Beehive inspection: new roof, a couple more boxes, etc

After lunch we did an inspection of the beehives, to check for queens, replace the lid on one of the new hives, and add some temperature sensors.

Yellow hive honey frame; they’re building the cells rather deep, which isn’t ideal, but not really a problem:

Yellow hive honey frame

Yellow hive very nice new comb:

Yellow hive new comb

Yellow hive honey frame:

Yellow hive honey frame

Turquoise hive getting some smoke:

Turquoise hive

Turquoise hive brood frame:

Turquoise hive brood frame

Turquoise hive frame with some interestingly colored bees; brighter yellow from pollen:

Turquoise hive colorful bee

Purple hive brood frame:

Purple hive brood frame

Purple hive queen spotted; the non-stripy bee on the edge a bit above the shadow:

Purple hive queen

Hot pink hive brood frame:

Hot pink hive brood frame

The hot pink hive had a weird thing where a dome of bees gathered underneath the bottom screen. Bees naturally form a globe, so this is just the bottom of the globe, though they’re usually smart enough to do so inside the hive. Here’s a picture from May 13:

Hot pink hive bees underneath on May 13

Over time, they have slowly reduced it; here’s a couple of days ago:

Hot pink hive bees underneath

Today, we brushed the remaining ones off, and installed a wooden base, that should prevent this:

Hot pink hive base

Cedar hive brood frame:

Cedar hive brood frame

Here are all six hives from the right side; the roof on the turquoise hive (second-from-right) is new — still waiting on the proper base — plus we added a second brood box on that hive, as they were ready for more space:

Hives

From the other side; we also added a second brood box on the hot pink hive, the other new nuc:

Hives

Two new nucs

Yesterday we drove two hours to Eugene, Oregon (and two hours back) to pick up two nucs — nucleus bee hives, i.e. small starter hives.

The bee pickup was quite a streamlined production, with a line of cars, and people loading the nucs into vehicles:

Bee pickup

Interesting plastic nuc boxes:

Plastic nuc boxes

A sign of the times on the way home:

Stay Home, Save Lives sign

We stopped by the feed store on the way home to get some chicken and duck supplies, which resulted in some escaping bees (here our truck is parked on the grass near the hives):

Escaping bees

The straw and other supplies squeezed the left nuc box enough to let some bees escape. The lids weren’t as secure as they could be. It looks like a lot of bees, but isn’t all that many really:

Escaping bees

We’ve ordered components for a sixth hive, but they haven’t arrived yet, so we used a temporary base and a bit of plywood for a lid:

New hive

Opened nuc:

Opened nuc

Frame with queen. Can you see her? We didn’t spot her at the time, but noticed her in this photo, at the bottom just right of center (the long dark bee):

Frame with queen

A brood frame:

Brood frame

The new hive with the five nucs frames added, and a pollen patty for extra food to get them started:

New hive

Nuc for the “hot pink” hive:

Nuc for hot pink hive

Some nice brood frames:

Brood frame

Brood frame

Brood frame

We spotted this queen; the long dark bee on the left of the picture:

Queen

A closeup of some bees:

Bees

The empty nuc box; we shook most of these bees onto the top of the hive, so they’d find their way inside:

Empty nuc box

We took a look in the older hives. In the cedar hive, we saw their queen (near the top):

Cedar hive queen

Nice new comb in the yellow hive:

Nice new comb in yellow hive

We didn’t see a queen (or sign of one) in the yellow hive, but saw many queen cups, so they’re working on making one. Remember, we recently split the yellow hive to the cedar hive, so now we know which one got their queen, and which one is making a replacement. We’ll check again later to make sure they’re successful:

Many queen cups

A nice honey frame:

Honey frame

We now have six hives:

Six hives

A closer look at the purple, temporary new one, and yellow hives:

Hives

A closer look at the cedar, hot pink, and orange hives:

Hives

All six from the other side:

Six hives

Beehive split before they split

As mentioned in my previous post, we weren’t planning on inspecting the beehives again for a couple of weeks, but were concerned that the yellow hive were thinking about swarming. We hoped that adding the Flow super would give them enough room so they wouldn’t.

Well, on Monday they showed definite signs of preparing to do just that, with a massive cloud of bees flying around outside:

Cloud of bees

A little hard to see in that photo. Look closely; all of those little dots are bees. Here’s a GIF edition, that makes them more visible:

GIF of bees

As you might imagine, that was rather dismaying to see. If the bees swarm, that means we lose half the hive, setting it back quite a bit. Bees swarm when they feel population pressure. The queen takes half of the bees and goes find somewhere else to live, leaving behind unhatched queen(s) to take over.

About 15 minutes later, the bees started landing on the outside of the hive:

Bees on outside of hive

A GIF of the bees on the outside of hive, with lots still flying around:

GIF of bees on outside of hive

That could mean that they had selected a place to swarm to, and were gathering around the queen, preparing to depart. More bees on the outside:

Bees on outside of hive

Yet more, with fewer flying:

Bees on outside of hive

A side view:

Bees on outside of hive

But then we noticed the number diminishing, without taking off, so they seemed to be going back inside, rather than swarming:

Bees on outside of hive

Bees on outside of hive

Bees on outside of hive

Phew! As I joked, maybe someone made a really smelly fart, and they all had to get outside for a bit.

Bees evacuating the hive and accumulating outside is called “bearding”, and is common in hot weather, to cool it down, but in spring is usually a sign of impending swarming, hence our concern.

A brief intermission: remember the three frames of drone brood we removed from the purple hive, and gave to the chickens? Here’s what they looked like a few hours later:

Drone frames

The yellow hive has a scale on it to measure the weight of the hive. When we checked it the following day, it hadn’t gone down, which indicated that the bees had not swarmed. But we were concerned that they still might, so yesterday decided to do a “walk-away split” of the hive, where we basically divide the hive in two, moving half of the frames to a new hive. It’s called a “walk-away split” as there’s no need to even find the queen, we just ensure there are queen cells in each hive, and they make their own queen. Doing this split relieves the population pressure, without losing half of the bees. It does set them back, but they’ll recover in time, and we get another hive in the deal.

As mentioned last time, we didn’t find the queen… and we saw signs that maybe they don’t have a queen, or at least one they’re happy with.

To do the split, we brought out deep and medium boxes, and the other hive components, each box with eight frames.  We then removed the central four frames from each box, and moved four frames from each box of the yellow hive into the new boxes:

Moving frames to a new box

So the two boxes of each of the two hives each have four active frames, plus four new frames. (Not actually new; many of the frames have existing comb and even honey, previously stored in the freezer).

Here are the two medium boxes; one for the yellow hive, one for the new hive:

Moving frames to a new box

As you may have noticed above, I moved the mobile camera from the pond to watch the bees; here’s a shot of us working on the hives from that camera (with the old camera name overlay still):

Moving frames to a new box

We noticed several swarm cells on the frames, supporting the signs that they were planning to swarm. We also saw this capped supersedure cell, a sign that the hive either doesn’t have a queen, or the bees want to replace an unproductive queen:

Queen cell

Another cam shot, of me adding the second box to the hive:

Adding the box

The new hive is the cedar (aka Flow) hive on the left. To give them more room, we added Flow honey supers to both hives, though they probably won’t use them for a while, since they need to rebuild from the split. But having plenty of room will further reduce the chances of swarming:

Hives

Hives

So now we have the cedar and yellow hives from that split, each with Flow supers, plus the purple hive that’ll probably be ready for a honey super soon, a weak orange hive, and defunct hot pink hive:

Hives

We’ll be getting a couple of nucs in just over a week to replace the hot pink hive, and have ordered new hive components for a sixth hive, which will go between the purple and yellow ones.

Later in the day, the yellow hive has normal activity, about the same level as the purple hive:

Hives

The cedar hive was relatively quiet, which is expected, since they need to get used to their new home; hopefully they’ll settle in and resume normal activities soon:

Hives

Finally, a cam shot of sunrise behind the hives this morning:

Sunrise behind hives

All going well, we’ll inspect again in about 10 days, probably as part of adding the two new nucs.

Third beehive inspection of 2020

Another inspection of the beehives, following up to last week.

Firstly, a peek at the bottom of the feeder removed last week, now with fewer bees on it:

Feeder

A closer look; you can see a queen cup, and some bees further down, which have since departed:

Feeder closer

We’ll scrape that comb off before using the feeder again. (If we do; we weren’t entirely satisfied with them, as the sugar syrup tended to get moldy, and bees would find their way around the screen and drown.)

On to the inspection. Here’s the yellow hive, with the new Flow super:

Yellow hive

The inspection cloth on top to keep the bees calmer, and the rack ready to receive a removed frame. The grid on the right is the queen excluder, which prevents the queen from laying in the Flow honey super:

Yellow hive

A nice frame of honey and worker brood; a typical pattern for frames near the edge:

Honey and brood frame

A frame with a bunch of honey:

Honey frame

A brood frame covered in bees:

Brood frame

Another honey and brood frame:

Honey and brood frame

Honey frame:

Honey frame

We didn’t see the queen in the yellow hive, though saw proof that she had been laying, which was good enough.

Moving on to the purple hive, here’s a frame of drone brood that we noticed last week:

Purple hive drones

We spotted the queen (the large non-stripy bee near the edge on the left, which is the bottom of the frame):

Purple hive queen

We removed the three drone frames:

Three drone frames

And brushed the bees off them:

Brushing bees

We set those drone frames aside, to let the remaining bees evacuate:

Drone frames

We replaced those frames with ones we had stored in our shop freezer over winter (and had since defrosted), that included some honey.

Some bees hanging out on Jenn’s suit:

Bees on suit

This morning, I gave those drone frames to our chickens to enjoy; they’ll eat the unhatched drones and clean off the comb. We need to destroy the drone cells before using these frames again, otherwise they’d encourage laying more drones:

Chickens with drone frames

We also did mite treatments on the purple and orange hives. The orange hive is still looking weak, but surviving so far, so we didn’t disturb it too much.

We’ve completed the mite treatments now, so probably don’t need to inspect again for a couple of weeks, though need to keep an eye on the hives to give the purple hive more space if they need it, to prevent swarming. The yellow hive looks like they’re considering swarming, but they have plenty of space with the Flow super, so hopefully they won’t.

Second beehive inspection of 2020

One week after the first beehive inspection of the year, we inspected again, to make some tweaks, and continue the mite treatments.

Yesterday I modified our new Flow box and cover; the access door on the Flow box was sticking, and the roof was hitting the handles of the top panel, so I used my router to trim them to work better (not particularly tidy, but works):

Modified Flow box and cover

Today we removed the feeder from the yellow hive; we had left that in place in case the queen was in there. There were still lots of bees on the bottom of the feeder, but we shook most of them into the hive; the remainder will fly back this afternoon, then I’ll be able to take the feeder away tomorrow:

Yellow hive: bees on bottom of feeder

A broken queen cup stuck to the top of a frame (it would have been built hanging off the frame above):

Broken queen cup

A decent frame of brood:

Brood frame

We didn’t see the queen, so hopefully she’s in there somewhere. We’ll look again next week.

We also put the new Flow super on, with a queen excluder, to give them more room for honey:

Flow super

On to the purple hive, we transferred the frames to a new box, since the blue box had a bit of a gap:

Transferring frames to a new box

Looking at the upper box, there’s some good brood frames:

Brood frame

But also a lot of drone frames, which we’ll remove next week:

Drone frame

We also took a peek in the orange hive. It’s still alive, so we just did the treatment without disturbing it too much:

Orange hive

So here are the current state of our hives — two gone, one weak, one with too many drones, and one looking good, though no queen sighting:

The hives

We’ll inspect again next week, weather permitting.

First beehive inspection of 2020

Since the weather is warming up, yesterday we did the first beehive inspection of the year. We had concerns about three of the hives, where we hadn’t seen much activity, and our concerns were justified. But two were looking strong. Read on for details… the bad news first, then the good news.

Firstly, the Flow hive. It was completely dead and empty:

Cedar hive

The pink hive was a split we did last year, so was quite small, and we weren’t confident that it would have enough resources to survive the winter. And we were right; it looks like they starved to death, then froze when the colony was too small to maintain warmth:

Dead bees

A mass of dead bees on the base:

Dead bees

It’s very sad to lose two hives. But things were looking up in the next hive — we were expecting more of the same in the engineering-challenged orange hive, but it was still alive:

Engineering-challenged orange hive

We saw the orange hive queen, too — the non-stripy bee in the lower-center of this picture:

Orange hive queen

We also saw the purple hive queen (see if you can spot her); they are also looking good:

Purple hive queen

A closer look at the queen — near the center of this picture:

Closer queen

A comb with bee bread (protein source for worker bees, made from pollen):

Bee bread

The feeders we had on the hives had some space above the frames, which encouraged them to build there. So we needed to scrape that off:

Scraping

The scraped comb went into a bucket:

Bucket

Still on the purple hive, a frame with drone cells; usually not something we want to see, but one frame is fine:

Drones

A frame with worker cells:

Workers

On to the yellow hive, they are in the best shape, with lots of honey stores still, though more incorrect building above the frames due to the feeder:

Yellow hive incorrect building

Unfortunate to destroy cells with bee larvae. Though we noticed some varroa mites on the larvae, which isn’t great:

Bee larvae with mites

A frame with some new honey:

New honey

We added ApiLife VAR mite treatments and a pollen patty to help feed them:

Mite treatment and pollen patty

A nice frame of honey and brood:

Honey and brood

Since they’re looking mostly full, we decided to add the Flow super:

Flow super

Sad: two empty hives:

Two empty hives

When scraping the bottom of the feeder, Jenn thought she saw the queen there:

Scraping feeder

So we removed the Flow super and put the feeder back on temporarily, so the queen could go back down where she should be:

Feeder back on temporarily

We’ll inspect again next weekend, and remove the feeder and possibly put on the Flow super again. Though we might have to finish the mite treatment first.

Again, it’s sad to lose two hives. But at least we have three remaining, to various levels of strength. Now that flowers are in bloom, they should become stronger. We’ll have to think about getting packages or nucs to replace the two hives, or possibly do splits from our other hives later in the year.

February snow

We woke up to about an inch of snow this morning, with a little continuing in the early morning. It’ll likely be all gone by end of day, but let’s take a walk around the property.

Cat footprints on the driveway:

Cat footprints

Trees and bees:

Trees and bees

Greenhouse (more on the shelving project probably tomorrow):

Greenhouse

Chickens (more pictures of them in the snow on Friday):

Chickens

Gazebo and grove:

Gazebo and grove

Path to the duck house:

Path to duck house

Heathers:

Heathers

East-side trees fading into the distance:

Trees

North-east trees:

Trees

From the pond deck — the ducks, pond, and snowy trees:

Ducks and pond

Reflection on the pond:

Reflection

Gazebo and dormant flowerbeds, with the pond deck in the background:

Gazebo and flowerbeds

Finally, the cat house, with more cat prints (more of this on Caturday, of course):

Cat house

Top feeders on all beehives

Since the temperatures are warming up, yesterday we added top feeders to all of the beehives, and added some 1:1 sugar syrup to feed them.

Here’s a picture inside a top feeder (actually an older picture); the trough holds syup, and the bees can access it from inside the hive via the center area:

Top feeder

Now all five of our hives (which are all still alive, yay!) have top feeders — the white boxes at the top of each:

Beehives

Beehives

The boards leaning against the hive stands are the inner covers of the hives, which aren’t needed with top feeders. I’ll remove those once the bees have left them.

I’ll refill the feeders weekly, or as needed. It takes quite a lot of sugar — using two large pots, I heat up 30 cups of water and mix in 30 cups of sugar, and that is only enough to partially fill the feeders. But the feeders will help the bees survive until more things are blooming in spring. We’ll remove the feeders when we add the honey supers, since we don’t want sugar water in our honey.