Archive for the 'Honey Bees' Category

Getting the hive ready for cool weather

I’ve been feeding the bees since August to make sure that they have enough honey for the winter. Today I started getting the hive ready for cool weather. I replaced the screened bottom board with a solid bottom board and installed an entrance reducer on the front of the hive.

The bottom board

During the summer, the hive gets very warm and humid. Bees turn nectar into honey by evaporating the water, until it’s, well, thick as honey. All that water vapor has to be vented from the hive. Bees do this by fanning their wings to circulate air. To make their job easier, the bottom of the hive (called the bottom board) is a screen. This lets air in but keeps bugs out. The weather is cooling but the queen will continue to lay eggs through most of the fall. This means that the internal hive temperature has to remain between 90 and 93 degrees at all times. Last night the temperature was 44 degrees outside. To make it easier for the bees to keep warm, the cool weather bottom board is solid. While it helps the hive keep warm, it does reduce ventilation so it will be harder for the colony to cure additional honey. For this reason, you want to keep the screen bottom board in place as long as you can.

Entrance reducer

During the summer, the entrance runs the entire width of the front of the hive box. The entrance reducer is a cleat that can be turned to reduce the entrance by either 75% or 95%. The smaller entrance is easier to guard as the colony population starts to drop. It also helps keep heat in. It does, however, make for quite the bee traffic jam. On the warm sunny day, hundreds of bees hover feet from the hive, waiting their turn to land.

Stop feeding

As I mentioned, I have fed the bees since early August. There’s now 70-80# of honey in the hive. Since it’s now harder to feed the hive, and there are sufficient winter stores, I removed the top feeder. If spring is slow arriving next year, I will start feeding again in March.

Next steps

When it gets really cold, I will turn the reducer so the entrance is 95% reduced, cover the outside with tar paper to reduce drafts and to absorb sunlight. I will also drill a second entrance hole in the top of the hive box. This serves as a second-floor entrance/exit. During winter snow can block the main entrance from the outside, or a layer of dead bees can block the entrance from the inside. The axillary entrance will let the bees get out on warm (above 54F ) winter days. Bees don’t eliminate waste inside the hive. They hold it!

Watching the hive

This morning at 6:00 am, I set up a water dish for the hive. Bees need water and I was concerned that they would start using the neighbor's pool. That seemed like bad PR at the very least. There were about 50 dead bees on the ground in front of the hive. Those were the only bees I saw but I put my ear to the hive box and could hear lots of buzzing.

That afternoon, I checked again. It was amazing to see all the commotion. Man do those bees work hard. Now I know where the expressions "busy as a bee," and "hive of activity" come from. They have even removed all the dead bees from the ground in front of the hive.

Other than a quick check to make sure the queen is released, you leave the hive undisturbed for 15 days so that they get established. Otherwise, they might abandon the hive box and go live somewhere else.

Hiving Time

At 7:45 pm, I started the process of convincing 14,000 bees to get out of the screen box that contained them and into the bee hive box that I had set up that morning.

There are basically three ways to hive a package of bees:

  • Dump the bees out in front of the hive and let them crawl in,
  • Set the open package box inside the hive and leave it, or
  • Dump the bees out of the package onto the top of the open hive.

It was 54 degrees and nearly dark, so dumping the bees out in front of the hive was out. Placing the package box inside the hive seemed really easy but it would need to be retrieved later and the bees might start making comb inside the package box. It seemed that shaking the bees out onto the hive box was the way to go.

These bees were packaged in Georgia less than 24 hours earlier. They were in great shape. I don’t think that there were 10 dead bees in the whole package. I sprayed the bees with sugar water several times before I opened the top to get the queen. The queen lives in a little cage inside the package box. The queen cage has a cork that covers a candy plug on the bottom. You remove the cork, then place the queen cage between the two center frames of the hive. Next, you shake all the bees out on top of the frames, covering the queen.

It went smoothly — no stings. Since it was cold, I didn’t bother with the veil. One bee did get her stinger stuck in my shirt while I was trying to shake her off.

Ironically, 30 minutes later and too dark to see well, I go back to the hive to show my brother-in-law. I picked up the empty package box to show him but it wasn’t exactly empty. I pinched a pair of bees when I grabbed the package box and got stung twice. If you plan to keep bees, then it’s not a question of if you get stung — just a question of when. At least I didn’t have to wonder about “when” for very long.

Bee Day

I am ready to pick up my package of bees. I ordered a 4-pound package of bees. At 3500 bees per pound, that’s 14,000 bees.

Sue and I took Alex out of school for the day and the three of drove to Forrest, OH to pick them up. We left the house at 9:30. It was cold. It was rainy. It was four hours each way without getting lost. I got lost both ways. (Aside: Sue bought a new GPS today)

The husband and wife team at Parsons’ Gold Apiaries were great. They had an empty package box and hive set up so that they could walk me through hiving the bees.

It was 7:30 when we got home. I needed to hurry to get the bees hived before dark.

Honeybee hobby

Two Februaries in a row I schlepped maple sap to make maple syrup. Two Februaries in a row, I was hospitalized with kidney stones. Ouch. I did not collect maple syrup this year. I got honey bees instead.

I tried to order honey bees in April. It turns out that orders are typically placed in December. And since winter was particularly harsh Honeybees were in short supply. All the apiaries had big “sold-out” notices on their websites. Finally, I found Parsons-gold bees, an apiary in Forrest, OH. They were very helpful. All the packages of bees they were receiving in April were committed. However, they were making one last bee run (to Georgia) and could add me to the 12-May order.

I spent April reading about bees, watching youtube videos about bees, and ordering equipment and hive parts. The hive arrives in parts which need glued and nailed together. They also need to be painted. There were more than 100 pieces to put together. It took longer that I anticipated. It’s a good thing I couldn’t get bees in April, they would have been homeless.