July 2016 Bee Check

A quick update on our bees, as we checked them earlier this week.

Hive No. 3 is looking good. They filled up their first mid sized super so we added another mid size box just above it, and put a queen excluder in between. We don’t usually use queen excluders but this we are trying them out. The excluder keeps the queen out so that the bees can only put honey in the top box. The bottom three boxes can have eggs and or honey. Overall this is a strong looking hive, free of mites.

Hive No. 1 is not looking good at all. We saw mites the last time we checked, then ordered some “Hops Guard” to treat them with. That product was on back order so we had to wait a few weeks, then I noticed I actually had some in my studio…so we could have treated them.

Well anyway, we treated them this week but it looks like the mites took a toll on our super strong aggressive hive. Our smoker isn’t really working right anymore so I was apprehensive to check Hive No. 1 but as it turned out, about it’s population was knocked about in half, and they weren’t much in the mood for fighting.

We think we saw eggs, and there is some brood. After treatment that should get rid of the mites and hopefully the hive will rally for late summer.

Regardless, after these two hives die out, we’re going to take a year or two off from beekeeping. We’ve got a lot going on, and other things we need and want to focus on. Beekeeping is an incredible hobby and we’ll pick it up again after a short break. I’m not getting rid of any of our equipment. It’s just something for when we have more time and less stress.

For Fourth of July I’m looking forward to finally getting a day off after working for a few weeks straight. I’m going to work in the yard from dawn to dusk hopefully and whip it all back into shape – spread a few bags of mulch beneath the fruit trees, weed whack the nature trails, clean out the front bed…also going to look at cleaning out the roof washers for the rain water collection system, and possibly even stain the sand box finally after two years.

The cicadas are about done in northeast Ohio. Most of the trees are now sporting dead tips on their branches where the cicadas laid eggs. Many of our smaller trees that we bought and planted over the last four years got hammered. It’s hard to imagine our remaining two black gum trees surviving, but only time will tell. Same for our poor allegheny serviceberries. The apples and even the peach trees weren’t spared either.

If I thought it wouldn’t upset the kids so much I think I’d be ready to move. It was a fun experiment that I probably wasn’t cut out for lol.

Here are this week’s photos:

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New Hive No. 3 for 2016

Last week on Monday we got the email informing us that our package of honey bees had arrived. The thing with a honey bee package is, you basically have to drop everything and go pick them up, and drop them into their hive. So despite a busy life, work, sick kid schedule, we went out and picked up our new fuzzy friends that afternoon.

We had two friends stop out to watch us dump our new bees in to hive No. 3. It was fun to share the experience with newbies (new-bees?). Everyone suited up in protective gear and we had an uneventful dumping of the bees.

The type of bees we got this year is Italian; which is the type that we’ve always gotten. That being said, we wonder if our hive No. 1 bees are a different kind. They, the hive number one bees, are very dark and very aggressive…and very productive and prolific. The new Italian hive number three bees are very light and docile. We swear they must be two different types of bees. Carniolan is the other type of bee available from our supplier but those are supposed to be docile too, just like the Italian ones. Who knows. Regardless we learn the temperament of our bees and act accordingly.

We checked yesterday and confirmed that hive No. 3’s queen did get out of her cell and the bees had started making comb. Both hives are getting sugar water, though hive No. 1 doesn’t really need it. We’ll stop supplying that hive this week. All the crab apples in our yard are in full bloom as well as ground flowers and tree pollen. There is plenty of food for our bees as we go into May.

Here are photos from “bee day” 2016.

Spring Weekend

This weekend was fantastic. The perfect weekend where we got to enjoy the warm temperatures and sunshine. I purposefully avoiding anything remotely close to work: regular work or house work. I’m consciously trying to enjoy a little bit of life and give some rationale as to why I work constantly.

We had a great time grilling out, and practicing golf with the boys. On Saturday hitting  balls in the front yard, and Sunday we went to the golf range. Golf is a fantastic game, probably the best game ever invented, and it’s nice to see our kids enjoying it. Hopefully we can all go golfing regularly in the future. Food wise we had two good meals this weekend. For about the last two months the wife’s been cooking pretty much a new meal every night to break of the rut we’d gotten into of pasta and chicken every night. Nothing too exotic, but we’ve been going through our Food Network magazines finding new recipes.

There are a lot of things I, we, want to do, so there is a method to my madness of working all the time. It’s nice to consciously take a weekend to not work. We won’t be entirely destitute if I take a day or two off, right?

In the yard we took the wraps off of hive No. 1 and checked the bees. The hive is extremely strong. And we survived without incident. We put an extra box on top, as well as sugar water to help supplement their feed for early spring. There are eggs and capped brood, so there’s a queen in there somewhere. We also set out our yellow jacket traps in hopes of killing a yellow jacket queen to minimize the chances that we’ll have any problems with them later in the year.

Yesterday we had our fist tick, so that’s started up again this year. In a few weeks we should be getting the ~17 year cicadas as well – create a ruckus of sound in the yard for a month.

The apples, serviceberries and gum trees are leafing. The peach trees are blossoming but they look horrible. One peach has two long branches sprouting from the ground with blossoms, and not much more. In time we’ll see what is surviving and what isn’t.

Earth Day on April 22 will mark our 4th anniversary since we moved in. Our plan is to buy and plant a nut tree to mark the occasion to encourage squirrels to come visit us more often.

-c

 

 

 

One is the Loneliest Number

With the weekend upon us, we took advantage of a calm, albeit cool, day outside to button up the hives for winter. We removed the sugar water, and installed the insulating shroud and rigid foam top on the hives.

Hive No. 1 was a little angry with all of the poking and prodding, but we got them put back together quickly.

Unfortunately as I was preparing hive No. 3 for the insulation, I didn’t notice any bees moving about. I put my ear to the hive and didn’t hear anything. Taking a chance with the cold weather, we cracked open the hive to confirm our suspicions. Hive No. 3 was empty. The hive died out basically.

We knew the hive was in trouble a few weeks ago, but with a queen and some brood, and lots of honey left, we figured they’d survive. Well they didn’t.

We pulled all the equipment off of hive No. 3 and cleaned it up. I’m going to extract the mid-sized super, 10 frames. We cleaned off all of the deep frames from the lower two boxes. One box was basically empty and the other had a decent amount of honey. Because we had treated for mite, and no telling how old, or what shape the honey was in the one deep box, we just dumped all the honey and wax scrapings into the meadow. We’ll probably have a bear problem next.

Hive No. 1 is still strong and will hopefully make it through the winter. If it gets big enough we can even try and split it next summer. We will not be buying new bees next year. We need a break from buying bees, and beekeeping in general.

One thought we had going forward was to embrace the fact that our bees will likely die out every year and start working on harvesting pollen and propolis. That sounds like a lot of work though. But at least we’d be using the whole hive when they die out.

Oh well, we have all winter to not worry about it. The bees we have are happy and there’s nothing left to do except wait for spring to arrive in the meadow.

Last Bee Check for 2015

Yesterday was basically the last time we will have checked in on our two bee hives. Despite our warm Autumn, I’m sure it’ll get cold soon and we won’t want to open the hives anymore.

I think we’ve done a good job combating yellow jackets this year, as opposed to last. Neither hive shows any signs of yellow jackets raiding honey.

Hive No. 3 is not looking too good though. We don’t believe they have a queen anymore and their numbers are way down. I don’t think that hive will survive the winter. I’m not sure there is anything we can do anyway, as there isn’t enough time for them to re-queen themselves, and brooding days are over so no new bees will be emerging to replace the ones that die off. There’s one frame of capped brood but it doesn’t look viable. Bees live about 30 days in summer, and can live inside the hive throughout the winter. But there just aren’t enough of them really. They have enough honey  with one full super, and several deep frames in the middle box. We shall see.

Hive No. 1 is still going strong. We didn’t see the queen, but they still have a frame or two of capped brood that looks to still be viable. And there are still a ton of bees in there.

They had actually close to two boxes of honey up top. The one had several frames with a little bit of uncapped honey. We reduced both hives to two deeps and now medium super, so I took nine frames of uncapped honey out between both hives. Right now the frames are sitting out there, I’m letting the bees and yellow jackets raid them. I’ll go look and bring them back to the garage later today. I didn’t want extract any honey anymore this year. It’s just more work than I want to deal with. I will scrape off the nine frames and store them for next year. There really isn’t much honey on them, and it’s not worth taking full frames from the bees, to simply replace them with these meager frames.

I’m not sure what else I’m supposed to do.

I’ll put the insulation wraps on the two hives, and rearrange the hay bales later this month to protect them from the cold.

Summer Honey

I spent the weekend extracting summer honey. This is the first year we’ve extracted honey two times. The amazing thing is how dark this honey is compared to the lighter spring honey we extracted in July. I’m not exactly sure why it is so much darker, other than I know that the nectar that the bees collect determines the color. That is to say, different flowers produce different color honey. Our land has a variety of flowering trees, bushes and plants that blossom throughout the year, so I suppose it’s not too surprising that summer honey differs from spring honey. But I’ve never seen it this dark before. It’s basically black for all intents and purposes.

(Here is a good article from ErinNudi.com on the benefits of dark honey.)

Basically darker honey has more vitamins, anti-oxidents, and nutrients than light honey. Dark honey is preferred in Europe, and light in America. Dark is better with your oatmeal, whereas light is better with your tea.

Like wine I suppose, honey has a variety of flavor profiles, and there are even honey tasting events. We did our own impromptu honey tasting, and they do smell and taste different. You could definitely smell the difference while I was extracting the honey, as the dark honey has a stronger smell than light. We bottle our honey similar to wine, in that I mark the season, year, type and hive number or numbers on each bottle. Honey never spoils, so we plan on saving at least a bottle or two from every extraction we do, so we’ll have a “library” or catalog of our honey throughout our lives as beekeepers.

We pulled three frames from Hive No. 3, and eleven frames from Hive No. 1, for a total of 14 frames in this batch. I combined them all into one “vintage”. Right now I’m naming the honey ‘3/11 Summer 2015 Wildflower’, but it’s so dark and we’re close to Halloween, I may name it something different. The “3/11” part indicates the number of frames in this “blend”. It’s not always going to be convenient to separate extractions by hive, in which case we’ll have blended varieties.

Hive No. 1 is a real overachiever this year. A typical new hive won’t usually produce any harvestable honey its first year. Hive No. 1, the angry bee hive, has given us over 85 lbs. of honey in year one. And it still has plenty for itself over winter; nearly an entire mid sized super or more.

One last note before we get to the totals and pics. The yellow jackets are out in full force again this fall. We’ve been filling traps with them, and we’ve put our entrance reducers on both hives. A smaller entrance is easier to defend. And we’ve dropped both lids flat to keep the yellow jackets out of the top of the hive as well. When I was cleaning the equipment today, there were a lot of yellow jackets out. We were killing them one at a time when possible. So fingers crossed that both hives survive until the first frosts show up and the yellow jackets die off.

Totals – Summer 2015 3/11 Wildflower honey

Frames: 14 (3 hive 3, 11 hive 1)

47 pounds of honey

(2) 4 oz. jars

(56) 8 oz. jars

(5) 16 oz. jars

Honey Bee Update

Inspecting hive No. 3 in August 2015.

Inspecting hive No. 3 in August 2015.

As promised, though a little late, the third of my posts updating you on what’s been going on. You may, or may not, remember that in June we were attacked by hive No. 1. Since then a lot has happened so let me get you back up to speed.

After hive No. 1 attacked, resulting in 17 stings for me and over 25 stings for my wife we let the hive cool off for a day. Only for me to go out to deposit some compost in the compost pile and get stung on top of my head. The subsequent day I was stung on my ankle and on my lower eyelid, both while cutting the grass.

Enough was enough. We called a couple of bee keeping friends to come out and look at the hive. The plan was to find the queen and step on her. Then we could re-queen the hive with some new, less angry, genetics.

All three ladies, two friends and my wife, went out to the hive to find the queen. The big tough guy in the group, me, waited by the compost pile in my bee suit. I had a smoker too, just in case things got crazy. I liked to think I was the support guy who could run screaming for help in case things went awry.

They took the hive apart, swarmed by 60,000 angry bees.

I stood thirty yards away being repeatedly attacked by two very angry bees.

Turns out they found the queen, were going to capture her in lieu of squashing, but then lost her again when someone went to retrieve a queen “cage” from a car. So they installed queen excluders between the three major sections of the hive; the plan being that next time we checked the hive we could quickly figure out which hive section she was in, then we could squish her.

The feedback from our friends was that our hive was aggressive, but not quite as angry as the hives they had been splitting earlier in the day, elsewhere.

The ladies inspect hive No. 1

The ladies inspect hive No. 1

We did check the bees again in a week or two. The queen excluder trick worked, we figured out which box she was in. I’m not sure if we saw her, but the bees didn’t attack us that much. That coupled with the fact that they produced a huge quantity of honey earned her a pardon.

The hive was just too strong, and performed too well to kill her off.

We would just have to endure their eagerness to kill us.

‘Cause honey.

You know.

Hive No. 3 had been doing well meanwhile. Then at some point they lost a queen and we thought they didn’t re-queen themselves. So we actually bought a new queen since the hive was devoid of capped brood (baby bees in cells waiting to hatch). Turns out we might have had a virgin queen because the last two times we inspected the hive, we saw a queen that was not the one we bought. (The one we bought was marked).

Here, you can see the "Virgin Queen" of hive No. 3.

Here, you can see the “Virgin Queen” of hive No. 3.

Harvest wise we extracted honey from hive No. 3 in early July, and from hive No. 1 in late July. All the honey is considered Spring 2015 Wildflower, and label as such by hive number. Honey never spoils, so we will keep a jar or two from each harvest. Generally speaking we label all of our honey with the proper vintage information. Theoretically down the road you could collect a variety of vintages and compare the taste. Our plan is to start a journal and record our harvests. I’d also like to start charting the bloom schedule for each year.

I don’t have the information for hive No. 3 in front of me right now, but it was an average harvest. I think I extracted six (6) frames, and got about twenty-five (25) 8oz. jars of honey.

Angry hive No. 1’s production was off the charts, or at least our new beekeeping charts. On July 25th, 2015 I extracted 15 frames full of honey. Resulting in 50 lbs. of honey (nearly 4+ gallons). We filled fifty-four (54) 8oz jars, twenty-two (22) 4oz gift jars, and three (3) 16oz bulk mason jars. Retail for the honey we got from hives No. 1 & 3 is around $600+. Not a bad take for our bees, some of whom tried to murder us.

Honey flow after extracting hive No. 1 honey.

Honey flow after extracting hive No. 1 honey.

The summer 2015 haul of honey from hive No. 1. 15 frames. 54 8oz bottles, 22 4oz bottles, 3 mason jars. 50 lbs. of honey total.

The summer 2015 haul of honey from hive No. 1.
15 frames. 54 8oz bottles, 22 4oz bottles, 3 mason jars. 50 lbs. of honey total.

We’re keeping an eye on the supers. Hive No. 1 could potentially fill another in late summer and still have enough for their winter. So we could be extracting more in September. We’ll have a better idea next time we check. Hive No. 3, with their queen drama, probably is done for the year in terms of providing honey for us.

Right now golden rod is in full bloom, so there’s plenty of pollen to be had. The summer has been extremely dry though; not sure how that will affect things. Clover is pretty much done as are daisies. Cone flowers and black-eyed susans are still in bloom.

So there you have it. Your honey bee update for mid-August.

Basement drywall should start this week so stay tuned for updates on that as our basement is transformed. Should be exciting to see.