Beehive inspection with cloths

We added a handy new tool to our beekeeping practices: canvas inspection cloths. These are multi-layered cloths that go over the top of hive boxes during inspection, to keep the bees in the dark, which keeps them more calm. They seem to help quite a bit:

Beehive inspection cloth

Here’s a frame from the yellow hive with the marked queen; one of our new queens. See the green dot? That makes it much easier to spot her:

Marked queen bee

Another angle:

Marked queen bee

A GIF of the queen (as previously posted):

GIF of queen bee

A frame of honey from the yellow hive:

Frame of honey

A partial frame of honey from the purple hive:

Frame of honey

A purple hive frame with brood and the (unmarked) queen; can you spot her?

Frame with brood and queen

Here’s a closer look; I’ve circled the queen:

Queen bee

We switched to an alcohol wash mite test instead of the sugar shake. This is a bit easier:

Alcohol wash mite test

A mostly full frame of honey from the Flow hive:

Frame of honey

 We noticed a bee dragging off another one; they do that to clear out dead ones, but this one wasn’t quite dead yet. It was feeling much better:

Bee dragging off another

The new hot pink hive has a top sugar syrup feeder (visible on the left), and the bees took advantage of the space in the middle of that to build extra comb; that isn’t approved, but we left it for now:

Comb in feeder gap

A problematic frame from the orange hive, where they had previously built cross-comb. They are slowly repairing it, but are still very cranky with us, so we just removed the mite treatment patty and otherwise left them alone:

Problematic frame

You may recall that we have two nucs with the old queens that we replaced. When we checked them, one was evacuated; empty frames and no bees. So we moved some drawn-out frames to the other one, to replace non-drawn-out ones, and removed the empty nuc:

Nucs

Sometime we’ll move the remaining nuc to the hoop house, so the waxed cardboard has more chance of surviving the winter.  The hive probably won’t survive, being so small, but no big loss; it was only kept just in case the new queens didn’t “take”. If it does survive, we’ll move it into a new hive box next year.

Honey extraction, comb honey, chunk honey

Over the weekend we used a borrowed honey extractor to get the honey out of a couple of hive frames, plus cut six frames into 24 boxes of comb honey, and one frame into 8 jars of chunk honey.

Here are the frames in the baskets of the honey extractor; it’s basically a centrifuge, where the frames are spun quickly to force the honey out of the wax cells:

Frames in honey extractor

A look at the outside of the extractor; it has a crank handle to spin the baskets, a top chamber with the baskets, and a bottom chamber where the honey is collected:

Honey extractor

This is a comb honey cutter, which cuts a square of the comb, which is then placed in the plastic boxes:

Comb honey cutter

A hive box, and stacks of comb honey:

Hive box, comb honey

The extracted honey was then poured into a bucket with a fine mesh at the top, to filter out the globs of wax (the Flow hive is much easier!):

Extracted honey

Here’s a view from inside of it flowing out:

Extracted honey

We put the extractor outside so the rain could clean it… and a few bees turned up to help:

Bee cleaning extractor

Then they told their sisters, and a large swarm of bees turned up:

Swarm of bees

They did a good job of cleaning it, though!

Meanwhile, Jenn cut the comb from another frame into half-sized portions, put them in jars, and poured filtered honey in to make chunk honey:

Chunk honey

Here are a couple of jars of chunk honey:

Chunk honey

The packaged comb and chunk honey (we’ll add labels later):

Comb and chunk honey

Honey processing, top feeder, queen cage, nucs

On Saturday Jenn processed the honey harvested the previous weekend. She used a bucket with a filter screen and closable nozzle to filter out debris from the honey, and portion it into cute little hexagonal jars:

Filtering honey

She then labeled the jars:

Labeling jars

And stored them in plastic containers:

Labeled jars

Yesterday we did a quick inspection of the hives. Firstly I added 2:1 sugar syrup to the top feeder on the new hot pink hive:

Top feeder

Here’s a close up of the feeder; if you look closely, you can see cute little tongues on some of the bees:

Bees drinking

We then removed the queen cages from the requeened hives. Here you can see a cage after the frames were moved apart:

Queen cage

Jenn lifted the frame so I could grab the cage:

Queen cage

Here’s a queen cage after removing it, with a few bees still inside. The candy has been eaten, and the queen has exited:

Queen cage

We inspected a frame from each of the requeened hives, but didn’t immediately see the queens, and didn’t look further, not wanting to disturb the hives too much at this stage. We didn’t see anything untoward like queen cups, though, so we think they are doing fine. We’ll check again next time to try to find them:

Inspecting frame

Inspecting frame

The two nuc boxes with the old queens are still surviving:

Nuc box

We haven’t decided what to do with these yet; we could just leave them as-is, putting the cardboard boxes in the hoop house or other shelter, perhaps supplementing with some frames of honey, and see if they survive the winter. Or we could merge the two boxes into one, by buying wooden nuc boxes. Or we could merge them into the hot pink hive, to bolster that. We’ll continue to consider options.

Beehive inspection, harvest, treatment, requeening

Over the weekend we had an epic three-hour beehive session, plus a quick half-hour one the following day. A lot went on: we inspected all five of the hives, harvested 9 quarts of honey from the Flow hive, removed one box full of honey frames, put a bee escape on another hive to take a box from them (15 medium frames total), did mite counts and treatments, added a new feeder box, found and removed queens from two hives, and replaced the queens (the next day). Read on for details.

Firstly, we started the Flow harvest:

Flow harvest

While that was underway, we checked the new “hot pink” hive; it seems to be doing well, though we have concerns on whether or not it has enough honey stored to survive the winter; we might provide extra frames of honey to help them along:

Hot pink hive

We did the sugar shake mite test on each of the hives. Here’s a jar of sugary bees:

Jar of sugary bees

Jenn doing the mite test:

Sugar shake mite test

A frame of honey from the yellow hive; this is from a box that we will harvest, cutting the foundationless frames into comb honey, and extracting from the foundation ones:

Nice frame of honey

We wanted to replace the aging queens on the yellow and Flow hives, so the trick was to find them. Here’s the queen on the yellow hive — look for the one with minimal stripes towards the bottom, right of center:

Queen bee

We put that frame and one other in a nuc box, along with some empty frames, as a backup in case the new queens don’t “take”:

Nuc box

A close-up of bees on top of frames:

Close-up of bees

We also added a bee escape board between the brood boxes (the bottom two) and the honey supers (the top two). This is a special board that includes a triangular route that bees can go out but apparently can’t find their way back in (see a picture of it later). This is an easy way to get the bees out of the honey boxes, so we can remove them:

Escape added

An essential tool, the smoker:

Smoker

Checking in on the Flow harvest:

Flow harvest

We covered the jars to prevent lazy bees from trying to collect the honey, and ending up drowning in the jars:

Jars covered

A very nice full frame of honey from the purple hive, from another box that we’ll harvest:

Full frame of honey

Jenn brushed off the bees, since there weren’t all that many (and we don’t have a second bee escape), so we could take the box away immediately:

Brushing off bees

The orange hive is rather engineering challenged; they have a lot of cross-combing, which gets torn apart when removing the frames:

Orange hive is engineering challenged

They were rather cranky at our critique of their engineering talents; we had to take long walks to get them to stop trying to kill us:

Cranky hive

We also found and removed the old queen from the Flow hive; here’s her nuc box, again with two frames from the hive, plus empty ones:

Nuc for Flow hive's queen

After finishing harvesting, we removed the Flow box, and left it on the ground for them to clear out of it:

Removed Flow box

We received the two new queens, enclosed in queen cages along with some attendants, and a block of candy for the bees in the hive to slowly eat through, while getting used to their new queen:

New queens

The next day, preparing a queen cage for installation in the hive:

Preparing queen cage

I didn’t get any pictures of the queen cage in place, since I had to help position it; it’s basically jammed between two frames.

A Mite Away Quick Strips treatment on a couple of hives that needed it, without new queens:

Mite Away Quick Strips treatment

We went back at night to collect the Flow box, but there was an unusual amount of activity, and bees still active inside the Flow box:

Night activity

So I added the escape board to the Flow box, so they can clear out. You can also see the five hives reduced to their winter configurations of just brood boxes. All the honey the bees collect for the rest of the year is for them to store to eat during winter. Oh, and the white box on the hot pink hive is a feeder tray, with big troughs for sugar syrup, that the bees can access from inside the hive. A higher capacity than the old feeder jars, and less prone to robbing by bees from other hives:

Escape on Flow box

Here’s a closer look at the bee escape board, with some bees heading out:

Bee escape board

Finally, bearding bees on a hive with the mite treatment; an expected behavior:

Bearding bees

Bees: new hive, Flow harvest

We did a beehive inspection yesterday, which included adding a new hive, and harvesting honey from the Flow hive.

You may recall from my previous bee post that we added a nuc box with some frames split from the Flow hive, that had some queen cells. That worked out well, as they established a colony there. We saw bees going in and out of the box, but until we inspected we weren’t sure if they were living there, or just robbing it of resources. But when we opened it up, we found lots of bees doing their thing. Excellent: our first split!

In anticipation of that possibility, we had purchased new hive components (base, cover, etc), and painted them. Yesterday, we transferred the frames from the nuc box to the new hive:

Transferring frames from nuc box to hive

We were pleased to spot the new queen, too:

Queen spotted

Here you can see the queen near the center of the picture — the longer, more mono-colored bee. Lots of good brood activity, too:

Queen

Here’s the new hive, which we’re calling the “hot pink” hive:

New hot pink hive

Inspecting the orange hive, they made a bit of a mess of the comb, with extensive cross-combing (where they build the comb between the frames, instead of contained within each, which makes it impossible to remove the frames without dislodging the comb). One of the dangers of foundationless frames:

Messy comb

We also started harvesting honey from the Flow hive. These use unique plastic frames that can be split apart to extract the honey without having to remove the frames or disturb the bees, with the honey flowing down inside the frames and out through tubes inserted in the base.

Here’s a flow underway on the left, and just starting on the right:

Harvesting Flow hive

A view from a little further back, showing the whole hive. The access door becomes a shelf via handy new brackets:

Harvesting Flow hive

Meanwhile, we continued inspecting the hives. The bees still hadn’t done anything with the Ross rounds frames, so we removed them. We’ve heard that they are difficult to get the bees to accept them, and that certainly matches our experience. A pity, since they make nice packaged comb honey, but we’ll just have to cut that from regular frames:

Ross rounds

Speaking of, a nice frame of honey underway:

Honey frame

Jenn waiting for the honey:

Jenn waiting for honey

The Flow hive again:

Harvesting Flow hive

Here are all five of our hives: yellow, purple, orange, hot pink, and Flow. Which are conveniently in alphabetical order when viewed from the front (which is why we called the new one “hot pink” instead of just “pink”):

Five hives

Harvesting different frames:

Harvesting Flow hive

Closer; such pretty honey:

Harvesting Flow hive

Did you see the video of the honey flowing?

We left a couple of frames for next weekend, when we’ll have some beekeeper visitors, but the harvest from the four middle frames was 7 quarts (6.6 liters) of honey:

Honey

Bee inspection: new queen; emergency & swarm cells

We did a couple of beehive inspections over the weekend, and found some interesting things.

But first, a normal-looking hive frame, with brood:

Beehive frame

This hive (the orange one) was the one that appeared to be missing their queen on the previous inspection. On reviewing the photos while writing this post, I spotted a queen; circled in red in the following picture. It seems likely that this is a new queen, hatched from the emergency cells we saw then:

Queen bee

Next we looked at the Flow hive. Here’s a Flow frame with honey underway; starting to fill up and get capped:

Flow frame with honey

Another normal frame:

Frame

But then we saw an emergency cell:

Emergency cell

And more concerning, a couple more emergency cells, and swarm cells:

Emergency & swarm cells

Here’s a closer look at the swarm cells, upside-down. They are capped, which means the hive is preparing to swarm (take half of the population to find a new home):

Swarm cells

A closer look at one of the emergency cells, uncapped; that could just be practice. There are also a lot of drone bees visible, mooching off the hive resources (they’re the larger ones):

Emergency cell

The end frame of the Flow hive was full of drone cells, which are pretty useless. That could be a symptom of a worker laying eggs, hence the emergency cells, or caused by weather changes:

Drone frame

Lots of bees:

Lots of bees

We decided to remove the drone frame, replacing it with an empty frame, both to ease the hive resources, and as a way of reducing the mite load of the hive, since the mites tend to go for drone cells. Here Jenn is brushing the bees off the frame:

Brushing off bees

Bees outside the hive:

Bees outside box

After a visit to her mentor, Jenn decided to re-inspect the hive the next day, to split some frames into a nuc box. The bees weren’t in the mood for an inspection, though:

Cranky bees

Here’s the nuc, with some old frames:

Nuc

We couldn’t find the swarm cells anymore, though it didn’t look like they had swarmed, so maybe they changed their mind? We left the nuc box next to the hive, in case they did decide to swarm, so hopefully they’d move into the nuc:

Flow hive & nuc

We’ll keep an eye on this hive. Hopefully it won’t swarm (again; it did so last year), since that’ll set back the honey production. Though it’s early enough that they might have time to build up enough before fall.

Bee water pool

Like any creatures, bees get thirsty. So they have to get water from somewhere, for themselves and their hive. They also use water to control the humidity of the hive, as part of the process of making honey.

We have a big pond they can drink from, but it’s easy for bees to drown if they’re not careful. We also have a stream, and in summer a swimming pool, but those aren’t ideal water sources either (Jenn has rescued several bees from the pool when swimming).

So we also have a small kiddie pool that has rocks in it to act as safe landing zones for the bees. It is by the closest tap to the hives, near the greenhouse. Bees will fly for miles to find water, but if they have a ready source close to the hive, they don’t need to go to less ideal places.

The pool was immediately below the tap, but that made it hard to turn it on to top up the pool, when lots of bees are buzzing around. So I recently added a splitter and a couple of short hoses; one going into the pool, which can now be a bit further away, and another for use when working in the greenhouse (until I get around to adding taps in there):

Hoses and bee water pool

I also added a couple of bits of wood as additional landing pads for the bees:

Bee water pool

As a temporary thing, I set up the mobile cam above the pool, so I could watch the bees using it, just for fun. In the above picture, you can see the beehives and greenhouse in the background, to give a better idea of the location.

One interesting observation was that birds and cats also take advantage of the water source. Here’s a crow drinking from the bee pool:

Bird drinking from bee water pool

A cat drinking:

Cat drinking from bee water pool

Bees drinking from the pool; notice some on the wood, some around the edge, and a bunch on the rocks:

Bees drinking from bee water pool

If I zoom in on the pile of rocks, you can more clearly see lots of bees:

Zoom on bees

A crow drinking again; it doesn’t care about the bees:

Bird drinking from bee water pool

Another cat:

Cat drinking from bee water pool

The crow decided to walk across the platforms, somewhat unsuccessfully:

Bird walking in bee water pool