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Archive for September, 2009

Robbing

I just came back from my hives and noticed a lot of activity around them. I went to refill the hive-top feeders with more syrup and noticed that the bees were somewhat agitated. I refilled the first hive (hive ‘A’) and then moved onto the second (‘B’). The second hive hadn’t finished the syrup I had filled for them back on Tuesday – they had about ¼ – 1/3 of a gallon of syrup left. I’m a little concerned as it could mean that it may have started to ferment or it will start to ferment soon. Fortunately the temperature right now is in the upper 60s/lower 70s…so I don’t think it will happen tonight.

What really got my attention was that it appeared that the bees were fighting with other bees. When I took off the inner cover I noticed bees that I “recognized” as “not mine” (from the coloring on their abdomens mostly) were trying to get into the feeders. The bees that were “not mine” had coloring similar to this. My bees are either Italians or Carniolans…I need to ask the beekeeper I got the nucs from in May.

There is a feral colony in a neighbor’s tree trunk (about 25 feet above ground) that’s been there all summer. I suspect that the robbing bees are from that colony. I ended up deciding that since the syrup was not finished in Hive ‘B’ I would close up the feeder and call it a day to prevent the robbers from getting in. It appears that these robbing bees are not trying to go through the front door but rather through the escape hole in the inner cover (which is heavily surrounded by my bees).

I’m not sure if there’s anything I can do beyond what I’ve already done at the moment. I’m considering putting in an entrance reducer to help my hives defend themselves but at the moment I’m going to leave things as they are.

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Wonderful Article

Hat tip to Bees and Chicks on the link to Phillip Chandler‘s article in the New Internationalist. He rightly argues that the path we are going down with commercial beekeeping is completely unsustainable and if we don’t do something soon we will be in serious trouble. Beekeepers need to lead a new revolution in apiculture that is organic in nature and that allows the bees to live more naturally. If we don’t we risk irreparable damage to the honey bee populations in North America and Europe — and perhaps elsewhere.

For my part I plan on getting a top-bar hive next year to add to my two other hives which I have already to allow a new colony to build up on it’s own.

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Hive Update

Just finished putting in the second dose of ApiGuard in the hives as well as one of the MegaBee patties I bought from Dadant a couple of weeks ago. Important Lesson: don’t put the 1/4″ spacer between the hive bodies. I forgot that the bees don’t like the empty space so they built burr comb under the upper hive body and when I pulled it up in Hive ‘A’ I opened up some cells that had brood that was well on it’s way to adulthood. Very disappointing!

I did, however, pull the queen excluders out and put in new ones. Hive ‘B’ was almost impossible to get apart since the bees have propolized the queen excluder to the point that it literally cemented the super above to the hive body below. Thought I was going to pull a muscle on that one…but finally got it off. Put in new queen excluders (same type) — that should make it easier in the near term future to reverse the hives before the winter. I put the old excluders on a sheet of aluminum foil and put them in the deep freeze to get the propolis off.

Overall the hives were not defensive which I suspect is due to the fact that the ApiGuard that was in there was finished. Interestingly though I did get stung in the head through my veil — although I don’t know if that was by a bee or a wasp that might have been around since I couldn’t find the stinger. Overall I got a lot of things done. The only thing I didn’t get a chance to do was to use the Vitafeed on the hives.

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We’re now into the second phase of treating the hives for the Varroa mites. I’m going to replace the ApiGuard tray that is in each hive this afternoon and put in a new tray. On top of that I’m going to add some MegaBee Patties as well to try and keep brood production up in preparation for the winter. I have already started feeding the bees a 2:1 sugar syrup (adding in HoneyBHealthy) and I’m going to start adding VitaFeed Gold as well before the winter really sets in. Tomorrow is looking like there’s a good possibility of rain so today’s the day to get this done. The temperature did drop some this weekend with lows in the lower to mid-50’s yesterday and today but is expected to climb back a bit over the next few days. I also plan on removing the queen excluder from the hives and putting in new ones. The bees have put so much propolis on the excluders that they’re gluing the honey super that is above the hive bodies to the frames in the upper hive body. By swapping it out I’ll be able to then freeze the excluders and recover the propolis from them. It’ll make it easier to handle the hives later as well.

Overall the number of bees in the colonies appears to be lower (but that could be because more of them are in the hives themselves rather than hanging out in the hive-top feeders) but other than that they appear healthy. I considered the possibility of putting in the entrance reducers as well to help insulate the hive but with the temperature coming back up a bit I think I’m going to wait on that.

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Yesterday I went to do some work with the bees — to continue the Varroa treatment as well as to feed them with a 2:1 sugar syrup (since we’re now into the fall preparations). To treat for Varroa I’ve used the Dowda method (with a slight modification talked about in Ross Conrad‘s book Natural Beekeeping where I mix 4 parts powdered sugar with 1 part garlic powder). Well…that seems to work but the next time I dust the bees I won’t be using garlic powder. Seems that they’re very good in separating the garlic powder from the powdered sugar and dumping the garlic powder through the screen onto the mite board making it nearly impossible to count the mites that have fallen.

I’ve decided however to augment the Dowda treatment with Apiguard (later I will try Api Life Var as well if need be). Anyway, yesterday I went to install the 1/4″ spacer so that I could put the Apiguard trays into the hives. As I was walking towards the hives I was taking some equipment out there and didn’t bother to have my veil on. As I was walking away something pursued me and stung me at the base of the neck. I was very surprised to say the least. I could not tell whether it was a bee or something else but I went inside to have Diana take the stinger out. However, she could not find it…there did not appear to be a stinger in my neck.

I then went back out (with my veil on this time) and began to smoke the bees. Their disposition was very defensive almost immediately. Many bees kept coming at my veil and I couldn’t understand why they were acting this way. We were expecting a rain storm later in the day and this was around 4 PM when I went outside. As I opened up the first hive I recall seeing a yellow jacket in the hive (which I promptly squished) and managed to get the spacer as well as the Apiguard tray installed. I placed the spacer and the Apiguard in between the two main hive bodies on top of the brood frames of the lower hive body. I then replaced the upper hive body, the queen excluder, the super above the excluder (which contains honey just for the bees), and the hive top feeder. I then refilled the hive top feeder and closed up the hive. The bees were so irritable and defensive that I was stung a second time in the wrist of my right hand.

Hive “B” was even more difficult. I could not get the honey super (the one above the excluder) off since the bees had propolized it so much that it was pulling brood frames out of the hive body below it. After several minutes of very hard work (all while the bees were very irritable) I finally managed to get the honey super off. I then got the hive open and installed the spacer and the Apiguard tray. In the process I was stung in my left thumb this top at the first knuckle. I finally decided to go inside and get my gloves as I was becoming very frustrated with the fact that I was stung three times in one day. I managed to get things closed up and went back inside.

In the end the only thing I could attribute to the irritable, defensive nature of the bees yesterday was the presence of yellow jackets as well my working the hives late in the day and the coming rains. I also suspect that the sting on my neck was from a yellow jacket rather than a bee since no venom sac was found at the sting site. I’ve learned my lesson and will definitely keep my veil on whether I’m actively working the hives or whether I’m just bringing equipment out there. And I may use the gloves more often.

As it stands my tasks now are:

  • Level the hives so that I can use pail feeders rather than the hive top feeders next year
  • Install another spacer between the upper hive body and the honey super so I can add another Apiguard tray or Api Life Var tablets if need be
  • Add mega bee patties to the hives
  • Add essential oils to syrup to help build up the bees immune system and to treat for Varroa

There’s a lot still left to do to get ready for the winter but I’m hopeful that both hives will go into the winter strong and with plenty of food so that they will come out in the spring ready to go.

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