The colony of honey bees living in this hive have been through a lot over the past few weeks. Because sometimes I’m a bad beekeeper.
The first trauma I inflicted on it was moving it five or six frames at a time over the period of about ten days. At one point the colony was split in half, one half without a queen, for several days before I could finally add the rest of the bees to the hive. To play it safe, I used the newspaper method to combine the halves, which, in retrospect, I probably shouldn’t have done. During all this, I tried to keep the brood frames in the middle, but one or two may have been placed to the side, effectively scattering the brood all over the hive. The bees were grumpy from being moved, which made it difficult to find the queen, though I did spot her purely by accident on one of the last frames I added to the hive. So… Two deeps of bees and brood + a layer of newspaper + two more deeps of bees and brood + the queen on top. Then a few days ago I put an escape board under the top deep in an effort to reduce the hive down to three more-easily-managed deeps. I didn’t see the queen or any brood in the top, so I thought it was a safe move. Then yesterday I checked the top deep to see how many bees had gone down through the escape board, and I discovered the deep was still full of bees. A quick investigation revealed that the queen was in the top deep, now separated from the rest of the hive for two days. To top it off, I noticed some freshly laid brood on one of the frames and in a few of the cells I noticed two eggs, the sign of a laying worker. But how could there be a laying worker if the queen was on the same frame? I moved the queen and the frame of brood back down into the third deep and left the escape board under the fourth deep. I’m not sure what will happen next or what I’ll do about it. What a bloody mess I’ve made.
P.S.: Never take anything I say too seriously. I’m not beating myself up over any of this. Most of it couldn’t be helped because I didn’t have much choice but to move my bees the way I did. I’m only illustrating that sometimes the bees’ worst enemy is the beekeeper.
I’ve already written about my switch to rubber bee gloves. I wear them because they’re more tactical than goat skin gloves, but boy oh boy do they ever fill up with sweat in no time. Here’s what my fingers looked like after about an hour of beekeeping in the sun today:
And my hands stink like rubber. I still prefer them over goat skin. I’ll wear goat skin when I want extra protection from bees that I know I’m going to upset, or in the winter for warmth. But I think I’ll invest in several pairs of rubber gloves so I can strip them off, dry my hands and put on a fresh pair every 30 minutes or so. It wouldn’t hurt. By the time I was finished with the bees today, I could feel the sweat trapped inside the fingers of the gloves squirting around every time I gripped onto something.
P.S.: I know some people don’t wear gloves. I didn’t need gloves with my bees today. They were totally chilled out. But I’m not quite there yet. I had one particular colony over the past couple summers that was started from a queen I got from a friend, and it was full of the nastiest bees you’ll ever see. I had many unpleasant experiences with those bees, things that would turn most people off beekeeping forever. I couldn’t relax around those bees. They’re dead now and I’m glad (I’m no saint), but they left me feeling like I can’t entirely put my guard down just yet. So I still wear gloves, all the time, even though I probably don’t have to.
I transported some honey bees in a swarm box inside my car today. The box was sealed with duct tape, but it was cheap duct tape that began to peel and come undone during the drive down the highway to the bees’ new home.
The crack shown in the photo got bigger and bigger during the 30 minute drive. One bee got out about five minutes before the trip was over. It’s always a great day when angry bees get to fly around my car while I’m in it. I always wear a full bee suit when I’m transporting bees inside my car. It could have been a whole lot worse than one bee. I might have to do this one more time before all my bees are in the new location (in my new backyard), and I hope I never ever have to do it again. I am so sick of having to do this kind of thing.
I’ve had a detailed series of practical beekeeping videos in the works for several months. They’ll be great when I get them done. But I don’t have time to work on them due to other commitments. I can’t say when I’ll have them ready. In the meantime, I can only offer up short videos like this one that show me doing things that aren’t really instructive but may be of interest to a handful of beekeepers. Let ‘er rip:
Now the details…
Read on . . . »
A honey bee from a normally friendly colony stung me in the arm today because I was wearing a black t-shirt. I often wear minimal or no protective clothing around this particular colony because I know the bees are not at all defensive (not at this time of the year, anyway). Today was no different, except I forgot I was wearing a black t-shirt. As soon as I opened the hive, I noticed a few bees zig-zagging back and forth like they were hyped up on caffeine — not at all a relaxed flight pattern. Once the bees start whipping around like wasps, it’s time to turn around and leave. Come back later with a veil and gloves and a smoker if you got one. But I thought, “Nah, these bees —f%$#@!” Zap, right under the sleeve of my t-shirt. The little bugger got me good.
I’ve been told many times not to wear black around honey bees because, supposedly, honey bees have evolved to be more defensive around anything big and black. Most creatures in the natural world that are big and black (e.g., black bears) are a threat to honey bee colonies. When honey bees see something big and black coming their way, it’s usually better for them to sting now and ask questions later.
I’ve heard how the bees will even sting the ankles of people wearing black socks, but I wear black boots every time I’m around my bees and I’ve never seen them go for the boots. For a variety of reasons, I didn’t take much stock in these particular campfire stories — until day. My single experience of wearing a black t-shirt and getting stung for the first time around some bees that aren’t normally defensive isn’t much of a data set. It can’t be used to arrive at any kind of scientific conclusion. But I’d rather not wait for science if it means I have to get stung a few more times in order to prove the black bear hypothesis. Getting stung once is enough. I’m a believer. I won’t wear anything black around my bees again.
August 08/14: For the sake of science, I wore black and then white around the same hive of bees. The bees came in for the sting while I was wearing black and ignored me while I was wearing white. Case closed. Closed enough, anyway.
Some quick shots of bees on leaves and things. It’s just left over footage from a camera-focusing test I did earlier last summer.
THE FOLLOWING WAS UPDATED SINCE ORIGINALLY POSTED.
I used to add dry sugar to my hives in January or February following what some call The Mountain Camp Method, but this year I decided to add sugar around the same time I wrapped my hives, in late November. Why not? I have several reasons for adding the sugar early — the main reason is I don’t want to see another colony starve to death — but ultimately it doesn’t hurt to put the sugar on early and it saves me the trouble of having to do it in the middle of winter with snow all around. So yeah, why not? Here’s a video that shows how I did it.
This is probably the last time I’ll post a video about the Mountain Camp Method. There’s not much else to see.
I also mention in the video (at the 58sec mark) how one of my hives was full of exceptionally nasty bees until I moved the colony far away from my other colonies and just like that they settled down to become the nicest bunch of bees around. This is just speculation, but for now on whenever I come across an especially defensive colony, I’ll try moving it way off by itself, far from any other colonies, before I resort to requeening.
ADDENDUM (Jan. 16/14): It’s come to my attention that covering the entire top bars with sugar isn’t a good idea because then you can’t see down into the frames to see how the bees are doing. I knew that last year but forgot about it this year. So don’t do what I did. Cover only the back two-thirds or so of the top bars.
THE FOLLOWING WAS REWRITTEN AND UPDATED ON APRIL 05, 2014.
Ever pull out some frames to discover the bees have built comb perpendicular to the frames and every which way? I have. It’s called cross-comb and it’s a mess. Here’s my first look at it from late July:
Cross-comb is usually the result of a hive that isn’t level, specifically when it’s tilted, even a little bit, to the left or the right. Bees follow the pull of gravity to build comb straight down. That’s pretty much what they’re up to when you see them festooning:
The bees don’t care about the frames or foundation inside the frames. If the frames or foundation happen to be parallel to the Earth’s gravitational pull, then the bees will build straight comb that fits conveniently on the frame just that way we humans like it. If not, the frames only get in the bees’ way and you end up with cross-comb.
That’s why the ideal positioning of a Langstroth hive is level from left to right — to prevent cross-comb — and slightly tilted up on the back so that any moisture that happens to collect inside the hive will pour out the front entrance and not pool inside the hive.
ADDENDUM (April 05/14): I used to carry a carpenter’s bubble level with me whenever I set up a new hive (the hives can shift over winter as well, as I learned today), but these days I use a Bubble level app on my cell phone. (I happen to have an Android phone, but I’m sure similar apps are available for other types of smart phones or devices.) There are many free apps to choose from and, for me, I’d rather have an easy-to-use app already on my phone if it means I don’t have to carry around another piece of equipment when I’m tending to the bees.
Honey bees have a tonne of behaviours that are fun to discover. One of the first things I noticed was the way they clamp on tight to a spot outside the hive entrance and beat their wings with everything they’ve got, a behaviour that’s commonly known as fanning (not to be confused with scenting). The fanning creates an air current inside the hive that helps evaporate nectar into honey and regulates the temperature of the brood nest. I took a few more photos today.