Archives for posts with tag: getting started

We went over early to check on the bees this morning before it got too hot, since heat can lead to cranky bees. It’s a little weird not peeking out the window to check on the bees each morning, and I hope we can get back to our home soon. The bees were buzzing about when we arrived; they have really been enjoying the oregano, basil, and mint that are in various stages of bloom in the backyard. I puffed a little smoke into the entrance as a way of saying, “Here I come” and then opened the top. In the video you’ll see them move down into the hive when I use the smoke. Please ignore my footwear. It is not appropriate beekeeping wear, but my tennis shoes didn’t work with my outfit for the day, and the bees have yet to go for my feet.

I did have one bee sacrifice herself in defense of her hive today. She stung my hand, unsuccessfully, thanks to my gloves.

The girls have been good eaters of pollen, but have slowed a bit on the syrup. Two weeks ago they were going through the syrup more quickly and now they’ve hardly touched it. That reminds me that they can use their propolis to seal the openings, so I’ll check that soon to be sure they can get to the syrup. There were bees around the lid so I assumed they could, but it wouldn’t hurt to verify. Two frames are filled with bees, and they’ve started building out comb on the next frame over. That was exciting to see! It’s partially filled with brood, capped and uncapped, and there is a little honey and pollen. I easily found the queen, thanks to her blue marking, but again can’t say that I could see eggs. What I did find were some very small larvae and some larger ones that maybe are close to pupating. There is less honey stored than two weeks ago, which is likely due to my expanding workforce during the dearth, which is what it’s called when the nectar flow slows and there is less available forage.

Fresh comb under construction and used for expanding the brood nest.

All in all, things are looking good so far. It’s been nearly two months since Queen Aliénor was installed and the hive is expanding well.

Summarizing the inspection

I inspected the hive last Sunday expecting to see frames filled with fresh comb. (Remember a couple weeks how I mentioned my affinity with the virtue of patience?) Boy was I disappointed! Not a bit of fresh comb to be found. What I did find, however, were busy bees covering two full frames with plenty of bees roaming all around the other parts of the hive. I also discovered how much heavier a frame can be when it has honey in it. At best my frames have a wee bit of honey, so I can’t wait to see how a full one feels.

Looking at one of the frames.

I also observed a bit of packed pollen in another corner.

The area circled in red is packed pollen, and, I think, the area circled in blue is capped honey. The other closed cells, capped with a lumpy looking dark orangish-brown covering is capped brood (baby bees). There might also be three cells of uncapped brood (baby bees that haven’t pupated yet) in the three open cells directly above the red circled area.
The shiny fluid inside these cells is honey that has yet to be dehydrated to the appropriate level. Once that occurs, the bees will cap it with a protective wax covering for storage until it’s needed later in the season.

Again I could not detect eggs. Along with the lack of fresh comb I was concerned as the bees seem to have little room for more egg-laying and brood production. So I posted a picture and posed the question on the San Diego Beekeepers Association Facebook page to see if there was anything more to be done. Two key points emerged: 1) since my colony is so small there just aren’t enough workers to tend to all the eggs and babies were the queen to lay more eggs. These are highly intelligent creatures! Maybe not in the same way humans consider intelligence, but there is an awareness here and the queen will only lay eggs to the extent that there are workers to care for them, and 2) it is possible that we are getting into what’s known as “the dearth” when there is less blooming so queens reduce their egg production since there is not as much to eat. There’s that intelligence in nature again!

It seems that my bees are doing fine. After conferring with my beekeeper friend, I added two sticks a little wider than a bee to each side of the feeder to lift it above the cover and give the bees access to more drinking areas on the lid.

Sticks inserted under feeder to lift it above the inner cover and give additional access to feeding holes in the lid

It made a huge difference! They had previously eaten only approximately 16 ounces in a week. When I checked it on Tuesday they had consumed another 16 ounces in just two days. My hope is that now that they have more food, and more bees emerging soon, there will be fresh comb on the next inspection in two weeks. We’ll see! Thanks for following along on this adventure.

It’s always exciting to check on the progress of the hive. Once we removed the feeder and inner cover we saw that they had devoured all of the pollen patty, but had not eaten much of the sugar syrup. Moreover, there were clearly a lot more bees than with which we started. When we first captured the swarm, I barely had one side of a frame and now there are bees on two frames, plus they are moving out to a third.

Me carefully pulling out a frame.

Below is a comparison of one frame a week after requeening (left), and two weeks later on the 16th (right). These are two different frames, but it gives an idea of the increase in bees. The frame on the right is one my friend gave me that had capped brood (baby bees going through their process from egg to larva to adult bee), which you can still see a few of on the frame. They’re the 15 or so reddish-brown spots that you see on the comb towards the middle-top where there aren’t many bees.

They still haven’t built much new comb, and they have very little honey stored, so that is a bit worrisome. I’ve been feeding sugary syrup using a black, plastic jug type thing with a small metal screw-top lid with holes in it. Food in the black plastic may last a little longer before growing algae or fermenting, so it may be better for the bees, but it’s harder to assess their use of it. You may have noticed something black on top of my hive in the video on my last post…that was the feeder.

Since the hive inspection, my friend gave me a different feeder to try that has more area available from which the bees can feed. I like this one a bit better as it is made from clear plastic and has measurements on the side so I can gauge how much they are drinking, if at all. The clear plastic may grow algae or ferment faster than the black plastic, but once I have a better idea how much they’re eating, I can adjust and not fill it as full so as to avoid spoilage. Also, since it sits flat on the inner cover, I avoid crushing bees as I did when I checked the other one where the lid fit into the hole in the inner cover. In case you are curious, here are pictures of the two types:

There are also other types of feeders that I have yet to try. I’m hoping that feeding the bees is just a short-term thing I’ll need to do until next spring and that beyond that, my colony will be self-sustaining. We’ll see!

The rest of the inspection went well. I haven’t been able to spot eggs as they are really tiny, like a grain of rice, and my eyes are old so that even with my glasses and in full sun, I have yet to be able to confidently say I have seen one.

I can though see the brood (bee larvae) and cappings indicating that new baby bees are growing.

I’ve also found the queen each time, which is pretty easy to do with her bright blue marking. I’ve noticed that her marking is fading a bit and there is a gap that wasn’t there in the beginning. Maybe it’s a result of her entourage cleaning her? In any case, all looks well with the hive. I’ll do another inspection where I remove the frames in two to three weeks.

Long live the Queen!

Have I mentioned that patience is not a virtue I possess? Well….

Thursday, following a hive check, we moved the hive another 2 – 3 feet; this was the second move. I had pre-measured to the new location and had done some cursory, albeit insufficient, leveling of the area. We moved them late in the day, but while there were still foragers out. Immediately, we could see bees go to the old hive location and then slowly circle about until they found the new location. This is, in my opinion, why the rule of thumb states that it is safe to move up to three feet in one occurrence. Three feet seems to be in their immediate search radius and they find the new location with little wasted effort. I still placed a few apple twigs and leaves along the entrance to indicate that things had changed to any bees who later left the hive.

In my preparations, I realized that it would require another three moves to get to the final location, and it was going to take me through an area with a lot of vegetation that might provide the ants with another access. My friend the beekeeper reminded me to remove any touching vegetation, which cost the adjacent toyon a nice bunch of soon-to-be berries. Those pesky ants again! My new supply of Optigard is on the way, but I don’t know that we’ll ever be completely free of ants so long as I refuse to treat the property. I’m just not interested in the resulting collateral damage to the rest of the insect population that comes with more extensive pest control.

Seeing how the bees seemed to find the new location fairly quickly and in my impatience to get the hive re-situated, I decided on a simple experiment. Last night, I waited until it was dark and there was no activity at the hive. My husband and I then moved the hive the full remaining distance to the final location, placing new branches, this time toyon (from the earlier clipping) and sage, along the entrance to partially block the openings.

I chose Saturday night because I had ample time today (Sunday) to get up early and watch the bee response. I also would be able to move the hive back to the prior location they were completely lost. I woke up at 6 am and rushed out to observe the results. Watch the video to see for yourself! (I’m still getting the hang of this blogging thing, so forgot to video right away) Spoiler alert: stable branches are critical.

You may have noticed my handy new hive stand in the photo from last week’s post. I could barely contain my excitement when I found the boxes from Dadant on my doorstep! Usually, their shipments arrive within a week, but due to the apocalypse things are delayed and they indicate on their site a delivery time of up to three weeks. My shipment took just under that.

The hive stand was super easy to assemble: two sides that form the legs and are joined by two crossbars, one in front and another in back, by a bolt on each side. I simply attached the bolts, tightened with a wrench, and it was ready to use. It’s very lightweight and looks nice. I painted a little Tanglefoot around each of the legs and haven’t had a problem with ants since.

Along with the stand, I had ordered a smoker, bee brush, and a beesuit with helmet and veil. Or had I? The site clearly states that a helmet does not come with all versions of the suit, but I had wavered a number of times on the exact one that I wanted and I apparently forgot about the helmet in my excitement over finally reaching a decision. To those who know me well, this will not come as a surprise since I tend to over-research and over-analyse many decisions, particularly those with a monetary cost.

I suppose this demonstrates one of the disadvantages of online ordering. Had I been in a brick and mortar shop, I like to think that I would have noticed the missing of this from my basket. As it was, here I was with no helmet to hold the veil in place, which I wanted to wear while moving the bees since I thought this the action that was most likely to infuriate them and I’m pretty sure I don’t want to be stung in the face. I once swam into a jellyfish and had tentacles all across the left side of my face; it was neither an enjoyable experience nor one I’d like to have again, so I’m a little cautious when it comes to things that might sting me there.

I’m also not one to let a minor equipment issue keep me from my plan, so I decided that a baseball cap would work just as well for the time being as a helmet for holding the veil in place. I discovered that it worked fine for simple tasks like moving the hive, but not so well when doing more extensive work like a hive inspection. So a quick trip to City Farmers Nursery, who carries an array of beekeeping supplies, including a small selection of suits and helmets, was placed onto the weekend agenda.

So I decided last night to begin the slow process of moving my hive and today is the first day in the first of three temporary locations. The rule of thumb when moving bees is either move them within three feet or move them at least three miles. The other option is to not follow the rule of thumb, but then I’d need to close them in for three days and I don’t want to do that now when it’s so hot as I fear I wouldn’t have sufficient ventilation for them.

I thought I’d selected a good location for the hive where it receives morning sun, some shade from the afternoon sun, and protection from wind. Turns out that it is also a high traffic area for the birds that come to use the feeders and the top is getting covered in bird poop. I don’t think the bees mind, but I certainly do. There are other reasons to move, which I’ll discuss more in later posts.

The total distance I want to move is about 12 feet, so I’ll need to break that into four smaller moves spread out over a few weeks. I was a little concerned, wondering how they’d figure out that their home had been moved. Hives don’t normally just walk away, so it didn’t seem to be something a bee would simply adjust to naturally. Applying the idea to us, what would you do if you woke up one morning, stepped out your front door, only to find your surroundings had completely changed? How quickly would you notice?

Wanting to understand these fascinating creatures a little better, I did some quick research online regarding their orientation process and how they know where home is. One suggestion was to place branches in the area of the hive entrance to trigger the bees to reorient as they would naturally if a branch or something fell over a hive that was in a tree. I broke some sage flower stalks from a nearby plant and placed these over the entrance. I’m not sure this was necessary since I only moved them about two and a half feet, but I wanted to be cautious and considerate of my bees.

This morning I’ve kept a close eye on the hive. Major fail on my part: the sage stalks touched the ground allowing those pesky ants another access point. I tidied up my branches so that they no longer reach the ground, but still covers the various points of entry so the bees notice something is different. I’ve noticed them exiting and then turning towards the hive and doing their fast zig-zag flight around the exit, similar to what I saw them do the first day they were here and how they seem to investigate me when I’m working around the hive. I assume this is them reorienting.

Sage branches placed over the entrance to signal a change to the bees.

I’ve also noticed more activity and more bees returning with full pollen baskets than before. I’m not sure why this is. Perhaps you have some ideas! Could it be related to the move? Or the warm weather? Or just the time since the hive has been established? I hope we’ll learn more over the next few weeks.

This was probably inevitable, but I had hoped I wouldn’t need to address ants for a little while. However, I discovered on Monday morning that ants were trying to invade my hive, likely because we had added that frame with brood, which also had some uncapped honey, there is the top feeder holding about a gallon of sugary sweet syrup, and we had shifted the bricks around when changing the bottom board. That evening, I reinforced the diatomaceous earth moat surrounding the hive, hoping it would be sufficient.

This is the clipped video link. The full unedited video is at:

Now, there is some debate as to the efficacy of diatomaceous earth in the battle against ants. Some biologists say the science isn’t there. Regardless, I’ve used it since we first moved here, mainly in the moats for my hummingbird feeders. They are intended to be filled with water, but here in southern California, water evaporates too quickly and diatomaceous earth is a simple alternative. Wherever I’ve used it when the ants have attacked my hummingbird feeders, they quickly cease and desist. So that was what I first turned to when I needed something to protect the hive, and I now have a fairly solid white area around and under it. Yet the ants are still finding gaps to get through, as evidenced by a few of them around the entrance and a number of them on the slide-out bottom board. Bonus from my checks of the bottom board this week has been evidence of baby bees from the caps that are removed and land on the board as the new bees emerge.

Along with the diatomaceous earth, I also use a bait gel called Optigard, which I place along any trails and the ants take it back to the colony. I like it because it is ant-specific and doesn’t affect the other insects. I’ve been using that for the past two years, mainly in the front yard, and have seen the ant numbers drop. Unfortunately, it’s so effective that I haven’t needed to use it much this year until now and need to restock.

I decided to just do a fairly simple check on the status of the bee food at the end of the week, since my beesuit and, more importantly, hat and veil have yet to arrive. This involved removing the inner cover and feeder so I could see the frames. I took out a couple empty frames on the east side, then decided that I might be pushing things when I had neither a smoker to calm the bees, nor protective clothing to properly shield me should I anger them. I was happy to see that the bees are still in the middle of the hive, and there now is much more activity on two frames instead of just one.

I had checked the feeder a couple times this week already, and in the process crushed a few of my already limited number of bees. So I was particularly careful this time in my technique of removing and replacing the inner cover. I left it open for a bit while I prepared more syrup, and came back to the bees having cleaned the remnants of their compatriots from the frames and moved back down inside. For the few that were still loitering along the top, I lit a sage branch and turned it into an improv smoker. I don’t have many bees, so it was adequate for my needs.

My husband, who has been kind enough to photograph and video this whole adventure, captured a great image of the bees as they gathered near the opening on the inner cover. I sent the picture to my beekeeper friend who agreed that there appears to be at least one fuzzy-headed youngster in the picture. Can you find her?

Can you spot the new-bee?

Today was the big day! The great reveal. Had the queen been released and had my bees accepted her? My friend the beekeeper arrived with another frame to swap, this time of brood, and a pollen patty to help nourish the bees while they got themselves started with this new home. We lit the smoker, made our plan for the inspection, and donned our veils. We opted not to wear full beekeeping regalia as it’s a little warm here in southern California, and we were feeling brave. I wore gardening gloves and hoped as I got going that I wouldn’t regret this choice when I realised how much skin was revealed once I started really moving around.

First, we replaced my bottom board with a new one that has a slide out piece that I can regularly check as a more gentle way of indirectly looking into the workings of my hive. Various things fall on it for me to see whenever I pull it out: bee parts, flakes of wax, or parasites. All providing useful information about my bees without requiring me to disturb them.

Next, we began the actual inspection. I removed the upper hive body and feeder, then carefully removed the inner cover. The bees had moved to the middle of the hive. I removed and inspected three empty frames, making enough room in the hive to shift the other frames for easier viewing. I’m still pretty clumsy and learning how best to handle the frames. I’m a clutz at the best of times and feel like I’m all thumbs when handling the frames, but am sure I’ll improve in confidence over time.

Bees are still mainly on one frame, with a few on a second. There hasn’t been a serious expansion in drawn comb, but we were able to see what appear to be eggs in a few cells and Queen Aliénor roaming around one corner with a few dedicated attendants. Success! The blue marking dot sure does make it easy to find her! It also helps that there aren’t many bees.

Queen Aliénor la Bleue

We placed the frame of brood from my friend’s hive between the two frames where the bees were, removed the queen cage and rubber band, replaced the frames, placed a pollen patty on the top, and closed it all up after checking that they had adequate sugar syrup in the feeder.

Thankfully, these bees are rather mellow and haven’t been inclined to sting, other than that first day. I had one dodgy moment when placing the pollen patty on the top and a bee was rather focused on my face, zigzagging within inches of it. I had the foresight not to swipe at my face or the bee, and instead chose to walk away for a moment to regroup. The bee moved on and no one was harmed.

The morning after placing my hive, I spoke with my friend the beekeeper. There was activity in and out of the hive and she recommended that I carefully remove one side of the entrance reducer we had fashioned out of cardboard the night before. I cautiously slid it out only to find that bees were hiding in the flaps. I tried to encourage them gently out of the way, but apparently I wasn’t as gentle as I’d thought. As I’m on the phone with my friend, I suddenly experienced an extreme burning sensation in my lower arm and called out, “It’s stinging me; it’s stinging me” like a lunatic only to look down to see a bee attempting to escape while some of its innards remain in my arm. I was only wearing a t-shirt and sweatpants, not appropriately garbed for working my bees, and was surprised to be stung because didn’t they know I was trying to help them. Well, of course they didn’t know that; the bee that stung only knew that I was disturbing them and they were likely already plenty upset over being moved the night before.

I could see the tiny venom sac lodged in my arm and removed it, although not correctly and made the mistake of squeezing it in the process. The proper way is to lightly scrape it from the base of the skin so as not to further squeeze the venom into the wound. I’ve been stung three other times, but I think this was the only time where I received the full sting experience. My first sting was when sometime before adolescence, when rolling down a grassy hill was one of the most fun things one could do. It was also a great way to get stung by a bee in clover. My second and third stings were in preparation for the Vineman half Ironman and they were just glancing stings, over very quickly and not terribly painful. But I did stop wearing that purple bike helmet shortly thereafter.

The burning sensation died down after a few minutes, but it itched over the following few days and ultimately even bruised a little. I tend to have an over-reactive immune system that swells and reacts significantly over any small bite. My husband found the entire event amusing when I recounted it to him. His sage wisdom, “Leave the bees alone and they won’t sting you.”

First morning after collection from the valve box
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