Catching up (bees edition)

Today’s catch-up post will focus on the most industrious members of our little homestead… the honeybees! Man, you guys, bees are SO COOL. I know I’m a biologist and a nerd and all that, but I am so endlessly fascinated by these little insects. As is my usual routine, I started this endeavor by reading a bunch of bee books and websites. But given that beekeeping is SO location-specific, and regional knowledge is so valuable, I wanted to go a step further and learn from people in my own community. Lucky for me, there is a fantastic beekeeping club just down the road in Ann Arbor, and they run an annual Bee School that I’m currently attending. It’s taught by Dave Pearce of Local Buzz Bees, and I’ve really enjoyed it so far! I’ve now heard several variations of the idea that “if you get 10 beekeepers in a room, you’ll find 20 opinions,” and it really does seem to be the case that beekeepers agree on just about nothing, ha! I like that the class provides a variety of perspectives, though, and that we’re provided with enough background (and conflicting opinions!) to care for our own hives in the way we think is best.

The bees really settled in nicely following the exciting installation. I’ve been checking on them regularly, trying to balance staying on top of things but not bothering them unnecessarily. Sometime in the next few days I’d like to do a complete inspection and check my mite load going into the warm part of summer. I’ve had both Mite Away Quick Strips and Apiguard sitting in an online shopping cart for at least a week, now, so I need to make a decision about treatment and get the materials I need. Dave demonstrated oxalic acid vaporization at last weekend’s bee school session, and that also looked relatively straightforward… So beekeepers, I know none of you will agree with each other (hee), but what do you use for mite treatment?

Like a good little scientist, I’ve been keeping a log of all my bee-related activities. In case you’re interested in all the details, I’ll paste it below.

April 24. Bee day! Picked up two 3-lb packages of Italian bees (purchased from Dave Pearce, Local Buzz Bees). Kit S. came over to help me with installation (~5pm). I had set up two hives, each with one eight-frame medium box on the bottom, with another empty super on top to house the mason jar feeder. The installation of Hive 1 (on the left, closer to the pond) went perfectly. We pulled out the feed can and queen cage, installed the queen cage on a frame using a rubber band, and dumped the rest of the bees in without any issue. Hive 2, on the other hand, presented more of a challenge. The feed can was too far inside the package to pry it out, and our efforts resulted in it falling INTO the package of bees (!). We couldn’t shake it/them out without crushing bees, so we installed the queen cage, and placed the entire package of bees inside the hive so they could release themselves without further disturbance. I will check them tomorrow.

April 25. 2:30pm. Checked Hive 2 to remove the package. There were still a ton of bees in the package, probably because the feed can was still in there as well. I brought scissors to cut the screen, and removed the feed can to put it on the frames along with the mason jar feeder. I left the package in front of the hive, hoping that the bees will leave now that the queen and all the food was inside the hive. 7pm. Success! Package is just about empty, and there are not too many dead ones in there either. I’m relieved! Was worried the can had crushed a lot of them.

April 28. Checking for queen release. Queen was out of queen cage in both hives, but there was already a lot of comb built around the queen cages, and I had to rip it to remove them. 😦  Note to self: check queen cages earlier next time! Both hives still have ~2/3 jar of simple syrup (1:1). I left the queen cages on top of the frames inside the hives, so the bees could clean off the comb that was still attached. Both hives still have entrance reducers, but I had used the larger opening for Hive 1 and the smaller opening for Hive 2. Going to leave those in place for the time being.

May 1. Checking feeder jars because we’re in for a few cold/rainy days starting tomorrow. I also removed the slider below the screened bottom board from both hives to increase ventilation (as per Dave’s recommendation at Bee School). I did not observe any mites on the sliders. Refilled feeder jars (both were about 1/3 full). I switched Hive 2’s entrance reducer to the larger opening because it has looked like there were traffic jams happening (resulting in a yellow “pollen stripe” leading into the small opening!). Now both hives still have reducers, but set to the larger opening. There are tons of bees coming into both hives just loaded with bright orange pollen. I peered into the hives and it looks like there is drawn comb on 3-4 frames in each hive, so I am not going to add another super quite yet.

May 8. 1pm. Lots of bees coming and going now that it’s warmed up a bit (52°F, after low 30s this morning). Quick peek in at the bees to check if they need food or a new super. Both hives still seem to be working on about 4 frames, and there are several empty frames visible. Hive 1 is almost out of syrup; Hive 2 has about a quarter jar. 2pm. Made up more 1:1 sugar syrup and refilled both jars. After tonight/tomorrow the forecast looks much warmer so the bees should have better foraging conditions.

May 17. 8pm. Hive 1 looks awesome—about 7 out of 8 frames are filled, and the feeder was empty, so I added another super and refilled the feeder. Hive 2 continues to be the “special” one. They still had ~3 empty frames, but had built burr comb up into the top (empty) super (see right). The feeder was still about a third full. I scraped off the burr comb, and added a second super. I placed the burr comb on top of the new super frames (with the refilled feeder) so that the bees could hopefully reuse the wax.


May 22. 6pm. Quick peek in the hives to see how Hive 2 was doing with the burr comb situation. I opened that hive first and there were many BIG BLACK ANTS on the inner cover! I banged them all off on the ground and removed the burr comb, which the bees were crawling all over but not disassembling. The feeder was still ~3/4 full, and there were no ants on that… so I’m not sure what they’re doing in there. After seeing that, I decided to check Hive 1 too. Ants were in there too, although a much smaller number of them, but there were also a few dead bees on top of the inner cover. I banged all the ants off. Again, there were none in or around the feeder or down around the frames. A Google search recommended putting cinnamon in the area where the ants are, but other sites say the ants are not a problem unless they are in/around the brood, and that just physically removing them is sufficient.

June 5. 7pm. No more ants in either hive! Hive 1 had 3-4 empty frames in super 2. Hive 2 had more empty frames (4-5) but was building burr comb up into the empty super again. Feed jars were empty in both hives. I removed feed jars and added frames to super 3. Although it may be a bit early, I’m hoping this will alleviate the burr comb situation in Hive 2 (and Hive 1 was already pretty close to needing room to expand). I’m not replacing the feed jars, given the warm weather and prevalence of other food sources. Bees seem more defensive today than they have in the past—more of them were “dive bombing” me, landing on my veil, etc. Hopefully this is a good sign of a strong hive?

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