I told myself that this year I would take a break from bees to focus on other things in the garden and give myself time to figure out what I need to do to keep the bees alive through the winter. Well, I got an email from a local beekeeper who said he had extra nucs for sale about a week ago, which is pretty late in the season for us around here. I ended up buying two nucs last Saturday, and have bees in the garden again. To be honest it was kind of nice not having them, but I did really miss them. When I bought the nucs I assumed they came with an already laying queen, but they actually were just 5 frames of bees and a queen from California. Which explains why there were bees available so late. I brought both nucs home last Saturday and placed the queens on the top of the frames and left them for three days like I was advised to do.
I checked in on Tuesday to swap the cork out for candy, so the bees could let the queens out on their own (as advised by the beekeeper I bought them from) and found that the queen in White Hive was dead in her cage. Naturally I was confused and upset, and prepared to do a full inspection on the hive. After getting through to the 5th frame i discovered freshly laid eggs, and on frame 6 I found a queen who had very obviously been laying for quite some time. Naturally this means I got one of the queens that over wintered from the other Beekeepers apiary, and it also means that White Hive is about a full week ahead of Green Hive in terms of development. I would even say two weeks based on activity levels. They’re definitely twice the size of Green Hive. I’m really excited to have a queen that’s over wintered here already. I’m sure I’ll have to split the colony later in the year as well, and with any luck I manage to keep them all alive. I bought Hopguard and Mite Away Quick Strips this year, and I plan on treating with both of them once the colonies are large enough. I’ll wait until Green Hive has at least 5 full frames of brood. Which may take a few of weeks.
I checked on both colonies today (specifically Green Hive to make sure their queen was out) and both colonies are bringing in nectar and pollen. The blackberries are in full bloom so there’s lots to eat. Green Hive had lots of new eggs in the hive today and only 1 frame left of capped brood. Because they’re so different in size already I may swap them so Green Hive gets more field bees.
I’ve been so busy lately that my free time and the weather never seem to cooperate. The hive on the left has been noticeably less and less active as the days go by though, and today I finally got a chance to check on them. They had glued down everything with bur comb, so getting the lid off took some work, but once I opened it up there were almost no bees inside. I pulled out 5 frames in all, and everyone of them was half filled with capped larvae, though all of it was dead. What wasn’t occupied by capped larvae was either eggs or pollen. I got to the frame that had the most bees on it and there were a few dozen eggs, and even some developing larvae. I didn’t see the queen, even though there were only a few hundred bees in the entire hive, but the eggs were all uniform and at the bottom of the cells. I don’t understand why the colony failed so suddenly. There is plenty of food (I’m amazed at how much pollen there is) and the eggs seem viable. I did see many of the workers had varroa mites on them though, which was frustrating. I missed the window for a winter treatment so there’s not really much I can do. The hive weighed a little over 60lbs and had more than enough pollen to make it through the winter. If they didn’t have varroa mites I would probably just combine them with the swarm hive.
The captured swarm is doing phenomenal. The bees had not only glued down the inner roof but the telescoping cover as well. Everything is sealed with propolis and wax. After I got the lid off I was amazed to see every frame covered in bees. The hive weighs close to 90lbs and there were no signs of trouble. I’m very hopeful that they make it through the winter, and I’m going to be monitoring them closely. I plan on treating for varroa in the late winter/early spring. I haven’t extracted any of the honey I removed from the hive yet, and I’m thinking I may just add it back into the hive as they need it.
Sometime last week I consolidated both of my hives for winter. I reduced them both down to a single deep box, since neither of them had enough frames filled in and in use to warrant two full boxes. The hive on the left, the bees I bought as a package, had 3 deep boxes removed, and they really only managed to fill in 3 of them. There were at least 12 frames that they hadn’t drawn wax out on. After selecting the best frames for them they ended up with 9 in the box they’ll over winter in. One of the honey frames they made they drew out so thickly it took up the space of two frames. I was either going to have to harvest it or let them overwinter with it. They actually drew out three frames like that, but I moved the second frame over into the hive on the right, which was the swarm I caught. The hive on the left has two full frames of orange pollen, and probably 60lbs of honey. I’ll definitely feed them in late winter and early spring. I’m debating making them a quilt box like the ones that go on Warre hives. They would benefit from the insulation and moister wicking properties. And now that I have all the tools I need, making one would be only an hours worth of work. Idk, something to think about.
The right hive weirdly had more honey capped than the left one, but it was all up in the super I had to put on because it was the only box I had at the time. I removed the entire box, and took three frames that were 75% capped out for extraction. The rest I left out across the garden for the bees to clean up and put back into the hives. I managed to squeeze 10 frames into this hive, and when I say squeeze I mean it. The weirdly shaped frame had to be squished against a wall to fit it in, but the bees should reshape it and move the honey a little. This hive had only a little bit of pollen, and egg laying had almost completely stopped. I may feed them sooner than the left hive because they also weighed a little less. With the rains coming back I’m hoping they’ll find a few more flowers to boost honey stores, but we’ll see. Once I’m seriously done with them for the winter I plan on moving the hives right up next together to keep warm.
All in all I removed 3 super frames and a single deep one (the last extra wide frame) for honey collection. I would prefer to have left them in the hives but they wouldn’t fit and it didn’t make sense to have partially empty boxes. I’ve never overwintered with just single deep boxes before but hopefully it will be more successful!
After several weeks of leaving the bees to their own, I finally got the two new hive boxes ready. It took several hours today and yesterday to install the wiring on the frames, and I was lazy this time around and only did two lines of wire instead of 4. Both hives are doing well, but the smaller hive, the captured swarm, has varroa mites. I saw one riding on the back of a freshly emerged bee as soon as i opened the hive up. They have expanded their brood nest up into the shallow super, so i’m kind of sad I don’t have a second queen excluder to use on this hive. Overall they’re going steady but they haven’t got nearly enough honey stored away for winter. I added a second deep box on, the one I built with the window on the back, just to give them room to play. I think I will move all of the excess honey from the large colony over into a second deep box for the captured swarm.
The large colony has 4 frames of honey that is days away from being fully capped. Wax is everywhere, honey everywhere, and bees everywhere. I nearly fell over trying to lift the honey super off. This hive also got another deep box, but this one is acting as a second honey super instead of another brood body. I checkerboarded new frames with the full ones of the first honey super, so now both boxes are about 1/4 full. The brood boxes are both extremely full of bees, but very little brood was present in the first hive body so I decided to switch the two brood boxes around to encourage the bees to fill it in. There were a couple of fully drawn empty frames so that will definitely reduce swarming urges. Both colonies had swarm cells present but neither had eggs in either of them.
The boxes I made are much too small. They fit all of the frames just fine, but the box doesn’t sit flush on the one below it. And the telescoping cover also rests on the hinges so it doesn’t close properly. These boxes weren’t meant to house the bees over winter in anyway, but now they definitely can’t. Since I plan on moving all of the frames around in the boxes anyway at the end of the season it shouldn’t be too big of a deal to get the boxes out of rotation.
I opened my hives up yesterday, just to make sure neither of them were thinking about swarming. Everything is going really well! There were only a couple of swarm cells in each colony, and they both are stuffed full of honey. The only thing preventing growth in both of them is available wax. They both have plenty of space for growth (and last week I added my only super onto the swarm hive because I had nothing else to give them) but they aren’t building wax very quickly because the blackberry flow has stopped. The strong colony has so much pollen its ridiculous. I’ve actually never seen so much in a colony before. There were two completely solid frames of pollen in the bottom box. The queen has definitely slowed down laying eggs, but the brood nest is only slightly smaller. Honey is being stored throughout the brood nest. Around some of the frames that haven’t been completely drawn out yet the full frames next to them have cells that are almost 2 inches deep. Instead of filling out the empty frames the bees just add onto the stuff they’ve already drawn out, so the honey band around the edge of the frames is just twice as deep as usual. I don’t really know how to correct it without destroying the honey sections.
In other news! I need more hive boxes, and instead of spending a couple hundred dollars buying finished ones, I decided to be adventurous and build my own. The warre hives my cousin built have windows in them, so we took the same concept and applied it to the langstroth. So I built two window boxes for my langstroth and two boxes for the warre! All it cost was $70 for the boxes, and then another $50 for the frames for my boxes. The warre has half frames that are very easily built at home. Langstroth frames are fancier and I didn’t have any to use as a template, so I figured buying them would be easier. So that puts the total cost for 2 warre hives at $17.50 a box, and total cost for 2 langstroth boxes with frames at $42.50 a box. A quick online search shows that from a reputable supplier, a single deep langstroth box costs $62.50, and that’s without windows. I have yet to find somewhere that even sells windowed boxes like these for langstroth. So all in all I’m very excited! I’ll post pictures as soon as they’re finished.
I went and checked on my aunts bees today. They’re both doing extremely well, with lots of honey in each of them. One is doing a little better than the other, and that’s the one that was given two boxes of comb fully drawn out at the start of the year. The hive pieces were different (internally) from the other hive body, or I would’ve given both colonies a box of comb to work with. The colony that got the head start has filled in 2.5 boxes, and the top box had several frames of solid honey, freshly capped in white. I moved some of those full frames into the last empty box to encourage them to fill it in.
The colony that started with empty boxes is doing just fine, but they aren’t very interested in expanding beyond the two boxes they’ve filled in. So I moved the honey frames from each box into the two empty boxes, meaning all 4 boxes have 4 fully drawn frames in each of them. This smaller colony had a single swarm cell partially drawn out, with a 3 day old larvae inside. I squished it and saw plenty of room for new eggs since a frame had just emerged, so I don’t expect to see more signs of swarming from them any time soon.
All of the honey in both hives was black berry, and a few pieces of wax were drawn out incorrectly so I cut them out. The honey they contained wasn’t completely ripe yet, so it did taste a little funny, but it was still very sweet. In one box the bees were drawing the wax up from the top bars of the box below, so I cut those large pieces out and used the flat side of my knife to squish the wax into a top bar that hadn’t been used. The bees should correct any errors in the wax that was squished and finish drawing out the rest of the frame.
Given how quickly all of the hives have grown I’m going to try making my own hive boxes and frames in the next week or so, for both hive styles. The warre is going to be a lot easier, so I think I’ll try that first.
I opened my hives today and both are doing well. The swarm colony is fine, but they aren’t filling in the empty spaces as quickly as I would like them to. I moved a frame of 3-4 day old eggs over again to help boost their numbers. They have a full frame of ripening honey and lots of pollen, bringing their occupied space up to 6.5 frames. I’m debating whether I should put a shallow super on them or if I should just move the entire deep super over from the large hive. It would even both colonies out and give the swarm room to grow, while forcing the strong colony to fully draw out all of their frames.
The large colony is doing well, but they’re not filling in the new frames as quickly as I would like. They have wax on all the new frames in the brood boxes, but a fair amount of it was drone cells that needed to be cut out. The honey super is filling up quickly with honey, and surprisingly pollen as well. A few of those frames have been partially drawn out, and I moved one of those down to replace the empty slot left by the frame of brood I moved over into the swarm hive. The large colony is preparing to swarm, and had 8 or 9 swarm cells being drawn out throughout the colony. They were all brown and worn looking, but one of them did have a 2 day old larvae in it that I squashed. I’m not too sure what to do about it given how much room they have for expansion. The problem is that they aren’t drawing out the new frames quickly enough and the queen is running out of places to lay eggs because the workers are stuffing everything full of pollen and honey.
That frame of drone brood was full and capped again, so instead of freezing it I just took all the caps off and moved it up into the super. The bees will fill it in quickly with honey and the soft bodies of the developing drones won’t get stuck in the queen excluder if they try and drag any of them out.
Even though this large colony hasn’t completely filled in any of the new frames yet, none of the frames in the brood boxes were left untouched. They’re drawing out wax on all of them, with two triangle shaped pieces coming downward on either side. On the ground underneath the hive you can see hundreds of white wax pellets that fell off while wax was being made.
There are dozens of dark blue/black drones in this hive, and they’re definitely part of the swarming problem. I removed any drone brood I found, and I think with that full frame out of rotation things should be much calmer. I’ll be keeping a close eye on them to make sure they don’t swarm. If the blackberry flow continues they should easily be able to fill in the new frames. I’m very seriously considering that split though… Moving the top brood box from the strong hive onto the swarm colony would give that colony a huge boost, and it would reduce the population of the strong colony by almost a third. The top box of the strong colony is mostly empty, with 3 or 4 frames full of honey. Even just switching the hives locations would make a difference…
I’ll think about it and get back to you! Right now I’m running late for work.