Archive for Bee Keeping

A Healthy Hive

I am thoroughly enjoying my bees. It is amazing how they function as a busy, thriving community.  Last evening I noticed something different at the hive.  The front of the hive was covered with bees and there was a 6-8″ “beard” of bees hanging down from the entrance.  I wasn’t sure if they were just “chillin’ out” on the front porch after a hot, humid day or getting ready to swarm.  I called Bill Kimmich, the owner of the hive, and left a message on his answering machine-just to be safe.

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The “beard” is a solid mass of buzzing, crawling bees all attached to each other. Can you imagine the weight of that mass on the bees at the lip of the entrance. How do they hang on?  It is also amazing they don’t suffocate the ones underneathe.  Looks like a lot of “togetherness” to me, not much cooling off!

This morning I checked the hive and everything looked “normal” again.

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A little later in the morning, Bill and his wife stopped by and checked on the hive.  After suiting up and lighting the smoker, he took the telescoping top and top feeder off and examined the super. It is almost full of honey.  The frames and foundations were covered with busy bees who almost didn’t even seem to be bothered by being lifted from the hive and examined.

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Smoker lit and ready to use.

Bill carefully lifted each frame out of the hive, turning each over and examined them, looking for the queen and signs of trouble such as hive beetles or mites.  To clear bees off of a spot he wanted to examine he would use the smoker to put a poof of smoke in the area. The bees immediately cleared the spot.

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Notice the full cells of honey.

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Cleaning the tops of the frames off

After finishing the super, he looked into the hive body and after pulling out several frames, he found the queen.  She was busy laying eggs in each cell. The eggs looked like a grain of rice.

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A frame is the wood piece that holds a foundation.  Foundations are flexible, fragile pieces that the bees build the honey on.  A standard hive body or super holds 10 frames with foundations.

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In the picture below the queen is the bee in the center with the red dot. Mrs. Kimmich showed me the little cage that they put the queen in to hold her just right so that she can be marked for easy spotting.

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The hive body is the larger box on the bottom of the hive.  You do not harvest the honey from it as that is food for the bees for the winter. When the hive body is full, you add supers.  The supers are for harvesting.  Bill made the comment that he needed to add the second super!!!  That sounded like great news to me.

Bill worked without gloves as it is easier to maneuver and I only heard him say “ouch” once.  His wife said she likes and even tries  to get stung occasionally. She has arthritis in her hands and bee “poison” is suppose to help.  She said after she is stung, her hands won’t hurt for weeks. Hum!  I also have arthritis in my fingers and now I know the solution; pick up several bees and make one mad!

The Kimmichs said the hive was healthy and there were no signs of hive beetles in this hive.  He has beetles in some of his other hives.  Hive beetles can destroy a hive if they get out of control.

It is amazing to me that you can open the hive, disturb the peace by lifting out each frame, put it back together and the bees keep on working. Don’t get me wrong, there are a few mad ones buzzing around and it pays for the casual observer to stand off to the side. I had one land on my head and get tangled in my hair but I did not get stung.

Bee Swarm!

Yesterday customer Bill Cox from Casselmonte Farm, came into the store to purchase a hive body.  I started chatting with him and discovered he had found a swarm of bees that morning and captured them.  He let me come and take pictures as they introduced the bees to their new home later that evening. It is a fascinating story that I am delighted to share with you.

Bill and India were taking their dogs on a walk down to the river when India spied a swarm of bees in an apple tree.  They had never captured a swarm before so this quickly became a “learn as you go” experience.  Bill consulted his bee book as to how to and what to do.  He took a large cardboard box and cut a large hole out of the side and stapled screen wire over the hole for ventilation.  While Bill held onto the branch above the swarm of bees, India took a pruner and cut off the branch below the bees and then they carefully and gently laid the apple branch in the box and closed it tight.  (They did not get pictures of this process).

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Swarming is  normally a spring  phenomenon (within a 2-3 week time in a particular locale) and  part of the natural perpetuation or reproduction of a colony of bees, however, it can happen during the producing season.   The colony divides with part of it leaving to form a new colony with the old queen. The bees prepare for the swarm by creating a large number of “queen cells or swarm cells”.  Once the cells are sealed,  they exit the hive as a swarm taking up to 60% of the workers with them.  A swarm can contain thousands to tens of thousands of bees. The remaining workers continue at the original site with the newly emerged and later-mated queen.

Workers are female bees that have not developed their reproductive potential into a queen.

Secondary afterswarms may happen but they are rare.  An afterswarm is smaller and accompanied by one of the virgin queens. 

Usually a swarm attaches itself to a branch, fence post or other near-by object within a few feet of the original hive.  They begin fanning with their scent glands exposed to attact the remainder of the swarm and the queen. Soon a “cluster” or swarm of bees form.

Scout bees will then dance on the cluster to communicate the location of a new homesite. Once one is agreed on, the swarm flies to the new site, guided by the scouting bees.

This is when Bill came to see me.  He said, “I had my list of things to do today and this was not on it!”   After purchasing the hive, he went home to put it together with the promise to call me when he was ready to move the swarm into the hive.

 7 o’clock that evening I hopped into a vehicle with India and Bill, carefully, so as not to distrub the bees more than necessary, drove the pickup with the bees on the back to the newly situated hive.  After suiting up, Bill opened the box and carefully dumped the bees onto a white sheet that he had laid on the ground in front of the hive and stapled to the entrance of the hive-literally laying out the “red carpet” for them!

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It was instant bee mayheim!  The air became thick with circling, humming, excited bees.  At first they wanted to go back into the box, clung to Bill’s hat and jacket and formed a cluster on the ground.

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Bill wasn’t sure what to do and decided to open the top of the hive and dumped some bees there.  He kept pacing back and forth, trying to figure out ways to help the bees.  He even readjusted the sheet to the hive.

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(Notice the bees swarming around Bill’s head)

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After maybe 20 minutes, the bees had themselves oriented and we noticed that they were starting to “march” up the sheet and enter the hive. We watched as thousands of bees marched into their new home.  For some strange reason, they all went in the left side of the opening even though the whole entrance was open. We decided they were the “liberal left” bees and Harry Reid was taking the lead!!!!

Before bees swarm, they gorged themselves on honey. This helps to make them to be more docile as they have their bellies full!

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India and I sat on the side maybe 20 feet away snapping pictures while mulling over the amazing feat unfolding before our eyes.

  • Which type of bee went into the hive first; scouts, queen?
  • Where did the bees come from?  All of Bill’s hives seemed to be intact.
  • What was happening inside the hive?
  • What were the bees saying to each other?

We watched the other two hives sitting close by and noticed that they were calm and undistrubed by what was happening with the “big move in” at the hive next door!

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Finally most of the bees had made there way into the hive and Bill decided to leave the sheet in place until morning.

The amazing thing was we did not get stung.

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Next morning followup:  When Bill checked the hive it was empty!   All the bees had moved next door to an already occupied hive and were taking over.  This is trouble and causes chaos in the hives. Intruders have invaded and they are called Robber Bees!  It can cause another swarm to happen. The bees were not happy and had become much more aggressive with Bill getting stung several times.  And so the bee saga continues….

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4 days later:  The bees are mixed in with the other two hives but have settled down some-not as aggressive.  He moved the super from one hive over to the new hive hoping that it would encourage them to move back. There is no good solution as  you can’t separate the bees. Just have to let nature take its course and hope for the best.  One of life’s experiences-you live and learn!

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2 weeks later: I asked Bill about his bees. He said the two old hives have settled down. He thinks the “swarm bees” left.  One of the mysteries of life!

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Comment from a fellow beekeeper:  The hive should have been closed up for several days with sugar water inside.  Then the bees would have accepted the hive.

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Websites (and there are many more very interesting sites) where I found the information printed in italics about swarming  bees:

I Brake For Bees

This may be the shortest blog I ever write!!!  I discovered today that I am now braking for bees when I mow the lush clover in the yard.  My eyes see them where I never saw them before.  They are busy little beebodies.

To Bee or Not to Bee

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I have been fascinated by bees for a loooooooong time. In fact I wrote 2 term papers when I was  in school about bees. Several years ago a bee club started in Powhatan and we were approached about selling bee supplies.   My dormant interest returned.

I have been wanting a bee hive by my garden to help with pollination but I just have not been able to talk myself into the extra work a hive requires.  I have enough projects and things to do but I wanted one.  I found myself weakening.

Right now I have the best of both worlds. A customer brought me one of his hives.  All I have to do is check on the hive every couple of days and I have a hive of busy, active bees to observe.

I am so thrilled with the “squatter” hive.  I stood at a distance and watched as the hive was set up.  All seemed calm and peaceful.  I can handle this!

I waited one day before returning to the hive to check one my “warriors”.  I had been assured they don’t usually sting and that I could probably even lift the lid and look in.   With my camera in tow I stood 6-8 feet away and snapped a few pictures.  Then I just stood quietly and watched, minding my own “beesiness”.

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Suddenly I was attacked by one of the “calm” warriors.  He gave his life to show his dislike for me!!!  Instantly I heard the familiar ‘buzzing” sound and there were things moving around in my hair!   I immediately became a moving target, swinging  my arms like bats and swatting, smashing at the creepy, crawlers on my head.   You can only do so much when you have a camera in one hand.  Amazingly I only got stung once. When I looked in the mirror I saw the little rascal had left his stinger behind in my neck, which I gently pulled out.

I have learned lesson number one.  I should approach the hive from the side or back so they don’t think I am a “threat” and need to be dealt with in proper and timely fashion!

Today the beekeeper came and checked on his hive and put sugar water in the top feeder.  I stood at a “safer” distance and took pictures.  All was well in bee-land.  I did notice he had his smoker sitting on a nearby post!

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