Beemused: A Blog

Hobby beekeeping in central Massachusetts

18th May 2009

Another possible culprit in Colony Collapse Disorder

Maybe this is a contributor?

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17th May 2009

Feeding the bees

Today I removed the remnants of the miticide treatment from Susan.  There was very little of it left, but the scent of oil of thyme was very strong.  Let’s hope that the treatment knocked back the varroa mites! Victoria is lagging a little, presumably because she is the hive that sees the sun the latest in the morning.  Overall she looks good, but she has more comb to draw, so I made up some syrup for her.  While I was at it, I fed the other hives as well.  They are clearly finding nectar, but the syrup will help with the wax production that they definitely need. I put a second brood chamber on Emma, who gets the sun first in the morning and is going great.  While selecting frames to use, I included 4 of the black foundation (all plastic frames, with beeswax coating).  These are much easier to spot eggs and larvae in, so we’re aiming to switch over to these for the brood chambers.  The bees are accepting the frames well (both Emma and Victoria had 2 black frames & are progressing well drawing out comb), and they proved their value in identifying brood.  The capped brood is easy to spot, but the eggs are devilish hard to see.It is very peaceful, working on the hives.  For the most part the bees were making happy little humming sounds - we’ll see how they react to a more thorough examination! -Justin 

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27th April 2009

New bees, new names

We just installed a package of Italian bees in each of the hives that didn’t make it. The hive set-up that had been Mary is now Emma (Goldman- an appropriate name for pretty golden Italian bees, no?), and Elizabeth’s old home is not inhabited by Victoria (Woodhull).

These were excellent packages! Hardly any dead bees in the bottom, the queens were lively (or so Justin reported- he got a closer look than I did) and marked with a green dot- that will be handy when we want to identify her!, and the package bees seemed to be fond of their queens already, based on the number of them hanging out on the outside of her cage.

We’d barely shook them out of their shipping package when some started with their “come hither!” signaling- including one that was, at the time, on Justin’s butt. That made me laugh. They like him!

They zipped right into the hives, with relatively few hovering around outside, though there was a fair amount of buzzing. Not angry, just excited. And by the time Victoria was closed up again, almost all of Emma’s bees were in their hive.

I’m glad we waited till evening to install them- last time it was more in the afternoon, and they were a lot buzzier.

It’s a good time to have installed them, too- the hot weather means that all the flowering trees are flowering, and that’ll give the new girls a lot to do. Although they are very good at drawing comb, based on the amounts in their packages, the hives have drawn comb in them this time so the new queens can get right to laying as soon as they’re released.

I do love the Italians- they are such pretty golden bees! I hope we can do better at keeping them going over the winters.


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18th April 2009

Spoke too soon

Unfortunately, like many beekeepers this year, a hive that seemed OK at the start of the season has now died.  Elizabeth, always our weakest hive, appears to have lost track of honey stores - there was a clump of dead bees in the upper chamber, with about a 2-3″ region of depleted comb around it.  I probably shouldn’t have reversed the brood chambers, given how weak she was.

Now we have to scramble to find a local source of nucs.  Nucs wouldn’t be ready in this area until late May at the earliest, and it will be frustrating to have to wait.  Another option is to split our remaining hive (once she’s built up enough) and introduce a new queen.


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7th March 2009

First proper hive work of the season

Today I was busy as a bee :-)

 I wanted to examine Mary, the hive that died, to see what I could determine as to the cause.  Once I opened her up & pulled out the frames, it was clear that she had succumbed to an overload of varroa mites.  We’d been reluctant to use miticides, but I think the results showed that we weren’t aggressive enough with IPM to be able to do that.

Elizabeth, our weakest hive (or so we thought), is doing OK, not great, but OK.  The lower brood chamber was comepletely emptied of stores, and there is only a small amount in the upper chamber.  I reversed the boxes, and we’ve bought 10 pounds of sugar for syrup which we’ll be feeding them soon.

Susan is doing very well, lots of bees and adequate stores for spring.  I reversed the chambers, to encourage the queen to expand the hive.

Both hives were treated with powdered sugar to bring down the mites, and given an artificial pollen patty to get them a head start on the spring nectar flows.


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13th February 2009

Mary is no more :-(

With the recent warm spell we’ve seen some activity around the hives, mostly cleansing flights we assume.  We were concerned, though, that while we saw a fair number of bees around Elizabeth and Susan, we didn’t see them near Mary.  So, I took a look under the hood and sadly Mary has died. There were a number of dead bees evident, a very small cluster in the upper chamber, and none visible in the lower chamber.  It didn’t have quite the look of Colony Collapse Disorder, but I didn’t have time to take more than a quick look before work, so I’ll do a more thorough examination over the weekend, weather permitting.  Stores were ample, which suggests that the hive died a while back (over-wintering is the scariest part of beekeeping for me).Now we have to decide whether to order package bees (southern), try to find another local beekeeper with a nuc later in the season, or split one of our remaining hives.  We’ve been wanting to re-queen with some cold-hardy local queens, and now might be the time to try it.It’s sad, especially since Mary was our best hive - the best producer, most mellow, most vigorous.   –Justin 

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28th January 2009

Interesting proposal for improving pollination

This article proposes an interesting approach to improving the health of our pollinators: reserve plots of land to grow wild, providing islands of habitat in our agricultural areas.  These would provide the diversity of plants to support the bee population and the bees in turn would pollinate the surrounding areas.

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12th January 2009


I’ll admit I’m worried about our girls. It hasn’t been a particularly cold winter- but it’s been a very snowy one, and while we’ve been clearing the hives’ entrances, we haven’t seen any activity.

Although it hasn’t been as cold thus far as last winter- I think it’s been moderately cold for longer spans of time; last winter had some nasty cold weeks, but also some very moderate ones, and we’ve been lacking both.

Our girls seemed to have really solid stores going into the winter; we just hope they’re doing OK. I’d love to see a proper January Thaw and some “cleansing flights”!


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2nd December 2008

A quick feeding opportunity

The temperature was said to be going above 50 today, so we seized the opportunity to give the girls a little something.  I managed to set up the feeders for Mary and Susan (sorry, Elizabeth, we’ll get you next time!), our strongest hives.  All three hives had built up pretty solid stores during the last nectar flow, but I wanted to “top them off”.

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20th October 2008

Getting ready for winter, step 1

The weather has turned cool enough that our girls aren’t very active outside the hive, so I took the supers off each of the hives to start getting the hives settled down for the winter. Put in the bottom boards, put on the mouse-excluders (probably should have done that sooner). All 3 hives look to be well-supplied with honey and a good healthy crew of bees. They were not pleased with me removing the queen excluders, as they had firmly attached them to the brood boxes with both propolis and burr comb. It took some serious leverage to remove the queen excluders (but thankfully no damage), and the girls were all over me to express their displeasure! I hadn’t expected the removal to be so challenging, and so I hadn’t fired up the smoker. Plus I had left the box of matches out in the rain…

When heading back into the house I thought I had brushed off all the bees on my bee-suit. Ha! First I discovered a clump of bees in folds of the pants legs, then a line of bees up the front zipper (under the flap, of course), then more on the veil behind my head, and finally as I took of the suit - a huge cluster on the middle of my back. Fortunately all were busy on the suit, so I was able to jump back outside and shoo them all off. Had one straggler somewhere, she was quickly cornered in the window, enticed onto my glove & returned to the outdoors. I really try to get them back outside safely, after all I am the one that invaded their home first!

We’ll need to do some feeding until it gets too cold, and I’ll need to give the hive wrap more thought. Last year it worked beautifully on 2 of the hives, but one ended up holding in too much moisture and we lost a bit to mold.


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