Keeping Bees in Kirkwood Missouri

Category: Bees

Having to do with bees.

Spring splits part 3 and first honey harvest of 2017

It has been a few weeks so we decide to open up the hives again and see how they are doing.  West hive had many healthy looking bees at first but now there is no movement in or out of the hive.  The other three appear very strong.  Time to open them up and see if we need to take other actions to make these splits work.

West hive has no bees or brood either alive or dead.  The only thing living in here is one small hive beetle larvae.  We will salt the earth around the hives with diatomaceous earth.  Diatoms are microscopic algae from the soil on the bottom of lakes or oceans.  The diatomaceous earth will prevent beetle larvae from hatching in the soil because they are sharp like tiny pieces of glass that the larvae cannot crawl over.  Diatomaceous earth will also kill bee larvae so we must be very careful to not get any of the diatoms near the hive entrances.  The queen cells on west hive are hatched and all of the honey is gone so it is likely that the bees just swarmed out of west hive with a newly emerged queen.

We open south hive hoping that they are strong enough to once again attempt to repopulate the west hive.  Third time is the charm on splitting to west hive right?

Many live bees and pollen of every color present in south hive.  Notice the beautiful rainbow collected from so many different flowers.  Honey from this hive will be excellent for spring allergies.

We find the queen of south hive.  This queen is our oldest queen and approximately five years old.  If anyone can save west hive from another death, then it is our trusty old first queen.  All of our bees in all of our hives came from her.  We have never bought any bees besides the nucleus she was in three years ago.  She is very hygienic according to our mentor so her disease resistance will be great also.  We decide to catch her and put her into west hive along with more brood and some honey stores.

North hive is making lots of honey in the brood box.  There are many live and active bees.  We don’t use a queen excluder because it makes the bees too slow to draw out comb.  We also believe that it is more natural not to use one.  The queen should have free exploration of her entire realm and we want to let the bees do what comes natural to them.  We won’t harvest any honey combs that contain brood but just be patient and let them move on to somewhere else for brood.  We don’t find the queen of north hive but she is clearly alive because the bees and brood there are thriving.

We are using the HBH sugar solution only for bee calming this time.  We still lit a smoker for safety reasons but did not actually use it on the hives.  We are also trying another method of pest control.  With this method, you place a dry swiffer wipe in the corners above the brood box.  The bees will try to remove it.  Small hive beetles’ legs are smaller and hooked so when they try to crawl over the swiffer, they become trapped in the sheet.  The bees will fluff up the swiffer while trying to remove it making it more of a trap for beetles.  Eventually, the bees will drag the swiffer out along with beetles that died from starvation or are still alive in the trap.  We decided to try this instead of an oil trap because oil traps are messy and kill many bees.  We are still chemical free on the hives.  No antibiotics, antifungals or insecticides still.  We only saw one larvae in the dead west hive and one live beetle this time which is a massive improvement over several weeks ago so our natural methods must be working.

East hive has many frames of capped honey.  Our first honey harvest of 2017.  We stole the queen from this hive on the last split to give it to north hive.  Both hives are clearly doing well so we decide maybe we did figure out how to do a split.  Moving the queen seems essential.  Just adding swarm cells to the new hive was not good enough to establish a new population.

Another look at the open queen cells from west hive.  Opening the queen cell on the end means that a virgin queen emerged and went out to breed.  She may be killed while doing that due to the elements or she may return after her breeding flight and abscond with a swarm.  Clearly west hive did work out initially but then the queen decided to take off to a new home.  The desire to swarm is a strong biological urge that sometimes cannot be overcome despite all precautions against it.

This queen of west hive was killed by one of the emerged queens.  Notice how the cells is opened though the side and not the end.  This queen was only killed by another queen.  Other female bees can only sting once but the queen can sting multiple times to subdue potential threats to her reign.

Chris helps harvest the combs.  We had a decent first harvest which is surprising since our splits keep failing.   Also, a successful day because we took honey, transferred a queen and brood all without using any smoke for protection.  And there were no stings.

We did not find the queen of west hive at all but there was much evidence of her being alive and present.  This frame contains many young bees, some larvae, colorful pollen and capped honey.  The wax on this frame is very light because the comb was made very recently and only used once or never used.  There were about 30,000 more bees present in this hive since last time we opened it so the queen is definitely there laying eggs.

Closing up the hives and sprinkled the diatomaceous earth around the hive stand.  Removed feeders with HBH since foraging is readily available and pests are at a minimum.  We added an entrance reducer to west hive.  This is basically just a chunk of wood which partially blocks the hive entrance.  Maybe this will keep out drafts and help the hive to succeed?  Overall, three hives are going strong and have queens which is better than last year.

Fall 2016 honey vs Spring 2017 honey.  Spring honey from our apiary is always very light in color with a buttery taste.  The viscosity is also so much greater on our spring honey that some small air bubbles will never settle out of the honey.  It is a fantastic artisanal product that you can really know is locally produced and raw.  Pasteurizing honey will make it thinner and darker with better shelf stability.   Most people are used to pasteurized honey which is what is available at the store.  Pasteurizing honey ruins unique flavors and textures.  Heating honey also destroys the proteins which means that it is not as good for allergies, infections or inflammatory conditions like arthritis.  This honey is best for adventurous  consumers who are interested in a honey which is locally produced and unique in flavor with the best health properties.

Spring 2017 honey is currently available in the shop along with our popular lip balm.  It is a small batch honey and very unique so it sells out quickly.

Monitoring hives after spring split

We monitored the hives for several weeks to make sure that all four hives were thriving after the walkaway splits.  We got a surprise snowstorm in St Louis the week after our splits which complicated matters.

The bees of west hive clearly have dysentery.  The brownish yellow spots on the front of west hive are bee diarrhea.  The bees were weak from the splits and they were not in a good place to fight off illnesses when the weather turned nasty.  Bees get diarrhea for the same reasons that humans do including communicable diseases (stomach bugs), poor quality food (little fresh food in wintery weather), stress and being cooped up away from a toilet when you need to go.

North hive is opened up.  They had a little bit of dysentery but seem to have bounced back.  There are plenty  of bees in this box.

On closer inspection, north hive is doing very poorly.  All of the brood have hatched and it doesn’t look like they have a new queen laying eggs.  They may have had a queen but she left with a swarm.  Or they could never raise one due to the battle with dysentery.  This hive appears to have run out of supplies.  They will all be dead in a week or so unless we get a queen in here immediately.

Kirk opens up east hive which is the oldest hive.  We are hoping that it has a queen that they either raised or the old queen who is approximately two years old.

Lots of brood!  This box has a laying queen.  These brood are less than two weeks old and we did the split about 4 weeks ago.  If there was no queen then the box would look like north hive with no brood and no stores.  This queen is doing such a great job that the supers and the brood box are all full of baby bees.

Colorful little pollen stores in between these healthy brood.  This is likely the old queen still alive because she has really been getting a lot of work done and this population is super strong.

We spot the queen of east hive on a brood comb.  We make a split second decision to throw this frame into north hive to give those bees a shot at surviving.  The bees of north hive will not fight this queen or progeny on this comb because these bees are so genetically similar to them.  This queen was likely their queen from before the split.  East hive has plenty of young brood to try to rear an emergency queen from.  If it works then we will get two successful hives.  The weather is warmer and north hive looks to be over it’s stomach flu.

Last look at the east queen (now north queen).  We hope this is not the last time that we see her.   Notice that some of the bees wings appear to be wet.  We are going to try to use spray bottles of essential oils and sugar water for bee calming.  The essential oils contain lemongrass which is calming because it is similar to queen hormone.  The formula also contains peppermint oil.  The peppermint oil and sugar distracts the bees and sends them into a cleaning frenzy.  More cleaning means less bee disease like dysentery or varroa mites.  The formula we used is commercially available as honey bee healthy.  Mix it with a sweetener and water in a empty cosmetic spray bottle available at Walgreens.  We misted the bees lightly while still using some smoke.  The bees appeared to be calmed more by the HBH water versus the smoke and there is the added benefit of increased cleanliness.

West hive is gone.  All bees and brood still there are dead.  Most of the combs in there were completely empty.  Adult bees did not appear malformed at all as if they froze to death or starved.  No pests observed in the hive but dysentery streaks on combs and inner lid.  Almost all honey and pollen stores are gone.

Brood still in combs were dead with tongues sticking out as if they also starved or froze to death.  No odor coming from combs.  Texture of dead bees and brood are very normal.  Probably they lost many nurse bees to dysentery and were not able to keep themselves warm and fed with decreased caretaker abilities.

Totally normal dead bees on screened bottom board.  Maybe the bottom board made the hive more drafty so the small cluster of sick bees was not able to fight the wintery weather as easily.  West hive will need completely repopulated.  We removed the combs with dead brood and will transfer them to a stronger hive so the healthy bees can clean them and reuse any materials that are still good.  If the hive appeared to be killed off by pests like varroa, chalk brood or foul brood then we would not reuse the supplies but instead burn them.  Signs that the bees died from disease would be odors, slime, many varroa mites on bottom comb, and larvae from moths or beetles. 

South hive has many bees and many ants!  The guard bees and propolis blockades are keeping the ants out of the inner boxes.  But the ants are trying to make a home in the sheltered lid area.  Ants and bees will coexist together often.  The ants take advantage of shelter created by the hive and waste products from the bees.  We will remove these ants and apply more epsom salt around the hives again to stop the ants from gaining access to the hives.

Time for better news.  South hive is very strong and appears to be maturing new honey stores already.  There were many hive beetles present in this hive so we will be salting the earth again and misting all equipment with HBH sugar solution.

The bees of south hive are busy making swarm cells.  Very busy!   There were 12 swarm cells on this comb alone.   Their population is thriving so they thing that they are strong enough to reproduce by swarming.  We did the splits to stop this behavior from happening.

We moved some brood combs from south hive to west hive and placed these swarm cells in the west hive.  The bees will have a new queen when one of these hatches.  That queen will swarm with a few bees or kill the other queens through their cells and make west hive her home.  We lost this hive completely so we have to put a queen or queen cells in this hive along with plenty supplies.  If we are lucky then the hive will have a new queen laying eggs in a few weeks.

Chris salts the earth again with epsom salt.   The epsom salt will dehydrate bee pests like small hive beetle larvae or ants when they attempt to crawl though the salted earth.  The epsom salt kills pests without being toxic to bee or dangerous for the consumer.  Still trying to keep everything chemical free in our raw honey production.  Honey imported from areas like China is full of antibiotics and toxins.  It makes the honey easier and cheaper to produce but kills bees and is poisonous for humans.

Chris unpacks and cleans old equipment from last year.  Combs are put in the deep freeze to kill any pests then wrapped in plastic and stored in a cool dry place during the off season.  Chris is now washing the equipment in the yard with dish soap and water.  Leaving too many boxes on a hive in the winter makes it harder for the bees to keep things at a constant livable temperature in their winter cluster.

We added the super boxes back on to the hives.  The bees will clean and dry them as well before they start using them.  We misted everything with the honey bee healthy sugar water solution to encourage cleanliness.  Hopefully, adding the supers back to the old hive will make sure that the bees have plenty of room and will decrease the swarm urge.

Spring splits part two is over.  The weather is warmer and we added feeders full of essential oils and sugar water to help the bees survive the new splits.  We will leave the hives alone for a few weeks then check again to monitor progress.  If west dies again or north hive loses the queen then we will start to rethink the screen bottom boards.  They are better for natural pest control but maybe the bees are becoming too chilled with them on.

 

 

Spring splits in March makes four hives

We did some splits this spring to try to prevent our bees from swarming.  We could lose bees if we don’t find a capture a swarm.  The split creates more hives and gives the bees more room so hopefully they don’t have as strong of an urge to swarm.

 

Kirk smokes the old hives to prepare for the splits.

Kirk sets up all four hives with one pointing in each direction.  East hive is the oldest at 3 years, then south hive at 2 years and the west/north hives are in the first season.

We selected four frames from each of the established hives that were heavy with brood, pollen and honey to transfer to the new hives.  It is a means of creating an artificial swarm to cut down on natural swarming behavior.

 

Kirk removes burr comb built in between the super box and brood box.  This is mostly drone comb which contains male bees.  Male bees are used for breeding only and are not contributing to the hive otherwise.

Notice the brightly colored pollen packed into cells by the bees.  The different colors come from different plant resources.

The bees are busy packing in pollen and making brood.

Kirk packs some good combs into the new hives and we hope for the best.

Chris is proud of our growing operation.

Four hives to start the new year.  We will keep them closed for a few weeks and then check on how they are progressing.  The new hives have screened bottom boards for pest control.

Removed drone comb with a varroa mite.  The mites prefer to live in drone comb because it takes longer to mature and they are protected from bee housekeeping during that time.  Some beekeepers always remove drone comb as a means of pest control.  We removed this comb because it was in the way  during the splits.

The girls begin housekeeping duties immediately.  They drag chunks of wax, dead bees and dead drones out of the hives.  Notice several bees working together to remove a large piece of wax.

The bees are always working.  We hope that they will work hard to make four strong hives for us in the coming season.

Last of 2016

201609This is our last honey harvest of 2016. It is a little darker than the previous harvest, but similar in flavor.

We only took what they had in the supers that we removed, which amounted to little more than these four bears. The bees are getting ready for winter so we left them enough stores to last it. We remove all but one super during the winter so they can focus on using minimal resources to heat the hive and one another.

Back to school honey harvest

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This end of summer honey is much darker and has an herby aftertaste compared to the spring honey.  Mmm!  Both delicious and unique.

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Fall 2015 honey on left, Spring 2016 honey in middle and Fall 2016 on the right.  Notice how crystallized the 2015 honey is.  That is one way that you can tell it is raw.

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First frame of the harvest.  Looks great!

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Solid is white capping on all of the honey!  You can tell this was made by some quality Italian bees.

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Peering down into the first hive.  We are getting a lot of honey from it and there are a lot of bees.  Replacing the frames immediately with fresh new frames this time to decrease bee stress.

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We harvested so much that we ran out of blanks to replace them with so we quit.

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Kirk being a goofball with a frame from the new hive.  Notice how the honey is darker in some parts of the comb.  You can tell which honey from fall and also which cells have been used for brood previously when the new bees were still figuring things out.

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Chris with the first frame of honey from the new hive.

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Kirk doesn’t like smiling for selfies.  Our photographer was recovering from a tonsillectomy and our back up photographer was out of state.

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All is well in both hives.  So far still keeping them organic with no pesticides or antibiotics and the bees are really thriving.  Our mentor told us it was a hygienic Queen and we didn’t know what that meant but now we do.  Way less poison in the hive than some of our colleagues in the area.

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Fiding their way back home.  We may try one more harvest before winter when we take off a few supers.


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Uncapping beautiful rivers of honey.

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Still using the crush and strain method so I can keep the wax for cosmetic products.  We let the honey settle down and wax float up over the course of a few days using a five gallon bucket and some coarse strainers.  It makes a beautifully clear product which still retains all of the beneficial proteins for allergies and anti-inflammation.  Great stuff!

Beekeeping with Lindsey

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Amanda Lindsey came over to help us since we have two hives now.  She took pictures and helped a little with smoke protection.

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Working two hives is a lot more difficult.  Also, we wanted to try a new method of uncapping and extracting honey immediately so we can put the frames back I immediately.

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Kirk removes the lid and we get down to business.

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This honey is not ready because there are no white caps.

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This honey is ready so he removes the bees with a brush.  image

Uncapping outside going okay so far.

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We are going to check out the new hive and see how it is doing.

Continue reading

Rehomed

Today I went to Isabees and got a new hive. The hive came as a pile of wood.

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After spending a couple of hours turning the pile of wood into a hive while watching some Curious George with my 4 year old, it was ready for the bees to move in.

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The bees were not too happy when I opened the box. They have already had enough manipulation for one week. They did not want to see me again.

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After all was done though, they seemed pretty satisfied with their new permanent home.

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Swarming Season!

Recently a veteran beekeeper who I am related to mentioned that it was swarming season. He caught me off guard. I did not realize there was a season for it. We have only had bees for almost one year. I am still new to some of the nuance.

Today shortly after coming home from getting my oldest son from school, he and his younger brother went out back to play. I went out to see what they were doing to find them climbing up and down the rungs that I recently nailed into a big old tree in our backyard. They were focused on how high they could go before getting nervous about the height. Then one of them said, almost as an aside, “Oh, dad. Did you see those bees trying to drink that chair? Bees are so weird sometimes.”

IMG_0413I did, in fact, see that something was on the chair before he mentioned it. It had been raining all morning though, so from my distance, I thought it was a wet branch that fell from the tree. Upon hearing from him that it was bees, I was a little stunned.

Had I not been reading about bees for the past year, I might have been scared. I likely would have panicked and told the boys to get in the house as fast as possible. But these were homeless bees. They have just taken a new queen and fled their overcrowded colony in search of a new home. Bees in this situation typically are in the most gentle state you might find a bee. Their queen is not in the safety of a hive, but exposed. Starting something aggressive with a giant mammal is the last thing they want to do. So fear was not my reaction.

I was more curious than anything. I had not seen a swarm before. The sight of it was awe inspiring. It took me quite a few minutes to put any implications together and start thinking that maybe I should do something about it.

IMG_0490At first I was just thinking about how natural it was for bees to swarm when they are overcrowded and not much more. Then I started remembering that we had been thinking of splitting our hive in the next couple of weeks. But we did not have another hive yet so what was I to do with this? I knew that some beekeepers offer swarm capture services because, well, free bees! I had read about it earlier in this beekeeping venture, but the details were sketchy in my mind. At that moment I did not feel comfortable doing it. Chris had mentioned to me that we could offer the service ourselves, to which I have always responded, “maybe someday, after we feel more comfortable with it.”

It turns out, someday had come. Unsure what to do with this situation, I searched the internet for some advice. I read a story from a keeper who started their first hive by capturing a swarm without knowing much about what they were doing. The story and the information provided within it gave me enough confidence to think I had a plan.

I found a box in our recycling that seemed big enough to temporarily house the swarm. I sealed any openings in the bottom with some really fancy duct tape. I left the top open thinking I would just knock them off of the chair into the box. This might sound crazy, but it is actually pretty standard procedure for moving a clump of bees.

IMG_0515Chris was napping while all this was going on. When someone in our house is resting, I tend to do everything I can to not get in the way of it. Up until this point I had kept to that. But I thought at this moment, before I do anything further, I might catch her up on the current situation. At first she was intent to keep on sleeping, but suggested that I use some empty frames we had to turn the box into a temporary nuc. This was crucial. As a box of bees, there would be a max of a day to figure out what to do with them before they would die. If I could make it work like a nuc, it might buy us enough time to get a new hive from the local beekeeper supply store that would not be open for the next couple of days.

The excitement of swarm capture must have taken hold because Chris ended up coming out to help execute the plan. We captured the swarm in the box with a few frames and gave them an entrance. The whole thing was pretty amazing. For something that was in a ‘maybe someday’ category just an hour or so earlier, helping those bees into their temporary home, working together with them, and just being in the cloud of bees was a truly boundless experience that I cannot wait for the opportunity to have again. I guess I can now officially offer a swarm-wrangling service.

Hopefully this makeshift nuc will hold them until Wednesday. If not we did the best we could with what we had. If it does work out, it just took a lot of the decisions about splitting our hive off of our hands. What a relief that is.

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Spring is Here!

IMG_4328I have been getting excited to start doing more with the bees as I start to see flowers popup and the bees have started coming out of the hive. We are thinking of splitting the hive so that we can have two total to maintain this year. We will probably do that in the next couple of weeks.

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