Honeybees and Russian Sage

Wayne and I both adore Russian Sage and have it planted in clumps in front of the house.  I walked out the door to the car yesterday and one sage group was literally alive with bees.  It sounded like the plant was buzzing.  I stopped and sat down on the pavement for a minute or two just to watch the bees jump from flower to flower.  They are fast moving and a bit hard to catch, but I did get one shot of a bee at work.

Honeybee enjoying Russian Sage

Happy Sunday and enjoy your week!

Bee update: Her majesty makes an appearance

Part of our big plans for the weekend included a much-needed trip to the land to inspect the new hives.   It was a beautiful day although rather warm and I wasn’t looking forward to a long stretch in a very hot bee suit.  It was also threatening to storm.  As we got out of the car we could hear thunder rolling, so we knew we might have some slightly unhappy bees.

Here are the hives when we arrived.  All appears well from the exterior.

Bee Hives

The blue hive (on the right) had quite a few bees hanging around on the entrance.

Blue Hive

On the other hand, the brown hive (on the left) didn’t appear as populated.

Bee HiveWe started by opening the blue hive.  We removed the top super being more interested in the state of the brood box on the bottom.

Brood Chamber

After pulling out a couple frames, it became clear that the hive is doing well.  The brood frames had good, consistent patterns.

Brood FrameThis frame clearly shows the pattern you normally expect.  It’s a football-shaped brood pattern surrounded on the exterior by pollen and honey.   The frame does appear a bit spotty (see the empty ring around the middle brood?), but the queen could have been working on it as we pulled it out.

Brood FrameOnce satisfied with the state of the brood box we moved on to the super Wayne added when he dropped the hive off.  We immediately found a problem:

Foundation Problem

This is what the frame should have looked like:

Wired FoundationSo, we’ve once again proved that unwired foundation is not an option for North Carolina.  Even in Morganton it is just too hot for the foundation to remain upright long enough for the bees to work on it.   We pulled out any foundation that was laying down and left the bees empty frames.  In the meantime, I’ve ordered more wired foundation and when it arrives we’ll switch out the frames that they haven’t touched.  I’m hoping this doesn’t mean they’ll miss the bulk of the honey flow.  They need to store as much as possible in order to survive the winter.

We closed up the blue hive and moved onto the brown hive.  As soon as Wayne lifted the top we we both recoiled.  Ugh.  Ants galore.  It was worse than the infestation we found at the house hive.  We had to take a brief interlude while Wayne pulled off his bee suit and removed the hundreds of ants who felt like his veil was an appropriate place for them to choose as their new home.

You can see how the bees have started to close off the screen opening to keep the ants from entering the hive.

Ants on the TopcoverFor lack of a better option, we doused the top cover with water and then rubbed it on the grass to relocate the ants.

Like before, we pulled off the top super and opened the brood box.  Because of the slight delay due to the ants, I pulled frames and Wayne took pictures.   I was surprised to see that they are storing honey in the brood chamber.  This frame was toward the end, so I wasn’t too terribly disturbed by it.

Honey stored in the Brood Box

I then pulled out a frame toward the middle hoping to see brood only and I wasn’t disappointed.  To my surprise, I also caught a glimpse of her majesty!  She is bright and beautiful.  You can see her below just below and to the left of my hive tool (click on the picture for larger view).

The Queen BeeHere’s a slightly closer shot as she scooted around the frame trying to get out of the light.

The Queen BeeAfter we got a few photos of her, I carefully put back that frame, anxious to get it in place without hurting her.  I did pull out another frame or two just to take a look.

Brood Frame

Slightly strange – it appears that the queen is laying brood faster than the bees are able to draw out the frames.  As you can see here, the right side of the frame is just foundation and the remainder is filled.

Brood in Undrawn Foundation

The super in this hive appeared quite similar to the other with quite a bit of melting wax.  Neither have stored much honey or pollen probably due to lack of room.  We’ll have to remedy that as soon as the wired foundation arrives.

We added an extra super to each box all the same.  If they decide to get ahead of themselves and start hanging foundation from the empty frames they will have lots of room in which to do it.
Bee Hives when we FinishedBefore we left Wayne took a minute and used his scythe to try to mow a bit around the hives.  This will hopefully prevent additional ant problems.

Mowing around the hives

Over the next week or so we plan to lay down a weed barrier and either mulch or gravel to keep the grass from taking over the hives.   We were very glad to see the girls are doing well.

I’m finding it a bit hard to talk about and keep track of the hives since they have never been officially named.  I was considering choosing constellations and assigning one to each hive.  Any thoughts/comments are appreciated.

Feeding & the Hood Trap

Late Saturday we returned home from vacation and I made bee food.  I continued the 2:1 sugar ratio (12 cups water, 24 cups sugar) and added 4 tsp of the honeybeehealthy supplement.  On Sunday, we opened the hive up midday.  The weather wasn’t fantastic – actually pretty cold – so the bees were not too terribly happy to see us.

I had three major goals:

1 –  Move the hood trap & inspect for hive beetles – I recently realized that we had the hood trap on the non-brood       side of the hive body and we need to shift it to the opposite end of the hive

2 – Refill the top feeder

3 – Inspect the bottom super to see if it is being used at all

We were able to meet all three goals, though not quite as I had imagined.  Before opening the hive, Wayne and I discussed our plans.  Although I think this did help quite a bit, the whole process was more chaotic than I imagined.  While we were suiting up, I was shocked to watch quite a few bees going into the hive with nectar.  I’m not sure where they would be finding anything this time of year, but I took it as a good sign.

We removed the top cover and found a lovely surprise – a whole family of cockroaches has taken up residence at the top of the hive.  While I was totally grossed out by the prospect, I have to admit they are pretty smart.  It must be nice and warm up there even on the cold nights, and with the screen we installed recently over the interior whole in the top cover (installed to keep yellow jackets out), the bees can’t get to them.   Anyway, we shooed them out the best we could and I peered around for hive beetles.  I saw almost none which led us to conclude that either the cockroaches are eating them (boy, I hope so!), or its been too cold and they are hibernating or doing whatever it is that hive beetles do in between invading hives.

The inner cover seemed to be a popular location for the bees to hang out.  Quite of few of them were underneath and we had to be quite careful about setting it down.  For the second surprise of the day, we found that they were still food in the top feeder.  I’m not sure if that means the food is unnecessary, or if the yellow jackets were previously eating such a tremendous portion that they were frequently running out. Wayne carefully lifted out the feeder and placed it on the ground while we moved down.

Because of the awkward configuration of the three standard frames inside the shallow brood box, moving frames over to allow for the hood trap is much easier than it sounds.  Basically we had to take the hive apart completely.  We removed one full sized frame and hung it from the compost bin.  Wayne then lifted the remainder of the top brood box while I removed a frame from the bottom and shifted them over as quickly as possible.  At this point I could feel bees pinging off my veil.  They were not impressed at all.   Thanks goodness we had decided to properly suit up for this visit.

After I shifted over the frames in the bottom brood box and Wayne put the top brood box back, we moved the hood trap to the brood side, and we replaced the top from that we had previously removed.   I’m not even sure that the hood trap can help at this point in the year, but I didn’t want to take any chances.

This is when I imagined me taking my normal pictures for posterity, but the bees were having none of it.  Wayne was also getting agitated, which didn’t help much.  I stopped at one point and asked him to take a couple deep breaths and calm down.  I swear the bees sense that kind of agitation and usually react in kind.  We haven’t used the smoker yet, and I would honestly prefer if we didn’t.  I’m rather back out of the hive earlier than I planned then stop and smoke the bees.

So, we put the top feeder back into place and Wayne lifted the bucket of food for me to feed them.  Why or why is that that so many bees insist on hanging out in the bays where the syrup should go?  I found myself fishing out so many syrup covered bees.  I’m not even sure they survive after getting that wet.  We put the floats back and for some reason one of the floats got stuck and was sinking way below the syrup.  A bit of messing around with the (now incredibly sticky) hive tool remedied that.

After the food was in place, we put the inner cover and top cover on as quickly as possible.  We both had bees on our jackets and hands and, as a precaution, we stayed fully suited into we were well away from the hive.

So, no pictures to keep for comparison.  It was quite disappointing.  We didn’t have time to look for the queen, but based on the activity in the hive, she’s definitely still there.   Wayne was able to see the bees filing out the comb on the bottom level while I was rushing to move around the frames, so that’s good news as well.   We’ll have to watch the weather pretty closely to see if I can open up the hive one more time or if this was our last visit until next year.

Lesson Learned

Today Wayne was kind enough to fix the inner cover for me to prevent robbing.  Basically, the war between the bees and the yellow jackets has continued leaving a feeling of panicked activity all around.  I pulled off the top cover once and found yellow jackets just hanging out in the top of the hive helping themselves to syrup and generally enjoying the day.   As a solution for now, we bought bug screen and Wayne cut a piece and covered the hole in the inner cover.  This way the yellow jackets can get inside the top cover, but can’t manage to reach the syrup.  Hopefully this will deter them.

We fed the bees after opening the hive – a 2:1 sugar/water mixture and I added a new product I bought through Brushy Mountain Bee Farm called Honey B Healthy.  It’s an herbal supplement that’s supposed to encourage the bees to feed.  I’m hoping this will push them to continue storing honey so they have ample stores for the winter.   We’re heading out of town for a week, so we filled the feeder completely, added the screen inner cover, and closed the hive.

Lesson learned?  Yellow Jackets are nasty suckers and given the opportunity, they will invade and wreck havoc on a happy hive.  They must be kept out at all costs.

Sept Ending

It’s amazing to think that September has already come and (almost) gone.  The summer is leaving us already.

We visited the hives today and it was an experience full of highs and lows.  Upon approaching the hive, I immediately noticed the war zone sitting in front.  You have to click on the picture to really see it well, but there were tons of dead bees and yellow jackets in the mulch.  It seems the bees really did fight back full force and I hope this means they won.

Inside the hive I came across several small hive beetles in the feeder area.  We tried to crush as many as we could with the hive tool.  The hood trap didn’t seem to have any takers yet.

As we got further into the hive, the news was much better.  There is a ton of brood this time – a noticeable improvement from our last visit – and the girls have begun not only drawing out comb on more of the new frames, but storing honey!  One of the pictures below shows a whole frame of capped honey.  For the first time, I am assured that the bees truly are content and feeling at home.  The queen even took a moment to pose for us (she’s wonderfully photogenic).

Upon putting the top back on, I tried to show Wayne the gaps in the top cover hoping he’d help me come up with a solution that keeps the bees happy, but keeps the yellow jackets out.

War Zone Hive Beetles? Drawing Out Comb Capped Honey Brood Brood Frame 2 Frame w/Queen

Robbing?

I installed a top feeder for the first time the other day and noticed quite a bit of activity yesterday on the side of the hive.  When I went out today, I found at least 15 yellowjackets swarming around.  I suited up and opened the top of the hive to find more yellow jackets hanging out on the top cover and in the actual syrup.

I originally had my ventilation screen over the top feeder, then my outer cover and apparently it was leaving space for robbing.  I removed the ventilation screen and replaced it with the inner cover, then my outer cover today hoping it would provide a tighter seal, but I’m still not sure it will prevent the yellow jackets – the seal just doesn’t seem quite tight enough.

The bees are definitely fighting back, but I hate seeing them this distressed.   I’ve emailed David for help with a solution and Wayne and I are trying to see what we can come up with as well.

Beekeeping Webinar

I participated in a Webinar last week with Kim Flottum from Bee Culture Magazine.  They discussed fall concerns with the hive, feeding, and storage of hive parts.  I learned (as I expected) that I have a bit of a problem with small hive beetles.  I ordered a Hood trap and set it up today with some apple cider vinegar in it.  We’ll see what I catch.

I also added a top feeder for the first time with a 2:1 sugar/water syrup.  We’re heading out of town this coming weekend (to GA – Wayne is doing his first 100 mile bike ride!), and again next month to the Outer Banks so I wanted to make sure I could set up food for an extended period of time.  I killed two bees removing the inner cover, so they were not at all happy with my presence. I didn’t even pull out any frames, just added what I needed to, put it back together, and got out of the way.