Friday the 13th

THERE ARE ONLY TWO PHOTOS IN THIS POST. THEY’RE AT THE VERY END AND THERE’S NOT MUCH TO SEE.

‘Twas not a good day for beekeeping in my backyard. The weather forecast was way wrong. Instead of cold and rain, it was hot and sunny. Hot being a relative 13°C. So far so good. The bees in Hive #1 were active. The bees in Hive #2 weren’t — at all.

So I go over to investigate and notice puddles of water on the bottom board. Nothing usual about that after a rainstorm. Then I pull out the entrance reducer, and water pours out of the hive like a waterfall. I say a four letter word to express my concern. How did that much water get in the hive? I tip the hive and another litre or so of water pours out of the bottom entrance. Another four letter word. What the…?

So after some pondering, this is what I decide to do. (Here at Mud Songs, we make the mistakes so you don’t have to.)

I put a level on Hive #2, the one full of water. Sure enough, it’s tipping the wrong way. So I put a thick piece of board under the back end of the hive to raise it up at least two or three inches. That’s a slightly higher incline than usual, but any water that gets in now will definitely drain out at that angle.

I then notice a significant space between the hive top feeder and the top brood box, as well as a nice crack between the top and bottom brood boxes. Reversing the brood boxes recently during the first spring inspection destroyed the seals between the boxes and the bees haven’t had a chance to fill in the cracks with propolis since. That’s where the water got it. I also notice the back edge of one box is lower than it should be, meaning the four edges of the brood box aren’t even and will not create a perfect seal with the box on top. I will plane down the edge of every box for now on to make sure they’re even with each other to create a better seal. I’ll have to duct tape over the cracks for now.

Then I look inside the hive and discover two things. The first is an excess of condensation. Water has collected on the top and is puddling on the inner hive cover. The second discovery is the syrup in the hive top feeder. It’s gone mouldy. What the…? Much of the condensation also seems to be right above the one hive top reservoir that’s full of syrup. So my big decision here is to remove the hive top feeder altogether and replace it with a 2-frame division board feeder. That should cut down the condensation and remove one extra leaky crack from the equation. I pull two frames that barely have any comb drawn on them, and install the frame feeder. The frame feeder / division board feeder leaves no wiggle room for the frames. I hate that, but there it is.

While I have the hive open, I notice water on the top bar of a frame on the edge in the bottom box. Rain must have blown in sideways. The bees are sluggish. I put the hive back together and hope for the best.

Then I go over to Hive #1 which has been highly active all this time. I take a look at the syrup in its hive top feeder and it’s mouldy with green stuff too. Lovely. So I do it all over again. I pull out two relatively empty frames and install a frame feeder, which again leaves no wiggle room for the rest of the frames. That’s no fun at all. Then I notice one of the empty frames I pulled has eggs in the bottom of the cells, probably drones because the cells are large. Which means the queen could have been on the frame when I pulled it and put it aside. Four letter word. I look it over and can’t see the queen on the frame. But I decide it has to go back in the hive, even if they are just a bunch of drones. So I open the hive one more time, pull out the lightest frame I can find, which is not easy because the frame feeder has all the frames jammed together like they’re in a vice, and then I somehow manage to jam the frame of drone brood back in. Man oh man. I close up Hive #1 and again hope for the best.

It gets better. The light frame I pulled out has one side nearly full of uncapped honey and the other side almost completely full. I don’t know why it felt so light. But I can’t just toss that much uncapped honey. At this point I go nuts and decide to put that frame into Hive #1 because I know it doesn’t have nearly as much honey as Hive #2. So I pull apart Hive #1 again, manage to pull out a frame without any comb on it and then jam in the frame full of uncapped honey. It is one incredibly tight fit. I close up the hive and hope for the best one more time. I’ll duct tape over the big cracks later on.

I’m only wearing a denim shirt with my veil and gloves, but it’s enough to cook me like boiled lobster, boiled in my own sweat. I’m soaked. I walk over to the back deck and take it all off. At least I don’t get stung.

I go inside and down a big glass of water. I come back ten minutes later and notice Hive #1 is acting like Hive #2 was — not much going on.

And the front of Hive #2 is a cloud of bees. They don’t show up well in this photo, but trust me, they’re there.

I know I didn’t make them happy, but what’s happening here? Did I kill the queen in Hive #1? Did I inadvertently move the queen from Hive #1 to Hive #2 when I transferred the frame of honey? Could the queen have hitched a ride? Or did I kill the queen in Hive #2? Did I do anything right today? Should I have dumped the water from Hive #1 and left everything else alone?

Probably.

I may be too stunned at the moment to accurately convey what a lousy beekeeping day this has been for me. Something inside of me must have snapped at some point — probably right at the beginning when about two litres of water came gushing out of Hive #2 — and from that moment on, my better judgement went haywire. I don’t know why I did what I did today, but I’m glad it’s over. I just hope I didn’t kill a queen.

Oh yeah, and today’s Friday the 13th if you hadn’t noticed.

UPDATE (an hour later): It’s now 15°C in the backyard and both hives are back to normal, bringing in loads of pollen. An hour ago I come roaring through town like a hurricane, and now they’re fine.

11 thoughts on “Friday the 13th

  1. The Joys of Beekeeping. Hope your weekend gets better. Out here in the west coast it is sunny today but the weatherman is calling for rain for the rest of the month! I have heard that adding essential oils extends the life of the sugar syrup and keeps it from having mold.
    Steve

  2. You are funny. I have a post about moldy syrup, if you’re interested at http://wp.me/pLmcw-9P. But it sounds like you did fine. Those things are all very typical. Don’t walk under any ladders today, and stay away from black cats.

  3. …and stay away from black cats.

    Oh man. I have two black cats in my house.

    I still don’t think I adequately expressed my… I don’t know what it was. Idiocy? Maybe everything I did actually helped the bees, but I felt… hmm… helpless.

    But that’s it. We stumble along. So it goes.

    I was surprised by how much honey was in Hive #1. The top box was almost entirely empty when I inspected it last week or whenever that was. Most of the frames are full or close to full now.

    I hope the queen doesn’t become honey bound.

    Now I’m wondering if I should add another box soon.

    Anyhoo, it’s raining all weekend. I’m staying inside. The bees are on their own (and probably better off for it).

  4. I cleaned out the double-frame feeders, division board feeders, whatever they’re called, with bleach and then thoroughly rinsed them before I installed them. I also added about a tablespoon of cider vinegar to the syrup (I only added 4 litres of syrup). That should do it.

    However, I definitely do not like how tight the frames are with the frame feeder installed. I’m not sure what I’ll do about that.

  5. Oh man, I would have freaked out too if my hive had a load of water inside! I love how your bees can cope with having a pond in their hive and take it in their stride.

    Sounds like they’re ok now and probably very grateful all the water’s gone :)

    As Rusty says in her excellent blog post she’s linked to, it’s normal for your syrup to go mouldy. I like to bring some kitchen tissue down with me each time I top the syrup up so I can wipe the mould out.

  6. I tasted some of the honey from one of the frames I pulled. I’m not sure if it’s pure honey or a combo of honey and sugar syrup, but it’s so sweat sweet I can hardly stand it. I’ve never tasted honey so sweat sweet before.

  7. I’m making some bread at the moment using the small amount of honey I got off the frame. My patented sweat honey. I crushed and strained the honey. I have a small pile of sticky waxy bits I don’t know what with now. I haven’t done any homework on how to process wax cappings.

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