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!
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.
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!
Wednesday of this week was a day I had off, so naturally I didn’t relax at all and spent the whole day running errands. Somewhere in the middle of everything I found time to go and check on my aunts bees. They seemed a bit more aggressive than they had previously been, but I needed to know if last weeks shenanigans had been a success so I proceeded with caution. I took the top box off and flipped it over to look at the underside of the comb. There wasn’t much to see, and since that box is technically a honey super I decided I would skip it and moved on to the box underneath it. I flipped that box over and cut loose a piece of comb in the middle so I could examine it. Flipping the box right side up, I carefully pulled up the top bar and the attached comb to see what I could find. At first all I saw was pollen (and lots of it) but after searching for a bit longer I realized that every cell not occupied with pollen had an egg in it. Which means that combining the hives was a success!
I’m not sure that this colony will be strong enough to handle a second winter, and am seriously considering requeening. The drastic increase in eggs is a good sign, but I was still easily able to lift all four boxes, which is a problem. I think regardless of whether I requeen or not I’ll have to feed this colony through the winter.
I also get to check my hive later today, so expect to see a post about that!
I finally had time (at the right time of day) to add the new hive body. I pulled the drawn out frames from the edges of the two deep boxes already on the hive and replaced those with the empty frames from the new hive body. I also decided to put the new hive box in between the old two, so that I could rotate out one of the old ones at the end of the year. I want to paint all of them green, and I also want to try and have the majority of the comb be new next year. Most of the comb in the hive is several years old and a gross black color.
There were a lot more brood combs than last time, which I was excited about. There were 8 brood frames in the lower hive body alone. They definitely need this new box. I only replaced 3 frames each in the two old hive bodies, and left 4 new ones in the new hive body. Most of the brood is in the bottom box, with only a few hundred capped cells being on the edges of the frames in the top brood box. The bees hadn’t moved into the super at all, which is slightly frustrating. Brace comb was everywhere again though, so I know that they’re capable of drawing out wax.
We’re currently experiencing a heat wave, with temperatures in the high 80s and low 90s. It hasn’t rained in close to two weeks, so I’m not sure how much longer we’ll be having a nectar flow. It’s also supposed to be like this for a few weeks. That said, I have noticed a significant increase in all insect species this year. I have more than 6 different kinds of solitary bees nesting in logs in my garden, red soldier beetles, and 2 kinds of bumblebees still visit the garden daily. We also have 4 dragon flies in the garden constantly, and today while I was working with the bees a black butterfly, with blue fringes on its wings, flew right into the middle of the bees to see what was going on. I haven’t seen one like it in a few years.
I think this color green is fantastic. It’s darker than white but still a bright color, and its something that kind of blends with a garden from a distance, I think. Slowly over the next year or so I hope to have the whole thing painted.
Also shown in this picture is a carrot (in the top right corner with all those weird spiky things) that I allowed to go to seed. Carrots grow wild in my garden and the flowers are great mating spots for lady bugs and red soldier beetles. Both are great predators for aphids, and are very welcome in my garden!