Lazer Creek Apiary · Products and Vendors · Supplemental Feeding

Preparing for Winter

Enlgish Hive
English Hive – October 22, 2017

It’s only 62 degrees this morning, but bees in the English hive are already out foraging.  It’s no wonder that these bees are well set up for the cold weather that is just around the corner;  of all our hives, they have the most honey stored.    This is our go-to hive for requeening because the colony has always been friendly, the queens have always been great producers, the bees are hygienic,  and the bees are the first out the door to forage.

At the other end of the spectrum, we have a hive that has no stored resources despite all the goldenrod that surrounds the apiary.   Our records show that they haven’t stored any resources since we brought them back from the sunflower patch — and they had nothing then.    If I’d been able to find the queen yesterday, I’d have combined them with another weak but productive hive.  Those guys have increased their numbers by a full frame of bees and they have nectar and bee bread stored.   I can’t risk combining them without eliminating the lazy-genetics queen, so they have two weeks to pick up their game!   We put a candy board on the hive yesterday (and reduced the entrance down to a single bee width), so maybe that will help them.   Maybe it will make them more dependent on us.

We’ve also had to do our part in the preparation.  Our varroa mite treatments were interrupted by the two hurricanes that passed close by, but we treated the last hives yesterday.   We used Api Life VAR for most of the hives simply because it dissipates and doesn’t have to be removed.    We used ApiVar for the last two hives simply because we still had some; we will need to remove the strips after 42 days.   We’ve had good results with both products in the past and we do try to rotate treatment methods to prevent mite resistance.

A non-chemical way to break the mite cycle occurs when we requeen because the brood cycle is interrupted.   Of course, this is not a method we can take at this time of year.   Not treating for mites risks loss of the colony, so to us that is simply not an option.   Many experts consider varroa mites to be the main factor in winter colony losses.

The other steps we taken to set our bees up for success are reduction the entrance sizes to help each hive better defend against robbing, removal of queen excluders, and removal of superfluous supers and brood boxes.   As temperatures drop, we need to minimize the volume that bees need to keep warm.   The queen is not going to lay large amounts of eggs at this time of year, so we only need to allow for enough space to store the last resources naturally available out there.   Queen excluders need to be removed because the bees may cluster above the excluder, leaving the queen cold and alone and likely to die.   While she’s not laying much right now, they’ll need her in spring!  As for robbing — it’s not just other bees that rob.   We found a yellow jacket inside one hive yesterday and I blogged about the European Hornets that decimated hives a few weeks ago.

The final thing we’re still battling is small hive beetle infestation.   Some hives have almost none, while other hives are mind-mindbogglingly full.   Naturally, the hives with the most nectar are most attractive to the beetles, so they got extra beetle blasters yesterday.   Two of our hives are always the most problematic, so we’ll relocate those hives in spring to see if that makes a difference.   Both have been requeened. Both used to be mean and are now calmer.   Mean or calm made no difference in beetle numbers, so we suspect it’s location.  Still, the other two hives on the stand have minimal beetle populations, so it’s going to be trial and error to figure out what’s going on with them.

Well, I want to get outside and enjoy another couple of hours among the trees before heading back to the city.   We’ve finished all the crucial tasks, so now it’s time to just relax and enjoy — and tire the dog out before sticking her in the car for the 5 hour commute!

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Hive equipment · Lazer Creek Apiary · Supplemental Feeding

What’s going on?

Last week, I mentioned that our one hive in the city was abandoned right after the eclipse.   The bees were a swarm capture, and they were doing really well, so it was a surprise to walk up there one day and find no bees whatsoever.  What’s currently more surprising is that there are no bees to be seen at all in our yard.

Over at my husband’s workplace and the stores around there, bees are searching for resources in trashcans, showing that there is a definite nectar (sugar) dearth five miles from here.  Our neighbor at the farm is seeing the same thing — bees are going after what is left in soda cans.  This is something we haven’t seen before, and we assume it has something to do with the high winds and the torrential rains from Hurricane Irma.

In hopes of attracting some bees to the back yard and maybe capturing a fall swarm, I put out a syrup bucket early yesterday morning.   Our thought was that even if we don’t capture a swarm, we are helping local bees survive until the ubiquitous Goldenrod recovers enough to provide them what they need leading into winter.   After two days, we don’t have a single bee on the bucket.   I sprayed some extra Honey-B-Healthy around the bucket this morning as that is as enticing to a bee as good cheesecake is to me, but still no bees.   I just have to wonder whether the media-induced frenzy about mosquitoes has led to the death of all feral hives within 2 miles of our home, especially considering the EPA-confirmed pesticide kill we experienced last year.

Bees routinely fly up to two miles to find resources, and even further if that becomes necessary.   Of course, like us, they will “shop” locally if the “stores” offer what they need.   Bees five miles from here are dumpster-diving for sugary drinks with lots of added chemicals;  it makes no sense that we do not have a single bee on our zinnias, clover, garlic flowers, or syrup.  Here’s hoping that changes soon…..

Better news is that we have very little damage at the farm.

Our neighbors had already checked for damage right after the storm, but hubby was actually able to go down and check things out for himself this weekend.   One pine came down in the bee yard.  While it crushed a few empty hive boxes, it missed all of the hives , and all the hives are happily buzzing now that temperatures are back in the 80s.

Tree on fence
Tree on fence

A huge, rotten pine that was hung up in a tree along the street edge of the property also came down, smashing the H-brace at the creek end of the fence.   We have worried about this tree since before we bought the property because there was no good way to bring it down.  It was tall enough to hit the power line if it fell badly, and rotten enough to be a real danger to anyone trying to take it down.   Luckily it did what hubby always hoped it would do and split in the middle, dropping half the tree to the ground and (unluckily) the rest of the tree onto the fence.   We are just happy that it didn’t damage the power line,.

We have a few other, smaller trees down along the fence and two trees along the driveway that need to come down.   We’ll tackle them next weekend when we are both down there — it’s going be a two-person job to bring them down safely.

All-in-all we consider ourselves to be very, very lucky to have not sustained more damage than we did.   Our RV suffered no damage and the power wasn’t off long enough to let the ice in the freezer melt.  (A country tip for checking to see if the power goes off — put a Dixie cup of water in the freezer and place a coin on top of the ice before you leave.  If the coin is still on top when you come back, everything is good.  If the coin is on the bottom, you probably want to throw away any food that’s in there!)

Now we’re just hoping the systems currently in the Atlantic stay in the Atlantic!   Family in Texas is still drying out from Harvey and we’ll be cleaning up from Irma for a while.  Florida simply doesn’t need any more wind or rain for a while.   Our hearts go out to all of those who have sustained damage to their homes and businesses and our hearts are full of gratitude to all the people who have given so much to help those in need.

 

 

 

 

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!

 

Supplemental Feeding

Candy Boards – Feeding Bees

Candy boards are a great way to feed the bees in your hives without feeding all of the bees in the neighborhood.    The above video from Brush Mountain uses cooked fondant, which is what we have been doing successfully for two years now — we just poured the fondant into paper plates and placed those on top of the frames.  We had pollen patties in the fridge, not pollen substitute in powder form, and experimented with putting pieces of that in with the fondant, but the bees never seemed interested in eating that.   We were hesitant to leave the remaining pollen in the hive as pollen patties have a reputation for attracting small hive beetles.   While we don’t have much of a problem with SHB in the city, but we do in our out-yards.   Some of the blogs I’ve read about them attracting SHB state that they simply provide another place for the critters to hide.

Fondant is all well and good when cooking for a small number of hives, but when I don’t have time to cook for us, I certainly don’t have time to cook for our winged friends.   Hubby cut down some of the shallow hive bodies that we had and has started making candy boards as described in the video below.

The thing we like about this kind of candy board is, of course, not having to spend 30 minutes boiling syrup followed by another 30 minutes cleaning the kitchen.   The wire bottom also allows more bees to feed at one time.  We also know that every batch of fondant turns out differently — see previous blogs — and I’ve had one batch turn to rock while my back was turned and another batch turn into a gooey mess while sitting in the fridge.   Softer fondants are easier for the bees to digest but are also hygroscopic — hence the mess in the fridge.  With the humidity we have here in the south, we are concerned about sticky goo damaging the wood and trapping bees if we use the method in the first video.   We’ll let you know how these wire-bottom boards work out.
We’ll add some pollen to the candy board to get some brood started in our bee engines – our city hives.   The bees in the city and out-yards bring pollen in throughout winter, but they may need a little more to start producing brood.   With our crazy weather, it’s hard to know when to do this.  We don’t want to start too early as brood gives the bees one more thing to keep warm when temperatures drop, but we don’t want to wait too long either.   We really want to build up our numbers this spring and maybe have some queens to sell to offset some of the costs of starting up our apiary.   We’re going to use a Nicot System to get some queen cells started and hopefully save some time on getting new Nucs started as well as adding a revenue stream.
It’s still winter, but it feels like spring, and this is always a time of year that I find it almost impossible to be patient.   The daffodils are pushing up in the city and even some day lilies are sprouting new leaves.  It was below 20 degrees two weekends ago, over 70 degrees last weekend, and stormy this weekend.  Planting seeds this early is usually pointless, but I’ll probably do it anyway.  I usually do.  When the sun is shining like it is right now, I just want to hurry spring along and get those home-grown tomatoes started!   I’ll try, once again, to temper enthusiasm with some common sense and not bring more harm than help to the bees and trees in our care!

 

Bees · Supplemental Feeding

Division feeder

Last week, we installed a division feeder in my English hive.    When I checked the hive yesterday, the feeder was empty.   Some must have evaporated as the ladders don’t quite reach the bottom, but the bees drank a gallon of nectar.   It was easy to remove the cap and ladder to check and refill the feeder.  (The cap and ladder we have is a wooden block with ladders similar to the ones in the link, but I’m not sure where hubby bought them.)  We like the idea of feeding just our bees and this seems to work better than the bucket feeders on top of frames.   There were no drownings, and that’s always a good thing.   It would be interesting to know how long it takes a hive to drink a gallon, but I don’t want to disturb the hive too often to check.  Regardless, we were putting out 5 gallons of syrup every two days and feeding every bee in the neighborhood with the exterior feeders.

It’s hard to tell how much nectar the bees pulled from the feeder and how much they are finding on their own as there are clear signs that we are exiting the summer dearth, but the bees sure did fill a lot of frames in just one week.   It doesn’t seem to be enough yet to inspire growth — there are still new larvae present, but not in great numbers.   There was a lot of capped brood in our one large hive — they are ramping up and producing some drones again, but nothing like we saw in spring.

Hubby is out inspecting our other big hive right now, but I am staying indoors and nursing my mixture of ant bites, mosquito bites, and bee stings from this week!    An oatmeal bath followed by application of lavender essential oil finally stopped the itching.  The fire ant bites are the worst, but the fire ants are also the easiest to deal with!    After an application of Amdro, there are no more fire ants in front of the English hive, so neither the dog nor I need to worry about watching the bees go about their day.   It may be a good thing that the dog no longer wants to sit in front of the hive — if it prevents her from getting stung again, I’ll suck up the bites on my feet.

The two big hives are jam-packed, so we made some splits this morning.   We already had some bees in the queen castle, but they never managed to produce a queen that we could find.  There was some uncapped brood in there, but no young brood.  We moved the frames with resources over to a nuc and added some brood from the other hive and then created one more nuc.   We’ll move those nucs out to the out-yards one evening this week and hopefully get new queens soon.

It’s hard to be so far from the farm for so long and not know what the bees, trees, grass, and flowers are up to in our absence.   Those bees were pulling in nectar from the woods three weeks ago, and we left them with room to grow.  It will be exciting to see what they are up to!

Supplemental Feeding

What I’ve learned while making fondant for bees

Let me preface this post by saying that I know some of these things should be painfully obvious, but I hope that some of my readers are, at times, as distracted as I while trying to do many things at once — like playing SimCity while cooking.

Lesson 1:  Respect the capabilities of your equipment.  Five pounds of sugar cooks quite nicely in my largest pot and cools quite nicely in my mixing bowl.  A few weeks ago, I tried to make a 7 1/2 pound batch.  The time I spent trying to get the sugar up to temperature while not letting it boil over ended up making the process take longer than it took me to make two, 5-pound batches today.  I was able to start cooling the first batch in the mixer while bringing the second batch to a boil.  Five pounds of sugar yields around 9 each 6″ small paper plates full of fondant, and each hive eats 4 plate fulls in 3 – 4 days.

Lesson 2:  Paper plates work well, especially the small, 6″ size ones.  We can fit four plates to a hive.  We have a spacer between the brood chamber and the super so that the plates fit without letting in cold, winter air.   Only two dinner-size plates fit in the same space.  I’ve tried making fondant on baking trays, but it ended up a soupy, sticky mess that wouldn’t hold its form, which is why we switched to plates.   However, today we poured a batch onto a wax-paper covered cookie tray, which leads to lesson 3.

Lesson 3:  If the sugar mixture goes above “soft ball” on the candy thermometer, it is likely to set up very quickly and very hard.  If you notice the fondant getting hard when it is still hot, get it out of the mixer (or, worse, saucepan) quickly.   My first or second batch of fondant turned into a giant sugar-cube in the bottom of my pot in about 30 seconds while I was searching for my pan.   However, you can add water and slowly bring up to a temperature at which the sugar will dissolve again to get it out of there.

Lesson 4:  Drape your counter tops with beach towels!   The YouTube videos we’ve watched all seem to feature organized people not making a mess in their kitchens,  but hot fondant drips.   It’s so much easier to throw towels in the washing machine than to dispose of newspaper.  We like to recycle, and I don’t think anyone wants us to recycle sugar-coated newspapers.  Plus, you can drape the towels over the edge of the counter for added protection.  I guess you see why I blog instead of making YouTube videos.  Plus, no one (except maybe my husband) wants to watch an old lady dance to “I Love Rock and Roll” while stirring boiling fondant.

Lesson 5:  Hot fondant burns about the same as hot wax.  If you get some on your hand, remember which faucet is the cold water and which is hot.  It doesn’t help to run hot, hot water over hot fondant.   This is why many people recommend using oven mitts, but I don’t like wearing gloves unless I have to — like when I pick up the hot mixing bowl.  There’s a time and a place for everything, but stirring the sugar water while wearing gloves doesn’t work for me.

Lesson 6:  If you take the plates out to fill the hives, the bees will find them (and you) in about ten seconds, especially if you’ve added Honey B Healthy or essential oils.   If the fondant is soft, it’s easier for the bees to digest, but not good for hugging to your chest to keep the bees off.    If you do end up with a t-shirt covered in fondant, head indoors quickly and make sure none of the bee-knee babies is following you!

Lesson 7:  Don’t be surprised if the bees eat your paper plates.   We weren’t, because my brother-in-law had the great idea (and I don’t mean that sarcastically) of leaving notes about how many frames had what on them in the hives, but when he went to show my husband his system, there were no notes in the first three hives.  The half-eaten index card was proof of his sanity — a big relief to us all.

Lesson 8:  Softer fondant is easier for the bees to digest, and as we’re giving this to them when nature is making life difficult for them, my goal is to get the right consistency.  However,  if it turns out “wrong,”  the bees will eat it anyway.   Too soft, and it will absorb water from the air and turn to syrup.  “Too hard”, and it’s easy to stack, store, and transport.  Don’t stress about it.   If the fondant ends up just right, we can’t stack the plates, but we’re fine with our dining table looking like we’re expecting the Edgar-eating roach from Men in Black to come for a tea party and the plates of sugar never stay there long.

Lesson 9:  It’s worth the time and effort.   Bees are stupid and will go ice-skating on a bucket of sugar water when they are hungry.  Our bees are out and about when temperatures rise above 45 degrees, but the buckets take a long time to warm up and often have ice on them until mid-afternoon.   I’ve been experimenting with ways to let them wet feed without becoming hypothermic, and may have one successful method.   I’ll blog about that once we’re convinced it actually reduces bee loss.

 

Bees · Supplemental Feeding

Cooking for bees

I finally made a successful batch of bee fondant using the recipe from Honey Bee Suite.  I like the common-sense approach of the author, and I was able to use my experience from three failed batches to improve what I was doing with recipes in general.   Five pounds of sugar yielded six paper dinner plates of fondant.  We’ll let you know later how long it takes the bees to eat a plateful of sugar!

Why fondant?
If a hive has not had enough time to create a store of honey that will get them through the winter, the bee-keeper needs to supplement their food source.  This is our first year with bees, and it has been an interesting learning experience.  We started about a month before the summer dearth arrived with only a Nuc hive, but there were plenty of resources for the bees at the time. Things were going well all the way up to the dearth when the hive began to get weaker and weaker, then sometime between weekends, wax moths invaded and decimated our hive.  We placed the infected frames in the freezer to kill the moths and larvae, but the hive was weakened severely and they were not able to protect themselves from the next attack — robbers.  Feral bees attacked the weak hive and stole most of the honey and effectively ended the life of that hive.   We restarted again, early fall season with two ongoing hives we purchased from a beekeeper who was getting out of the business.  We currently have two strong hives, but they do not have as much stored honey as they should at this time of year.  When it’s warm, one can supplement natural food sources with sugar mixed with water, either outside the hive or in a feeder placed inside the hive.  In cold weather, bees stay in to keep the hive warm and cold syrup dripping on them doesn’t do them much good.  Fondant is table sugar that has been cooked to break the sugar down into fructose and glucose — molecules that are more like honey and easier for the bees to digest.
The first attempts
My first attempt used a scaled down recipe from Bamboo Hollow Apiary, and it’s a recipe I will go back to try again.  Mistake one was thinking I could do this without a candy thermometer!   I ended up with a brown sticky mess that I tried to give to the bees, but it acted like fly paper, so we very quickly removed it.

Attempt two:  I used the same recipe and my brand new, shiny candy thermometer.   That was far more successful, but the temperature kept rising for long time after I turned the heat down.  With the successful batch, I turned the heat down as the temperature approached 230 degrees and adjusted it up and down by one number on the dial until reaching the desired temperature.  I plan to make the next batch on the gas burner on the grill to see if that is easier.  So — I had a batch of fondant that had been heated a little too much, and when I went to pour it into a pan, the pan wasn’t where I had left it!   By the time I found a pan, I had a huge sugar lump in the pot!   I managed to break it up and scatter it on the pan, but it wasn’t pretty.   The bees seemed to like it, but there was no way to fit the chunks under the hive lid.

As the chunks weren’t really usable and leaving them outside the hive attracted ants, I decided to try dissolving  and reheating them.  By then, we’d watched a couple of YouTube videos that used Karo syrup to make the fondant more malleable (although other resources recommended avoiding Karo syrup and corn starch), so we stirred a little in.  We poured the resulting mixture onto a wax-paper lined pan and it set very nicely.

However — this mixture was hygroscopic, as we found when we cut the sheet into usable sheets and placed those sheets on a shelf in the refrigerator until we could place them in the hives.  The next evening, our left-over pizza was firmly glued to the glass shelf and we dumped the remaining fondant into a glass bowl.  By the next morning, the mixture had absorbed even more water and was quite runny.  The bees are enjoying it, regardless.  In fact, when I went to check one of the bowls this morning while it was still only 40 degrees outside, the guard bees from our strongest hive let me know that I needed to leave their bowl alone!