Too much “boosting”

This past Saturday I checked the nucs and found that #1 had built out all 5 frames, while #2 only worked on 3 frames. One frame happened to be plastic foundation and I suspect there wasn’t enough wax on it for them to draw it out. Given the disparity I decided to take out one of the drawn frames from Nuc #1 and give it to #2, trying to balance it out a bit. The frame was quite bulbous and didn’t allow other frames to be added so Nuc #2 had 4 frames and Nuc #1 had 5 frames, of which one was brand new wax foundation. Sunday I would have everything I needed to separate the nucs and move them into new hive bodies, 10 frames each, so that was the plan.

Sunday came around and I was looking forward to moving them. But then came the conundrum: do I stack them on top of each other with a double-screened bottom board between them or move them away from each other? If I left them on top of each other, inspecting them would become a problem. So I decided to move them apart, one nuc in between each set of 2 main hives. At the same time, I had given a boost of brood to the smaller nuc as the strong one was certainly going to town on the frames. They had already started to draw out one side of the new frame I gave them just 24hrs ago!

Here comes the problem: I left Nuc#2 in the original space PLUS I had given them a frame of mixed brood. I moved Nuc#1 (the stronger one) over to the other hive stand, in between the original two hives I started with. Can anyone guess where all the foragers would come home to? Yes, the original location. So not only did I give the “weaker” nuc #2 more brood, I gave them more foragers.

Over the next few days the difference at the entrances became abundantly clear and so did my error. I could have easily left the nucs as they were (in regard to frames and just not moved any brood at all) and just moved the stronger Nuc #1 over to the new location, it would have lots of bees still, and the foragers would return to #2, boosting its numbers that way. Now as I watch the entrances, I can see that over a minute there are a couple of bees leaving Nuc #1 whereas #2 is like an airport. Oh brother, why didn’t I think of it before? Nuc #1 is now filled with nurse bees whereas #2 has nurse bees and foragers. So this begs the question: Do I switch locations or move a frame of brood from #2 to #1 in a (final) attempt at equalization?

Nuc #2 on the right (your right) and #1 on the left.

Nuc #2 on the right (your right) and #1 on the left.


The black locust has started to bloom and the bees are going nuts. We have been extremely fortunate to have remarkable weather: most days have been sunny with temperatures in the 80′s and below. A little rain to supply the plants and the reservoir, the vegetables and fruits.

I had added honey supers a few weeks ago and the bees had diligently started filling them up, drawing out the foundationless frames.

But when I saw my first black locust bloom last Wednesday and then progressively more black locust, I knew I needed to check the hives this weekend and man, was  I right! Oh my gosh, what was supposed to be a full inspection turned into a rapid honey super check with a mad dash to add supers and frames.

There were unassembled frames I was able to put together on Saturday, but I had to drive down to Jim’s on Sunday morning to get more supers and even more frames. A friend and I assembled frames and supers, I put small-cell foundation in the deep frames while she was given creative license to paint the supers at will. She seemed to enjoy that and I loved how many supers and frames we put together: 3 supers and one deep box, 40-50 medium foundationless frames and 30 deep frames. And everything was painted! What a relief, a crazy and productive weekend.

But I haven’t even updated you on the nuc! After aborting full hive inspections I wanted to look at the nucs. Hoping but not expecting to find queens, I pulled a frame out and hot-damn, found eggs! Also found the queen and marked her with a neon green dot.

Checked the other nuc, it still hadn’t built out one of the frames, whereas the other had biult out all of the frames. I wasn’t sure about it but when I pulled it out…eggs! Then I found that queen and marked her as well. Four strong hives and 2 good nucs!

I think I’m going to donate a nuc to a local nature center if they need it, otherwise, I may sell them. This may be a nice way to offset the costs of beekeeping, selling a few nucs every spring. This is an expensive hobby but I have to say, I just love it.

Queenless question answered

Last week when I looked at the purple hive, I wondered if it was queenless because all I saw was capped brood. I decided to take a quick peek yesterday as whether it was queenless or not would help me decide what to do with the new nucs. First I wanted to see how the honey supers were shaping up.

To encourage the bees to work in the honey supers (which were separated by queen excluders) I put in a frame of left-over capped honey that I had. This did the trick to entice them into the supers. I also gave them a mix of drawn comb and foundationless frames. Needless to say, the value of drawn comb cannot be overemphasized…they already started packing the available cells with nectar and while they working on the foundationless frames somewhat, it looked like most of their energy was going into the already drawn comb. I actually gave them some very ragged frames where the edges of the cells were jagged and torn, it was neat to see how the workers straighten and neaten the edges. Remember that the bees need lots of open cells to be able to hold the nectar while they evaporate the water content, as the water content is reduced, the nectar takes up less space. I’m going to make more of an effort to have drawn comb available for them. I may do that this fall when I’m feeding them.

Onto the purple hive. There were lots of bees coming and going, my first indication that things may be okay here. I popped off the inner cover and was faced with LOTS of bees. Hmmm…I took out the first frame and saw loads of drones, this is okay if the hive is fine, but if it’s not fine, lots of drones can be a bad thing. Was the queen there but a drone layer? I checked the next frame, capped worker brood, PHEW! Next frame, open brood and capped worker brood, C-shaped larvae and then eggs. THEN I spotted the queen with her pink dot wearing away. Remember, we don’t need to see the queen, just evidence of her presence.

I’ve noticed that this has happened to me sometimes, if the light isn’t right and I miss seeing eggs and/or if my inspection happens to fall at the point in the egg-laying cycle where the brood has just emerged and the cells are being cleaned and readied for the queen, I wonder if the hive is queenless. You know what the best answer is to this? Close them up and check them a week later.

Next task: making a Taranov board, I think I’m going to need it.

Bees don’t read the books


It’s Mother’s Day in the US and rather than go out to eat, which is the norm, I wanted to stay home and work in the garden. Good thing! I was just about to head in for lunch when I looked out at the hives and saw bees EVERYWHERE. And I really mean everywhere, as in a 15-20 foot radius around the hives. I ran over, holding my hair down to keep bees out of it and stood just within that radius. The orange hive looked like it was bearding but I wasn’t sure if it was a swarm, because it didn’t coalesce at all, or if it was just loads of bees orienting (they were flying the way they do when orienting and then going off into the distance). My hunch is that they were not swarming.

Anyway, I geared up PRONTO and with my husband helping we started with the orange hive. Can I even tell you how many queen cells we found? Capped and uncapped, PLUS we found eggs and 3-4 day old larvae. If you read the books, they’ll tell you that when the bees are preparing to swarm, the bees will keep the old queen from laying to trim her down and make her “flyable”. That was not the case here. We looked in 3 out of the 4 hives and found loads of capped and uncapped queen cells in the orange hive and the pink hive (same genetics mind you!). We couldn’t find the old queens in either hive and decided to just make 2 splits. Took 2 frames with queen cells on them, another frame of pollen and honey and put them in my homemade nuc, dumped bees in there hoping some would stay. So I now have 2 nucs and the 4 hives.

As for the purple hive (we didn’t go into the aqua hive), it may actually be queenless as I found capped worker and drone brood, one uncapped queen cell but not a single egg. I’ll check it again in week or 2 and see what the deal is.

I had mentioned using the Taranov board, I need to make one to have it ready. To have a hive open, then close it, go make the board and open it again is just too much. Having whatever you may need, ready to go, makes all the difference. I am so glad we made that nuc box a few weeks ago; though today was extremely chaotic, it would have been much worse without that nuc!

I’ve been wanting a garden cart to haul my gear to the hives. Normally I have to carry my smoker to the shed, light it, get my frames and boxes ready just in case I need to swap anything out or add something. I carry all this separately to the hive stand and then reverse it after the inspection. Now I have this:

Hnady dandy garden cart! See the frame rest hanging off the back?

Handy dandy garden cart! See the frame rest hanging off the back? This is wide enough to hold my hive bodies. It’ll make harvesting honey easier too!

Just load it up and pull away, cleaning up was so much easier.

As for the new set-up, I have no idea if the nucs will work or not, but if they end up succeeding I’ll have to find a different place for them.

I sincerely hope they didn’t swarm, one of the neighboring beekeepers set up a swarm trap…

Two nucs in one deep.

See the nuc between the blue and pink hive? Two nucs are in that one deep.

While we were in the midst of some extremely unhappy bees, I heard one buzzing around my head but she sounded awfully close. I asked my husband to check my hood to see if she had latched on to the cloth and was readying herself for an attack on my head, turns out she was inside my veil! She had just attached herself to my hair via the HOLE that formed in the cloth! Thankfully hubby got her out before she got me, but then he grabbed some duct tape and closed the hole for me until I can actually fix it:

Stymied the attack bee!

Stymied the attack bee!

I’ll keep you posted on the nucs, I don’t think I can manage more than 4 hives, it’s just too much work for the little free time I have available. If everything ends up working, I may sell these. I also have some pictures of the garden I’ll post soon. I hope everyone is having a great bee season so far.

Building a nuc

I had planned for some time to build a nuc box and finally got around to it this weekend: I figured with all 4 hives surviving the winter and 3/4 doing really well, I needed to get cracking! So I took a deep hive body and my husband used the router to carve a groove in the middle, we used a thin board as the divider. This design makes 2, 5-frame nucs.

The router was used to make th groove, you can see the depth needs to be adjusted to avoid the thin area left by the handle hold.

The router was used to make the groove, you can see the depth needs to be adjusted to avoid the thin area left by the handlehold.

The screened bottom board also needed to have a groove.

The screened bottom board also needed to have a groove.

The divider with wood piece glued along the edges to cover the small holes in the handlehold.

The divider with wood pieces glued along the edges to cover the small holes in the handlehold.

My 2, 5-frame nuc box.

My 2, 5-frame nuc box. I’m going to make entrance reducers that have openings on either end.

Screened inner cover to allow me to just place a mason jar feeder over the screen. The divider board abuts the screen to prevent the bees from co-mingling.

Screened inner cover to allow feeding via mason jars by just placing over the screen. The divider board abuts the screen to prevent the bees from co-mingling.

It will be painted with a hodge-podge of the colors I have and used to stave off a swarm. I’ve been fascinated with the Taranov method of swarm control and will try to use it!

I actually have hive updates and pictures but need more time to put it together. Hope everyone’s bees did well over the winter (I know a few folks who lost theirs). Wishing for myself and my fellow beekeepers a honey-filled and successful bee season!

Chicken tips for the winter

So here in Maryland we find ourselves in a prolonged cold spell that has brought our temperatures to 15 and 11 below zero with the windchill. On Friday, it was so cold that the water nipples were rock solid and my husband called me because he was trying to figure out what to do to help get water to the chickens. All outside water was frozen and the chickens needed to have access to water. All animals need water, especially chickens who lay eggs (no matter how infrequently!) Their water bucket is kept outside with a heater that kicks on if the temps drop below freezing, the heater keeps the water liquid, however, the nipples are out in the air and they were frozen rock solid! We have a water bucket that I use when brooding chicks and my husband hung that one INSIDE the coop and filled it with hot water, he periodically added hot water to keep the water from freezing and the inside placement of the waterer kept the wind from freezing the nipples. Tonight the windchill is due to be -11. It has never been this cold for so long here since I’ve lived in Maryland.

One thing you want to make sure you do as a chicken owner, is to have adequate food supplies. Chickens generate heat through the action of digestion, so before they go to bed they will fill their crops and while they sleep they will break down the food and that action heats their bodies and keeps them freezing. The down feathers help to. I do not use a heater, the risk of fire is too great and if you constantly provide heat they won’t adapt (they grow more feathers if needed). And on a side note, my chickens are not “cold weather” breeds.

I noticed they were hunkering down in the nest boxes which are filled with straw, in particular, the molting chicken would hang out there. So I added a layer of straw on top of the pine shavings bedding for extra warmth and it was well-received, within a few minutes one had already settled in.

In summary, provide water (check the supplies frequently), food and wind protection. Straw can help too. Good luck getting through this cold snap or as the weather channels like to call it… the POLAR VORTEX!

First day of winter

Last Saturday was the first day of winter, the winter solstice and a warm one at 70ºF though still windy and threatening rain. The bees were out in force and I was able to take a quick peek at the top boxes just by lifting off the covers. All but one of the top boxes had just a smattering of bees, the purple hive had a lot more over the top frames which worried me. Either the cluster is huge or they’ve used more food. So I added a candy board just to be on the safe side and they were all over it, even on the cold days. I’ll keep an eye on it and try to get a deeper look when the weather is better.

Here are a couple of brief videos of the activity at the hives:

Makes for a happy beekeeper :)