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.)

Bee inspection & second harvest

Yesterday we did a bee inspection and the second harvest from the Flow hive (see the first harvest in a previous blog post).

We did a full inspection of all of the hives (except for one box of the purple hive, as they were being extra cranky). Here’s Jenn starting on the bottom box of the Flow hive:

And the top box:

A frame with a bunch of honey:

A bunch of worker brood:

Harvesting honey from the Flow hive:

Jenn relaxing while waiting for the honey to finish, as we enjoyed the shade and quiet (other than some cranky guard bees):

The haul: six pints of honey (about 3 liters). About half as much as last time, but still not bad for three weeks:

First honey harvest

Yesterday afternoon we did an inspection of the beehives, and our first harvest of honey from the Flow hive.

Firstly, we added a second brood box to one of the new hives (the one in the foreground), as they were ready for more space. The other new one (next to it) wasn’t ready yet; that one started out behind, so will be another few weeks before they need another box:

Here’s the queen excluder from the purple hive; this grid lets worker bees through to the honey supers, but keeps the queen out, so she doesn’t lay brood up there:

A brood frame with lots of honey (their winter reserves; we won’t harvest that):

On inspecting the Flow hive, all of the frames had at least some honey, so we decided to do our first harvest. Unlike traditional honey supers (which we’ll have on the other hives), the Flow one is designed to make it easy to harvest honey like turning on a tap. By opening the back, removing some covers, inserting a tube, and turning a big metal key, the frames split open, and the honey oozes out. When done, the process is reversed, and the bees refill the cells; no bees are harmed, and they’re hardly disturbed:

Here’s a video of the bees working on the leftmost frame, through the inspection window on the side:


And a video of harvesting from three of the Flow frames:


Harvesting honey; the cheesecloth is to keep bees out of the jars:

A full jar:

While we waited for the honey, swapping out jars as needed, we also put a Ross Round honey super on the purple hive. These are a different kind of special frames, where the bees build their comb in circular frames, which can then be easily packaged into round containers of comb honey:

Close-up of a bee on Jenn’s bee suit:

Our harvest: 7 quarts (about 6.6 liters) of honey:

Not bad for about 3 weeks of work from one hive. Well done, bees!

Bees: adding honey supers

We did another inspection of the beehives over the weekend, and added honey supers to the two older hives.

One part of inspections is correcting undesired behavior: sometimes bees build comb outside the frames, so we need to scrape it off. If left intact, eventually we wouldn’t be able to pull out the frames:

The new bees are doing well, expanding into their extra frames; here you can see some capped honey:

One of the older frames, of the new bees, with a bunch of worker and drone cells. The worker cells are the flat ones in the middle, and the drone cells are the lumpy ones towards the bottom. You can also see an open queen cup towards the top-left, which they build just in case it’s needed (but when towards the top, is more for practice than expected need):

We did a sugar-shake test for mites on this inspection:

Inspecting one of the older hives:

Some nice honey comb:

This hive was ready for more space before we could get to it, so they started building comb under the roof; again, not an approved place:

So we scraped off their hard work:

It’s not entirely wasted; the bees will recover most of the honey. It wasn’t worth us taking this honey, as it is likely at least partially sugar syrup from the feeder. If you look closely, you may notice the grass full of bees that were shaken off this comb (don’t worry, they’re fine):

We then added the honey super to the hive, resting on top of a queen excluder — which, as the name implies, is a grid that lets through the worker bees, but the queen can’t pass through. This ensures that only honey is stored in the honey super, not brood (baby bees).

This particular hive is a Flow hive, which has special frames that let the honey be harvested more easily:

Roof and strap back on, and looking at the harvest hatch:

Our apiary, with the two older hives on the left, with honey supers, and the two new ones on the right:

A bit more snow

So much for spring; we got about an inch of snow overnight.

The feral cats are used to it by now:

The bees probably aren’t too thrilled, but have been pretty active recently, working on restoring their supplies, so will probably stay bundled up for now:

The chicken coop:

The white gazebo; the pond is still liquid: it hasn’t been cold enough to freeze:

The brown gazebo and coop:

Second beehive stand

A simple mini-project for the weekend was to build another stand for the two new beehives we’ll be setting up soon. We’ll be picking up two more nucs (nucleus hives) mid-April, so have bought more hives, and needed a stand for them to sit on. I used the same design as the first one.

Here’s the basic frame; the spacing is perfect both for the hive boxes, and to rest frames temporarily during inspections (e.g. see an empty frame towards the back of this picture):

Legs; the middle legs are shorter than the corner ones, as they will sit on taller footing blocks (for reasons; stay tuned for the installation for why):

Some hive bases demoing the fit. As with the first hive stand, there’s room in the middle for a third hive. We’ll likely add another one on each of the stands next year:

Jenn has been painting the new hive boxes fun colors: