Ebb and Flow

After three years of beekeeping I was able to harvest my first crop of honey in early June. Spring honey is typically much lighter in color and more delicate in taste.

Spring sweetness!

There definitely was a sense of accomplishment while extracting the honey and then bottling it. But one cannot rest on their laurels. Apiary maintenance is goes on. This year has brought many challenges. Mega growth, shortage of woodenware, queen-less colonies, drone layers, multiple locations and the demand of more time and labor. It has been challenging figuring out the best solutions to these challenges now that the number of colonies has increased. So my main goal now is to condense the amount of hives in the yard to get the colonies in the best condition for Winter.

THEN . . . Mid June a flash flood ran through the main apiary. Nine colonies were upset and in 2.5 feet of running water. With some help I was able to get the hives out of the water until the morning when I began to put the pieces together. In the end there were six smaller colonies rescued. Thankfully no woodenware was lost only drawn comb frames with brood and honey were a total loss – the most value to a colony. My heart was broken as I had to pressure wash the brood off foundation along with mudded up honey.

Before the worst

This year has definitely been a challenge. The challenges have offered learning opportunities and a renewed determination to carry on.

Devastation on the ridge

Now here it is late September. Mite washes have been done. Thankfully the mites were very low with the exception of two which are being treated with Apivar. Then all the rest will get oxalic acid vapor treated the end of December.

Wingstem

The ‘blue dot’ queen, from one of the two original nucs I purchased in 2020, is still going strong. I was finally inspected by the State and approved for a Queen Certificate which will allow me to sell mated queens and nucleus colonies in the Spring. This should help with swarm prevention and hopefully maintain the genetics of the’ blue dot ‘ line.

Honeybee on the Asters

I’m making my Spring 2023 plans now for queen grafting and making up mating nucs which are smaller starter colonies where a virgin queen will reside to get mated and then onto to egg laying to grow and establish the colony.

A watchful eye

Well, I can do better with Spring hive management. It seems so much of beekeeping is developing a keen eye while inspecting and knowing how to read the comb on the frames and how to address varying situations within the hive.

Another swarm retrieved

As for swarms and their retrieval the less stressful and more practical way is get the queen in the box and the others will march right in. Takes patience and a keen eye. . . . Oh no, I found another queen in the swarm?? What?? How can that be? I have always heard the queen mother leaves the colony with roughly have the half population. Never heard about virgin queens in the swarm but I did a couple nights ago during a live chat on YouTube. Thankfully this new information was made known to me. Just when you think you have things somewhat figured out, lol.

So far I have learned a ton about Spring management first hand. The bees have taught me some tough yet amazing lessons. Not just about their behavior and biology but also about life. This is my third year of beekeeping and by far the toughest because my bees have done so well coming out of Winter. This Spring has seen an abundance of pollen and nectar along with favorable temperatures and sunshine. The past two years weren’t so. What a difference it has made. Its like bees gone wild here. This intense activity has run me ragged not to mention the fretful sleepless nights.

We plan and believe for the best in what we do. I was surprised and upset when I discovered the hive bench had broken from a weak leg. When I looked at the back bee yard this early evening all I saw was the familiar swirling of airborne honey bees! Yikes. Upon my arrival to inspect what was going on I found the three hives were upside down because the bench had fallen over.

Broken bench and upset hives

All we can do in life is our best. Sometimes things don’t go the way we plan. When it goes south we have a decision to make. Be the victim or rise above and tack a different course. It hurts when all your energy fails to produce the desired results. But if you are willing to take a hard look there is always a lesson to be learned to make you strongly successful!

Multiplication and Manipulation

The apple blossoms have come and are almost gone. Often the apple blossoms get frost bit but not this year! The dogwoods are blooming along with some unidentified trees. This all signals the nectar flow is on and food is in abundance. The bees are building up furiously. The April rains have subsided and May has brought the arrival of the returning Baltimore Orioles!

Two colonies have been relocated to a location 7 miles away. Another colony will be moved there next week. There will be another out yard a couple of miles away as well.

My apiary has doubled in size with all the splitting and swarm catches. I’ve transformed from a backyard beekeeper to a hobbyist. I am developing my queen grafting and colony management all with a view to share the increase and recoup some of the investment I have made.

Found and caged the queen. Then placed her on top of the frames . . .
The rest came marching in

Swarm Season OH My!

Well I am no longer in anticipation of Spring because it has arrived. The grass has gotten greener and the tasks in the apiary have increased tenfold!

Swarmy Swarm

There is lots of pollen and nectar coming into the hives with the some what warmer temperatures. It’s beautiful and prime time for swarming!!

Last year I caught a swarm in May of 2021. It was relocated to my apiary where the colony established itself well. On 22nd April 2022 around 11:30AM – Noon, this same colony, decided to swarm just before I had to leave to meet someone. Thankfully someone retrieved them for me.

Today is 29 April, 2022, a week later. Perfect day to drive to the Amish man who makes wooden hive ware. We had a wonderful visit with him and his family. On the way home the neighbor called and said one of his colonies had swarmed and had some questions. We pass his house on the route home so we stopped and could see the swarm from the driveway. We parked and walked to the tree and just that quick they had flown away. Then it was homeward bound. The wooden ware was off loaded into the garage for painting and then I was off to the apiary. I was greeted with a colony with extreme bearding. I scratched my head because it wasn’t really hot enough for the bees to do this. Plus this isn’t normal behavior. I went to the she bee shed and grabbed a bottom board and a single deep and lid. When I returned to the colony I stood in front of it still perplexed. Then my eyes dropped down into the hen bit growing on the ground. Almost like a homing beacon there was the blue dot 🔵 marked queen! This was a miracle. I happen to know this queen’s wings are tattered because she is actually getting old. The best she could do was land in front of the hive. So I brushed the bees on the side of the hive into the new deep along with the blue dot queen who will get replaced this season season.

Say w-h-a-t !

So with a sense of accomplishment I worked my way to another colony. I no sooner cracked the lid and I hear that familiar sound from another nearby colony. That’s right, another swarm at around 4:00 PM 😵‍💫 This time I was going to have to earn the bees back.

Seriously another thorny swarm retrieval

So what have I learned? Yes you can split in March when the weather is cool.

Spring Chill and Queen Grafting

Spring has been a slow arrival. March and April have been very rainy with the sunshine sprinkling our face on only a few occasions.

Spring marks rebirth and awaken. The honey bee is no exception. As the warmth dominates the urge to swarm increases because the queen bee is laying up more eggs. In a given day she can produce 1500 or more eggs which she purposely deposits in each cell. Within 21 days one frame of eggs will easily cover two frames. This produces a rapid increase in population and crowded conditions within the hive. The colony responds with preparations to swarm or reproduce itself. As more and more pollen and nectar are gathered the queen will deposit eggs in queen cups. When the timing is right the worker bees begin to extend the feeding of royal jelly to the select eggs in the queen cups which are now queen cells. Just prior to the emergence of a new queen or queens, the resident queen will leave with roughly half of the colony to take up residence somewhere else. Spring management is vital if one is to keep their bees. I’m constantly learning the art which demands a keen awareness of what the trees and plants are doing along with local weather patterns in relationship to the bee colonies.

If there is one thing I have learned in beekeeping it would have to be flexibility. Along with being able to think and navigate on ones feet. You can go in with a plan but often the the bees didn’t get the memo. That’s when you have to remain focused on the desired end results with adjustments.

Beefing up the warmth for the starter

The weather with my upcoming schedule hasn’t cooperated with my plan to graft queens. I was forced to make up the starter colony by packing a load of nurse bees into a five frame nuc box in the rain . The nuc colony is made queenless to induce the urge to make queen cells. The day after which was yesterday I made the grafts (another rainy day) and then placed them in the queenless nuc. Tonight is suppose to get down into the mid 20’s. The remaining days will be more seasonable. My thoughts had to go into ‘keep the bees’ warm mode. So I double wrapped the little hive with Reflectix along with additional insulation under the top cover inside and out. This should sufficiently allow them to get through the cold night without any stress.

1st & 2nd Graft Schedules

Wax On

When I initially purchased my first hives I was unaware the plastic foundation included was UNwaxed. I didn’t realize there were differences in foundation. I was just so enamored with putting everything together for my bees arrival.

As my first year progressed I began to notice there were some frames with what I call wonky comb. I didn’t get too concerned because it seemed like the bees took care of it. Probably because they had no choice.

I have since learned not all foundation is made the same. Last year when making all the splits I was forced to use some of the bare plastic foundation. Then I noticed the bees either didn’t use it at all or when they had to the comb was awful and made removing the frames a chore.

Now I know to purchase waxed foundation. For the remaining unwaxed foundation I have had to collect the burr comb scraped off the top bar of the frames and melt it down. Then the melted waxed after it has been slightly filtered is brushed or rolled onto the plastic foundation.

Waxed foundation helps increases the bees acceptance and they can also take advantage of the extra wax. But the absolute best is foundation with already drawn comb!

A rainy day activity in the bee yard

Beginnings of Spring

The Spring equinox is something every beekeeper anticipates along with the honey bees. The increasing daylight and warmer air temperatures slowly send energizing cues to the ground below and awakens the trees. The bees begin to use more energy raising brood as the queen senses the favorable conditions to building up the colony. The beekeeper changes focus from Winter survival to Spring management, in anticipation of the honey flow.

March went out like a lion with lingering cold temperatures and lots of wind. At some point the temperatures will begin to constantly stay warm.

Emerging drone! Queen grafting will begin soon
Early Spring snow
Successful overwintered honey bees

Striking a balance between swarm prevention and having a good population of bees to capitalize on the upcoming honey flow is a rewarding challenge.

At the moment the wait is on for drones to emerge while continuing to mature so they will be ready to mate with virgin queens.

Silver Maples – another season!

After a long cold Winter the initial significant source of pollen and nectar is that of the Silver and Red Maples. It is short lived but definitely something the honey bees (and myself) look forward to. It signals the beginnings of a new beekeeping season as the honey bees begin to come alive again. The tree tops are visited by so many honey bees the air fills with the gentle yet loud roar of the rapid wing beats of the almost invisible honey bees high overhead.

Silver Maple early March

March with its ides and St Patrick’s day mark the seasonal transition from Winter to Spring. Warmer temperatures tease us to think Winter is over when in truth Old Man Winter still hangs on. Spring’s desire to claim its reign showers us with winds and rain while Winter mixes it up with snow. This tug of war between the two presents a challenge to the honey bee colony. Food stored back in October needs to be handily available until the trees and flowers can offer a steady diet of energy for brood rearing. The beekeeper teeters on the brink of concern versus sheer delight from the first signs of pollen and nectar collecting.

Honey bee on Speedwell-March
Dead Nettle -March

Thinking Ahead Spring Planting

Sunflowers are among my favorite Summer flowers. Sunflowers start gracing our landscapes with their cheerful flower heads mid to late Summer. If you like to plant them here are the types that are the best for honey bees and other pollinators. The reason these are preferred is because they produce pollen the honey bees can use. Some varieties are pollen-less.

Lemon Queen, Mammoth Grey Stripe, Black Russian, Autumn Beauty to name a few. Look at the labeling on seed packets or description on line for “pollinator or bee friendly”.

Come On Spring!

Whew, we have had some cold weather this Winter. Single digits along with a few below zero temps. On each occasional warm day (42-48F) I take a peek under the top cover to check on the clusters and stores. I have replenished the fondant and will again at the next opportunity.

Late on a warm February afternoon

However we are beginning to experience the transition from Winter to the beginnings of Spring. Three days ago it was 63F and the bees took full advantage finding sweet sources from the start of the maple sap run and the ever so small snowdrops.

Maple sap oozing out of a scar
Tiny snowdrops offering up nectar and pollen

The GDD (Growing Degree Days) climbed to 15 with this warm day earlier in the week but is now 27 reflecting the slow but steady warming.