Thursday, October 01, 2009

Problem in the bee hive

One of my hives is suddenly queenless. Yellow jackets are everywhere, including inside the hive. AND I have something funky going on with the pollen. That's shadows in the shot above, not raggedy comb. I took the pic in bright daylight with the sun directly behind me (so I could see into the cells). I avoided catching my own shadow as best I could but alas.

I'm going to consult with a guy in my bee keeper club about whether I should re-queen or combine the queenless hive with the other one.

I replaced my screen inner cover, which allows access along both sides of the entire length, with a solid inner cover, which allows access only at one small point in the front. I also put an entrance reducer in place. This way the honey bees only have to defend against the yellow jackets in a couple of strategic locations, rather than across the entire entrance and down both long sides of the inner cover. Makes it harder to bring in pollen but I think we're in crisis mode at the moment.

And I have *no* idea what this stuff is on the pollen. Looks like mold or fungus of some sort. Going to ask my bee keeper guy about that, too, and consult the folks on the beekeeping forum at Homesteading Today. My stress meter just jumped :(


Friday, January 23, 2009

Frozen Bee

After several days of below freezing temperatures, and lows near or below zero, we had a warm sunny 45 degrees yesterday. The bees took cleansing flights, so they could poop and get comfy again. Some of the girls strayed too far from the hive and got too chilled to fly back. I found this one on a cleaning rag on my clothes line this morning, dead, with frost on her feet, back, forehead, and one antenna.

On the one hand, things like this make me sad. On the other hand, it's natures way of ensuring only the most capable bees eat the food stores and raise the new brood.


Friday, October 03, 2008

Beautimous Bee Hives

I have beautimous bee hives. If it were up to me they'd be plain old boring white. Except for the gray ones where I needed a hive body NOW and all I had around the house was gray spray paint. But they'd be boring.

Fortunately, my husband is a man of vision. He remarked "They'd be more interesting if they had some color."

In late Spring or early Summer I got some empty supers. We assembled them and I painted them white. Of course. Then I remembered my wise husband's comment. So we got some spray paint in assorted colors.

We had some family and friends out for the long Fourth of July weekend, and I put them to work painting hive bodies. It was pretty cool seeing the different ideas folks came up with.

Now I have a whole bunch of colorful hive bodies, plus two that my husband wants to decorate. They will come in handy in the Spring when my bees flourish and I split my hives and become a honeybee mogul.


Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Installing Packaged Bees

When we decided to get bees, all I knew about them was that they lived in those square wooden box bee hive things. I didn't know how to get the bees in there though. Do they like the white boxes and move in on their own? Do you have to catch them in the wild? As it turns out, you can buy packaged bees complete with a queen. They generally come in 3 pound packages, in a wooden box with screened sides.

If your packaged bees are not hanging happily in a cluster as in the photograph, mix 1 part sugar to 1 part water and use a clean paint brush or pastry brush to brush the sugar water on the screen. Don't worry about getting some on the bees, they'll clean it off of themselves and each other. Keep painting until they begin to lose interest. When their bellies are full they'll calm down and cluster together.

Just leave them in the box and wait until late afternoon or early evening to install them. This way, as darkness falls, the bees are inclined to settle into the hive rather than run off exploring. In the morning, they'll make orientation flights and figure out where their new home is located and how to get back to it.

Use a screwdriver to pry the lid off of the packaged bees.

Beneath the lid you'll see two metal circles. The small one is attached to the queen's cage. The large one is a can that has sugar water in it and tiny holes on the bottom that allow the bees to eat in their journey to your home. Most bees are raised in warm climates such as Georgia, the Carolinas, or California. They sometimes travel a long way by truck before reaching their final destination.

You'll want to don your beekeeper's veil and possibly some gloves before you go any further. Pull the queen's cage out, using your hands or the screwdriver. Bees will start crawling out of the package; don't let that rattle you.

The queen's cage is a little piece of wood with an indented area for the queen and her attendants. The indented area in the cage shown is made of three circular areas drilled into, but not through, the piece of wood. There is a screen to provide ventilation and to keep the queen separated from the new hive until they've become accustomed to her pheromones. If you introduce a strange queen to a hive of bees, they may kill her. So you let them get to know one another over the period of a few days.

One end of the queen's cage has a fairly large "candy" filling and the other end is blocked with a very small cork. In the picture, the candy is white and fills the entire circular area on the left-hand side of the queen's cage. Remove the metal piece from the candy end, and hang the queen's cage in your bee hive between two frames. My hive currently has a deep box on the bottom and a shallow super; I placed the cage on top of the frames in the deep and removed a frame from the super to make space for the queen's cage.

Over the next few days, the bees will eat into the candy, eventually freeing the queen. By the time she makes her grand exit, the hive will be accustomed to her and they'll all get along swimmingly. I'll check the queen's cage in a few days and if she hasn't gotten out I'll remove the cork from the non-candy end of the cage. Once the queen is out, I'll remove the cage from the hive and replace the frame I removed from the shallow super.

Now remove the can of sugar water. The bees will begin exiting the package. Just move slowly and deliberately. Honeybees are curious, not aggressive; they generally don't sting unless they feel they're threatened.

Many folks say you can just set the package of bees, opening down, on the frames. They will exit the package and enter the hive in search of the queen. I did this, and balanced the hive's outer cover over the package to prevent dew from getting into the hive, on the bees, and chilling them.

When I went back after dark to remove the package and close up the hive, there were still a lot of bees in the package, so I resorted to the more common method of shaking the bees out of the package. You don't shake the package back and forth like you'd shake a ketchup bottle; rather, you raise it aloft and bring it down rapidly and stop with a good hard jerk, which causes the bees to fall out in a big clump. Two or three of these strong shakes and most of the bees were out of the package and in the hive.

I put the shallow super, the inner cover, and the outer cover in place and left the package near the hive entrance so the few remaining bees could make their way out of the package and into the hive.

I have another hive waiting on a package of bees that won't arrive for a couple of days. Like the hive I'm working with, the waiting one has drawn comb with some honey and pollen in it. I put an old towel over the entrance of the waiting hive, to prevent this new batch of bees from going next door and robbing it.

Early the next morning I went out to check on my bee hive. Most of the bees had left the package but a few remained motionless in small clusters; the overnight low was 41F.

There was lots of activity at the hive entrance, as bees took orientation flights and got ready for life in their new digs.

I went out again at noon when the temperatures were in the 70s and happily my "dead" bees had all thawed out and exited the package. While I probably won't harvest any honey for my own consumption until next year, I'll enjoy greater production from my garden, berry bushes, and fruit trees. I'll also get the enjoyment of watching these fascinating insects go about their daily activities.


Thursday, August 02, 2007


A little over a week ago I was poking around in the bee hives. The weak hive had two "supercedure" cells on it.

There are two types of queen cells, swarm cells and supercedure cells. The egg that goes into queen cells is like any worker bee egg, but it is fed differently and has a larger space to grow in. The space and diet is what makes it a queen instead of a worker.

Swarm cells hang on the bottom of the frames and are created when the hive becomes overcrowded. Eggs are laid in the swarm cells and new queens hatch out of them. They swarm away with part of the bee colony and that relieves the stress due to overcrowding.

Supercedure cells are built hanging off the comb, as in the photograph. They are built by expanding normal worker cells.

I don't know why my bees have found their old queen unsuitable. I do know this hive has been dramatically weaker than the other hive since I first installed my bees. Even after "stealing" a couple of small frames of honey and brood from the strong hive and placing it in the weak hive, the weak hive is still way behind.

Maybe the old queen is aging and not as productive as she should be. Maybe she is physically inferior in some way. Whatever the reason, the new queens have probably hatched by now. The first one to hatch will kill the second one, and then it will kill the old queen.

I'm looking forward to seeing how the hive is doing. I'll probably take a good look this weekend.

I don't know if worker bees will build swarm cells when a hive is not already crowded; I think they are programmed not to. Even if they did, I don't know if the current queen would lay in those cells. She is probably programmed to not lay eggs in queen cells if the hive is not crowded. I'm just guessing, but I suspect that is why supercedure cells are built the way they are. The unsuspecting current queen lays normal worker eggs and then a couple of them are made into queens on the sly. Nature sure is tricksy sometimes.


Monday, July 09, 2007

How To Assemble a Bee Frame

Inside the bee hive are frames that hang vertically. These frames hold the comb which the bees use to store eggs, brood, nectar/honey, and pollen. Where we buy our bee supplies, the frames come in pieces and we assemble them. Here's how it all goes together.

Above is a photo of the parts. At the top is the top of the frame (upside down), then the bottom of the frame, then the two sides. The top is wide and the bottom is narrow. Both of them have a channel cut into them where the foundation (pre-formed sheet of bees wax onto which the bees will build their comb) is inserted. The top also has an extra lengthwise cut that hopefully I can explain with the next photo.

It's hard to see because of the wood grain (clicking to view large might help), but the top piece is cut so that in addition to the channel where we will insert the foundation, there is a second lengthwise cut on the side that allows you to easily remove the wood that forms one side of the channel. You can use a utility blade but I found this carpet knife first so that's what I used. You only have to score it; it's cut almost completely off already.

In the photo above you see the top piece (turned bottom-side up for the moment) with the full thickness away from you, half thickness toward you, and the removed bit in the foreground.

Place the top of the frame into the two side pieces and use a tack hammer to place a single tiny nail on each end. See how the nail is off center? The nail goes into the side of the top that you did NOT cut away.

Then place the bottom of the frame in place and secure at each end with two tiny nails. The wood frequently splits where you nail it because it's so thin. Don't worry about it. You can see the channel that will receive the foundation; it runs the entire length of the bottom piece.

Now you can insert the foundation into the channel in the bottom piece of the frame. Leave the frame upside down for the time being; we have work to do which is more easily accomplished upside down.

The foundation I use has thin wires pressed into it, to give it strength and stability. The wires stick out a little on one side. The side without wires went into the slit in the bottom piece of the frame. The wires that stick out rest on the top piece where we cut away a bit of wood.

The cut away piece is repositioned and nailed in place with some super tiny nails. I use needle nosed pliers to hold these nails while I hammer them in place. They're too small for me to manage with my fingers.

Now we hang ten of the frames inside a wooden box and that make our hive where the bees raise their young and store their food, or maybe a "super" where the bees store extra honey. Yum!


Monday, June 11, 2007

Burr Comb Disaster

When I put the queen into the hive, I set her in her little wooden queen holder down on the "floor" of the large brood chamber in the middle, between a couple of foundation frames. By the time she escaped and was accepted by the colony, the bees had built some burr comb in the extra space between the frames. It was just a little bit, but I hated to destroy it and undo all their hard work.

I have a book entitled "The Hive and The Honey Bee" that says burr comb is always attached to the floor or walls of the hive, but most beekeepers call any unwanted comb "burr comb".

I asked advice from experienced beekeepers, and they said "Clean it out!" so I went back to clean it out. As you can see in the photo above, it was no longer "just a little bit" but had grown and had at least honey in it.

I pulled the frame out and the burr comb was in a HUGE piece. I scraped it off the frame at the top, and fortunately it wasn't all entangled with the foundation - it was a separate sheet of comb, almost like they'd made a "filler" frame in the gap I'd left. I went ahead and let the sheet fall into a plastic bowl. It spilled over the sides, there was so much of it.

To my great dismay, the burr comb had lots of brood in it. I am now a bee-baby killer :( In retrospect, perhaps I should have let them keep their extra "frame" of comb but it might have only gotten worse and made it impossible to pull the frames and inspect them.

The lesson is: clean up burr comb as soon as you find it! You have to be able to pull the frames and ensure there aren't any mites or moths or other problems getting into your hive. You also need to make certain eggs are being laid and raised and that the bees are putting away an adequate supply of honey to survive the upcoming winter.


Friday, June 08, 2007

Bees Setting up House

I took a few pics the other day when I opened up the bee hives for the second time after having put the bees in them. You saw a few photos already with the feeder and the foundation. In the above photo they're "drawing comb". To do this they both draw out the wax that the foundation is made of, plus they create new wax with special glands.

Here you can see the cells being used for honey (the pale capped cells in the top left area), pollen storage (the dark open cells in the middle), and brood (the medium colored capped cells near the bottom right). This is typical positioning of honey, pollen, and brood cells. Bees usually form an arch with honey on the top and outside edges, pollen in the middle, and bood center and bottom.


Wednesday, May 30, 2007


We got bees a while back. We got the hives in pieces and assembled them. The lid was already put together but the boxes had to be assembled and the frames that hang down inside had to be assembled and then the foundation placed in the frames. Then we painted the exterior. We used white because it will help keep the hives cooler in the summer time.

The big bottom boxes are called "brooders" and the smaller box on top is called a "super" but from what I gather the terms are kind of interchangeable. All boxes can be called supers and large or small boxes can be used for brooders. Left alone, the bees will use the entire space for raising brood, storing nectar, and making and storing honey.

You can get a screen separator called a "queen excluder" to put between the brooder and the super that has openings large enough to allow the workers to move through it but the queen cannot because she is too large. This would keep the brood all in the bottom box and the top box would only be used for honey storage (and maybe pollen? I'm not sure).

Ours is all open from one section to the other. Some folks use two big brooder boxes on the bottom and then the queen excluder and one or more supers on top. We don't use an excluder yet because the bees will be busy building up their population and storing food for winter. They will need all the stored honey and pollen they can acquire. Their ability to gather nectar and pollen is hindered this year because they are small in number and raising brood has been delayed while they acclimate to their queen and she begins to lay.

Looking inside the top of one of my hives. This is the weaker hive and there are not many bees and not much activity.

In the foreground is a quart canning jar with sugar syrup (one part table sugar to one part water) with three small holes punched in the lid. The jar is turned upside down and the bees eat this syrup while they are getting established. I had three jars in each hive when I first set them up.

You can see that the jar is sitting on the frames hanging in the bottom box. Some of the frames in the top box have been removed to make space for the feeder jars. The frames just hang in the box like file folders in a filing cabinet.

Inside each frame is wax foundation. It is pre-stamped with a pattern that the bees use as a basis for building their comb. This helps keep the comb lined up and orderly, and makes it easier to check the hives to be sure there aren't any diseases, parasites, mice, or other problems, and that the queen is laying and things are proceeding well.

The foundation I have has very thin wire stamped into it to help support it a little bit. As thin as this foundation is, the bees will draw it out some as they make their combs and it will become even thinner.

We've only had bees about two or three weeks now and I've already made a couple of mistakes. I'll post about that in the future.


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