Bees 2023

This page describes my beekeeping adventures in 2023.

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

Formic Pro: January 1Open accordion icon
We'd been having a lot of really cold days and nights, some as low as seven degrees. But today it was sunny and warm. When I opened the hives, it was 60 degrees. By the time I finished working, it was 62.

I checked the north hive. There were a few dead bees in the top feeder. It looked like the fondant was untouched.

There were maybe a couple hundred dead bees on the bottom board. A couple of weeks prior, I pulled maybe 1300 dead bees out of the bottom board with a stick. I was certain the colony collapsed but today there was plenty of activity. I rinsed and scrubbed the bottom board.

Inspecting the frames, I saw nothing to indicate that the raccoon had done any damage.

There was plenty of honey and pollen.

I saw capped brood which I am certain was dead, maybe three or four dozen. There were about seven to ten dead bees that had perished when trying to emerge from their cell. Their tongues were sticking out. This symptom reminds me of Parasitic mite syndrome (PMS) which I describe in my April 17-20, 2022 blog. But compared to that encounter, this one was minor. Perhaps I caught it in time?

There were no small hive beetles in either half of the Swiffer sheet. I also saw none in the hive.

The north hive showed some signs of possible robbing but it was very minor. Some cells looked like they had been ripped open but it wasn't many. All together, it would have only covered 1/10 of one side of one frame.
Cells that look like they were ripped open

I moved to the south hive. There were maybe 1500 dead bees in a layer about a half inch thick on the bottom board. I rinsed and scrubbed the bottom board. Not sure if this many dead is normal. But there was still a lot of hive activity.
Dead bees on bottom board

Like the north hive, I saw no small hive beetles.

There was a lot of honey and pollen.

No signs of robbing or PMS.

The bees were making use of the fondant. It must be warmer and/or more humid in the south hive because the fondant is liquidy whereas in the north hive, it was more solid. There were several dozen dead bees attached to the fondant.
Dead bees on fondant

I found a queen cell with a hole in the side and another queen cell next to it. My guess is the queen cell on the left hatched first and then killed the unhatched queen, eating through the other queen's cell through the side.
Queen cell with hole in the side

There was some honey in the super but not much.

For both hives, I applied two strips of Nature's Own Design (NOD) Formic Pro formic acid above the bottom box.

In accordance with Formic Pro instructions, I removed the top feeder boxes and the entrance reducers. I am concerned that the north hive might fall victim to robbing. I put the feeder boxes with the fondant on my backyard retaining wall which is a pretty good distance from the hives. If bees from other colonies are looking for a handout, hopefully, they will go to the fondant before they resort to robbing.

I am doing the 14 day treatment. I plan to replace the entrance reducer as soon as the treatment is done.

For the next four days, the highs should be at least 50 with a low of 41.
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Feeding: January 14Open accordion icon
It has been 14 days since I applied the Formic Pro miticide. So I put the entrance reducers back on. Before doing so, I used a stick to pull out any dead bees on the bottom board. There were not a lot, fortunately. But I did find what I call "wax sawdust" on the bottom board of the north hive. Last winter, this was present after robbing. It is the remains of when robber bees chew off the caps of the cells and steal honey.

What could I have done differently? Had I not treated for mites, the north hive would have likely perished from varroa mites. Next year, treating earlier would have probably been better.

It was too cold to actually open up the hives so I don't know how they are doing.

Recall that I had put fondant out, closer to my house than the hive, to encourage potential robber bees to go to it rather than my hives. I guess that didn't work. It makes sense that bees would prefer honey to fondant. But they (my bees or someone else's) ate up all the fondant I put out.

With the mite treatment done, I went back to feeding them fondant via the top feeder. The idea was to remove the telescoping cover quickly and leave the inner cover on. Then put the top feeder above the inner cover. I figured that the small hole of the inner cover would trap most of the heat so the bees wouldn't suffer much. That worked fine for the south hive. But for the north, the inner cover was stuck to the bottom of the telescoping cover. So it all came off. Talk about adding insult to injury.
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Empty north hive: February 9Open accordion icon
On February 4, I attached Touri 24 Pack 33ft Outdoor Transparent Clear PVC Bird Defender Spikes Strips for Indoor Outdoor use Keep Pigeon, Squirrel Off around the hive entrances to help keep predators away. I thought they seemed flimsy and wasn't convinced the double sided adhesive strips would keep them in place but three weeks later, they seem fine.
Bird Defender Spike Strips around hive entrances

It was warm enough on February 9 to open the hives. I started with the north. It was a ghost town. No signs of life. Maybe they had left to find food because it was a nice day but I figured some would have stayed behind. There was a lot of "wax sawdust" on the bottom board which might indicate that robber bees chewed off the caps of the cells and stole honey. But there was also plenty of nectar and honey left which indicates that they probably didn't starve. Maybe there just weren't enough bees for them to maintain adequate hive temperature and they froze.
Wax sawdust on bottom board

There were quite a few dead bees on the bottom board of the south hive. But there were also plenty of live bees. I'm thinking this hive might make it. They still had fondant left but it was obvious that they were eating it, which is good.
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Starving bees: March 22Open accordion icon
I'm trying to teach Norma what little I know about beekeeping so I walked her through an inspection.

We opened up both hives today. I expected the north hive to be dead but it was not. There were not a lot of bees but they were quite busy. They still have honey. No signs of disease. I am quite certain they are queenless. I'm wondering if it would be sufficient to just get a new queen or if a package would be needed to get them back in the saddle. If I had to guess how many full frames of bees there are, I'd say three or four.

The south hive has a good number of bees but there were maybe 200 dead ones on the bottom board. They also have quite a bit of honey.

Not sure what that white stuff is below. Could it just be pieces of wax? Eric thinks it is wax or fondant.
White stuff on hive

In the below photo, look at how many dead bees are in their cells with their butts sticking out. I thought this was a sign of starvation but they had plenty of honey. Eric wrote:
Moving the frames of honey to the cluster and striking some open with your hive tool could get them easy access...but if they're starving so close to food, I'd make sure to feed the heck out of them (1:1) and in 3-7 days or so, check on them. With the days warming up, you should be seeing a lot of pollen coming in but again, if they're starving, they are just holding on - the queen will not lay if there is not enough food and pollen coming into the hive and my bees are definitely bringing in loads of pollen, which leads me to believe they just need food.
Dead bees in cells

We did not find a queen in the south hive. If one was present would we be seeing brood? We saw none. I was thinking of buying a queen from my guy in Odenton if they are indeed queenless.

The fondant was rock hard and they were not eating it.

We also saw no pollen in either hive.

Norma and I started feeding the bees a 1:1 mixture of sugar water.
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Opening up honey: March 26Open accordion icon
Norma is starting to take over some of the beekeeping responsibilities. Today, she removed the fondant and fed the bees more sugar water. She also made enough to last a couple of weeks.

I thought I had pollen patties but did not so I ordered some.

Norma used the hive tool to open up some honey for the bees and put them in the center of the box. I had never done this myself so I directed her to watch YouTube - How to Extract Honey from Honeycomb starting at 1:33. She did so and found it helpful. For the south hive, she opened up half one one side of a frame of honey. The north hive didn't have any honey which leads me to think maybe all the bees we saw during the last hive check were robbers. Regardless, for the north hive, she opened up an eighth of one side of a frame.

Norma shook out the dead bees from the south hive. Banging the frame on the wooden platform worked well. She used a small screwdriver to remove the others, one-by-one.

Here's Norma inspecting a frame.
Norma inspecting frame
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Dead hives: March 31Open accordion icon
It was fairly cool (below 60 degrees) and the sun didn't come out all day. So Norma didn't expect that many bees would be out foraging. But when she opened up the hives, she only saw a couple dozen bees between the two of them. Clearly, the hives are dead. It is very likely that what she saw a few days ago were robbers.

The sugar water jars were knocked over. Looks like the raccoon is back and ignoring the spikes that I put around the entrances. Maybe I didn't use enough.
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Taking a break: April 16Open accordion icon
I know I hadn't been beekeeping for long but I find the stings, predators, pests, dead hives, and all the time/money I've spent to be quite demoralizing. So at least for the rest of the year, I will take a break and reassess things. I've been taught that native everything is good and that we should not introduce non-native species. But honeybees are not native to North America. This raises a lot of ethical questions. Obviously we need them for our food supply, so is that something that gives them a free pass? What other non-native animals/insects should we be supporting and why? Clearly the answer is not as black and white as I had been led to believe.

I gave this a lot of thought.

Recently, I learned that those spikes are not sufficient. That comes as no surprise. They are very light-duty and probably only good for sticking to something that doesn't expand/shrink with the weather and stays out of the sun. This is what they looked like after three months.
Bird defender spikes, warped

I removed and cleaned off all the hive equipment. Mostly, that just involved scraping off propolis with a hive tool and rinsing things off real good with a scrub brush. For the frames, I took the better ones and froze them for at least three days each to kill pests. For the frames that were not so good, I took them apart and replaced the foundation. What did I see when I inspected the frames? I saw signs of wax moths.
Tunnels made by wax moths in comb

Going back to the question about supporting non-native species, there are plenty of pollinators besides honeybees, though honeybees seem to get the lion's share of the credit. According to U.S. Department of Agriculture - The Value of Birds and Bees,
More than 4,000 bee species buzz around the United States. Honey bees alone pollinate 80 percent of all flowering plants, including more than 130 types of fruits and vegetables.

There are various types of bees, butterflies, moths, and other insects. Maybe having a pollinator garden with butterfly boxes and mason bee hives is the way to go. I would certainly like to have a positive impact on the environment but do so in a way that I find rewarding...not demoralizing. According to the above source, while bee populations have dropped, so
...have the populations of many other pollinator species.
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