Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Re-Orientation of the wayward bees

As dusk neared last night it looked like there would be around 500-1000 bees hanging out in the location of their original hive.  They thought this was still their home.

Bees will exit their hive and immediately go looking for nectar / pollen without first checking and looking around where they started from.  That is unless you place something in the path of the door that alerts them to the fact that something is different.  In my case I put a palm branch.   Yesterday in the pouring rain some bees got through without re-orientating to the new location.

The solution came to me in a brilliant brainstorm.  I built a one way trap out of a few parts I had laying around in my garage.  I used the bottom of the swarm trap vacuum that I built and strapped an inner hive cover with a one way entrance to that.  Inside all of that I placed a little lemon grass oil to make them mellow during the night.  And sure enough it worked like a champ.  As darkness approached, all the bees marched into the temporary home I made for them.  And they couldn't get out.
Sorry for the fuzzy picture - a screen was between hive and camera

This morning as it was getting light I grabbed the trap and moved it back to the new hive location and opened up the box.  At this point I've done all I can do and if they return to the original location they'll just have to figure it out on their own.  And that did happen.  I think many of them figured it out but there were a bunch of lost bees once again out front.  I was going to say something about girls and navigation / getting lost etc.  but I know I'd be getting in trouble from someone in mentioning that it's a pretty common trait for the fairer sex.   I'd be willing to bet there's probably no lost Drones in that group of lost Honey Bees out front.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Bees are driving me crazy !!!

After much agonizing, I decided that the hive in front of our house needs to move to the backyard.  Even though I had a wild hive there for years, the liability of keeping a bee hive in the front yard is too high.   Despite the fact that a wall of jungle separates the front of the house and the sidewalk/street.  And I love watching the bees from my easy chair.

Yesterday I built a new hive stand in the back yard and moved the bee hive in the front onto a wagon to be ready to move in the darkness of morning.  The new hive stand was completed and ready to go.

This morning while it was still dark I pulled the wagon to the back of the yard and installed the hive on the new hive stand.  Just in time because the heavy rains started shortly thereafter.  During the rainstorm I saw about 50-100 bees gathered and flying around where the hive used to stand.  One of my fears.  So to do what I could to ease the situation, I went out and placed a hive trap in that location so the wayward bees would have a place to duck in and get out of the rain.  Many of them took advantage of this refuge too.

Once the sun came out in the afternoon, I noticed the box out front had many bees buzzing around it and were going in and out of the box.  Not good.  So I suited up and dragged the box out to where the hive now sits and I opened up the box so the bees would be in their new digs.  Unfortunately an hour later, there is a ton of bees where their old hive was.  Clinging to the wall and clustering.   And I do not have a good feeling about this.

I'm guessing tonight will see a large swarm hanging out front by the wall.  Geez .... one lesson after another bam bam bam.  This can make a person crazy.


Sunday, April 26, 2015

Finally some answers to the dying bees dilemma

It's been several weeks since I last posted because the dying bees dilemma has been quite time consuming and mentally draining.  The Bees kept dying and the initial diagnosis by the state inspector was only partially correct.  After the inspector came by the second strong hive ended up with a massive pile of dead bees in front of it.  And still .. bees walking around in circles on the ground very disoriented.

I called the state inspector and told him the problem was getting worse despite taking his advice to place feeders on the weaker hives and constrict all hive openings to make it easier for the bees to defend their hives from robbers and to make it harder for wax moths and hive beetles to gain access.

Despite these steps, the dying was actually intensifying. So a little more than a week after the initial inspection he came back out with another inspector to give it another look.  This time the inspection found the culprit. And it was grim. The hives were infested with varroa mites very bad and it caused a virus which they deduced caused the walking in circles on the ground.   In one weeks time, the hives were starting to look critical.  One of my weaker hives that looked very healthy last week was completely dead.  As we opened up that hive, two frames were covered in hive beetle larvae (looks like long magots).  Last week this hive had a lot of brood and honey.  Now nothing but hive beetle larvae and quite depressing.

My other two strong hives were border line.  One may make it and the other probably won't.  And finally my last feral hive I caught (swarm) was quite healthy still. 

The way they explained it to me was once the varroa mites weakened the bees and gave them the virus, the hive beetles and wax moths were able to get the upper hand and take over.  The hives were weakened which means a perfect target for robbers.  So it was a chain reaction.

What to do?  The next day I treated all my hives with powdered sugar.  I used an old 1940's flour sifter and filled it with powdered sugar.  Open up the hives and sprinkle several cups onto all the bees !  The net result is thousands of white ghost looking bees (not very happy I may add) all over the place.  The sugar gets on the bees and dislodges the mites which fall through the screened bottom of the hive.  The bees groom each other and in no time they're all clean as well as had a little snack of sugar.

I placed monitoring boards under the screened bottom to inspect after the sugar treatment.  And sure enough, the boards were filled with little red spec's of varroa mites as well as a good many hive beetles.  Until I figure out a more permanent solution for the mites the sugar treatments will be applied on a weekly basis for the next month. And the weaker hives will get feeders.

And after the inspectors checked out the bee farm hives I returned home to find my house hive fighting off honey robbers !  What a day.  The house hive also got a feeder and an entrance reducer.

It's been a heck of month so far.  Just part of the learning process.  So much to learn still.  Looks like I'll need to get the magic swarm trap out again.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The great bee war of 2015

Since I was due to be inspected by the state for my initial beekeeper registration process, they bumped me up the list so the inspector could take a look at the dying bees problem and help determine a cause.

And he did come up with a cause and not one that I would have thought possible.  The new swarm I brought in last week decided it wanted some of the honey that the strong hive next to it possessed.  And then the robbing began.  Robbing is a term beekeepers use as bees will often raid weaker colonies to rob honey if their need is great.  The dead bees in front of my strong hive were the bodies of the raiding party who didn't succeed in their plan.  The entire new swarm is dead and their hive is empty. 

Lesson learned:  After catching a new swarm, feed the bees with sugar water until they get some comb established.  I didn't feed them since there was so much blooming and the abundance of pollen and nectar. 

The state inspector taught me a lot and it was pleasure having him inspect my hives and sharing his bee wisdom. 

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Dead bees everywhere

While visiting the bee farm yesterday I noticed a large dark spot in front of one of our strongest hive.  Unfortunately the dark spot was a pile of dead and dying bees.  And it spanned a good size area.  I immediately suited up and opened all the hives to look for anything that might have caused this disaster.  Nothing inside the hives gave me any clue as to what caused this tragedy.  The good news is the hive still was loaded with healthy bees.  The bad news was the next morning there was a fresh new batch of squirming bees in agony on the ground in front of the hive entrance.  It will probably be a couple days before we know how many will die.   


A couple new plants

After going into the hives yesterday, I then noticed all the milkweed plants were stripped bare by a bunch of hungry caterpillars.   What a day.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Butterfly Love

While gardening today I kept watch on the monarch butterflies which seem to be attracted to the bee garden.  As I mentioned before they seem to always be zipping through the heavy flight path of the bees by the hive entrances, even getting occasionally banged into by bees while flying through their congested traffic pattern.  Several theories have played out in my head why they do this and my number one theory was because I thought they love the heavenly smell of honey that emanates from the hives.  But today the real reason for this mischievous behavior was discovered.

Another butterfly phenomenon that was observed is how two are always zipping around together to where it looks like one may be chasing another.  Which indeed was the case.  While taking a break this morning and wondering what they were doing it all became crystal clear in a moment.  That's when I noticed two butterflies locked in capitulating bliss in the butterfly garden.  I never really considered where baby butterflies came from but now it's abundantly clear.  It explains the buzzing of the bee hives by the butterfly.  Of course it's the guy butterfly showing off in front of his girlfriend.  He's probably shouting in butterfly "Hey check this out ... I ain't afraid of them steenken bees" as he swoops through in front of five very active beehives.  And apparently it worked because they finally did hook up in the end.

I took a video of the two butterflies in the heat of the moment but decided not to post it as we're a PG-13 blog and posting x rated butterfly video just didn't seem right.  So you can just let your imagination run wild ....

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Operation Rescue Stragglers

It was heartbreaking.  Yesterday afternoon we went out to where the swarm trap was and there were still about 50 bees hanging out in a clump on the fence.  Homeless bees they were.  What really started tugging at our heart were some of the bees had the pollen sacks on their legs full of pollen with no place to go.  Yvonne had a good idea.  She said to put the swarm trap back so they have a place to sleep tonight (even though bees technically don't really sleep).  Then we'll plug the trap when it's still dark and the next day transport them out to the bee farm with their hive.

About an hour after putting the swarm trap back where it was, all the bees happily went inside.  And it's a good thing because it started pouring rain shortly after.  So they stayed nice and dry.  Early the next morning the box was plugged and the honey bees were reunited with their sisters.  And a happy, joyful reunion it was.  I should have brought extra Kleenex.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Ignoring the beekeeper "Rule of 2's" and resulting chaos

Since there are really no rules in beekeeping since it's all so different with each beekeeper, the title should really be ignoring the beekeeper "guideline of 2's".  The Chaos part can stay though.

The guideline of 2's simply states if you're going to move a beehive then you should move it less than 2 feet or more than 2 miles.  Anything in between might cause confusion for the bees (and chaos).  Today was moving day for the swarm trap in our backyard.  I planned to move it to the front yard on the stand I built but a little voice kept nagging me saying "NO" .... take them to the bee farm.  Two hives in your front yard might not be a good idea.  And listening to that little voice inside is something you need to pay attention to.

I started the fiasco early but the bees were heavy on the outside of the swarm trap.  After smoking them, I was able to close up the holes and move them to the front yard.  I quickly set up the new hive with fresh frames and the new base.  Of course the transfer from the nuc swarm trap to the new hive was a little chaotic and it got the bees zipping around pretty good.  It seemed to go ok so I put everything away and came inside to take a break.  About an hour later I visited the spot where the swarm trap originally was and saw a good size ball of bees hanging on the side of the wood that just held the swarm trap.  The bees were returning to their old home area ... lots of them.  Bees get a point of reference and use that to guide them back to the hive.  Going only a few feet or more than 2 miles makes them establish a new set of reference points.  At this stage it looked like I would have to move them out to the bee farm unless I wanted the new beehive to be empty in the morning and all the bees sitting out in the back of the house.

The problem with all this was I had to get the new hive, put it in my truck and then find something to hold the pile of bees bearding up in the backyard.  I found a big box to hold the new hive and lamely taped it up.  Very lamely.  The original swarm trap/nuc was used to capture the beard of bees in the back.  The nuc/Swarm trap was something they were familiar with so that made it easier.   Then they were loaded into the truck with all the new pieces of the new hive.  Put the smoker out, take off the bee suit and off I go.

The first thing I did when getting to the bee yard was to move all the hives over a tad to accommodate the new hive.  And of course this gets all the bees in those boxes a little defensive and rightfully so.  Next I grab the screened bottom board to lay on the hive rack and to my horror I noticed the wrong bottom board was grabbed.  The unfinished one  ie a screened bottom board without the screen.  And that will not do.  The smoker is already lit and the only choice I had was to drive home again with the bees in the back of the truck so I could get the correct bottom board.  Another problem with that was the box (that was lamely taped) came untaped and bees were everywhere inside the bed of my truck.  The truck bed topper fortunately kept most of them in there but they were all pretty much hanging on the open box.   The trip home better be uneventful or things will get interesting.  I close up the tailgate, return home and get the correct bottom board.  Then another trip back.  Poor bees.
Newest arrival (far right)

When I finally arrived back at the bee yard, the smoker was still puffing away which was nice.  Getting the box of bees and the nuc into the new hive was a little challenging but it all worked out in the end.  They were not happy though.  And it was a pretty good size swarm I have to say.  With all this jostling and moving around they could very well take off.  We'll see.

I'm worn out and taking the rest of the day off.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

The smell of bees and honey

An unexpected benefit of beekeeping is that occasional smell of honey from the hive. A little puff of wind or slight breeze is all it takes and if you're lucky enough to be downwind, you're in for a treat.  They are bringing in the nectar now and filling up comb.

Today I went to a friends who also has a couple beehives.  His wife and him manage the hives together and so I was able to be there when they opened up the hives this weekend.  There was a lot of anticipation because when they split the hives a few weeks ago, the one queen died.  So they had to wait while the bees created a new queen from existing brood.  And they were pleasantly surprised that both boxes had a fresh young queen.  Unfortunately the boxes had way too many hive beetles.  We manually killed at least 20 of them.  Maybe more.

I still need to get the new home ready for the last swarm.  Maybe tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Daredevil butterfly and a doghouse without a dog

The milkweed in the bee garden has been blooming and bringing in the Monarch butterflies.  I was watching one in particular today while I was sitting and taking a break.  They fly erratically zipping up down and sideways.  But this particular butterfly kept buzzing by the entrances of the bee colonies.  I even noticed when it went through the traffic pattern of the very large hive it got banged into several times.  It seemed like an accident but it was almost inevitable with the heavy bee traffic.  What made me wonder was why this butterfly made a few passes past the hives.  Was it showing off?  Because it seemed to have no real destination other than the buzzing of the hives.

When it got real interesting is when the butterfly came around and was about 20 feet away from the hive.  I then saw a bee whack the butterfly twice. Once might have been accidental but twice made for a definite challenge.  Kind of how the bees have been keeping me away from their hives lately ... whacking me in the head a few times will convince me to find something better to look at.  

Swarm #6 is now a reality and has moved into their new temporary home.  If the bees are just scouts checking out the swarm trap then they'll be out of there before dark.  But if you look into the swarm trap at night or early morning and it's full of bees then you know they're moved in.  This morning just as it was getting light I went out and stuck my head by the entrance to the box.  And sure enough I had a bunch of little eyes looking back at me.  Doing what bees do in the early morning hours, probably having a coffee or sip of honey I imagine.  When I saw all those little faces looking back at me I knew that I'm going to have to do some more carpentry tonight to get a new permanent home ready for them.

I had a little extra paint so the doghouse got a fresh coat to match the house.  Now we just need to get a dog.