Archive for the ‘beehives’ Category

Yes, I haven’t posted anything all winter. That’s mainly because there really hasn’t been anything to write about.  The bees have been hunkering down keeping warm and protecting the Queen.  There were periods of time when it got down to zero and stayed in single digits for days on end….. brrrr!   But both hives seemed to have made it through the winter.  Now when it gets above 50 degrees, they venture out for “cleansing flights” and I can see them in action. Yay!  ( Bees won’t excrete while in their hive, so they have to hold it until it’s warm enough for them to fly out. ) It’s still too early to open up the hive ( don’t want to chill the girls ) and assess the strength of the hive, but so far, so good.   I’ll give them another month before I check out the hive.

But I have been busy with bees…. bee art, that is.  I have been experimenting with making glass tiles. I cut the glass and then lay a stencil on top. Then I sprinkle black glass frit ( finely ground glass) over the stencil and carefully lift off the stencil. Then it goes into a kiln and is fired until the grit melts and fuses to the glass tile.  I think they came out pretty good for a beginner!  I have made a couple of them into night lights. Perhaps I’ll fuse a whole bunch of them together to make a large honeycomb!

Glass bee tile

Glass bee tile

So that’s what a beekeeper does in the winter!


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Went out yesterday to see how much honey the bees had produced and how much I could take from the hive.  Both hives had built up 13 combs… a little less than half of a full hive.  I inspected the bars from the far end first.  The first two combs were incomplete and filled with pollen and uncapped honey.  The next  four were completely full of capped honey. Just beautiful!   Then came the brood comb…with honey at the top and larvae below.  Finally ( at the entrance) there were  two fully capped comb.   I left them there as it not only provides insulation over winter, it’s a natural place for bees to feed from. I took one of the full combs out from each of the hives and placed them on a cookie sheet, as I didn’t want to break up the comb. I didn’t want to take any more, as I wanted them to have a good supply of honey for the winter.   They are continuing to make honey, so I will take one last look next month to see if they have replaced the one I took….maybe I can get in a second harvest.


I had purchased jars and plastic boxes from Dadant and Sons, so I got them out, took the combs into the kitchen , and cut out 4″ x 4″ squares to put into the plastic boxes, then threw all the remaining comb and honey into a strainer, broke it up with a wooden spoon and let it strain out into a bowl.

Straining the honey

A few hours later, I poured the honey into small hex jars ( 9  1/2 oz size).  And that was it.  When I weighed the amount of honey, it totaled almost 9 pounds!  Amazing.

9 pounds of honey

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Broken comb

It was so hot last month that one of the combs fell off the bar.  The bees have been cranking out a lot of honey and this comb was so full and the comb was so fresh that the heat caused it to drop off.  I figured something was wrong when I saw a big cloud of bees buzzing outside the entrance…. I had to reach in a pull out the comb. What to do?  I figured that perhaps if I made a pouch or out of bird netting I could replace it back in the hive.  I stapled one side of the netting to a bar, laid the broken comb onto it, folded the netting back up to the bar and stapled it ….pulling the comb close up to the bar. This way I could lift it up and replace it.  All went well.  This is one of the negatives of using a top bar hive…. there isn’t as much support for the comb as with the traditional Langstroth hive. Haven’t gone back in to check it out yet, but next week I plan to harvest some honey, so I ‘ll see how they reacted to my emergency repair!

Repaired comb

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Two weeks ago a strong wind knocked over one of the (empty)  rainbarrels and it rolled into Hive #1. The colony had successfully made it through the winter, and the queen was laying, comb was being built.  After the storm, I noticed that a huge cloud of bees were hovering around the hive.  Something had to be wrong.  I geared up, smoked the bees and went in to see what was the matter.  Two of the fresh combs had been knocked loose and were laying on the bottom.  No wonder the bees were so upset!  I took the combs out, brushed off the bees, closed up the hive and reattached them to the bars. The next day I replaced them and hoped all would be OK.  A week later I went in to see how things were going and looked for the queen…. couldn’t find her.  About 5 days later, I checked on the hive…. still no queen.  I also noticed that there were larva and a lot of capped brood, but no new eggs. Something definately  happened to the queen….perhaps she was injured from the accident. I also noticed three big queen cells that they had built.

Queen Cell

They look like a large peanut shell, and one of them was capped.  The workers had decided to make a new queen. It takes about 16 days for a queen to develop from an egg to an adult.   A queen bee is fed exclusively with “royal Jelly”, a nutrient rich milky substance produced by young worker bees.  Once the larva is fully grown, it spins a cocoon, the workers cap off the cell and she undergoes metamorphosis. 7 days later she emerges. The first thing a virgin queen does is to find any other developing queens and kill them.  Then she flies out and mates with up to a dozen male drone bees, returning to the hive, and there to remain for the rest of her life…

I talked with my bee mentor Steve Wall, and he said to leave the hive alone for three weeks so that the new queen can establish herself with the colony.   So… I will wait.  I’ll report back then to let you know how the colony is doing.  If she mated successfully, I will see evidence of new larvae.  If not, I will have to acquire a new queen.  This will be interesting!

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Empty queen cage.

New comb built in just 3 days.

Reattached the comb to the bar. You can see where the cage had been.

Three days after I put the new colony ( 4 pounds of bees plus 1 queen) into the hive, I checked in to see if they had released her.  The queen bee arrives in a special cage that is plugged with a soft sugar paste.  They can feed her through the cage and then eat through the sugar plug to release her.  The three day period gives the worker bees time to get accustomed to their new queen.  I removed the bar that I hung the cage on and found that not only had they released her, but  they had already built a large comb around her. The new comb was so soft that as I removed the cage, the two sections of comb fell off the bar.  Nice to see that they got her out and were busy building up comb.  I took the pieces out and reattached them to the bar by using a soldering iron to melt the edge and “glue” it on to the bar.  Now you can see where the cage had been. Tomorrow I will put it back into the hive.  Success!   After I replace the comb, I will leave them alone for a couple weeks….  then I’ll check in with them again to see how she is laying, and how they are building up the comb.  Long Live The Queen!

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Back in February I ordered a 4 lb package of honeybees with queen for my second hive.  I had built it two years ago but only got one going last year, so it has been sitting empty in the yard.  Well, they arrived today…. all 14,000 or so of them!  ( no, I didn’t count them all…. I’m going to take their word for it )  They are “Russian Carnolian” honeybees from a company in California called “Honeybee Genetics”  According to them, the bees are a “gentle gray black bee resistant to mites. They overwinter well and build up fast in the spring”.   I had gone in with a number of other beekeepers on the order, and got a group shipping discount.  By late afternoon, I was ready to install them in their new home.  The first thing I did was to get a fresh comb from my first hive to put in the empty new hive to give the bees something to start off with.   I picked out a beautiful comb filled with some capped honey at the top and pollen scattered throughout.   The box of bees comes with a can of sugar water to keep them fed during the trip.  The queen is in a small cage.  So I removed the can ( it was almost empty ) and then took out the queen bee in her cage and checked to see that she was OK. I quickly closed up the hole in the box to keep the bees in.  Then I removed the plastic cap from the sugar tube  and hung the queen cage from one of the top bars next to the comb.  The idea is that the workers will eat through the sugar on the way to get to the queen.  It will take about three days.  By then, the workers will have accepted her.  When she gets out , she will begin to lay eggs and the colony will begin to grow. So far, so good. I took a deep breath then grabbed the box of bees, turned it upside down and shook out all the bees into the hive.  A few remained in the box, so I set it on the ground, put the remaining bars on top of the hive, covered it and watched as all the bees that were buzzing around the hive  flew right in to their new home.  Within 15 minutes they were all inside. Amazing!  I was pleased that it all went so smoothly, they seemed to be OK with their new digs and I didn’t even get stung.

I will leave them alone for 5 days ( I put a container of sugar water in the hive box for them to drink while they are getting their bearings ) then go in and check on them.  If all goes well, the queen will be out of her cage ( I’ll remove it from the hive)  and will be laying eggs in the new comb.  Stay tuned!

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Hive in winter

Hive in winter

Most insects, even most bee species, will die once it gets cold. As summer ends,the adults will lay eggs in the ground or other protected place and these will hatch in the spring.  But honeybees are different.  The bees that hatch out in late summer are fatter and live longer than the normal bee. They will live 4-5 months, unlike the 6 week life span of their summer sisters. Their job is to keep the queen alive over the cold winter months. They cluster around the queen inside their hive and keep her warm by vibrating their bodies. As the outer bees get chilled, they move toward the center and the warmer bees move out. These “convection currents” of bees will keep the queen as warm as she is during the warmer months. They survive by eating the honey they have stored in the combs. If the temperature during the day gets above 50 degrees on a sunny winter day, you might see bees flying around. These are called “cleansing flights’, where the bees fly out to relieve themselves ( being very fastidious, they do not excrete inside their hive)   If there is enough honey in the hive, and the weather isn’t extremely cold for a long period of time, the colony will survive, and come spring, the queen will once again begin laying eggs and new generations of bees will populate the hive.  Wish my ” girls” luck. I’ll report next spring as to the outcome.

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