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Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Giveaway!

Update: Revised instructions to make them clearer.

The long-promised day is here! I've figured out (I think) how to use Rafflecopter, so we're going to have some fun!

On to the big question -- what's the prize???

Pitcairn Island honey and Bee's Wraps

First of all, there is a bottle of Pitcairn Island honey that my honey recently brought back from Fortnum & Mason. If you've ever read about the HMS Bounty (or watched a movie based on the story), you'll recall that Captain Bligh pushed his men to the edge, there was a big mutiny, and the mutineers escaped to a group of small islands in the South Pacific (Pitcairn Islands) where they hoped to live undetected by the British government which would have strung them up.

Pitcairn Island honey label
According to the label, this honey's floral sources include mango, lata, passion flower, guava and roseapple. It describes the flavor as rich and intensely fruity. I have a jar of my own, as well, and I would agree with that assessment. The flavor is intense, rich, warm... to me it tastes strongly of dried tropical fruit and molasses.

Some sources say that Pitcairn Island honey should be stored in the refrigerator once opened because it has a high moisture content and will ferment.

From http://www.beeswrap.com/collections/single-wraps/products/bees-wrap-single-medium
The second item in this prize is a pair of large and medium Bee's Wraps that I picked up earlier this year while I was in Vermont. I don't claim to be a champion when it comes to sustainable living, but I try to do what I can. I love these sustainable, natural wraps. Essentially, they are cotton fabric that has been impregnated with beeswax. You can use them as an alternative to cling wrap to cover a bowl or to wrap a sandwich or some cheese. (BTW, they work better with dry foods and bowls. Do not use them to wrap meat.) Basically, the warmth of your hands softens the wax enough to create a seal. Afterward, all you have to do is rinse the Bee's Wrap with some water (not hot water, though!) Oh, I almost forgot to mention that they smell fabulous!

The total prize value is approximately $50. U.S. and Canadian residents only, please. Follow the instructions below to enter. A more detailed explanation for how to log in to Rafflecopter is also available. This giveaway begins at 12:00 am, September 30, 2015, and it ends at 12:00 am, October 16, 2015.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, September 25, 2015

Moisture-Absorbing Packets

All the forecasts for this winter promise a season equally bad or maybe even worse (!!!) than the polar vortex of 2014. As a result, I've shifted into prep mode and am thinking about how to deal with condensation and cold this year.

There seem to be a number of ways to deal with moisture. Since I have 7 colonies, I may try two or three of the following methods to see what works best for me.

  • Top entrances.  A small gap is left open between the end of the hive and the first board to allow moisture to vent out.
  • Vent bar behind the divider board. 
  • Moisture absorbing packets. Silica-gel packets will be placed in the hive to absorb moisture (instead of venting it).
  • Just insulation & nothing else. A local expert beek with lots of TBH experience, does this with his nucs. 
  • Just top insulation. Nothing else. This is what Sam Comfort told me he does.
Top entrance on Peach

Top entrances, vent bars, and moisture absorbing packets are the methods I think I'll be most likely to try. The top entrances are easy to make, and I've already opened them for Hippolyte & Peach. The vent bars should be a snap, too. Just drill some holes in a bar and cover them with screen mesh. However, figuring out how to use moisture absorbers has been giving me a headache.

In Beekeeping with a Smile, Lazutin off-handedly mentions that he prepares for winter by attaching a board with silica-gel packets on it behind the divider board. The only other detail he drops is that the packets have to be exposed on one side to absorb the moist air. However, he fails to provide any other info. The main question that's been plaguing me is how many packets/grams of silica are needed??? How much water do the bees produce? How much water will the silica gel absorb? How much silica gel is too much? I have absolutely no clue. Bubblegum and Elsa will have to be my guinea pigs. So now I'm not only concerned about them drowning, I'm also concerned about drying them out, too.

Some large food-safe silica-gel packets I ordered from Amazon.

Another challenge of mine is deciding where to place the gel packets. Lazutin's hives are quite large. Each frame is about 18"-20" high, I believe, and hold something like 8 lbs of honey each. In his hives, the bees do not work backward toward the honey  stores. Instead, they cluster toward the bottom of the frames and work their way up. In fact, when he harvests honey, he says that he leaves only one frame of honey next to the cluster. Then from what I can gather, he places his divider board and the board with the silica gel. In this arrangement, the gel is quite close to the cluster, so it makes sense that it would control condensation.

In a TBH, the cluster is quite far removed from the divider board, so if I add the silica behind the divider, will it actually do anything? Or should I consider moving all of the bars back a bit and placing the moisture-absorbing packets near the entrance so that they are nearer the cluster? This might mean modifying the entrance somehow, though to ensure the bees can still get in and out.

Decisions, decisions. These are making my head ache, so fortunately, my kids have just arrived home and want to go to the movies, so I can put this off for little awhile. ;-)



Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Making of a Hive: Part 3 of 3

It feels like my insulated hive body is a project from the distant past (Part 2 of this series). My daughter must agree because when I started work on the roof yesterday, she exclaimed, "Finally!!!"

According to Lazutin, it's important that the top be warmer than the sides of the hive, so I wanted to build an insulated roof as well.  However, because of the insulation, I felt like this was going to become a heavy roof quite quickly, which meant that I needed to make it hinged as well.

I had trouble finding plans for what I wanted online. Dr. Sharashkin has posted plans for a hinged roof, but truly, his plans are beyond me. So I fell back on Plan B -- Wing It.

The reason I've put this project off so long is because I had to overcome the obstacle of making a vertical surface to which the roof could attach. As you can see, there is considerable negative space at the edge of the hive. I decided to fill up that gap with a bar that would fit inside the "missing wedge."

See? There is nowhere to attach the hinges.
Step 1: Make something for the roof to attach to.

I began by cutting a bar out of a 2x4 the length of the hive. There was a little leftover to make a practice piece as well. (Actually, I ended up cutting the practice piece in half to make 2 practice pieces. It was a good thing, too, because I completely screwed up the first one.)

Bar and practice piece
After figuring out the angle needed on one side of the bar, I tested it out on a practice piece. The first practice run was an utter failure. However, the second one worked beautifully! Huzzah!

I had to mark my practice piece so that I could remember which way to run the full bar.
Once the bar was painted and dried, I screwed it into the hive. By the way, using power tools on an occupied hive is not even close to one of my best ideas. The girls were M-A-D. I lost count of how many stingers my gloves took. One stinger even made it all the way through the leather into skin.

Positioning the bar so it can be screwed into place.
Step 2. Make the roof.

Basically, I was going for a box that could be filled with insulation. The ends of the box would also provide the structure for the gable. The sides of the roof would be shorter -- just high enough for the insulation. Here is a crude sketch.

Rough sketch of roof. 

I cut the sides to length first.

Sides of the roof.

Next, I cut two pieces that were the right width for the roof ends. Using a piece of wood the same "height" as the sides, I marked how high the sides would be in comparison to the roof. Then I found the midpoint of the board and drew straight lines to determine the gable cuts. As I read this explanation, I realize how utterly incomprehensible it is. Hopefully, the next two photos will provide a visual explanation.

Marking where the top of the side will sit against the end piece.
Lines for gables marked out.
End pieces all cut.

The next step was to assemble the ends and sides into a "box."

Four sides assembled
Although plywood would've been my first choice for the bottom of the box, I didn't have any. On the other hand, I did have lots and lots of roofing paper. I wasn't sure, though, how well the roofing paper would support the insulation, so I added a couple of supports to the bottom as well.

Added some supports to the bottom. 
Roofing paper stapled to the bottom of the roof.

The sides of my insulated hive have an insulation value of about R9 to R10, I think. So I wanted to make sure the roof was warmer than that. I found some recycled denim insulation on HomeDepot.com, but I had to buy it in bulk. The R30 was about $540 -- way out of my price range. However, they also sold a case of R6.7 -- 6 rolls for $36. Not free, but a lot better. I figured I'd just add two layers of insulation to double the warmth.

It has small children cuddling up to it. It must be safe. Right? ;-)


Yes, this hive is getting crazy expensive to build, but there's no turning back now. Plus, I needed only 2-3 rolls -- so there's enough leftover for another roof!!! While fiberglass is probably cheaper, I have memories of my sister breaking out in hives from it after a hurricane. Plus, the idea of recycling jeans has a certain appeal.
Roof full of insulation. A roll was a little longer than the length of the roof,
so I  scrunched up the insulation a bit to put a little extra padding over the cluster.
Another layer of roofing paper. I should have added some wood to staple the ends of the paper to, 
but I was getting tired and took the lazy way out.

Unfortunately, I painted before I remembered to add a couple extra roof supports roof. Better late than never.

A few supports to keep everything tied together.
I would've liked more overhang on the roof, but it is what it is. 

The roof is on
Added screw eyes to the ends of the roof. Another set will go on the hive body. Will tie rope to them to keep the roof from hyperextending.

Screw eye in bottom left corner

Step 3. Attach the roof.

A set of hinges attach the roof to the hive body. 

Had some small hinges in the garage, but wasn't sure they'd be strong enough.
However, these white hinges from my new local hardware shop are sturdy and complement Elsa perfectly.

Rope tied to screw eyes at the ends of the roof & hive prevent the hinges from hyperextending.

One string held the roof just fine, but my knot-tying skills are... not.
A second string gives me some cheap piece of mind.

Ta-da!
Presenting HRH Queen Elsa!

Whew! I am soooo glad to be done! The entire duration of this project, The Beests were menacing me -- buzzing and head bumping. You can see how far away the hives are from the garage, but those monsters are unstoppable. While Elsa has gotten a new roof, The Beests have put the final nail in their coffin. My super nice next-door neighbor is allergic to stings (has an epi-pen and everything). I would never forgive myself if those hellions got to him. However, that's another thought for another day. Right now, I'm going to make myself a nice cuppa, put my feet up, and watch Blacklist. I've earned it.

Look how far away the hives are. The Beests are relentless!

Monday, September 21, 2015

Bottles

Over the weekend, I attended our annual local arts & crafts festival. One of the vendors was a beekeeper from Valley View Acres in Westfield, Massachusetts. Of course, we chit chatted for awhile, and he generously gave me lots of great advice about selling honey and told a few bee jokes.



The thing that drew me to his display was the bottles of honey. Usually, I see honey in plain jars, hex jars, or queenline jars. All of these are quite lovely, but it was fun seeing some unorthodox bottling choices like bunnies and violins. I can't say that I loved all the bottles, but I appreciated their novelty. The sun was my particular favorite.

A relative of his is a potter and made the lovely honey crocks. Sadly, I didn't come prepared for the festival as it was a spur of the moment decision to go, and I'd already spent all my cash on some things for the kids. If I hadn't, though, I would've bought the dark blue crock on the top shelf. I loved that one as well as the all-blue one on the bottom shelf.


As the list of people wanting to buy honey from me continues to grow (and as I can actually foresee having enough to sell next year), I'm giving more and more thought to packaging and how it can bring value to my honey. His display and our conversation definitely gave me a lot to think about.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Feeling Wishy Washy

Sorry for the lack of photos. I wanted to take a peek at The Beests, so I was wearing gloves today and couldn't take photos.

Anyway, after seeing all of Austeja's empty combs last week, I had decided to let her just ride it out and not feed. If she made it through winter, fine. If not, that was ok, too. It was going to be a case of tough love.

However, this morning, I relented because on the way to church, I could see that the Japanese knotweed was just about done, and the goldenrod was fading, too. Maybe I was being too hard. They had been good bees. Maybe some help would be a good thing. So I took some syrup out to the hive this afternoon, and I was surprised to find that they were starting to fill the combs up with nectar again. They weren't anywhere close to being full, but all of the combs had some nectar again.

So I've reconsidered again. After all, bees have been doing their thing from time immemorial and getting on just fine without my help. Plus, if they can actually fill the combs with honey, I don't want to taint the honey with syrup. A glance at the entrance showed lots of pollen and nectar coming in. The forecast shows decent weather for awhile, too, so maybe they have some time. I flip flopped again.

The syrup went into Buttercup who got a late start and had a run of bad luck (queen lost on mating flight, bear...). She was busy building new comb when I opened her, and the syrup should help her put on some weight.

While outside, I couldn't help taking a look at the back of the other hives. None of them have any fully capped bars yet. Some of them were about 50% capped, so I'll just have to keep waiting impatiently for the bees to finish their work.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Don't Weigh Your Honey Before It's Capped

Ten days ago, I was overjoyed to see Austeja's surplus honey, but I was concerned about her having a new queen. Even more, I was concerned that with every bar filled with nectar, she wouldn't have a place to lay. Curiosity finally overcame me. I had to take a look.

What the heck?! Practically all the nectar is gone, and there are barely any bees inside! The plus side of this equation is that the queen has loads of room to lay. But...but.. but... there's no honey! (lip quiver)

There aren't any signs of robbing, so my guess is that the colony has been dwindling for the past month while Her Majesty has been gearing up to lay eggs. Without enough foragers to keep the nectar rolling in, nurse bees have used up the nectar to feed larvae. Crikey. I'm kicking myself in the pants for not keeping on top of this colony better and letting it swarm. Dagnabbit. All my dreams of honey are gone, gone, gone. How will I overwinter???

At least Austeja has plenty of pollen

I only peeked into the splits: 
  • Peach (14 bars) and Bubblegum (12 bars) have pretty much completely filled those nucs with comb and are busy capping honey.
  • Elsa (15) bars is still bringing in nectar and working on capping comb. She seems on track for winter readiness.
  • Buttercup has 9 bars of comb. Most of those are filled with brood. Feeling iffy about this one, but I supposed that she might still be able to get through winter.
Some pollen on a bee

All the bees seem to sense the days shortening and were bringing in lots of propolis in addition to nectar and pollen.

I didn't bother checking on The Beests. They seemed to be on track last Monday when I took a look-see. Fingers crossed for them.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

PSA: Addiction

This is a public service announcement. Addiction is a serious thing. There's no need to preach because these photos tell it all.


OK, to give credit where credit is due, a horse-crazy cousin of mine posted a hilarious pony meme on FB this morning. I liked it so much that I decided to tweak it a bit and make it my own. I knew you'd understand. LOL!

Monday, September 7, 2015

Update on Those Swarm Cells & Top Entrances

Austeja and her swarm cells have been my chief focus lately. I briefly considered building a nuc today in order to split the capped queen cells out to 1) prevent afterswarming and 2) just in case I needed a back-up queen. However, I've been feeling terribly worn out. My DH has been away from home since last Wednesday, and I have trouble sleeping when he's not home. The house feels empty without him. Also, I was up caring for my eldest child while he puked all night. In my bleary-eyed state, cutting out the cells seemed like a simpler solution for dealing with potential afterswarms.

Imagine my surprise when I cut into the first queen cell, and it was empty! A few had what looked like dried out eggs or tiny dried larvae, but nothing that even looked like a pupa. The bees weren't interested in removing them either, which was even more curious. What gives here? I have no clue!

In any case, my problem of what to do has been solved for me.

Three queen cells that I removed. I was going to film them like a wrapping video,
 but two of them got opened as they got jostled around on their way into the house. 

See? Nuthin'

Today was another 90+ degree day. However, with top entrances, both Peach and Hippolyte look much, much cooler.

No more bearding

Feeling Thankful

Honey is an amazing, fantastical sort of thing to me. It's the distilled work of thousands of bodies and countless unpredictable factors in weather and forage -- not to mention my own sweat, tears, stings, and nights lain awake wondering what's going on in those hives.

This morning, as I savor honeycomb straight from the hive with my breakfast, I'm overwhelmed with the feeling of being blessed. I'm grateful for fine weather, for rain showers, for flowers, for gardens, for weeds, for the life in small creatures that drives them to be fruitful and multiply, for abundance, for overflow, and for sweetness













  
.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

A Little Kvetching Followed by Lots of Happy News

First some kvetching.

After spotting three capped queen cells through Austeja's observation window the other day, an inspection seemed in order to determine if they were swarm or supersedure cells. While I was at it, it seemed a good idea to take a look in the two dreaded hives that have collectively been renamed The Beests. Therefore, on a 90-ish degree day, I donned jeans, bee jacket, leather gloves, and even lit up the smoker. A 45-60 minute inspection of 3 hives turned into a couple-hour peek into all 7 colonies.

I overheated to the extent that even a cool bath didn't truly get me back to normal. Three hours later, my cheeks are still burning. Then again, it's possible I just have the fever that both my son & husband have contracted. Or maybe I'm entering "the change." In any case, next time, I'm going to split inspections into two days and suit up for the mean girls only.

To add insult to injury, I got stung in the leg because of the protective clothing. Unbeknownst to me, a bee had landed on my thigh, and I put a gloved hand on my leg -- smooshing her right into my skin. I console myself with the thought that one sting is better than thousands. No doubt, I'm due for a sting anyway.

If my kids had complained this much, I would've asked by now if they wanted cheese and crackers with that whine, so here's the mostly happy news.

Austeja
She definitely swarmed. Wouldn't it be ironic if the bees I went to see last Thursday had come from her?

About half her bees were gone, and approximately a dozen capped queen cells dangled like drop earrings from her combs. Here's the puzzling part, though. I spotted a virgin queen, but she wasn't piping, and the girls seemed uninterested in tearing down the other queen cells. Could they be planning afterswarms? They very well might be since there was zero room for eggs. Every nook and cranny that didn't contain capped brood was full of honey. Though there was one partial comb near the front of the hive, but the bees seemed to have no interest in building that out. Weird.

New queen and queen cell

There were a couple of combs near the divider that had some room, so I moved them toward the brood nest. I doubt that will be enough to stop an afterswarm, but I didn't know what else to do.

At this point, her new royal highness returning from a mating flight is less of a concern than losing more bees. I'm going to check my lumber stash in the morning. If there's enough wood, I may make a nuc to split the queen cells out. If not, or if I still feel awful tomorrow, perhaps I can just cut the queen cells out.

Bubblegum
All but one bar is fully drawn and full of honey, and she's started building on the last bar. I moved that bar nest to the brood nest but will check back soon for capped honey. Some combs might even get shifted to Buttercup because she needs space. On the plus side, though, there weren't any drone combs which usually indicate a prelude to swarming.

Peach
Peach has been bearding quite a bit lately, so it wasn't a shock (though it was a disappointment), to see a bit of collapsed comb inside.

Some collapsed comb

Peach was also full of honey, though there was some young brood as well. Also, her bees seemed busy building still, which kind of surprised me. In fact, except for Austeja, all of the colonies were drawing comb. Both last year and the year before, none of my bees drew much comb after the summer solstice. This must be a pretty good flow!

I made a top entrance by removing the spacer bar near the entrance. Hopefully, this will relieve some of the bearding and prevent more comb from falling.

Peach's new upper entrance

Buttercup
This hive is bouncing back nicely from her bear attack. The broken combs have been repaired, and while she doesn't have as many combs as I'd like to see, she's still building. Plus, the combs she does have are full of brood and honey. Mostly brood, still, though. The resilience of these creatures never fails to amaze.

Some construction

Elsa
Elsa is doing beautifully. I can't remember how many combs she had... maybe 12 or so, but that should be enough to get through winter. She's also busy filling in with honey.

One interesting thing is that she seems to have gotten rid of most of the sugar syrup she stored over the last couple of months. In order to distinguish syrup from honey, I dye it blue or green and watch to see where it goes. This bar used to be full of syrup. Now there are only a few blue/green cells left.


THE BEESTS

My apologies for the lack of photos of the next two hives. An iPhone fits better into my pocket than a proper camera, but it won't let me take photos while wearing gloves. These two broads will take my hands off, so I opted for saving my skin over making memoirs.

Hippolyte
The first thing that I noticed about her is that there was a small beard clustered on her back end where there shouldn't be any comb. On opening it, I could see a chain of bees building new comb -- behind the divider board, near the cluster. What?

With bravery born from a fully covered face, I stuck my head in the hive. I'm fairly certain I saw a queen back there, but she slipped under a pile of bees too quickly for me to get a good look. At first, I though it might have been a separate colony back there, but that wouldn't make sense. They'd have to go through the entire hive to get to the exit. I decided it must just be another queen. Contrary to what most people think, it's not uncommon for hives to have multiple queens.

Then I moved the divider, and wow! The bees had built all the way up to it, and there was capital-H Honey! Since Hippolyte began from a package this spring and really wasn't fed much except a few quarts in the spring, I never expected to see so much honey. She has 21 bars, all fully drawn and chockful of curing nectar. My plans for next year had included requeening her with a gentler bee, but seeing how prolific she is, if she survives winter, she may get a reprieve.

Since her bees seem so intent on building still, I added empty bars on either side of the one where I found the queen. She was running out of places to lay, and I figured they could build her some space. Hippolyte has also been bearding heavily, and a small piece of honeycomb fell off a bar while inspecting, so I opened a top entrance for her, too.

Hippolyte's beard a couple weeks ago


Persephone
If this hive were a skep, it's the one I'd kill and ransack for its honey. She has 19 fully drawn bars of honey and brood as well as 2 partially drawn bars. That seems pretty good for a package, but I gave her about 7 or 8 combs, I think, when I hived her. I expected more from her. Maybe it's her shady location, I don't know. But she's not very productive and mean to boot.

The queen is laying, and the bees are adding a bit to the combs already in the hive. I decided against adding more bars since she's got tons of capped worker brood that should emerge soon. Time will tell if I made the right choice.

Lesson Learned

My big takeaway from today is about managing during a flow. You'd think I would have gotten this by now, but no, it takes time to bang things into this thick skull.

This is my third summer with bees. During the previous two, my bees wouldn't build for anything after the end of June. In fact, I had a hard time getting them to put on weight for fall, and I think I ended up feeding, at least a little, both years. I assumed this year would be the same because many local beeks have said that the fall flow just isn't what it used to be. Also, I didn't really feed during the dearth, so I thought the bees just hadn't built up enough to take advantage of the fall. This year, I again didn't feed most hives, and I figured they wouldn't have built up enough either. Maybe because I keep seeing mowed areas all over, I assumed the fall flow just wouldn't be great. As a result, I lulled myself into a false comfort and just haven't managed my hives enough during this flow. Now I know better. Every year is different.

If I'd done a better job with this flow, I might have been able to get quite a bit more honey. However, I think I should still be able to harvest a considerable amount. Even leaving 15 bars per colony, I may still be able to pull 10-15 bars. Each bar probably weighs at least 4 or 5 lbs, but estimating conservatively at 3lbs per bar, I could end up with 30-45 lbs of honey -- more than enough for me to overwinter on.



Friday, September 4, 2015

My Gut Says...

Updated: Added link

Don't worry, this is not a post about worrisome bowel noises, so breathe and relax.

Sorry about the twofer today, but I have to vent. In my last post, I mentioned wanting to check Austeja in the next week or so to make sure she doesn't produce a late season swarm. Out of curiosity, I opened the observation window just to see what was going on. The first thing that caught my eye -- right smack in front of me -- was a bar with TWO capped queen cells one cell that a queen had emerged from. A few bars closer to the entrance was ANOTHER capped queen cell!

I tried taking photos, but it was impossible to get a decent photo with the glass reflecting everything. The one ok pic I got had bees all over the queen cells, so they were indistinguishable anyway.

What's going on? Swarm or supersedure?

This year and last both gave me experience with swarm prep. My first year, the bees superseded, so I kind of know what that looks like, too.

Two things trouble me. 1) The nest has been backfilling with honey which means they don't have a lot of room. Then again, that's what they're supposed to do this time of year. 2) Also, the colony doesn't look as full as it normally does. Of course, that could be my imagination. It could also be the fact that I'm not used to seeing it midday when the foragers are out. Usually, my peeks are done earlier in the morning or toward evening (i.e., the cooler parts of the day when I'm in my garden). If it really is emptier than usual, that would indicate a swarm -- maybe even the bees that I meant to pick up from that near cutout opportunity!

Despite these bothersome details, though, my gut is saying supersedure. My gut could be horribly, horribly wrong, especially since I've seen only one side of the comb. There could be oodles of queen cells on the other side for all I know, but I don't think so. Here are the facts that have me leaning toward supersedure:


  • Usually, prior to swarming, the bees make (to borrow a phrase from my kids) a jillion billion queen cups. I didn't see any.
  • In the past, when my bees have gotten swarmy, they've made literal dozens of queen cells. There isn't enough space to fit that many queen cells on just one side, so they cover both sides of the comb. I didn't see that many today.
  • With swarms, my bees will have dozens of queen cells in various stages. In other words, some will be close to being capped; others will have larvae in different stages; some will have eggs. In this case, all the queen cells seem to be about the same age. You can tell because the tips of newly capped queen cells are sort of white and soft. As the queen gets closer to emerging, the tip of the cells gets darker, browner, and more papery.
  • The open queen cell may or may not even be recent. I never removed the queen cells after making splits this spring, and this open cell doesn't look very fresh. Usually, they wax is kind of raggedy where the queen chewed herself out. The opening looks a little smooth. 
  • The reigning monarch (if this is a supersedure) has held her title for over a year now, and she's made several splits. That means she's laid a lot of eggs and may be running out.

What to do now...

I suppose I could verify the situation by checking for eggs. A supersedure will have them. A swarm won't. Honestly, though, I probably won't do a blessed thing. Probably. Sometimes my curiosity is just too great. However, if I'm wrong, then they swarmed a couple of days before they capped those queen cells, so there's naught that will help now. If I'm right about it being a supersedure, there's still not a blessed thing I can do. 

Actually, in either case, it would be nice to have a newly mated queen going into winter. A frequent cause of winter dead-outs is poorly mated and/or aging queens who run out of eggs over the winter. A new queen would definitely be fertile enough to get through winter. A supersedure would be even more awesome because there would be two queens in the hive for awhile, i.e., there would be no brood break during this autumn flow.

My only real concern is making sure the hive has a mated queen before autumn begins. Over the past 3 years, my hives have made 10 queens. Only one of them has ever not returned from her nuptial flight, but all the professional beeks will tell you that 50% of their queens never come home from mating. If this is a supersedure, it's not so bad since the hive will have eggs. If this is a swarm... I might have to consider other options like combining or getting a queen.

Nuts, I've changed my mind. Looks like my plans for tomorrow have just changed to include a hive check. Maybe I'll even suit up and look in my grumpy hives, too. If I have to muck around in one out-of-sorts hive, I might as well deal with them all at the same time.






Making Honey

My neighbor across the street has honey bees, too, so there is a delightful time every morning when I walk my kids to the bus stop and I pass through a corridor between my yard and his. The air is just perfumed with the scent of honey. Mmmmmm! Heavenly!

I said I was going to feed Buttercup and Elsa, but I haven't all week. I've had quite a lot on my mind and so have been very lazy regarding my bees lately. However, observations of the entrance show an influx of pollen and honey. You can tell a lot from watching and smelling the entrance. Actually, as my experience has progressed, I've begun to rely on external observations more and more, especially after the summer solstice.

All the hives have busy foragers, but today, there was a skirmish outside one of the nucs. I haven't had much of a problem with robbing, but Buttercup's guards were ganging up on an intruder.



In the past, I've always felt a bit of incredulity watching nature documentaries. How can the people making them just stand there filming a baby animal being eaten? Yeah, yeah, even wolves have to eat. But how do they just roll the cameras when the babies simply need a little help, like a penguin stuck in a crack? How do they not intervene? Are they made of stone? Well, look at me now. I'm one of them.

Regarding the two package hives, Persephone & Hippolyte, I can't even remember the last time I opened them. It's probably been more than a month ago already. Doubtless, things will be quite interesting when I finally do take a peek inside. My fault, but I just can't -- at least not until we're into fall and I'll be only too happy to wear impenetrable armor from head to toe. Besides, I figure we're well past the time of active comb-building, so my hope is that any cross comb will be minimal and near the divider board.

Persephone gets a lot of shade, and her bees are coming and going, but she's never built a lot of comb and doesn't smell of honey at all really. Hippolyte has loads of activity and just oozes a sweet, sticky scent.

The only hive I opened today was Austeja because she's the one that I pretty much expect to take some honey from. Near the divider, the last couple of combs have only a tiny bit of honey, but they have some, which is a good sign. I only looked at two of the combs in the nest, but they are being backfilled very nicely, indeed! Also, there are two partial combs on their way to being capped as well as an additional full comb that is quite full of nectar. In all, she has about 20+ combs that all have some amount of honey. While 20 combs doesn't seem like much, but she also gave me 4 nucs this summer, so I'm quite pleased with her.

Drone comb being backfilled with honey

Austeja is normally the gentlest colony you could desire, but this time of year seems to give bees PWS -- Pre-Winter Syndrome. Even the sweetest of bees get really cranky and sting-happy. Bearing that in mind, my usual tank top was swapped for long sleeves today, and I'm so glad made the change! After about 3 bars in, they began buzzing like mad. Another bar in and they were pouring out of the hive and whirring around me. PWS couldn't completely warp their normally polite nature, though, since they didn't even head-bump me once. 

One thing that surprised me about Austeja is that she was building out the partial honeycombs. Normally, without constant feeding, it's very hard to get them to build anything after the spring flow ends, so I'm thinking this must be an ok flow right now. I'm going to try leaving them alone for the next week, but I'll check again just in case. I definitely don't want to get caught with my pants down and have a late-season swarm occur.

How are your bees? What's your flow like?