Beemused: A Blog

Susan: Poor dead princesses- Spring hive inspection

24th April 2008

Susan: Poor dead princesses- Spring hive inspection

Susan…. ah, Susan. She started out with so much promise, and yet has not exactly clicked for whatever reasons.

So. After our success with Mary, we proceeded to Susan with the same general plan.

Removing some of the frames in the top hive body revealed larvae… really BIG larvae, that were obviously potential queens. Since we disrupted the hive, we exposed them in ways that make it unlikely that they would progress to being functional queens, so we scraped them out. This is rather cruel, and I kinda feel badly about it- but at this point Susan had hatched maybe 4-8 drones, and a virgin queen needs to mate with something like 20- and those preferably not from her own hive. So I think killing these queen larvae and making the current queen- which J saw- lay some more eggs and so slow down the whole swarming procedure, will give us SOME chance of getting a new, viable queen to replace the one that goes with the swarm… who, of course, has not exactly been ideal anyway; Susan had a stronger start last year and yet produced FAR less than Mary and Liz.

I’ll be posting some pictures of the dead princesses soon.

We did swap the hive bodies, so Susan ought to recognize that she has extra space. Maybe this too will slow down her desire to swarm. I kinda doubt it, though; Susan has not really clicked for us as a hive. I’m thinking that the Conventional Wisdom says to requeen every couple of years, heading towards the fall; all this confirms the notion that if we do that, Susan’s the one to re-queen. I’d really love to get a queen with no genetic relation to the other 2 hives, and hopefully one that’s been bred in our sort of weather… even if I keep Mary (and maybe Liz, who we have not yet examined) un-re-queened. I DO like Mary’s qualities, quite a lot.

There will be pictures forthcoming, of Mary’s innards and some of Susan’s poor dead princesses.

All this messing really pissed off Susan- not that I can blame her! And Justin says that she mellowed out as soon as he quit aggravating her. (By that point I, with my lack of bee suit, had fled! but I spent the time prepping the super for Mary.)

We do have nicely mellow bees. :)


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24th April 2008

The good news! Mary’s first spring hive inspection

We were ambitious, and brave- especially after a winter of not messing with stinging venomous bugs!- and did some solid, serious work with both Mary and Susan today.

This is Year #2 for our hives, and even Italians are likely to swarm in the second year, so we’ve been reading up on how to slow down that tendency. One way is to switch the hive bodies around come spring. Our girls are in 2 deep 10-frame hive bodies each, and during the winter they tend to start in the bottom one, work their ways through the honey stores there and gradually move up into the top hive body- so come spring, the queen and the brood  are in the top one. And the queens do not tend to like to move downward! So the girls will fill up the top hive body, ignore the bottom one, say “Oops! Out of room! Better swarm!” and then start to prepare for that.

So: in the spring it is generally considered a Good Idea to swap the hive bodies around, putting the top one on the bottom and vice-versa. This also gives us a really good chance to see what’s going on in the hives, in detail! For example, we had not even looked into the lower hive bodies since putting the top ones on last summer! (Yes- shame on us- we really should have…)

Mary is looking good. She is arguably a bit honey-bound (most of her frames are filled with brood and/or honey and pollen stores), but there were no signs of swarming. We didn’t manage to see her queen, which disappoints me; still, the hive is thriving. As compared to last fall, she was very mellow indeed; we had taken her entire hive apart, basically, and she wasn’t even sounding the least bit pissed off. We’re now quite sure that it is important to wash the bee suit often to ensure it has no alarm pheromones on it, since that’s probably what caused them to be irritable last fall. there were a lot of healthy, hard-working bees, lots of capped brood (I’m still bad at identifying eggs or small larvae in the cells), and some but not an excessive number of capped drone cells. (This will become relevant later!)

So we switched the hive bodies around, put a couple of frames of brood in the upper one to make more room in the now-lower one, and finally added a queen excluder and a shallow super with all of the drawn comb we have that fits it (9 frames- we need to prep some more frames with foundation, so we can add one more there and fill another super or 2). We’re hoping that this gives them enough breathing room to slow down swarming ambitions! Since the spring nectar flow seems to be happening, in a couple of days we’ll put one of the Bee-o-pac supers on Mary, too. This time I’m rubbing beeswax over the bottoms of the cells, and spraying with a syrup solution. I’m hoping that improves acceptance from, well, none at all!


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22nd April 2008

Cool mornings, warm afternoons

The temperature is dipping into the low 40’s overnight, then rising to the 70’s in mid-afternoon. The girls show no sign of activity until the sun starts to warm the hives, but then quickly turn to work collecting pollen and visiting the pond. They are taking up the syrup rather slowly, which I hope means they have adequate supplies (we are past due for a proper inspection of the hives). Judging from the number of bees flying to and from the hives, I’d say the hives are all healthy and have a good number of bees. This week we will take a look in the hives and check.


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16th April 2008

Doin’ It Old School: Low-tech honey extraction

More explanation of the previous post:

The very simplest way to extract honey is this: Take full combs. Break into a strainer. Mash them up. Allow the honey to drip out.

This is not ideal for many reasons, of course. Among them: the comb is destroyed so the bees cannot re-use it and will need to build more; it is slow; I suspect it removes less honey; and it is a sticky nuisance.

Still, the advantages exist. One can do it with exactly no specialized equipiment (although we have a “straining system” with a 2-tiered strainer that fits into a food-safe bucket with a honey-dispensing spigot on the bottom), and it does give one more beeswax with which to make whatever one wants to make with beeswax. (I am partial to this result, since I adore the smell of beeswax possibly even more than the taste of honey!) It also means that one does not have to acquire, by purchase or rental, a centrifugal extractor; one does not have to store such a thing if one bought one; and one does not have to decide beforehand how much honey one wants to process as cut comb and how much one wants to extract.

(Reasoning behind the last: for cut comb one generally wants to give the girls the thinnest possible foundation, and leave it unwired… which means it’s pretty fragile, but the wax content of the cut comb is as low as possible. For extraction, either heavy-duty and wired foundation, or one of the plastic types, works a lot better because it can handle the force. And this means that, practically-speaking, one has to decide before adding the spuers what one is going to do with the honey. This way- I can still decide now, for the honey we harvested last fall.)

I just crushed my second frame of honey into the strainer today. That’s about all it will hold. I plan to let it drain overnight, to get as much honey as I can out of the wax, and then stir the wax into a bowl of cold water. The water will dissolve remaining honey, and I can then strain out cleaner wax… AND use the honey-water for either the water part of mead-brewing (which is the point of this extraction), or use it in the syrup for the bees. They’d like that! and I plan to continue feeding them until the spring nectar flow kicks in. They’re very active now, and getting a lot of pollen… but I’m worried about whether there’s much nectar yet since little is in bloom.


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15th April 2008

Simple Honey Extraction

I just started our first pass at extracting honey the old-school way. This means using vessels and strainers, rather than those newfangled centrifugal jobbies! So I cut a frame of honey out of one of our super frames, and dumped it into the top of the 2 strainers, and then smashed it up to allow the honey to flow from the cells.

I’m hearing periodic dripping noises from the bucket into which the strainers are draining… but it’s clearly a slow process. I only got 1 shallow frame in the strainers this time, and it’ll take a while to get enough honey for even a 3-gallon batch of mead at this rate!

Plus- this does destroy the comb that the girls worked so hard to build, so it’s not especially efficient that way, either. I can certainly see why the centrifugal extractors are popular! We may end up getting one ourselves, if we can figure a place to put it- and I’d like one that holds the combs horizontally, so we can experiment with top-bar hives as well as the conventional types.

Still- it’ll be really cool to brew some mead from our own honey. And make some candles from the wax (I adore beeswax- yum!). And we’re going to need those frames for this year’s honey… so I’d best get cracking!


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3rd April 2008

Early Spring Bee-business

I really had a lovely time this afternoon, just watching the bees and enjoying their contented buzzing. I’ve missed that over the winter!

I put out some of the frames from which I’d cut honeycomb, hoping they’d clean up the residual honey… but they weren’t interested. I’ve tried a few times now, with no response, so I think I’ll wait to try again until the temps are in the mid-60sF, minimum. Right now, while there’s definitely activity at midday, they don’t seem to be as focused on collections as they normally are. Interesting! Because, last summer, I could put a few frames out… and it wouldn’t be 30 seconds before there was at least 1 bee on it. And those were much further away from the hives!

It’s really cool to be getting more of a feel for the way the bees deal with things seasonally.

I’ve made another batch of syrup (1:1 sugar/water), because the girls are starting to suck down the stuff in the feeders. The first day we have 60+F and no rain (which hasn’t happened yet), we’ll open the hives and give each one a pollen patty.

We need to research timing for the varroa mite treatments, too. One doesn’t want to have honey supers on while one treats, since it can impact the honey. Still, we probably do want to treat this spring, because we saw some signs of a problem over the winter- so we need to figure the best timing.

Next fall I want to do a series of powdered-sugar treatments starting when we remove the supers. This will drop the mite count for over the winter, and in a pretty non-toxic way.

I am also contemplating adding sacrificial drone comb to the hives. This year it might even help to deter swarming…


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2nd April 2008

Stripping the girls! Hive-cover removal, plus early spring update

Today we stripped the girls naked- meaning, we removed the insulated hive covers we’d put on the hives to help them winter over.

We were prepared for a reasonable amount of bee-indignation, but they were quite mellow about it all. They didn’t even buzz us, let alone get testy. Yay! It’s still a bit cold for them most days, but there were some foragers braving the chill and returning home with pollen pantaloons- so encouraging! I’m guessing it’s pussy willow pollen, though our pussy willow isn’t producing any yet.

It’s really cool that all 3 hives made it through the winter! One reason most beekeeping books recommend starting with 2-5 hives is that one can expect one of them not to make it through the first winter… and all 3 of our girls did!

All 3 hives are starting to use the syrup we’re offering, too, at least during the warmer days. I’m looking forward to seeing more of what’s going on in the hives themselves, as soon as it’s warm enough (generally 60+ F is recommended before opening the hive).

Justin was pleased that no bees took strong exception to him in his suit, as they’d been doing last fall. The thing is- we think that the alarm pheromones were on the suit itself, and washing it removed these. Next time I get to a health food store or something, I’m buying some lemongrass essential oil, because reportedly that is very similar to the “happy-bee” pheremone, and I’d like to put it in the rinse for bee suits, plus in a sprayer of syrup for when we have to mess with the hives.

I’m definitely looking forward to our first full year as beekeepers!


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