Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Winer Prep: 2014-11-28

I'm trying a few new things to prepare the hive for Winter this year.  Ideally I would have two hives of similar strength and try something new on one hive and not the other.  Then I could compare the results in the Spring and see if it made any difference.  Not exactly a complete scientific study, but it would be a start.  Alas, I only have the combined Green/White hive to overwinter this year, so it is all or nothing. 

The first thing I am trying is adding wood shavings to the ventilation board on top of the hive. 

Vent board.  Notice the propolis on the edges and center of the screen
During the Winter, the bees generate heat to keep the cluster warm.  That warm, moist air rises in the hive and when it hits the inner cover can possible condense.  This water can eventually build up and drip back down on the bees.  Not good.  Bees don't have too much trouble handling the cold.  But if they are cold AND wet, it is a death sentence.  So, the idea is that the warm moist air rises up through the hole in the inner cover and then through the wood shavings in the ventilation board.  If it does condense at all, the wood shavings absorb the moisture and it cannot drip back down on the bees.  I think the loose wood shavings also allow for some air circulation from the bottom of the hive without creating some sort of wind tunnel.

Wood shavings added
The second thing I am trying is using a Winter wrap on the hive. 

I put velcro on the wraps to attach them
In the past I used a wind break to keep most of the wind chill off the hives.  They were big, bulky and heavy sheets of plywood that I would stake into the ground.  I would then have to put braces on them so they wouldn't blow over.  Way too much of a pain.  My thought on the Winter wrap is that it would serve the same purpose as a wind break and be much easier to use and store.  From all that I have read, the opinions really go back and forth on the benefit of using them.  They do help to block the wind for sure but they also may block the solar radiation on a nice sunny day from warming the hive.  Even though they are made of black plastic that would absorb some sun, there is a very thin layer of foam on the back side of the plastic.  I think that would prevent the warmth from actually reaching the hive.  Any heat transfer experts out there that can weigh in on this?  I know of others who staple black tar paper directly to their hives.  That may actually allow the heat to transfer into the hive enough for the bees to move around and get to other sources of honey.  I really wish I had my Arduino hive monitor running so I could see the temp difference from outside and inside the hive on a sunny day!  Maybe next year.

All tucked in for Winter
The last thing I did (which is no different than previous years) is to take the entrance reducer off and put the mouse guard on.

I have also gone out to the hive about once a week and used my J-Hook style hive tool to scoop out the dead bees from the bottom of the hive. 

Bring out yer dead!  (And look out for the 1 attack bee)
You don't want so many dead bees to build up on the bottom that they can no longer get out of the hive.  What has really amazed me is that I am still seeing drones!!  I really thought that every last drone would have been expelled from the hive two months ago!

So far, December has been mild.  Cold, but not horrible.  The end of this week is suppose to reach 40 degrees F.  I'll take it!  All I can really hope for is that this Winter isn't as bad as last Winter.  Waiting is the hardest part  =)

Until next time, thanks for reading!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Honey Harvest 2014: 2014-09-30

Fall sure is flying by fast headlong into Winter.  I can't believe it was a month ago that I actually harvested my honey for the year.  The only good thing about not getting much honey is that it doesn't take too long to process!  I will say that I did get a bit more honey this year than I did last year.  I believe the total ended up being about 1.5 gallons.

My friend Keith was helping me out and it always makes things easier with an extra set of hands!  We start by using a long serrated knife to uncap the frames.

I have a plastic tub underneath to catch the cappings and all the dripping honey.

Once the frames are uncapped, we put them in a home made two frame extractor that is powered by a hand drill.  We spin the frames for a minute and then flip them over and spin them again.  It works pretty well and sure beats paying 300-400 dollars for a motorized stainless steel extractor!  Maybe I would change my mind if I was extracting 20 boxes of honey each with 10 frames.  But extracting one partially filled box of honey isn't so bad.

The raw honey and bits of wax collect in the bottom of the sanitized food grade plastic garbage can I use for this purpose.

We then pour it into a coarse filter that sits on top of the bottling bucket.

At this point I leave it sit for a few days and the honey slowly drips through the filter leaving behind the wax.  I usually rinse the remaining wax with water and then melt it down for later use.

Once the honey has settled and most of the air bubbles are out of it, it is time to bottle.

I really love the 12 oz. (by honey weight) hex jars.  They look really classy!

I also decided to redesign the label this year.  What do you think?

Not much left to do for the hive this year.  Here is a list of my remaining tasks to complete before Winter:

  • Put pine shavings in the ventilation board
  • Put on the mouse guard
  • Put on the winter wrap
Hopefully I'll get one more post on the blog before Winter sets in.  Until then, thanks for reading!

Monday, September 29, 2014

Fall Prep: 2014-09-24

During this latest visit to the bee hives, I set out to accomplish the stated goals at the end of the previous bee blog:
  • Remove the honey from White Hive
  • Perform a powdered sugar roll mite sampling
  • Combine the two hives into one
With the help of my friend Keith, I was able to make it all happen in one evening.  You wouldn't think that you would open the hives up at 7 PM and a short time later you are loosing all the light because the sun is setting!  You sure don't worry about that during the summer when the sun doesn't set until well after 9:30 PM.

Step 1 - Remove the honey:  Since I have only ever had one hive that I need to remove honey from, I use a simple method of doing so.  Get an empty hive box and cover it with a damp cloth.  Remove a frame with honey on it.  Shake the frame with a sharp jerking motion until most of the bees are removed and brush the rest off.  Put the bee-free frame into the empty box and drape the damp cloth back over the box so bees don't get back onto the frames.  Someday if I have 5 hives all with multiple boxes of honey on them, then I may have to change my methodology.  Until then, this works just fine.

Step 2 - Perform mite sampling:  We live in a time when our European honey bees are plagued by an aptly named mite called Varroa Destructor.  This mite is a parasite of the Asian honey bee but was introduced here in the 1980's.  Our honey bees had no real resistance to them and they have been a huge problem ever since.  I won't treat my colonies with chemicals but it is a good idea to know if you have a really bad infestation of mites or not.  One of the methods of determining your mite level is called a powdered sugar roll.  First you take a jar with a mesh screened lid and get a 1/2 cup of bees in it (approximately 300 bees) from a brood frame.

Selecting a brood frame for mite sampling
Then you put the lid on and put some powdered sugar in the jar and then roll the sugar and bees around and around for a minute or two.

Where did this sugar blizzard come from?
The sugar causes the mites to loose their grip on the bees and they fall off.  You then shake the sugar out of the jar and the mites come with it.  Once you have shaken the sugar out, rolled the bees around some more and shaken it out again, you dump the disoriented bees back into the hive.  Their sisters are more than happy to groom the sugar off of them!  Since the sugar is white and the mites are red, it is very easy to spot them.  You spray a little water on the sugar and it quickly dissolves leaving you the mites and perhaps a few small pieces of debris.  Count the mites and you use the formula (mites / 3) * 2 = % infestation level.  You multiply the "mites per bee" number by 2 because you are assuming many more mites are in brood cells (University of Minnesota mite sampling method).

Stunned "ghost" bees poured back into the hive
For this exercise, I sampled one frame and had 4 mites.  So that gives me (4 / 3) * 2 = 2.67 % infestation level.  If you were really serious then you would do this to multiple brood frames in multiple boxes.  Or you would do this across multiple hives.  If your infestation level was high enough you would then decide to treat your hives or not.  A typical treatment threshold is somewhere around 10%.  For me, I just wanted to go through the exercise to really see how it was done.  I was also inspired by Bill over at the TheBeeVlog to get a digital microscope and take a closer look at the mites causing all these problems.  If you watch the video in that link, you will see some interesting detail on how they do the sampling.  Especially the little trick they use to get the bees in the jar.  It works!

Here are a few of the microscope photos of these nasty little buggers.

Varroa mite (top)

Varroa mite (bottom)

Mite with extended forelegs
So how would you like to carry one of these blood suckers around all day?  And you thought a Monday without coffee was rough??   =)

Step 3 - Combine the hives:  With Green Hive queenless and no hope of replacing her this late in the season, I did a "newspaper combine" of the two hives into one.  You just lay a sheet of newspaper over the top of one hive and stack the boxes from the other hive on top of the newspaper.  This allows the scents of one hive to mingle with the other before the bees are blended together.  This reduces or eliminates any fighting between the two colonies.

Newspaper combine of White and Green hives
Over the next few days the bees will chew through the sheet of newspaper and will be one big happy family ready to tough it out through the Winter.

This will be my last major beekeeping task for the year.  I did decide to buy some winter wraps and I will be putting them on the hive before the first "Polar Vortex" gets here.  I will also be placing a mouse guard on the entrance to prevent any unwanted residents during the Winter months.

As twilight descends on this inspection, it also descends on this beekeeping season.  I did not achieve most of my goals this year but I am hopeful that the bees will come through this Winter will flying colors.  I'm sure they will be eagerly awaiting Spring as much as I will be!

Until next time, thank you always for reading!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Bee Blog Slacker: 2014-09-20

Well a lot has happened in the bee world since my last post in June.  I guess things get crazy here in Michigan during the summer time when it seems so short but that is no excuse!  Thank you to my lovely daughter for reminding me that people are worried about the bees and they are left in suspense if I don't write these posts.....heheheheh  =)

Here is a quick summary of what has happened since:

Green Hive:  

Doing OK but not strong.  Had some queen drama where I found no brood in the hive during an inspection on 7/24 and found capped queen cells in White Hive.  I transferred the capped queen cells to the Green Hive and after looking through the photos I took during the inspection I spotted that there was a queen in Green Hive after all!!!  So either the queen in Green Hive was a virgin or not laying eggs for some other reason.

White Hive:  

Strong compared to Green Hive for sure.  This hive may have swarmed since I spotted all the capped and uncapped queen cells.  Usually they build swarm cells along the bottom of the comb so this does follow that pattern.  If they did swarm then about half of this colony is hopefully living in a cozy tree somewhere!

Lots of capped Drone brood and a few queen cells
So now fast forward from then end of July and into the end of September (that sounds really depressing actually).  I just did a full top to bottom inspection of Green Hive and I checked the honey super on White Hive to see if it was ready to come off.

Green Hive: 

The top box had about 4 totally empty frames.  It is too late in the year now for the bees to have enough incoming nectar to make wax.  So they will stay empty for the rest of this year.  There was one frame of solid honey and the rest of the frames had a mixture of honey, nectar and bee bread.

What the heck is bee bread you ask?  When bees bring the pollen back to the hive, another worker bee packs the pollen into a cell and adds some honey or nectar and enzymes to it.  This causes some fermentation to occur and breaks the pollen down into a more consumable form for the bees.

Lots of maroon colored bee bread on this frame
Compare the color of the bee bread to the color of the fresh yellow pollen on the back of this bees leg in this photo:

This bee bread is the primary source of food for developing brood.  Since this hive doesn't have any brood, they have a lot of bee bread stored.

The bottom box has only two empty frames and most of the remaining frames are packed full of bee bread or honey with very few empty cells.

Solid frame of honey

The bottom line for Green Hive is that they appear hopelessly queenless.  This late in the year there is really no possibility of buying a replacement queen.  I did check around online and every place I looked is sold out (and probably were sold out months ago).  Also, there is no hope of the bees having enough time to raise their own queen if I donated some eggs from White Hive.  It would take at least 16 days for a new queen to hatch.  By then it would be the middle of October and there would be no drones for her to mate with.  Matter of fact, during my inspection, I witnessed numerous drones being dragged out of the hive by their loving sisters.  I think the only option I have now is to combine this hive with White Hive (Newspaper Combine).  After I do that my remaining hive will go into Winter with FOUR deeps of food and bees.  No matter how bad the upcoming Winter is, that should be plenty to get them through it.

White Hive:

Even with the possibility that this hive swarmed earlier, it is still a strong hive.  They have managed to fill about half of a honey super.  Not great but better than nothing.  I plan to take this honey off when I combine Green Hive with this one.  I might be able to get 1 gallon of honey from this box.

What's Next:

I'm planning on doing the combine, removing the honey and doing a mite sampling tonight.  If I have enough time I'll extract the honey this weekend.  The next blog post will be up shortly!

As always, thanks for reading!

Friday, June 27, 2014

Guest Beekeeper : 2014-06-25

One of the fun things about beekeeping for me is teaching others about bees.  I have found many seemingly willing students.  Or at least ones that feign interest while I blab on and on about the bees.  I have also tried to get as many of these people as possible into the beehives.  For this inspection, I was fortunate enough to have Byron be my guest beekeeper.  It sure doesn't hurt to have an extra set of hands either!

My main concern for this inspection was to make sure the bees hadn't run out of room, since each hive consisted of only one box.  At this point they should be covering most of the frames and be ready for a second box to be added.  I was also hoping I hadn't waited too long and they weren't preparing to swarm!

Green Hive:

I took my time going through this hive since I wanted to be able to show Byron all the facets of beekeeping.  How to separate and manipulate the frames.  How to use the smoker and hive tool.  And what to look for in the hive: nectar, pollen, honey, eggs, larvae, capped cells, workers, drones and the queen.  The bees had just started to draw wax on the first two frames in the hive so I was able to show him how they create the wax in an empty frame.  He was also able to see the festooning behavior of the bees as they constructed the new wax comb.  The queen in this hive remained elusive and we did not spot her.  Although we did see some eggs and very young lava so she was there somewhere.  A second deep box of empty frames is now on this hive.  I have a feeling I should have used a technique called pyramiding to encourage them to move into the new box.  If they haven't done so by the next inspection I will make it so.

White Hive:

This hive had a second box added with some frames from the hive that died this past winter.  Some were empty brood frames and some were filled with honey.  Since this hive appears stronger, the bees were already working these frames.  After going through these I let Byron take over the inspection.  I'm sure it was his observation of my fantastic abilities that allowed him to jump right in like a pro!!  LOL

Byron inspecting the hive
The queen in this hive seems incredible to me.  She has solid brood patters across almost every single frame.  This hive will sure need the room in that second box!

Lots of brood
Even more brood
I never get tired of seeing new bees being born and emerging from their cells.  This inspection was no disappointment when we spotted 3 drones being born at the same time!

Welcome to the hive boys

After Byron had pulled 8 frames I thought for sure I was going to strikeout in showing him the queen.  But when we pulled frame 9 there she was!

Smile Queeny!
After watching her run around for a bit, we completed the inspection and closed up the box.

All in all, both hives are doing well and it was a great evening for an inspection.  Next inspection I will hopefully see that the queens have moved up into the second box and started laying eggs there.  I'm also planning on creating one or two nucleus hives and buying a "northern" queens to put in them.  At worst, this will allow me to have some backup hives in case one of the hives fails.  At best they will become fully established hives with better genetics for surviving these horrible Michigan winters!

Until next time, thanks for reading!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Second Inspection: 2014-06-10

I was very eager to complete this second inspection for a few reasons.  First, I was very eager to retrieve my fist set of Arduino Smart Hive data!  Second, the hives are currently at Installation +30 days (Bee Math) and there should be many more young bees in the hive.  Not only will these bees be nurses for the next generation, but they will also be wax comb builders (Honey Bee Worker Jobs).  So, they should be expanding the nest area and allowing more bees to forage for nectar and pollen.  The increasing number of bees also means they will be running out of space soon.  Normally in nature, the size of the cavity the bees live in does not increase and when they run out of room they swarm.  Part of being a beekeeper is controlling the bee's swarming nature by adding more space (boxes) and I needed to see if it was time to add another box or not.  If your hive does swarm you've lost probably half of your bees and your old queen.  Not a good thing if you actually want any honey.  Plus most of your neighbors probably wouldn't appreciate a swarm of bees landing in their yard!  Well, onto the inspections...

Green Hive:

I opened the lid and found that my ventilation board with my electronics in it was nicely stuck to the top of the lid.  There must have been some propolis left on the underside of the lid and it works really nicely as glue.  I spent a few minutes trying to remove the ventilation form and when I finally removed it, I notice a LARGE, furry black spider resting comfortably on the underside of the lid.  Thankfully I was armed with a steel hive tool and dispatched the menace quickly.  I really dislike spiders but I also know they do eat "bad" insects, so I try to leave them alone when I spot them in the garden.  But when they are around my bees I show now mercy!  I'm sure beekeepers in Arizona, Florida or Australia can get some really nasty surprises around their hives.  Yikes. 

Anyway, after all that drama, I pulled the SD memory card from the Arduino and downloaded the data.  My first disappointment was that it appeared that it only logged about 3 days worth of data.  It appears my 6 AA battery pack didn't last very long at all.  I'll be looking into an alternate power source for sure now.

Arduino Smart Hive data

With that said, it was cool to see that the general data collection does work!  From the data it looks like the external sensor might be a little flaky since the humidity spiked at 100% a number of times and the temperature measured at 103.82 F on June 2, 3:22 PM.  According to the weather report on that day, the highest it hit was 82 F.  Other than that oddity, the data looks consistent.  What I really like seeing are the readings from the brood area.  The temperature reading is a very flat, steady line, right around 95 F.  Despite what the outside temperature is, they do a fantastic job of maintaining the same temperature and humidity levels where the baby bees are being raised.

Pulling the first two frames from the hive, I saw they were still empty.  The third frame in was built much wider because of the empty space next to it.  With the top down view in the photo below, you can see how the wax sticks out past the top bar of frame 3.

Green Hive
Frame 3 was heavy with honey and frame 4 was the first to have brood on it.  Typically the brood nest is toward the middle of the hive so it was no surprise to see frame 5 had a lot of brood on it.  The other side of this frame had a large empty area where all the baby bees had already hatched out of their cells.

Hatched Brood
Frame 6 looked very similar to 5.  Frame 7 was about 50% covered with capped brood and had a large section of new wax drawn out.  Looking closely I could see there were eggs in almost every cell in the new section of wax.

Frame 7
Frame 8 and 9 actually had some large patches of brood on them with an empty queen cup as well.

Queen Cup
Thankfully there wasn't anything in the cup so it doesn't look like they are preparing to swarm or replace the queen.  The last frame hadn't really been touched by the bees since the last inspection.  So in total there are still 3 empty frames in Green Hive.  Looks like I'll be ready to add another box during my next inspection.  They are coming along nicely!

White Hive:

The first thing I noticed after removing the inner cover of White Hive was that I could see bees looking up from between almost every frame!  This hive in increasing in numbers more quickly than Green Hive for sure.

Looking into White Hive
The bees had stored quite a bit of nectar and pollen and the brood nest started a few frames in.  The queen in this hive knows how to lay some eggs!  Look at the photo below.  This frame is wall to wall brood with very few empty cells.  They will be bursting at the seems very soon.  I will need to add a second box for sure next week!

Lots of future bees
You can also see the patch of drone brood that was built along the bottom of this frame.  And speaking of drones, I was able to witness one being born.  Very cool!  You can watch the 30 second video here:

The last thing I did before concluding the inspection, was to change the entrance reducers on both hives from the small opening to the medium sized opening.  The population should be steadily increasing now on both hives so they should have no trouble defending a larger entrance.  This will also help alleviate any congestion as the foragers come and go all day long.

Looks like I have a lot to prepare for the next inspection.  New boxes to add and hopefully another way to power my Arduino.  So, until then thanks for reading!

Monday, June 2, 2014

First Inspection of the year : 2014-06-01

Twenty one days since I installed my two packages and I finally opened the hives up to take a look.  I should have done so much sooner but it sure seems like everything needs to be done all at the same time during the late spring.  It is always exciting to dive in and see what the girls have decided to do inside the hive despite the guidance the beekeeper has given them!  Bees don't read beekeeping books to figure out what they are suppose to do  =)

Green Hive:

The one nice thing about the inspections early in the year is that there aren't as many bees as there are during summer.  It makes it much easier to pull frames and move things around when there aren't bees covering everything.  You also don't need to use as much smoke since a few puffs can easily get most of the bees to move.  I was able to pull the first three frames quickly since the bees hadn't even touched them.  They are foundationless frames, so they are completely empty and the bees haven't thought about drawing out new comb on them yet.  I reached frame 4 and I could see the beginning of the honey and pollen storage. 

First inspection of Green Hive

Frame 5 had more pollen and honey and frame 6 was the first brood frame.  Interesting pattern on this frame with bits of pollen scattered among the brood cells.  About a third of the frame (on the right side of the photo) was all drone brood.

Brood frame

A little spotty so far but not something I'm too concerned about at this point.  It can be common in new queens.  I'm happy the queen is raising brood and she is fertile enough to have worker brood.  Next frame over was almost identical with drone on one side and worker brood on the other.  I spotted a queen cup but it was empty.  It is not uncommon to see queen cups.  The bees like to make them just in case they need them.  Frame 8 had some new, white comb drawn by the bees and they were starting to bridge it over into the next frame.  This is one of the struggles of letting the bees build their own comb.  They don't always build it in perfectly straight sections.  I cut some of the comb out and mashed some more together to try and make it straight.  I also swapped frame 9 with 8 in the hopes that they would make the small amount of comb there straight.  The last frame was empty. 

I did not spot the queen and I didn't specifically see any eggs but they seem to be going along pretty well.  As long as I see some new larva during my next inspection, I'll know the queen is still there.

So, besides doing my first inspection on Green Hive, I was also ready to deploy my Smart Hive Arduino system I have been working on.  It was a bit of a pain to run the one sensor through the inner cover without having someone to hold it but I was able to position it between frame 5 and 6.  Now I can only hope the bees don't chew through the wire insulation or decide to build bridge comb all around it and make a mess.  The second sensor goes out the side vent hole to measure the outside temp and humidity.  The third sensor rests near the Arduino in the vent board.

Arduino deployment

I'm looking forward to posting the first data points in my next blog entry!!

White Hive:

 The frames in the White Hive are fully drawn out plastic Honey Super Cell frames.  They fit much tighter in the box than the wooden frames in Green Hive do.  I have a "J-Hook" hive tool and it really helps to pull that first frame out.  A few bees danced across the frame I removed and I began to pull the second frame out.  For some reason, I did a mental double take and picked the first frame back off the ground where I had set it.  My eyes popped open when I realize there was the queen!!!  Running around on the frame with only a handful of other bees there!  Very unusual since the queen usually has a group of bees around her taking care of her needs at all time.  I quickly picked the frame up and hovered it back over the middle of the hive until I saw her walk off the frame and back down into the box.  That could have been bad if she had walked off into the grass or dirt somewhere!

The next two frames were empty like the first but on frame 4 I found the first scattering of brood.

Drone comb on plastic frames

On the bottom of this frame you can see that the bees decided to build some comb off of the bottom of the plastic frame.  Since the bees cannot enlarge the plastic cells, they have to build spots of comb with cells large enough for the queen to lay drones in. The next frame had a little brood on it and some nice colored pollen in the upper the queen I almost squashed earlier!

Hi queenie!
Can you spot the queen the frame?  Starting from the middle bottom, about a third of the way up, just a bit to the right of center she sits in all her glory.  I pulled the next frame and was pleased to see it was solid brood!  A really nice pattern with very few cells still empty.  To my surprise, the next two frames were packed with brood too!  Wow!!  This queen is really a good egg layer.  I pulled frame 9 and it looked almost entirely empty until I held it up with the sun at my back.  When the light revealed the bottom of the cells, they were filled with tiny eggs.  This hive is going to be booming in a short period of time with this queen!

It is looking like a nice start to the 2014 beekeeping season.  The first new bees should start hatching any day now so the currently diminishing population of bees will make a nice turn the other direction building up to the hive's peak population in the summer.

Until the next inspection report, thanks for reading!

Monday, May 12, 2014

Hail Hail The Girls Are Here! : 2014-05-11

Let the 2014 beekeeping season begin!  Nothing like installing new packages of bees to remove a bit of the frustration from loosing the previous hives.  The new bees should have an even better start since I'm now able to use honey and drawn comb from the old hives.  No need to feed sugar this time!

Packages of bees waiting for their new home

Green and White hive were set up to make their encore performances.  I made a slight change this year and oriented them so they both face the same direction next to each other.

Ready to install
White hive is fitted with my fully drawn plastic Honey Supercell Frames.  Green Hive is starting with a number of drawn foundationless frames and a few that are empty foundationless frames.  My first year installing packages I sprayed them down with sugar water to keep the bees occupied with eating the sugar and it also serves to help clump them together.  This year with a little more experience under my belt and also from reading more from Michael Bush I decided not to do this and as my friend Scott says.......Release the Kraken!!  I removed the feeding can and the queen cage and after removing a few frames from the hive, I slammed the box on the ground and dumped the bees right in there!  I replaced the frames, removed the cork from the queen cages and wedged the queen cages between the frames.  I no time at all I had two newly installed hives.

Packages installed
I'm now praying for a fantastic 2014 season!  In a few days I will go back and make sure the queens have been released from their cages.  If not, I will then release them myself.  Next project after that is to turn one of the hives into my Arduino based smart hive!!  More on that when the time comes.  Until then, thanks for reading!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

She's Dead Jim - Autopsy of White Hive: 2014-03-31

Well, I pretty much knew White Hive had died but the weather here was finally nice enough for me to verify the sad news.  At almost 60 degrees, I trudged out to the hive with my wagon to see what exactly led to the demise of the hive.  The bees were flying between Christmas and New Year's and it was right after that when the first "Polar Vortex" hit Michigan with many consecutive days of below zero temps.  A week or so after that a second one hit and even after that the temps barely hovered above the zero mark.  Generally speaking, cold doesn't kill the bees but I think this must have been a bit too extreme for them. 

I began by taking the top box off and it was heavy!  Looking though the box frame by frame revealed solid frames of honey front and back.  A few small clusters of dead bees here and there but nothing out of the ordinary.  After looking at six frames, I finally found part of the main cluster on frame 7.  I couldn't believe that the bees never even really made it to the top box!!  The bees generally start at the bottom of the hive at the beginning of winter and gradually move up to the top of the hive eating the honey as they go.  With only part of the main cluster being in the top box, it seems that the bees never even made it far into winter.  That would confirm my thought that they had died in early January.
Part of the cluster
Looking at the bottom box, frame 1 and 2 had some honey on them but after that the frames were looking mostly empty.  This is probably the area that the bees clustered on at the start of winter and they had eaten all the honey there.  When I got to frame 6, I started to see most of the frame covered by dead bees and a large area of bee bread just outside their cluster.  Frame 7, 8 and 9 were completely covered by bees on both sides of the frame.  On top of that, almost every cell was occupied by a bee.  I was very surprised to find that many bees.  It seems to me like almost four solid frames of bees would have been plenty to generate enough heat to survive.  I brushed my hand through the lifeless bees and tried to find the queen but I didn't find her.  As I did this, I was also looking to see if there was any evidence of mite damage or disease.  I didn't see any deformed wings or k-wings.  I also didn't see any actual mites.  I did see a few brown streaks on one of the frames which could be evidence of Nosema.  My hive that survived last year had A LOT more streaks like that and they survived.  Ugh.

Finally I removed the bottom box and looked at the screened bottom board.  There was a 2 inch thick layer of dead bees there!  On top of that layer of bees were a few crumb lines.  These would be from the bees above them chewing through the wax cappings and the crumbs falling to the bottom of the hive.  This tells me that quite a few bees had died but the cluster remained alive for some time after that.
Dead bees on screened bottom board
It is always frustrating to loose your bees but even more so when there doesn't seem to be any apparent reason for their demise.  My only conclusion is that the cluster was fixed in place by very cold weather and they were unable to move to the honey surrounding them.  Since a small part of the cluster was in the top box, they may have simply been caught in the transition between the two boxes when the cold weather held them in place making them unable to reach more honey.

Well, I guess I have to look at the bright side.  Spring is right around the corner and I have two packages of bees on order due to arrive in May.  All the honey remaining in this hive will be put to good use in establishing two new hives!  Better luck for the upcoming winter too!

wax crumb line on dead bees
As always, thanks for reading!

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Winter Activites: 2013-01-29

Since winter time activities for beekeepers usually involve sitting around and worrying about their bees freezing, it is a good idea to find something else to do for the bees.  Well, I've been busy with three different bee related projects for this upcoming season!

Nuc Building:

A "nuc" is a nucleus hive.  It is a smaller version of a standard hive.  They have many uses such as swarm capture boxes, bait boxes, hive split boxes, etc.  So it is a good idea to have some on hand if necessary.  Using the plans by D Coates, I built four nuc boxes out of a sheet of 1/2" plywood.  With a few minor mistakes here and there and two days out in the pole barn, I have them complete!  It was also an excuse to use the new air compressor and staple gun I received for Christmas this year!

Four waiting to be painted

Yes, Frames do fit!

All I need to do now is paint them and drill an entrance hole.  Nice!

Wax Processing:

The second project I accomplished was to take the beeswax I had collected and melt it down into a manageable form.  I have two different wax molds (another Christmas gift), a 1 oz. and a 1 pound.  After using both, I decided I didn't really have enough wax to use the 1 pound mold, so I re-melted that one down and made it all into 1 oz. bars.

I'll be using the wax for making lip balm and coating any plastic foundation I have.  I don't think it is enough to make candles out of.  It seems like that would really take a lot of wax.

Smart Hive/Arduino Development:

Thanks to another Christmas gift (do you see a theme yet?), I have a plan to build a "Smart Hive".  Basically a hive that I can attach an electronic monitoring station to.  I would like it to measure temperature, humidity and hive weight throughout the year.  I could then collect the data and see some nice trends as the bee population increases and when the main nectar flows are in my area by watching weight spikes.  All of this is possible through a little device called Arduino.  An Arduino is an open source electronic board that you can attach various sensors to.  From the reading I have done it seems like the temperature and humidity sensors will be easy to configure.  The weight sensors seem to be a bigger issue.  Most electronic weight measurements are affected by temperature changes.  In an outdoor environment, the temperature will obvious change quite a bit.  Hopefully I'll be able to post more as my progress on the Smart Hive continues!


Until next time, thanks for reading!