Bees Be Nice

I haven’t written about my honeybee hives in a while and thought it was high time I catch you up on their antics.  Both Langstroth hives, Woody and Buzz (seen below) are humming along beautifully, though spring saw each as quite cranky.    In our first early spring hive check, both hives were full of busy bees with lots of larvae, meaning that the queens were doing their job.  By late March, our bees turned mean.  Really mean.  I couldn’t go near the hives without one of the scouts harassing me, which usually ended in (at least) one sting for me.  Dreading the necessary hive checks, we suited up and popped into each hive a couple of times over the course of a few weeks and found that both hives had developed queen cells.  One cause of a hive developing queen cells is that the original queen has died or is critically ill and not laying eggs.  For a hive to survive and thrive, it needs a constant replenishing of eggs, larvae, and adults.   We  pulled off Buzz’s first set of queen cells, thinking that queen development was preparing to swarm because of overcrowding. We misread the clues.  When we checked again two weeks later, the workers had created more queen cells. We realized that the queen was probably dead, so we let nature take its course.  Worker bees can and do make their queens when necessary;  after all, honeybees know their stuff.  It takes two weeks for a queen to develop in the hive, then she exits for her mating flight which lasts up to a week.  Afterwards, it’s back to the hive and the start of her career of egg laying.

We learned our lesson with Buzz and so let Woody do its making-a-queen thing and within a month, the hives were happy with their respective new queens and back to their gentle selves.  Honeybees are aggressive when they’ve lost their queen, but gentle when they’re queen right, meaning that they’re living with a healthy, active queen.

Both hives have two kinds of boxes, brood and dadant.  The deeper boxes are primarily for brood, but also contain some honey.  The dadant (shallower) boxes are only for comb and honey.  If you look closely at the hives in the photo, you’ll notice double wood pieces between the top brood box and adjacent dadant box.  That’s where the queen excluder fits into the hive structure.  The exluder is a metal mesh in a wooden frame in which the mesh is large enough for worker bees to climb through–and up into–other parts of the hive to continue honeycomb making, but too small for queens to get through, so their egg laying is limited to the brood boxes.

What can I say?  Queens are fat bottomed girls.  Sorry, Queen.

Honey creation is what honeybees are driven to do, whether or not the queen is in the box. Excluders allow the worker bees to make honey in the upper boxes while the queen is  unable to crawl in and lay eggs on the comb.  With a box of pure honeycomb, beekeepers are then able to take honey without damaging larvae or possibly injuring or killing a queen, which is a win for everyone.

In Woody, the bees have combed out the frames of the bottom dadant and made honey in several frames.  The top dadant also has comb, but with no honey; we probably added that box too soon, though no harm done.  In Buzz, its lone dadant is nearly full of honey and we’ll add another dadant soon.  I expect to extract honey from dadants of both hives by fall and that will give us a chance to finally use our honey extractor  purchased some months ago.

Buzz’s one dadant is full of honey; we’ll add another soon.

But we won’t have to wait until fall for new honey–we extracted some from our original Warre hive, Scar.  Scar’s top box was jam-packed with thick comb and gooey honey, so we cut chunks of the sweet stuff off of six of the eight top bars.  Removing honey from a Warre hive is a messy job which spills plenty of honey into the hive and displaces bees.  For about 48 hours, some members this remarkably productive hive stayed outside the hive structure, though I noticed yesterday morning, most were back inside early in the morning.

Because the Warre hives holds top bars and not frames, the honeycomb must be crushed and the “extraction” involves a solid afternoon of work, squashing comb and sieving honey.  This past weekend, the result was nearly a gallon of honey!

These are 9 of the 11 jars of our newest honey collection.

In our four years of beekeeping, the Warre hives–specifically Scar–have delivered all the honey we’ve ever extracted.  While a difficult hive to check, Scar has proved a wonderfully prolific hive and its honey is liquid gold!

This mid-July finds our honeybees nice-n-sweet, ignoring me when I’m in the garden, and making delicious honey.

 

A Job Well Done

This Honeybee, Apis mellifera, is on her way to work.

The honeybee is headed straight into a Wild red columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)

She has an important job, one requiring experience and a certain level of maturity.  She knows where to go, what to do when she arrives at her destination, and how to meet her responsibilities.

She is determined.

She works for the goals of her community over her own personal interests.  Her Apis compatriots benefit from her expertise in the field and various other sacrifices.  Most of the time she works alone and unsupervised.

She makes a garden grow.

I’m delighted to join today with Anna’s Wednesday Vignette.  Pop on over and check out other garden and nature musings.

A Sweet Year

As beekeeping goes, it’s been a banner year for us and our resident stingin’ sisters.  The girls are in fine form and their queens are tough and strong, making good bee decisions and producing lots of bee babies for the next generations.  I haven’t taken many photos of the hives in the last few months and our last hive check was in October, but it looks like we’ll end 2018 on a good–if sticky–note.

We’ve extracted several gallons of the sweet stuff during 2018.

One of several groups of bottled honey for this year!

 

These photos were taken in the summer and demonstrate the strength of our hives.

The top part of the frame is capped honey, below are the cells where larvae are nurtured and bees are hard at work for the hive.

The metal contraption at the left of this photo, is a frame holder. When we remove a frame, we can hang it here while we poke around in the hive.  It can comfortably hold three frames.

 

Because the bees had completely filled the large brood boxes in both hives with honey and larvae, we added a shallower box, called a super, on top, and placed a queen excluder in between each top brood box and super.  The queen excluder is exactly what it sounds like:  a separation piece with mesh bars that are large enough for the workers to crawl through, but too narrow for the robust queen.  Workers can traipse through the excluder and into the super to make honeycomb and the queen can’t get through to lay eggs, so she rumbles around in the brood boxes doing her egg-laying thing.  The result is that in the super, there’s pure honeycomb, no larvae.

We added the super to ease overcrowding which could lead to swarming–a perfectly natural response to an overcrowded hive–but not one that a beekeeper wants to encourage.  We want to keep our bees and we want some of their honey.  That’s why we keep’em!

Those silly bees continued to build comb along the queen excluder.

We scraped off the comb-n-honey bits, kept some for ourselves, and left the rest for the bees to enjoy.

We observed this goofy comb-building during a couple of hive checks and then endured a head-slapping realization.  The bees built the wonky comb in the super because we, their keepers,  placed top bars, rather than full frames with wax foundation, in the supers.  Until our two Langstroth hives, Buzz and Woody, became honey producers (which happened this summer!), our honey extraction has been very low tech endeavor.  Our original hive (Scar) utilizes top bars with no foundation and the bees employ a free-form downward build as they make comb.  When we’ve taken honey from Scar, we cut the comb from the bar, then crush the comb and let the honey drip into a bowl.   I pour that honey through strainers and deposit into bottles.  All in all, it’s a relaxed process, albeit a bit hard on my wrist.

Langsthroth hives are best used with full frames and foundation, and are geared  for the keeper to extract honey efficiently, while limiting damage to the comb.  Our use of top bars in Buzz and Woody was a poor decision.  Of course the bees were going to build comb to their needs and not ours–we’re the silly ones, not the bees!  Bees couldn’t care less what shape the comb is. They’re just doing what honeybees do–build comb and make honey– while our choice of using the inappropriate-for-Langstroth hives top bar, which resulted in “messy” comb, was our lame and misguided attempt to delay the inevitable:  the purchase of a mechanical honey extractor which is how grown-up beekeepers extract honey.

Well, we’ve learned our lesson!

We assembled new frames for the supers for both hives, complete with foundation. The bees are now happy and productive, and gone are the wavy-gravy combs.

It’s humbling when you’re outsmarted by an insects.

So what’s next for the backyard beekeeping adventure?

Honey extractor with electric, heated comb knife,  and strainers.

A brand new, never-been-washed, manual two-framed honey extractor!  Don’t worry, we’ll wash it before we use it, but that won’t happen until sometime in late February.

When we last checked, both Buzz and Woody had completely filled each of the second brood boxes and their supers with honeycomb.  We’ve left all in the hive for winter so that the girls have plenty of the sweet stuff to slurp throughout the cold, wet days and nights.   In late winter, we’ll take some frames out before the queens ramp-up for spring egg-laying and fire-up the extractor. The use of the honey extractor advances us into a new level of beekeeping.

I’d say it’s been a good year for the honeybees and their keepers.

Here’s to sweetness for all!