The Worried Beekeeper

Several weeks ago I opened my boxes to find millions of hive beetles. The small hive beetle is one of the evil destroyers of the honey hive. They have a hard shell, thus the bees have a hard time killing them. They love the dark, so as soon as I open the box, the beetles quickly skitter away. Because the bees have a hard time controlling them, the beetles reproduce rapidly and make a mess in the hive, which we all know bees don’t like. I talked about this issue here.The next thing I needed to worry about is the dreaded varroa mite. Article upon article in the beekeeping community right now is about taking care of the varroa mite. These guys look like tiny red ticks. They seem to love to attach themselves to the bees thorax and lay their eggs in the bee larva cell, which of course kills the larva. Larva grow into bees. Without larva, there are no bees, no hive, no honey. I did two different tests to determine my mite level.

One test involved two jars that are screwed together with a screen in between. I was suppose to gather a cup full of bees, (I totally had no idea how to do this. I guess I should have done some research first.) Then I put the gathered bees into the jar with a few ounces of rubbing alcohol. This would indeed kill those bees, but it was the sacrifice I have to make in order to save a whole hive. I swirled the bees around the alcohol to dislodge any mites that might be present. Then turning the jar contraption upside down, the mites and liquid pours through the screen. Then I would count the number of mites. I had about 4 tiny red mites. The experts all say to not wait until there is a problem, “Bee Proactive!” So I bought “Mite Away” pads.

I made a rookie mistake and opened the package inside the barn. OMG! I about passed out from the fumes. I placed the pad on top of the frames and waited a week. I did another test to see if there were any mites again. This time I place a grid board that is covered in Vaseline under the hive. The idea is that mites will fall down and stick to this board. A week later I pull it out and count the number of mites. Again, I am a complete rookie, but to my untrained eye I saw no mites! Yay!!! I see lots of pollen and bee debris, but no mites. I do a happy fact, y boxes feel nice and heavy, which tells me they are full of bees and honey. Each box can weigh around 40 lbs when in a healthy state.Two weeks go by, I’m thinking my hives are the bees knees

Then I open the green hive and am astounded at how bad it looks. It looks almost empty! What used to be frames of pollen, eggs, larvae, capped cells and loads of happy bees, I now see frame after frame of emptiness. There are a small number of bees buzzing around, but nothing like the sweet hum I had just a few weeks before. I am in a small panic. The yellow hive looks amazing! Everything looks as it should. But the green one is very sad.It is the Saturday of Labor Day weekend, so I have to wait until Tuesday to call the bee store for help. I really am worried that I’m going to lose a hive. Finally I get to call Carolina Honey Bee and ask Kelly what I should do. I can’t see a queen, but then I really don’t know what I’m looking at. Am I queenless? Without a queen to lay eggs, there won’t be any bees born. She suggests that since we are in dearth, no nectar flow, that maybe I should add pollen patties to help the bees nutritionally. We decide to try this first, then if I don’t see any improvement, then we can try adding a new queen. Three days later, I went over to see what was going on. Lookie here! Lookie here! I’ve got action! In just 3 days, we’ve got the rainbow effect going on with capped brood and pollen surrounding it. Beautiful!In just a few days, this frame from the top box went from being dry to glistening with honey and the beginnings of capping. The girls have a long way to go to be prepared for winter, but I know they can do it. They have 10 frames front and back that need to be full of capped honey in order for them to survive the winter. This little peanut shaped cell is a queen cell. This was not here on Tuesday. So if the queen of this hive had become ill or died, the workers would have taken care to raise another queen.Here is another queen cell or two. The workers decide whether or not a queen is needed. They somehow know and build her a special cell. They feed her gourmet meals fit for a queen of royal jelly. If several of these special cells produce queens the bees will choose the strongest one and kill the rest. Hey, they know what they are doing.The bees are so thankful for this boost. Check out those two gals who went a bit overboard and gorged themselves to death. Actually I may have squished them on accident when I closed the box up the last time. I think this is what I look like sometimes after gorging myself on some amazing dessert involving chocolate.

Here’s a video I shot of me putting bees from one box to another. I had thought that the bees were doing so great that I could put a box on top, that they would fill with honey for me. I really jumped the gun in this one. So I needed to take each frame and knock those bees back into the established hive. This was done weeks and weeks before I started having all the pest trouble. It’s still kind of cool to see how it is done. Hey! Check out my new wagon! To walk to and fro from the barn to the hives, I usually have my arms full. This baby has been such a helpful piece of equipment.

There is so much to learn! God made these little critters perfectly. I’m the one who is messing with success by keeping them. I don’t know the reason why bees that are kept are different than honey bees in the wild. I need to do some research. But when I decided to be a beekeeper, I made a commitment to take care of them. There is a fine line in letting them do their God-given thing and helping them thrive. I’m making lots of mistakes, but I’m also learning so much.

Thanks for all of you who are interested in this little adventure I’m on with these buzzing girls.

I am a Beekeeper

Yes, you heard right, I am a beekeeper. It all started one evening when Superman and I were at a March of Dimes fundraising gala. I saw a beekeeping kit up for silent auction. I went and put our number down to begin the bidding war. Well, it turned out not to be much of a war or battle or even a tug-of-war…but we “won” the prize! (What do you call it when you have the last bid on a silent auction item? A win? A pay out???) Anyway, in addition to the tallest table lamp ever  (again we were the only bidders…hmmmm I see a trend here. Are Superman and I just so lucky or just have really bad different taste?), we were the proud owners of a bee hive kit.In all honesty, this is a perfect idea for us. Superman has been planting fruit and nut trees down at the farm for a couple of years now and the bees will be beneficial to the trees and provide us some honey!I was so excited! I started researching the best books to buy, watching videos and trying to learn all I could about keeping bees. I bought these two books to get me started, Ashley English’s, Keeping Bees and the number one selling beekeeping book on Amazon The Bee Keeper’s Bible. Oh, I did lots of reading and watching, but I was still a bit reluctant to actually take the big step of buying bees.

The following year, Superman and I went again to the March of Dimes fundraising gala and bought another bee hive kit. Everything I had read said that in order to be successful in keeping bees, you must have at least two hives (so you can compare the health of each hive) and to go to a class. I was ready. Superman said that this adventure would be all on me. Go for it. So I did. I looked online to see where I could take a local class. The Carolina Bee Company is the closest one, 45 minutes away in Travelers Rest,SC. Thomas was real excited about this bee stuff, so I signed the two of us up for the class.It was an 8 hour sit down lecture with a few breaks here and there. I found it extremely interesting. Thomas, on the other hand..zzzzzzzzz…..the entire time. Let’s just say he had a very expensive nap. The next day was the scheduled hands on outdoor class with actual bees. Unfortunately the weather made it quite iffy it was going to be held. At home, it was chilly and drizzly, so I assumed it was canceled. Nope! I check my email hours later and see it was held. Darn. 

But I didn’t let that deter me!I got the area at the farm ready for the bees. Sam and I painted the bee boxes. No, the boxes don’t have to white. I happened to have some leftover paint, so I used that. The important thing is that the boxes are sealed on the outside to protect them from weather. Also, it is important to only paint the outside and not the inside of the boxes, so the bees have an unadulterated place to build a colony and make honey. Did you know that the inside of a hive is completely sterile? The worker bees work hard to keep all debris out of the hive, including dead bees, dirt and intruders who’ve made it past the guards. Even if a small mouse were to sneak into the hive, the bees will kill it. But because it is too heavy for the bees to carry out of the hive, the bees encase it in propolis, a sticky glue like substance. The mouse will become entombed and the hive will remain sterile.We located an area that faced south to allow the bees to face the sun to keep warm even in the winter and that was sheltered by a wind break. Sam helped me and Thomas get the hive stands level. In the picture below, I have the boxes facing in opposite directions to help the bees accommodate their navigational systems. (But a few weeks later, I put them parallel to each other, so I could utilize the holes in the concrete blocks. I slipt 2 2X4’s in the holes to make a shelf where I can lay the boxes down as I check the hives without getting them dirty.  As you know, honey is pretty sticky!)The hives are ready and the flowers are blooming….Bring On The Bees!The day finally arrived for me to pick up my bees! There are thousands of bees in each box.There were a few stragglers whom I got for free! Of course within 10 seconds of signing on the dotted line, I got stung. Yeah, it hurt for just a short minute then it went away. Honey bees are not dangerous! They are actually quite friendly. It is all about respect. When I went to pick up the boxes, I inadvertently pressed a bee. He was only protecting himself from impending death by being smooshed.

Now I was going to have to drive close to an hour and a half from Travelers Rest to Gaffney with two boxes of bees in my enclosed car. I was a bit nervous. Although the bees were making quite the buzzing noise when I started the car, they calmed down when I turned up my Christian music. I made it to Gaffney just fine. But reality set in, when I discovered I didn’t have my bee veil! Oh brother! I wasn’t going to let that stop me. The bees had to be installed. 

I tucked my long pants into my wellies, put on one of Superman’s long sleeved shirts and my long leather gloves. I was covered, except for my face.  

The pictures below are from the video Superman shot while we installed the bees…VERY BLURRY. ANND…I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I AM DOING! Remember this.We got our supplies ready and started the smoker. The smoker is a tough one. It must begin hot, yet cool down enough so as not to burn the bees. We have not mastered this.Next pull out the queen cage. Yes, I am holding a whole lotta bees there! They were just encasing the queens cage. I gently brushed them off then taped her cage to the inside of one of the middle frames.This is the queen cage. Inside she hangs out with a couple of worker bees who are taking care of her. You can’t see it in this photo or the video, but the bee company marked the queen with a yellow dot so I can locate her later in the colony. The white portion of the box is called bee candy. I took a small cork out of that end of the box. The worker bees won both the outside and inside of this cage will eat away at this candy, thus allowing the queen to enter her hive.Now for the fun part. To get the bees into the hive box, I sprayed them lightly with sugar water, which makes their wings heavy to fly away. Superman was smoking away, but I’m afraid it only made them irritated because the smoker may have been too hot. 

Anyway, you take the box in both hands and firmly give it a strong knock downward. The bees will tumble out!Then you just tap tap tap the outside of the box shaking the bees in.

Remember: Superman and I have NO bee suit or veil on and there are tens of thousands of bees flying all around and buzzing in the box! Aiy, yi, yi! Time to put the frames back in. There is a sense of urgency here, because not only did I want to get out of there, (Can I be honest? I felt a little uncomfortable since I had never done this before), I wanted to put the top on to secure them in.

 (I know, I know, there is an entrance at the bottom, so they can come and go as they please, I just felt better having them all snug and tucked in.)Next I mistakenly put a super on top of the brood box. The brood box is where the queen needs to be laying her thousands of eggs a day. The super has more hanging frames for the workers to make comb and honey for themselves. By putting it on now, the queen could begin laying eggs up here. We don’t want that. (The following week, when I did my check, I took this super off.)

Here I am pouring thick sugar water into the feeding tray. Yes, the bees need to be fed! As they are building and establishing their new hive, the bees are using an incredible amount of energy. Do you see the rectangular space on the right side of the tray? It is covered with a screen. The bees can travel from the bottom box, up through that space and feed on the food, but not actually getting into the substance and drown. The sugar water seeps under that screen. We don’t need anyone getting all drunk and crazy on sugar syrup!

The last thing to do is pop the top on and wait a week. And cross your fingers you did everything rightThe bees’ traveling RV’s rest with their doors open below the hive, so the laxidasical guys can find their way home. Knowing jobs of each of the bees, I have a feeling they are the drones. There is one queen for each hive. Her job is to lay thousands of eggs every day. The worker bees are female. They forage for food and pollen, build the wax cells for eggs or to fill with honey, cap the cells with wax, fan the cells with their wings to dehydrate the moisture out of the wax, regulate the temperature of the hive to a perfect 90 degree, protect the hive from intruders, feed  and groom the queen. (You know..make the house a home, bring home the food, cook the food, clean the house, and basically manage the entire operation.) The drones are male. They are heavier and stockier than their female counterparts in the hive. So now guess what the drones only job is.  Go ahead, guess….You got it! To follow the virgin queen out of the hive and mate with her. Huh. I’ll let you absorb this information. 

Here is the link to Video of me installing the bees into the second hive. Superman is credited with the videography. Thanks Babe for being there!

With that said. Let me end this post with two thoughts. 

1. God is so amazing in his design! How can anyone think this happened because of evolution or reincarnation or hocus locus? Only the One God of the universe created life, the stars, trees, humans and bees.

2. Finally, Girls Rock! I’m just sayin…Friends if I can install all those bees without a suit, what can YOU do?!?

Thanks for dropping by! I can’t wait to take you along on this little bee keeping adventure of mine!