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!