Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Busy As A Bee

As I think I mentioned in an earlier post, both my hives from last year were deadouts this winter, which really sucked. They starved with frames full of honey just inches away, so bee numbers rather than honey stores was the culprit. Thinking I wasn't supposed to open the hives until the first nice day in late winter/ early spring, I missed the opportunity to move full honey frames in closer to the brood nest where the bees could reach them, likely preventing them from starving as they refused to leave the brood nest.

There were a couple other things I could have done, too. First, knowing that one hive was weaker than the other, I could've combined the two hives and their honey stores going into winter, and there's a good chance that I would have had one strong overwintered hive this spring. Second, although my mentor suggested that I could leave the screened bottom boards all winter, I could have put the IPM board in to reduce drafts, especially considering the way the wind whips across the pasture up there. Third, we could have parked our mobile coop on the west side of the hives for the winter, creating a bit of a windbreak for them. Hindsight is, as they say, 20/20, and the only way I know of gaining experience is by, well, gaining experience, sometimes the hard way.

The good news is that my bee inspector checked both hives and declared them free of disease, which means that I now have all that stored honey (probably 70 lbs or so, all without any artificial feeds or treatments) to help establish the new packages I installed last weekend, eliminating the need for any artificial feeding again this year. So, all is not lost, though the nucs I got last year were a much better start than packaged bees, and I'm sad to have lost them.

The packages I installed have a couple of things going for them, however, even if I do need to be on the lookout for mite and beetle problems. First, the bees themselves supposedly came from a bee yard that hasn't been treated in 7 years—I'm not sure exactly where, but I'll post once I find out. Second, the queens I installed come from hygienic queen stock from Bee Happy Apiary in Vacaville, California, which will hopefully give the hives a leg up against mites. (For a list of hygienic queen dealers click here.) I'm considering requeening either later this year or definitely next year if they overwinter with a local source of hygienic queens: VP Queen Bees, who raises without treatments and, I think, using small cell, which I use as well.

Installing the package:

I installed three packages last weekend using a place and wait technique that's a bit gentler on the bees than shaking them into the hives. Basically as you can see, you remove five of the frames in a deep box and place the package directly inside, place your queen cage between two of the center frames, open the package, and close up the hive. Come back in the late afternoon/ early evening and most of the bees will have moved out of the package and into the frames on their own. Remove the package and set it in front of the hive overnight if there are any remaining bees, replace the remaining frames, close up the hive, and you're done. Easy on bees and beekeeper alike.

Installing the queen cage:

Opening the package:

Closing up the hive:

Finishing touch, a brick on top:

We use an old piece of carpeting to set our hives on for weed suppression; it makes maintenance and mowing easier. When I came back that evening, I installed five frames of new small cell foundation. The five frames that were in the hive when I installed the package included both open brood comb, pollen, and plenty of capped honey. Between the queen and the frames of honey, I'm hopeful that the bees will want to stick around. I'll be checking on them today to be sure that they've freed the queen from her cage.

**UPDATE: Only one of the hives had released the queen, so I released the other two into their respective hives and closed up. I'll be checking on them in a week or so, depending on the weather, to look for signs that the queens are accepted and laying.

Also, by way of clarification, it was the queens who came from a yard not treated for the past 7 years, so all those good genetics will be passed on to my hives.


Kate@LivingTheFrugalLife said...

Who was it that said, "Experience is something you get after you need it." So true. Live and learn. Thanks for the update on your bees.

Christy said...

I like learning from your experiences. It is much less traumatic that way! LOL I hope to do bees next year or the following year. I like the way you put the package in and let them move themselves. Much easier on everyone that way.

Madeline said...

I'm with Christy. I will write about them and let you be my guru for the real bees, when I try again. I think I'll wait until next year. We'll have to pay you for being the guinea pig/consultant. I'm fascinated by the small cell technique - Kelly passed along what she'd learned from you.

Look at you, with no protective gear, opening that box!

Jenny said...

Wow--that all seems like Greek to me! I'm a wimp so all I can use is simple top-bar hives. Ours are doing well! We split one this year so we now have three healthy hives. My mistake was to let one of them go without checking it and they built a bunch of combs perpendicular to the top bars. I had to cut out a bunch of brood to fix it :(

Carolyn said...

good luck with your bees!

Danielle said...

Thanks for the comments!

Sure guys, put me on the front lines! Oh wait, I guess I put myself on the front lines, huh? ;)

Madeline, bee guru I am not. I do love learning about them though even if I do feel clueless most of the time.

Jenny, I think top bars are the way to go and wish I'd known about them from the get go. You were the person who introduced them to me. I think you got some good genetics in your bees—you got them from Shalali, right? Or was it someone else?

My goal is to eventually go to foundationless frames and top bar hives, but I'm trying to regress my bees first in cell size. If I can get them reliably drawing small cell foundation, then I can begin letting them draw their own comb without foundation. Right now, they'd just draw large cell. Small cell just offers one more tool against mites, so in my opinion it's worth it.

Ren said...

I lost my hive too....starved them. It was SO disappointing but like you, I'll know more about what to watch for this year.

Got my new bees hived on the 7th. Had thought about going with Russian stock (they are totally mite resistant) but couldn't get a hold of the Russian breeder here and found out he wasn't getting more until June. I figured I can re-queen with a Russian queen later and at least the bees are getting started now.

Checking on them today....hopefully they're loving their new home.:) Best wishes with your bees!

Jenny said...

I don't take any credit for getting top bar hives. That's by far the most common hive used around here, mostly because of one man in the area who is one of the country's most expert top-bar beekeepers. The bees I got were from another homeschooler in the area who learned from the local guru. I'm pretty sure that many of the hives around here are from "wild" bees that have been captured as swarms. Nobody that I know of treats their hives for mites or fungus or anything. It's a pretty strong community of bee keepers around here and I'm just along for the ride. Crystal just started with her bees this Spring.

I'm thinking you "need" to come out for a hive tour sometime. (And so continues my series of blog comments that include pestering you to come visit....)

~Crystal~ said...

Well, I'll have a dandy blog post soon showing my girls cross-combing. They covered at least a 1/3 of the hive within 10-days - going in the complete (perfectly straight) wrong direction. Soooo, my first experience after hiving was to redirect those little ladies. I'll be going back in tomorrow to check them before we leave for Life is Good.

cat said...

oh i think i have bee envy! i really want to try my hand at bee keeping...i'm sorry your hives didn't work out this season, but i'm sure you will do great with the next round!

thanks for your inspiration as always! :)

Anonymous said...

I'm planning on raising bees in the near future. I'm in NY which gets REALLY COLD... how do you overwinter your bees? Is there any frames you suggest from your experience?

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