Honeybees in my Pink Flowered Trees

What could possibly bee more beautiful that a team of striped ladies gathering the goodness from delicate flowers? — Nectar and pollen, that is.

My springtime blossoms are finally in bloom and the honeybees were happily visiting them in the warm sun this weekend.

Here are some of the team of honeymakers and pollinators as they went about their day:

I Have Bees and I’m All ABuzz About It!

These past two weeks, I have started to grow concerned about my honeybees. The winter lasted a little while longer than it seemed it should have and I was worried they were running low on honey to make it through. Thankfully, we had sunshine and temps in the 40s today.

My girls were out!

Thousands of them were buzzing around enjoying the sun and spring flowers.

They were already busy collecting pollen from the handful of flowers in my front yard.

It is a happy day for sure.

I was so happy to see them again! I never realized how much I could worry about a bunch of bugs, but worry about them, I do.

Bees – One Last Look

This post is a bit past-due, but I didn’t want to let it go unwritten since I know there are many watching the saga.

At the end of my first season as a beekeeper, I conducted one last check on the beehives before tucking them in for the winter with nothing more than some hopes for at least one hive survival in the spring (statistically, there is only a 50% chance for a hive in this area to survive the winter).

So… going back to September…

I checked on the busy ladies.

I checked on the traditional hive. There was a lot of action in that hive. It was filled to the top with healthy, active bees.

I searched for the queen, but was unable to locate her. I did, however, see all of the signs of a queen – larvae, eggs, capped brood, etc.

When I separated two of the supers, I accidentally ripped open some cells they had constructed in the space between. These cells contained some larvae. The bees scurried about to try to save the exposed larvae.

I also happily discovered large quantities of gold! Liquid gold! (Honey). I left all of the honey for the ladies in hopes it would help them sustain through the winter. A large robust hive in the springtime would lead hopefully to a huge honey harvest next fall. (The honey is capped off under the light colored wax).

While I was watching, I also witnessed a newly created bee coming out of his cell! It was very amazing to watch.

After a short while, I put the hive back together. There were so many bees, I had a difficult time pushing them all back in.

I try so hard to not sacrifice any lives.

I also checked on the “Hippie Hive” (top bar hive).

The hippie bees had been dying off at an alarming rate for several weeks, but no one could determine why. There were no signs of illness, disease, mites, etc. And there was a lot of established comb. Plus, there was still an active queen.

I studied.

I studied some more.

I looked and searched.

There were no answers for me. The only thing I noticed consistently over the weeks was an occasional yellow jacket attacking the girls. I put up traps and caught a good number of the invaders, but none were ever present inside the hive. The bodies were being thrown out of the hive, so whatever was doing them harm had to be coming from the hive interior.

After I closed them all up and tucked them in, I started being chased by some angry bees. Perhaps I stayed too long. I ran off and once was clear of them, threw off my beekeeping shirt, hat and gloves as I went! Then I checked any bees that were still holding on.

They are now tucked in as safely as I could get them. I would consider it a huge stroke of luck if even one of the hives survives the winter. I am planning to order two new boxes of bees for the spring with hopes of building a bigger hive for 2013 and harvesting some sweetness to share.

Bees, Bees and More Bees!

Earlier this week, I peered into the observation window of my top bar hive and noticed the bees appeared to have filled up their space. There were bees everywhere. So, it was clear I needed to check the hives and add some space. So, off I went. Starting with the traditional Langstroth hive, I popped the cover off from the third super I had added only 20 days earlier. There were bees at the top. A good sign.

I pulled out a frame and right away saw the queen. The frame had new wax and eggs. All was well. In that super, there were plenty of unfilled frames and one full of honey. So, I didn’t see a need to be more intrusive to them.

I pulled that super off the top and decided to take a quick look at the second super. There were eggs and capped brood and pollen and honey and all of the good things that indicate happy bees.

I closed it all up and moved onto the overcrowded top bar hive.

I pulled the roof off and started on the brood side.

The honeycomb was huge! It filled the entire space it was allowed. It was full of larvae and capped brood. I did not notice eggs there, but there were plenty of bees and my daylight was waning so it was possible I couldn’t see the tiny eggs very well.

The bees had attached their comb to the inside walls of the hive. So, I had to carefully use a knife to cut the comb away from the interior walls before lifting the bars. This upset the bees who filled the air with an angry hum.

As soon as I set the honey-covered knife down, bees landed on it and began sucking up their precious honey.

A chain of bees holding on to one another just begged to be touched…

That hive was bustling with activity. There were bees everywhere!

I tucked them all in for the night after adding five more empty bars for them to fill before winter sets in.

Bees – A Mid-Summer Update

We performed our mid-summer beehive check and I am beyond happy to report that things appear to be going very well!

The check was performed on one of the very few cool (85 degree) summer days in the middle of a severe drought that has been plaguing us for most of the season. I have water out for the bees, but have noticed they prefer to get their water from droplets gathering on nearby blades of grass when we water the garden.

On a side note: I asked my husband to remind me to look happy when he photographed the bee session because when I look at the bee pictures, I am usually staring at the comb with a furrowed brow. That’s how I look when I’m thinking hard about something. Sooooo, in these pictures you will notice a goofy smile as I’m studying things and thinking hard.

First, the Langstroth hive was checked. Upon removing the cover, we could see many bees in the top super which meant they had finally moved up to occupy that space. Moving a frame of honey up and spraying the empty foundation with sugar water seems to have worked.

We checked the frames in the top super and had honey, and about for frames of brood (baby bees!!). There were eggs and larvae and all sorts of good things.

We also found the queen–a great thing to find! But, she was not the same queen we had a couple of weeks earlier. She was a new queen. The bees had created a new queen and that smallish swarm of bees that had been seen a couple of weeks ago was likely the old queen leaving the hive. Luckily for me, she left plenty of workers to stay behind. Had it not been for the fact that the original queen was marked with a yellow spot, I would never have even noticed a new queen had taken up residence.

We checked out the bottom super of the hive and noticed lots of drones (boys) in the hive. There were plenty of workers (girls) too. The bees seemed happy and all signs indicated a good working beehive.

On the bottom, we noticed three empty queen cells. they had fallen off to the bottom board so I scooped them up. Obviously one of those queen cells was probably the birthplace of the new queen. We also added another super, moved a frame of honey up and sprayed with sugar water to provide the bees with plenty of room so they can begin stocking up honey and pollen and supplies for winter.

We closed everything back up in that hive and tucked the bees back in for the evening.

Onto the top bar hive we went. The bees had expanded. Only one of the bars we had added to the hive two weeks prior was empty. The bees were constructing new cells on the others in pretty white wax.

We added two new frames and moved all of the others to the brood side of the hive (the side that is full of eggs/larvae). We did not find the queen. However, we did find lots of the good things… eggs, larvae, honey, and pollen which indicate all things are well.

The bees in the top bar hive were also happy and docile.

We closed them up so they could continue working through the drought and hopefully keep building up strong as summer egg rearing will soon turn to winter preparations.

Bees — A Constant Battle for Sanity

Prior to officially becoming a “beekeeper”, I read books. Lots of books. Big books. Small books. Even “Beekeeping for Dummies”. Since becoming a “beekeeper”, I have had at least seven seasoned beekeepers tell me, “Bees do not read books,” meaning they are very unpredictable. That’s a shame since there are lots of things they should probably be doing if they would just read the books and follow the guidelines. It would make my life a lot easier and I would be able to help their lives be easier as well.

Going back a few weeks…

I did a pre-vacation check-up on my top bar hive. It was beautiful. There were bees. They were happy. They were building beautiful comb. They were building fast and furious. Life was good.

I added a couple of empty bars for them to fill up, totaling 10 bars in the hive. Then I left them alone for a few weeks to build and feed their larvae and bee happy.

Likewise, the Langstroth hive was doing better. After I added some of their honey and brood to a second, empty super (box) to encourage them to move up, I thought things would be ok. There were lots of bees.

There were frames full of honey.

I think it’s cool when they chain together by holding onto each other’s legs to keep their hive together.

In watching them, I noticed lots of things. Like, this bee fight. I’m not sure what was going on, but one bee was definitely roughing up another bee.

I had queens accounted for in both hives.

I made several bags of sugar water as a precautionary measure and headed south. Meanwhile, back at the apiary… a band of bandito raccoons settled in and ate up all of the sugar water, tore up the flowering plants I had just planted and made a mess out of the place. It reminded me of the next morning after the party in the movie “16 Candles” (Don’t laugh, it’s a great movie).

Fast forward to now….

We checked my Langstroth hive.

My seven-year-old suited up and came along too.

He soon grew worried and took refuge under the bench.

One of the frames in the newly added super (box) was getting filled up with honey and the replaced frame in the brood area was filling up with capped brood just as they were supposed to be.

The bottom super was again filled to the point of crowding.

There were lots of strange things. Lots of drones. Several drone cells. Some burr comb and some empty queen cells.

There were also some very interesting things, like bees hatching from their cells.

The bees had put the writing on the wall for me. They were toying with leaving. So, following all that I had read, I added frames into the brood area (baby raising box) and put some of the babies in the second, empty super (box) to show them that there was plenty of room for them to add on to their happy family and no need to run away.

I am hopeful they accept my offer of a new addition to their hive. I am wishing it to be so.

The great news is that we did see the queen and her eggs. So, no one has left yet.

Over to the top bar hive, otherwise known as the “hippy hive.” We removed the top and the newest added bar to find a row of bees peeking out at us, in their line of defense.

The bees were mellow and harmonious. The frames I had added weeks earlier all had comb on them. Even the furthest one had a small bit of comb being built.

They were building like crazy.

I did not locate the queen, but did see plenty of eggs and larvae.

Happy times! Until………
People working on rehabilitating my barn noticed a cloud of bees circling near the hives. It was about four feet in diameter. Of course, no one noticed which direction it went. I am very worried that they decided to leave. Maybe the barn construction was too loud and drove them away. Looking into the hives, there still seem to be a lot of bees. So, it could have been that they were just hot and needed some fresh air? Hopefully.

As a precautionary measure, I popped open the top bar hive and made notches in three cells with eggs hoping to encourage the nurse bees to construct some queen cells just in case the queen did leave in a swarm. With any luck, they will create a new queen. With the best of luck, the queen didn’t leave and all is well.

A little bit of honey leaked out and I tasted it… Amazing. Better than anything I have purchased at the store. So, fingers are crossed that all is well. Now I must wait. and wait. and wait to see what happens.

The Girls in the World

I now likely have tens of thousands of bees (hopefully) living in my two beehives.

I see them everywhere I look. In the yard. At the school. Even flying about the nearby greenhouse.

They are working hard, these fuzzy, striped little girls and I think I have found a few thousand new models for my floral pictures.

People in White

Today I had the privilege of hanging out with a group of beekeepers at the Kalamazoo Bee Club Field Day.

It was a great opportunity to see…

…what a healthy beehive looks like.

I got to see firsthand how happy bees act compared with unhappy bees.

I learned to more easily tell the difference between drone cells, larvae, eggs, honey cells, and queen cells.

I learned what the different cells mean in relation to the overall health of the hive.

My family came along–including my little boys. They learned quite a lot as they processed what they saw and deciphered it into their levels of understanding.

My poor hubby has gone from being drug into another one of my endeavors to happily wearing a beekeeper suit and knowing quite a bit about bees himself.

I learned how to take a healthy frame of eggs/larvae and groove the bottoms of three cells to encourage the bees to produce a new queen if the hive is not “queen right”. – And if you want to know what the heck that means, I can explain that now too.

I have read a wealth of books on beekeeping. Some of them were very helpful, but nothing compares to being around other beekeepers and seeing things with your own eyes.

Even my boys were mostly riveted by the event (as much as they could be within the limits of their attention spans).

Some day, I hope to have enough knowledge that I can provide direction to new beekeepers. Until then, I’m glad that I live in an area that has such an amazing group of pioneers in the art of beekeeping who are willing to share their knowledge with me. I highly recommend participating in the Kalamazoo Bee Club to anyone considering getting into beekeeping.

The Bees After My Mess

A couple of weeks ago, I did a two-week check-up on the top bar hive and saw that the girls were building their comb in the wrong direction–across multiple bars rather than along the bars–otherwise known as cross-comb. After consulting others, I detached the comb and attempted to re-attach it the correct direction…

Two days after that mess, I checked in the observation window and saw……… one solitary bee. That’s right. One bee. I think he must have been goofing off when the others were plotting their escape. I took the roof off the hive and noticed they had gorged on all of their honey and absconded. They left. Took off. Vanished. I hope they found a nice hollow log somewhere to live. I don’t “Bee-grudge” them (sorry I had to do it).

Meanwhile, I had an empty top bar hive. I did loads of researched and spoke with everyone under the sun who knew anything about top bar hives. I formulated a new approach and ordered “Small Cell Bees.” Or, 4.9mm bees. The concept behind these bees as I understand it is that they are the size bees used to be before people started intervening and growing them larger (sort of like the new engineered strawberries you find in the grocery that are the size of a golf ball). They are touted as being more disease resistant. Because of their size, things like varroa mites aren’t as much of a threat to the bees as they are to their larger counterparts, the 5.2 mm bees like the ones that absconded and the ones currently living in my Langstroth hive.

Ok. So, I found these smaller bees in Tennessee and ordered them. The were sent in the mail. They were briefly lost in the mail. They arrived five days later barely alive. I was in a state of panic because it seemed my top bar hive was destined to be empty.

I installed them in the top bar hive following the advice of three beekeepers whom I had been conferring with about the absconding cross-combing previous bees. I turned the hive so the bars were facing north/south. I attached a few strips of small cell foundation the correct way to the bars. I made sure the queen cage was pointing exactly north/south and directly below the middle bar. I put pollen patties inside and sugar water near by. These little bees would have everything they needed except an instruction manual for how to build honeycomb in a top bar hive.

Fingers crossed… Three days later, the initial check took place.

I opened the cover and pulled out a bar.

It looked promising.

Then the middle bars were easily removed. A good sign.

The comb was right!

It was white and perfectly formed and lined up correctly! I was doing the happy dance all over the place.

(I love how the bees in that last picture have formed a bee chain… they are all holding on to each other’s feet and dangling off the bottom of the comb. It’s sort of funny. They’re holding on to each other like their lives depend on it. But, they can fly).

I guess the moral of this story is not to underestimate the power of small bees. Now let’s hope they continue building and being happy in their cool little house.