My 1st hive is dead

As some of you local Michiganders will know, today was an unusually warm day for mid-January with it getting up to 60 degrees. I half expected to see a few honey bees making short flights to relieve themselves, but no such activity was present. I was dying to take a peek under my hive cover just for peace of mind.

At first, when I lifted the cover off, I just thought they were all gone. Peering down through the top of my second box, I didn’t see any movement, nor any bee. I thought maybe they had swarmed a while ago and I just never noticed. So I took the top box off and looked down through the top of my bottom box. Then I saw it. The mass cluster of honey bees in the middle of the hive…all dead. I will post some pictures in a few days.

Many had their tongues sticking out. Many were face-down inside of empty honey cells. I took half the hive a part inspecting it for any reason to why they had all died. There was plenty of honey all throughout the hive, but most of the honey where the cluster had been was all gone. I’m inclined to believe that they starved even when inches away from them was food to live off of. Or they may have froze on one of those especially bitter cold days we had not too long ago. I’m really not sure. In speaking with Roger Sutherland of SEMBA (South Eastern Michigan’s Bee Association), he said that he imagined many beekeepers this year will unfortunately be in the same position as me and reminded me of all the trouble we had in the spring with the frost that killed all our fruit trees and then the drought that came after, that there was very little nectar for the bees to collect this year in Michigan.

It’s a big bummer, but when life deals you lemons…
So, I have all this honey in a dead hive. Hmmm. Even though the reason for me getting into beekeeping was not specifically for the honey, I’m all about making the best of this experience. I’m going to extract some honey at the end of next week. This is my first time extracting honey, so it should be quite the learning experience. Going on SEMBA’s website to look for resources for honey extraction, the club offers a three-day rental for a four-frame manual extractor, stand, uncapping knife, and basket at $15. Should be all I need to get the honey out. I will need to figure out how many jars to buy for about 10-12 frames of honey.

The dilemma I’m contemplating now is I’m not entirely sure if I should extract all of the honey or if I should leave some for my second try with bees this spring. Any of my bee mentors out there know the answer to this?

Bee Update

It’s been quite a while since my last post, and only because I didn’t want to post about how worried I am about my bees, but today was a great day so I wanted to catch you all up on what’s been going on.

The last few weeks of monitoring the second box that I added back in June and not seeing much progress has been a little worrisome. Autumn is right around the corner and the temperature has already dropped a bit so that it’s pretty cool in the evenings. The last time I took a look in the hive was two weeks ago and there had been no progress on the pulling of the frames. They really had their work cut out for them in order to build all the comb on nearly all the frames in the second box, and then to start storing honey and capping their honey in all of those frames…I was getting pretty doubtful that they would be able to do it in time for winter, which would mean not enough food for them to survive.

Today we had Andrew’s parents over and showed them the hive. When we opened it up there was capped honey in the first two frames and looking down upon the other frames it looked like the little ladies had done a good job of pulling wax for their new comb on the rest. I’m very pleased with the progress, and it seems like my feeding them has helped significantly. I plan on continuing the simple syrup mix that I’ve been giving to them nearly everyday/every other day until my next inspection on Labor Day weekend. I really want to avoid feeding them for such long periods of time, but as I’m still learning about the impact of the drought we had here and what autumn blooms will bring for the nectar flow, I think I will keeping going for the next 10 days to see what they do.

I’ll be taking a bee class in mid-September to learn more about bee-friendly plants – can’t wait!!!

Michigan’s 1st Annual Honey Festival

This past weekend was the first annual Michigan Honey Festival. I went with a good friend of mine and had so much fun. My husband lent me his D200, the one camera he felt completely fine parting with as it’s his oldest digital camera – haha! It was fun acting like a photojournalist for the day.

There were many activities throughout the day. Rich Wieske, who heads up Green Toe Gardens apiary, was there performing as the bearded man. There was craftmaking for the kids, cooking demonstrations and mead-making demos (Ken Schram) for the adults, live hive walk-throughs for everyone, as well as lots of vendors selling beekeeping equipment, honey (of course), lotions, chap sticks, and bee-friendly plants.

Here are the photos from the Honey Festival.

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White Spots and Smears

Looking at some of my bees doing the washboarding thing at the front of the hive entrance, I noticed several of them had either tiny white dots speckled on them (on the thorax of most of them, but I did see one with a couple speckles on its eye) or a grayish smear across the abdomen. I didn’t really see it on any of the returning or leaving foragers, however. It seemed to primarily be on the young bees doing their duty on the front porch.

I can’t really find any information about what it could be except that it might either be tulip poplar or fecal matter from varroa mites. I really hope it’s not the latter. I have not seen any varroa in my hive, and with the intense heat as of lately I would be surprised if any mites could survive. I’m going to have to get into the hive and check things out this weekend, varroa can be devastating to a colony.

The 1st Annual Michigan Honey Festival is this weekend in Imlay City (I know, I know, I’m absolutely bee crazy), and so I’m definitely going to see if anyone there knows what the white spots could be.

Adding a Super

We added a super to the hive today. The bees were ready for the new addition. Besides getting bees in the first place, I’m considering this my next big milestone.

Went with another deep box, let’s call that “daisy” box (which is the same size as what we will now call our first box – “sunflower” box) so that we could put a couple frames from sunflower into daisy. There are a lot of conflicting views out there on whether to move frames up or not, and so we just decided to go for it. (When it comes to beekeeping, it seems there is a lot of personal trial and error.)

Now, since we were going for it, moving a couple frames up that is, my preference was to take two frames (one from each far side of sunflower) and move them up into daisy. However, my husband seemed to think it was a better idea to take two frames from stage-right since the bees hadn’t begun any comb on the other sides’ last frame. Also, he thought that would be a good thing because they would have the same pattern sitting next to each other up in the middle of daisy. We’ll see how it goes!

While we were at it, we switched our entrance reducer to the wider setting. It took quite a bit of prying with the hive tool to get that little block of wood unstuck from the super. With all the stuff we were doing to the hive, I kind of half-expected the bees to get a little annoyed with us. At first with the switching of the entrance, it seemed like there was a little confusion for them and one did buzz my hat, but all went back to normal once we got the reducer back in place. As for their behavior when we added the daisy super, they didn’t seem curious, annoyed, or anything. Another successful interaction, still never been stung!

I also scraped off the comb that I had noticed on my birthday which they had spilling over onto the tops of the sunflower bars. I just want to keep the tops clean as I’ve noticed it sticking to my top covers as well. This time there was no honey in those little pieces, but I was pleased to see they had been hard at work to cap the frames of honey they had produced recently. Although I won’t be able to give some of my co-workers a little taste until a few months from now, I know it’s a good sign that the bees are capping their reserves. How exciting!

On a side note, earlier this morning, before all of this fun activity, I went out to the hive to watch them come and go and there were a handful of dead drones just outside the entrance again. I even observed one returning to the hive and he got quite the buzz by a couple workers as he went in through the entrance. I also found one alive in the grass near the hive and so I picked him up to look at him (keep in mind that drones don’t have stingers) as it appeared he was having a hard time in the grass – he had just repeatedly been crawling up a blade of grass and falling off again and again. As I held him in my hand and looked at him I could tell there were some white scratches on one of his eyes. Other than that it didn’t appear to be anything the matter with him, although it seemed like his balance was off. He peed a little in my hand too – bee pee! Actually, bees don’t pee because they need to conserve water, so the waste he eliminated onto my hand must have been uric acid. I placed him back in the grass to let nature take its course with him.

HONEY!

I don’t know if you can tell from this photo, but the hive has been very active the past two weeks around mid-afternoon. If you look to the left of the hive in the grassy area, you can see many bees hovering in the air waiting to go into the entrance of the hive.

Here’s another photo a little bit more close-up and personal.

Yesterday we had some friends over and showed them the hive. It was the first time I’d opened up in 10 days since the wax worms were on my bottom board. When I took the top cover off I could already tell that much work had been accomplished. Through the hole on my inside cover they were building comb on top of the frames and connecting it to the bottom of the inside cover. Using my hive tool, I slid between the comb and the inside cover to free it up so I could take the cover off and show everyone. As I did this, the cover came free very easily (must have been because of the 93 degree heat) and upon removing it I immediately noticed that my population had increased – not sure by how much but it seemed like a lot.

I pulled out two frames from the end, nothing but lonesome bees on the last one doing not much at all; however, the second to last frame they were already pulling comb on both sides – wow, that was fast! I thought “pulling” took a long time on plastic cell frames? Not only that, but between the third and fourth frames from that end as I pulled them lightly a gap, I could see uncapped honey (lots of it!)just kind of oozing between those frames. Also, the comb that they had formed on top of the frames and connected to my inside cover had uncapped honey in it.

So much to celebrate!!! With my hive tool, I scraped off a piece of comb from the tops of the bars and was able to give my friends a little taste – it was absolutely delicious!!!!! I don’t know if I’m the best person to describe taste with my lack of sense of smell, but it was delicately sweet, just lovely. I have some Michigan honey in my pantry from the local grocery store that is supposed to be pure and not have had any treatments, but that stuff compared with my honey…there’s no comparison. The store bought honey is like tasting pure sugar. My honey also seems to be pleasantly fragrant (although I can’t smell it, I can kind of feel the smell) and the texture so smooth. Yay! I can’t believe that I got to taste my bees’ honey already. One of the best birthday presents I could ever have wished for. GREAT day!

Good News and Bad News

Let’s start with the bad news first to get it over with. I found wax worms in my hive today!
I pulled out the bottom board to have a look and it was covered in wax worms that were crawling through tunnels of gauzy white webbing. It was horrifying. I had no idea what they were at first, so I threw the pull-out board off to the side of the garage so it wouldn’t blow away and ran inside to look it up online. Sure enough I found an exact image right away defining what they were. I know these turn into a major nuisance for the hive and can cause serious destruction of the comb. Reading up on it more I realized that I had not been keeping my bottom board clean which is the primary reason that these pests can set up shop in the hive. Bits of wax had fallen through the screened bottom board on to the pull-out piece and had been collecting there ever since I put the bees in their hive, which lured these nasty things.

On the flip side, it made me inspect my hive more thoroughly as I was on the quest to see if any damage had been done in the frames my bees are working, and I was pleased to finally see that they have begun pulling on my plastic cell foundation! That means they are expanding out of the original 5 frames that they came with in the nuc and are now taking to my frames. The comb they built nearly covered an entire side of one frame. It was pure white and so pretty. I am so excited and can’t wait to see what more they do with it in the next few weeks! Pictures to come soon!