First Honey Harvest!

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I decided to go into hive 1 today, the one started from a nuc this year, as last inspection it looked like they might be honey bound.

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They were. Although I did find a little bit of capped brood in the top deep, all available cells were quickly being filled up with nectar and there was nowhere left for the queen to lay. Since I need her to rear bees now so we’ll have bees to overwinter, I decided to free up some space. I know I said before that I wasn’t going to harvest from this hive this year, but that honey had to go somewhere!

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I decided to remove two deep frames that were completely full of capped honey. I also did some rearranging of the frames in the two deeps and added two fresh frames with foundation into the brood nest for them to get started on. I would have used foundationless, but so far all my deep frames have plasticell foundation, so I guess it needs to be used somehow. Here’s hoping they’ll draw it out quickly and give the queen room for more egg laying.

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I  shook off as many bees as possible and brushed the stragglers off with a bee brush. It was fairly straightforward and the bees were not too agitated. The frames weighed probably about 8-10 pounds each and I transferred them to a clean, lidded Rubbermaid bin once they were free of bees.

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Once inside my kitchen, I scraped off the comb into a large container with a wooden spoon, and then strained it through a stainless steel sieve into jars. It is a very dark colored honey on very yellow wax.

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I have to admit, I’ve never been a huge fan of honey and I don’t eat a lot of it. It always seems to have a bit of a strange aftertaste to me. The harvest from one frame is more than I generally consume in a year. Well, I’m now a fresh honey convert. This is the most delicious honey I have ever tasted! It’s tangy, floral, citrusy and light with no weird metallic aftertastes. I could see myself eating it out of the jar with a spoon and wanting to drizzle it on everything. I managed to spill a drop on the counter where it hit a stray szechuan peppercorn from an earlier recipe, and it was an amazing combination! I even drizzled some on the soft boiled eggs I had for lunch and it was divine. Apparently fresh honey goes with everything!

I’m so excited to have some to bring with me to share with my family on my upcoming Seattle trip!

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Hive Inspection: Differences

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Cracked open my three hives today, and I’m beginning to see some real differences between them.

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Hive 1 (far left), which was started from a nuc in May, has two deep brood boxes and a honey super. I’m switching to foundationless frames and all the uppermost supers have them, so while they still haven’t touched their honey super, they have absolutely filled their top deep with capped honey. I could barely lift out the frames!

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This hive is always super active with lots of new bees doing their orientation flights each day, so I didn’t look into the bottom box. I probably will check it in a week or so just to make sure they’re not honey-bound. I fed this hive for quite awhile so I won’t be harvesting honey from them this year, but there’s still time to make more bees. I’ve also noticed that this hive really likes to propolize! It’s like a sticky orange wonderland in there.

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Hive 2 (middle) seems to be doing the best of all the hives. It was the half of the split I did in May that had the queen in it, so they’ve been going strong since the beginning. They haven’t touched their topmost super either, but they have already filled the one below it. When I looked at it I saw lots of capped honey but also a small amount of open and capped brood.

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I don’t mind a bit of brood in the honey super as I won’t be harvesting from this hive either this year, since they were also fed for a short time. Eventually I plan to move to all medium boxes so anything they want to do is fine, it can always be moved. Despite all the brood, strangely this hive is the one where there is not a whole lot of entrance activity on most days.

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Hive 3 (far right) is the half of the split that made their own queen. They’re still doing just fine and have two supers full of honey now, although the top box is still undrawn as with the other hives. I did notice this hive is slightly more defensive. There were more bees flying and I actually received a sting on the back when I mowed in front of it yesterday. Just a subtle difference really but interesting to note. I wonder if the queen found some feral bees to mate with which might explain it?

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Today I came prepared with a bottle full of sugar syrup to spray on the frames of all the untouched top supers. Hopefully once they start to clean it up they’ll be inspired to start drawing out comb. They’re all certainly running out of room and the pollen and nectar keep flowing in.

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One of my reasons for switching to foundationless frames is that I want to breed smaller bees. Bees will grow to the size of the cell they develop in. Natural cell size is about 4.6mm to 4.9mm, while over the years we’ve moved them up to a standardized 5.4mm. That’s the size of most of the foundation you’ll find commercially available. We did this because bigger bees have longer tongues that can access deeper flowers, and they can collect more nectar and pollen. However, varroa mites like bigger bees too because they take longer to gestate, which is how the mites reproduce.

If you let the bees draw their own comb, eventually after a few generations they will revert back to natural cell size. This will give them an added advantage over varroa. Since treatment free beekeeping is my objective, this will help us get there.

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Hive Inspection: Our First Honey!

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Decided to open the hives up today and see if anybody needed a new honey super. It’s hard to believe I’ve only had my bees for two months, it sort of feels like I’ve always had them. They are so fascinating to observe and learn about.

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First up was the hive I started from a nuc in May. They got a new honey super last week with mixed plastic foundation and wax starter strips. I was hopeful they had done something in there during that time, anything, but they haven’t touched it.

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I didn’t want to disturb them too much but I did notice lots of capped honey on the tops of the brood frames below, so they’re not doing absolutely nothing. The outer frames of their top deep brood box are still only half drawn as well, but coming along. I decided to start feeding them 50/50 sugar syrup again just so they can get a boost on beginning to draw out that comb.

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Finally drawing out the outer brood frames

 

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Just getting started on this medium frame

I’ve read that the pH of sugar water is around 6.0, while the pH of nectar is closer to 4.2. This imbalance can cause health problems for the bees so it’s best to keep feeding to an absolute minimum. I’ll probably feed this hive until they get their honey super comb well underway and then stop for good unless the bees are starving. Once I have some reserves of drawn comb to fall back on, I’ll be in a much better position.

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The two split hives on the other hand were doing great. Both honey supers that were added back in May are almost completely full of honey! I’m realizing now the wisdom of those who told me that switching to all medium boxes is the way of the future. Even a single medium frame full of honey is surprisingly heavy!

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Some uncapped nectar

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Look at all that capped honey!

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Om nom nom

I might harvest a frame or two of honey this year, but for the most part I’m expecting to leave it for the bees since this is our first year.

I’ve been learning about the natural beekeeping method spoken about by Michael Bush, which is based on not treating bees and instead allowing weak bee genetics to die out and strong/hygienic genetics to take over. He makes a good point when he says that treating varroa mites only selects for stronger varroa and weaker bees. The theory is that if everyone stops treating for varroa, the bees will adapt within a few years and it will never be a serious problem again. Of course a lot of bees will die initially, but those are all bees with weak genetics anyway.

When the tracheal mite became the latest new threat to beekeeping back in the 80s, many beekeepers began treating for them. As soon as varroa came onto the scene, they stopped treating for tracheal so they could treat for varroa, and the losses from tracheal mites resolved itself quite well in just a few years. Now nobody really treats for tracheal mites.

The ecology of a beehive contains many microorganisms other than just bees, including a documented 170 types of mites. Damaging that ecology with pesticides and antimicrobial essential oils doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. I’ve made the decision to attempt to go treatment free with my hives and see what happens. I’ve already secured a few potential sites in friend’s yards so if I need to boost my hive numbers to ensure survival, that’s just what we’ll do.

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All (Queen) Right!

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Look at all the beautiful brood!

It’s been a little less than a month since I did the walkaway split with my largest hive. I had intended to check it at two weeks, but tax paperwork, weather and farm chores all got in the way. All three of my hives looked busy and healthy from the outside so I just let them “bee”.

Today was a beautiful sunny day and I decided it was time to open everyone up and see what the situation was. First I opened up the hive that I started from a nuc back in May. They were doing great, lots of bees, lots of brood, lots of honey. No problems there.

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This hive is so gentle it’s like they don’t even realize I’m there. Not to mention it’s nice working with a hive that’s all fresh new woodenware and frames. They were getting pretty full so I gave them a new honey super with half plastic foundation and half beeswax starter strips. The frames with foundation will hopefully help to keep the comb on the foundationless frames straight. I’m excited to see how the frames with the strips work out because I’d rather move away from plastic if I can. The beeswax strips are cheap, easy to install, and will allow the bees to build any kind of comb they want. If they want to fill it with drone comb, they can bee my guest. I just want it built straight!

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The starter strip is taken from a sheet of Dadant size wax foundation. I can get five 1 1/8″ strips from one sheet so two sheets will do all ten frames. The strip is secured by dripping wax from a beeswax candle into three spots and holding the strip straight until they harden. Easy. Plus this way I’ll be able to harvest some comb honey at some point which is the ultimate goal.

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Next I opened the hive that I suspected had been the queenless half of the split. Same thing, lots of bees, a beautiful brood pattern and eggs and larvae in all stages. I did also find what looked like a single opened queen cup. Didn’t see the queen, but I know she’s in there doing a fantastic job.

One thing that concerned me a little was the condensation building  up under the lid. Just another reason I would like to build and install some top quilts before winter as well as look into some slatted racks and screened bottom boards. I think more ventilation will be a good thing.

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You can see a few empty queen cups

Hive three had been the stronger side of the split, with two full boxes of bees to start off with. I had assumed the queen was in this hive, but when I opened it up there were a good dozen or so queen cups that were long empty. This hive was the least gentle of the three, which wasn’t to say they were aggressive, just a little more upset that I was taking their house apart. It could have been partly because there were quite a few frames sticking together when I lifted the top boxes off and they shifted around a little. Also maybe because my smoker was kind of puttering out by that point. Still no stings so I’m not complaining.

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Hive three looked pretty darn good! Tons of capped brood in a good solid pattern and lots of honey, even though this was the hive I hadn’t fed.

I did a cursory inspection for varroa mites, and couldn’t see a single one clinging to any bee in any of the hives. Once I get my screened bottom boards I can do a 24 hour mite check and that will help determine if I need to treat before winter. I think I prefer the method of allowing the bees a frame to build up with drone comb, and then just freezing it once it’s filled with brood. Varroa mites prefer drone brood because their gestation is longer, so that’s a good natural method of control.

Once again I didn’t use my gloves today. When gloved fingers get covered with propolis and stick together, it can be dangerous and I almost dropped a frame the one time I did use them. I suppose my hands are now stained orangey-yellow for awhile, but maybe the propolis will help to heal the dozen or so barn owl bites I got from gearing up an uncooperative male with his transmitter yesterday!

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Splitting My Hive

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Today I decided to split my large, strong hive into two.

I bought this hive a month ago and it came with three full boxes of bees and a new queen. When I mentioned I wanted to split it to the owner, he asked me to give the queen a few weeks to start laying first, so I gave her a month as per his request.

The bee workshop I attended earlier this May was all about splitting hives. The master beekeeper had about six, young two-box hives going that had been made from packages about a month previous, and he simply checked each box for eggs, pollen and brood, moved the strongest box to a new bottom board, dipped his old drawn frames in sugar syrup and installed them in a medium box above a queen excluder on both hives to collect honey. He explained that the weaker box should stay in the original location because all foraging bees would return there.

You don’t need to find the queen for this method as the queenless hive will hopefully just raise a new queen themselves. That’s why it’s called a “walk away” split.

He also said that while you can split anytime, you probably wouldn’t get much of a honey harvest if you did it much beyond the first couple of weeks in May. Since I never planned on a honey harvest in the first year anyway, it’s ok with me that we’re a couple of weeks late. Who knows, right?

My main interest in splitting my hive is I want at least three colonies going into the first winter. I’m still learning, and if at least one colony survives, I can hopefully use it to make more bees. If all my bees die, I’m looking at another $200 or so unless I get lucky and catch a swarm.

I left the full bottom medium brood box of the original hive where it was, put an empty deep brood box on top, gave them their top honey super that was completely full, and a new empty honey super to get started on. The split off hive (with the striped entrance reducer) got an empty deep brood box on the bottom and the main deep brood box from the original hive totally filled with bees on top of that. On top of that is a half drawn out honey super they’ve been working on for a couple of weeks. I haven’t used any queen excluders since I’ve only been giving them frames with foundation.

Not sure if I’ve given the bees too much room now or what. I tried to do an even split while giving the advantage to the split off hive. I guess I still don’t know for sure which hive the queen is in.

The original hive was still going strong after the split with bees streaming in and out, but the striped hive looks like nobody’s home. As the nurse bees inside turn to foraging bees that will slowly change. Here’s hoping they do a good job of raising themselves a new queen… They have a lot of resources to work with. I also gave them a jar of sugar syrup to get them started and I’ll top it up as needed.

I’m not sure if I’ll wait two weeks to check, or if I’ll wait a month to avoid damaging any queen cells. I’m leaning towards waiting a month. If the split hive fails, I can always recombine it with the original.

 

 

 

Update on Rabbit Scammer – Desiree Michaels

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Well, it looks like the lady who scammed me out of rabbit pedigrees a couple of years ago and had all her rabbits seized by the SPCA last spring has now joined the bee club. My bee club.

I attended a bee workshop this morning to observe some packages being split and of course, who shows up but Desiree Michaels.

I suppose when you keep people’s money and never give them what they paid for, you can save up some funds and use it get into a new hobby. I’m sure she has much more free time and money on her hands now as well since the taxpayers have funded the removal, medical care, euthanasia, spaying/neutering and rehoming of at least 50 of her horribly neglected rabbits. The news article and video can be found here:

http://bc.ctvnews.ca/50-rabbits-seized-from-deplorable-conditions-near-nanaimo-1.2339872

It was the largest rabbit cruelty seizure that Nanaimo has ever seen. The SPCA is quoted as saying:

“Animals were living next to deceased animals… horrible conditions. Many of them were underweight. Others had overgrown nails that were curled and coiled and dental issues…”

And:

“Photos taken by staff were so appalling that the public would not want to see them…”

This is the woman who now wants to get involved in beekeeping.

I am at least comforted by the fact that you cannot exactly abuse and neglect bees unless you expect to be abused back and your colonies to die in short order. What concerns me is that she may now try to rip off other local beekeepers who do not know how dishonest and heartless she is.

At least I was able to snap a photo of her today, so bee friends please “bee” warned.