Time for the Bee Cozies Again

Tuesday. It's been cold enough recently that I decided it was really time to put those bee cozies on. These are big fat "quilts" that slide over the hive and fit tightly over it. They provide some thermal insulation to the hives during the winter. The less energy used to keep themselves warm, the better their survival prospects.

Before putting these on, I got some thermal sheets from Home depot, and cut out rectangular shapes small enough to fit into the inside of the outer lid. This keeps them from losing too much heat at that end too.

Then I got some wood about half an inch thick so that I could prop up the back end of the hive. When I opened up the hives, they had some condensation that had collected on the top. The point of tilting them forward allows any condensation that builds up over the winter to run forward and out, instead of raining down on them and keeping them cold.

So now they have their mouse guards, bee cozies, thermal insulation in the lid, and they tilt forwards, and they are all set for the winter!

Uh-oh, Time to Remove those Miticide Strips!

Tuesday November 8th. If you check my Fall Chores entry back in Sept, I described putting 4 Apivar strips of miticide in each of the hives, two in the top hive box and two in the bottom. Back then I still had 4 hives. The strips I put in Hive #2 were a waste, since that hive died and I had to take it down. But now it is time to remove the strips in the remaining 3 hives. The strips give off a miticide to kill off most of the veroa mites that all bees are infected with these days. Over time the amount it gives off drops, and after 42 days, it is no longer giving off enough to be effective, so you remove them. If you were to leave them in place, the mites could develop a resistance from the constant exposure. So you take them out.

Easier said than done! Last year I had my friend Susan come back and help me (she helped me put them in too). But this year, since I put them in all on my own in Sept I figured I could take them out on my own too.

I stood and looked at Hive #3, thinking about the best plan. The quickest, I thought, would be to whip the top box off, take out the bottom strips, put top box back on and take off the top strips. The alternative was to remove most of the frames from the top box, then remove the top box now that it was quite a bit lighter. This would take longer, but has the advantage in that it would be easier to take the top box off. But prying the frames out one by one is a lot of work, and I didn't want to disturb the bees too much. So I opted for the lift-top-box-in-one-go method. Shouldn't be so hard. I had managed to lift them off on my own in Sept, so I'm sure I can do it now too.

Wishful thinking. What I forgot was, the top box was now much heavier than it was in Sept, as it should be - after all, I'd just spent the past 2 months feeding them up so they could have enough honey in storage to get them through the winter. So when I tried to lift the top box off the bottom box so I could reach the Apivar strips in the bottom box.... nothing happened. I could not budge it.

After a huge amount of effort, sweating profusely, glasses slipping down my nose, bees getting more and more irritated with me, I managed to turn the top hive sidewards on Hive #3, revealing part of the bottom box below. Unfortunately, doing it this way squishes a lot of bees, and makes it hard to expose the part of the bottom hive box where the top of the Apivar strip is sticking out. If you turn it the wrong way, for example, or not far enough, you don't see the tip of the strip. As it was, I only found one strip in the bottom box. The other one must have fallen inside the box, which meant I would have to take off the top box and pull frames out after all. So much for short-cuts!

Then the other problem was that I couldn't get the Apivar strips out! The bees had built their beeswax around them, incorporating some parts of them in their hive, and pulling as hard as you can at the very tip, while wearing big bulky gloves which keep slipping off the strip, while your glasses are falling off your nose because you are getting very warm with all the effort, and bees are assuming you are trying to destroy their hive and are out for the attack, and it is getting closer to 3:00 when you are supposed to be suddenly nice and neat, out of your bee gear, in the car, and on your way to picking up your kids from school, is not my idea of fun. UURRRRR!!! I finally gave up on the 4th strip in the bottom box of Hive #3. I eventually got all the other three out, closed up the hive, and moved on to Hive #6.

This hive had all Apivar strips in place, hooray! But just as hard to remove, groan! The only plus is that the top hive box did not fall off when I had it perched at an angle so I could reach the strips! If that had happened that would have been a disaster! So, at least I will be glad about that!

Whoa....!

Whoa....!

Apivar strip under that pile of bees somewhere!

Apivar strip under that pile of bees somewhere!

The Apivar strips in this hive were even harder to get out! When I was done, I raced back to the house, leaving the last hive to do on another day. Needless to say, I was late picking up the girls from school. Oops.

Monday Nov. 14th. After the experience of the previous week, I decided when I went back to take the Apivar strips out of the last hive (Hive 5), I would have to try method 1, where you remove the frames from the top box first. And this time, everything went very smoothly. Sigh. This is what I should have done with the other ones. A group of frames came out in one block, I moved the block of frames to an empty hive box temporarily, then I was able to lift the top hive box without any trouble, and put it down elsewhere, so that it was really easy to reach the Apivar strips in the bottom box. Plus, I didn't upset the resident bees too much. It all went very well. Afterwards, I returned to Hive #3, did exactly the same thing, and managed to find the 4th Apivar strip in the bottom box without any trouble at all. It had slipped down a little between the frames. So that job is now DONE! Yay!

OK, now it's easy to lift!

OK, now it's easy to lift!

Down to Three Hives

Today I broke down and removed the two empty hives: Hives #1 and #2, my first hives I got in June of 2015. Very sad. Hive #1 was mobbed and the colony perished in August, while Hive #2 was mobbed in Sept, probably enabled by me when I was removing the honey supers for honey extraction. In January of this year I had 2 hives (hives 1 &2); in May I had 4 (hives 1, 2 and 3&4 from swarms); in June I had 6 (hives 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 & 6); in Aug I was back to 4 (hives 2, 3, 5 & 6); by October I am down to 3, having lost the two hives I had in January, plus one of the swarm hives I created in the spring (hives 3, 5 & 6).

At least these three hives are going strong

At least these three hives are going strong

Getting Bees Ready for Winter

Second half of October. Made up a stronger sugar syrup (higher sugar to water ratio) and gave hives sugar syrup on Monday Oct 17th, Friday Oct 21st, Wed Oct 26th. At first I noticed that the level of the sugar syrup dropped quickly, and they seemed to be ready for a fill-up by my next visit. But by Wed Oct 26th, the temperature had dropped - frosts overnight for the previous two nights - I noticed that the syrup had only dropped about 1/3rd of the way down since I last filled it the previous Friday. Bees aren't able to move as well when they are cold and the temperature has dropped quite a bit since last week. When the weather is cold, bees can no longer cure any of the honey they have stored in their hive, so there is no longer any point in giving them more sugar syrup when winter starts to set in. Before, in Sept and early Oct they were sucking up the stuff so quickly, it was all I could do to make enough of it. I was still in make-as-much-sugar-syrup-as-possible-and keep-feeding mode when the weather changed and got colder. Now I have all this syrup leftover in my bee-syrup watering can. Hopefully I can manage to empty it by filling their feeders in the next few days because that's a lot of sugar to throw out. Not only that, but they are also slowing down chomping their way through their pollen patties. You don't want those to still be there over the course of the winter because they won't be able to eat them, and they can get horrible and moldy.

The Hive that Provided us With Honey, Now Lost. Was it My Fault?

Thursday Sept 29th. I've been wondering about Hive 2 for a while, the hive that we harvested the honey from (see Week Sept 18th). There have been far fewer bees than when we harvested, and far fewer than the other two hives, and the hive was much lighter. I called Allen about it and he gave a few suggestions about what to do. One thing he suggested was to put the honey super that I had taken off of Hive 6 on Sept 25th (see Blog post] on this hive so they could have more food. This was in response to my telling him that I didn't know what to do with the honey super I took off Hive 6 - it had some capped cells full of honey, but the areas surrounding the capped areas were full of uncapped honey, which means the bees were not finished curing it (i.e., the proportion of water in the honey would still be too high for storage for the bees or extraction by us). So one solution would be to just give it to this hive.

So when I went to feed the bees today, I put the honey filled super onto Hive 2 after filling the feeder. However, things did not look right - immediately, every bee and wasp (yellow jackets) in the vicinity descended down onto it and started feeding frantically. I shooed some of them away and then closed it up, but it seemed to me I was closing a lot of non-resident bees and wasps in with them. What was going to happen now?

Monday Oct 3rd. When I went to feed the bees today, the honey super I had added to Hive 2 was COMPLETELY EMPTY! Something wrong. This is not going according to what Allen suggested. The idea was, the bees would start working on curing the uncaped honey and manage the capped honey to get them through the winter. There is definitely a problem.

Monday Oct 10th. A whole week since I gave them sugar syrup! I was going to give them some on Thursday last week, but from Wed to Sunday I have been going non stop! Then on Sunday it rained all day. I had sugar syrup all made and waiting for days.

When I went to feed the bees (on a beautiful sunny day!), Hives 3, 5 and 6 were fine as usual, and had eaten through all of their pollen patties, so I gave them more pollen patties as well as sugar syrup. But Hive 2 looked even worse. There were a few dead bees on the landing board, but it had rained, so that wasn't too unusual. But when I opened it up there were even fewer bees and quite a few wasps feeding on the pretty much intact pollen patty! There were also a few sickly looking bees walking around. Then I pried out one of the frames. Completely empty. So were all the other frames. Argh! The hive had been robbed! There was no food left for that colony. Other bees and wasps were coming in and feeding on anything they could and the last few remaining residents were unable to stop them.

Why did this happen? Did it happen because I removed the honey supers? Since Adam had said no need to bother with queen excluders, I had not used one, and as a result, the queen had begun laying in there. Perhaps the colony had moved their home more into the upper part of the hive, into the supers. So when I removed the supers, I took all their honey?

Or, when I removed the supers, I allowed a lot of bees from other hives in inadvertently. If that is what happened, I am not sure how I could have prevented it because the bees were so intent on swarming towards any food source. Perhaps if I had not waited until Sept? Maybe the bees would have been less hungry and feisty in August before they get so anxious about winter.

Or, when I put the new super on from Hive 6, the huge swarm to that super before I slapped the lid on was when the whole hive got robbed.

All I can say is that, before we took off the honey supers to extract honey, that hive had been fine, and now it is doomed. So it must be my fault in some way. One of my books suggests checking that the hive still has 40 lbs of honey when you remove excess honey. I didn't do this. For one thing, I didn't dare start pulling out frames because robbing seemed to be such a problem. I was trying to close it up as quickly as I could. But perhaps I could have tried lifting the hive. That can give you some idea. In previous blogs (e.g., Sept 25th) I did notice at that point the that hive seemed rather light. But by that time we had removed the honey.

It seems the lesson to be learned is that, one shouldn't assume if there is honey in the honey supers, that honey is excess honey for the hive and you can take it. I didn't understand that. And be very careful about robbing!

Hive 2, the one that is doomed, is the one at the back on the left.

Hive 2, the one that is doomed, is the one at the back on the left.

After I put everything back, I put out the containers we used to extract honey for the bees to clean out.

Bees cleaning off the extractor equipment for us

Bees cleaning off the extractor equipment for us

Cleaning it out for us.

Cleaning it out for us.

Fall Chores For Winter Prep

Thursday 22nd. The middle of September is when it is time to treat your hives with a miticide to reduce the colonies' infestation with veroa mites. Adam recommends Apivar strips. You must, however, only put these in after you remove the honey supers, because it is not safe for humans to eat the honey when it has been exposed to this particular miticide. I got a bit behind and had to order the Apivar from Dadant, and so it wasn't until the 22nd that I got the Apivar in the mail and went to the hives to put the miticide strips in.

This is my least favorite task! I DO NOT like doing this. You have to place two strips between the frames at opposite corners in the bottom box of each hive, and two strips the the opposite opposite corners between the frames of the top box. This means you need to take off the top box. Last year when I did this, I was worried I would not be able to remove the top box on my own because it would be too heavy, so a very kind and brave friend of mine, Susan, who had no experience with bees, came and helped me. We lifted the upper boxes together and placed them on the ground, then put in the 2 Apivar strips in the bottom box, then lifted the top box up and back onto the bottom box. It is quite a job to pry the top box off, not to mention putting it back on again without squishing all the bees that are now flowing out of the bottom box. I remember doing a lot of smoking and coaxing bees with the smoker. But it is also a thankless job because the bees are really irritable at this time of year and they get very aggressive with anyone messing with their hive. Last year we both got stung!

So I wasn't looking forward to it this year. And this year I felt confident enough to do it on my own. So on my own, I pried the top box off the bottom box (this took forever because they were all stuck fast!), and then lifted it all on my own onto the upturned lid on the ground with great effort as it weighs a ton! and you really do NOT want to drop it! I got three of the 4 hives done: Hives 2, 3 and 5 without dropping anything and without putting my back out. However, I did get stung! Darn!! Though I was covered from head to toe, one managed to sting me through my thick sweatshirt. So before I did the next one I went back to the house and put on a second sweatshirt and my rain pants. Try to get me now!

I noticed that when I examined Hive 2 - the one we had taken the honey from last week, it seemed much lighter than the other hives. I wonder whether we took too much of the honey? I assumed you could always take what was in the supers since the rest of the hive was full. But maybe that isn't so. Hmmm. Would they have enough to make it through the winter??

Hive 6 I didn't do because it still had the honey super on and I didn't have time to deal with taking it off. Leave that for another time.

While I was doing all this, the wasps (yellow jackets) were a real nuisance! They kept buzzing right in front of my face (in front of the veil) and buzzing all over me and landing on me. Hundreds kept landing in the sugar syrup I was filling up all the feeders with. I had to go and get a sieve so that I could pour the syrup into the feeders through it to catch all the wasps as they came flowing out with the syrup. I didn't want to fill up the bees' feeders with wasps!

I used this sieve to catch the wasps that were in with the sugar syrup, when I was pouring the sugar syrup from the watering can into the feeders in the hives. This is how many wasps came out!

I used this sieve to catch the wasps that were in with the sugar syrup, when I was pouring the sugar syrup from the watering can into the feeders in the hives. This is how many wasps came out!

Then, when I was heading back to the house, the bees lost interest soon after I turned down the bend in the path behind the shrubs, as usual. The yellow jackets, on the other hand, kept following me all the way back to the house. There I was, standing outside the house with yellow jackets all flying around me and I had no idea what to do. With bees, they leave you alone after a point. I didn't have a clue what to do with wasps. Didn't want to take off my veil or go into the house with all those wasps around!

In the end I quickly opened the garage doors, popped inside and closed the garage doors again, and amazingly, pretty much all of them stayed outside. Problem solved.

Nevertheless, ever since the honey extracting on Sept 18th, wasps have been hanging around the front of our garage for over a week! I would look out the window and see them there, exploring the garage door (I kept it closed), and whenever I went out to harvest or process vegetables, if I was anywhere near the garage, one or two really pesky ones would come and explore me, buzzing really close to my face and arms. Very annoying! The day of the CSA (Friday), I was concerned that they would still be there and would start to harass the customers! I don't remember having such a wasp problem last year!

Sunday 25th. On this day I removed the honey super on hive 6 so I could put the Apivar strips in. I did not want to deal with it, but if I could just get it done quickly, that would be it!

Before I set out, I heard Norman (who had been mowing outside) come into the house and slam the door. "I just got stung by one of your bees" he said, looking decidedly frazzled. Upon further questioning, it turns out he had been mowing around the hives as he usually does, when one of the bees stung him. I told him that the bees are particularly aggressive at this time of year and I wish I had known he was planning on mowing there since I would have advised wearing protective gear. "Oh really? Now you tell me!" he said.

When I got down to the apiary, there was the abandoned lawnmower in the middle. I hauled it away and got to work on Hive 6.

This time, I did not use the fume board to remove the bees from the honey super. You aren't going to believe this, but I just took out each frame and dusted the bees off, then popped the frame into a plastic storage bin and quickly shut the lid. Bees and wasps were flying in a dense cloud around me, but I had 5 layers of clothing (well, more than one layer at least) and felt I could get away with anything. Then I took off the top box, put in the Apivar strips, lifted it with GREAT effort again and put it back, put the Apivar strips in the top one, filled the feeder with sugar syrup, put a pollen patty on the top and closed it up.

Phew! All four hives now have 4 Apivar strips for mite treatment, full feeders, and pollen patties. Hoo-ray. My job is done.

Actually, not quite. Every 3-4 days I have to fill up the feeders for the next 2 months or so, and at the beginning of November I need to remove the Apivar strips, which involves doing the reverse of what I just described. But my point was, I got those Apivar strips in before it was too late!

As for the honey in the frames I removed from Hive 6, I noticed that most of it was not capped. Only capped honey has the correct moisture level and you are only supposed to collect capped honey. So now I'm not sure what to do. Adam has described putting uncapped honey frames in a room with a dehumidifier, but we don't have a dehumidifier. Hmmm. Will have to solve that problem later.

One final thing: I forgot to mention that on the day we removed the honey supers from Hive 2 to extract honey, I saw something very strange. I was dumping bits of wax comb into the plastic tray I had and I saw a very very strange bee walking about in among the chunks of wax. This bee had no abdomen and not much of a thorax! It was just a head and part of a thorax with 3 pairs of legs, and it was alive, walking along as if there was nothing wrong in the world! How on earth can that be???

Finally did it! Got the Honey!

Sunday 18th. We have finally come full circle! After 16 months of caring for bees, we finally have some honey to show for all that effort! Before you get too impressed though, let me tell you how it went. What a fiasco! Hopefully no experienced beekeepers are reading this!

It started well. Norman and I got all the extraction equipment set up in the garage, tarp down on the floor, extractor moved onto it, a table next to the tarp with the plastic tub and electric knife set up. Now I was ready to get the honey. One downside was that it was grey and drizzly that day. Bees don't like grey and drizzly. But this was the only day Norman could help. So we pushed on.

I piled all my hive tools and smoker into the cart and went down to the bees. I was going to try the bee repellent spray on the fume board. When I got down there, I sprayed the board, and then realized I should have waited a bit because then I had to light the smoker, smoke Hive 2, remove the outer lid, and then remove the inner lid. By the time I was done with all that the fume board had been sitting up against the hay bales for a few minutes. Maybe that's why it didn't exactly work the first time.

Fume board placed on top of the supers. The point is to drive the bees out of the supers, down into the lower hive boxes because they don't like the smell. I did actually take the inner lid off too (not shown here - it is still on).

Fume board placed on top of the supers. The point is to drive the bees out of the supers, down into the lower hive boxes because they don't like the smell. I did actually take the inner lid off too (not shown here - it is still on).

Notice in the above picture how it fits snuggly over the super without overlapping the edges, so that the repellent is kept in. (The outer lid I removed is bigger and when it is on it slips down over the edges.) Then while waiting for the repellent fumes to take effect I went and added sugar syrup to Hives 3 and 5.

Hive 3. Notice how they are making short work of the pollen patty I put in there last Thursday. They've eaten all the parts in between the frames.

Hive 3. Notice how they are making short work of the pollen patty I put in there last Thursday. They've eaten all the parts in between the frames.

Then I went back to Hive 2, lifted the fume board and had a look. Hmmm. Well, they were clearly agitated, but there were still plenty of bees in there. Don't tell me this wasn't going to work!

Supposedly, the bees should all move down to the lower boxes. Clearly these bees did not read the instructions. In fact some of them are even hanging out on the felt lining where I sprayed the repellent!

Supposedly, the bees should all move down to the lower boxes. Clearly these bees did not read the instructions. In fact some of them are even hanging out on the felt lining where I sprayed the repellent!

Maybe I hadn't sprayed enough of it on the felt pad. I took the board off and put more repellent on. Also, I sprayed some of the repellent onto a paper towel and added that to the smoker, setting light to it too (as suggested on the bottle), and gave a few puffs into the super before lowering the board again. That worked! When I opened it up again, most of the bees had now moved down. However, there were also a few rather dead looking bees that looked like they had been petrified by the fumes! I wasn't expecting that. So, when they say "non-toxic" on the label, to whom are they referring?

Now there were two options: I could either lift off the super as a whole, or lift out frames individually from the super. The latter option I vetoed because the last few times I lifted out frames from that hive, it ripped open some of the wax cells and honey dripped all over the place. Plus, it would take longer. So I decided to just remove the entire super. This would have been a good idea if I had been strong enough to lift it off at that angle! I had to go back inside and get a step stool, but I still couldn't lift it. In the end I got Norman to help. He was able to lift it off, but then where to put it? My book said make sure you have a plastic bin to put it in and shut the lid immediately. I thought I had had a large enough plastic bin to put it in but it turns out it was too small. The super would not fit!! Why did I not figure that out ahead of time?

From here, read on about how NOT to remove honey supers. The idea is to remove the honey as fast as possible so the bees don't start a "robbing melee" (as my book calls it). But I had to leave the first super just sitting there in the cart while I worked at removing the second one, which meant putting the fume board on again, and lighting the smoker again, etc, etc, and of course nothing goes as planned and the supers take forever to come off, and so on and so forth. So by the time I had the second one off and both supers in the cart, there was a huge cloud of bees and wasps hovering over the supers in the cart and me, and also Norman who had come to give me a hand. There was still the sugar syrup feeder to fill once the supers were off, and the lid to replace so that other bees and the huge number of wasps didn't start a robbing melee there too. So by the time we got the cart back to the garage with the two supers in it, we were followed by quite a large number of bees and wasps flying around the cart.

Now we had to try to get the cart and supers into the garage without bringing in all those bees and wasps.... and while Norman and I debated on the best method, more bees arrived. "Agh! And now they've gone and got all their friends!" Norman complained. If we didn't move soon, the entire 4 hives of bees would be here any minute.

A super sitting on the plastic processing tub in front of our garage, with the bee repellent board on top, in a vain effort to get the bees to leave. Bee repellent container on the ground in front. (A "super" is a hive box with frames like the boxes that make up the hive, but it is not as deep.)

A super sitting on the plastic processing tub in front of our garage, with the bee repellent board on top, in a vain effort to get the bees to leave. Bee repellent container on the ground in front. (A "super" is a hive box with frames like the boxes that make up the hive, but it is not as deep.)

I told Norman to go in through the front door, go to the garage and open the garage door when I said "Now", whereupon I shoved a super under the door and he then closed it. Then we did it again with the second super. I was going to do the same with the cart, but there were so many bees and wasps buzzing around it I gave up and just abandoned it.

I went into the house by the front door and round to the garage from inside. I opened the door to the garage to an amazing sight. Despite our efforts, hundreds of bees had still made it in with the supers and were buzzing around in a mad cloud around the garage! The noise was incredible! While we stood there wondering what to do next, Norman observed, "Look at that, they seem to be going towards the light". So we turned on the overhead light and up they all whooshed to ceiling. We looked up at the ceiling to see the light bulb and surrounding area covered with a thick layer of bees, all buzzing loudly. What an appalling sight!

"Well, if we are going to do this, let's get started!" said Norman with determination, yelling over the roar of the bees.

Now I have to say, that was one of the funniest things I have seen! There was Norman, who used to take off running at the hint of even one bee or wasp buzzing around outdoors, all intent on getting the extracting done now, while not 6 feet above his head a huge cloud of bees buzzed furiously! Well, if he was planning on extracting honey under those conditions, he could do it alone. No thank you, I told him. He was nuts!

The only thing to do, I told him, was to bring all the honey in to the house, then open up the garage doors and window, and wait until dusk. I know what you are thinking - you are thinking that we were now going to end up bringing all the bees into the house too. That would really be fun! But we did in fact manage to do it without bringing in a single bee by doing what I should have done in the first place. We moved all the honey-filled frames from the two supers into the big plastic bin (they did fit if you took them out of the boxes). To do this I shooed off the last few bees of each frame, one at a time, and when I yelled "Now!", Norman quickly opened the lid and slammed it shut. Then when they were all in the plastic tub, we moved the tub into the house, making sure there were no bees anywhere on the tub. Then we opened up the garage doors and waited until dusk.

Several hours later at dusk, the bees were indeed all gone. Phew! We moved the plastic bin with the honey-filled frames back to the garage and opened it up in a bee-free environment, yay! Then, one by one, we scraped the wax cappings off each frame into a large container for such things, and placed the frames in the extractor. It is a 6 frame extractor, so when 6 frames were loaded in, we closed the lid and started spinning the crank. We had bought one of those cappings knives that you plug in and that heats up, making it easier to push it through the wax. You are suppose to slice off the top layer of wax like cutting bread, but I found it required quite a bit of strength. When I did it it kept slipping instead of cutting from top to bottom in one go.

I get to do the first slicing off of wax cappings.

I get to do the first slicing off of wax cappings.

Watching Mummy

Watching Mummy

Norman was better at it than I was.

Norman was better at it than I was.

This is where a new problem emerged, though. You are supposed to screw the legs of the extractor to the floor so that when you spin it, it doesn't start wobbling up and down and tipping over (it's a centrifuge). Clearly we didn't want to screw it into our garage floor since we would no longer be able to park the cars there. Adam had showed us at his demo over the summer that you can screw it onto a wooden frame. But that takes forethought and planning, which apparently we don't seem to have. So the only solution was to take it off the legs, put it directly on the ground, and for the family to bear down really hard on the top while one person cranked the handle. Desta and Alex loved that part, though only Norman's spinning really got it going fast enough for the honey to come out of the cells.

Alex is cranking the handle, Norman and Desta are holding it down.

Alex is cranking the handle, Norman and Desta are holding it down.

It was quite exciting when the honey began to pour out of the little tap at the bottom of the extractor into our 5 gallon bucket! We had to lift it back up on to the legs for this part.

And of course, this all took a while. Norman and I missed dinner, the girls got to bed really late, and the last frame was finally scraped free by about 10:10 pm. But by the time all the honey had filtered into the bucket, and the honey from the cappings wax had been added, we had about 40 lbs of honey!

How exciting!

And I have to say, now I understand why honey is so expensive. In fact, after what we've gone through, I think $50 for 8 oz would be about right! ;-)

 

The Week of Mice

Sunday 11th. Adam had a demo for how to prepare your bees for the winter today, during one of the Eastern CT Bee Association meetings. However, I was not there. This year, he had to have the demo at a site in Woodstock CT. This was over an hour away. There was also something going on at the twins' school that they really wanted to go to - Discovery Fair - at about the same time. So in the end I decided it wasn't going to happen, I was not going to get to go to the bee demo.

In any case, I had been to the one last year at this time, and so I had a good idea of what he was going to say: now's the time of year to 1) treat your hives for mites with Apivar (miticide), and 2) feed with sugar syrup as often as you can, so that by the time winter comes, they have enough reserves stored up so they can make it through the winter. Last year he showed us how to put Apivar strips in each hive box, and explained that you only do this when the honey you are harvesting has been removed. It stays in for 42 days. Then you have to go back and take them out.

Monday 12th. Went to feed the bees with sugar syrup today. Only Hives 3 and 4 got any, though. Hive 2 still had honey in the honey supers, and Hive 6 seemed to be laying down foundation in their honey super. (Hives 1 and 5 are no more). According to Adam, you should not feed bees sugar syrup when they are storing honey in the honey supers because all you will get is sugar syrup in the cells instead of honey when you try to extract the honey. Unfortunately, I didn't think to order more Apivar strips, so I'm going to be a bit late getting those in.

I took a look at Hive 1 (the one overtaken by wasps). I thought at first bees had moved back into the hive, but when I looked inside, it was not the case. Wasps still lived in it and bees were just going in and taking whatever they wanted. What to do about this hive, I don't know.

Wasps hanging out on Hive 1.

Wasps hanging out on Hive 1.

Hive 2 has two honey supers, full of honey.

Hive 2 has two honey supers, full of honey.

If I remember correctly, Hive 2 had filled up it's honey supers all the way back in June/July, but I got so busy with the vegetable farm I kept putting off taking them off for extraction. Norman had ordered the honey extractor, but I was a little unsure about how to get the bees out of the honey supers. I had finally put in an order for a fume board and bee repellent with Dadant, but a week later and it hadn't yet arrived. As I explained in a previous post, you are supposed to spray the felt pad on the inside of the board (shaped like a lid) with the repellent, and then place it on top of the super (after removing the hive lids), and the bees are supposed to kindly move down into the main part of the hive, leaving you free to remove the now bee-free super. If it arrives this week, perhaps we could try extracting honey by Sunday.

At one point, I grabbed one of the concrete blocks that had been a stand for the hive that died and I had removed last week, to use somewhere else. But when I removed it, I noticed some fuzzy stuff tucked in one of the holes of the cinder blocks it had been sitting on. "Oh, there's a mouse nest in there, I thought" and then, "Oh, there are some eyes... and in fact, looks like there's a mouse, looking up at me with a worried expression..." whereupon I replaced the block. Didn't want to disturb the poor thing.

Tuesday 13th. The previous day, I made twice as much sugar syrup as I usually do because I thought I had four hives to fill, forgetting that two of them had honey supers and I wasn't going to be filling them. So I left the plastic watering can I use for pouring sugar syrup almost full of sugar syrup in the garage, as I usually do. So it was kind of a shock when I happened to glance in there today and saw a dark, mouse-like shape, floating in the syrup, quite dead and quite stiff. Yuck!

Wednesday 14th. More mice troubles. The twins and I were just getting into the car to go to dance class after school when Alex (amazingly) spotted something under the car. Two baby mice! They were still blind, pink and wriggly. Where on earth did they come from??? Inside the car? We peered under the car to see if we could figure out where, but it just looked like the underside of a car. Not knowing what to do with them, we put them in a critter cage with tissue, and drove off. I wondered if they were babies left behind by the mouse that drowned in the sugar syrup. But if that were the case, how could they still be alive? She died more than 24 hours before!

When we got back they were still alive. Two, very cute, wriggly babies. What to do?? Norman wondered what the problem was. Get rid of them! But I knew we were in trouble when Alex and Desta informed me of the babies' names: the bigger one, they told me, was named Patch, while the little one was Whisky. Sigh.

So I looked up on the internet how to care for baby mice. From the pictures it looked like they were about 4 days old. Someone on the internet gave very detailed instructions on how to care for baby mice, which I tried to follow as closely as I could. However, she recommended that it would improve their odds of survival considerably if you found a surrogate mouse that has babies of the same age, such as at a pet store. So until I could make it to a pet store, I fed them round the clock with an eye dropper, with some help from Desta and Alex, and kept them in the critter cage on a towel placed on a heat mat set on the lowest setting, in my closet, with the door closed (we have cats!).

Thursday 15th. I was rather busy with other things the following day, and was unable to feed the babies for about 3 hours in the morning, and when I got back to them, the littlest one, "Whisky", looked rather grey. I fed the larger one, then tried to feed the smaller one, but it died in my hands :-( So we were down to one. Off to the pet store I went, hoping against hope they had a mother with babies I could foist this little one off on. No, they hadn't. Hmm. Then I remembered the mouse with a nest in the cinder blocks back at my bee hives. I drove back there.

Mouse nest in the cinder blocks Hive 5 used to rest on.

Mouse nest in the cinder blocks Hive 5 used to rest on.

Closer view of nest.

Closer view of nest.

I went to the bees to check the nest to see if the mother was there. The article I read said you had to insert orphaned babies while the foster mother was away from the nest so she didn't get nervous that someone was messing with her babies. A nervous mother is likely to abandon her babies. Then I would have even more abandoned baby mice on my hands! You were also supposed to rub the babies you were inserting with some of the nest. She could kill the newcomer if she didn't recognize them as her's. So I removed the top cinder block and looked. This time, no mother mouse looking back at me. Ah ha! Then I tried using my hive tool to work the nest open. Didn't work. It seemed to be very well woven and not very easy to make an opening without it being really obvious. Things were moving around in there. Were these the baby mice, or was the mother actually inside too? I got too nervous and couldn't go through with it. I put the block back and left. No foster mother for my mouse. Sigh.

Then when I pulled out of the driveway to go and pick up the twins from school, I thought, "Oh, I should have checked under the car first! What if there are more babies that dropped out?" Sure enough, when I looked back at the garage floor where the car had been, there was something small and wriggling. Oh no, not another one? I went and checked and sure enough, another baby mouse! While driving off I had this image of baby mice falling out of the car while I drove along! What a thought!

When I picked up the girls, I told them, "I've got some good news and some bad news. One of the babies died. But then we got another one!" Desta bawled all the way home.

But baby #3 (given the name Whisky again since Whisky was the name of the one that had died, apparently) didn't last long. We were feeding it, and Alex was holding him, when he suddenly went grey and limp. Nothing I could do would bring him back. Whisky #2 was dead too.  There were lots of tears.

Friday 16th. By morning I was really beginning to wonder how I was going to survive 2 weeks of this. The article said they can be weaned by 3 weeks or so. I still had Patch to feed every 1-2 hours. He seemed to be going strong, though I got an idea of what might have killed Whisky #2. I had to place this huge eye dropper with watered down kitten formula up against his mouth, whereupon he would start to lap it up. But there was not much distance between his mouth and his nose, and he had a habit of butting his head against the dropper (which works great for milk let down on a mother mouse, I am sure), so quite often the milk got on his tiny nose and went up his nostrils. If this happened, he started to fade quite rapidly, and I would panic, blotting his nose with a tissue, and (if truth must be told) suck at his nose with my lips. This seemed to do the trick. But I would get really nervous now whenever I held the dropper up to his mouth. Then I would check that I could see a band of milk through his thin skin on his belly, to see if he had drunk enough. Unfortunately, though, when you care for a baby this intensely, you start to get attached.

Patch, the baby mouse.

Patch, the baby mouse.

This is how I had to hold him to feed him.

This is how I had to hold him to feed him.

On Friday, I managed to feed him every hour or so, despite setting things up for the CSA. But the problem came at night. I fed him at 12:00 midnight (Norman had moved to another room throughout all this), then at 2 the timer went off, but by the time I crawled out of bed, feeling like a wreck, it was 2:30 am. I opened up the critter cage and he was dead. Did I leave him too long between feedings? Or was it something else? I will never know. I felt very sad, but I also felt a HUGE relief, I have to say. This had just been too much. 

Saturday 17th. The bee repellent stuff did finally arrive, so I guess we will be extracting honey this weekend.

Stung again! Not by a bee, though. But still!

I was wondering if Hive 1 being abandoned was because I went away. Was there something I failed to do because I was absent? It did seem like quite a coincidence that I go away and two hives die or colonies leave.

Monday Sept 5th. I went to visit the bee hives to try and dismantle Hive 1 to get the wasps out of there. I had left the two boxes lying on their sides on the grass, thinking that perhaps the wasps would decide it wasn't such a good home after all now that it was open front and back. But when I got there today, the wasps were happily flying in and out, totally unperturbed. I wasn't really sure what to try next, so I left it like that.

I did notice that there was a pile of yellow gritty stuff on the surface of the cinder block stand that the hive had been resting on. There were a number of bees flying over it and landing on it and apparently trying to collect it. I came to the conclusion that it must be pollen that had poured out of the cells of the hive before I moved it, after the colony had gone, scattering onto the hive stand below.

Bees gathering up the yellow grains (of pollen?) left behind when I moved Hive 1 off it's stand.

Bees gathering up the yellow grains (of pollen?) left behind when I moved Hive 1 off it's stand.

If you have been following my bee blog, hopefully by now you should be able to tell that these are not honey bees. They are wasps (yellow jackets). They are feeding on a pollen patty I threw out of Hive 1.

If you have been following my bee blog, hopefully by now you should be able to tell that these are not honey bees. They are wasps (yellow jackets). They are feeding on a pollen patty I threw out of Hive 1.

Tuesday Sept 6th. I called Allan to see if he could enlighten me about what I should do with storing the bee-less hives. Do I scrape off the wax? Do I leave it on and give it to a new set of bees when I use the hive box again? Apparently the answer is, yes and yes.

Allan was intrigued about the hives empty of bees. He had a theory. Apparently, he had had a problem with robbing at his hives recently. He had been setting up a queenless hive so as to raise queens, but because it was a hive under duress, it was not able to fend off bees from other hives that tend to try and rob other hives at this time of year. He suggested that if either of my two hives had been not very strong, they may have been robbed by other bees, and they would have been powerless to do anything. This could certainly be the case with the queenless hive I had. It was so small and was never doing too well. Not enough of a population to fend off wax moths, let alone other bees. However, I wouldn't have thought it was the case with Hive 1. When I checked it before I went away in August, it looked fine to me. But I could have been wrong. What is puzzling is what became of those bees then? Did they just fly away and die, or did they go and join another colony?

If this is the case, then I suppose the thing I could have done to prevent this from happening would have been to give all the hives sugar syrup - perhaps there was a period of food shortage while I was gone. But this is assuming that I would have noticed that there was a food shortage. So maybe I would not have been able to prevent it anyway. Who knows.

I told Allan about the bee sting I got on my hand back on Aug 3rd. He suggested that if anything like that happened again, to try and get the stinger out immediately! Of course, I knew that at the time, but wasn't able to. But he also suggested that the more I got stung, the LESS I might react in time. He said that that is what happened to him - you build up a tolerance. He says it doesn't bother him at all now.

Later, after my conversation with him, I noticed it was raining, so I went down to the apiary to close up the hive boxes that had the wasps living in it. I didn't want the inside of the hive to get all wet. When I got there, I realized I had forgotten to bring my bee gloves. Well, I thought, maybe I can lift the boxes and pile them on top of each other anyway. So I did, but a wasp got me on my ring finger, sigh. It swelled up a bit, but not like the bee sting I got in August.

That was very dumb.

From 6 Hives to 4 - post-vacation inspection

Sunday. Today, Norman and I were going to try our hand and extracting the honey from Hive 2. Norman got out the boxes of extractor equipment, and together with Desta and Alex, spent the afternoon putting it all together. When I passed through the garage at one point, I found Daddy explaining how a socket wrench works. Then, once it was put together, it seems it was fun to turn the handle that makes the frame holder spin inside the extractor drum, as Desta and Alex proceeded to do this for the rest of the afternoon, while sticking fingers into the drum to feel the wind as it spun around, until Daddy told them fingers were to be kept strictly outside the drum.

We thought we were all ready to launch into honey extracting for the first time, at last!! But... it wasn't to be. We got stuck on the problem of how to get the bees off the honey supers. I should really have ordered some honey bee repellent and fume pad, like Adam showed us last month - you apply the repellent to the pad and place it on the hive in the place of the usual lid. The bees do not like it and move down into the body of the hive, allowing you to take the honey-laden frames out without bees fighting you for it. Without something like this, I had this image of me removing heavy frames with lots of bees still attached, and getting stung again, like what happened back in July... No...thank....you. So I went and ordered some bee repellent and fume pad. I guess we will have to tackle this next weekend. Sigh. (Or perhaps, phew!)

In any case, I finally opened up the hives today to see how they fared while I was gone - a whole month after I last opened them up for a look (guilt guilt)! The first one I tackled was Hive #1 - one of the ones I got in 2015. Before I opened it up, I took a look around at all the hives. At first glance, everything looked OK - bees were flying in and out of 5 of the 6 hives. But I did notice that Hive 1 did not have as many bees flying into it as the other 4 hives. (The 6th hive was the queenless hive, and it was showing low bee numbers all summer, so I wasn't surprised to not see any bees coming out of that hive).

Hive 1 is the hive at front, left. Notice more bees at the entrance of the other hives.

Hive 1 is the hive at front, left. Notice more bees at the entrance of the other hives.

When I opened up Hive 1, I was puzzled. It looked at first like there were hardly any bees and hardly any foundation - not at all what I had seen the last time I looked in there. My next impression was that the bees looked a little odd... in fact, they looked like wasps (yellow jackets)! Not my bees at all! I then removed the inner lid and sure enough, no bees! The hive had been taken over by yellow jackets! Also, by a colony of large ants, which scurried frantically all over the place as soon as I removed the lid. And there were wax moth larva cocoons too. Where were my bees?

Looking down into Hive 1. You can see a few wasps, and some white wax moth cocoons. The large square thing is the remains of the pollen patty I put in there before I left. The wasps were feeding on it.

Looking down into Hive 1. You can see a few wasps, and some white wax moth cocoons. The large square thing is the remains of the pollen patty I put in there before I left. The wasps were feeding on it.

At first I thought the wasps had driven out the bees or killed the bees. But then I realized that it was far more likely that the bees had left, and the wasps had then moved in, as had the wax moths and ants. A strong colony of bees is able to keep such creatures out. Because the pollen patty was pretty much still intact, my guess is that this happened soon after I put it in there, back in early August. Later, when I got back to the house I looked up in my bee books reasons for bees leaving. It wasn't very enlightening. It could be anything, from bad weather, to too hot in the sun, to disease, etc, etc.

I dismantled the two boxes and left them on their sides, opened up on each side so that the wasps wouldn't feel to cozy there. Later on I will have to take out each frame and clean it off. I felt a little sad that this hive had come to an end. I had kept it going for 14 months!

The other hive that had not been doing too well was the swarm hive. This was the hive that Alan had caught for me back in April. It was the one missing a queen. Back in July I had planned to move the remaining bees to Hive 1, but when I saw it had wax moth problems, I stalled. Wasn't sure whether to go ahead or not, so in the end I did nothing. But this time when I opened it up, there were no bees at all! I'm assuming they all died. Who knows. Since Hive 1 is gone, maybe it doesn't matter anyway that I never got round to adding them to Hive 1. At least I don't have to wonder what to do with the queenless hive anymore.

Unfortunately, now I have to deal with a hive full of wax moth larvae and pupae. My book said to NOT store these in your garage after cleaning it off as there are still eggs that you are going to miss, and you will end up with a wax moth infestation in your garage. The book suggested putting them in the freezer for 48 hours. So I bagged up the frames and put them in the garage freezer (yuck).

Fortunately, all the other hives (4 remaining) were fine. I opened them all up and had a look, and all seemed to be strong and healthy. Phew! Hive 2 (my other colony from 2015) still had honey stored in its honey supers, so that's good. I had put honey supers on two other hives last time I looked at them in Aug, but none of the supers had been filled, so I took one off. I left one on one hive because it looked like there was some foundation being laid down, but I will probably remove it soon. We are into Sept when the honey flow is starting to wane.

There is a lot of goldenrod in the parts of the meadow that Rick did not mow for hay. Rick is a local farmer who has hayed our meadows and the surrounding areas for years. He is probably not very happy that we moved in here 3 years ago, because I don't want him haying our meadows. It removes all the wild flowers the bees need. The problem is, if he doesn't hay our meadows, brush and trees start to grow in, so it does need to be mowed at some point. But it's no good for him to mow it late in the year for hay as it will be all dried up perennial weed stalks instead of young, nutritious dried grass stems. So we have compromised. I let him mow half our property and leave the back field and part of the front field to allow the various species of wildflowers to bloom. And right now, the goldenrod are blooming. Adam says goldenrod is important for bees for the pollen, so I was happy to see so much of it, especially around the hives.

Goldenrod. Can you see the bees landing on it on the right?

Goldenrod. Can you see the bees landing on it on the right?

This is the time of year when the bees start getting very protective of their hive, because wasps are starting to get very active and try to rob the bees of their honey. Those wasps must have been very happy to have a whole hive of honey-filled cells to feed on when Hive 1 moved out. Last year I remembered seeing wasps trying to invade the hives when I opened up the lids, and bees tossing them out. I noticed the same thing happening this year. Wasps were opportunistic in trying to get into the hives. On the landing platform of one hive, I noticed two bees attacking something that at first looked like a third bee. But on closer inspection, it was a wasp. The two bees were trying to sting it, and drag it out away from the hive entrance, while the wasp was trying to move towards the entrance. In the end, they flew off with it and I lost sight of them. By the time I got my camera out of my pocket, it was all over. 

Pretty soon, I am going to start seeing worker bees to this to drones. Drones get kicked out when fall arrives. Only workers and the queen are allowed to remain through the winter. Drones are not necessary to colony survival during the winter months and in fact are a danger to colony survival because of the extra mouths to feed.

The four hives with lids on and bricks are the only hives left. The ones with lids resting up against the side are empty of bees.

The four hives with lids on and bricks are the only hives left. The ones with lids resting up against the side are empty of bees.

And I am happy to report, I did not get stung today!

Another Bee attack!

Wednesday afternoon. This is the time of year when my vegetable farming duties mount to such huge proportions that without meaning to, I find myself ignoring the bees almost completely! Each day I decide I will go check the bees tomorrow, but today I just need to... until several weeks go by and I feel terrible that I have ignored them so long. Adam's voice in the back of my head: "you can't wait to take care of your bees. Not next week, not next month, they need it now" didn't help. I even made up some sugar syrup one day in preparation for going out the following day. A week later, the sugar syrup was still sitting in the pan, growing mold.

I now realise that part of the problem is that I have too many hives. Maybe I should have stuck with just 2. Now, with 6, I know that any visit is going to take from 1 and 1/2 hours to 3, and that, because I haven't been out there for so long, it will be a lot of work.

So finally I decided I couldn't put them on the back burner any longer and headed out. My first impression was all was well with 5 of them as I saw bees busily coming and going, and many hanging out on the outside, staying cool, since the days are so warm.

Norman had been coming out and mowing back here, or I would probably not be able to see the hives at all after so long. I still needed to cut down some long stems growing up against the entrances, though.

Norman had been coming out and mowing back here, or I would probably not be able to see the hives at all after so long. I still needed to cut down some long stems growing up against the entrances, though.

I had brought some miticide strips with me to treat the hives for mites, and some sugar syrup and some pollen patties, but this was going to involve a lot of work, opening things up and taking frame after frame out... The two new hives looked like they were storing quite a bit of honey in their upper frames, and the queen was still busy laying eggs, but like Adam said a few weeks back, not too much evidence of stored pollen, so I added pollen patties to their hive.

The white crinkly area on the top is where honey is stored, and the yellowish cells in the center are brood cells.

The white crinkly area on the top is where honey is stored, and the yellowish cells in the center are brood cells.

This is one of the frames in Hive #1, one of the more established hives from last year. Notice how dark the wax is compared to the new hives in the pictures above. Apparently, the wax starts to darken over time because of all the months of build up of waste from brood etc.

This is one of the frames in Hive #1, one of the more established hives from last year. Notice how dark the wax is compared to the new hives in the pictures above. Apparently, the wax starts to darken over time because of all the months of build up of waste from brood etc.

The last few visits to the hives, Hive 1 was not laying down any extra honey in the honey super I put on it, while Hive 2 was filling their supers with honey. I was worried that by now Hive 2 would have eaten through all their honey, but they hadn't. Hive 1 still hadn't stored any extra honey in their honey super so I finally decided to take it off. Of the new hives, one looked like it was filling up quite a bit, so I put a super on that one, while the other one looked less full, so I didn't put a super on that one. By the time I was done, all the hives were different heights than when I arrived.

Compare with the picture at the top - some supers removed, some added, some left as is.

Compare with the picture at the top - some supers removed, some added, some left as is.

The queenless hive was in quite a state! It had grubs of some kind of insect feeding on their honey and on their pollen patty. So I removed the pollen patty. It was disgusting. I was going to add those bees to Hive 1, but then was unsure - would I be introducing something bad into Hive 1 because of the grubs? So in the end I just removed the grubs and put the lid back on.

Look what I found in the queenless hive! Yuck!

Look what I found in the queenless hive! Yuck!

My plan was to put a miticide strip in each hive, but unfortunately, I did not check that I had enough strips. I opened up the box and there were only 2. I was going to treat two hives and treat the rest when I could order more strips, but the instructions said you should treat all your hives at the same time. So I put the strips back in the box. While I was handling the strips, I had my right glove off to make it easier, and was standing about 2 feet away from one of the new hives. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a bee dive bombed me, landed on my exposed hand and stung me! I was not expecting it at all! I wiped it away, but could see the stinger was still embedded in my hand, pumping away, right over one of my veins! But since I still had my left glove on and was holding scissors and miticide bags, I couldn't do anything about it until I had put things down, walked away from the hive and taken off the glove. Then I pulled it out. Urrr!!! I was really upset. Stung again! And pointless too because in the end I wasn't going to put miticides in the hives today after all, so I needn't have removed my glove.

After getting stung, I finished up with what I was doing and then tidied up and went back to the house with everything, but I was feeling really jittery, foggy-brained and peculiar. This feeling lasted for 24 hours or so, as well as feeling groggy and out of it, plus my hand swelled up to twice its normal size! When I told my health practitioner, she was appalled (she is deadly allergic to bees). She said histamine can make you feel like that and that I should take some anti-histamine now. She was right. When I did, I began to think more clearly again. Took a few days for my hand to go down though. I was SO ANNOYED! We were leaving in a few days and I had SO MUCH TO DO!! Part of the reason I tend to put off working on the bees is that it takes 1 and1/2 hours out of my day at the very least, and this time it took 1 and 1/2 DAYS out of my busy schedule since I couldn't use my hand, and couldn't think clearly. And now I am going to be reluctant to work on the bees since the last two times I did, I got stung!

Normal left hand

Normal left hand

Right hand that got stung! The bee got me just above my thumb. Every time I looked I couldn't recognize my own hand!

Right hand that got stung! The bee got me just above my thumb. Every time I looked I couldn't recognize my own hand!

Adam explains how to extract honey

Saturday. Despite getting a honey extractor, I feel unsure what to do next to extract the honey. So I was pleased when an email arrived in my inbox from Adam Fuller at A&Z Apiaries, saying that the next Eastern CT Bee Association Meeting was coming up this Saturday, and he was going to demonstrate how to extract honey from honey supers. Yay!

There was only one problem. It was to start at 1:30 on Saturday afternoon at A&Z Apiaries in Hampton, and at 1:30 on Saturday afternoons, the Scott-Danner family are about an hour south, down in Ivoryton, selling our farm produce at the Ivoryton Farmers market.

Ivoryton Market first thing in the morning

Ivoryton Market first thing in the morning

Our stall

Our stall

So this required some planning. In the end, we decided that we would all drive down to the market at 10:00 as usual, but then at around 11:45, I pile the kids in one of the cars with less room for carrying farmers' market stuff, and drive them north to Portland (next to Middletown) and leave them to have a playdate with a friend, and leaving Norman back at the market with the other car. This would only work if I also took some of our farmers market gear because not all of it would fit in the car Norman would be driving when he packed up to go home. Then I continue on to Hampton for the meeting. This all worked pretty well, though I still managed to arrive late. Adam was already starting his demo by the time I arrived.

When I got there, it was about 95 degrees and 88% humidity and I was about ready to pass out. Adam and half the spectators were standing in the full sun. Sweat was pouring off him and he had to periodically break off from his presentation to go inside for a bottle of water. Fortunately, there was a little shade, and I retreated to it with some other people, even though it was farther away. He was explaining that the hives he was examining had very little stored pollen, I guess because there were not that many pollen producing flowers out right now. He suggested putting pollen patties in the hives right now to make up for the deficiency.

Bee demo. Adam is the guy in the white t-shirt, behind the bee hives. Each of those bee hives have bees.

Bee demo. Adam is the guy in the white t-shirt, behind the bee hives. Each of those bee hives have bees.

Then he showed us something I've never seen before. One problem with extracting honey is that the bees think its theirs (silly things) and aren't about to move aside so you can steal it from them. To get the bees to move away from the honey supers down into the hive body, he used something called BeeGone. What you do is, take off the hive lid, and put on one with felt attached along the inside, onto which he had sprayed a nasty bee repellent liquid that smells awful. The bees move downwards away from this as fast as they can. After 1/2 hour or so (or 5 mins for the demo) he takes it off again, and 99% of the bees are now gone from the supers. Then he can take frames of honey out and not have to worry about how to get the bees off. I was quite impressed! The only problem, he explained, is what to do with the smelly lids when you store them for the next time you need them. You don't want to store them in your garage or shed because they are really unpleasant!! Adam said he banned his to the back woods.

As it turned out, extracting honey was apparently extremely simple. He showed us a hive that had honey supers ready to extract, pulling out a frame filled with honey. For some reason, the frames he showed us were thinly filled and easy to pull out, unlike mine that are so thickly encrusted with wax cells and honey that last time I tried pulling them out, they were so heavy, they kept dropping back into the hive and squashing bees, leading to that bee attack (see July 4th Bee Blog). I wonder if that is because he had 10 frame hives and I have 8 frame hives. Eight frame hives seem to have more space, which allows the bees to build much further out from the frame.

 

Honey extracting demo. Adam just popped off the inner lid.

Honey extracting demo. Adam just popped off the inner lid.

Using the smoker

Using the smoker

Adam whipping out a honey-filled frame. Note how he is not bothering with gloves! I guess I got too interested after this - no pictures of honey filled frames.

Adam whipping out a honey-filled frame. Note how he is not bothering with gloves! I guess I got too interested after this - no pictures of honey filled frames.

For the next step, we all filed into the honey house, which was a room inside his A&Z Apiaries building. It was hot and humid in there too, and even more so when 30 of us filed into the room! The room was full of huge extractor equipment, but he had borrowed a small extractor that we amateurs were more likely to be using. It was so simple. He took a capping knife, scraped off the wax along the top like slicing a cake, and placed the frame in the extractor, then turned it on. You also put a bucket under the tap at the bottom and eventually honey starts to ooze down into it. That was it. Simple. Very sticky, though.

The disgusting looking yellow stuff in the pan on the table is just wax Adam sliced off the cells containing honey. He runs the knife down the frame as if cutting a slice of bread. Note the huge extractors all around us, though he is just using the small one in the center for his demo.

The disgusting looking yellow stuff in the pan on the table is just wax Adam sliced off the cells containing honey. He runs the knife down the frame as if cutting a slice of bread. Note the huge extractors all around us, though he is just using the small one in the center for his demo.

Then you can pour it into jars. What I wasn't too sure about was whether we are supposed to heat the honey so that it doesn't end up crystalizing.

Alright, I thought, I can do that! As soon as I get home....

Bee attack!

Thurs June 16th - my birthday! In my last blog (Blog June 13th), I mentioned that something was strange with Hive 4, the swarm Allan had caught for me on May 17th. It looked like they were queenless: they have not expanded beyond the first three frames they laid foundation down on when they did have a queen. The remaining frames are completely blank. So, today, when Allan swung by to return the critter cage he had borrowed to take the queens back with him from his previous visit several weeks before (see Blog entry May 18th), I asked him to take a look at what was going on in Hive 4. 

Allan agreed. He could not find the queen either, and he agreed that all the drone cells in the center of the frames and no worker cells strongly suggested they were queenless. We discussed what I could do about this. Looks like there were two options: I could either add this hive to Hive 1, which had swarmed several times and now didn't have enough workers to make enough honey, or I could buy a queen from Allan since he had started raising queens.

Then I asked if he could take a look at the honey supers on Hive 2 that the bees were filling with honey, as I had a few questions about it. I pulled out a few frames and honey began oozing all down the side of the hive, there was so much of it. But then he noticed something else: there was brood in the honey supers. In other words, they weren't just storing honey here, the queen was laying eggs here too, which is not good. "Huh! I should have used a queen excluder" I remarked. This is a flat piece of plastic that is perforated with slots. You place it flat down on top of the top hive box and then place the honey supers on that. The workers can fit through the slots, but the queen can't. This stops her from laying eggs in the honey you want to extract.

"But Adam told me not to bother with queen excluders, that's why I didn't do that" I complained.

"Hmm, well, might have been a good idea", said Allan calmly.

"So what happens now?" asked Norman, who had wandered over to watch the bee expert at work. Do we lose the honey in those frames?"

"No", said Allan, "you just wait for the brood in those cells to emerge.

In the meantime, I should get myself some queen excluders, I thought.

Tuesday June 29th.

The grass is over my head now, on the way to the bee hives!

The grass is over my head now, on the way to the bee hives!

Armed with a queen excluder, I came out to do my bee rounds, and to add the excluder to Hive 2. The other hives were doing well. I had added a second box to one of my new hives (the ones I got June 3rd) the week before because the bees had almost filled up all the frames.

Checking to see if they have started adding foundation to the frames in the upper box which I added last week. Today I added a pollen patty (lying on the top).

Checking to see if they have started adding foundation to the frames in the upper box which I added last week. Today I added a pollen patty (lying on the top).

Looks like they have (white stuff is wax).

Looks like they have (white stuff is wax).

Today I added a second box to the other new hive as well.

All hives now have two hive boxes, with the exception of the swarm hive which is not doing well since it seems to have lost its queen.

All hives now have two hive boxes, with the exception of the swarm hive which is not doing well since it seems to have lost its queen.

Then I checked the hive with the captured swarm. It still looked weird, but this time the drone cells were empty meaning they had emerged.

Empty drone brood cells in queenless hive. A worker bee is laying eggs, but workers can only lay drone cells (males). Only queens can lay female eggs.

Empty drone brood cells in queenless hive. A worker bee is laying eggs, but workers can only lay drone cells (males). Only queens can lay female eggs.

Then I tried to see about putting a queen excluder in the hive with the honey supers. I was a little nervous about this because it required 1) that I find the queen, 2) that I somehow manage to move the queen down to the bottom boxes, and 3) that I get the queen excluder set up properly. Clearly, the thing to do is put the excluder in before putting on the honey supers instead of the other way round.

Hive with 2 honey supers (the shorter boxes on the top)

Hive with 2 honey supers (the shorter boxes on the top)

Things did not go at all well. The top honey super was dripping with honey, and though I did remove one frame first, I made an initial mistake of not pushing the other frames into the available space before pulling them out. So I found I was grinding bees up against the next frame because they had built up a few thick ridges that jutted out towards the neighboring frames. I saw a few bees that had been squished, dripping in honey and rolling back down the frame, dead. Sigh. That was dumb.

I looked at frame after frame, and needless to say, could not find the queen. Some of the frames were very heavy, they were so full of honey! At one point, I could barely keep a hold of the frame with my gloved fingers at one end, and it slipped back into the hive box suddenly, squashing a bunch of bees completely flat. Instead of stopping and giving up for the time being, I kept trying it again and kept doing it again and again.

Now the bees were mad! They began swarming up my left arm. Normally I don't pay any attention to that, but this time I suddenly started to feel pain, and looking down, I noticed that the sleeve of my glove was not pulled up to my elbow, and several bees were succeeding in stinging me through my sweatshirt on my forearm, and there was nothing I could do about it since I was holding the frame. I had to wait until I had put everything back (carefully) before I could get them off! It really hurt too. I had never been stung like that before. Anyway, I had had enough! I couldn't find that queen, but that was it. I would have to have some help, because it was not working doing it this way.

This is how you want the cells with honey in the honey supers to look (on the right) - "capped" - you want to see the white wrinkly stuff before you remove the frame to extract the honey. When it has been capped by the bees and looks like that, it is ready.

This is how you want the cells with honey in the honey supers to look (on the right) - "capped" - you want to see the white wrinkly stuff before you remove the frame to extract the honey. When it has been capped by the bees and looks like that, it is ready.

This is not what you want to see - brood cells in the honey super.

This is not what you want to see - brood cells in the honey super.

Maybe about 5 bee stings...

Maybe about 5 bee stings...

So now I will have to go back at some point and try getting the queen excluder set up and NOT get stung this time. What a hassle!

Monday July 4th. My arm swelled up more until about Friday when I took some Benedryl. Not fun.

Checking the new hives. Are the queens out yet?

Sunday June 12th. I checked Hive 5 to see if the queen was out of the queen cage. She was. However, I was right, the cage had slipped down. But it was still attached to the frame - in fact, the bees had glued it on. They did a far better job than my masking tape. It was empty, so I peeled it off. I couldn't see the queen, but I was in a bit of a hurry, so I didn't look through the entire hive for her. I did notice that egg laying was going on, so I wasn't worried. Fed both new hives and Hives 3 and 4 with sugar syrup and closed them up.

Queen cage is upside down, near the bottom of the frame instead of at the top facing up, where I had put it. The queen is not in there. Other bees are in there, exploring.

Queen cage is upside down, near the bottom of the frame instead of at the top facing up, where I had put it. The queen is not in there. Other bees are in there, exploring.

Monday June 13th. I checked Hive 6 to see if the queen was out. She was. The cage had not dropped, and this time I saw her! The dot was really clear this time! (Reminder, I got marked queens in Hives 5 and 6). 

Already laying down foundation and storing honey, after only one week!

Already laying down foundation and storing honey, after only one week!

This one's great! You can see honey in the outer cells, cells with stored pollen (the light colored cells), cells with tiny eggs, AND, the queen with a dot on her back, to the right/center! Notice how she is surrounded by her subjects, all facing her.

This one's great! You can see honey in the outer cells, cells with stored pollen (the light colored cells), cells with tiny eggs, AND, the queen with a dot on her back, to the right/center! Notice how she is surrounded by her subjects, all facing her.

The next frame over, you can see the queen had been busy there about a week previously because these cells have larvae in them (eggs have hatched). The white shapes you see in the center cells are larvae, and some have been capped already. Note the queen cage still attached at the top. The queen would have started laying right here after emerging from the cage.

The next frame over, you can see the queen had been busy there about a week previously because these cells have larvae in them (eggs have hatched). The white shapes you see in the center cells are larvae, and some have been capped already. Note the queen cage still attached at the top. The queen would have started laying right here after emerging from the cage.

Closer view - you can now see the larvae pretty clearly - little curled up white things at the bottom of the cells in the center/right.

Closer view - you can now see the larvae pretty clearly - little curled up white things at the bottom of the cells in the center/right.

I also checked Hive 4 (the one from the captured swarm) and noticed it was still only occupying 3 frames or so, and there were still not too many bees. When I looked at each frame, I didn't find the queen, and it looked like there were a lot of drone cells, suggesting only workers are laying and that the queen is missing. Hmmm. Wonder if that is what is going on. I will need to ask Allan.

Time to go get some MORE bees!

Friday, June 3rd. The day the bees I ordered arrive at Adam's A&Z Apiaries in Hampton. When I checked his website at 8:00 that morning, Adam had already indicated that the bees had arrived. All customers who had bees on order needed to get there between 8 am and 8 pm that day, or from 8 am to 12:00 the following day. If you couldn't make it during that time interval, said Adam, you would lose your order. It was too long to expect bees to wait around. They get stressed out, being stuffed in a box for so long. They had been transported up to CT from GA and they needed to be introduced to their new homes as soon as possible. 

It was a little tricky. Despite the sky being completely overcast, and the day rainy, this was also the scheduled day for the twins' school beach trip to Hammonasset State Park. The school in their wisdom decided not to go with the rain date, which was Monday June 6th (which turned out to be an absolutely beautiful sunny day - I can attest to this because I am actually writing this on the 6th). The field trip was to end at about 2:00, so I thought perhaps I could head up to Hampton after we got home. However, it would only work if Norman was also home from work since it would not do to drive for two hours (one each way) with the girls in the car, with several thousand bees also in the car on the way home. But for Norman to be home, he would have to work that morning, which meant he would not be able to join the beach trip. So after a lot of negotiating and discussing, we decided he would go to work, I would take the girls to the beach, and when we got back he would come back from work and I would go to get the bees. Saturday would not work to get the bees because the girls had a gymnastics recital at 12:00, and a birthday party to go to afterwards, plus the food shopping to get...

When we got home from the beach, I was too tired to contemplate driving up to Hampton and back. But I heard Adam's voice in my head: "YOU NEED TO TAKE CARE OF YOUR BEES! THEY WON'T WAIT AROUND UNTIL YOU ARE READY", so I had a long nap, and set off in the middle of rush hour, the worst time of day.

When I got there an hour later, Adam was sitting behind his table with the order forms, and his assistant against the wall, looking exhausted themselves. Most of the boxes of bees were gone. Looked like it had been a long day.

Adam (right) and his assistant, waiting for the last few customers to arrive

Adam (right) and his assistant, waiting for the last few customers to arrive

Down to the last few bee packages. (If you are not sure what a bee package is, look back at a previous blog: Visit to A&Z Apiaries.)

Down to the last few bee packages. (If you are not sure what a bee package is, look back at a previous blog: Visit to A&Z Apiaries.)

Each box (package)  full of bees and one queen.

Each box (package)  full of bees and one queen.

"And here's Jennifer" says Adam as I roll in, 2 hours before the deadline for that day. They get my 2 bee packages, the top marked with an "M" to indicate that the queens are marked with a dot. (No more hunting for that darned queen, or at least I hope not!) Most of the packages do not have marked queens. I specifically asked for mine to be marked. I also ask Adam for an extra hive kit and one more frame. "One frame?" he looks puzzled. I explain that I needed the additional hive kit because I had taken his recommendation to call Allan to help me catch the swarm, and he had caught it, which meant that one of the two hives I had bought from him previously was now occupied. Then I explained about finding the one hive knocked over and one frame dragged away from the hive while the other one was completely missing.

"WHERE DO YOU LIVE?", he asked, his voice going up several decibels when he gets excited. "Middletown", "MIDDLETOWN? IT COULD HAVE BEEN A BEAR! THERE HAD BEEN A FEW BEAR SIGHTINGS IN MIDDLETOWN YOU KNOW!" He argued that a raccoon would not be able to knock the hive over, and his assistant agreed, "Oh no, not likely to do that, you're right, not strong enough". They just lift off the lid and take frames out, Adam continued. But, I argued, it was very light, so I'm sure a raccoon could have, and if it was a bear, wouldn't it have tried to have a go at the other hives too? Adam didn't have anything to say to that. So I still think it is one or more raccoons. Although, I still can't explain why one frame would be completely missing.

"You look exhausted", I observed. "NAH, NOT REALLY. YOU KNOW WHAT? WHAT I AM REALLY LOOKING FORWARD TO IS GETTING ALL THESE BEES OUTTA HERE!" he said, waving the bee packages away with a sweep of his arms. "I'VE BEEN WORKING ON GETTING THESE BEE ORDERS IN SINCE JANUARY AND I AM READY TO BE DONE WITH IT!" But then he said he shouldn't complain because he got to take 2 weeks off in February in a tropical forest in Puerto Rico, thanks to selling all these bees.

Once the bees were packed safely in the car, along with the extra hive and frame, I was ready to go. Last year, when I got my first bees here, there were a ton of loose bees flying all over the shed. It was a little disconcerting. This time, there were a few, but it wasn't the large cloud of bees I remember having to walk into last year. Also, last year, some of the loose bees were part of my bee packages (they had somehow got outside the box), so when they put the box in my car, the loose bees followed them in. I had the very unnerving experience of driving home with loose bees flying around in the car with me! It turned out to be alright - only one visited my end of the car, and only for about 10 seconds, before returning to its fellow bees in the box in the back. This year, I saw only one loose bee and it stuck to the outside of the box the entire trip home. 

Two bee packages full of bees behind my driver's seat as I drive home!

Two bee packages full of bees behind my driver's seat as I drive home!

By the time I got home it was about 7:00 pm. Norman had kindly moved all the concrete blocks and one hive box back to the apiary for me, which was great! Didn't fancy starting to do that as soon as I got home. All I needed to do was take the second hive box and the bees, plus my gear, and get them settled in their new homes.

Reached their destination!

Reached their destination!

Alex wants to watch. Unfortunately, Daddy's voice emerged from the cart where I have my bee gear, informing her that she needed to come in and go to bed now. (There was a Walkie Talkie in there).

Alex wants to watch. Unfortunately, Daddy's voice emerged from the cart where I have my bee gear, informing her that she needed to come in and go to bed now. (There was a Walkie Talkie in there).

I was sure it was going to be much easier this time. Each box contained a small cage with a queen in it, together with a few attendants, a can with sugar syrup, and 3 holes in the bottom for the bees to feed on it, and in the rest of the box, several hundred bees (not sure how many exactly). Last year, I couldn't remember all the details Adam had told us about how to get the bees from the box to the new hive, and ended up spending hours trying to figure out how to get the queen out and the can of sugar syrup out without everything coming out at once. I'd remembered Adam prying off the piece of wood on the top and then up ending it in one quick move, placing the hole (where the can had been) over the hole in the inner lid of the hive. But when I had tried to remove either the queen cell or the can of sugar syrup, thousands of bees started pouring out. Since I had not managed to get a beekeeper's suit and gloves last year at this point, this was a little alarming.

This year, I had taken excellent notes at the Bee School in February, so I thought I would be able to do it right this time. I pried off the piece of wood, and thunked the box down on the ground. This had the effect of knocking most of the bees down to the bottom of the box. The metal disk at one end of the queen cage was visible now that I had removed the piece of wood, so I quickly pulled it out and replaced the wood. A few bees did swarm out with it, but most of them stayed behind. So far so good. I then proceeded to tape the queen cage to the top of one of the frames near the feeder, as specifically indicated in my notes. "Be careful not to tape over the hole on the other side of the sugar plug" I then read, and sure enough, I had taped over it! The queen is expected to take a few days to eat her way through the sugar plug at one end of the cage, which meant it would take her a few days to release herself (unless the dumb beekeeper tapes over the hole). In the meantime, she is safe from being attacked by the bees in the package who don't yet know her, until several days have passed. Once she gets out, they now are used to her and accept her as their queen. So, once I had the queen cage taped in, it was now time to empty the bees into the hive.

A queen cage. The candy end is on the left. Once I fasten the cage into the hive, she and other bees will eat a hole through the candy plug and she will be able to get out. There are some other bees in the cage with her - her attendants.

A queen cage. The candy end is on the left. Once I fasten the cage into the hive, she and other bees will eat a hole through the candy plug and she will be able to get out. There are some other bees in the cage with her - her attendants.

Queen cage being taped to one of the frames.

Queen cage being taped to one of the frames.

Frame with queen cage is then placed back in the hive.

Frame with queen cage is then placed back in the hive.

Last year, I had tried to pour the bees into the hive, but only some of them poured out. The remainder stayed behind. In the end I had to prop the box upside down (with the opening facing down), over the hive with one end of the box propped on the can of sugar syrup. Then they gradually melted downwards into the hive. But the problem with this method was 1. this was not the way you were supposed to do it, according to my notes, and, 2. what if it rained during the night?

This time, my notes said to put the inner hive lid on first, then put an empty hive box on top. Then take out the can of sugar syrup and place the box of bees open end down over the hole, inside the empty box. Then put the outer lid on. Sounded very simple, and this would solve the rain problem. Except, of course, it was not so simple - the can is completely impossible to remove! You cannot get a hold of the edge to pull it out, and all I was doing was irritating bees, not to mention myself! When I did finally get it out (and did another thump to get bees down to the bottom of the box), I turned it over and got it over the hole, but I still had the problem I had last year - all the bees started pouring out. There didn't seem any point in placing it completely down over the hole if half the bees are now scurrying around the box. So I ended up propping one end of the (package) box up on the little disk - bent to make it thicker - that I had removed from the queen cage so that they could still fit under the box and not get squashed, and also work their way down into the hive.

I then put an empty hive box on top, and turned the bee package box upside down in that. Then put on the lid and left the bees to explore and work their way down into the hive, where they would be able to detect the queen.

I then put an empty hive box on top, and turned the bee package box upside down in that. Then put on the lid and left the bees to explore and work their way down into the hive, where they would be able to detect the queen.

I did the same to the other bee package in the other hive box, and I was done. I had already put sugar syrup in the feeders, so they were ready to go. It is now 9:00 and Norman turns up to see if I'm done yet. Took much less time and less stress than last year! Tomorrow I remove the top box and empty cages.

All done! You can tell which ones are the new hives because they have a brown band running along the middle - this is the inner lid underneath the empty hive box.

All done! You can tell which ones are the new hives because they have a brown band running along the middle - this is the inner lid underneath the empty hive box.

A Good Day!

Friday. Today, I went to visit the bees, and there were no swarms, no queen cells, no raccoon or bear visits, in fact, no disasters of any kind. How nice!

Four happy hives and one happy beekeeper (taking the picture).

Four happy hives and one happy beekeeper (taking the picture).

A Visit from an Experienced Beekeeper

Wednesday. Today Allan came back and answered all of my questions and concerns while going through my three bee hives. He's been a beekeeper for 30 years or so, so he has a tendency to just dive right in, so I asked if he could hold back and watch me working the hives so he could see if my technique was okay and make suggestions.

Even though he was worked with bees for years and has several hives of his own, you could tell he was getting a thrill looking through someone else's hives. This was great. I was worried I was going to bore him since he has seen all this before... But no. And unlike Adam, he is very quiet and calm with the bees, moving very slowly.

Allan about to look at the frames in the bottom box of Hive 2

Allan about to look at the frames in the bottom box of Hive 2

Showing me how to use the hive tool to pry the frames apart

Showing me how to use the hive tool to pry the frames apart

Looking for the queen

Looking for the queen

First we checked the new hive (Hive 4): my swarm he had caught for me the day before (see last blog). We found the queen and all looked well, and after I gave them some sugar syrup, we closed them up and turned to one of the more established hives.

Hive 2: This was the one that had had the 13 queen cells 2 weeks previously. My worry was that I might have moved the queen to the new hive I created from moving frames with queen cells to a new hive box. However, the last time I had looked in this hive, you may remember that I had spotted a queen, which was a relief. However, I couldn't see any brood cells, which was worrying. But Allan also found the queen and pointed out the brood cells. He held up one of the frames so the sun shone down into the cells, and you could just see a tiny speck at the bottom of several cells in the center of that frame. Those were eggs.

If you look carefully, you can see a little speck at the base of the cells in the center of this picture. Those are eggs.

If you look carefully, you can see a little speck at the base of the cells in the center of this picture. Those are eggs.

The queen is in the center of this frame. Allen pointed her out. Can you find her?

The queen is in the center of this frame. Allen pointed her out. Can you find her?

He also found another queen cell! I had been telling him about how I had taken out all the queen cells to prevent a swarm a couple of weeks earlier, and he said, "The next time you have 13 queen cells, please let me know!" I said I would. Wish I had known! So when we saw that new queen cell, I told him he could have it if he wanted it. He did! He got his pen knife out, carefully carved it out, and placed it in the box I store all my bee gear in. "This hive was about to swarm again" he commented. Really? How many swarms can a single hive have? The books made it sound like they only do it once. You learn something new every day with bees. 

Allan was quite impressed with how the hive looked and how many bees there were, and they seemed to be performing all their functions as they should - lots of brood and honey, etc. He suggested it might be time to add a honey super. This is a more shallow hive box that you stick on top that the bees start storing their honey in when they have excess. This is the box from which you get your honey for your own use! So this was exciting! I was thinking that since the hives swarmed already, they may not have enough workers to make extra honey. But if Allan thought they were ready for a super, I might as well put one on! I ran back to the house and got a couple of supers.

I had brought some QuickStrips of formic acid - a miticide - to insert into the hive to treat the hive for veroa mites, so we put those in on top of the lower box. When we put them on, it smelled awful! The bees backed away from them as far as they could! They don't like it, and it can exact a toll on brood, apparently, but it reduces the number of mites and if you don't treat them for mites, the hive can die. We put the upper box back on, and the honey super on top of that. Then we closed it up.

Moving on to Hive 1, I opened it up and was taking out frames when I asked Allan why he didn't wear gloves. I noticed he was pulling frames out with his bare hands and never getting stung. I can understand why you would not want to use gloves - they make it so hard to do anything, and mine are too big, and the floppy ends are always getting caught under the frame edges. He suggested I try taking the gloves off. So I nervously removed my gloves and it was so much easier getting the frames out. "Just nudge the bees aside gently" he said, and I thought I was but I immediately got stung, twice! Ahh! So much for that idea! I quickly put my gloves back on!

While we were looking through this hive, Allan found another queen cell! He got his knife and began to chisel it out, although it was a little more tricky, because it was on the side. He got it out and stuck it in his shirt pocket, but while he was doing this, he realized that a bee crawling on him was a queen! He looked at the two queen cells he had taken out so far, to see if one had hatched from there, but they hadn't. I ran to the house to get the girls' Critter Cage so he could put the queen in there. He put her in with a few attendant bees, but was puzzled. Was she the hive queen, or was she a newly hatched queen from another queen cell somewhere in the hive? So we then had to got through the entire hive to find the queen, and to find an empty queen cell. We found both. So the one he had found must have just hatched (I don't quite remember how he knew one was newer than the other). The fact that he had found her when he was removing the unhatched queen cell suggested she may have been on her way to destroy that new queen, and we had got her just before she did! That would also have meant another swarm!

Bees in the Critter Cage. The queen is the bigger one in the middle. They are going home with Allan.

Bees in the Critter Cage. The queen is the bigger one in the middle. They are going home with Allan.

One other thing Allan pointed out was that I had been putting the inner lids on upside down. I told him that I got that from watching Adam Fuller at the beekeeper demonstrations he does. He laughed, "that makes sense! Adam always puts his inner lids on upside down for some reason, and is training a whole bunch of beekeepers to do the same! But when you it that way it squishes bees! Adam always has a bunch of squashed bees on the inner lid when he opens up his hives!" Hmmm, he has a point there, I thought. I always have flattened bees when I open up my hives and had wondered about that! "If you put the lid this way round, then there is space for the bees on the top" he explained, "and they don't get squashed!"

We put the formic acid strips in the middle, put the second box on, and a new honey super on top and closed it up. Finally, we looked at Hive #3, the one I had put together from frames with queen cells from Hives 1 and 2 back when I was foolishly thinking I could stop a swarm from happening. He found the queen straight away. But then he took a closer look. He pointed out her torn wings and lack of fuzz on her back. "This looks like an old queen", he said. He pointed out a newly hatched worker bee. She was covered in fuzz. New bees still have a lot of fuzz on them. Older bees are more bald. "Oh, really?" I said, "then what I feared was true - I DID move the queen from hive 2 to this new hive by mistake back when I set up this hive!" But what was really strange was that all the queen cells were empty, but the queen was not any of those queens, it was the old queen from hive 2. Did the old queen kill all the young queens? Did they kill each other? What happened in there? We looked at all the empty queen cells sadly and I said, "what a waste of new queens!" reflecting what I was sure Allan was thinking.

I asked Allan if that might have been why the bees in Hive 2 had been acting rather agitated the day after I moved the old queen out. "Probably", he said. "But it looks like they had some extra queen cells and just replaced her", he said.

So the upshot was, Hive 1 had a new queen and was doing well; hive 2 had a new queen and was doing well; hive 3 had hive 2's old queen and they were doing well too (and they too had brood cells which I could recognize now that Allan had pointed them out), also it had recovered from it's raccoon attack; and the newest hive, hive 4 had a new queen too. This was odd since it was a captured swarm, and I thought it was the old queen that took off with the swarm. This is one reason Allan thought a single hive may have swarmed more than once.

For the first time in about a month, I felt a sense of calm. It was nice to know that I had mostly been doing everything right, and all the hives looked healthy and normal. Allan was happy too, as he drove off with his new queen and 2 queen cells. It had been a very interesting 2 1/2 hours.

Another swarm!!

Tuesday May 17th. After the incident with the raccoons (?) on Friday, I decided to visit the apiary every day, just to make sure no other unexpected things happened while I wasn't looking. Sunday and Monday everything was fine, Tuesday I made up some sugar syrup and took it out to feed the bees. I was getting ready to open up the small hive (most recent one) when I happened to glance up.... and there at exactly the same spot as last week was another swarm, hanging on the same fork in the tree! Really? Another one?? When was this going to end?

Tuesday May 17th. No, this is not last week's picture of a swarm, this is another one!

Tuesday May 17th. No, this is not last week's picture of a swarm, this is another one!

Tuesday May 17th. Swarm at exactly the same spot as last week! Look towards the top-left.

Tuesday May 17th. Swarm at exactly the same spot as last week! Look towards the top-left.

And again, I had noticed a bunch of bees exploring the empty hives in the garage all afternoon, so I should have suspected as much! But I had talked myself into thinking that last week's swarm was the only one I would need to deal with (for some reason), so I didn't pay them much attention. When I went in and told Norman, he wasn't surprised. "Well, I thought as much - bees in the garage again..."

"Well, maybe I will give the beekeeper Adam recommended a call", I thought, halfheartedly. I was already resigned to losing these bees too. I left a message, and then went on with my bee duties, ignoring the swarm, pretending it wasn't there. To my surprise, he called back and asked for details, and said he could come right over as he had a spare half hour. Really? That would be fantastic!

Allen, who used to be the official bee inspector for CT at one time, arrived with a veil and saw, and nothing else (no gloves). He took a look at the scene and began to hack down branches. Norman came down to watch too. We were kind of amazed that as Allen sawed away and pulled out branches, the hanging mass of bees wobbled and bounced up and down, and didn't seem to mind.

Allen, hacking away at the bushes to gain access to the shrub that the swarm was in.

Allen, hacking away at the bushes to gain access to the shrub that the swarm was in.

After pulling out long thin branches of autumn olive and a wild rose (both invasive species, oops - Allen is an arborist too), he was able to get to the base of the branch the swarm was on. Norman and I pulled out branches, and then Allen suggested I go get the empty hive box I had waiting. We placed it under the branch with the swarm, and he bent the branch down, down, down, until it was about 2 feet above the box. Then with one swift motion, he knocked the branch hard, and the mass of bees flopped down onto the hive box in a loud "WHOOFBZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzz"

Getting ready to WHACK the branch!

Getting ready to WHACK the branch!

Mass of bees just about to fall...

Mass of bees just about to fall...

SPLAT!

SPLAT!

"Huh! Well that was easy", says one of the bees. Didn't even have to do a thing, and here we are in our new home!"

"Huh! Well that was easy", says one of the bees. Didn't even have to do a thing, and here we are in our new home!"

After a lot of exclaiming in excitement, I asked, "So what happens now? What if they decide they don't actually like this home? Will they swarm somewhere else?" "Not usually", said Allen. "In fact you can see they are already finding it to their liking. See how they are sticking their abdomen up in the air and wagging it? They are giving off 'come hither' pheremones. This tells any other bees flying around that were part of the swarm that the have found a suitable home". Sure enough, I looked closely, and they did have their buts in the air while vibrating their wings. If you look closely at the above picture, you may be able to see some of them doing that. If you are not sure, look along the front edge of the top of the hive where they are easier to see.

"You can now move it to where you want it to be", Allen said. I picked the spot between the two big hives, and Adam carried it over.

Where the new hive will live. Still need to get some cinder blocks to prop it on, and when they are all in, I will put the lids on.

Where the new hive will live. Still need to get some cinder blocks to prop it on, and when they are all in, I will put the lids on.

After we moved it, there were still some bees flying around where the swarm had been hanging, looking like they were wondering where their colony had gone. Then Allen pointed out that there were a few starting to attach to the same part of the branch again. "Should I move the hive box under there so they can find it?" "Oh, no, they'll figure it out" he said, totally unconcerned.

I asked him how it happened that this swarm went to exactly the same spot. He said they could probably smell that bees had been there previously, and there may even have been wax laid down, and that would be attractive to bees away from home.

Swarm gone.

Swarm gone.

The swarm bees have now moved down into the hive. Soon I can put the lid on, when all the bees flying around have found it.

The swarm bees have now moved down into the hive. Soon I can put the lid on, when all the bees flying around have found it.

I couldn't help thinking how you never know what's going to happen. I used to have 2 hives a couple of months ago, I ordered two more packages of bees from Adam, to come in May or June so I could have four hives, and now I already had four hives! And the packages I ordered? I'm going to end up with 6!!! Help!

At the end of last week's blog, I mentioned that I was full of questions about my other hives, and wished I could ask an experienced beekeeper. I had in fact called Allen the day before the swarm to ask if he could come out and look through my hives with me and let me know how I was doing and if everything was okay. He very kindly offered to come on Wednesday. His coming today, Tuesday, was not originally the plan. In any case, he only had a short time today, so we kept the plan for him to come round the following day and go through the hives with me. We agreed on 10:00 am. This was absolutely fantastic! Can't wait to tell you what he says!

And as if that wasn't enough...!

Friday May 13th. I had checked on the bees (without opening them up) on Tuesday and Wednesday this week, but had been super busy with preparing beds for crops, so hadn't had a chance to open them up and see what was going on in there, and which one was likely to have swarmed. Then on Friday, I opened up the garage after lunch, heading back to the field to work, when there was one purposeful-looking scout bee. Hmmm... After my experience on Monday, I decided it might be a good idea to go check the aviary again. I had been feeling an urgency to check them for a day or so but hadn't got round to it. Glad I did go and look in on them. You will not believe what I found this time!

Friday. What on earth happened here??

Friday. What on earth happened here??

Hive 3 was toppled over on its side, frames strewn everywhere! Disaster! What happened? To my amazement, bees were still attached to the frames as if nothing had happened.

I ran back to the garage to get my bee gear, came back and began putting it all back together. But after putting the frames back in, there seemed to be frames missing. I walked a little way and found another one. It looked in terrible condition. 

This one was about 15 feet away. What a mess!

This one was about 15 feet away. What a mess!

I put this one back in too, assuming the bees would take care of repairing all the damage. But there was still a gap where one more frame should be. I looked a little further out in the field surrounding the aviary, but could not find it anywhere! How strange!

At first I thought maybe the wind had blown it over. But then I saw that the grass was flattened down around the frame that had been a little distance away. Plus, on closer inspection, it looked like it had been licked. If you look at that picture, I thought all that wetness was rain, but it hadn't rained recently. So it was more likely that something had licked the cells full of honey and brood, and left a mess of honey behind. Later, I looked at that frame again and noticed claw marks (see lower right)!

I put everything back and placed a heavy weight on top! Should have done that to begin with! I put a weight on the other two hives - the large ones - though those two had been left unscathed.

The other hives were OK.

The other hives were OK.

There! Try getting into that!

There! Try getting into that!

Not a moment too soon! About an hour later, the skies opened up and it poured with rain! Had I not gone out to check the hives when I did, they would have been drenched, and that would have probably been it for them!

I tried to think when this could have happened and what it was that did this. I decided they had probably not been lying there exposed for more than 15 hours, probably happened overnight or yesterday evening, and my best guess is raccoons. Adam had warned that bears are becoming more of a problem in CT for beekeepers these days, but I had a hard time believing there were bears around here.... I hope... I checked my bee books again. One said that if frames are missing it is likely bears. O-oh! But the other one said that raccoons are able to remove the lids of hives if there is no weight on it, especially ones that are lower to the ground. Then once they've removed the lid, they are capable of pulling out a frame. Then they drag it along the ground a little way from the hive and start feeding on the brood and honey. The guard bees give up on them once they are a distance away, and fly or crawl back to the hive and leave the raccoon alone. Judging by the state of the frame that was a little way away from the hive, and the fact that it was a little way away, it does sound like raccoons. But, can raccoons remove an entire frame on their own? This is where I need someone with a drone (not the bee kind, the human kind!). They could fly it around our meadows and see if they spot it anywhere.

Saturday May 14th. The next day I had a moment to open up Hive 3 again (the one that got attacked) and Hive 2 (the one I thought might have generated the swarm). Hive 3 did not look great. However, I SPOTTED A QUEEN! If you remember, this was the one made up of frames with queen cells that I had removed from Hives 1 and 2. All the queen cells were open, so apparently, the surviving queens must have fought it out. But I was also worried that if this hive did have a queen by the time the raccoons attacked, the queen could have been lost. But I spotted her straight away! So that's good. However, I did not see any brood cells or any evidence of the queen laying eggs. Was this because it hasn't been long since this new queen has been at it? Or is it because they are busy recovering from the raccoon attack? Or something else? I wish I knew!!!

I then opened up Hive 2. I looked at every single frame. And, once again, I SPOTTED A QUEEN THIS TIME! If you remember, that crazy week that I was desperately looking through the two large hives for the queen, I could not find her. So I was quite excited when I spotted her. However, she was in the top box. Wasn't she supposed to be in the bottom one laying eggs? Why did I do that box reversal thing? Wasn't the idea that I would be moving the queen down to the bottom box and she would feel like she had more room to lay eggs? I wish I knew what was going on. Also, this hive had no brood cells either. At least, I couldn't spot any. All I saw was lots of honey and stored pollen. And they had pretty much ignored the blank frames I had put in two weeks ago. Plus, there were still a lot of bees, so many that I changed my opinion about this hive being the one that generated the swarm. I gave all 3 hives sugar syrup, and when I opened Hive 1 up (just to give sugar syrup, I didn't have time to check the frames) it looked like it had fewer bees, so maybe that was the one that swarmed.

I so much wish I could get an experience beekeeper to come out and explain what might be going on and if everything is fine. After all that meddling I did a few weeks ago, I am feeling much less confident about the state of affairs.