OH NO! Not a swarm! Really??

Monday. I was busy trying to catch up with all the bed preparation for the vegetables now the weather is nice, plus I had to make a trip all the way to Bethany CT to Gentle Giant Farms to pick up some materials they had ordered for me, so I decided to wait until Tuesday to check the bees. This plan was overturned when I rushed out into the garage to jump in the car to get the girls from school... and I found scouting bees in the garage. The garage door had been standing open all afternoon, and there were about 20 very purposeful bees checking out all the empty beehives I have stacked on the shelves there. The minute I saw them I thought "swarm"! I turned around, put on my boots, stepped out again and marched straight off to the beehives. And sure enough, there was a swarm in the branches behind the beehives. Darn!!

  Monday May 9th.  I tried to take a picture of the scout bees in our garage, looking for a new home, but they are too small to see. Can you see any?

Monday May 9th. I tried to take a picture of the scout bees in our garage, looking for a new home, but they are too small to see. Can you see any?

  Monday May 9th.  The dark shape attached to the branch is a mass of bees, or a swarm.

Monday May 9th. The dark shape attached to the branch is a mass of bees, or a swarm.

 Close up of the swarm. They form a tight ball by clustering together and clinging to each other with their feet.

Close up of the swarm. They form a tight ball by clustering together and clinging to each other with their feet.

When a swarm happens, the old queen leaves with a large number of the colony of bees in the hive, and they find a branch (usually) to hang out on for a while. A new queen that emerged from a queen cell (that Jennifer missed, apparently) stays behind with the rest of the colony. This means, I still have bees living in the hive, but less than I had before they swarmed. This is how bees "reproduce" to make new colonies. Good for the bees, but bad for the beekeeper - it means I probably will not get any honey from them this year since there are not as many worker bees. Not good!

The swarming bees then send out some bee scouts to fly around everywhere trying to find a good place for the swarm to move into. They return to the swarm and transfer the information they have gathered. Many scouts leave and return for several hours. The bees have a way of determining which of the various places found sounds like the best bet, and once the decision is made, they all leave in swarm to this new location. With bees checking out my empty hives in our garage, were they planning to move in there??

Unfortunately for them, I had to close the garage door and leave to go pick up the girls from school. I had to pick Norman up from work too, because he had decided to ride his bike to work on this nice sunny day after so much rain, and while his bike sat in his office, it mysteriously sprang a leak and he didn't have a repair kit. I told him the bad news about the swarm on our way home. "Oh no!" he said. "Now what?"

When we got home, I went and checked - swarm still there - then got out my two bee books and read up on swarms. There was a lot of complicated instructions on how to climb up to the branch where the swarm is hanging and cut it off, but warnings about not falling off the ladder while you are doing so, and that the average time they stayed in a swarm was a few hours, though some can be there for 3 days or so if they can't find a good home. So better move fast!

I took a ladder out there as it didn't seem that high off the ground. "Don't attempt this if the swarm is more than 10' off the ground" one book warned. When I got the ladder out there, it suddenly seemed much higher off the ground than I thought. Maybe 10 feet.

 You can see the swarm, about 10 or more feet off the ground, with Norman trying to get a good picture. Ladder clearly too short.

You can see the swarm, about 10 or more feet off the ground, with Norman trying to get a good picture. Ladder clearly too short.

OK, I thought, I can't do this by myself! I need help! I called Adam "Adam?" "YEP?" "Guess what? I've got a swarm!" "HA HA, YOU AND EVERY OTHER BEEKEEPER IN CT!" "Really?" "YEP! THIS IS THE WORST YEAR FOR SWARMS THAT I HAVE EVER SEEN!" It turned out I'd caught him on his cell just as he was climbing out of his car at one of his aviaries, checking out all the swarms he was having. First nice day after a week of rain and those bees got busy! He gave me the name of an experienced beekeeper nearer to me who might be able to help me collect the swarm and put it in one of my empty hives. I called him, and also called some friends who had just started keeping bees, and were under the supervision of an experienced beekeeper. Neither answered, so all I could do was leave messages.

OK, I thought, this is not worth stressing about. If I lose the swarm, I lose it. I nearly killed myself the week before last, trying to prevent a swarm, it had happened anyway, there is only so much you can do. No one available to help right now, maybe the swarm will stick around for a little while, so I guess I will take the girls to their gymnastics class and hope for the best.

When I got home after the gymnastics class, it was 7:00pm and the swarm was gone! No!! I knew as soon as I walked into our garage and those scouts were gone. I walked over to the aviary, and sure enough, no swarm. They had not moved into my hives in the garage (phew!), but I had put an empty hive out in the apiary in the hope the scouts would find it and move in on their own. But that was empty too. So who knows where they ended up. But now there will be no one to give them sugar syrup or mite treatments, so it is doubtful they will survive (according to Adam).

I don't know which hive swarmed. I have this feeling it might be Hive 2 since that was the one with the 13 queen cells, but I will have to open it up and check (whether there are fewer bees). At least I felt better that it hadn't just happened to me! Even Adam had swarms.

That evening we heard back from our friends who knew the beekeeper with his contact info, and we heard back from the beekeeper Adam had recommended the next day. Too late. Sigh.

 Swarm gone!

Swarm gone!

Rain, rain, and more rain...

Monday May 2nd. After last week's hard labor with the bees, this week I am exhausted! It has been raining since yesterday, and the weather forecast predicts rain all week. Not sure how much foraging the bees can do when it is raining almost non-stop, so I made up some sugar syrup and went out to the hives to top up their feeders when the rain was a light drizzle. My new hive, the one I put together last Thursday from the frames with queen cells (Hive 3, or "the Small Hive") still had most of their sugar syrup, while the two big, older hives had completely emptied theirs. I was surprised that the small hive still had most of theirs! Did that suggest that there weren't enough bees in there? Should I have transferred more? There were certainly bees feeding in it, but not as many as I usually see in the older hives.

The bees in Hive 2 (the hive that had so many queen cells) seemed a little edgy today. Was this because it was raining, or because I messed up last week when I spent hours moving frames in and out?

Thursday May 5th. Still raining. Went out to feed the bees sugar syrup again. Once again, the feeders for Hives 1 and 2 were empty and needed a complete refill while the level of the syrup in Hive 3's feeder had hardly dropped, like on Monday. And, like on Monday, Hive 2 was irritable.

 

 T hursday May 5th . Hive 2, just topped up with sugar syrup on a break in the rain. It was a cold day, and the bees were not out.

Thursday May 5th. Hive 2, just topped up with sugar syrup on a break in the rain. It was a cold day, and the bees were not out.

 Thursday May 5th. Hives 3 (left) and 1.

Thursday May 5th. Hives 3 (left) and 1.

Sunday May 8th. At the end of last week's blog entry, I was wondering how new queens fight it out since I had gone and put 10 queen cells in Hive 3. Adam had suggested I only put 2 or so in, but I had had enough of gouging out bee pupae, so I had just stuck them all in and hoped for the best. While looking through my "The Backyard Beekeeper" book (by Kim Flottum), I came upon a section where she explains what happens. Apparently,

"The fist queen to emerge destroys as many of the still-developing queens as she can find, eliminating the competition. She does this by chewing through the side of the queen cell and stinging the developing queen pupa inside. Sometimes two or three queens emerge and fight to the death, often with help from the workers.

"For two or three days the victorious queen continues to mature, feeding herself or being fed by house bees. Orientation flights near the hive begin after a week or so. The young, unmated monarch needs to learn the landmarks near the hive so that she can find her way back after a mating flight. Once she is comfortable with navigation, weather permitting, she starts mating. Queens hardly ever mate with the drones from their own colony (inbreeding could cause genetic problems in offspring). Instead, they take flight in places away from their respective colonies. Drones and queens gather in places away from their respective colonies, called drone congregation areas, mating 30' to 300' in the air above open fields or forest clearings.

"A virgin queen emits an alluring come-hither pheromone during this flight, inviting a whole slew of drones to follow. The fastest drone catches her from behind, inspects her with his legs and antennae, and, if he deems her to be a potential mate, inserts his reproductive apparatus. The act stuns and seems to paralyze the drone. His body flips backward, leaving his mating organ still inside the queen. He falls and dies. These organs, called the mating sign, are removed by the workers when the queen returns to her hive.

"Depending on the number of drones available--and of course, the weather--a queen may make several mating flights within a few days. She may mate with as many as twenty drones or as few as five or six. Generally, the more the better, because it increases the amount of sperm available and the amount of genetic diversity of the bees this queen will produce during her life.

"Occasionally the queen will not mate because of an extended period of bad weather. After five or six days, she will be past mating age, so the colony will raise more queens, if possible. If not, the colony may go queenless. This situation requires the attention of a beekeeper or the colony will perish." (p.52)

"Well", I thought, reading this, "how glad I am that I am not a queen bee! Or a drone, for that matter!" And how odd to think of all those queens and drones, chasing each other at great speed several feet above our heads, somewhere up there in the air. But I am also worried - it has been raining all week. Does that mean the new queens cannot go on their mating flight? Will I have a hive with an unmated queen? Maybe we're okay - it says the flights start a week after they emerge and the rain finally ended today - at last!

One good thing, though - thank goodness I didn't have last week be the week of rain, when I had to spend hours going through all the hive boxes!

Trip to A&Z Apiaries & Answers to some questions

Friday. Back in January, I had 2 hives and felt I was ready to set up another 2, so I sent in an order to Adam Fuller at A&Z Apiaries for two bee "packages". A bee package is a small box containing a hundred or so worker bees, and a new queen in a tiny cage, attached inside, as well as a can of sugar syrup. On a certain date in the spring, Adam puts a notice on his website that the bees have arrived at his apiary, trucked over from Georgia, and that you and everyone else who ordered bees need to get over there asap to pick your order up. You take them home and install them in their new home: an empty hive that you have prepared for them [though when I went through this process last June, it was not nearly this simple - another one of my bee adventures!] But after this week, I was seriously reconsidering whether I wanted any more, and now suddenly I had 3 hives. So I would end up with 5! Did I really want to do this? I had to decide now because the bees I ordered were due to arrive in May, and I needed to get two more empty bee hive boxes, and I had to do it soon.

So After a lot of thought, I decided to go ahead with the extra 2 hives. This meant I had to drive up to Hampton to A&Z Apiaries, to buy two more hives from Adam. Very frustrating as I had got way behind on other Yellow House Farm chores this week with all that effort on the bees, and I couldn't really afford 3 hours away from the farm. But which ever way I looked at it, it couldn't be helped. "At least I could get Adam to answer all my questions", I thought, rather than trying to pin him down by phone. So at 9:30, after seedlings watered and cared for, cats fed, snack packed, Golf hatchback seats down, GPS installed, a call to Adam to confirm he would be there and did indeed have hives to sell, I was ready to go.

I arrived an hour later, and pulled up in front of the building, which looks like a large shed or barn in the back of Adam's house, woods encroaching from all sides. When I walked in, to my surprise, I was confronted by a huge stack of bee packages and a few loose bees flying around. Was it bee delivery day? I didn't know anything about this. Adam had not mentioned it. Sure enough, there was Adam in a side office, surrounded by shelves of beautifully carved beeswax flowers and candles and jars of A&Z Apiary honey, seated behind his table, and a line of people waiting to pay him for their orders, and I had to wait! Darn! No way would he have have time for my questions! [This was not my bee order, by the way. Mine were coming in May or June.]

 Stacks and stacks of bee packages....

Stacks and stacks of bee packages....

I couldn't help thinking about my conversation with Lori and Steve the other day (some people I know in the world of 3 Principles Therapy). I had been describing my past week of hard work with the bees, and they were looking at me in shock and amazement that someone would actually choose to do something like this. I mentioned that I had been learning the ropes by attending Bee School in the winter. "Bee School?? Really? Must be a rather small class", Lori laughed. "No, not at all!" I told her, "It is packed! There is a lot of interest! Very popular!" "Really??" she said in surprise. And the same was true here. There were hundreds of bee packages and people were turning up in a constant stream, a lot of activity with people coming and going, and Adam and his assistants bustling around trying to help everyone. I've seen Adam on his bee delivery days when I got my last bee packages. He is in his element, happy as a clam, chatting with each person while digging their order forms out of the stack, getting them to sign it, and then sending them to the other room to collect their bees, and any equipment they might need. Adam never needs a microphone when he gives his talks at the bee school as his natural volume is about 20 decibels louder than the average person, which is great in a lecture hall, but in that confined space was quite overpowering!

"HOW YOU DOING SIR?.... THREE PACKAGES? AND YOUR NAME? OK HERE IT IS.... AND YOU'VE ALREADY PAID? YUP, I SEE YOU HAVE, AND DO YOU NEED A RECEIPT?....JUST SIGN YOUR NAME THERE...THANK YOU VERY MUCH!"

When it was my turn, I paid for my two hives, or "EQUIPMENT" as Adam put it, got my receipt, "AND YOU HAVE QUESTIONS, AND I HAVE FIVE CUSTOMERS WAITING..." he laughed. Sure enough, there were customers lined up out the door. We agreed that I would wait until there were not so many people before I put my questions to him. So while loose bees buzzed around, I waited. Then I quickly presented my questions:

"So, what happens if I did accidentally move the original queens over to the new hives by mistake, what is going to happen now and how would I know?"

"YOU'LL KNOW BECAUSE YOUR WORKERS ARE GOING TO START LAYING A BUNCH MORE QUEEN CELLS! BUT YOU'VE GOT TO JUST LEAVE THEM ALONE NOW. JUST LET THEM GET ON WITH IT. YOU'VE DONE WHAT YOU COULD AND NOW YOU NEED TO LEAVE THEM TO SORT IT ALL OUT. LET THEM FIGURE IT OUT!"

That suits me perfectly. Just what I wanted to hear. "And what about the queen cells I moved into the new hive. Is it alright that I moved as many as ten? What is going to happen now?"

"WELL, THEY ARE GOING TO JUST FIGHT IT OUT UNTIL THERE IS ONE WINNER"

Oh wow, I thought, envisioning an unseen battle going on out there in a hive with nobody there to see it. "And how is the female that's the winner going to mate with drones? Is she going to do a mating flight?"

"YEP, THAT'S IT. SHE'S GOING TO FLY OFF, MATE WITH DRONES AND THEN RETURN TO THE HIVE. ...    OK, AND NOW I NEED TO HELP THIS NEXT CUSTOMER ...." as people started to file in again.

I thanked him and said that was pretty much it, and left, but only after finding out how I could get my next two queens (in my next order) marked so I could have an easier time finding them. You can order "marked" queens, which means, they paint a little blob on the thorax of the queen before you pick them up, and this makes it easier to spot them among all the thousands of bees. Wish I had thought of getting marked queens the first time round. It was very nice of him to be so helpful, answering all my questions when he was so busy. Nice guy!

 Adam Fuller, standing behind his stack of bee packages that are going out to customers that day. Each one of these boxes is a "package", complete with one queen and several worker bees, all you need to start a new bee colony in your hive(s) at home. Five boxes deep, 5 tall, and 8 stacks, plus 4 on the floor: he had 204 left at that point! Colorful boxes against the back wall are "honey supers". You add these to the top of your hive to encourage the bees to store their honey there, so you can then extract the honey to sell. On Adam's right, mostly wrapped up in plastic are crates of A&Z Apiary honey. I see A&Z honey in stores all over CT.

Adam Fuller, standing behind his stack of bee packages that are going out to customers that day. Each one of these boxes is a "package", complete with one queen and several worker bees, all you need to start a new bee colony in your hive(s) at home. Five boxes deep, 5 tall, and 8 stacks, plus 4 on the floor: he had 204 left at that point! Colorful boxes against the back wall are "honey supers". You add these to the top of your hive to encourage the bees to store their honey there, so you can then extract the honey to sell. On Adam's right, mostly wrapped up in plastic are crates of A&Z Apiary honey. I see A&Z honey in stores all over CT.

Adam's assistant, a large, burly man with a bushy grey beard, had been stacking my "EQUIPMENT" (i.e., 4 hive boxes and 4 supers for honey - to make up 2 hives) into the back of my car. Another hour (after a pit stop and snack) and I was home again.

 Back home again with my car packed full of hive boxes. The deeper ones are for the main part of the hive, the shallow ones are "honey suppers".

Back home again with my car packed full of hive boxes. The deeper ones are for the main part of the hive, the shallow ones are "honey suppers".

Really done!

Thursday. One and half hours with the bees today. Yesterday I didn't have enough time to check the top box of hive 1 for queen cells, so I went back today to finish the checking. No queen cells found. Yayyy! The new hive I created looked like it was doing OK. The bees were very busy laying down foundation on the new frames, i.e., making cells out of beeswax which they apply and mold with their mouths. There were hundreds of them with their mouths up against the frame walls, working away at it. I decided not to pull out any of the frames just yet. Just let them get settled.

The other two hives (1&2) looked fine, but I don't know enough about bees to tell whether they are queenless or not. Hopefully they were not without queens and I didn't screw up and all is well. Apparently, if in a few weeks I find a lot of drone cells being made and no worker cells, that would mean they have no queen. Apparently, when there is no queen, some of the workers take over the queen's job of laying eggs. Unfortunately, since they are not fertilized, they can only lay unfertilized eggs (which are haploid, i.e., one set of chromosomes), and haploid eggs become drones. A queen carries within her the sperm of several drones she mated with before she settled down with her hive, and her eggs are fertilized by this sperm. So most of the eggs she lays are fertilized and are therefore diploid (two sets of chromosomes - like us), and develop into female worker bees. She can also lay unfertilized eggs which develop into drones. Anyway, so I guess we will see.

Having just explained that, now I am wondering how the new queens in the new hive are going to get fertilized. Will they fly off and mate in the air (which is how bees do this) and then come back to this hive?? And will they fight it out until there is only one queen? Hmmm. Another question for Adam. He must be getting really fed up with me.

In the meantime, I am so done with bees for the present! Fifteen hours with the bees in 5 days! I'm pretty sure they are done with me too! I will now leave them to get on with it in peace!

 Now three hives!

Now three hives!

Done!

Wednesday. In the morning, I called Adam again to check about the drone cells vs. queen cells confusion.  "Yes, I thought those might be drone cells" he laughed, and said he was a little puzzled when I had said I had hundreds of queen cells after I explained the whole thing to him. Wish he had said something at the time! That would have saved me a lot of stress and effort for nothing! Oh well. "Yes, queen cells are usually, maybe one or two on a one or more frames. And they are really easy to spot. It's like the size of the end of your finger! You can't miss them!" He had to run off to deal with a customer (he has a business that sells bee hives and bee nucs etc.), and after we hung up I realized I hadn't managed to ask him if there was a good way to find a queen.

On Monday, after I got the brainwave that maybe I was confusing drone cells for queen cells, I had a hope that maybe there were no queen cells at all. How nice that would be. Then I wouldn't have to do anything - just put everything back and walk away. How nice. But I would still have to check. So at 12:30, I gathered together all my gear again and trudged off to the bees on a nice and sunny day. This time I started with the hive I had worked on on Sunday first - let's call it Hive #2 (not the one that got so pissed off with me on Monday - Hive #1). This time I did manage to lift the top box off in one go, without having to take out all the frames. Then I went to work on pulling out all the lower frames, looking for actual queen cells, now I knew what they look like (reminder, this was not the hive that I had gouged out all the drone cells thinking they were queen cells on Monday - I had not touched this one yet).  [Note, Queen cells are usually found in the top box. I was looking in the bottom box because, if you remember, this box used to be the top box before I reversed the boxes last weekend.]

 Hive #2 being taken apart (Hive #1 in the foreground still intact). The box on the ground back near the bales of straw is the top box I took off so I could look for queen cells in the bottom box. The box on the ground with bees, closer to me, is where I am placing each frame I take out of the bottom box. The empty box in the foreground is going to be the final home for the new hive, made up of some of the frames with queen cells - according to Adam's suggestion.

Hive #2 being taken apart (Hive #1 in the foreground still intact). The box on the ground back near the bales of straw is the top box I took off so I could look for queen cells in the bottom box. The box on the ground with bees, closer to me, is where I am placing each frame I take out of the bottom box. The empty box in the foreground is going to be the final home for the new hive, made up of some of the frames with queen cells - according to Adam's suggestion.

Well, so much for the hope that there were no actual queen cells. One frame had 3, another had 2, the next one had 3, and the next had 5!!! Thirteen queen cells! Well, that's not 100, but still a lot! Darn!

 This one had three. You can see two really easily here, like two fingers pocking out. The third one is near the bottom. You can also see mostly open cells, and some closed ones at the top. These have honey in them. The closed ones are sealed when they are full.

This one had three. You can see two really easily here, like two fingers pocking out. The third one is near the bottom. You can also see mostly open cells, and some closed ones at the top. These have honey in them. The closed ones are sealed when they are full.

 There are two here in the middle of the picture (ignore the frame in the background). Note 2 drone cells on the left. Can you see them?

There are two here in the middle of the picture (ignore the frame in the background). Note 2 drone cells on the left. Can you see them?

 One here - hanging off the bottom of the frame.

One here - hanging off the bottom of the frame.

 I tried to get the bees to move so I could take the picture, but they moved back. I noticed the bees like to fuss around the queen cells. Now I can't tell how many are in this picture. Two queen cells?

I tried to get the bees to move so I could take the picture, but they moved back. I noticed the bees like to fuss around the queen cells. Now I can't tell how many are in this picture. Two queen cells?

I did scrape off a few queen cells, but put the frames with the other queen cells into the new hive. Adam said put one or two queen cells in the new hive. Would 10 queen cells in the new hive work too?? I didn't really want to scrape any more off. Actually, it wasn't as bad as scraping off drone cells which was very messy. These just popped off in one piece. 

Meanwhile, I looked at each frame very carefully, front and back to see if I could find the original queen. Once again, no luck. But with such close scrutiny, I did see some interesting things. I saw a group of bees exchanging information (I assume) with all their red proboscis (tongues) out "licking" each other's proboscis. Wonder what was going on there. I saw my first varroa mite. Adam and other beekeepers go on and on about varroa mites. Since about 15 years ago, all bee colonies are plagued by varroa mites. It is not possible to get rid of these. They are here to stay. I've heard Adam Fuller say time and again, "I hear some people say, 'Oh, mine don't have any mites. I haven't seen any', believe me, you have them!" These are part of the reason bees are so threatened these days, on top of chemical insecticides, and destruction of wildflower habitat. If you do nothing about them, your colony will eventually die. I put some miticide strips in the hives last October, and I am waiting until the weather gets warmer before I put in some QuickStrips formic acid packs. This reduces the number of mites, and if the hive is a strong one, they can cope with just having a few. However, I will wait until after they settled down a bit before I start hitting them with a miticide.  It is an "organic" control method, but it is still pretty hard on them.

I also saw that Hive #2 has ants. Not sure what to do about that! And another interesting thing was, I noticed when I temporarily put two or more frames next to each other in the empty hive box, that when I tried to pick a frame up again to put it back in the hive, the bees had formed a network of webs between the two frames, by clinging on to each others feet. You end up having to pull it apart. I did this as gently as I could, but the disturbance would make them make a sort of shuddering noise, which I assume is hundreds of bees shuddering their wings at the same time. 

After looking closely at each frame in the bottom box, and then looking at each one in the top box, I still could not find the queen. I looked at the picture of how the queen differs from the workers in the book, and still could not see anything that looked like that in the hive. I selected 3 frames to remove that had queen cells on them and put them in the new hive box, then replaced the missing frames in the old box with 3 new, empty frames. I just hope I did not move the queen over to the new box too by mistake.

Then, after I had put the hive back together again, I saw a queen!!! I had dumped a lot of the wax I had scraped off into a foil pie pan, and it was crawling around over the chunks of wax. A queen! It looked just like in the book! Very clearly a queen! So I did know what one looks like! Then I was puzzled. Why was there a queen in the pan? Is that why I couldn't find the queen in the hive? Had it fallen out? What if I tried to put it back in? I couldn't resist. I lifted the lid again of Hive #2 and popped it in. A few worker bees came and investigated it and immediately started attacking it! The last I saw of it, it was being dragged down into the hive.

Hmmm. After I thought a bit about this I realized what had happened. As well as bits of scraped of beeswax in the pan, I had also tossed in some of the queen cells. When I looked closely at the queen cells, one had the tip pushed back like a lid. That could only mean that one had emerged after I had scraped it off! Did I catch just in time (i.e., did I remove it from the hive just in time?), or did it emerge because I had scraped it off? It certainly looked ready to come out. I assume that explains why it had been attacked when I popped it in. They didn't recognize it as belonging to them. This suggests that they would only recognize a new queen if she emerged while inside the hive. Of course, for all I know, they decided she was OK after she dropped out of sight, and all my efforts to remove the queen cells so they would not get a new queen and swarm was defeated by my popping the new queen back in again! What an idiot!

It was now 3:30. Three hours!! I was exhausted and starving. I still had hive #1 to tackle! Earlier in the day I was worried about how I was going to find the time to do this project as it always takes 3 hours or more, and I have to pick up the twins at 3:10 from school. Starting early with the bees is not an option because they don't like being disturbed until late morning. Norman told me he could pick up the girls today, which was the only way I could manage it.

I went indoors to get some food and came back again to deal with Hive 2. Now it was really too late in the day. It was 4:45 and getting a bit chilly. Plus I was supposed to be in West Hartford at 6:00! So I just looked at the bottom box.

All the damage I had done to the frames on Monday when I had scraped out the drone cells had been repaired. I looked for queen cells and I only found one! Phew! I took this frame out and another frame with brood and honey and a ton of bees and put them together with the frames from the other hive in the new hive (now hive 3). Would the bees from the two separate hives get along? They seemed to. Then I put two new frames in Hive #1 and 2 in Hive #3 and closed them up. This whole process was faster, but it was made more difficult than Hive #2 by the fact that the bees in Hive 1 were much more mean. They kept swarming up my hand whenever I tried to take frames out or put them in. This made it hard not to kill some of them as they get squashed really easily. Were they more testy because of my scraping out drone cells on Monday? Because it was late in the day? Because they are just like that?? In any case, I was late to my appointment. Five hours!

Tomorrow I need to go back and check the top box for Hive #1, and look to see how everyone is doing after all that manipulation. Worse case scenario is, I inadvertently moved the original queens from their old hives to the new one. What happens then? Are they doomed? Have I wrecked my two hives I spent so much effort to care for over the past year?

The best case scenario is that I didn't inadvertently move the queens, they are still in residence, I didn't miss any queen cells, the two hives feel less congestion, and the new one gets a new queen (gets rid of the rest?) and settles in. We'll see what happens!

Or Are They Drone Cells?!!!

Monday. I talked to Adam Fuller this morning. He listened while I launched into an excited rant about "100 queen cells! Twenty to a frame!" While I was telling him all this and asking what would be the best next step, I noticed that he was unusually silent. He is not usually silent. Usually I have a hard time getting myself heard. But then he was off, "well, so what you need to do is..." and launched into how I can just take 2-3 frames with brood from each hive and put them in a new hive box, and put in one frame with a queen cell, give them some sugar syrup, and "you should have some beautiful hives with that!" He made it sound so simple! "But you have to be careful not to accidentally move the queen into the new hive, though, because then you have a problem" he added. "And then you need to carve out the remaining queen cells from the two original hives." "Oh..kay..." I gulped, "I .... guess that's what I'll do", I thought, my legs shaking, "that's fine....I can do it....". I have to admit that I have not once been able to find the queens in those hives ever since they first arrived in the queen cages last June. I know they are there, since they are laying eggs.

It was going to be tricky finding a time to do this. By the time he called, I had one hour before I had to pick up Desta from school to take her to the doctor for her appointment, and then take her back to school, and then go back to the school and pick the two girls up when school was over. I decided to do it after that. The next day, Tues, it was supposed to rain all day, so I couldn't do it then. And I feared that the longer I delayed doing what I needed to do, the more likely it was that they would swarm and I would miss my opportunity. On the other hand, they had their gymnastics class in less than 2 hours, and it looked like a 4 hour job...

So once the girls were home, I grabbed my gear and headed down to the bees, while they played with their stuffed animals on their playscape. I had shaky knees and felt sick to my stomach. I would far rather trade places with them. (I mean, join them. Don't want them with the bees!) Somehow I was supposed to swap all these frames around and find the queens and not make any stupid mistakes, all by my self with no help.

I started on the hive that had last been messed with two days previously. As soon as I opened it up ("Oh, not her again" I'm sure they were thinking) I knew it was hopeless finding that queen. I carefully lifted each frame out and examined them closely. I knew what I was supposed to be looking for: a bee that is almost 2 times as long as a worker bee, but not as stocky as a drone (male), and eyes are smaller than a drone's. And all the bees around her are fussing over her. Well, all I saw were thousands and thousands of bees. Most were small with small eyes (workers), and a few were large, but they were stocky and had huge eyes, so they were drones. No one seemed to be fussing over anyone large and slim.

So then I thought maybe I will move three frames to the new hive box that have lots of brood and honey and queen cells, and just make sure those ones don't have the queen on them. After doing that (though, for all I knew, they could have the queen!), I then tried to tackle the task of destroying queen cells. I did NOT want to start digging out bee larvae and it took some persuading. Finally I took the plunge and started gouging out what I thought were queen cells. It was quite disgusting! Lot's of white gooey stuff oozed out and I made quite a mess. I am not generally the type of person who likes to kill creatures, but prefer nature be left to take care of itself. But if I didn't want them to swarm....

After about the 4th frame, I gave up. It was too much, and I couldn't even be sure I was getting all of them because the bees were so thickly covering the surface I could not see. I had to keep smoking them to get them to move. Once again, they got more and more irritable and many started stinging my gloves. This made others react to me more aggressively too and more started trying to attack me. One or more kept diving at my face. However, being safely protected behind a veil and thick leather bee gloves, they did not manage to sting me. But it was still making things difficult. In the end I just couldn't take any more of this. I decided I really didn't know what I was doing and I should just put everything back and go home. So I did, having failed to follow Adam's advice. At times like this, I wonder why I decided to get involved with bees! What was I thinking?

While all this drama was going on at the bee hives, Norman kindly offered to take the girls to their gymnastics class (it's his night to cook, so I usually take them), and by the time I had finished and gone back to the house, they were back already!

It's a good thing I did decide to abandon separating out some frames that day. At some point I started to wonder if I was identifying "queen cells" correctly. Could it be that some of the cells I was seeing - the ones that project outwards - were not actually queen cells, but drone cells? What seemed to support this idea was how many there were, and remembering Adam Fuller's silence when I said "hundreds of queen cells!" Maybe I should remember that he had said there are usually one or two in his talk the other day. Maybe "hundreds" is not likely. When I got back to the house, I looked in my bee books, and sure enough, drone brood cells project out from the frame while queen cells are larger and hang down. Ahhhh!!!! They were drone cells!!! And there I was digging them out of the frames! I could have just left them alone! Groan! I can't believe I made my self dig those out when I didn't even need to! Argh! What happened? Was it because Adam's lecture on queen cells put "queen cells" on my brain, making me think that was what was going on? Was all this drama for naught? Maybe there were no queen cells at all! That would be funny. I'll have to look at the frames all over again, one by one again (!!!) and check. I am pretty sure I did see some large ones that hung down. Would be funny if I couldn't find any next time I look! I will let you know on Wednesday! At least I know what queen cells look like now. Problem is, I still don't know if I can find the queen.

 See the cells projecting out from the right at the bottom? Those are drone cells! There are other ones along the bottom from the left. Just like my book says - they tend to be along the outer edge of the frame. Well, guess I know now.

See the cells projecting out from the right at the bottom? Those are drone cells! There are other ones along the bottom from the left. Just like my book says - they tend to be along the outer edge of the frame. Well, guess I know now.

And it's in BOTH hives!

Sunday. I urgently wanted to talk to Adam Fuller to get advice about those queen cells. Would he answer the phone on a Sunday? I suppose I could try. I had to do the reversal on the other hive today and it would be best if I did it after talking to him. I waited until what seemed like a decent hour, but all I got was his voice mail. So at about 11:00am I headed out to the bees with all my gear, feeling decidedly anxious. However, when I got there, the bees were only just emerging for the day, and it was a little chilly still, so I decided to put it off until a little later in the day.

 Skunk cabbage flowers are dying back and leaves are shooting up. No longer food for bees.

Skunk cabbage flowers are dying back and leaves are shooting up. No longer food for bees.

 Lots of skunk cabbage popping up.

Lots of skunk cabbage popping up.

 Bees hanging out at the hive entrance now that there is no mouse guard any more.

Bees hanging out at the hive entrance now that there is no mouse guard any more.

This time, it took 2 1/2 hours. A little better, I suppose. Probably because I was not trying to stuff 9 frames into an 8 frame box this time round. I thought I was going to be clever and lift the top box off as one unit, frames and all, so I wouldn't have to take each frame out one at a time. But it would not lift off, try as I might. So out each frame came one at a time. Sigh. The first thing I noticed was those darn queen cells again! This one seemed to have even more than the last one! Argh! When I got to the middle set of frames, I understood why I had not been able to lift the box off. These frames were attached to the top of the frames in the bottom box by a mass of beeswax and what I took to be queen cells. In fact, I had a terrible time getting one of them off and was pulling and yanking as hard as I could for about 10 mins! Got it off in the end. Then when you do that, you have effectively pulled brood cells apart and you see lots of fat white grubs lying there, with worker bees desperately fussing over them. I would normally feel bad for them, but I was in no mood to feel sensitive to a bunch of bees at that moment.

 This is a mass of scraped off beeswax from brood cells (queen cells). You can see a bee grub - shaped like a bee but all white. Normally it would be still within the cell, but now it is exposed.

This is a mass of scraped off beeswax from brood cells (queen cells). You can see a bee grub - shaped like a bee but all white. Normally it would be still within the cell, but now it is exposed.

 You can see lots of brood cells hanging down from this frame.

You can see lots of brood cells hanging down from this frame.

 Looking down into the top hive box after I have removed a few frames. A ton of bees!

Looking down into the top hive box after I have removed a few frames. A ton of bees!

Once again, I managed to level it up, remove the mouse nest under the hive (no mice in residence), put all frames back, reverse top box with bottom box, move feeder from bottom to top box, scrape off extra cells, and completely piss off more and more bees. And of course the darn smoker kept going out every 10 minutes. I also found that the feeder was rather disgusting and smelled funny. So I went and got my extra one from the garage, filled it with sugar syrup, and put that one in instead. "There, take that!" I said, and the bees were rather surprised to find themselves with something so special from me of all people! Then I piled everything back into the cart and staggered back to the house. Where I then had to start making dinner... pant, pant!

 Both hives reversed, leveled, mouse guards removed, and I'm DONE!

Both hives reversed, leveled, mouse guards removed, and I'm DONE!

Disaster! Queen cells!

Saturday. Last Sunday I went to the Eastern CT Bee Association's April meeting, and Adam Fuller (president of the ECBA and our instructor at last winter's bee school) gave a presentation about queen cells and what to do about them. Apparently, when there are way too many bees, the colony gets the urge to swarm, which involves half of the hive leaving with a newly hatched queen. When a hive is not swarming, there is only one queen. When they start getting ready to swarm, the worker bees start converting worker bee brood cells into queen bee brood cells. Adam showed us slides of what these queen cells look like. Regular brood cells just look like dark orange/brown cells, usually hundreds of them mostly within the center of a hive frame. A queen cell is huge, and bulges out from the frame and hangs downward, looking a little like a peanut still in its shell.

Adam went into a long discussion about how you can take this frame out and one of those frames out and put them in this box and produce a "nuc" and it was all kind of over my head. So I just hoped I wouldn't have to deal with it. Apparently, the best thing to do is to thwart their urge to swarm by reversing the top box with the bottom box. The existing queen tends to move upwards when she lays eggs. So by the time spring comes, she has reached the top of the hive and starts to feel "brood congestion", even if the lower box is now empty of brood. So if you swap the top and bottom boxes, she feels "Ah! there's more room now!" and the hive no longer feels the need to swarm.

My notes from Bee School suggest you do this at the end of April, so I wasn't feeling that much pressure. So it wasn't until a whole week later (the following Saturday - today) that I got around to taking on the huge task of reversing the boxes.

Oh, what a nightmare. It took me THREE HOURS just to do one hive! I was not able to lift the top box off, so I had to take out each frame one by one. I had brought an empty hive box to put each frame in which made it a little easier.

The first thing I noticed were the queen cells! There seemed to be queen cells on every frame! Really?! And, there were so many bees! There were so many, each frame was completely covered, and some had more than one layer of bees on them! I felt so disappointed and upset. What was I going to do about this?? I wished I had listened more closely to Adam's talk about queen cells. I wished I had done the reversal weeks before. But I wasn't able to even get the frames out weeks before because it was too cold! Not knowing what else to do, I just went on taking frames out until I had emptied the top box and was able to lift it off. Then I had to do the same to the bottom box.

There were so many frames out and hive parts all over the place, and it was all taking me so long that the bees started getting more and more annoyed with me. Part of the reason it was taking me so long is that I had to remove the feeder from the top box (that was now going to be the bottom box) and put it in the bottom box (which was now going to be the top box). So that meant removing two frames from the bottom (now top) box and putting them in the top (now bottom) box. If you are confused, so was I. I may have spent about 45 minutes trying to get the two frames to go in, and they JUST WOULD NOT GO! "Very odd", I thought. "They fit last year". What on earth was I going to do? Just leave one frame out? What would I do with it?? I almost gave up, but then I had the idea that it might fit the (now top) box that the feeder was in. Perhaps I needed only have taken one frame out, not two. Sure enough, it did fit, though I had to really squeeze it in! (Later, when I got back to the house, I counted the number of frames in one of the extra hive boxes I have in the garage, and sure enough, there were only 8. Of course! It is an 8 frame hive! And there I was trying to fit 9 frames into one hive box! What was I thinking! No wonder it wouldn't fit! Argh!)

So now that all the bees were thoroughly fed up with me, I managed to get hive level, mouse nest disposed of, mouse guard off, hive boxes in the right places (reversed), extra brood cells that were projecting above and below the frames scraped off, sugar syrup poured into the feeder, lids placed back on, and I was finally done - but with just one hive. I still had the other to do tomorrow - Ahhh!  I staggered back to the house, dehydrated, starving, smelling of smoke, and in a high state of anxiety to tell Norman the bad news about the queen cells. The family had been wondering what had become of me.

Unfortunately I have no photos since my camera informed me I needed to charge the battery as soon as I got to the bees.

The dandelions are here!

Wednesday. Today I noticed that dandelions are starting to come up. The red maples and skunk cabbage are no longer flowering, so at this time of year bees switch to dandelions, which are another very important source of food. Not very many out yet. Seems strange to be looking forward to dandelions. For years, I experienced anxiety when they popped up on my lawn because I knew they would quickly form those seed heads, and then you know you will soon be swamped with dandelions. Now when I see them I feel glad for the bees!

It was so nice and warm, I took the bee cozies off both hives! I tried taking the mouse guards off the front entrance, but the tool I brought with me to do this (a pen knife) was not effective. So they stay for now. I need to take them off soon. The bees have more trouble coming and going through those little holes now that there are so many of them and now they are foraging more. The hives are still tilted forwards too, which is what I did at the beginning of winter so that any condensation build up would run forward and not drip into the hive. I will need to set them all level again. Not today though.

My smoker is always going out. Today it went out without my realizing it, and while I was puffing away at the bees, what came out was a cloud of ash instead of smoke. I laughed when one poor bee was turned completely dusty grey with ash powder. It looked a little confused. I tried blowing it off, but it didn't seem to make any difference.

I gave the bees more sugar syrup and left.

  Wed April 13th.  Bee cozies now removed! Spring is here!

Wed April 13th. Bee cozies now removed! Spring is here!

  Wed April 13th.  You can see the mouse guard (an angled metal plate with holes in it where all the bees are, and a mouse nest under the hive (still tilted forwards). Thanks to the mouse guard, the mouse nest was OUTside the hive! Amazing to think they would want to live inside a beehive all winter!

Wed April 13th. You can see the mouse guard (an angled metal plate with holes in it where all the bees are, and a mouse nest under the hive (still tilted forwards). Thanks to the mouse guard, the mouse nest was OUTside the hive! Amazing to think they would want to live inside a beehive all winter!

 I took off my awkward gloves to handle the camera, and a curious bee landed on my wrist.

I took off my awkward gloves to handle the camera, and a curious bee landed on my wrist.

Feed the bees

Sunday. I decided to bring sugar syrup to the bees again to see how much they had eaten since Friday. My guess was that it could be all gone. It was! I filled up their entire feeders with yet a further 2 gallons (1 per hive) of sugar syrup!

When I got back to the house and was putting my bee gear back on the shelf in the storage area, I found that one bee had traveled back with me. It buzzed off of my back and landed on the garage floor. I got it our into the sun, and it sat there for a while. Then it took off into the air. I was wondering how it would figure out the way home. I saw it head this way then that, and I lost sight of it when it was about 20 ft up, just after it shifted its flight pattern to the north west (instead of north east). Wish I had been able to keep sight of it until it figured out the right way home, to see how long it takes.

  April 10th.  Happy bees at the feeder.

April 10th. Happy bees at the feeder.

 Sunday April 10th. As I predicted (see last post), I would find a bunch of dead bees under the hive by the next day (the ones clinging to the grass on Friday, too cold to fly back into the hive).

Sunday April 10th. As I predicted (see last post), I would find a bunch of dead bees under the hive by the next day (the ones clinging to the grass on Friday, too cold to fly back into the hive).

Population Explosion!

Friday. I've been needing to visit the bees to give them sugar syrup for days, but have not wanted to open up the hives when there is rain or wind, or frigid temperatures.... Finally, I decided to try this afternoon since it was supposed to be about 50 degrees and not raining (maybe).

When I arrived at the hives, I had a surprise. There were several clusters of bees hanging out at the front of the nearest hive, and a bunch flying around in front. What was going on? (see below)

At first I thought they may be about to swarm. Bees have a natural tendency to swarm in the spring after their population expands and they start to run out of room. You do not want your bees to swarm - when that happens you lose a large proportion of your worker population that are going to produce the honey you want. So when I saw that I was a little anxious. But after thinking about it I decided it was unlikely. For one thing, it didn't actually look like a swarm, it looked like an aggregation of bees hanging out in front of the hive. For another, it seemed too early for a swarm; it seemed more likely that what I was seeing was a sudden increase in the population of bees in that hive following the emergence of all the pupae that developed from all the eggs that would have been laid by the queen about a month ago. In fact, I had a vague memory of Adam Fuller (our Bee School instructor) saying that every year, new bee keepers call him up in early April in alarm at the sudden ridiculously large number of bees in their hive(s).

When I opened up that hive (pictured above) it looked like I had arrived with the sugar syrup not a moment too soon - I didn't have time to take out frames and look at them since I had only 30 mins until I had to leave to pick up the twins from school, but it looked like there was pretty much no stored honey left! I poured the sugar syrup in and left them happily lapping it up while I put the hive lid back on.

When I opened the other hive, there were huge numbers of bees there too! (Picture below) Compare this picture with the picture taken on Feb 28th below! This hive seemed to have no stored honey left either. I gave them the rest of the sugar syrup (feeder is where the two holes are below).

 Fri April 8th. Wow! What a lot of bees!

Fri April 8th. Wow! What a lot of bees!

This hive had some new honey in cells on the top. You can barely see it - it's where there is a little mound of bees just above and between the two feeder holes. So they must be finding nectar from somewhere. At this time of year, bees should be finding dandelions. However, I will really need to feed them a lot in the next few weeks!

I noticed quite a large number of bees clinging to the grass below the first hive too (the one that had had all the bees hanging out in front when I arrived). When I left, they were still there. I took a closer look and realized it was a repeat of what I had witnessed back on January 31st. Looked like they had come out when the sun was out, and settled on mass on the blades of grass to sun themselves, and then the sun went behind a cloud and the temperature dropped and there they were, kind of stuck (see Sunday January 31st Another bee mystery, below). I have to say, bees seem to be a little pathetic sometimes!

 Friday April 8th. These bees were too cold to fly up out of the grass and return to the hive. Tomorrow I will probably find them still there, all dead.

Friday April 8th. These bees were too cold to fly up out of the grass and return to the hive. Tomorrow I will probably find them still there, all dead.

 Here are some that had been sunning themselves on the cinder block on top of the hive. Now they're too cold to find their way back to the entrance of the hive below.

Here are some that had been sunning themselves on the cinder block on top of the hive. Now they're too cold to find their way back to the entrance of the hive below.

It seems so harsh to just leave there there to die in the grass when they are still alive and so close to home. I racked my brains to think how I could save them when such things happened. Bring a hair drier and a very long extension cord?? Bring out a hot water bottle? Nuts. Then it occurred to me that perhaps I should stop interfering. At the last Bee School class about a month ago, we were told that older bees and sick bees deliberately leave the hive to die away from it, which helps those still living in the hive not have to deal with removing their body or being infected if they were ill. How did I know these weren't just old bees making space for younger ones? In any case, there was nothing I could do.

What Happened to Spring?

Sunday.  Winter is back! I can't believe it! Freezing temperatures and snow, and freezing wind! What happened? Must be because I took that bee cozy off! I pilled on all my winter gear and went out with the idea of putting the bee cozy back on. However, I had left it by the house to air dry, and was full of snow and ice. After leaving it indoors for an hour or so to warm up and dry off, I tried again.

When I arrived at the hives, the sun was out, but it was cold and windy. No bees to be seen. Since it was so cold, I didn't want to open the outer lid to put the bee cozy on (which is what you are supposed to do). I imagined I would end up with a lot of bees taking off, and then getting cold and croaking. I had put it on over the lid with Chris' help (brother-in-law) last November, so I decided to try it again. Hmmm... not so easy!! Had to tug at each corner of the lid where it was getting stuck, then tug on the next corner, round and round and round the hive, over and over, until after about 30 mins of this (and a muddy path worn around the hive) I finally got it on! At one point,at the beginning, I took it off and gently lifted the lid to see if that might be the best way after all. I saw a mass of bees flowing up to the inner lid, looking rather irritated, so I closed it quickly and continued trying it the other way. Unfortunately, a few bees did come flying out the bottom entrance, all full of purpose. But within 20 seconds, started to slow down, and by 30 seconds, curled up and looked dead. I pried them up and stuffed them back into the entrance, but they probably didn't make it. I was glad when I got the bee cozy back on and I could leave them alone.

I had a look at the other hive that still had it's bee cozy on. I noticed there was a little cluster of bees around the little hole under the outer lid. They were protected from the outside air by the sides of the bee cozy that sticks up and out at that point, and the overhang on their hive roof that I had put there. Looks like some of them had emerged from there during the day, then realized how cold it was, and formed a little winter cluster there. I knew the temperature was going to drop into the teens that night, and I had a feeling those bees were going to have a hard time surviving. I wondered if they were able to move enough to get back into the hive.

  April 3rd.  Bee on lid of hive with ice and snow. Not that great a picture, but you get the idea.

April 3rd. Bee on lid of hive with ice and snow. Not that great a picture, but you get the idea.

Red Maples

Tues. I noticed the red maples bordering the edge of our property are flowering. This is supposed to be an important source of pollen for bees. Didn't see any bees in the trees, though. However, bees were returning to the hive loaded with pollen.

The weather was so nice, I started removing the bee cozy from one of the hives, then thought better of it and left the other hive with theirs on. When I went to the "Bee School" in early March, run by the Eastern CT Beekeeper's Association, Adam Fuller (our instructor) suggested we remove the feeders at the end of winter and clean them out. So that was my plan. I tried to pry out the feeder out of the first hive but it wouldn't budge. The bees had incorporated it solidly into their hive - there were wax cells all the way around. And as it wasn't as warm as I thought it was, the wax was still a bit hard and tough. So I gave up. Also, the bees were behaving differently than when I've opened up a hive to have a look. The forager bees came flying out as usual with all the disturbance, but then they all landed in a cloud, all over the bag of pine needles, all over my box of bee hive tools, and all over the inner lid when I gave up and put it back on. I had quite a job persuading them to get off the lid so I could put on the outer lid without squashing them all, and for the first time, had a job trying to get them out of my pine needle bag and off the box of tools. Never had to do that before. Was it just that they were cold and not able to fly so well? As a result, I decided to leave the second hive alone and try them when it gets warmer.

  March 29th.  Red maples bordering our property starting to flower.

March 29th. Red maples bordering our property starting to flower.

  March 29th.  Red maple flowers are an important source of pollen for bees.

March 29th. Red maple flowers are an important source of pollen for bees.

  Sunday March 13th  Skunk cabbage with a better view of the spadix in the middle that the bees are so attracted to. The outer leaves start to open up with time.

Sunday March 13th Skunk cabbage with a better view of the spadix in the middle that the bees are so attracted to. The outer leaves start to open up with time.

  Sunday March 13th  There are quite a few skunk cabbage flowers in this field, especially along the right. Can you spot them? Somehow, the bees are able to find them with no problem! (Family checking out the spring)

Sunday March 13th There are quite a few skunk cabbage flowers in this field, especially along the right. Can you spot them? Somehow, the bees are able to find them with no problem! (Family checking out the spring)

Sugar Syrup

Tuesday. Temperature in the 50s! I decided to give the bees their first sugar syrup this year. There is little in the way of carbohydrates (sugar, nectar, etc) for bees at this time of year around here, but just about now they are putting in a huge amount of energy into raising brood (bee larvae) in preparation for spring (see Honeybee Facts below). I did give them a honey-pollen patty last week, but it seems warm enough to start giving them sugar syrup again. The sugar syrup is a food supplement that beekeepers give to honeybees to help them through rough times. I provided them with a lot of sugar syrup last fall so they would build up enough supplies to get them through the winter. You can't give them sugar syrup in winter.

 That's 3 lbs of sugar. Repeat 2 more times.

That's 3 lbs of sugar. Repeat 2 more times.

How to make sugar syrup: basically, you add a 1:1 ratio of sugar to water (just plain sugar from Stop & Shop). The water needs to be heated up to boiling. Then pour it into a container and add the equivalent weight in sugar. The water needs to be hot for the sugar to dissolve completely. I can never get over how much sugar! Today I weighed out 9lbs of sugar (see photo above) and 9lbs of hot water! I poured half into the division board feeder in each hive and it actually all fits! See feeder in picture below, where the two holes are: there is a plastic container as deep as the hive box with two mesh tubes, closed at the bottom end and open at the top. You pour the syrup into one of the holes from a watering can and it flows through the mesh and fills the entire feeder. The bees can crawl down into the tubes clinging on to the mesh, and lap up the sugar syrup, without even having to leave home. Many bees try to do this at the same time, and the trick is to not fall in and drown (in the photo below, there is no sugar syrup in the feeder, which is why there are few bees there). Some of the bees always try to reach for the syrup flowing out of the spout of the watering can. You see them perched on the rim of the hole, reaching towards the stream of syrup as far as they can, flailing their little feelers towards it but never quite able to reach. Actually, one poor bee did succeed in reaching the stream today and there was a plop! as she was carried rapidly down into the syrup below. Must have been a surprise!

There are a lot of skunk cabbage flowers out there. Tripped over one on my way to the hives. Have to look where I'm going now!

Honeybee Facts: The bees you see in the hive below (the nursing worker bees) and the ones flying around to and from the hive (the foraging worker bees) were the last bees to emerge in the fall. All the other bees that were around in the fall would have died by November or December, with the exception of the queen (she is somewhere down inside). While most workers live only 6 weeks, the winter bees can live all the way into March/April. Their job is to start raising brood laid by the queen at the end of winter. These new bees will have completely replaced the winter bees in a few weeks. I find this amazing! So this means that, in about a month, when I go visit the hives at that time, as usual I will see a large bunch of bees just like I see now, but in fact they are not the same bees!

Another interesting fact is that, once a worker bee starts to raise brood, the clock starts ticking and they will only have 6 more weeks to live. Their body starts to break down and after 6 weeks they will die. A worker that has not raised brood can live for months! Amazing, don't you think?

Opening up the hives again

Sunday. Today, for the first time since November, I opened up the two hives to see how the bees had fared over winter! Very nervous! I had not wanted to open them up while it was cold or windy out, but this was a nice warm day!

When I got there, there were clouds of bees leaving the hive and returning on foraging missions. I opened it up, and the indoor worker bees were busy at work with their indoor duties. And! It took me a while to get the frame out on the edge, it was really stuck in place! But when I finally got it out, I could see that there was still quite a lot of honey in storage combs - still many white capped cells (stored honey)! Success! If you haven't managed to ensure that your bees get enough food in the fall, they can run out of stored honey keeping warm all winter and starve just as the winter ends! I wasn't sure if I needed to do this, but I put honey/pollen patties in both hives for them to feed on.

I also noticed a large number of skunk cabbage flowers poking up all over the place in this one section of field! And this time I did see bees flying in and out of some!

  Feb 28th.  Bees out foraging.

Feb 28th. Bees out foraging.

  Feb 28th.  Opening up the hives for the first time since the fall. Looks good!

Feb 28th. Opening up the hives for the first time since the fall. Looks good!

Pollinator Workshop

Friday. Today I attended a workshop held at the CT Agricultural Experiment Station, called, "Successfully Establishing Plants for Pollinators". It wasn't necessarily for beekeepers, but also for anyone interested or concerned with the way our landscape is becoming less and less suitable for pollinators (of which honeybees are only a subset). "We are bringing the leading experts from across the Northeast, with hands-on experience establishing pollinator plantings at many different scales- from a small planting on an organic farm to many acres of wildflower meadow in field margins and rights-of-way. We will also have experts from the Natural Resources Conservation Services who can discuss funding for pollinator habitat."

It was great! The speakers were all very interesting, and I started getting excited about the possibility of getting help to get our 8 acres into wildflower meadows. In fact, they are already wildflower meadows (see photo below). But I would like to find out if I can improve on it.

 June 2013. The twins, making their way across one of our wildflower meadows.

June 2013. The twins, making their way across one of our wildflower meadows.

One speaker talked about all the different kinds of bees that exist in the Northeast. I used to think there was only one kind of bee - the honeybees I see during the summer, and bumblebees were another. Then last summer, I noticed the bees I bought for my hives were a different looking bee from the local ones. Plus, I noticed some smaller bees that like to land on your hot, sweaty skin (sweat bees?) and bite you. That makes four (I do not include yellow jackets as they are wasps). But apparently I was way off. Did you know there are more than 350 species of bee in CT? The wildlife biologist (Gary Casabona) explaining this to us described and showed pictures of a huge variety of solitary bees that all live in the ground. Apparently, only honeybees are fussy about when they come out - they don't like the cold, they don't like wind, they don't like cloudy days, they don't like the heat... but they do forage among a wide variety of plants. Apparently solitary bees are often very specific to one type of plant. This is a problem since we humans tend to wipe out ecosystems in one fell swoop when we want to do things like, build a building or parking lot.

I had a great time chatting with all the other attendees, sharing our experiences and knowledge. The chap sitting to my left had had bee hives for 5 years, so he had more experience than I have. He was able to answer a lot of my questions, such as, why I found the bees lying at the bottom of snow tunnels (see bee mystery below), and clinging to the dead grass outside their hive (see bee mystery below). He said my guess was right - they can't resist coming out of the hive if it seems warm and sunny, especially if they have been stuck inside for days or weeks, and sometimes they don't realize how cold it really is and succumb.

He also told me that he had had two hives once that had actually been blown over by strong winds! So I guess I was right to worry two nights back! He said they were a soggy mess when he found them. I think he was able to salvage some of it.

Storm!

Thursday February 25th. If you take a look at the photo below, you can see I put up a wind break on the north side of the bee hives, and a heavy block on the top to keep the lids from flying off in a strong wind. But last night, we got a very severe storm! I could not sleep, lying there imagining that the wind was going to whisk off the lids anyway (while the rest of the family couldn't sleep for fear the wind would blow our house away!) The internet warned for "multiple hazards", with wind speeds around 16-18 mph, and wind bursts that could reach 46 mph! And our fields tend to be even more windy than anywhere else! Not only that, but the wind was not a cold, northern wind, but a warm one from the south. No wind break in that direction. I tried not to think of the lids blown off and bees getting soaked and miserable, exposed to the elements! I had a few fleeting thoughts of fighting my way out there in the storm to check, but abandoned the idea when I realized there was quite a lot of lightening going on out there. Besides, what exactly would I do when I got there? No, I would just have to hope for the best and go and take a look in the morning. Meanwhile, I had my two, six year-old twins to comfort...

So I was relieved to see them the next morning, still standing and completely unfazed! Phew! And all the snow is gone! I almost couldn't reach them, though, since the little stream I have to cross had flooded! (see photos below.)

  Feb 25th Day after storm.  I had to wade through a swollen stream to get to the hives!

Feb 25th Day after storm. I had to wade through a swollen stream to get to the hives!

  Feb 25th day after storm.  Lids did not blow off! Phew!

Feb 25th day after storm. Lids did not blow off! Phew!

Not only were the hives fine, but the day was warm and sunny (though windy), and the bees were out! I took a close look and saw many returning to the hive with pollen sacks! Pollen? At this time of year? Where were they getting it from ? I know that skunk cabbage produces flowers very early in the spring, and that they are an important source of pollen for honey bees, but it seemed way too early! Sure enough, when I wondered around the areas where I know skunk cabbage comes up, the flowers were poking up through the ground. Didn't see any bees flying to and from the flowers, though.

  Feb 25th The day after the storm.  Bees coming in to land on the landing platform of their hive. Note the one near the center of this image has a yellow pollen sack attached to its leg. It probably got the pollen from skunk cabbage flowers that are the first things to come up in spring, or rather, end of winter.

Feb 25th The day after the storm. Bees coming in to land on the landing platform of their hive. Note the one near the center of this image has a yellow pollen sack attached to its leg. It probably got the pollen from skunk cabbage flowers that are the first things to come up in spring, or rather, end of winter.

  Feb 25th.  Skunk cabbage flowers coming up. The bees go in through a little slit in the center, and gather the pollen on the spadix (a "head of flowers", the actual flower part of the plant which you can't see inside - the part you can see is a modified leaf). This flower is about 40 ft away from the hives.

Feb 25th. Skunk cabbage flowers coming up. The bees go in through a little slit in the center, and gather the pollen on the spadix (a "head of flowers", the actual flower part of the plant which you can't see inside - the part you can see is a modified leaf). This flower is about 40 ft away from the hives.

Another bee mystery!

Another bee mystery! It was sunny earlier today, but when I went to check on the bees later, it was colder and the hives were in shadow. I found the strangest thing! There were some bees sitting on each of the hives that did not move when I prodded them. But what was really odd was one of the hives had a little cluster of bees clinging to some of the dead grass and stems below the hive (which is propped on cinder blocks). They were just clinging there completely rigid. They were not exactly frozen - it wasn't cold enough. They were just immobilized because the air temperature had probably dropped below 42 degrees. My bee book says bees lose their ability to move when the temperature drops this low.

I can only think that what happened was, some came out when the sun was out earlier in the day, and were happily sunning themselves outside their hive when the sun suddenly went behind a cloud or behind a tree. The temperature dropped, and there they were, stuck!

You will think I am nuts, but I felt bad for them and started trying to pry some off and get them to the landing platform of their hive to see if they could make their way in and get warm again. I was able to do this for 2 or 3 clinging to the hive, and a couple of those were able to crawl into the entrance of the hive, but the ones clinging to the dead grass stems I couldn't budge. They were tightly attached by their claws. I gave up and had to leave them where they were. When I came back a couple of days later, there was a little pile of decaying bee bodies lying on the ground where the little cluster had been. Very sad. Perhaps I saved two. A bit silly, really, because bees don't live very long anyway.

Bee mystery

It was warm today. I checked the bees and found them flying about in the sun. But later today, when the sun disappeared behind the clouds and the temperature dropped, I went out to see if they had all gone back in. When I got to the hives, I saw the strangest thing! There were no bees flying around, but I noticed many little holes in the snow just in front of the hives. When I looked more closely, each one was about 1 inch or so deep, and each had a bee at the bottom! Why on earth had that happened? Did they land on the snow and get too cold to fly away, and then the snow melted them down into it? How awful!

 Coyote tracks on the way to the bee hives.

Coyote tracks on the way to the bee hives.

 Each one of these holes in the snow has a bee at the bottom.

Each one of these holes in the snow has a bee at the bottom.

 Dead bee at bottom of tunnel.

Dead bee at bottom of tunnel.

What Bees do in Winter

Checked on the bees today after the 10" of snow we got. The snow was filling in the "tunnel" in the front of the hive, i.e., the open section of the bee cozy that allows the bees to fly out from the top in case it snowed and blocked the main, bottom entrance. I had to install a sort of overhang, to keep snow from building up in there. No bees out today. Too cold. The snow was pretty clear around the base of the hives. This is my first year keeping bees, so this was my first experience with bees in winter.

Honeybee facts - What honeybees do in the winter when it is cold outside I recently discovered that honeybees spend the entire winter inside their hive, waiting for the warmer months to arrive. Honeybees cannot tolerate temperatures that drop below 57 degrees or so. They don't leave the hive unless it is warm enough outside, though they may emerge if it is cold outside but sunny. Inside the hive, they keep warm by collecting together into a large sphere called a winter cluster. Worker bees keep the sphere warm by vibrating their wings. They are able to keep the cluster between 57 to 85 degrees F. When the colony starts raising brood (baby bees) in late winter, they can raise the temperature to 93 degrees F. The bees on the periphery of the sphere eventually move back into the middle of the sphere to warm up again, and others take their place.