This afternoon, after pounding in posts for the garden, the clouds started rolling up for our daily storm, so I decided that would be a good time to stop, suit up, and go check on the 30K or so girls that joined us on the ranch yesterday. Those of you following this story recall that yesterday I took two frames, with clinging bees, from one of the other packaged hives. Today, there were more bees in the third hive than before, so some of those had stuck around. However, I wasn’t satisfied with the numbers, as this is definitely a weak hive at this point, so it was time to pull a frame of brood from one of the two established hives. I picked the stronger one, because the bees were hanging out on the front of the hive (more about that later).
After opening the top, removing the inner cover, top super, and queen excluder, I was into the top brood box. Bees use propolis to seal their hives, sealing up against drafts and whatnot. That stuff is everywhere, and if you decide to keep bees, my recommendation is to always wear old clothes, or at least “working in the garden” type clothes: propolis is sticky, always will be, and is the ultimate superglue, impossible to fully get off of anything. Why does this matter? Because the tails of the frames, where they rest on the hive body, are sticky as hell with the stuff, and it took me a great deal of effort to pop a frame out to examine it. I checked for the queen, and didn’t see her – this hive went queenless last year, and then likely killed off the new queen I’d bought, so we’re talking about an unmarked queen in this hive, making it difficult to spot her. Hopefully she was not on this frame, because I took it, bees and all, to the weaker hive and put it there, swapping a fresh empty frame into the stronger hive for them to build.
This frame is about as perfect as it can be at this time in the season: a honey band across the top like a rainbow, a bit of pollen on one side under that, and then below that, brood, both capped and uncapped. Toward the bottom you can see some larger cells; these are drone (male) cells, which are larger than the worker honeybees, all of which are female. The drones server no purpose except to mate with a queen, and typically get kicked out of the hive at the end of the season. Drone cells/larvae are also used by the bees as a way to trap varroa mites: the mites like to go into the larger cells, and the bees can then uncap the cell, take the larva and the mites, and toss them out of the hive. It’s very clever. The drone cells tend to be at the bottom area of the frame or actually on the bottom – meaning when you pull a frame like this, sometimes it will split open drone cells as it did here. I scraped those all off as they’re not needed in the weaker hive, and that’s gooey grossness for most people.
So this frame, bees and all, went into the weaker hive. Maybe the adult bees will stay, maybe not – they are aware of the pheromones of their own queen, which are not present in this weaker hive – but the brood does not care where they are when they emerge from their cells, and will accept the soon to be released queen in this hive as their own, turning it into a productive colony of bees, still weaker than I’d like, but stronger than just a few hundred bees. I’m hoping that will be the case, and hoping that the transported bees and the bees in that hive don’t start a turf war with lots of casualties.
When I go back out after hiving the bees, I take a peek under the cover to make sure the bees are still there. Today, a problem: the third hive doesn’t have many bees in it, and since I didn’t see any swarm balls anywhere, and since the other two are very busy indeed, my guess is that bees from the third hive drifted and attached themselves to the first two. Since they’re not used to the pheromones of the queen with which they’re shipped, they’re not the little loyalists they will be later. The first photo is the first hive, and the second is the third hive I did this afternoon.
The latter should look a lot more like the former, but alas, the third package was apparently full of traitors. So, since they have no real attachment right now to the hives they’re in, I took two frames with some bees from the first hive and swapped them with empty frames from the third. If tomorrow when I pop it open, the third hive is still short on bees, I’ll open one of the two established hives and take out a frame or two of brood from that one and swap them for two empties from this third package hive. Since the nights are warm, there shouldn’t be any issues with keeping the brood warm, and they’ll have some new bees hatching out to replace the traitorous bitches that decided to cast their lot with one of the other two hives. I also pulled up some grass and stuffed it in front of each hive entrance, to try to keep the girls at home for a bit to get used to their own hives.
And the fourth picture: what the world looks like when you break open the top of a hive.
Once the package is as empty as it will get from shaking it, it’s time to button up the hive: I center the frames in the hive by pushing them in toward the center – gently, everything is done gently to avoid squashing bees! – try to get as many bees off the edges as possible, then put the inner cover on, using a side to side motion as I lower it in order to get any slow to move bees out of the way.
Then the top cover goes on and I set the empty package on the ground in front of the opening. The rest of the bees will make their way into the hive on their own, as they finish cleaning up the sugar syrup from the mesh of the package.
After they’re all in and secure, I leave them alone for a couple of hours, then go back to give them a quick check, mostly to ensure they haven’t absconded from their new home, and that the remainder of the bees have moved themselves into their respective hives. It doesn’t take long for the packages to be just empty boxes.
Those wooden covers on the top of each package of bees is not just there to keep the bees in. It’s there to cover the syrup can (which feeds the bees while they’re in transit) and to hold the queen cage in place (through which the attendants feed her until they manage to release her). Pop that wooden cover off, and you get this: one syrup can, and the silver tab there is the tab of the queen cage.
One of the most difficult parts of the entire operation is getting the syrup can out of the box. I use the wooden cover to slide across the bottom of the can as I lift it out to force the bees back into the package, and cover the hole. With that out of the way, I grab the queen cage tab, shake it a bit to get the ball of bees off it, and lift her out, then cover the hole again.
After removing the cork that covers the candy plugging the hole in the queen cage – the bees will eat through this and release her – I hang the queen cage on the frames in the middle of the hive body. Push those frames together and remove a couple on the side, then spray the bees in the package with some sugar syrup to keep them busy, and it’s time to dump them: bang the package on the ground to clump them, them upend them, remove the cover, and they drop right into the hive in a massive fountain of bees.
They immediately begin crawling up the frames on either side.
This bee apparently latched onto the package and stayed there for the entire trip from Georgia. She was there when the (allergic to bees) UPS driver unloaded the package. She was still there when I moved the 10 pound package into the garage for the bees to have to some quiet time and was still there when I toted the 10 pounds of bees out to the orchard to hive them this afternoon. Very determined.
Eight 40 pound blocks moved into place: done. Three hive bodies placed: done. Eight frames into each hive body: done. Two inner covers and top covers and one redneck jerry-rigged top cover in place because I’m one short and delivery isn’t until Friday: done. With any luck, the UPS driver will be keen to get the bees off his/her truck before it’s time to go visit the pulmonologist mid-afternoon so at least I can look them over before I have to take off. We still will not install them until late in the day, and put the entrance reducers in place to help reduce the potential of the bees absconding before they get used to their new homes. Next spring, we (I) will do a better job of managing the bees and watching for signs of swarming so we can split hives before half of them take off for greener pastures. But that’s in the future, and this is now: I’ve received a request for LOTS of pics this time, so we’ll have someone on the camera(s) during the installation snapping away.
Such as it is – or isn’t. We had a couple of days of lows in the 20s, but that’s what passes for winter here. Today, we maxed out at 88 in the sun in the front garden. Each year is getting hotter than the last, and still people deny that global warming is an actual event, occurring in their lifetimes.
Much of my winter will be spent redoing the frames around the farm, to get rid of the wood that takes a beating and then warps or otherwise falls apart with roofing metal that will probably outlive me. This week, I spent two days redoing the herb garden frames after spending three days viciously ill with some kind of crap. After two days, the frames themselves are completed, and now need to be finished off by topping them with a good soil mix, relaying the irrigation lines, and bringing in some fresh mulch to freshen what’s there and cover the now bare spots left by the rearrangement. Oh, and putting some seed in, because while we may get a couple of random days of freeze between now and spring, it looks like it’s going to be more springlike than winterlike for us moving forward.
We had one hive of bees abscond, but the other two are well, for now. I’ve ordered up two new packages for the spring (to be delivered in May), and will need to build a new set of brood boxes for the second package since we have the now empty brood boxes for the other package. I burned the frames from the vanished hive as a precautionary measure. After the flames were out and I was scraping up the ash and pins from the frames, I saw some bees flying around the pools of solidified beeswax.
For now, I’m ill with what seems to be a relapse of whatever I had earlier in the week. I’ve had the flu vaccine because my doctor always bugs me about it – I’m now in the “at risk” group thanks to (fuck!) cancer and the effects of radiation and chemo – but it surely feels like the flu. Maybe I’m in that 35% where it turns out it isn’t effective. Whatever it is, it needs to go, because there’s a lot of work to be done, seeds to start, and a season to prepare for, even if the season appears to already be here.
Not pretty. On the left, my (unstung) lower left leg. On the right, my (now thrice) stun lower right leg. If not for the farmer’s tan, the casual observer might think these limbs belong to two different people.
This morning before heading to the NOC to rack a new server for someone, I moved a couple of blocks into place back in the orchard to act as the stand for the front hive. That one is being moved to the rear after I discovered that the hive was completely shaded all day long in the original position – and that’s no good. It’s an invitation for hive beetles and for the bees to spend far too much time keeping the brood warm (no good now that we’re heading into whatever kind of winter we’ll have around here). This evening, mom and I suited up and transported the hive to the orchard. The bees were not terribly happy about any of it. I got stung twice, both times on the same foot I got stung previously: one directly on the achilles and one just slightly above the ankle, on the interior side of my foot. This even though I was suited up as the ankle cuff rode up a bit and the bees that had landed/fallen on my boot just crawled right up and let me know what they thought of it all. Hopefully they’ll be stronger now that they’ll have a lot more sunshine to work with, as this hive is definitely a laggard compared to the other two. The other two are destined to be moved out into the open orchard as well, so we’ll have a nice line of beehives back there when all is said and done.