Category / Hive Maintainance

Beekeeping Bees Hive Maintainance

Opening the Hives: At One Month

Bees working bits of burr comb removed from between the frames and placed at the entrance

Two weeks ago, my mentor from the local beekeeper’s association came over to visit my hives for the first time.  It was a great experience.  Both hives, Willow and Briar, were growing as expected.  There was beautiful brood, capped honey, pollen and lots of bees.  We even saw the queen in Willow.  It was so nice to hear from my mentor, who has been raising bees since 1989, that everything looked great.  We added on the second deep super to Briar so that it would now match Willow. I had added the second deep super to Willow four days prior.  For a diagram with parts of the hive click here.

Today marked two weeks since I had entered the hives. It was time to inspect them again and to see how they were doing in building out the 10 frames within the new second deeps. Over the past few days it has been sunny, beautiful and very hot. The weather has been optimal for bee viewing. Last night, the kids and I built out the smaller frames for the honey supers, just in case we needed them. I went into the hives at 10 am.

Bees in the Northeast need approximately 60-80 pounds of honey to survive through the Winter. This is roughly equivalent to two full deep supers. Often new beekeepers in the first year, strive to get their bees to completely build out two deeps. It is a great deal of work for the bees. Not only do they have to make beeswax to draw out the foundation on twenty frames, but the queen has to lay lots of eggs, the bees need to collect nectar and pollen, and create honey stores.

Willow was first. Willow has had two deeps on since June 5th. As I removed the outer cover, I found the feeder empty. Bees were still surrounding the opening but it was light as a feather. I removed it and placed it on the ground. Next, I removed the inner cover. The bees were very quiet. They hardly seemed to notice me. In fact, I could barely hear them buzzing. I had never heard the hive this calm or quiet before. I worked methodically and slowly to avoid causing any unnecessary vibrations or jostling that upsets the bees. I had soon discovered that the bees had been very busy! As I inspected each frame I found that eight were fully built out with comb in the second deep super. There were plenty of bees-both workers and drones. Five frames were full of brood and there was capped honey, pollen and nectar in the cells too. I found the queen on the third frame. There she was in the center of the frame and capped brood. As I inspected each frame, I also found it necessary to remove burr comb. Burr comb is comb that does not belong where the bees place it. In this case, they “bridged” the small gaps between the frames in the upper and lower deep with beeswax bridges. With the hive tool, I methodically scraped off this comb and placed it on the bottom board near the hive entrance. The bees will clean this comb of everything useful (see photo above). Within seconds, the comb was covered with worker bees. I finished peeking inside this upper deep and decided to forgo the lower one. Everything was as it should be. In fact, it was time for me to add a honey super to this hive.

Honey supers are about half the height of a regular deep. It is shallower. When full it can hold up to 100 pounds of honey. I decided to forgo the queen excluder. It is an item of huge debate in the beekeeping world. It is not recommended for first year beekeepers by our association. The idea behind the queen excluder is to prevent the queen from going up into the honey super and laying eggs. Worker bees can fit through just fine enabling them to build out the foundations. Without a queen excluder, it is possible that the queen can go up into the honey super and lay eggs. However, the bees will have plenty of work drawing out the new ten frames that are inside the honey super. They may only have enough time this season to draw out the comb or they may fill this super with honey and I might even have to add another! If the queen does lay eggs in the honey super, waiting until Fall to harvest honey should ensure that no more hatching eggs are laid in the honey super. Time will tell.  Once the honey super went onto Willow, it was time to stop feeding them. I removed the empty feeder, added the honey super, replaced the inner cover and the outer cover. The bees hardly knew that I was there. Next it was Briar’s turn.

From the beginning, Briar was my gang buster hive. I placed the second deep on this hive on June 9th, four days later than Willow as it was a tad bit slower. I was very pleased when I opened this hive. In the same fashion as Willow, I entered the hive. The feeder was also empty. I inspected each frame in the upper deep. Six out of the ten frames were built out. Three were covered in brood. There was pollen, capped honey, nectar and plenty of bees. I never did see the queen. This hive too, like Willow was incredibly docile today and I decided that I had seen enough evidence of a thriving hive with a laying queen. Briar did not receive a second deep as I wanted to see at least seven frames completely built out with comb.

So in a week or so, I will open Briar back up and recheck the progress of the bees. This hive might just get a honey super too. It is still early in the season here on Cape Cod. My fingers are crossed that I just might get some honey. I talked to my mentor today. He was surprised with the bees’ progress. From what he tells me, sometimes new hives are like this. He said the real test will come to see if they survive the Winter.

Photo Credit:  Tilly’s Nest

This post is linked up to Deborah Jean’s Farm Girl Friday Blog Hop.

Beekeeping Bees Hive Maintainance

Opening the Hives~One Week Later

It has been one week since I installed the nucs into their new homes.   The entire family has enjoyed watching the hives from the kitchen window.  As we eat breakfast, we watch the bees zipping up into the sky, making literally a “bee line” to pollen locations.  Amazingly, every few seconds bees dart very quickly from the entrance up to the sky like tiny little rockets.  Around the entrance, we see returning bees hovering loaded down with pollen.  There is a traffic jam.  Everyone is waiting to come inside and be unloaded.  As these bees return from foraging, younger bees in the hive wait to unload both pollen and water from the foraging worker bees.  Once unloaded, these bees proceed to dance to tell the bees the location of this freshly harvested pollen.  The dance is based on the sun’s location in the sky.  Unloaded and danced out, the bee then quickly makes a bee line out of the hive back to the pollen location.  We are fascinated.

After one week, it is important to check on your bees for a few reasons:

1.  Check to make sure there is brood (babies)
2.  To see if the hive is growing.  Are the bees building out the new frames with wax foundation?
3.  Are there any signs of disease or problems?
4.  Can you visualize the queen or signs of the queen?  Without a queen the colony will struggle or even fail.
5.  Do the feeders need to be refilled?
6.  Do you need to add more room for the bees to live (another deep super)?

Briar receives the second deep.

My friend, Alicia, came over and we opened the hives together.  Instead of smoking the hive, we tried using the Honey B Healthy.  The Honey B Healthy is supposedly better for the bees than the smoking.  When you smoke the bees, instinctually they are driven down into the depths of the hive making it easier for one to manipulate the frames.  However, the bees are lead to believe that there is a fire.  They are down in the hive gorging themselves with honey in the event they must leave the hive and find a new home.  After gorging on honey, it takes the bees a few days to recuperate.  Think Thanksgiving for us.  Those few days are valuable days of foraging that the hive loses.  On the other hand, when you mist the bees with the Honey B Healthy, they are not driven down into the hive.  They are still present on the frames but they are distracted from having to clean their bodies of the sticky Honey B Healthy syrup.  As you work, you can see them busily taking their arms and wiping off their heads and bodies.

We decided to open the smaller, calmer hive.   First we removed the top cover and the feeder.  In order to remove the top cover, I had to break two bridges of comb that the bees had built as ramps from the frames to the feeder.  As delicately as I could, I loosened the bond with the hive tool.  I also had use the hive tool around the inner cover edges as the bees had glued it shut with bee glue called propolis.

Once open, we quickly and methodically examined each frame.  We removed an end one.  The bees had not even begun to build this one out.  I placed it on the ground.  Next we moved on to each frame, one by one.  As we reached the center we visualized brood, capped honey, pollen, new baby bees emerging from their cells and the queen.  However, the bees had only built out about six and a half of the frames in the ten frame deep.  We decided to leave the hive as is and replace the inner cover.  The feeder was still about 3/4 full.  I topped it off with the sugar syrup and closed the hive.

Bees exiting from the hive using the tiny “door” in the inner cover

Next we moved onto the larger hive from the beginning.  This hive was more active last week.  The nuc was heavier and the bees were more curious as to my being there.  Following the same procedure as the last hive, we began our inspection.  This hive was bustling!  We never did spot the queen but evidence of her existence was certainly there.  Nine out of ten frames were built out.  The bees were a plenty.

I knew that this hive had a plastic frame that was part of the nuc.  For some reason, bees don’t really care for the plastic frame or it’s accompanying plastic foundation.  Often, they build out comb in a funny pattern on it.  Sometimes they don’t build it out at all.  There were three places on this plastic foundation where the comb was built incorrectly.  With the hive tool, I gently scraped it off and placed it by the hive entrance.  The bees will remove what they need from this comb and hopefully correctly rebuilt the foundation.

We added the second deep with ten new empty frames and wax foundation for the bees to build upon.  The feeder was almost empty.  It was only 1/4 full so I topped that one off too.  We hid the feeder inside two smaller honey supers and replaced the cover.

Comb removed from the plastic foundation placed at the hive entrance.

As newbees, the entire process of opening the two hives took about an hour.  I am so happy that both of my hives are docile.  Yet, it was fascinating to see two hives right next to each other be so entirely different in size, personality and feel.   Most people name their hives and I had thought about this for a while.  After opening the hives yesterday, the names were clear.  The first hive I have named Willow and the second one I have named Briar.

Photo Credit:  Tilly’s Nest

Beekeeping Bees Hive Maintainance

Picking Up the New Girls

Yesterday, a friend and I made the 3-plus hour trip to Brewster, New York to pick up our bees.  Finally, the weather had warmed up enough and our bees were ready to come home.  We began our journey after lunch and did not arrive home until after Midnight.  When we arrived in Brewster, we had to wait until 7:30 pm for our new bees to come home for the evening.  We were scheduled to pick up five nucs.

Beekeeping Bees Hive Maintainance

Beehive Opening at Long Pasture

This past Sunday afternoon, I had the pleasure of attending my very first hive opening with our local beekeeping association.  Last Winter, I took their beekeeping course and today, I was getting a close up look at two new bee hives started from packages 4 weeks ago.  Hive openings are best when the weather is around 60 degrees, sunny and in the afternoon when most of the bees are out scavenging the area for pollen sources.  Opening the hive is critical, especially after transferring your bees.  This should be done weekly until they have filled out two deep supers (for Winter survival on Cape Cod) and you have added your first shallow super (honey collector).

Beekeeping Bees DIY Hive Maintainance

Placement of the Beehives

We rarely see honeybees in our gardens, only the large bumblebees.

So as many of you know, I am starting out on my newest adventure, beekeeping.  Finally the weather warmed up literally overnight and it was time this week to kick things into high gear.  The bees are scheduled to come in May and I had so much yet to do.  I had to finish building the hives, paint them and find a suitable place in the yard following the guidelines.  The hives also needed time to “air out” after their painting. So, I have been busy as a bee these past few days. Proper placement of beehives is key to success as a beekeeper.