Beekeepers Associations and Groups · Lazer Creek Apiary · Pests - General · Queen Bee

Getting ready for spring

Frames - February 2018
400 Frames waiting for foundation!

The weather hasn’t been conducive to trips to the bee yard the past two weekends, but that doesn’t mean we’re not thinking of our bees.    On days when the temperature in the garage has been above freezing, Hubby has been busy putting frames together in preparation for another year of growth in the apiary.   I’ll help with the foundation just as soon as I get a break from grading, but as soon as I finish one batch of essays, students write the next batch.  This will be the story of my life for the next couple of months, but I will go visit the bees next weekend!

Hubby has been reading a  book about rearing better queens and one of the suggestions is to include frames with starter strips as comb that the bees draw “freeform” apparently leads to bigger queens.    Old comb with all the cocoon remnants in cells can also negatively affect the size of queens — or the bees have to extend the queen cell out and float the egg into the larger area in a sea of royal jelly.   All in all, we’re going to try some new things this spring.    We’ve also been watching many videos on YouTube to get a variety of ideas.   One guy we really like is Ian from Steppler Farms in Ontario.   While he clearly has different weather conditions to us, his experiences are relevant most of the time.   We missed this month’s Mid-State Beekeeper meeting this month because of a conflict with work, but we also really look forward to getting to the next one and learning more from people in our area.   January’s presentation about fire-ants was enlightening and fascinating — and it will change the way we apply fire ant chemicals.

I’ve always noticed the first signs of spring, but now I notice them differently.   That red haze around some maple-trees — that now means pollen and nectar!   A dust of pollen on the car means bee food in addition to allergy flare-ups.  Bee-keeping does indeed change us.

Leveled embankment
Leveled embankment

Before beekeeping, I would have seen the newly leveled area along our driveway as prime land for daylilies and maybe a rose bush or two.   Now I have dreams of buckwheat and clover to provide early food for the bees.  Instead of having a greenhouse full of tomato seedlings, I currently have basil, rosemary and lavender growing.   These plants repel moths, mosquitoes, house-flies, and some beetles, so I plan to plant them around the new hive stands.  Of course, they are also nectar and pollen sources and the rosemary and lavender repel snakes.  That alone shows how much I’ve changed — protecting the hives has become more important than keeping snakes at bay.   Of course, we haven’t seen a rattlesnake in a while, so my priorities might well change with the next sighting!

I don’t know which of us is more impatient to get out of the city, but I doubt the dog will need any more encouragement than the two of us next weekend.   All the hives were active a couple of weeks ago, but we have no idea what’s going on inside them.   My new pollen feeder was popular, so hopefully the queens have been ramping up production and all those frames in the garage will disappear into the new boxes that await paint.  Spring is just about here and I can’t wait to get back to the bees!



Hive equipment · Lazer Creek Apiary · Queen Bee · Supplemental Feeding

Pollen Substitute and Regicide

I guess I need to start by telling you that the pollen substitute did not cause the regicide — I was an accessory to that crime, but I have no idea of how hubby actually disposed of the evil queen once I helped catch her!    We have another hive that has just become more and more unreasonable over time, and they now go straight for the upper thighs when we even approach them, never mind get started with a hive inspection.   We had purchased a new queen — one that was purported to be from a calm strain and also a strain that is very good at dealing with Varroa Mites.   After we removed the old queen, we waited 24 hours to re-queen, placed her in a queen introduction frame, sprayed the frame and the frames in the hive with Honey B Healthy to mask her pheromones — and they still killed her.     Talk about frustrating.   We’ve had other evil hives turn nice, so we haven’t given up on them yet, but I have had quite a few choice words for them over the past month.

Queen Introduction Frame
Queen Introduction Frame

The production of new brood has fallen off in all of our hives over the past month, and we really want to build them up before the fall flowers (Goldenrod and White Milkweed, mainly) start to bloom.    We’ve noticed that all of the hives have a lot of nectar and honey stored, but very little pollen, so we decided to give the pollen substitute another try.

Bees Collect Pollen Substitute
Bees Collect Pollen Substitute

Now, when we put this stuff out in spring, the bees showed no interest whatsoever.   This time, they are flocking to it like the dog to canned food!   We already saw an increase in bee bread in the frames of hives we inspected yesterday.    I placed the first batch in bird feeder that gave the bees plenty of access at the bottom, but provided shelter from rain.  I only put a small amount in and the bees crawled through the holes, through the inch high pollen, and became trapped in the feeder.   I understand why a little better now that we’ve watched them roll the powder around, roll around in the powder, and generally behave like little dung beetles rolling the powder up into little balls which they then take home with them.  By the end of the first day,  they had moved all the remaining powder to one end of the cookie sheet — and there was not much remaining.

Of course, my English hive has to be different and they are showing little interest in the powder that I laid out in a tray especially for them up in their private garden!   I did experiment with some supplement with sugar water and giving them a protein shake — they loved that.   Maybe they are just spoiled.  Maybe they like soup.   They were in the supplement dish this morning trying to get to the rain water-supplement mush.

When we were updating our hive inspection spreadsheet last night, we started a new page to track available resources by date.   Hubby had noted last year that the pollen death starts around the same time that the pink and white Crepe Myrtles bloom in our garden.    There was also a nectar dearth last year because of the drought, but this year the bees keep bringing in nectar, but not enough pollen.   We now know to watch for this next year and maybe get the pollen substitute out sooner.

We continue to battle small hive beetles, but we’ve cut the brush back from around the hives again and we know that helps.   I plan to put some landscape fabric down to minimize what can grow back, and we’ve also discussed relocating the hives over time.  The area right behind the hives is so very uneven, with trenches that are above knee-height, that we can’t bush hog in there until we do some leveling and clear some of the timber-harvesting debris.  We can’t continue to weed eat that much, but that’s what it takes to keep the blackberries and vines at bay.     The hives that are coming back from the sunflower field we definitely be in the other cleared lane and we’ll put some DE and landscape fabric down under the hive stands before we even go get them.   There is still so much to do and there is so little summer left — we really need to spend some time panning for gold down at the creek so that we can stay here forever!


Bee Rescue/Removal · Pests - Bees · Queen Bee

Happy People: Happy Bees

Last night, as we were deciding which trees were ready to fend for themselves at the farm, hubby spotted another swarm of bees in our yard.  Once again, they were behind the trealis and a fence post. The poor honeysuckle is still recovering from the last swarm extraction, and this time the two grapevines got to share the pain!   (I should know in a couple of weeks whether or not grapevines can be rooted from “cuttings”!)

Swarm – April 7

These bees were quite cooperative.  Hubby scooped a couple of handfuls into a NUC, I squirted some Honey B Healthy onto the inner cover, we gave them a stick to use as a bridge and they pagenented right on in.  By the time we’d checked the other hives, only two lost bees were still wandering around on the fence.

One of our other splits now has the fattest queen I have ever seen, so that NUC made the trip to the farm and the bees are already bringing in loads of white pollen.  We moved them up to an 8-frame so that they could get over all of their confusion about the new location at once and they seem to be as happy as clams.    The queen cells in the sister NUC have hatched, but we didn’t see a queen.  Hopefully she will find her way home in a couple of days.

The other hives at the farm are all active, but we didn’t check them today.   Hubby is digging more tenches for water lines and I planted some tomatoes and thyme.   We are really curious to see whether the diatomaceous-earth we sprinkled on the ground two weeks ago has had any impact on the small hive beetles.  It’s supposed to kill them when they go back onto the ground to pupate.   Now that the hives are stronger, we aren’t seeing as much of a problem as when we came out of that really cold snap, but we’d love to see no beetles at all.   It still seems like having the hive in a sunny spot works wonders, but that is going to make hive checks challenging in July.

The dog is chewing on a pine-cone, hubby is working hard, and I’m enjoying sitting out in the 72 degree sunshine.  It’s amazing to sit here at this time of day and see just how many insects are flying around at any given time and at how many spider webs are catching the sunlight.   Even with the sound of the Ditch Witch, the farm is so peaceful and just a good place to be.   We are just so very lucky and happy to be here.

Bees · Queen Bee

Spring is back – maybe?

Farm hive, March 2017

We were so happy to see that our farm hives are winning the battle against small hive beetles when we were down there last weekend.  The Beetle Blaster traps are working well, although I still struggle to remove them without spilling at least a few drops of oil in the hive.   Our bees are propolizing like crazy right now, so the traps end up firmly glued in.  If I don’t loosen them up enough, they get stuck and then spill.  If I slide my hive tool along the sides too deeply, I tear a hole in the side.  Maybe I just need more practice.

All of the hives at the farm have gained strength now that the bees are not spending all their time chasing beetles and there is a plethora of nectar available to them.  We took one of our older hives from the city down there to see if the bees are any happier there.  The hive has served us well and the old queen laid many eggs when food was available to the hive.  The problem is, they have become increasingly mean.  Inspecting them was no fun at all and once in a while one would “get a bee in its bonnet” (bad use of an idiom, I know) and chase us into the house.  I don’t know if they feel threatened by my long hair, but angry bees often became tangled up in it, which made both them and me more angry!  We decided they could no longer live in the city.   The hive replaced the queen a couple of weeks ago, so bees from the new queen could well be more friendly.  If not, we’ll replace her with a queen from one of our gentle hives.   If hubby had had his way, the old queen would have been replaced in January, if not last fall.  I am becoming more practical and believe I will eventually be able to see an aging queen as disposable, but I’m wasn’t there in January.  After being chased across the yard a few times over the last few weeks, I may be there now!

Our city hives came through the most recent cold snap well.  Only a few were using the feeder buckets last weekend, but the buckets were crowded yesterday.  Once it warms up, I’ll put hive top feeders back on our new NUCs so that they can rebuild their stores.  The first swarm capture was a little low on bees last weekend, and we had queenless and broodless bees in one of the queen castle sections.   We combined them by stacking a second NUC body on top of the first and adding the lonely bees so that they could keep the beautiful new brood warm and have a queen to worship (or boss around.)  The NUC with the bees from the second swarm capture had 3 full frames of bees last weekend and the queen was busy searching cells.  There wasn’t any capped brood last weekend, and I have a hard time seeing eggs with my bi-focals and the veil, but she’s healthy and active so we expect to see something when we do our next check.

We also have three batches of bees in the queen castle that had hatched queen cells last weekend, but we didn’t see the queens.  It was a beautiful day, so they may have been out mating.  I so much want to go look, but it’s not warm enough yet.

Hubby will check the farm hives tomorrow, weather permitting.  He’s helping his brother with some projects today while I’m stuck here with a crate full of essays to grade!   So much of what I planted in fall is coming up right now that I really want to go to the farm every weekend, but sometimes we just have to stay home and get chores done!

Bees · Gardening · Queen Bee

A castle fit for a queen…

My husband went to a class about producing queen bees on Saturday, and came back talking about a queen castle.  Of course, I had no idea what he was talking about, but now I do.  A queen castle is an oversized bee box with entries on every side.  There are slots on the inside that allow you to divide the box into four segments, each of which is accessible from a separate entrance.  It’s probably a whole lot easier to look at the picture from the link above than to follow anything I might describe!  I’d show you the inside, but I forgot to take a picture before we put it in use.

As this is a queen castle, I wanted to paint it in a way that was fit for a queen — or for multiple queens.  For me that meant gold paint.  I really like the way all four sides turned out, but the design with the honeycomb is definitely impractical for frequent use.  I love it, but I used an entire tube of paint and it took far more time than I really had to spend on it.  Still, it stands out and it was both fun and relaxing.

We decided to label each entry to make talking about what’s going on with each section a little easier.   Now that we have pretty much everything painted for this year, we’ve decided to color code the boxes when we add or repaint, also to make communication clearer and easier.

The first of the new bees will be here Saturday evening, and hubby is out setting up hives at new locations that are still close enough to home for us to maintain them, but far enough away to minimize competition for resources.   We’ll need to drive back and forth from the farm and home next week so that we can keep checking on the new-bees.  It would have been a little easier had they arrived on their original due date, but nature has its own time table and we are learning to be flexible.

Another thing we are trying this year is planting vegetables in straw bales.  If this works, we’ll plant our first veggies at the farm this way.  We may even try moving these bales to the farm at some point, but I suspect that will be impractical.  It will take us a while to soften up the packed clay and condition the soil on our future garden plot, and this appears to be a solution.  I don’t want to go a entire summer without fresh tomatoes, peppers, or squash, especially now that I know how easy it is to make and can salsa!

Last week was also the week that our 43 trees arrived from Arbor Day, so I spent two evenings planting trees in pots and setting them up where they will get enough sun and plenty of water from the sprinklers.   The daylillies are burgeoning and the trees I am growing from seed are still hanging in there, although my tomato seedlings are currently bigger than my magnolia seedlings.  In retrospect, having to make multiple trips to and from the farm is not such a bad thing as we are rapidly running out of space to store all the things that are sooner or later heading south!