Thursday, May 12, 2016

Second Swarm, or 2nd-5th Swarm?

On May 11th, I saw scout bees investigating knot holes on the side of the barn. That happens when a colony either has or is about to swarm. It's a warning—go check the trees and shrubs around the bee yard. They usually cluster somewhere nearby. Here's what I found:
It looks like 4 swarms. More likely, one swarm got separated. I thought they'd eventually combine into one, but they seemed content to stay separate. I believe they parted over some disagreement over a doctrinal issue. I dumped them all into a cardboard box and left a small door open. Within an hour they settled their differences, and the stragglers climbed in the box. They weighed 6 lbs or approximately 21,000 bees. I saw the queen, a big blond.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Making artificial Queen Cells

To make queen cells, you round the end of a 3/8" dowel so it fits perfectly into a natural queen cell. That's what queen rearing books say, but the entrance of the cell is smaller than the interior, so you have to cut away the top without distorting the bottom of the cell. Plus, when you push a stick into a queen cell, the wax distorts. Just how accurate do you have to be, anyways?
So I tried using a natural queen cell as a mold.
4 queen cells and my queen cell sticks
 I didn't have epoxy, but gorilla glue expands to fill a cavity.
A little stick to fit into the queen cell, a bottle of gorilla glue...
Stick it in, let it set...
y, voila!
The glue is too porous to dip into melted beeswax, plus, looking closely the shape is quite irregular, somewhat like one of Mar's moons. My bet is the bees will prefer my queen cells over their own.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Transferring the wild bees to a hive

We had to make a quick trip to New Hampshire so I couldn't get back to the bees for a week. The old comb has been in a box, separated by 3/8 inch spacers (that's the natural distance bees keep between combs. The bees have to be transferred to a movable comb hive. So to start I move the box about 10 feet away and put an empty box in its place, and add a comb of brood, a comb of pollen, and a comb of honey from another hive.

Comb removed from the barn and stored temporarily in a hive box
The combs are shaken into the new box with regular frames in it.
The new box is placed on the original stand
The old comb containing brood is put over a queen excluder in the hive from which I borrowed the brood. I'll take it out again when the brood has hatched and melt it into beeswax. 
The queen didn't survive the transfer, so the bees made queen cells from the young larvae. Most of them were small and would yield inferior queens. I killed them, but saved this frame. I'll have to move it before they hatch. Virgin queens might squeeze through the queen excluder and kill the other queen below. She is due to hatch in about 3 days. The rest of the brood on the comb will be hatched in about 14 days.
3 queen cells

Friday, April 15, 2016

Rescuing bees from a Collapsing Barn

The old barn had shifted suddenly off its foundation about 18 inches. The owner wanted to save the barn but a colony of bees had lived in the corner for about 25 years. He hired me to remove them.

To the left is the nest, located on the 2nd floor in what was once the granary. To the right notice the biggest white faced hornet nest I've ever seen. I'm glad the hornets were gone.
The nest was obviously occupied for many years, although the colony could have died several times with new swarms moving in. That would hardly be noticed by the people. This is a typical colony size—5' tall and 2' wide. Also typical are the long droopy combs at the bottom irregular comb near the top.
Early in the year the population is low and easy to manage. By July this comb would be totally covered with bees. If I knew how, I'd add arrows to the photo to show drone comb, brood comb, honey comb and last year's unused queen cells.
You can see irregular fault lines in the honey comb where sometime in the past the comb became too heavy, stretched, then was later repaired by the bees. Lots of last year's honey is left in this colony. I'll render about 60 lbs of wild honey from this colony.
Bees are generally easier to handle in the spring. I removed a large portion of the colony with no protective suit or gloves. The owner helped the entire time without any protective clothing. We both tied at 4 stings each for the afternoon's work. I'm filling the box, lower right, with combs of brood. There are thousands of baby bees developing and discarding them would be a huge set back for the colony. I filled a large plastic bin with honey-filled comb and another one with empty comb to be melted into beeswax.
Cutting out brood comb.

The brood needs almost the same temperature that a poultry incubator provides, so I keep as many bees on the brood comb as possible and I brush more off into the hive to maintain the proper temperature. The rest are vacuumed into a special vacuum that doesn't injure the bees and in the evening I poured them into the new hive. The homeowner wants to become a beekeeper. Since he stayed through the entire process, got stung and still shows interest, I have no qualms about giving him the bees once I've established them in a movable comb hive. I like his one comment, "Beekeeping is a lot of work, isn't it?"

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Wild Honey

Rendering old honeycombs from wild bee nests usually yields honey that is black, bitter, and nasty. This batch has a rich but mild excellent flavor.
 The secret is to sort out all combs containing pollen which makes the honey bitter and gritty. Nothing but clean pure honeycomb is put into a giant double boiler (a bucket inside a canner) and heated just below the melting point of the wax. The honey and wax are poured through a coarse and fine strainer into the bottling bucket. I only bottle the honey that runs out freely—no squeezing the combs. That all gets remelted to fully separate the rest of the honey and wax. That honey is black, somewhat bitter, and I can sell it as baking honey.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

April Snow Showers bring...

After a blustery, snowy night I visited the bees.
 You can tell the size of the cluster and the health of the colony by the size of the melted snow in the center of the roof. You can also tell which colonies are alive or dead:
I never saw this pattern of melted snow all winter, only this spring. My guess is they are making more heat and using more honey because of brood rearing. The brood has to be kept above 90 degrees.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

First Colony Extraction of the Year

Today I drove to Wellsville to remove a honey bee colony from a house. It was built in the 1820s and with 200 years of additions the inside was like a maze. Even worse was the inside of the walls. I crawled around the attic for awhile then found a likely stain inside an upstairs closet. Drilling two holes into the stain yielded nothing. It was a water leak. The drill bit came out of the 3rd hole with wax and honey on it. That was the wall. I opened the wall and almost not bees came out, until I removed the first comb.
 There is the drill hole in the center of the picture next to the stud. When I cut that comb out, about fifty bees boiled out, orbited the closet light bulb for awhile and then found their way to the window. I had to reach into a 4 inch gap and cut out chunks of comb, all the while wondering where the brood nest was. The farther I cut, the less bees until the cavity was cleared of comb.

No bees at all, not even a dead cluster—just lots of honey. Well, "lots" is a relative term. The total yield of hive contents came to approximately 40 lbs, lots more than I would expect in spring. The bees came from nearby colonies and were harvesting the combs. 

The homeowner took about ten lbs of honeycomb so I know they hadn't sprayed a pesticide into the nest. I've already taken one order for wild comb honey. The crystallized combs will go into a giant double boiler and I'll sell it as "wild honey"after liquefying and straining it.
   Where did the bees go? Possibly uploaded into a flying saucer, possibly a honey bee rapture. Most likely they started dwindling in the fall until there weren't enough bees to cluster, although there should have been some dead bees somewhere. There always are in my dead  colonies.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Bees living in a barrel

Colonies shouldn't last more than a two or three years without mite treatments. This barrel has been next to my apiary for 3 1/2 years and it's still not dead. I didn't hive them last year because they should have died out. So I'll transfer them to a hive in April. The barrel is falling apart so I was able to lift the lid and look inside. Not too many bees but they're bringing in pollen so there must be brood in there somewhere.

You can see the bung hole from both inside and out.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

What you missed by skipping the Geneva Bee Conference

The Geneva Bee Conference ( is held once a year at Hobart and William Smith College in Geneva, NY. I've attended almost every year usually as a vender. This year I just sat and listened.
First, a record number of Steuben County Honeybee Association members attended—3.  The conference was sold out, meaning all the seats in the auditorium were full. But wait! Not everyone who paid actually came, so there were lots of empty seats. That’s good fact of human nature to file away, for next time. Always have pay-in-advance registration, and then allow in the last minute people if there is room.

2. Staying seated for a whole day can be painful, but the seats were padded and the back rests flexed so you could shift a bit.

3. Your $25 fee included free coffee, tea, and pastries.

4. Mike Palmer has presented his talks in Australia and the United Kingdom and both are available on YouTube. Type his name into the search bar and you can have the GBC experience in the privacy of your own home.  I’d already watched them twice so it was review for me. Even after watching the presentation 3 times, by the end I feel confused. You remove queens from nucs, but you need new queens to replace them and you need hives in which to place new queens or queencellsandyoushouldhaveremovedqueensthedaybeforefromthehives… Anyways, there is lots of good information. The take away is a quote he borrowed from someone: “All beekeeping problems can be solved by either putting something into or taking something out of a nuc.” I thought Mike had developed his techniques by reading the nineteenth century bee writers, but surprise! He developed them independently, thought he had discovered something radical and new and then, leafing through Fifty Years among the Bees, discovered it had all been done before.  

5. Dr. Tom Seeley talked about his research on the wild bees of the Arnot Forest near Ithaca. Again, his presentation is available on YouTube. Two takeaways: First the population of wild colonies is approximately the same as before the mites came and we all assumed the wild colonies had been wiped out. Second, as a youth Seeley had pinned a bunch of bees in the 1970s and by genome sequencing those and the modern Arnot forest bees, surprise! There had been a big gene shift indicating a population drop and then a recovery. The wild bee genes indicate a mix of Italian, Black bee, Carniolan, and Middle Eastern and even some African genes.
6. There were also presentations on bee nutrition, mead making, dealing with pests, and labelling honey.

7. I’d say the really big climax of the day, not counting the bad bee puns that the masters of ceremonies filled in with, is the free refrigerator magnet with the date of next year’s Geneva Bee Conference—March 18th, 2017.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Feeding a late fall swarm

A swarm moved into our building in September. Since most late swarms don't survive the winter, it wasn't worth moving them into a hive. They did barely survive, at least until now. Here they are on March 7—just a small cluster and almost no food. With nuc colonies and packages costing over $100, it seems cost effective to give them a little extra care. I've added a Boardman feeder. It took them two days to notice it. Later I'll transfer them to a hive. When I fix the siding, I'll leave an entrance to the old cavity which will act as a bait hive for wandering swarms.

Feeding bees

On March 7, I checked the hives. Two were almost out of food. The easiest way to feed is to dump sugar on the inner cover and shim up the telescoping cover so the bees have room to walk.