. Don't do this sloppily, you will loose bees. Ensure your hive is going to stay together. You might have to hit the brakes or hit a big pot hole. Again, don't stint. Finally, get help if you can. I am sure I could have asked some of the members of my bee club to help me but I hate to impose. Don't be like me. Your bees may be at stake.
 So, I leave you with these lessons learned. I have one more hive to move and I will follow my own hard learned lessons. Hopefully I will be able to report success in the future.
 Till next time...

Bring on the chill

Today's episode starts with a cool wind blowing across the hives in the apiary. Looks like it's finally cooling down here in Louisiana.
 Unfortunately I have kind of gotten more in tune with the bees and the stories just are not as entertaining.
 So as the cold descends upon us, the bees will begin to huddle in their hives.
 The winters are short here in Louisiana but the weather is very unpredictable.  Odd thing about bees, if it gets cold and stays cold they generally do not eat as much honey over the winter. "Why?" you ask. Good question. Well, when it is cold, the bees stay inside and huddle in a ball keeping the core warm. They rotate in and out of the cluster so everyone stays warm. They vibrate their wings to heat up and everyone stays nice and toasty.
 However, if the temperatures start getting into the upper forty's,especially if the hive is in full sun, they will fly out, go to the bathroom and if it is warm enough, fly around looking for pollen and nectar. Sounds like reasonable bee behavior so far. The caveat is that in the winter there is no pollen or nectar for them to bring home. In essence, they fly around and waste energy that they have to regain by eating the honey in the hive. See how this work now?
 It is a shame I can't control the weather. What I can do is try to make sure they have enough honey for the winter while figuring in the crazy weather here. Failing that, give them extra food.
 Bees like honey kind of like a Sonny likes Coco Puffs. So I try to keep extra frames of honey in the freezer for emergencies. Failing that, table sugar (in several forms) is an adequate substitute.
 To feed bees during the winter I have found that sugar right out of the bag seems to work pretty good. I spray it a bit with water to make it into a kind of solid pancake thing, let it dry out and plop that right on top of the frames. Actually "plop" is too strong a word. I suppose if I actually "plopped" it, it would make a huge mess. Let's say I gently lay it on the frames. I have also heard of people usinf frame feeders full of sugar from the bag. I have not tried it but it seems reasonable.
 You can liquid feed if the weather is consistently warm as well. I kind of like filling gallon zip locks half way with 1:2 (one water to two sugar) sugar syrup. This is not an exact science. One gallon water to two gallons water, ten pounds water to twenty pounds sugar, whatever the bees don"t care. Fill the ziploc bags and place them directly on the top frames and make two to three slits on the top of the bag...the part that is flat toward the middle, If you cut toward the edges where the bag starts to curve you are going to have a mess, trust me on this one. Again, this is for when the weather stays over 45 to 50. Otherwise it will be too cold for the bees to drink. The down side is you can't really move the bags after slitting them o refill them. Maybe packing tape could seal them enough to move them. I have never tried. If you do let me know how it worked out for you.
 I have added anise or lemongrass oils to the syrup to attract the bees to it but honestly, if you dump an extra jar of honey in there the bees seem to some running to it, I would not do this in spring though as the honey smell might induce robbing in the bee yard.
 So that breaks down the food part of overwintering. Next I will talk about getting the hive itself ready.
 Stay tuned.