Sometime two weeks ago we had some nice weather that would easily constitute some trips outside from honeybees. Disappointingly there wasn’t any activity, so I went out to knock on the hive and see what I could find. There wasn’t any noise, so I lifted up the lid and looked down into the hive. There weren’t any bees visible at all. I saw straight through to the ground underneath. Frustrated, I decided I would carry the hive in and weigh it to get a better idea of what exactly was the cause of this collapse. The lower box weighed 49.5 lbs, and the top box weighed 50.5 lbs. It doesn’t make any sense!! This colony was in a location protected from the wind, higher up in the garden (not in a cold pocket), and they had more than enough honey to get them through the winter. They didn’t even make it through December!
I haven’t been able to find my hive tool, so I can’t get into the frames and take a look at what all was going on. The hive smells sweet though, and it’s actually been nice having it in the house, haha. I will note that the bees worked very hard to glue everything together, and they even sealed the edges of the hive around the screen bottom. I’m not sure if I’ll ever be able to remove that.
My hive was definitely the stronger of the two, so I wasn’t very hopeful about my aunts hive. I went over there a few days after pulling mine inside and found that hive weighed less than 15 lbs. My aunt had a bottle of sugar water over the brood nest, but we had a cold snap that had clearly been too much for them. A large pile of bees lay at the bottom of the hive, and there were plenty of mites visible. Mites were a problem in her neighborhood last year too. I took a picture of a spot where I noticed a lot of mites, and having zoomed in on the picture a little bit more I counted 9 of them. Between starvation and mites, they didn’t stand a chance.
At this point I feel like the only sure way to have bees survive through a winter is to have more hives. I’m also considering switching over to Russian or Buckfast bees. Carniolans have had limited success in my yard. This was the first year with Italians, but two failed colonies, one of which should have been extremely successful, is discouraging. Any thoughts on Buckfast or Russian bees? I know they’ve got a reputation for being a little more aggressive, but they’re both supposed to be wonderful at overwintering in this damp/cold climate. I would love to hear your thoughts!
After a few months of school I’ve decided to move home. This school reminds me so much of high school I genuinely almost dropped out at one point. My teachers are horrible and despite this being a 16 credit program they treat it like its worth 20. The amount of work i’ve had to do is insane. We have a full book to read per week (all 300+ pages) and on top of that we have 2+ chapters for each of the three teachers. We have a lab report due every week, 20 chemistry problems, and 5 statistic problems, each requiring about a half page response. I have been killing myself to do well in this program and took midterms two weeks ago. Despite this class being considered “one” class, its being taught like its 4 separate subjects, which is exactly what this school is against. The class average for those midterms? Below 70 for all of them, with the lowest average being 58. I was above average for Chemistry and Oceanography, but my Statistics teacher had his midterm be about government which I was not prepared for, so I completely failed it.
If you thought 3 midterms for one class was fun (did I mention they were all designed to take 2 hours?) you’ll be excited to know that I’ve got FOUR midterms. My stats teacher is giving us 2 of them, one of which is actually about stats and the other about government, which he didn’t teach us anything about all quarter. Keep in mind that we meet with each of these professors literally just once a week (we have class 4 days a week, one of which is a day in which no body “teaches” us anything). So we’re expected to have learned 4 whole classes worth of material from just 9 days of class time for each subject. It’s the worst class I’ve ever taken. I learned more from the weekly seminar books (that’s the thing we do one day a week where no one actually teaches us anything) than I have from any of these professors.
Anyway, long story short this whole school thing is not working for me, so I’m moving back home. I have this week off of school for Thanksgiving, but I work tomorrow, Wednesday, and Sunday. My mom is coming down on Tuesday to pick up all of my stuff, and then I’ll spend the night down here and move back home on Wednesday after work!
I checked my aunts bees on Friday, and they hardly weigh anything. I don’t know what the issue was, because there were capped worker cells in the top box, and they had plenty of time and resources to expand properly. They never even moved down into the third box. My aunt was excited about getting some honey, but they didn’t even have enough honey for themselves. She’ll feed them this winter and hope they make it through. I would be truly amazed if they did. I just don’t understand why they never tried to requeen themselves or anything. Maybe they were being robbed all summer? There are plenty of flowers in the area, and there are dozens of different species of bees in my aunts garden alone. There wasn’t any sign of mites, and I checked the floor for them specifically. The hive was clean, the bees were active, there just wasn’t much in the way of honey or pollen. There were even empty frames in the top box!
Several of the bees in the colony had bright red/purple patches on their “skin”, and I think they must have some genetics from that strain that creates purple bees. What’s it called? “Midnight” or something? I dunno, but they were pretty. There were also some very brown bees in the mix. Almost almond colored.
Meanwhile my bees have been coming and going by the thousands, and should have plenty of food to make it through the winter. If they don’t make it through the winter then I think I’ll just stay bee-less next year because I’ll be away at school all summer and won’t have time to go up north to manage them.
I took the honey supers off of the hive last saturday when I had time, but I didn’t harvest the honey from them until tuesday when I had a full day off. It was a messy process, as always, but I got 10 pints out of it! I don’t know what my bees have been eating this year though because this honey is sour. It’s delicious!! It tastes like someone squeezed a lemon over the frames while the bees were working, and I have to say it’s got to be my favorite flavor of honey yet. I had to keep myself from eating out of the jars while I worked.
The bees were amazingly calm while I collected the honey, and I didn’t get stung on my gloves once. I did use a little bit of smoke, at the beginning, just because the colony is so big, but throughout the whole ordeal they were perfectly calm. I barely even squished anyone. I didn’t do a hive inspection during the harvesting, because I didn’t really have time (I had an end of summer party to go to for work that night) but also because it would’ve been kind of silly given how much I had disrupted everything. I’ll open them up tomorrow to make sure they’re doing well. I can’t imagine they’re struggling given the amount of activity at their door, and I know they’ve got pollen because 1 in 4 workers comes back with their baskets full.
Oh! I almost forgot to mention that a couple of the cells on the honey frames I harvested had GREEN “nectar” in them. There aren’t any candy factories nearby, so I can’t imagine where they got the green nectar from, but it was pretty funny to see those two cells filled up with it. I couldn’t believe it when I saw them. I hope these girls make it through the winter alright. They’re large numbers do bother me a bit, but I can’t imagine that such a robust colony doesn’t make it. They filled three deep boxes this year and they started late as a 3 lb package for crying out loud!
I haven’t had a chance to properly check on my aunts hive, but I know they never recovered like they should have. I’m gonna head down there sometime in the next week to reduce their hive down and make sure I won’t need to have my aunt feed them during the winter.
After finally getting some time off this month, the first thing I did was open up the bees to see how they were doing. The hive was a little lighter than the last time I worked with them, but there are still lots of frames of honey. Pollen is making its way into the brood nest in preparation for winter, and there are probably 11 frames of brood. I switched the two brood nest boxes because the queen was still making an effort to get up to the deep super where the newer comb is, but she’s definitely slowed down with the slowed nectar flow. That said, as I’m writing this there are thousands of bees flying around the hive. If I didn’t know better I would almost say they were getting ready to swarm. I did find the beginnings of a few swarm cells along the edges of several frames, but there aren’t any eggs in any of them. The sheer number of bees coming and going from this colony is unbelievable. Anyone who has seen a swarm emerge from a hive knows what that initial surge of bees looks like, where they’re slowly spiraling up out of the hive and sort of hang around 6 or 7 feet above it. That’s how this colony always looks. There is always a cloud of bees circling just overhead; spiraling up before they speed off in search of nectar.
The drone population has stayed exceptionally low though, because there just aren’t any frames in the brood nest with drone cells on them. The new frames are all being drawn in drone cells size as a result I think. Next year I’ll be nice and let them raise a frame of drones. They deserve it after a year like this one!
I opened my hive up yesterday to make sure there were no swarm cells, because this colony is large enough that I feel like swarming is always right around the corner. I used my smoker this time, and the bees were much easier to work with. My gloves were sting free by the end of it all, but it definitely took time to look through everything. This colony was a mess. Eggs are all over the place, and honey stores are dwindling greatly. I opened the top deep box (they still haven’t moved into the super) and was disheartened to find eggs on many of the frames there. There were eggs in every deep box, with something close to 18 frames with brood on them. They weren’t all full frames of brood. In fact, most of them were only half frames with the rest of it being honey stores. There were only 2 or 3 full frames of capped brood, and unfortunately the queen is laying in only the newest wax so not all of the frames are even fully drawn frames. I spent a very long time trying to get all of the frames arrange so there was a real brood nest, and moved the new frames around so that they were in the center and would hopefully be fully drawn out before the end of the year. The bottom box had a lot of frames that had obviously been brood, but the queen hadn’t come back down to lay in them yet. The bees had left all of the cells empty and clean though, so I tried to move things around to make it all a bit more enticing to the queen.
The honey stores have greatly reduced since I last opened them. I’m still only just able to lift the top deep box, but with the brood nest so jumbled I had to move things around so much that the boxes are all a bit more evened out. I found the queen in the top box almost immediately. She was on one of the frames on the edges, laying eggs in a place that was very obviously honey stores. I’m not sure why she’s suddenly started laying wherever she wants to, but i’m a little worried about how she’ll do in the winter. Her laying pattern is still in solid frames, but the frames aren’t always right next to each other. There were several frames of honey stores in the middle of the brood nest, and I think that’s what’s throwing her off. I think I need to buy a queen excluder to make sure she stays in the lower two boxes. For now I’ve placed the empty super in between the top brood box and the top deep box, which I rearranged so that it’s mostly honey and frames that haven’t been drawn out yet. The queen moved from the top deep box down into the top brood box while I was working, but I’m not sure if she stayed there. If she somehow got trapped in the deep box that’s now above the super then at least the brood cluster will be confined and more manageable. I can’t believe how over whelming this colony has become.
After I was done with the bees at my house, I went to visit my aunt. Her bees have been problematic all year because they won’t expand properly. Even with the extra bees from the laying worker colony they still haven’t drawn out either of the two lower boxes, and they refuse to even move down into the second box, even though its already completely drawn out. The top box weighs maybe 25lbs, and its the one that’s full of bees. The bees at my aunts have always seemed to struggle, which is very odd because she lives in a rural setting where there should be a lot more flowers available. I’m going to requeen this colony for sure, and I might even give them some extra bees from my own colony. I’m debating splitting my own bees and going into the winter with three hives instead of 2. Going away for school makes it a lot harder because I won’t be able to check on them as regularly as I normally would. Two colonies at my house would be a lot, but with the bees where I have them now it doesn’t even feel like I’ve got them in the yard.
I opened up the bees at my house today, and was shocked to find the number of bees I did. I’ve honestly never worked with such a robust hive before. I thought I had an idea of what I would be working with when I took off the telescoping cover and found bees bubbling out of the inner cover, but I couldn’t have predicted truly how big the colony was. Only a couple of the new frames I put into the hive lacked wax. Most of them had two fan shaped bits of comb drawn out on them. And they all started with drone cells at the top and then slowly changed into worker cells towards the middle. Honey was everywhere, and I could barely even see it under all of the bees. I wanted to get into all of the boxes today, but I genuinely couldn’t work around all of the bees. They stung my gloves probably 30 times, and I squashed at least two bees every time I made a move. Normally I don’t need a smoker to work a colony because they’re so docile and easily managed. There were so many bees here that, had I known, I would’ve absolutely brought one out with me.
I only got to check the second deep box before I finally gave up and put everything back together. I had a huge cloud of bees around me and was hardly being productive. I moved one of the empty frames up into the deep super, and switched it out for a new frame that was more drawn out. The upper super is all honey and a little bit of pollen. They still haven’t begun moving up into the short super, even though there were several hundred bees in it when I opened the hive, and they definitely need the space.
I’m probably going to have to split them to keep them from swarming. This colony is so large, I feel like I have a giant in my garden. And the weirdest part is, you would have no idea that they were even there! Since I moved them up onto the second tier, its like I don’t even have bees. They fly right out over your head and there hasn’t been anywhere near the same level of bees getting lost in the lawn. I’m slightly weary that they might try to swarm, but there weren’t any swarm cells in the second box, and they had a decent amount of new eggs. I kind of worry about the die off this colony will inevitably have. At the rate they’re going, the entire hive will be so filled with honey there won’t be room for eggs. Or even bees!