Yesterday and today have been relatively warm, with temperatures up in the 50s and lots of sun. The bees have been out in very small numbers, visiting the crocus that are up in the garden.
It was nice enough today that I took the liberty of making more fondant and going out to feed it to the bees. I was dismayed to find that they have dwindled down to just a couple dozen in number. They were huddling between two frames near the middle of the hive, and all the fondant from last time was gone. The queen is still alive, and eggs are present. I don’t know why they did so poorly, as there were two full frames of honey on the edges of the box. I moved both of them right next to the minuscule cluster of bees after I ‘wrapped’ the fondant around the two frames they occupied. I don’t know how they could possibly survive, but I’m hopeful. There are plenty of pollen and honey stores present to get them going, but I think their numbers are just few to stay warm if there’s another deep cold snap.
I took the Warre hive box off of the telescoping cover, since there’s no need to have the sugar water feeder on while the fondant is present, and it was empty. I don’t know why I didn’t take it off sooner. I replaced the Warre box with the metal lid that goes with the langstroth system.
In other news, I’ve been certified as an official apprentice beekeeper after finally taking the state test. I went to collect my certificate and the little badge/patch that comes with it a couple days ago, but the president of my local association had forgotten it at her house. I bought the journeymen level booklet and went home to watch a new episode of Supernatural. I didn’t bother looking at the test booklet once I got home since I had had a long day, but when I opened it the next day I was extremely confused by what I found. The Apprentice booklet had had nice neat sections full of text on whatever the topic was. This booklet is thicker and seems to be full of various regulations/laws surrounding beekeeping, and a couple pages of “suggested reading material”. This certification process is supposed to take a full year to complete, and tests for each section in the book are given individually. I’m kind of annoyed the president didn’t bother to explain any of this to me, especially since I’ll now need to go and find/buy a bunch of books to actually learn anything. Essentially I paid $20 for a reading list. Part of the certification for this level also requires “service hours” in which the beekeeper spends time educating the public about bees, educating other beekeepers about bees, tabling at a county fair or similar event for the local beekeeping association, or writing essays/being published in a beekeeping journal. There are about 10 different types of activities you can do, and every activity has a point value. And of course there are guidelines to how many points you can earn in each category, and how many hours of an activity count for a point and how many hours of activity can be counted for a single event. It’s honestly an extremely confusing mess of rules that make no sense and don’t seem to do much to make learning about beekeeping any easier. Needless to say, I’m not very excited about completing this certification process.
After weeks and weeks of doing nothing, I made some fondant for the bees yesterday. I think it was about 2 pounds, and it took a little over an hour to make because I had no idea what I was doing. Today I went down to the garage and looked through the empty hive boxes I have, to see if there were any frames with decent honey stores on them. I found two, and brought them upstairs to warm in front of the fire. While the frames warmed up I went outside and moved our compost and recycling bins over to make a windbreaker in front of the hive. After about ten minutes, when the honey was starting to run out of some of the cracks in the wax, I suited up and took the fondant and 2 frames outside. I took the Warre hive box off of the top of the hive, and removed the empty plastic container I had been using to feed the bees sugar water late last November (ish?). I was glad to find the bees were unhappy to see me, and a few flew out of the telescoping cover’s hole to investigate. I quickly removed the telescoping cover and then covered the bees with the burlap from the Warre box.
There were 3 or 4 frames of bees present, and they were more to the left of the hive (the north side), which is more protected from the wind. I removed two empty frames from the right side as quickly as I could, and then placed the frames with some honey stores on the right next to the brood nest. I removed the burlap cloth from over the bees, and replaced it with the fondant. I anticipate having to feed them again soon. I’m really glad they’ve made it this long though. There were a lot of dead bees on the mesh wire at the bottom of the hive, and the ground around the entrance was littered with them. There were several bees that landed on me while I was working and I tried to place as many as I could back into the entrance. The high today was 48, and it was windy out, so the bees weren’t too happy to be outside. Judging by the cluster’s size though, I definitely needed to feed them. I’m not sure how long it will take them to get through the fondant. It was maybe a centimeter thick, and was about the size of a dinner plate. The cluster was a little oddly shaped, so the fondant rested on a couple of empty frames. I had it rest on the frames I had just added to try and entice the girls to move over there.
I really hope they make it! The cluster seemed so small. This fondant may be too little too late. We’ll see!
Sorry I didn’t write a post about the movie night yet. I needed a break from everything for a bit. Maybe I’ll write a post about it tomorrow, depending on how I’m feeling. I’m getting my wisdom teeth pulled in a couple of hours. I’m a little nervous. I don’t like surgery or medicine or anything like it. I’m really tired. I stayed up until 1:30 (doctors orders), so I would sleep in really late and not have to worry about being hungry for very long. You can’t eat anything 8 hours before the surgery, which means I had to miss breakfast and lunch today. I wouldn’t mind so much if I wasn’t so cold. I get really cold when I don’t eat. I have gone entire days without eating when I’m depressed, but I’m not all that sad today so I’d like to eat, haha. Really I would like to just go to sleep. The good news is that in two hours I’ll be completely zonked out and will get to sleep all day!
I’m not really sure what I should watch while I’m recovering. I was thinking Downton Abbey would be good. I don’t think there’s too much I could say that would get me into trouble while I watched it. If I say anything. I’m hoping I manage to keep myself relatively under control and don’t talk very much/ at all. I feel like I might end up just crying the entire time. I seem to always be on the verge of tears, even when I feel fine, so I don’t know if being delirious will make me cry uncontrollably. My mom took today off to take care of me, so I’m really hoping that’s not the case!
Anyway, I’m logging off now.
I had been leaving my hives alone after I got them moved, and gradually let the laying-worker-colony die off. I went to collect the box a few days ago, to the dismay of the wasps that had been cleaning it out for me. I also decided to check on the hive I had moved across the lawn, which I thought had been without a queen. I was overjoyed to find eggs present on at least two of the frames, and quickly closed the hive back up again, as it was technically too cold to be working with them, even though the sun was out and lots of bees were flying from the hive. I was dismayed to see that the hive had mites, however. I saw one on a worker as I was closing up the box. They have almost no honey stores, but a very large amount of pollen. I’m going to try to feed them through the winter, in the hopes that it will help. The mites really dishearten me though.
In much more uplifting news, I have been asked to table at a movie event for the city of Issaquah. I was recommended to the event’s coordinator by someone who works for the office of sustainability and is the go-to person if we need things in the garden where I intern. I was asked to bring all of the props I brought during the summer for my internship, and I was also asked to find 2 or 3 expert beekeepers who were willing to speak after the movie. We’re watching Queen of the Sun, by the way. I found two people from the Snoqualmie association who were interested, and now all we have to do is wait until December 12th for the event! I’m really excited about it, and I’m hoping it creates some new opportunities for me, since I’m finished with my associates degree on Dec. 6th.
I’ve also finally made the effort to get certified as a master beekeeper. I have to become an apprentice and a journeyman first, but those shouldn’t be too difficult. Community outreach is one of the requirements for getting certified, and since I did that all summer I’ve definitely got those hours covered.
My mom asked me to mow the lawn today, and because I hadn’t moved the bees entirely out of the way yet, that required suiting up. I made up 6 cups of sugar syrup, set up the lawn mower, and donned my suit. I decided to open the bees before mowing the lawn, just because I had heard that lawn mowers often irritate bees a great deal when used in close proximity. I was very excited to find that honey had made its way into the hive since the drought ended a week or two ago. There was some capped honey on the outer frames, with even less in the middle. It wasn’t anywhere near enough to get them through the winter, but I was happy they had any at all.
I grew less and less cheerful as I neared the middle of the colony. There didn’t seem to be any eggs on any of the frames, despite the two full frames worth of pollen scattered around. I got all the way to the other side of the box without seeing any sign of queen Samantha. There weren’t any eggs or young larvae to be seen anywhere. So, despite the honey stores, there’s no queen to rejuvenate the population. I thought the last time I opened the hive looked hopeless, but today proved me wrong. I’m going to look around online and see if anyone has any queens for sale, but this late in the year I would be beyond amazed. I suppose I could try for a nuke, but with so little stores I don’t see the point in getting that many more bees to feed.
The dirtiness of all the capped brood makes me think they’ve been capped for a while. Maybe since a few days after I opened the hive last time? I’m thinking I must’ve squished Samantha accidentally. I don’t know why the bees wouldn’t have made any effort to make a new queen though, because there wasn’t any sign of that at all. I saw a single swarm cell at the bottom of a frame, but it was dirt and old, and hadn’t been used in a while.
I moved the colony 5-6 feet closer to the house, into a patch of the lawn that hasn’t turned green from the rains yet. Then I filled up the plastic container on the top of the telescoping cover, inside the empty warre’ box sitting on top of the langstroth, with the sugar water I had made. I put the empty measuring cups in the lawn, a few feet from the hives previous location so the bees could clean them while I mowed the lawn, and keep them out of my way a bit. This didn’t work as planned, as half the flying bees went to the location I’d moved the hive before I had moved it into the green part of the lawn. The other half seemed torn between following their sisters the wrong direction, and investigating the measuring cups. As a result there was a large cloud of bees about 10 feet long, going from the first moves location to the hive. I quickly mowed the lawn, still fully suited, and retreated. The bees hadn’t finished with the measuring cups, so I left those where they were.
I then decided to open the queenless hive, just to see what was going on with them. I was surprised to find a fair amount of honey capped in there. Drones were emerging on several of the frames, but no new eggs were visible. One of the drones had a mite on it, so I decided to shake the bees out onto the ground next to the hive in the hopes of shaking loose some of the mites. Most of the bees returned immediately to the hive, so I’m not sure how much good I did. The population is pretty small; if I hadn’t seen any mites (or deformed wings) I may have combined the hives. As it stands I’ll probably just wait a few days before I open them up again and collect all their honey. I’ll need to clean all of the frames off too, to stop the spread of disease to next years bees.
I came up with a really cheap way to feed the bees. I poked some holes in the bottom of a plastic tub (a salsa thing or something like that) and put it on top of the telescoping cover of Samantha’s Hive. I then put an empty warre’ box around that to help keep in some of the heat. Unfortunately the feeder’s holes are a little too big and thus the sugar water drips out, but I think it’s slowly enough that the bees can manage it. It holds about 4 cups.
Hopefully these girls figure things out and get enough food collected before it gets cold again. I don’t think I like italians very much. The queen hasn’t slowed egg laying at all. How are they thinking they’re going to feed all of these bees when they haven’t got more than a few pounds of honey?
I did go over to my aunts recently, but I didn’t want to open up the bees because it was getting too late. I peeked through into the box with the window on the back and found they hadn’t moved into it. It was the 4th box down, so they’re still in the three boxes I moved them to my aunts house in. I think I might over winter them in those three boxes, depending on how heavy they feel. I can’t imagine they collected enough honey for me to take.
I was able to open the bees today. It monsooned yesterday and the day before, with at least two inches of rain yesterday alone. Here’s a picture of my “lawn”.
It rained like crazy for a bit, which allowed the lawn to fill up with water, and then it stopped and the water drained out. It rained again and filled the lawn up, and kept the water level like this for about an hour. Our lawn is horribly compacted sand. We had puddles all through out the garden, and plenty of little streams where the dirt was washing away. I’ve asked my mom for a couple of yards of good compost to help improve our soil. Its horrible right now.
Anyway, I opened the bees today and was disappointed to find that they had collected very little honey. One frame had nectar curing on it, and a small pocket of capped honey. I found a smaller pocket of capped honey in the brood nest and that was all. Queen Samantha has not slowed egg laying at all, and there were 6 frames of solid brood present. Well, solid meaning there was brood from the top bar to the bottom, but it was awful patchy on some of the bars. I think that may mostly because the bees were emerging today, but it was hard to say.
I expected there wouldn’t be much in the way of honey stores, so I brought a spray bottle full of sugar with me, and sprayed it all over the bees. They didn’t seem concerned (or even interested, even though the sugar ratio was 2:1) that I was spraying them. It was kind of odd how little they seemed to care about anything I was doing, actually. And there were wasps all over the place. I killed 4 of them, but the bees didn’t seem to care about them at all. I saw one walk right into the entrance of the hive, completely unchallenged. Except for the part where I squished it as soon as I could.
I don’t have any form of feeder for the bees, but I’m definitely going to have to get one because these bees won’t last a week without flowers. I did see a few of the bees without any hair on them at all, so I assume they’ve taken to trying to steal from other hives in the area. This year was extremely dry it seems like. My mom and I missed the rain so much that we walked around while it was dumping. I had to change my clothes twice in between the breaks in the rain because I got so wet.
I’ll go and check on my aunts bees soon. I expect that they’ve done better than mine have because they’ve got a lot more flower options in their area. And there wasn’t a break in egg laying like my bees had to deal with. I think next year I’ll buy a queen when I split them, instead of letting them make a new one on their own. That hasn’t seemed to go well for me at all…
Oh, and I moved the Samantha’s hive into the lawn. We desperately need to get back behind the bee’s area and clean it out completely. We’ll also need to do something to make sure it doesn’t wash out over the winter. Whoever landscaped this yard did a horrible job. All of the tiers slope, and we don’t have enough plants to keep all the dirt where it should be. I managed to get one shrub planted this year (a clipping of the native Red Osier Dogwood) and some Borage and Sea Holly starts came from my internship. Which should help the bees next year after the plants are established!