Bee inspection: passing of purple

We did a beehive inspection today.

Smoker:

The yellow hive is still looking great, with lots of honey stored for the winter:

The Flow hive is also doing well, with a decent amount of stored honey:

I mentioned in my previous bee blog post that we were concerned about the purple hive; that it seemed like it had collapsed.

Well, that’s been confirmed. There were no bees, and all the frames had been robbed, i.e. all the honey scavenged by other bees and wasps, leaving just empty wax cells:

We removed the two dead hives:

Disappointing, especially since the purple hive was doing so well earlier.

We’ll replace the frames and get a couple more nucs to replace the bees next year, and try again.

Bee inspection: third treatments and purple problem

We did the last varroa mite treatments today, following up from last week.

This hive (which we might call the yellow hive, after its base) is doing really well:

A bunch of bees on top of the frames in the Flow hive, which has recovered impressively from its earlier swarm:

The purple hive, however, is causing us much concern. It was doing really well, our strongest hive, but seems to have collapsed; there are now hardly any bees, no sign of a queen, lots of brood cells that look dead, and wasps stealing from it:

The top box was pretty much empty, so we decided to remove it, so the surviving bees can consolidate in one box:

It’s quite possible that the purple hive won’t survive the winter. They do have a bunch of honey stored, possibly enough for the reduced number of bees, so if they can make a new queen (if it has in fact lost its queen), they could rebuild. But we didn’t see any queen cells, so aren’t sure what’s going on. We’ll keep a close eye on it.

Bee inspection: second treatments and mowing

The varroa mite treatments that we started last week are a three-week process, so we inspected and treated the beehives again this weekend.

Here’s Jenn using the smoker:

We had used a “liquid smoke” spray the last couple of times, due to wildfire danger, but it really didn’t work as well as real smoke… and we’ve had lots of rain recently, so aren’t so worried about wildfires at present. (Of course, we’re always very careful not to put the hot smoker on dry grass, etc.)

In the following picture, you can see the mite treatments at the top: the small black rectangles on the corners. In the foreground you can see bees enjoying pollen patties, one of the two feeding options, as mentioned before:

A shot of us working on the hives, from the camera I recently set up by the hives:

It was fascinating to see bright orange pollen on the bees:

Here’s a closer look at a bee with full pollen sacs:

The grass in front of the hives was getting quite long, so we decided to mow it. I don’t have any problem mowing behind the hives without a bee suit, but mowing right in their flight path seems a bit more risky, so I decided to take advantage of wearing the bee suit for the inspection to do that mowing:

I didn’t notice too much interest in me, but Jenn said she saw some bees following me, so the suit was probably a wise precaution, especially having been stung last week (which was uncomfortable for a few days, but almost back to normal now).

Here’s a shot from further away:

Much tidier:

Bee inspection: removing supers & adding treatments

Today we did an inspection of the beehives. This was a big inspection of all four of the hives, plus we removed the honey supers on the two that had them (no more honey harvested), tested for mites, added mite treatments, added pollen patties, and added sugar syrup feeders.

Here’s Jenn inspecting the purple hive, with the test equipment and liquid smoke:

A nice frame of brood, with honey in the top corners:

The purple hive always gets really cranky when opened up. Here you can see lots of bees swarming around Jenn:

I recently put the mobile cam over by the beehives, as an experiment, so it captured us doing our inspection (you may be able to see the cloud of bees behind Jenn here too):

A selfie with several bees around me:

I got stung today, too; the first time I’ve been stung during an inspection. I stepped away from the hives to activate my phone camera, and one got me on the back of the hand as soon as I took off my glove. I can barely see the sting point at present, or feel it much, but it’ll probably swell up over the next day.

Here are bees on top of a box. You can see some white ones in the middle; they are coated in powdered sugar from the sugar shake mite test. The other bees will clean them off:

The bees have pollen patties to help feed them for the winter:

Here’s another cam shot of our inspection:

Scraping off the top of frames, to keep them tidy and easy to access:

A very nice comb of honey (for the bees winter supplies):

Lots of bees and honey:

The hives are now in winter mode; we’ll do more inspections and mite treatments over the next few weeks, to help them get ready for winter. We’ll also continue to feed them sugar syrup and pollen patties, to help them survive the coming cooler weather when they can’t go out and forage.

Bee tweaks

An update on my previous post about the bee hives: I said that we put the Ross round super on the pink hive, but later that same day we swapped it for a regular medium super, since we weren’t confident that the the Ross would work, and that hive was dangerously close to running out of room.

Good thing too, as we later realized that the reason it wasn’t being used was we’d forgotten to add the foundation:

D’oh! I guess we’ll try that again next year.

Yesterday, I added starter strips to two medium boxes of frames, just in case we needed them (spoiler: we didn’t, yet). A starter strip is a thin bit of wood that is glued into the top of the frame (they’re upside down in the pics below), to give the bees something from which to build the comb. I just ripped these strips from some scrap wood from the cat house project:

This morning, before it got too hot (though certainly hot enough even in ventilated bee suits), we did another quick inspection to see how they were doing.

Some good festooning on the new honey super; that is where the bees link legs to start forming the base of the comb off the starter strip:

Due to the extreme fire danger around here currently, we used a “liquid smoke” spray instead of the usual smoker:

We had a look at the Flow super (on the purple hive); definitely a bunch of honey in production, so we should be able to do one more harvest this year:

The hive that the Flow super is supposed to be on (that recently swarmed) is recovering nicely; a bunch of capped brood, showing the (presumably new) queen is doing her job:

Some honey, too; they’ll need every bit to survive the winter:

The bottom brood box on that hive has some activity, but not much, so we swapped the two boxes, to encourage them to populate it. Bees tend to work upwards, so it’s best to have empty boxes on top:

We’re nearing the end of the honey production season. We’ll probably remove the honey supers in early September, begin mite treatments, and let the bees build up their winter honey reserves.

Bee successes and failures

We did an inspection of the beehives today.

I’d noticed that the Flow hive was looking unusually quiet over the last few weeks, and when we looked at the frames, they were pretty much empty — very little honey or brood. But we did see the queen. So we think that the bees swarmed at some point. That is where the queen takes about half of the bees away to find a new home, and a new queen is hatched. That usually happens when they run out of space, so we may have triggered it by adding the Flow super too late, despite getting a couple of harvests from that. So not sure the timing makes sense.

Anyway, since this hive has basically reverted to a new hive, we took the Flow super off, and resumed feeding them.

The purple hive had a Ross round super on it, to make comb honey… but they hadn’t built any comb there for the past two inspections. So we replaced that super with the Flow one, to see if they prefer that. There’s certainly lots of activity in the purple hive.

Of the two new hives, the blue one has always been the weakest; it was much lighter when we got it, and it hasn’t improved. There are very few bees, and very little honey or brood. So that one probably won’t survive the winter. If it does fail, we’ll replace it next year.

The pink one, however, is doing really well. It was pretty much full of excellent brood and honey. Just look at these beautiful frames packed full of honey:

So we decided to try the Ross round super on that hive, to give them more space to expand into. We normally wouldn’t harvest honey from a first-year hive, but they’re doing so well, I think they could support it without endangering them. We’ll check next weekend to see if they start building comb in the super; if not, we might give them a regular box instead. Don’t want to risk them swarming.

Lots of bees on the outside, most of them queuing to come in, after Jenn scraped off excess comb:

Finally, a rare picture of me (David) in my bee suit:

Bees at the fast food restaurant

For new beehives, that are building up their brood frames and their own honey reserves (and not yet producing honey for us to harvest), we feed them a 2:1 mix of sugar and water, that I call bee juice.

This is the bee equivalent of fast food: rather than flying to harvest nectar from flowers, and arduously converting it into honey, they can just sip up the sugar water from a convenient feeder right in front of the hive, and store that away for later.

(Fun fact: an average worker bee will produce only about 1/12 teaspoon of honey in her lifetime. And yes, the workers are all female.)

Of course, bee juice isn’t as good for them, and we certainly don’t want to feed this to bees producing honey for us (we want real honey, not sugar water), but it really helps young hives get off the ground.

I refilled the dispensers on our two new hives this morning. With the plastic jar removed, you can see several bees sipping at the sugar water (the wooden base is hollow, so they can crawl from the hive to under the feeder):

Here’s the feeder with the jar in place:

Each hive will typically go through a jar of juice in about a week. Each jar contains 4 cups of sugar and 2 cups of water, which takes quite a while to dissolve in a pot on the oven hob. (For comparison, hummingbird juice is 1:4, i.e. 1 cup of sugar and 4 cups of water, which I can dissolve just using hot water from the tap.)