A pleasant surprise

Lots of updates:

1 – The solar wax melter was a success.  I did run into a problem the second day: my paper towel kept breaking.  The weight of the hot wax was just too much for it.  Luckily Wayne had some fine screen in the garage and we attached that to the container and used it without any issues.  Now I just need to figure out how to clean it so we can reuse it.  I did manage to melt all the brood comb we had collected and ended up with enough wax to make about 50 tubes of lip balm.  Lesson learned from this experience?  Brood comb is mostly crud.  I was amazed by how little wax we got out of it.

2 – Our Nuc box doesn’t look so hot.  We went out this morning to move the nuc box into a proper box (the blue hive).  I was planning on feeding them this week to move things a long a bit; however, there is a very small population in there and the brood pattern is spotty at best.  The queen does not seem to have improved at all since we were last in there.  I’m seriously considering introducing a new queen, otherwise I imagine the small colony will just die out.  I did see not only small hive beetles (ick), but cockroaches as well (double ick) both actually IN the hive which is a sure sign they are not doing well.

3 – Our new hive (the purple one) seems to be doing well.  There is quite a bit of activity in and out of the hive.  Today we cut back the Carolina Jasmine that was creeping in front of them to give them a bit more open space.  We’re going to give them another week or so to get settled and plan to check on them next weekend.

4 – The exciting part: We have a queen in my big hive!!  I’ve been working for about a week to try and get a new queen for my big hive because I really didn’t want to loose my very first colony.  Something about it just bothers me….I know it’s likely to happen eventually, but I’d like to prolong the inevitable if I can.  The past couple days I’d noticed a TON of activity.  It had been raining here for about a week so I couldn’t tell if it was just the lack of rain that brought them out or if something else was going on.  I watched for  a while, and they were definitely foraging.  I told Wayne the hive really, really didn’t look queenless from the outside.  It turns out I was right!  Here’s what we found working from the bottom:

The “brood” box on the very bottom and nothing in it.  Literally.  Undrawn foundation and some empty frames I was hoping they would use for drones.

The second box has one frame of uncapped honey and again, some drawn foundation, mostly undrawn.

The third box had a mix of pollen and honey, but very sparse.

The fourth box (surprise!) was FULL of brood.  There were five brood frames in total.   The first couple frames were a bit spotty and I told Wayne I wasn’t happy with the brood pattern.  His reply?  “One sec, let me show you something.”  We pulled out the last two and they were gorgeous.  She’s laying heavily, and all workers.  She’s not even leaving much room for honey or pollen.

There were a couple strangely shaped cells on the first frame that I’m hoping these are not new queen cells:

These frames were just too beautiful for words….

The fifth box was heavy.  Full of honey.  At this point we were trying to close up quickly because they were rather unhappy with us, but our guess is that there are four to five frames of fully capped honey.

Here’s the hive as we left it.  You can see the bees hanging out at the top of the current brood chamber.

So, although I’m disappointed about the nuc so far, I’m wonderfully excited about the big hive.  Here’s my question for anyone who cares to share their ideas:  Should I rearrange them?  In the current setup, the queen has no more room for brood.  Above her is capped honey.  I have three frames below her that are basically unused.  I’m wondering if I should move the fourth box full of brood down to the proper brood box location and put an empty frame on top of that?  Then put the honey and one additional super?  That would reduce my supers from four to five while still giving the girls more room to work in.  I’m probably going to submit the question to Beesource and see what others think.  Advice is always appreciated.

What a nice surprise for a Sunday! 🙂

Chores

Today is a chore day.  I have a huge list of things that need to be done around the house which happens to include a few bee tasks.  Since I desperately wanted to avoid most of the rest of my list, I started with the bee-related items.

Sometime ago I purchased plans from Brushy Mountain for a solar wax melter and downloaded one from beesource as well.  I just can’t seem to spend $85 for something that doesn’t appear that terribly hard to build.  Now, this is (of course) coming from someone who has touched a table saw twice or so in my life.  I rather suggestively left both sets of plans for my husband and he added them to his growing list of projects.  Because there are 15 (thousand?) things to be done before the melter, I gave in and decided this morning I would put together something on my own.

I went the cheap route.  Like incredibly cheap.  After a quick to WalMart and Lowe’s,  I think I spent $10 on the whole contraption.  I got the idea from the ever resourceful Beekeeper Linda (here are her photos, video, and the original diagram).  Bascially you create a solar box from a Styrofoam cooler and a piece of glass.   You put water in the bottom of a tupperware container, attached paper towel with a string to the top and then put clean wax on top of that.  The tupperware goes inside the cooler, the glass is placed on top and the sun does the rest.  I duck taped the edges of the glass per Linda’s suggestion so they aren’t quite so sharp.

Here’s my end result (warning: even the purple duck tape couldn’t make this  pretty):

Since it’s a million degrees or so today (my thermometer in the backyard is reading 99), I stuck the whole thing in the driveway with some wax to see what happens.  After about 30 minutes or so outside, here’s what I can see:

I’ll post another picture tonight after the wax is (hopefully) all melted.

Next chore?  Painting woodenware.  This is always loads of fun in the heat.  To add to the excitement, I’m an incredibly messy painter.  I tend to end up with equal parts paint on the item as on some part of me.  I just don’t have the patience to work slowly.

Here’s what I ended up with:

Wayne’s wheel barrow is now a beautiful baby blue.  I’m hoping he’ll forgive me.

Since I was finishing up, I popped out to the garden to check on the bees.  I was relieved to see there is quite a bit of activity from both the purple hive (which looks rather blue in this picture) and the big hive.

On the other hand, the nuc doesn’t look so hot.  We know there’s a queen, but I’m wondering if they need to be fed for a jump start.  We’re planning on moving them into the new box I just painted and I’m going to make some sugar syrup and honey bee healthy to get them going.

I’m going to have to get out there one evening this week and cut back the lambs ear which is crawling under the hive stand and the Carolina Jasmine which (as you can see) is sending runners out toward the hives.  Thankfully the hive stand location is shaded mid afternoon so they miss the sun during the hottest part of the day.

I’ve also decided to get a queen for the big hive.  The more I think about combining the weak nuc into the big hive, the more uncomfortable I feel about it.  I’ve left messages for both Tate’s Apiaries in Winston (Mark and Jared both used Tate’s and had great experiences) and Busy Bee Apriary in Chapel Hill and hope that someone will be able to send me a queen this week.

Wish us luck!

New Additions

We finally picked up the bees I had ordered this morning.   Pickup had been delayed multiple times along the way due to scheduling and our trip.  Earlier in the week Wayne and I discussed placement and he kindly put together a hive stand of sorts (cinderblocks w/cedar planks to avoid treated wood). We wanted to 1. move in the new colony & add a couple supers, 2. move the nuc box & big hive to the new stand and 3. determine if there were queens in either the nuc or the big hive or (ever hopeful) both.

Here’s how we started.  Wayne had moved the new hive (the purple one on the right) from the car before I even suited up.  The nuc box was an easy shift.

We removed the screen on the front of the purple hive and struggled to get the entrance reducer in there before all the bees vacated.  They apparently did not enjoy the hour drive at all.  When they opened the top, added two supers with foundation, put on a screened topcover and a new hive top.

That completed, we moved to the nuc.  I was nervous to see what was going on as last inspection didn’t clearly show the presence of a queen.   I was excited to find a frame with brood.  Wayne says he saw the queen scamper out of the way when pulled the frame up to see it clearly.

The back of the same frame:

The brood pattern isn’t great, but she’s there so I’m happy for that.  The bad news is that I also saw this (forgive the crappy picture):

I’m always looking for varroa and have been lucky not to find anything so far, but this jumped out at me immediately.  I knew it was going to happen eventually (from what I’ve read, pretty much everyone gets varroa at some point), but it doesn’t make me feel much better about it.

So, mixed emotions after opening the nuc box.  We ended with the largest part of the task – inspecting the big hive and relocating it to the hive stand.  Wayne removed two of the honey supers and the top and set them aside so we could easily reach the brood chamber.  I was quite disappointed to find nothing.  They are storing a small amount of honey and some pollen, but there is absolutely no brood or signs of brood.  We went all the way down to the bottom box just to make sure.  Since we had already upset them quite a bit, I decided to pull out the long frames that were originally given to us last year.  It was how we started and it worked quite well, but because we have shallow boxes they don’t fit well and the bees were forever building large amounts of burr comb in the remaining space making inspections challenging.  I had planned for us to knock as many bees as possible into the hive, but right after we tried to move the frames, Wayne was stung on the hand through his glove.  We decided if they were that unhappy, it was time to go.  So, I left the long frames in a tupperware box beside the hive in hopes the the bees would wander home by dark.  I’ll go out there tonight suited and remove anyone who’s left and put the frames in the garage.  Probably bad bee form, but I just didn’t want to upset them any further.

Long frames covered in very unhappy bees:

So, I now have several decisions to make.  I need to figure out how bad our varroa problem is in the nuc box.  Based on that finding, I’ll have to decide if I’m going to combine that colony with the large hive or try to get a mated queen.  Lots to think about.

Here’s how we ended the day with our new hive and new hive stand: