The bees are all wrapped snugly in their little home. hive-in-winter I used a modified water heater jacket and the handyman’s secret weapon to give them extra protection from the anticipated cold since it often goes below -30 C here for at least a few days and sometimes weeks here in winter, and the hive is a little bit exposed to the wind.

The snow is added insulation.

The only concern is about moisture inside the hive, especially with the hive entrance buried beneath the snow cover.  We’ll find out in the spring.


End of summer hive inspection

Went to the LCBO LGBT LCBA (Lanark County Beekeeper’s Association) summer meeting at one of the member’s bee yards today.  The guy from OMAFRA (the official provincial apiarist) was there giving out literature and advice, there was a delicious potluck lunch, and we mingled the way we do (which is generally not at all).  There was plenty of talk about varroa mites and American foulbrood and the newly invasive small hive beetle. All very frightening.

We came home and checked our hive for AFB, since it’s extremely contagious and 100% fatal.  It’s also icky:  the brood turn into a sticky brown slime with “the texture of mucus.”  We’ll have varroa, it’s almost 100% certain, but we need to get some ether or ethylene glycol and kill a few hundred bees just to see how bad it is.  The degree of infestation determines how aggressively you have to treat it before winter otherwise the hive will have reduced chances of a successful overwinter.

Checking the hive is fun.  It was a hot sunny day today (the best kind of day for checking your hive, because the bees are less grumpy).  We fired up the smoker and donned our cunning veiled hats and opened the hive.

Our hive setup is currently a single brood box with a full honey super (the full referring to height).  That means it’s got a really really heavy wooden box sitting on top of and stuck to the box where the queen and the eggs are.  The main thing about beehives is that everything is very sticky, and they’re full of angry buzzing bees that have little pointy bits on their bottoms.  We gave them puffs of smoke, which seems to make them giggle at inane jokes and go start eating honey, pried the top off, and discovered that a full honey super weighs between 50 and 100 pounds.  The little handles on the side of the box don’t give you a lot of grip (did I mention about the buzzing things with the pointy bits?).  Once we had the honey super off, we had to examine each of the ten frames of the brood box, and hope we didn’t squash the queen.


Brood comb with young in all stages of development.

The inside of the hive has oddles of this stick brownish-yellow goop called propolis. You have to pry each frame out with a special tool (called, imaginatively, a “hive tool”) and examine it closely. This is made harder by the fact that you’re wearing many layers of clothes on a hot sunny summer day and you can’t reach under your weil and push your bifocals up on your sweaty nose so you can actually see. The end frames on the brood box were empty. We were warned that that sometimes happens, so it wasn’t a shock. One frame was filled with drone cells, which are big and ugly. The rest had a mixture of grubs, closed cells, and either empty cells or cells with eggs (the eggs are small and pretty much impossible to see under our circumstances.

bess lined up

Workers at the honey factory cafeteria taking a break.

We saw no sign of AFB, and the fact that there were so many grubs and closed cells was a sign of a healthy queen. We couldn’t find the queen, but I kept shaking all the bees off when I pulled the frames so hopefully I had knocker her into the hive box.

After the inspection, we reassembled the hive. The honey super is full. Every frame is filled with honey and sealed. We will need to take some in a month or so to reduce the indcidence of wax moths or other nasties breeding where the bees don’t go in the cold. We left the girls to go about their business once again.

Examining a frame from the honey super.

Making honey.

A home for bees

Today we received our first nuc (as in nucleaus) of honeybees from the breeder. Now, I’m hoping that bees are bred through the traditional manner and not through the miracle of modern agriculture as are cattle, mostly because I don’t want to imagine the tiny electric bee prod required, but as long as they’re (relatively) healthy when we receive the nuc, I guess I’m not too concerned.

nuc in the back of the van

The sealed nuc box on arrival fro the breeder.

The nuc is a queen and a few thousand workers all sealed up in a box. The box is not tightly sealed, so driving back from the breeders with the nuc in the back of the van emitting an onerous drone and the occasional bee was a little nerve-wracking. It was getting late in the day (a shoe sale occupied some of us for most of the morning), so we dashed in the house to don our protective gear and light the smoker. We had decided to forego the classic white bee suits because we’re just not the sort of people who go all out and buy the wardrobe for a new hobby, at least not until we’re sure the hobby isn’t going to up and die on us. Besides, we already own at least some clothes. So, 28 C outside and we’re donning layers of long-sleeve shirts and thick leather gloves. We did go all-out and get the proper hats and veils, because nobody wants to get stung.

I located the hive down by the barn, far enough away from the house so everyone can be comfortable, close to the fields I sowed with buckwheat and sweet clover (and the goldenrod and milkweed field opposite). It’s a ways from the parking apron, and at first I tried hauling the nuc in the wagon behind the tractor but it was a very bouncy ride, so I gave up and carried it the rest of the way. I didn’t want to make the bees madder than necessary, and they already sounded pretty angry. Carrying a box made of 3 mm plywood and filled with angry buzzing bees is a little discomforting, to say the least.

The first order of business was to get the smoker going. It took several tries: I was using some birch bark to get it started and a handful of leaf litter and cedar mulch as fuel, and it kept going out. It looked like it was going, so we opened the little plug on the nuc and tried to puff some some in. The bees swarmed out and so did the fire. I lit the smoker again, and it finally got going like a little steam engine and we gave a good dose into the little hole.

nuc, opened

The opened nuc box, complete wit propolis and dead bees. Imagine the buzzing sound to go with this picture.

The next thing to do was to open the box. It was not immediately apparent how to do so, but eventually we figured the top just kind of slid off. Very exciting, if a little panicky. The nuc contains four frames which need to be pried out with the hive tool and transferred to the waiting hive.

brood box open

The brood box waiting to receive the new frames from the nuc.

In the picture of the open nuc you can see the brownish propolis the bee use to seal their home against drafts and invaders. Some people believe propolis has health benefits. It’s just tree resin mixed with bee vomit. I wonder what price I can get for it on ebay.

The frames with the queen go in to a part of the hive called the brood box, where the queen will lay eggs and the workers will build comb and fill it with honey. This is where the bees will spend most of their lives. A modern brood box contains 10 frames of a standard size (so they’re interchangable), so prior to receiving the nuc, I removed 4 frames to make room. On top of the brood box goes one or more honey supers where the queen is excluded and the comb contains only sweet sweet honey. Next year, we’ll help relieve the bees of this golden burden.

I don’t know why I decided to locate the hive near the barn, since bees need water and I haven’t run a supply pipe out to the barn yet. It seemed to make sense at the time. I put down landscape fabric and covered it with limestone screenings so I could level the base and to keep the weeds down, then I surrounded it with cedar mulch in the hopes that it will discourage grass from growing too close to the hive. I don’t particularly want to have to mow too close to a bee colony again, this time on purpose.

In the background of the accompanying photos you can see part of our sugar bush. The breeder instructed us to feed a sugar-water solution to the bees at first to help them out. I asked if feeding them maple syrup was a good idea because we have some on hand and I’d rather use a local source of sugar-water solution than import processed cane sugar from the third world, which seems kind of stupid to me. The expert there said “no”, so this go-around I won’t, but next year, we’ll see. Bees make honey out of nectar, which is primarily the simple sugars fructose and glucose just like maple syrup, not the polysaccharide sucrose found in cane sugar, so it makes more sense to me. I also like the symmetry of using my own trees to feed the bees, who will then go on to fertilize other trees.

Smoking the bees. Personally, I find them difficult to roll because of the squirming and very hard to light.

We gave the bees a good dose of smoke in the nuc to calm them, although I could not tell the difference. We transferred the frames and everything went smoothly.

transferring frames

Transferring a frame from the nuc box to the brood box.

After the frames were transferred, there were still about 1000 bees in the nuc box, so we had to turn it upside down over the brood box and bang on it to knock the bees out and into their new home. As it turns out, bees have almost no brain and most refused to take the hint, preferring the comfort of their old home to the scary new place that smelled of paint.

That job done, we left the nuc box nearby brushed a few bees off the brood box, and reassembled the hive.

There is now a cloud of (I image still-angry) bees around the hive.  At first, they didn’t seem to take to it and kept flying back to the nearby nuc, but eventually the seemed to settle in and there are a good handful clustered around the tiny (purposefully reduced) entry.

reassembling the hive

Reassembling the hive.

Nobody got stung. All in all, our first day of keeping bees went much better than I anticipated.

hive entry

Hive entry with a cluster of bees about an hour after the bees were introduced into the hive.