New hives and such

I’ve decided that this year is all about increasing the number of colonies in the apiary. I had ordered 3 VSH (Varroa Sensitive Hygene) queens way back in January. These queens and their daughters are supposed to remove Varroa mites from each other, to put it simply.

The blessed day arrived last week (beginning of April), when I met Jerry (who coordinated a group buy) at the UPS center by the Roanoke airport. After we got home, it was time to install their majesties in their new homes. I had one hive that has been increasingly aggressive, and I planned to replace that queen with one of the new ones. That left 2 colonies for me to establish.

The procedure for establishing a new colony with queen in hand is pretty straightforward. This is called making a split. You take frames of brood (baby bees in cells, some open some capped) and groceries from an existing hive and stick them in your new one, along with your lovely new queen in her travel cage. Shake in a generous amount of bees to ensure there are enough nurse bees to take care of everyone. The foragers will leave and return to the original hive, so it’s a good idea to shake in more bees than I think I need. Come back a few days later and release the queen if she hasn’t already managed to have an escape from the transport cage.

This procedure went well from the first large hive. Everyone was cooperative, and the queen was, as always, easy to spot. This queen is friendly and pops out to say hi and see what is going on. Lots of brood and groceries available to make the split. Easy-peasy lemon squeezy!

The second hive – different story. I have seen this queen only 2 times since I installed it – when I installed it as a NUC and once during an inspection last month. I had no luck finding the queen though there was evidence she was around someplace.

There was also a lovely swarm cell. Unfortunately I damaged it removing the frame it was attached to. Swarm cells tend to hatch really nice queens, and would have made yet another colony if I hadn’t damaged it removing the frame. From now on I will tip the box back and look for swarm cells before pulling frames.

Of course I did not find the queen in this hive. That is frustrating because I really wanted to remove her and install one of the new queens in her place. Since she remained un-located, I did a second split out of this hive and established a third colony, bringing the total to 5.

After the queens have been in their new homes a few days it is a good idea to make sure they made it out of the cages and into the hives. I had not removed the little corks out of the cages, opting to let the colonies get used to the smell of their new queens to lessen the likelihood of the colonies killing the queens. Unfortunately, a few days later happened to coincide with my having to work. In addition, we had experienced a couple days of cold wind, rain and snow. The only day that offered acceptable conditions for opening the hives to release the queens was Saturday afternoon. I am lucky in that my boss is awesome and let me leave for an hour to take care of this task.

The whole release the queens took all of 15 minutes, and they all paused as if saying “thanks” before diving in between the frames and getting to work doing queen bee stuff.

But wait, there’s more!

The club had also done a group buy of package bees. After I had lost 3 out of my 5 hives over the winter I felt it would bee prudent to pick up a couple packages as well. I have many boxes and enough drawn comb for a colony to not have to work too hard to get established.

The packages arrived Sunday morning. Of course I had to work but my lovely wife was able to pick the packages up not far from where I work, since Bill and Denise live nearby.

I didn’t get home from work until nearly dark so installing the packages was not a good idea, especially since it was windy and rainy as well as late. That meant the bees got to come inside and hang out in the house overnight. Overnight the heavy rains and wind woke me as if to reassure me that bringing the bees in was likely a good idea.

Today was install the bees in their new home day. I made sure their new homes had lots of drawn comb, good ventilation, and a nice view of the town. Its all about location!

Most people just spray the bees with sugar water, yank the feed can out of the transport box, stick the queen cage between some frames and shake the bees out the 3 inch diameter hole into the hive. I’m good with most of the above procedure except shaking the bees out the tiny hole.

I understand people have been doing it this way for many more years than I’ve been keeping bees. Thing is, bees are exoskeletal and shaking them through the hole probably injures a significant percentage of the 3 pounds of bees you typically get in a package. The top bar folks choose a different method for getting the bees out of the box and into the hive. They take the side of the box off and shake the bees out the large opening. I opt for this release method. Here is a n article with a video of how they do it:
https://backyardhive.com/blogs/managing-your-top-bar-hive/installing-a-package-of-bees-a-better-approach
I still release the queen a few days later, the only real difference from their method. I also put the transport box in an empty medium box on top of the hive and let the remaining bees walk down into
the hive on their own. When I come back to check on the queen I will remove the empty transport box and fill the medium frame boxes with frames.

I would love to have photos to show all of this, but beekeeping is often a solitary endeavor for me and my phone won’t respond to inputs from my gloved finger. Maybe when I go back in.


For now, that’s all the news to give you fits.

Capitalist honeybee aggression

Despite having lost 3 out of 5 colonies over the winter, I am working towards expanding the apiary. I am building another stand to hold 5 more hives.

I may have mentioned that one of the hives is somewhat aggressive. I don’t mind that much, except for 2 reasons: there are a couple little kids across the street, and I can’t do anything within 15 feet of the hives. Once the foragers are really active there’s no work happening nearby.

This queen is a red-dot, which means she is going on her third year! Although she is ageing, she is a phenomenal layer of bee eggs – perhaps the best I have ever seen. The downside is her progeny are aggressive. As much as I hate to say it, I may commit regicide and replace her with another, in hopes that this hive will lose the aggressive tendency. Like so many things in life, this is a crap shoot and I may end up with an even more aggressive hive, or a queen that just can’t lay eggs worth a darn.

Most of the building happens near the house where there is power and I can hear whatever I have decided to listen to while I work. Yesterday was The Disco Biscuits, today is Daft Punk. It is also far enough away from the hives that I can work unmolested. Even though I have a couple containers nearby of uncappings and honey that didn’t make it to the bucket, the bees are too busy cleaning them to be bothered by me.

Yesterday I measured out where the new stand was going to be whilst dodging aggressive bees. Waited until almost 7 pm to fire up the auger to drill the holes. Why an augur you ask? It’s really quite simple. I hate digging. Turning the goon spoon rates right up there with impacted teeth and walking on a broken ankle. I know this because I have been through these things. The augur was less than $200 and in my book has already earned its keep, having drilled over 20 holes so far.

One of the ladies cleaning a bucket

While starting the rails I also processed some wax, mostly uncappings and burr comb cut out of the hives while doing inspections. Put them in a pot of water and bring to a boil. The wax floats to the top, then a layer of nasty stuff, then the water with dissolved contaminants. I used a foam paintbrush to apply the melted wax to some plastic foundation. The rest of the wax was allowed to cool and harden. I will re-melt and strain it then pour into a container for later use.

Melted wax
Black plastic foundation with wax applied

Put the posts in and poured the cement, using stakes and small line to keep them level until the cement hardened. While I was out with the dogs yesterday, we stopped at the local lumber place and got the rest of the supplies to finish the project. I will spare you the details of the build, if you want to know that stuff contact me.

Posts in place

Today I built the rails and carried them up to the posts, only got stung once for my troubles. Think I will fire up the little mower and do around the house and wait until 7 tonight to finish assembling the stand.

So here is the result, newly finished. I still have to install eyehooks for the straps to attach to. Had enough for today, this wasn’t the only project on the list. Tried to get the wee mower to start, but I didn’t get all the old gas out of the tank and the plug is likely coated with varnish. How I miss the days of Gulf Purple (103 octane with real lead). You could leave the tank full of that stuff, let the bike sit through a northern New York winter, jump the battery and the bike would fire right up and do great smoky burnouts (soon as I let the oil circulate and warm up enough to vaporize the condensation from sitting all winter).

The finished product

March 20 inspection

Last time I was in the hives, they were both booming with brood. I had swapped brood boxes on #1 to get her majesty laying in the emptier of the 2 boxes. It worked.

Started on hive 2, because they’re a bit better tempered, and I wasn’t in the mood to spend more time in a cloud of pissed off bees than i had to.

Hive 2 is a daughter of hive1, with a queen i got from Jim Hill. It’s doing great. Some queen cups, thankfully unoccupied. This queen is usually friendly, popping up to say “Hi” at some point in the inspection but I guess she was busy laying eggs. I added a queen excluder and a medium super to hopefully get a little honey from these ladies. It also got a shiny new bottom board that I had built. The existing board was one I had bought on the cheap, it had served its purpose but I just didn’t like it. I know, the bees don’t care.

Hive1 is still booming with lots and lots of capped brood and larvae present. This is a red-dot queen that has absolutely exceeded my hopes (Thanks Fred)! Some queen cups, no one was home in them but I see a split in this hive’s future, perhaps 2 this year. This hive got a shiny new bottom board, a queen excluder, and a second honey super. These ladies are not as content to let me mess around their nethers so I actually used the smoker for a few huffs.

I’m still a better mechanic than carpenter

I started building beehive parts recently. Not because I can’t buy them, more I am unhappy with either the price or the quality of what is available.

There are many plans available on the internet for just about any kind of hive you can imagine. I took bits and pieces of several different plans and added my own twist. The results are in.

The first is a landing board/hive bottom. Unpainted and the screen isn’t installed. The second is a telescoping top. I made my own inner covers as well, they are in a different missive. I have more than enough boxes to complete at least 10 hives, I just needed the other bits.

Now just waiting for bees to want to make more bees.

March 8 inspection

It’s been a couple weeks since I last looked into the remaining hives. It was sunny, warm, and not too windy so I thought I’d get into the hives for an inspection. I also had a mind to do a postmortem of the NUC that didn’t make it. Also figured I’d move some things around and harvest the honey from the dead hives.

The NUC had almost no bees, and lots of empty frames. Basically they didn’t lay in enough groceries to make it through the winter, and the sugar I provided was out of reach of the cluster. Not a total loss, because I have 10 frames of drawn comb I didn’t have before. Next set of bees going in will have less work ahead of them when they go to set up housekeeping.

One of my co-workers had mentioned he’d like to take a peek into what beekeeping is about so I invited Mark to come over. He arrived just as I was finishing up the bee box shuffle and was almost ready to get into the live hives.

We started in on the hive I had moved from a double high NUC into a 2 box 10 frame. I was absolutely delighted to see the queen in the upper box, lots of capped brood, larvae, and eggs. This was surrounded by honey and pollen. The ladies have been bringing in pollen for a few weeks now and have been quite industrious in this undertaking. The bottom box was just as full of brood and groceries. I have high hopes for this colony.

Mark was really into the whole inspection thing and helped with the smoker, queen spotting, and asked a lot of really good questions.

We then opened up hive 1. This is my really aggressive hive and the smoker got a good workout. It’s a 3 high, 2 large brood boxes and a medium honey super on top of the brood. We found brood in the top super. Not unheard of, and I am glad to see that this queen is laying this well this early. I have never seen this queen in the 11 months these bees have been with me. We set the top box down, and got into the middle box.

Jam packed with groceries and big tight brood patches in the middle 6 frames. This queen has been amazingly productive. We saw lots of pollen of various colors. We moved the middle box out of the way to look into the bottom box.

The bottom box had some brood, some groceries, but nothing spectacular. Sometimes a queen will move up out of the bottom box and spend her time upstairs. I had a mind to swap the middle and bottom boxes to give her majesty incentive to lay in the emptier box. When we lifted the bottom box there she was! Her majesty with a red dot walking around on the bottom board. I greeted her most graciously and quickly put the middle box on the bottom board, thus protecting the queen and giving her lots more room to lay in the (now) center box. We buttoned everything back up, put the tiedowns back on all the boxes, and Mark helped me carry the empties up to the garage for storage.

I ended up with 15 mixed frames of honey, and peace of mind knowing all is well in the remaining hives. Both are likely candidates for splitting in a month or so, and perhaps a second set of splits later on this year.

Thanks Mark for coming all the way down and helping me with the inspections. Hopefully you will have more questions, and a better understanding of what it means to be a beekeeper.

Not what I had planned

Today was supposed to be about making more beehive components. Made a hearty and tasty breakfast so I wouldn’t have to stop for lunch, planning instead to work through the day.

Went down into the shop. Set up the table saw to make the first series of cuts. Fired up the vacuum system, hit the switch on the saw.
The roar of the vacuum system did not get drowned out by the whirr of the saw because there wasn’t any whirr.


Since vacuum and saw get their power from the same place, it just had to be the switch on the saw.
It wasn’t.


Bad outlet.
Goosenargh (nonsensical word inserted to protect the tender eyes of the easily offended who may read this)


Off to Tractor Supply, closest place that might have outlets and boxes. They have outlets, no boxes.
Goosenargh!


Off to 84 Lumber. They have outlets AND boxes! Got a double box and 2 outlets and the appropriate cover.


Spent the rest of the morning removing old single outlet box, stretching wires so I had room to make connections without having to deal with too-short house wiring, and installing my shiny newly purchased double outlet box.


Left the 15 amp breaker for this circuit instead of upgrading it to a 20 amp in the circuit breaker box because I’m not sure what is downstream of the new double outlet and I don’t want the house wiring to do the toaster element thing when I’m not here.


Still, I made an inner cover, a telescoping cover, and primed the undersides of the 3 screened bottom board hive stands I designed.
I would normally make a run of the same item, but I am teaching myself to set the saw up to make different cuts so making different items means more time spent on setting it up.

Heartbreak and hope

Last week I noticed that there was no action happening from one of my remaining hives. I knew they had groceries in the top super (box) because I had quickly opened the hives to add pollen patties (gives the bees protein to help with raising new brood).

I popped the top quickly to see if they were playing possum, but this was not the case. The colony was no more. I was sad. This left me with 2 colonies out of 5 going into the winter.

The grand plan

Today being the nicer of the 2 days this weekend, I decided to move the NUC (nucleus colony) into a bigger hive (10 frame). After a phone call to my friend Jerry to make sure I wasn’t about to do something really dumb, I went ahead with the move. Went and got an inner cover that I had made, and a screened bottom board I had bought intending to use as a pattern.

Opened the hive that had been rained on inside the supers (not enough ventilation) and removed the top 2 supers. They had a fair amount of honey and pollen in them, so I had groceries to give the colony.

Assembled the new hive (bottom board and bottom super) next to the Nuc. Opened the Nuc and started moving frames into the new hive. Her Majesty the queen was busy laying eggs in the upper super, I greeted her with proper respect before putting her in her new home. Moved the remaining frames, and added the second super full of groceries on top, before buttoning everything up.

The brick is holding the entrance reducer in place. I don’t yet want this hive fully open because it will still get cold and they are next door to a very strong hive.

Saddest thing I saw recently

It was nice and warm today so I had a mind to see how the ladies were faring the winter.

I had some doubts about one of the Nucs going into the winter, they hadn’t put away nearly as much groceries or drawn comb on many of the frames. The only bee in the whole hive was the queen, and she was very much dead.

The real surprise was one of my 10 frame hives. The bottom was covered with dead bees. From what I saw, the hive had a lot of condensation . There was mold in some of the wood.

This hive had a solid bottom board with no provision for ventilation from the bottom. So basically the hive died from the bees getting rained on inside the hive in the middle of winter.

My other 3 hives are very strong with lots of groceries and bees. I split the 2 un needed pollen patties between them.

So all we have to do is make it another 5 weeks or so.

Quick look

Since it was over 60 degrees yesterday I had a quick look at the hives to see how the ladies were faring the winter.

All 5 hives are still alive! They had been propylizing the batting I had put in to reduce condensation in the hives making it a little harder to peek in without tearing their roofs off.

Each hive had representatives come to see what the hell was going on.

Beekeeper’s work is never done

So most people think that beekeepers get to take the winter months off. That’s not necessarily so.

I plan to at least double the apiary this coming year. That means I need to build hives and frames. The hives need painting. I am going to build some top bar hives as well, meaning hours of woodworking. I’m a mechanic not a carpenter so I have to work twice as hard to build them.

There’s all the back issues of beekeeping magazines to read to review what I need to be ready for next year.

There’s also armor to make so I can go fight next season.

No, in all reality the winter is the busiest time of the year for beekeepers in the northern part of the country.