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

Bee inspection: missing queen, marked queen

A quick post on last weekend’s beehive inspection.

We added a Ross round honey super to the yellow hive, one of the overwintered ones, to try to get some comb honey. This super has frames with plastic round shapes, in which the bees draw out comb and make honey, then they can be easily separated and packaged as round comb honey:

Ross round super

Next we inspected one of the two new hives. This was concerning: we didn’t see the queen (which isn’t all that uncommon), but also didn’t see eggs. While there was plenty of capped brood, and larvae, nothing younger than a week old. We also saw some possible emergency queen cups, like in the center of this picture. So it’s possible the queen didn’t survive the installation of the hive; either we didn’t get one with the nuc, or she got squashed or something in transferring to the new hive:

Possible emergency queen cup

We’ll inspect again this weekend to see what’s happened.  They may make a new queen, or maybe we just missed her.

A closeup of bees on a frame:

Closeup of bees

Treatment and temperature sensor:

Treatment

On to the purple hive, there was a strange formation on one of the frames; not sure what that’s about:

Strange formation

We spotted the queen; she is even marked, which makes her easy to see:

Marked queen

We also added a scale to the Flow hive. This lets us monitor the weight of the hive, in addition to the temperature, which helps indicate the amount of honey, among other things:

Scale

All four hives:

Four hives

Some removed boxes between the hives, left there for a day for the bees to evacuate:

Four hives

New bees

We picked up two nucs early this morning, from a bee farm half an hour away.  Nucs are nucleus hives; a box with fully established frames, including a queen, workers, some honey stores, and brood growing.

In this case, the nucs were in cardboard boxes, each with five frames.

Here’s Jenn transferring the frames from the first nuc box to their new home, the orange hive (named for the base color). The hive box has three extra frames for them to expand into, for a total of eight:

Bee nuc

The bees were not in a good mood, probably due to being shaken around on the journey, and the liquid smoke wasn’t working. One stung Jenn on the side of her hand through the thin gloves she was wearing.

Here’s the new hive installed, with a sugar syrup feeder, and a pollen patty inside. The nuc box was left in front, so the bees remaining in there can find the hive:

Bees installed

Jenn put on thicker gloves and fired up the smoker for the second nuc. Here she’s looking at a frame while transferring it into the hive:

Bee frame

Another frame, in a cloud of smoke:

Bee frame

The second hive was easier; the smoke really helps. Here Jenn tipped out most of the remaining bees from the box:

Tipping out bees

Both hives (all four, actually) have a pollen patty to help feed the bees:

Pollen patty

The new orange and purple hives:

New hives

All four hives:

Four hives

Four hives

Bee inspection & treatment

Yesterday we did another beehive inspection and mite treatment.

Here’s the yellow hive pulled apart to inspect and treat the bottom brood box:

Pulling apart beehive

A bunch of bees on top of some frames:

Bees on top of frames

Jenn inspecting a frame:

Jenn inspecting a frame

A closer look at at that frame, which has lots of capped honey on the sides, and uncapped honey in the middle:

Closer look at honey

Inspecting another frame, with a practice queen cup aka swarm cell visible hanging off the bottom. If the bees ran out of room, they’d use these to grow a new queen, and the old queen would take half of the bees and go find somewhere else to live, aka swarming. The bees make these as an insurance policy when things are going well, so isn’t usually anything to worry about:

Bees

We did see the queens for both hives, which was gratifying. Though I didn’t get good pictures of either.

A bunch of bees on the edge of a frame:

Bees

Inspecting a frame with a lot of drone brood (the lumpy cells):

Drone brood

And a frame with worker brood (the flatter cells):

Worker brood

A closer look at bees on a frame:

Bees

Smoke across the top to get the bees to go down, so we can add another box without squashing them:

Smoke

We added a queen excluder and the Flow super, to start collecting some honey.  It’ll probably take them a while to start up there, since they have space below, but it’s good to make sure they have plenty of room when there is good nectar flow:

Added Flow super

Bee closeup:

Bee closeup

Another closeup; you can clearly see the pollen sacs:

Bee closeup

Bee inspection & treatment; queen sighted

On Sunday we did an inspection and treatment of the beehives.

Here Jenn is pulling out a frame from the yellow beehive; notice the white rack that holds a frame, to make space to pull others out more easily:

Jenn inspecting beehive

We checked for mites via a sugar shake test, where powdered sugar is added to a jar of bees, shaken, water added, then mites counted:

Powdered suger on jar of bees

The bees are unharmed by this; they are returned to the hive, where others will clean them off (tasty sugar!):

Sugary bees

Adding an oxalic acid sugar water mix, that should kill mites without harming the bees:

Bee treatment

A frame with some honey on the left, and capped brood (baby bees) on the right:

Bee frame

Lots of honey (or sugar water from the feeder):

Bee frame

A couple of hive boxes; the bees had very little activity in the bottom box, so we swapped them; they tend to want to move upwards, so would continue to ignore the bottom box if left there:

Hive boxes

Some closeups of bees:

Closeup of bees

Closeup of bees

Closeup of bees

We spotted the queen in the Flow hive; I’ve circled her here:

Queen sighted

A classic beehive frame, with capped brood in the center:

Bee frame

A bunch of bees hanging out at the entrance:

Bees

The Flow beehive:

Beehive

The yellow beehive:

Beehive