Bees 2022

This page describes my beekeeping adventures in 2022.

The above photo shows cells packed with pollen in my south hive on May 18, 2022. The different colors correspond with the type of flower that produced the pollen.
Pollen contains 22,7% of protein on average, including 10,4% of essential amino acids.
- from Bee Pollen: Chemical Composition and Therapeutic Application

I told myself that if both hives perished, I would give up beekeeping. I also decided that if I stuck with it, I would purchase a proper bee suit so I wouldn't melt during the warmer months. The next few weeks would determine my future as a beekeeper.

Snow: January 4Open accordion icon
During the 2021-2022 winter, we got a normal amount of snow. I cleared off our walkway but the bees always came first. It is important that they have plenty of fresh air and ventilation.
Snow on hives
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Fondant check: Mid-FebruaryOpen accordion icon
I don't know about putting on a medium box to give me enough space to put fondant on top of the frames. That means there is a lot of air space that the bees have to heat up. Using a small box would have been better.

I opened up the hive very briefly in February when the temperature was almost 50 degrees. It was just to see if they had enough fondant. I figured there was enough to get them through mid-March. Clearly, some had been eaten. What remained was extremely hard and dry. Back in the autumn, I cut the fondant to increase its surface area so more bees could feed on it at once. I think that was a mistake. The greater surface area might have contributed to its moisture loss.
Hard, dry fondant
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Robbers: March 16Open accordion icon
On March 15, I received a text from Eric warning us about robbers. He said we should put on the entrance reducers. So I figured it was a good time to check things out.

On March 16, the temperature was about 70 and it wasn't too windy. This was the first time this year that I fully opened the hive versus just checking to see if they had fondant. I was expecting to find a very healthy south hive because I had seen so many bees buzzing around it. I figured the north hive would be weaker.

What I actually found was totally different. The south hive looked like a ghost town. There were no eggs, no larva, no honey, and no nectar. Ragged edges on the comb made it look like robbers had chewed through comb to access the honey. I later confirmed that was indeed the case.
Ragged comb

I saw a lot of what I call wax sawdust at the bottom of the hive.
Wax sawdust

There were lots of dead bees around the hive and at the bottom. I expected some would perish due to the winter but I had no idea what was normal. Clearly, this was not. There were very few bees in the hive. A lot were buzzing nearby but I don't know how many were part of the colony and how many were robbers.

I thought there was a small chance of survival since I saw a few queen cells and other capped brood with worker bees around them.
Wax sawdust

The north hive didn't have a lot of bees but it certainly had more than the south hive. I saw quite a few dead ones at the bottom of the hive.
Dead bees in north hive

But the north hive still had a good bit of honey, pollen, capped brood, larvae, and eggs.
North hive eggs

Like the south hive, there was comb that had been chewed on and wax sawdust at the bottom but not nearly as much.

I looked at photos online, read blogs from other beekeepers, and communicated with Eric and Brian. The conclusion is that my south hive have been robbed to death. This can happen very quickly.
The time it takes for the hive to collapse once robbing starts is a very short time span, usually in a day or two the hive is unrecoverable. There is very little a beekeeper can do once the robbing commences.
- from BackYard Hive - Bees Robbing a Hive - How to Stop the Robbing

I put on entrance reducers but I thought it might be too late to save the south hive.
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Declaring the south hive dead: March 18Open accordion icon
Sometimes it is hard to let go but there are times when you have to take a step back to take two steps forward.

I did one more inspection of the south hive. I declared it a lost cause. It turns out the bees around the queen cells were all dead. I found it strange that they didn't fall to the bottom of the hive like the other dead bees. It was as if these were guards determined to protect the queen until their last dying breath. Under them were some bees with their butts sticking out of the cells. These starved to death, probably because the robbers took all their food.
You can identify a hive that died from starvation by looking for dead bees inside cells with their butts sticking out. This is particularly common in hives that die in the winter.
- from BeePods - Determining the Cause of Your Dead Honey Bee Colony

In the below photo, all the bees are dead.
Dead bees from south hive around queen cell and capped brood

I salvaged any frames from the north hive containing pollen and then ordered a new nuc from John Klapac along with supplies from Pierco.

I put some of the frames from the south hive in the freezer to kill any small hive beetles.

Brian went to pick up supplies from John on March 29 and he offered to pick up my nuc. I glady accepted. He brought it over and then we hung out for about an hour, talking about bee stuff.
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Introducing new nuc: April 2Open accordion icon
My order from Pierco came in. Here is what I got:
  • Triple Layer Protective Ventilated Bee Suit with Veil - AirFlow Series: This offers a lot of ventilation but has a thick grid that creates some distance between my skin and any bees that land on the suit to make it hard for them to sting me. I really like this suit. About a week after purchasing it, the price was reduced $40.
  • Ceracell 10 frame top feeder: This would have been a better solution for winter feeding than adding a box to create enough space for fondant. The Ceracell feeder keeps the bees' living space warmer while keeping the food separate. I can use this feeder for giving them fondant or other dry food by removing the clear plastic tabs so they can freely access whatever is in the main part of the feeder.
    The best thing about this feeder is that, unlike Pierco - 6 5/8" Medium, Two Frame Feeder, 1 Gallon - With Cap & Ladder, when I give them sugar water, it is kept away from where the bees reside so it should discourage mold in their living space.
  • Pro Bee Gloves - Goatskin: I sent it back. The medium fit fine but it had no room for liners underneath. But the main reason is that the gloves went all the way up to my elbows. I didn't need that much protection or warmth. The bee suit was sufficient for that. For now, I'll just stick with glove liners under cheap Home Depot leather gloves that I can throw away at the end of the year.

  • I checked the north hive. I found the queen. Her bald thorax really made her stand out.
    Her hairless back can also distinguish the queen from the other bees. Workers and drones have fuzzy backs, but the queen has a shiny black back that can really stand out if you're looking for it.
    - from Mother Earth News - How to Spot the Queen: Physical Features
    North hive queen

    I saw some eggs in the north hive. Some were laid two to a cell.
    North hive eggs, some two to a cell

    There were no signs of pests.

    I added the new feeder and filled it with sugar water, using equal parts sugar and water. The wood box that holds the feeder is bare. After feeding season, I plan to paint it to give it some "Saki-style" flair.
    Ceracell feeder

    I moved the frames from the nuc and put them in the south hive.
    Frame in nuc

    There were plenty of eggs and larvae. I think the south side now has more bees than the north.

    I added empty frames to the south hive that I froze for three days to kill small hive beetles.

    I got to witness a waggle dance. Click on the below image to start a video I made of one of the new bees in the south hive.
    Honey bees communicate to nestmates locations of resources, including food, water, tree resin (propolis) and nest sites, by making waggle dances. Dances are composed of repeated waggle runs, which encode the distance and direction vector from the hive or swarm to the resource. Distance is encoded in the duration of the waggle run, and direction is encoded in the angle of the dancer's body relative to vertical.
    - from Bee Culture - A Closer Look - Waggle Dances
    Bee doing waggle dance
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    Checking the new feeder: April 8Open accordion icon
    It was a busy day for me. I did some work on the chicken run in the morning and then went to meet with my tax guy at noon. In between, I had enough time to do a hive check. It is when I try to "squeeze in" an activity that I get sloppy.

    I donned my new bee suit and then got the smoker working. I am still pretty bad with the smoker, especially when I'm in a rush. Not only did I not get much smoke but some of the lit pine needles fell out and burnt my new bee suit on the left knee. Some of the mesh melted. The thick grid-like material underneath is still fine. Just need to find some white mesh to mend it.

    I opened up both hives after not smoking them thoroughly so they weren't so calm. A bee landed on my veil which was up against the lower part of my face. It stung through it and got my chin. The old bee jacket has a huge halo that keeps the veil far away from my face at all times. But it is so big that it tends to fall forward so I can only look down. The new suit gives me much better visibility but as I found out, the veil doesn't always create an air gap with my face. I left in the stinger until I was done working.

    I opened up the north hive. There was a lot of moisture on the inner part of the outer cover (roof) as well as the inner cover which was on top of the feeder. Clearly, moisture from the new feeder was the cause of this. But I wasn't worried because the feeder and everything above it is kept separate from where the bees live.

    It looked like the bees hadn't drank any of the sugar water in the new feeder.

    I checked out the frames. As before, the upper deep box contained ragged comb that looked untouched since robbing took place.

    All signs of bee activity were in the lower deep box. I found some eggs but not a lot. The north hive definitely has more honey and pollen than brood.

    I moved onto the south hive, lifting the outer cover. It was dark with mold which hadn't been there before. As with the north hive, the inner cover was drenched with water droplets.

    Checking the feeder, I could see that the bees were making good use of it. I also found a couple dozen dead ants in the sugar water.
    South hive bees making good use of feeder

    I removed the feeder and found that the bee's living space was extremely humid. Water droplets covered the bottom board. A screened bottom board would prevent this but it isn't warm enough to be using one.
    South hive bottom board covered with water droplets

    Examining individual frames, it looked like the bees were doing well. There were lots of eggs and brood in all stages of development. I moved two brood frames to the north hive. When I shook off the bees, lots of water droplets fell.

    So why does the south hive have such an excess amount of moisture while the north hive does not? Consider the differences between the two.

    North hive:
  • Entrance reducer was on.
  • Two deep boxes were being used.
  • Bees were not using feeder. Maybe it is because they already had quite a bit of honey. Or, perhaps they didn't know it was there. All the activity was in the lower box so there was a box full of empty frames between them and the feeder.

  • South hive:
  • Entrance reducer was off. That means more air can circulate into the hive, but most of the previous days were humid so I don't know if that really helped.
  • Only one deep box was in place.
  • Bees were heavily using feeder. I suspect this was the main culprit. Just having the feeder in place doesn't increase the hive humidity significantly since I did not see water droplets in the north hive. But having so many bees bringing sugar water from the feeder into the living space makes a big difference.

  • So what changes did I make?
  • I fed both hives an approximately 4"x4" piece of pollen patty. According to Deseret Hive Supply:
    Pollen is used to feed larvae. Therefore you only need to supply pollen to your bees when they are producing brood. Spring time, after nectar starts flowing, is a good time to add pollen patties.
  • As I mentioned earlier, I moved two brood frames from the south hive to the north hive. A lot of these were capped so hopefully the numbers in the north hive will increase significantly soon.
  • In the north hive, I swapped the two boxes to put the bees closer to the feeder.
  • In the south hive, I added a second deep box with frames cleaned out from robbing. Most of these frames had been frozen to kill any small hive beetles. I figure that having a second box would provide more space for humidity to dissipate.
  • In both hives, I put the inner cover below the feeder. Previously, it was on top of it. Since my inner cover has a notch, air can flow through it (and bees can use it as another entrance). This provides passive ventilation and can be used to reduce humidity.
  • Inner cover placed below feeder

    Despite the fact that the north hive had the entrance reducer while the south hive did not, neither showed any signs of new robbing. I kept this as is.

    I fed both hives more sugar water. Next time, if humidity is still an issue, I might change the 1:1 sugar water mixture to 2:1 (two parts sugar to one part water).

    The next day, I ordered a long butane lighter. I figure that if I have a long lighter that creates a much hotter flame, I could put this into a smoker filled with pine needles rather than have to hold onto pine needles, get them lit with a cheap disposable lighter, and then stuff them into the smoker. Hopefully, this purchase will help prevent me from being stung again and also keep me from burning holes in my bee suit.

    Regarding the sting to my chin, it swelled up and itched. It doesn't look pretty but I'd rather take another sting to my chin than my hand since I don't much use my chin. I jokingly call this my "bee Botox." For the next few days, when I see myself in the mirror, I think of Ruth Buzzi, which, when you think of this, it is rather ironic because her last name is the sound that bees make.
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    North hive not well: April 17-20Open accordion icon
    I tried out my new Butane Lighter Torch Long Lighter Jet Flame Windproof Lighter. The butane flame got the pine shavings in the smoker lit quickly and the long neck ensured I could get the fire going deep down. Hopefully, this will prevent future stings since there seems to be a strong correlation between my smoker going out and me getting stung.

    I finally got a photo of me in my new bee suit.
    My in my new bee suit

    I wanted to see if the changes I made on the last hive inspection resolved the humidity problems in the south hive. It did, though it was also the case that the bees weren't drinking as much sugar water. I'm guessing this is because there were so many flowers in bloom. If there is still sugar water present at my next inspection, I will remove it.

    I didn't spend much time with the south hive. It was obviously full of bees doing their thing.

    What about the north hive? It was not faring so well. I was hoping the frames of brood I moved over from the south hive on April 8 would have boosted the north hive population but they did not. Instead, there were serious problems with the brood.

    It looks like a lot of them died during the pupal stage.
    Dead bees in pupa cells

    Many had white stuff on them and looked dried out.
    Dried out cells with white stuff on them

    A few died with their tongues sticking out which reminded me of the cover of Poison's "Open Up and Say...Ahh!"
    Single dead adult bee with tongue sticking out

    Several dead adult bees with tongues sticking out

    The tongue thing reminded me of American foulbrood disease (AFB). But the ones that died this way were adults which likely rules out AFB.
    The photo on the left shows a bee that died just as it emerged from the cell. The tongue is visible, but this is NOT the same as pupal tongue. Note that the entire developed head is present. With AFB, only the tongue is identifiable as a single point, emerging from a scale. The bee on the left likely died from varroa-associated viruses.
    - from Michigan State University - Diagnosing and Treating American Foulbrood in Honey Bee Colonies

    I immediately reached out to Eric about this and he asked me about the smell of the infected frames. As the name indicates, they should smell foul. My sense of smell isn't very good so I went back and had Norma smell the frames that looked most affected. She did not smell anything that smelled rotten, fishy, or sour. She said one smelled a little smoky (which makes sense because I smoked them), while another smelled a little sweet but that might have been from all the sugar water I've been feeding them.

    I did the ropiness test on about 20 pupa cells. One was positive, producing a slimy rope that stretched an inch. Another produced a slimy rope less than an inch long. The ones that I mentioned looked dried out were indeed.

    I was not seeing dark brood capping, or sunken cells with a greasy or glossy sheen, symptoms of AFB.

    Eric speculated that it could be parasitic [varroa] mite syndrome. He didn't have an AFB test kit and suggested I contact the state to request an inspection. He said they might come out with a dog trained to sniff for AFB. I did so that day, but hesistantly. In Maryland, one is supposed to register your hive within 30 days. For me, it had been over a year. Would there be a fine? Would I get my hand slapped? Fortunately, the answer to both questions was no. Five days later, I received my registration certificate from the Maryland Department of Agriculture.

    I read about AFB. It is caused by Paenibacillus (Bacillus) larvae, a spore-forming bacterium.
    The AFB scale is very hard for the bees to remove and can infect colonies for years to come. This is why some states have a "burn only" policy, but others allow the use of antibiotics to control the disease. It is important to have the AFB tested by a lab (USDA Honey Bee Lab) to identify if the AFB strain is resistant to Terramycin (oxytetracycline hydrochloride).
    - from Bee Informed - American Foulbrood (AFB)

    Burn the hive? I hope it wouldn't come to that but if that's what is required to protect the rest of the bee population in my area, I would do it.

    In accordance with Maryland Department of Agriculture - Apiary Inspection, I sent an email requesting an apiary inspection. I also sent the photos in this blog.

    A few days later, I called the Department of Agriculture Apiary Program at 410-841-5920. I was told that their chief apiary inspector, Cybil, is typically out in the field. They confirmed that they received my apiary registration application and that Cybil will email me back. She did so right away.
    It does look like Bee Parasitic Mite Syndrome (BPMS). Viral issues shorten the lifespan and weaken the bees. They typically die as pupae or as they are trying to emerge.
    It also looks like you have chalk brood fungus. In the third photo, either the dead pupae have grown mold or they died from the chalk brood fungus.
    I will let your regional inspector know and he can schedule an inspection with you the next time he is in your area. I am here if you have any more questions.

    I reached out to Eric on April 20, asking him what I should do.
    Parasitic mite syndrome (PMS) is a result of prolonged high mite loads. This isn't typically recovered from as there are a number of viruses that become prevalent. I would suggest a few things. If you'd like to try saving the colony you can give it a go OR you can euthanize them and get more bees.
    If you want to try to save them, PMS is tough to come out off and usually isn't greatly successful. Check mite loads, treat, check loads again, if below the threshold, requeen, and supplement bee population with health bees and brood from your other hive. I'd also consider switching their location [with the south hive] to get some healthy foragers bringing resources in.
    If you want to euthanize them and start with new bees: get a bucket of soapy water and shake them in. I know it sounds harsh, but their slow, prolonged death from PMS would be much worse for them and the bees around them. Then clean out any honey and bee bread resources. You could extract any honey but I'd get rid of the bee bread, as viruses are vectored by mites but are horizontally transmitted through trophallaxis and food resources can carry viruses to be transmitted to the new colony.
    Chalkbrood is a fungus that settles in and is generally seen in weakened hives. Chalkbrood isn't a death sentence and can be cleared up through heavy feeding and maintaining strong colonies. (I may have to double check on that, but truly this is a secondary issue).

    Eric mentioned viruses. Previously, I just thought the mite was the direct problem but like rats during the plague, it sounds like they are the carriers:
    Deformed wing virus (DWV) is a bee-pathogenic, single- and positive-stranded RNA virus that has been involved in severe honey bee colony losses worldwide. DWV, when transmitted horizontally or vertically from bee to bee, causes mainly covert infections not associated with any visible symptoms or damage. Overt infections occur after vectorial transmission of DWV to the developing bee pupae through the ectoparasitic mite Varroa destructor. Symptoms of overt infections are pupal death, bees emerging with deformed wings and shortened abdomens, or cognitive impairment due to brain infection.
    - from Journal of Virology - Direct Evidence for Infection of Varroa destructor Mites...

    I had some follow-up questions that Eric promptly answered.
  • Regarding getting rid of the bee bread, should I just throw out the frames in the trash? What about the frames with dead/dying brood or chalkbrood?
    Answer: Pop out the foundation and just get new foundation.
  • I have been doing heavy feeding ever since I bought the top feeders made in New Zealand. Does the sugar water ever go bad?
    Answer: Syrup goes bad when mold forms.
  • I put the frames in which the robbers had torn up. I figure the bees could fix the torn up comb and/or reuse the wax. I froze them first to kill any small hive beetles. Is reusing them ok?
    Answer: Reusing the robbed frames is fine.

  • In the north hive, I removed their sugar water and gave the remainder of their pollen patty to the south hive. I wasn't too concerned about the resources of the north hive since I knew they still had honey. Then I put down two Mite Away Quick Strips to treat for varroa mites. I now need to let these formic acid strips do their work for seven days, undisturbed. I can check things out again in the afternoon of April 27 or after.

    Sometimes procrastination is good. A couple of hours later, I got a call from Storm, the regional apiary inspector. He said he could come out that day to do a hive inspection. But since I put down the formic acid strips, he said I should call him back next week to arrange an inspection. I am eager to get his take on things and see what he suggests.
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    Post-formic acid treatment: April 28Open accordion icon
    My new torch is working very well at getting the smoker going.

    I haven't been able to hook up with Storm, the regional apiary inspector.

    The north hive only has maybe three frames of bees.

    I removed one of the two deep hive boxes so they have less to deal with.

    They still have plenty of honey.

    There are pupa cells but I'm guessing they are dead from varroa.

    I cleaned the bottom board.

    I found the queen. I thought she looked fine. I did not see larva or eggs but it was too dark to see eggs. My old eyes need strong light for that.

    Upon opening the south hive, I found lots of mold on the inboard part of the telescoping top cover (roof). While that isn't desirable, I don't feel it is a problem because everything at and above the top feeder stays separarate from the bees' living quarters.
    Mold growth on the inboard side of the telescoping top cover

    Almost all the sugar water (syrup) was consumed. Some moldy growth remained but that was easy to clean off since the feeder is plastic.
    Mold growth in the feeder where the syrup was

    I scrubbed mold off the cover and then soaked it with alcohol. After letting it dry, I put back but without the feeder.

    There were lots of bees in the south hive and they were spreading into new frames.

    I found a small hive beetle which I killed.

    Figuring that I have a queen in the north hive and no more varroa mite problem, I moved two brood frames from south hive to north. Based on what I've been told, it is a long shot because there are so few bees in the north hive but I gotta give it a try.
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    Bee inspector visit: May 3Open accordion icon
    I finally hooked up with Storm, the regional apiary inspector. It seems that the way his schedule works, it is hard for him to plan things out too far in advance.

    When he showed up at the house, the first thing I noticed were the tattoos on his left arm. Most that I saw were related to bees but I also saw a bulldog. I asked if he was in the Marines and he said yes, First Force Recon. Those guys are the best of the best. We spoke about his Marine career which I found most interesting. He now owns Stormy Acres Bee Farm where he and his wife raise chickens, ducks, geese, guineas, a couple of sheep, and lots of bees.

    After finding out I am a former Marine, Storm told me about the University of Michigan beekeeper course which is free for veterans and has a lot of good information.

    Storm looked at the frames that I removed a few weeks ago which were in the garage. He confirmed Cybil's diagnosis from April 17-20. He then cut open the old queen cells and showed me the dead queens inside.

    Looking at the comb, he said the cells are built at an angle, not perpendicular to the foundation. The varroa mite attaches itself to the larva shortly before the cell is capped. The resulting pupa and mite live at the bottom of the cell while the mite feces rests at the top. He looked for the feces but didn't see any. As small as the mite is, I imagine their feces would be really hard to see.
    If you find bright white deposits adhering to the inside of brood cells, you can be sure of a Varroa infestation. These white spots are patches of mite excrement that contain about 95% pure guanine, an amino acid.
    - from Honey Bee Suite - Did mites kill my bees?

    The mites carry various viruses. Chemicals that kill the mites do not kill the viruses directly but without the mites, they are not as much of a problem.

    Winter bees have more fat. But mites eat away at that fat so the bees will often not make it through the winter. I know a lot of people that could probably benefit from mites eating their fat.

    Some people in Maryland treat for varroa mites two times a year, four times a year, or monthly. Currently, the threshold is that if you have more than two mites in your sample of 300 bees, then you treat for mites.

    I asked Storm about the best way to treat for varroa mites. He referred me to Honey Bee Health Coalition which he considers the authoritative source.

    Storm said that once the temperature gets cold (40 or below), bees can't think straight. They clump together to stay warm and will move around a frame to find food. If they go the wrong way, they won't find it and can starve. That's what happened to my frame from the south hive after it got robbed out. The bees died with their butts sticking out of the cells.

    He said that Maryland is a tough place to raise bees because the temperature is so unpredictable.

    At the hives, I noticed that Storm did not wear gloves. He said it is because they can transmit disease from one hive to another. He did smoke the hives but used very little. He said my bees are gentle.

    He started with the north hive. While this hive has plenty of nectar, honey, and pollen, there are not enough bees to rear the brood.

    Healthy larva should be c-shaped and pearly white in color with a glistening appearance. Some of mine were not c-shaped and a little tan in color. He collected some samples and put them in a ziplock bag to send to the lab. They will test for European foulbrood disease. The queen was not found. He checked pretty thoroughly so I am confident that she died.

    The bees were clumped together, trying to stay warm. It was over 60 degrees but a typical temperature for a hive is 95 degrees.

    Regarding the inner cover, in the winter, it is good to have the notch facing up and then have the telescoping outer cover resting flush against the notch to keep the warm air in. Conversely, in the summer, I should have a space between the two to promote air flow.

    The south hive is doing fine. It earned a yellow sticker that reads
    This colony of honey bees has been inspected by a Maryland state apiary inspector and found to be free of American foulbrood disease.
    Sticker indicating that the apiary is free from American foulbrood disease in 2022

    Storm told me that healthy bees make a rainbow pattern on the frames.
    Pollen will often be above the brood area, with the lighter capped cells containing honey above that. The pattern of brood, pollen and honey is often described as a rainbow, such is the pattern it makes.
    - from Perfect Bee - Inspecting and Understanding the Brood Pattern

    The south colony is building lots of wax. I should feed them 1:1 sugar water syrup to help them with that.

    I can use nine frames in my ten frame box but I need to ensure they are evenly spaced. Too big of a gap will cause them to build their comb outward, which they were doing.

    There was some comb built below at least one of the frames in a way indicating that the hive might swarm. Storm said I should ask my mentor (Eric) what I should do.
    A beekeeper inspecting his/her hive will learn to recognize the signs of a colony preparing to swarm. Often a rapid buildup of the population is noted, including drones, and occurs about the same time as queen cups are constructed along the bottom of frames.
    The beekeeper will find the swarm cells located along the bottom of frames in a Langstroth hive.

    - from Perfect Bee - Recognizing and Avoiding Swarms

    I explained that Eric plans to do a hive split and give me a nuc that I can use for my north hive. He suggested I wait 7-10 days until the inspection report comes back. If it tests positive for European foulbrood, it might be best to kill the existing bees rather than integrate them. If I do get the nuc before then, I should just leave them in the box until I receive the report.

    Storm agreed with Eric that if I kill the north hive queen (she is already dead) and then put the remaining bees with the nuc I use to replace them, then the survivors could integrate with the new colony. Storm also agreed with Eric that the bees will make use of the comb that had been torn up when things were robbed. But he also suggested that I get rid of or clean off the foundation with dead brood. That's a lot of work for bees to deal with and I imagine that it could spread disease. I wasn't second guessing what Eric said but Storm said that if you ask eight beekeepers a question, you can get eight different answers. So if two experienced beekeepers agree, then I will assume they are correct.
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    Nuc from Eric: May 4Open accordion icon
    That evening, I picked up a nuc that Eric prepared for me from his hive split. He said there were multiple queen cells and that once they hatch, they can fight and determine who will rule. I brought it back to my house, put it on the platform next to the other hives, and opened the little door on the end.

    Eric said I should feed them, so on the morning of May 6 (before the rain), I put a 1:1 syrup mixture in a Boardman feeder at the entrance of the nuc. At that time, I also put back the top feeder on the south hive since Storm suggested I do that. With cooler, wet temperatures over the weekend, I wanted to make sure my bees have access to resources without having to leave the nuc or hive.

    Learning about Varroa: May 16Open accordion icon
    I looked into varroa mite treatments. I wanted to be prepared before I moved the nuc that Eric gave me into their permanent home. I didn't want a reoccurrence of what happened to the north hive. Varroa mite infestation is a lot like many diseases (such as cancer) in that if you catch it and treat it early, there is a much better chance of survival.

    I consulted Honey Bee Health Coalition, which Storm recommended. Specifically, I looked at the Varroa Management Decision Tool. I was disappointed that one of the questions wasn't about where I lived. To me, that is pretty important since the severity of varroa mite infestation varies across locality.

    I checked a Maryland government source and found out how often I should check.
    Check for Varroa mites every 2-3 months, using sticky boards, ether or powdered sugar rolls. As a suggested guideline, treat for Varroa when mite counts exceed 3 mites per 100 bees sampled.
    - from The Maryland Pollinator Protection Plan

    Interestingly, the Maryland Pollinator Protection Plan refers one to Honey Bee Health Coalition so I guess Storm knew what he was talking about. Still, with Maryland bees, I feed better getting my info from a local source. The Maryland Pollinator Protection Plan also lists Maryland registered products for varroa mites.

    A more extreme view is to test monthly.
    Monitor once every month between April and October.
    - from Cornell - Integrated Pest Management (IPM) for Varroa Mite Control

    If I go the 2-3 month route, then I figure testing in April, June, August, and October would be plenty.

    I found Tools for Varroa Management - A Guide to Effective Varroa Sampling & Control to be very readable with some good info.
  • An Integrated Pest Management (IPM) approach discourages reliance on a single, repeating treatment.
  • Mites do not live longer than a few days without their host; so unoccupied bee equipment does not harbor live mites.
  • As a rule, in colonies with brood, mite populations double about once a month.

  • When should I treat? If I only do it once a year, then August 15 is a good answer.
    In the temperate regions of the northern hemisphere, August is a critical time for mite management.
    ...many groups are recommending an August 15 completion date for the best shot at healthy winter colonies.

    - from Honey Bee Suite - August is a critical time for mite management

    Another source says about a month later is good.
    To protect this population of overwintering bees in these colonies, mite treatments would have had to be completed by the middle of September.
    - from The Apiarist - When to Treat?

    Cornell - Integrated Pest Management (IPM) for Varroa Mite Control lists a good table called Chemical treatments for managing Varroa mites. Another table called Varroa mite control options throughout the year was also very useful. I found this to be my favorite source on Varroa mite treatments. This paper is published by Cornell University which is about 240 miles north of Savage. That isn't close but it certainly isn't far either, so hopefully their bee practices will apply where I live.

    Using a standard half cup of bees from frames in the brood nest yields roughly 300 bees.
    I think most beekeepers know this. But I find it a little challenging measuring something that is moving. It isn't until they are dead that I really have an idea of how many I have. Guess I need more practice.
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    Replacing a dying hive with a nuc: May 18Open accordion icon

    Frame from dying north hive
    On May 17, Storm called to tell me that the lab results came back from the samples he took from the dying north hive. It tested negative for European Foulbrood Disease. That means since no queen was found, I could merge the survivors with the nuc that Eric gave me. Had they tested positive for the disease, I would have needed to euthanize them so that they would not infect other bees.

    I did this on May 18. The nuc which became the new north side hive was loaded with bees. I did not open it until this date but I knew this was the case because of how many would congregate outside of the nuc and sip the syrup I fed them via the Boardman feeder.

    I started by opening up the north hive box. This contained the dying colony. It was two weeks since I last saw them and things had gotten much worse. There were still bees living there but their hive was falling apart. There were nine frames and two of them (such as the one in this blog's cover photo) were so bad that I would throw them away because I felt that the new bees would be put at too great of risk by trying to reuse these frames. I saw numerous problems to include mold or fungus, small hive beetle (SHB) larva, wax moth damage, dead bees decaying on the baseboard, dead brood in cells, and signs of chalkbrood disease.
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    Small hive beetle larvae
    SHB larvae.
    2 / 7
    White mold
    3 / 7
    Dead brood
    Dead brood.
    4 / 7
    Cells worn away and replaced by white/gray stuff
    Serious cell damage.
    5 / 7
    View of rotting things on baseboard
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    Possible sign of wax moth tunneling thrugh frame
    Wax moth tunneling?
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    Possible sign of wax moth tunneling thrugh frame
    Wax moth tunneling?

    How do I know the maggots I saw were SHB larvae and not wax moth larvae? The former get about one centimeter long while the latter get about two.

    Eric said a few weeks ago that there was almost no chance of recovery for this hive and I should have considered throwing in the towel. Storm agreed. I think they were both right.

    Next I checked the south hive. This looked as good as the dying north hive looked bad. I was surprised at how this hive had done such a good job in reusing the damaged comb that had been ripped apart by the robber bees. Looking at the frames, one never would have known any of the comb had been damaged.
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    Cells packed with pollen of different colors
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    Healthy brood
    Healthy brood.
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    Capped brood
    Capped brood
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    Eggs in cells

    I took a quick look at all the frames in the south hive. I think I saw one small hive beetle. There were lots of healthy looking brood and a LOT of bees. I did not find the queen but I wasn't looking that hard. I saw eggs so I assume she is alive and well. The only thing I saw that I didn't like was a frame where the comb was built out from the foundation. This was done to fill too large of a gap between frames. Putting ten frames in a box fits, but I find that it makes it sometimes makes it hard to remove them because they are packed so tightly. So I have nine per box in mine. This is fine as long as they are evenly spaced. If there is too big of a gap, you end up with this.
    Frame with comb built out horizontally to fill big gap between frames

    I removed the top feeder. There was still some syrup left but I don't think they need it anymore. Like last time, a lot of mold was growing on the inboard side of the telescoping top cover. I scrubbed it, soaked it in alcohol, and then let it dry before replacing it.

    I shook the surviving bees from the dying north hive into the nuc that Eric gave me. He had suggested I kill them rather than prolong their death. Perhaps that would have been's hard to say. In the end, these survivors will likely be integrated into this strong colony and live a good life. But how many perished before them? Maybe it would have been better to have broken the circle of life in the dying colony rather than let many suffer and then have only a few survive. One thing tough about being a beekeeper is playing God. That's too much responsibility for me.

    I moved frames from the nuc into the north hive box. There were five frames in the nuc so I chose the four best from the north hive box to give them nine.

    I inspected each frame from the nuc as I transferred them. They were packed with bees and brood. Things looked quite healthy.

    Bees don't like empty space and they will fill it if they can. Eric gave me some frames that were for a medium frame and some for a deep. My nuc box was made for deeps. So that meant there was a lot of space below the deep frames. Not surprisingly, the bees built comb below the frame. Since it contained a lot of brood, I left it.
    Medium frame from nuc with comb attached below

    The failure of the north hive got me doing a lot of thinking. I plan to be more vigorous and pro-active when it comes to dealing with varroa mites. Within the next couple weeks, I plan to do a mite check test. I intend to make use of what I documented in Learning about Varroa: May 16.
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    Mite test: May 26Open accordion icon

    Bees from the south hive that were sacrificed for the alcohol wash
    I opened up the south hive and inspected the frames in the lower box. I found three with capped brood that I set aside. Norma came out, picked one, and checked for the queen, which she did not find. So we took a sample of about 250 bees (shown in this blog's cover photo) and did the alcohol wash test. I found three varroa mites.

    The threshold for treatment is 3%. One should treat if more than 3% exist. The south hive was at 1% so it is good.

    I moved onto the north hive.

    The medium frames were the ones that came with the nuc that Eric gave me. I saw an empty queen cup on one of them.
    Colonies tend to build plenty of these [queen cups] during spring (or other times of the year) in initial preparation for swarming or supersedure, but may or may not actually use them. Only when they are "wet" with jelly and a larva is the colony seriously starting to commit to swarming.
    - from Scientific Beekeeping - The Swarming Impulse
    Queen cell

    Recall that a week prior, I moved frames from the nuc to the deep box. The bees have done a very good job of cleaning up the comb from the new frames and filling them with nectar and pollen. But there wasn't much room for brood. I only found one frame with some brood...both capped brood and larvae. It was too dark to look for eggs. It was a medium frame and the comb built below it was what contained the capped brood.

    What had me concerned is that all the capped brood appeared to be entirely comprised of drones. What would cause that?
    Too many drones in the hive means that your queen wasn't mated properly and is only laying unfertilized eggs. Drone cells are easy to recognize. They are domed and larger than worker bee cells. Typically, they are grouped together on the outer edge of a frame. If you find that the middle of your frame is composed of drone cells, most likely you have a "drone-laying" queen and she'll need to be replaced.
    - from GloryBee - Inside Your Hive: Should You Be Concerned?
    Capped brood that only contain drones

    These drone cells were indeed grouped together on the outer edge. So maybe I don't have a drone-laying queen. I didn't feel that I had an excessive number of adult drones in the hive.
    Frame from north hive where the only capped brood were male

    Norma checked this frame and found what we thought was the queen. So we moved it off and took pictures of it before I took a sample of about 250 bees. I found no mites.

    When I looked at the photos later, I realized that what we thought was the queen was actually a drone. This is the frame that the queen would have most likely been on so I'm hoping she was not killed during the alcohol wash.

    In the below picture, you can see the drone that we thought was the queen along with young larvae.
    Drone and young larvae

    I added another deep for the north hive. Hopefully this will give them room to grow since their single deep didn't have much room for brood.

    In the new deep, I put some of the frames from the old hive that had honey and nectar. The week prior, I froze it for three days to kill small hive beetles and wax moths.

    I don't know for sure if the queen is only producing drones or if she died during the alcohol wash. I'll wait a week and then check again. If I find eggs, then I know she is alive. If I find capped brood that aren't male, then I know she is laying fertilized eggs. The solution to either problem is to get a new queen.

    The number of bees looked good in both hives and I saw no pests. I also saw no signs of comb built in a way to indicate that they might be swarming.
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    Healthy hive: June 2Open accordion icon
    Recall that on May 26, 2022, I had concerns about the north hive. I wasn't sure if the queen was sacrificed during the mite check and I also thought that she might be laying unfertilized eggs because the only capped brood I saw contained drones. But their numbers were good and the ratio of workers to drones looked normal. So I added another deep box and said I would check again in a week.

    Today was a week later. When I checked the hive, I was very pleased. The new deep that I added had a lot of bees. I feel like their numbers increased by 30% since I last checked.

    I found eggs which means the queen did not die during the mite check.

    I also saw plenty of capped brood containing workers. In the below pictures, the upper half contains workers while the lower has drones. I still found a lot of drone capped brood but this was in burr comb, which Brian says tends to contain drones.
    Many times, the brood found in burr comb will be drones because drone brood is often located on the outer edges of the brood nest.
    - from Blythewood Bee Company - Burr Comb: What Is It? And Why is it a Problem?
    Capped brood with workers in the upper part and drones in the lower

    Here's a close-up of the above frame.
    Same frame as above but zoomed in

    The north hive was doing good on resources. Plenty of nectar and pollen, with the latter shown below.
    Cells filled with pollen

    This is the first time in awhile that I can honestly say that both hives are looking very healthy. It is a good feeling.
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    Nine to Ten: June 18Open accordion icon
    I inspected the south hive. Over the last couple of weeks, the number of bees outside the hive on the boxes has been really high...much higher than the north hive. I was concerned that they might be wanting to swarm.

    I removed the top deep box. It was incredibly heavy. That's because burr comb connected some of the frames in the upper box with the lower box. I inspected three frames from the lower box, which looked fine. Lots of brood.

    Then I inspected all the frames in the upper box. I removed burr comb from them. I saw no signs indicating that the bees were planning to swarm. But if they were, I couldn't blame them. The hive was really packed with capped brood, larvae, eggs, and honey...especially the latter. I only saw one frame that could hold more comb. I can't imagine a healthier hive.

    I had been keeping nine frames per box instead of ten but I changed things back to ten that day. Nine makes it easier to remove frames but even if things are spaced just right, they will sometimes build comb further out from the foundation than I like. This causes the comb to get damaged when I remove the frames.

    I also added a medium honey super. This goes above the deeps, separated by a queen excluder. I've never had a honey super on the hives before. The idea is that the queen can't get past the excluder so the super won't contain brood...just honey and I suppose maybe pollen and bee bread.
    Honey super with queen excluder

    The honey in the super can be taken for human consumption. Whether or not I will actually do that this year is a different story. More likely than not, I'll let them keep it for the winter unless I feel they can do without. Regardless, I felt they needed the extra space and now they can put honey in the super, freeing up space in the deeps for more brood.
    The south hive with two deeps and they honey super
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    Decorating the top feeder boxes: June 19Open accordion icon

    Stenciled bee on top feeder box
    Recall that since the spring of this year, when I feed my bees, I am now using Ceracell 10 frame top feeders. These come with their own wooden box which resembles a medium. To protect these boxes and make them look like the hive boxes, I spent some time painting them. Here are the results. Note that I don't deccorate the side that faces the back.
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    Painted and decorated short end
    Decorated box.
    2 / 3
    Painted and decorated long end
    Decorated box.
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    Painted and decorated long end
    Decorated box.
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    North hive drone burr removal: June 20Open accordion icon
    Norma said that her berry harvest this year is very good. She is attributing it to the bees. Healthy bees > healthy garden > healthy food.

    What do bees make in the winter?
    Answer: Brrrr comb.

    I opened up the north hive to remove burr comb. When Eric gave me the nuc that eventually became the north hive, he gave me medium frames. I put them in a deep hive box. So the bees built a lot of burr comb under the frames which they then filled with drones. Drones are more likely to be hosts to varroa mites and drones do very little to help the colony. So Eric suggested I remove the drone burr comb as part of an Integrated Pest Management strategy. That made sense to me so I went ahead and did that. I hate to kill bees but their sacrifice will help ensure that the colony remains strong. Fortunately, it was just one frame that had the drone burr comb, the same that I showed in my June 2, 2022 blog.

    I was fortunate enough to see a worker bee emerging from its capped brood. Click on the image to start the video. Notice how one of the bees walks on her head. No respect!
    Worker emerging from capped brood

    Overall, the north hive looked very good. I saw plenty of brood in all stages of development. There weren't as many bees as the south hive but that comes as no surprise since the south hive was more mature. I expect that in another month or so, the north hive might look like the south hive does now. I didn't add a honey super because I felt the north hive bees still had some room to grow, though not much. I also did not transition from nine frames to ten per box because nine was working for them. They weren't trying to build comb horizontally.
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    Mite check: July 10Open accordion icon
    It was time to do a varroa mite check. I still haven't done the test with powdered sugar. I've just been using alcohol. Maybe I'll use the powdered sugar once the humidity drops. I've heard it doesn't work so well when it is humid.

    For the north hive, I found 11 mites using a sample of 300 bees. This means 3.6%. The threshold for treatment is 3% so I should treat them for mites. For the south hive, I found 13 mites in a sample of 325 which means 4%, so I should treat them too. Having mites at this time of year is not surprising. I'm just glad their mite count isn't excessively high. I plan to treat them this month.
    Three dead varroa mites

    As part of the Integrated Pest Management strategy suggested to me by Eric, I removed burr comb containing capped drone brood from the north hive. Recall that this occurs because there are some frames in the north hive that are smaller than the standard size for a deep box.

    The difference between the north and south hives is pretty significant. The south hive has a lot more of everything: bees, brood, and resources. They are really filling up the honey super with nectar. In the below photo, the yellow stuff is nectar. The white comb is empty.
    Frame from the honey super

    The only thing that I thought seemed a little strange is that there was one frame that looked like it had wax that had eroded away. It was showing the yellow foundation which I don't think I had ever seen before.
    Frame that looks like wax had eroded away

    The north hive is not doing is just nowhere as prolific as the south. But that's what I said last year before it went down the crapper. I ended up moving two frames of capped brood from the south hive to the north hive to boost their numbers. Since I still had nine frames per box in the north, it was easy to make room for two more frames. I replaced the two I removed from the south hive with brand new frames.

    I found one small hive beetle in the north hive and two or three in the south, though I didn't inspect every frame in the south...just the ones in the lower box and a couple in the honey super. I tend to check the lower box because when I had the small hive beetle infestation last year, the bottom board was covered in small hive beetle larvae. But on this day, I found none. I put a half Swiffer sheet at the top of both hives to catch the beetles.

    I did not find the queens. I was looking for her in the brood frames I used to sacrifice nurse bees and also in the frames that I moved from the south to the north. But otherwise, I really wasn't looking for her. I'm pretty bad at trying to find her.
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    Mite treatment: July 14Open accordion icon
    Maryland in July can get pretty hot. Because of this, I was hesitant to treat my bees with formic acid because the heat could cause excessive bee death and can even force them to abscond the hive. So instead I chose to use Avipar. I educated myself about it...
  • By reading Avipar - Instructions for Use
  • By watching YouTube - Tutorial: How to use Apivar strips?

  • I put on rubber gloves and then removed the honey supers from the south hive, as indicated in the instructions.

    Next, I checked the hives. The Swiffer sheets I put down on my last inspection caught some small hive beetles. I replaced them with new sheets but this time, instead of using a half sheet per hive, I used a full sheet, cut the long way. I put one half sheet in each hive with the dimple side up and the other with the dimple side down. Next time I inspect, I'll see if it makes a difference which side the dimples face.
    Small hive beetles caught in a Swiffer sheet

    Then, I rearranged the frames in both hives in accordance with Avipar instructions. I put the frames with the most brood at the third and fourth position from each end so that I could put the Avipar strips between them, where they would release the most amount of miticide.
    Looking down on deep box of north frame showing position of Avipar stripes

    Each box got two strips. So I used eight from my package of ten. I will leave the strips in the hive for 42-56 days. I'll check things maybe midway through and reposition the strips, making sure they are always near brood frames but separated from each other.

    I wore my glove insulators with rubber gloves on top of them. A bee stung through it and got my right thumb. Had I been wearing my thick cowhide gloves on top of the glove insulators, I don't think that would have happened. The bad thing is that I could have worn the latter because I hadn't get started to handle the Avipar strips. Next time, I'll wear my sting-proof glove combination while I'm setting things up and then switch to the rubber gloves when I handle the Avipar.

    I had mentioned that the south hive was booming with bees. That is still true. I moved another brood frame from the south to the north. Recall that I moved two during my last inspection. A lot of bees is a good thing but too many could cause them to swarm. I was finding symptoms that they might be planning to do so. The first five out of eight conditions in Bee2Bee - Signs a Hive is Going to Swarm were met:
  • An abundance of food stored in the hive, with little space for more.
  • A lack of comb space for brood rearing.
  • A high worker and drone population and/or 'idle' worker bees.
  • The construction of queen cell cups (the foundation of queen cells), which will be on the lower and side edges of brood combs.

  • I think adding the honey super, moving two brood frames from the south to the north hive, and replacing these two frames with empty frames helped delay the swarm. But today I found queen cell cups near the bottom of a brood frame. I saw worker eggs in the south hive so I know the queen was alive at least four days ago. I didn't check this box during the last inspection so I don't know how long these queen cell cups had been around. I removed them to help prevent swarming.
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    Queen cells from south hive
    South hive queen cells.
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    Side view of queen cells from south hive
    South hive queen cells.
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    Looking inside queen cells.  Is that royal jelly?
    Inside queen cells.

    Recall that for awhile, I had nine frames per box which allowed the bees to build outward when there was too much space between frames. That was the case in this frame from the south hive. The bigger cells are made for drones while at the bottom is a queen cell.
    Comb built outward from frame can house drone brood and a queen cell

    I put the honey super in the garage at a place I'm hoping ants won't get to.

    I started feeding the bees a mix of 1:1 sugar water. Nectar season ended in Maryland a month ago. I guess I should have started feeding them then.
    In our central Maryland area, our total nectar flow is short, but intense - starting about April 15th and ending about May 31st, but no later than June 15th.
    - from Chris Bacher Consulting - Are You Ready for Nectar Flow?
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    Mid-treatment inspection: August 3Open accordion icon
    Twenty days ago, I treated my bees for varroa mites using Avipar. It is almost midway through treatment so I figured I'd see how they were doing and maybe move the strips slightly.

    I had been feeding the bees a 1:1 sugar water mix because they are in a nectar dearth.
    A nectar dearth is any time that plants slow down or completely stop nectar production.
    With nectar scarce and pressure on its food stores increasing, your bees may become a bit more challenging to be around. Your presence is no different than that of a robber bee. You are a perceived threat.
    There may be other reasons for this change in temperament. But in the heat of summer, dearth is a likely cause.

    - from Beekeeping for Newbies - What Is Summer Nectar Dearth?

    Because I knew they might be tempermental, I smoked them well.

    What else happens at this time of year? Egg reduction.
    By the first of July (northern climates) our colonies are about as strong as they are going to be and soon the queen will be laying fewer eggs.
    - from Perfect Bee - The Second Half Of The Summer And Your Bees

    Next, I opened up the roof of both hives and checked the inner part of the roof and inner cover for small hive beetles. None. But the Swiffer sheets I left on my previous inspection caught quite a few...maybe 20 from each hive.

    I proceeded to inspect the north hive. I started with the lower box so I could look for small hive beetle larvae on the bottom board. I saw none.

    Looking at the frames in the lower box, I saw very little of most everything. Not much brood, nectar, or honey. The only thing they had going for them was pollen.

    The upper box had more, especially honey. I saw a lot of pollen and some, but not much, brood. It was too dark to find eggs but I did see some bee larvae.

    The numbers in the north hive are not great but they aren't terrible either. I would like it if there were more bees but at least I didn't see anything bad. I saw no small hive beetles or anything indicating disease or pests.

    I left the Apivar strips between the third and fourth frames from each end but if they were positioned further to one end, I shifted them to the other to help spread the miticide.

    Moving onto the south hive, I got stung on my chin. I guess it was up against the mesh of my bee suit. It would have taken too long to go inside and remove the stinger so I just kept working. Maybe I should keep a handheld mirror and knife handy so I could remove the stinger promptly, rather than let so much venom get into my body.

    Like the north hive, I inspected the lower box first and checked the bottom board for small hive beetle larvae. None. Looking at the frames, I saw brood but nowhere near as many as I did in the south hive during my previous inspection. No surprise.

    What did I see more of? Honey. There was a lot! The upper box looked similar.

    I saw no signs of disease or pests. The south hive has a lot more bees than the north. Overall, it looks very healthy. The only thing the north hive might have going for it is more pollen.

    I repositioned the Apivar strips as I did in the north hive.

    I got stung again on my chin. I could feel my face swell.

    I put down fresh Swiffer sheets in both hives, laying them down perpendicular to the frames and above the ones in the upper boxes.

    I cleaned up, gave the bees fresh jars of sugar water, and then went inside to remove the stingers. My chin and the left side of my face were extremely swollen. I took two pills containing the same active ingredient as Benadryl. I also applied hydrocortisone ointment to my face. For some reason, my palms itched some but I had not been stung there.

    I am definitely not liking my bee suit as much as I had. Maybe a lot of other people were experiencing the same thing as me. Perhaps that's why about a week after purchasing it, the price was reduced $40.
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    Post-treatment inspection: September 2Open accordion icon
    On July 14, I treated my bees for varroa mites using Avipar. That was 50 days ago. The treatment is complete. Time for inspection.

    I started checking shortly after sunrise. The temperature was around 63 degrees. We had a really hot August but now the heat is starting to break.

    Each half of the Swiffer sheets that I put in had at least a dozen small hive beetles. Each hive had two halves. I didn't notice much of a difference between the hives when it came to small hive beetles. I only saw one live small hive beetle during my inspection.

    I cleaned off the bottom boards with water and a scrub brush. The one in the north hive had quite a bit of wax or propolis on the bottom.
    Dirty bottom board, north hive

    I removed the Apivar strips. Then I used the alcohol test to check for varroa mites. For both hives, the count was around 1% which is well below the threshold for treating. It looks like the Apivar worked well.

    The north hive only had one frame of brood. I did not see eggs. There were a few larvae. Not sure what the status is of the queen but I didn't see her. The bottom box contained mostly sugar water and pollen. The upper box had a lot of honey. The bee count seemed low. At least there weren't many empty frames. I did not see drones.

    The south hive looked healthy as usual. There was quite a bit of brood.
    Brood frame

    Some of the brood frames, like the one shown above, had queen cells.
    Queen cell

    Here's the inside of the above queen cell. Can you see the larva?
    Inside of queen cell

    I only saw one egg. Maybe the queen is not healthy. There was lots of honey.

    I moved three brood frames to the north hive, including two containing a queen cell with larva. I'm thinking the north hive needs a new queen more than the south hive and I'm pretty sure the south hive can create more queen cells. I saw a few drones and some drone cells in the south hive, which I removed. Now that the Apivar treatment is over, I replaced the honey super in the south hive.

    I replaced the Swiffer sheets and removed lots of burr comb.

    For both hives, their sugar water consumption is starting to go down.

    A bee tried to sting through my double layer gloves and I got a tiny bit of venom in my right pinky finger. It was quite the trivial sting but I was still impressed that it got through both gloves.
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    When to check for mites?: October 7Open accordion icon
    When should I check for varroa mites again? Recall that everything looked good during my September 2 check.
    While a spring or summer forager may live a mere four to six weeks, a so-called winter bee (or diutinus bee) may live up to nine months. Since these long-lived bees care for the colony during the cold and confined winter months, they cannot be sick at the beginning or the colony will not survive.
    To raise healthy bees in September and October, your colony needs to be virtually mite-free by the end of August, the very month that the mites-per-bee ratio explodes. So if you are going to treat your hives, August is the month to do it.

    - from Honey Bee Suite - August is a critical time for mite management

    It is indeed the case that my hives were virtually mite-free by the end of August. This same source also says
    Many beekeepers like to treat the mites in August and then again in the dead of winter when little capped brood is present. A second treatment in winter may be especially important in very strong colonies that robbed other colonies in the fall. Robbers often attack a weak colony that is dying. In addition to bringing home the honey, they bring home the mites as well.

    So maybe I'll do a winter treatment but nothing until then. We'll see.

    During the last hive check, I transferred brood from the south to the north. This appeared to help. But I'm still not seeing any signs of a laying queen in the north hive. There is a capped queen cell. But I'm thinking it might be one of the frames that I moved from the south hive during my last check. So there might be a dead queen pupa inside.
    Queen cell

    The north hive isn't consuming sugar water nearly as fast as the south. Not as much honey in the north but there is plenty of pollen.

    I didn't check for eggs in south hive but there were plenty of capped brood so I assume things are good.

    I moved a frame of capped brood and a frame of honey from the south hive to the north.

    The south hive isn't filling up the honey super as fast as I expected.

    The bottom boards showed no signs of small hive beetle larvae.

    I found adult small hive beetles in both hives. The north hive Swiffer sheets caught about 18. The south hive had 5 or less in the Swiffers. Maybe because it was put above the honey super. Upon finishing, I put half a Swiffer above the honey super and the other half just under the queen excluder.

    No stings. I wore a breathing mask under suit to protect my chin.
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    New queen for the north hive: October 14-18Open accordion icon
    I reached out to Ryan at Honeysmith Bees to see if he had a mated, marked, Italian queen. He did. I paid $30, picked her up on October 14, and then put the new Bernice in the north hive, still inside her queen cage. Recall that the north hive had been struggling with a lack of bees, at least compared to the south hive.

    On October 17, I checked on Bernice. The workers had not eaten through the candy that held the queen prisoner, though they had made some progress. So I used a small screwdriver to break through the candy so she could be released. I put the open end of the cage facing inboard into the hive, resting on the bottomboard. The other end stuck out of the hive. The idea was that after she was released, I could retrieve the cage without having to open it up. Then I noticed several bees piled on top of the cage. Maybe they didn't accept her and were trying to ball her but after three days, I think they would have accepted her.

    On the morning of October 18, there were still a few bees in the queen cage but most were gone. By that evening they were all outside of the cage.

    Winter weather: November 23Open accordion icon
    In early November, we had some really warm days that got up to the mid-70s. It would have been nice to have gotten out on the water but I was visiting my folks in California where it was much colder and wetter. After returning back to Maryland, it got cold and I was working long hours to make up some of the time I was away. On November 21, it got down to 19 degrees. It is feeling like winter, even though it is still about a month away.

    I was concerned that the cold air would be too much for my bees. I wanted to keep feeding them via the Boardman feeder but that meant I couldn't put on the entrance reducer. So instead, I cut some furring strips to help minimize the entrance and keep out some of the draft.

    The bees are much less active. I'd been feeding them but their appetite seems to be very dependent on the temperature.

    One unexpected challenge to feeding is that some animal has been coming around at night and knocking off the jars containing the sugar water. My guess is it is a rat or a raccoon. Hopefully I can switch to feeding them fondant soon so this will no longer be a concern. I'm just waiting for it to arrive.

    On the afternoon of November 23, it got up to 62 degrees so I opened up the hives.

    There weren't a lot of bees in the north hive but their numbers weren't terrible. Does that mean the queen that I introduced last month didn't take? I actually think she did. I found a little capped brood, though not much. This time of year isn't a good time for bees to be laying.

    I reduced the two deeps to one. Many of the frames held very few resources. By saving only the ten best frames out of twenty, the bees should have less real estate to take care of. Better for them to have a small, well kept house than a big one that is falling apart and cold.

    The Swiffer sheets caught only about five small hive beetles. I saw no others or signs of pests.

    I removed propolis from the frames, cleaned off the bottom board, and then put on one of the Ceracell 10 frame top feeders. I don't have anything in this feeder yet. I'm saving it for when I get fondant. In the meantime, I'll keep feeding them sugar water from the Boardman. But at least I'll have the top feeder in place so I can feed them without letting all their warm air out.

    The south hive is doing very well. It has maybe three times as many bees as the north hive. They have lots of honey, including some in the honey super.

    On my last inspection, I put half a Swiffer sheet above the honey super and the other half below the queen excluder. Both had caught some small hive beetles but I think the one above the honey super caught a few more. The Swiffer half below the queen excluder was very messy because it stuck to the excluder. I won't do that again. I saw about seven small hive beetles not in the Swiffer halves. No signs of other pests.

    There were about four partial frames of brood, with capped brood covering maybe 10-20% of the frame. I moved one over to the north hive.

    I mentioned how I cut a piece of wood to make the entrances smaller. Apparently it is what the bees wanted because they were doing the same thing with propolis.
    Propolis at entrance

    Here's this same piece of propolis removed.
    Propolis removed, in my hand

    Do people use propolis? Some places market it as a health food supplement.
    Propolis is a complex substance that honeybees produce with special enzymes, beeswax, and tree and plant secretions. Propolis...offers many benefits for our health, including support for the immune system, cardiovascular system, and oral health. It's also rich in antioxidants.
    - from Vimergy - Organic PropolisPure

    I put on a Ceracell 10 frame top feeder until I noticed that it did not sit level on the honey super. There is a gap of about 1/8 to 3/16 of an inch on one side that I fear will let out too much warm air. So I didn't put it on. I put it on my garage floor with some weights on it to try and straighten things out. Once the fondant arrives, I'll see if that worked, and if it didn't, I can probably just throw something heavy on the telescoping roof to help bend the wood to close the gap.
    Gap between hive box and Ceracell 10 box
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    Fondant: November 27Open accordion icon
    Brian brought me $20 worth of fondant. It is about 10 pounds. Last year, it got dried out. This year, I am storing it at room temperature and trying to keep air away from it by keeping plastic or wax paper right up against it. I cut off a couple of pieces and fed it to my bees via the Ceracell 10 frame top feeders that evening. I'll keep feeding them sugar water in the daytime for awhile.

    Predator: December 2-12Open accordion icon
    I've been feeding the bees fondant along with sugar water. But over the last few nights, the sugar water jars end up on the ground. A predator has been going after the sugar water. So I started storing the jars in the shed at night. Then I noticed that the shims I cut for entrance reducers were knocked off. Likely the same culprit. My guess is it is a raccoon. I can just picture it reaching in the hive and grabbing whatever honey it can.

    I set two large and two small live-catch traps. The large ones are easily big enough for a groundhog. The small ones are suitable for a rat. I baited them with limburger cheese and peanut butter on bread or crackers. Why limburger cheese? Based on what I learned from cartoons, it is supposed to be very smelly. For the stuff I have, there really isn't much of a scent unless it gets heated up. I also set up a game camera.

    There were lots of dead bees near the entrance of the north hive. They don't have a whole lot of lives to spare so this can't be good.

    I've been having problems with the sugar water dripping out onto the hive or the table on which it stands. I thought there was something defective but upon closer examination, I found dead bees attached to some of the holes in the lid. I think their bodies making contact with the holes was wicking the sugar water out of the jar and onto the bottomboard.

    Surely some of that went into the hive and contributed to more humid conditions. Just like with chickens, cold and humid air is not a good thing for bees. And with the north hive not having a lot of bees to start with, they probably were not able to keep things warm enough. I removed the sugar water around December 1 but by December 9, there were probably a thousand dead bees just outside the hive or on the bottomboard. Had I put on the full length entrance reducer, they might have been able to stay warmer but I felt increasing the air flow to reduce the humidity was better, at least for awhile.

    My two small traps caught small birds. They were unharmed but the game camera captured a hawk trying to get them. They were safe inside the cage until I released them.

    I later determined that it was indeed a raccoon coming by the hives at night. Eric told me to put down carpet tack strips around the entrance. I did that on December 9. I nailed some onto the space in front of the hives but the game camera showed me that he approached them from the side. I had some carpet tack strips in front of the hive entrance on the bottom board but I didn't want to nail them in, so the raccoon just knocked them aside. But I also put on the full-length entrance reducers, which fit in very snuggly and the raccoon was not able to remove them.
    Raccoon near hives at night

    After studying the video footage, I made some adjustments. I put the bait further back in the cages and weighted down the trigger with plates. I also used pliers to bend the mechanism holding the door open so it would be more sensitive.

    On the morning of December 12, I got what I wanted. I found a squirrel in one cage and the raccoon in the other. I releaed the squirrel and drove the raccoon a few miles away to a wooded industrial area before releasing it.

    I learned that raccoons sometimes make a neighing sound like a horse. Click the image below to start the video. Be sure to have your sound turned on.
    Raccoon making horse sounds

    When they are in attack mode, they sound like a viscious dog. I wore my thick leather bee gloves when handling the cage.
    Raccoon about to be released
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