Three years in the making! Three years to get a colony of bees to over-winter, but worth it!
It has been tough going getting our bee hives to grow. Starting the bees three years ago, we have lost every colony through fall and winter each year. But I made a commitment to myself (Actually the wife made a commitment for me) that I would give it a minimum of three years to over-winter a colony.
The original goal was to add a new colony each spring until I had three colonies, but each spring I have been starting fresh with one colony.
I have always bought Italian bee’s, but this past year through a special deal from our local club, I purchased two nuc’s with Russian bees. I think changing to the more aggressive and hardier Russian bee made some difference, although I did still lose one colony through 4 different swarms.
The colony that did survive the winter, turned out to be a very strong and thriving colony. Yesterday we removed the Illinois honey box and proceeded to extract our very first run of honey.
I truly though it would be a lot of work, so I asked a couple of new beekeeper friends to come and help, but it was truly not to bad. Pulling the frames of honey, de-capping the comb and spinning the frames proved to be a pretty easy experience.
I was really thrilled with our first year’s production, considering we extracted over TEN POUNDS of honey from just 6 1/2 frames! It was the best tasting honey I had ever eaten, but that could be just the excitement of eating our own honey talking.
Here are a few pictures from the day, sorry I did not take more!
By the way cleaning the equipment was really simple. (buckets and honey extractor) I just set all the equipment in front of my bee hive for the rest of the day and the bees cleaned it all up for me! Just a little soap and water this morning and the equipment is back in storage for next year!
About two weeks ago, laying in our bed, looking out the window at the bee hives, my wife and I noticed a flurry of activity around our most active hive. It looked as though 10,000 bees were playing gleefully in the air above the hive.
We went outside to see why there was so much activity and saw that the bees were flying to a neighbors property and congregating on one of their bushes. The picture below is not very good, but the bee swarm is circled:
Bees will swarm for various reasons, but it boils down to the hive not being able to sustain the colony. In our case when opening up the hive, it looks as though the bees were very productive and bore far too many bees for a 2-box hive. The hive still looked very full and productive, even though we had just lost, I am sure, over 10,000 bees.
Our original queen was evidently a very fertile and active queen. Queens can lay up to 1500 eggs a day, so my guess is that she was doing just that and had plenty of worker bees to maintain the growth. I guess I have a better understanding of over-population now when it comes to hives.
I did not have a third box readily available to add to the hive, but the bees were already lost, so I did not worry too much about it. Yes, I could have captured the bees and put them in a new hive, but remember this is only my second year. I am really not that confident yet.
Well, the bees stayed in the neighbor’s tree for about 2 days before moving to a permanent location that they had chosen. I again checked my hive and all was going well. They were filling the 2 boxes with their winter stores and all seemed habee again.
Yet………two weeks later, to the day, a second swarm occurred from the same hive. Wow was it overpopulated-2 swarms in 2 weeks. Again, had no extra equipment, so again lost the swarm. Another 10,000+ bees gone.
Heading up to the local supplier to buy more equipment, don’t want to take a chance on a third swarm, since the hive still seems very full!
The weather begins to give us a glimmer into warmer days, a tease that we may actually be through this winter. Truly that just means that as a suburban homesteader, my days are about to get long to get everything done to start outside planting.
This spring is even more tumultuous than previous years as we are in the middle of our greenhouse project (wet, cold weather has severely delayed the project), and I have begun building aquaponics tanks for other enthusiasts. Both of these projects are keeping me hopping (16 hours yesterday), but on the bright side, I beginning to lose that excess winter weight very quickly!
As harried as yesterday was, I took great delight in installing our new bee colonies in their new permanent home in our backyard. In my last bee post, I told of our problems last year and how we lost the colony. I am very optimistic this year that we will have 2 strong colonies survive next winter.
Instead of package bees, like last year, I went ahead and spent a little more to buy “nuc’s”. Nuc’s are 5 frame units full of bees born from the queen in the nuc. Since these bee’s are all “brothers and sisters”, they are already well adept at working together. They will only need to adapt to their new home in my hives.
I opened my hives, pulled out 5 empty frames and replaced them with
the filled frames from the nuc’s. The bees were so busy they never even really took the time to notice they were moving into new digs! At least the first nuc didn’t notice, the second one was a little more observant and not happy about the change.
In working with bees, I have never “suited up” except for a pair of gloves, since I have to grab full-of-bee frames. These bee’s decided I should be taught a lesson, maybe they thought I was a little cocky for not wearing protection, but……….Having longer hair and a full beard is not good when you upset a bee colony.
Ok lesson learned, I will at least wear my head gear with the gloves, since 6 or 7 bees gave their lives to teach me to bee humble. This encounter may discourage many. Anytime one learns a new task, there is always a learning curve and sometimes mistakes are made. Mistakes are always painful, but become a necessary tool in the learning shed.
Oh well, I finished installing the new colonies, filled and installed the feeders, and closed up the hives for the night. I sat the boxes in front of each hive since there were still many bees in them. They will make their way to the hive soon, since they are working for the queen that bore them.
Well the journey has begun, again. I am hopeful that we have better results this season than we did last year.
Last year, 2013, we began our journey into bee keeping. Being against bee keeping, my wife talked me into at least taking the beginner’s bee keeping course to get more information. By the time the 6 week course was coming to an end, I was hooked! (I have no doubt, my wife knew that would happen!)
We decided to start with just one hive, with the idea of getting it through the winter, then adding 2 more this spring. Reason being the expense of getting started and if we messed up, we would only lose one colony instead of two or three.
I believe, though, that we were doomed from the start. We ordered our bee package and all of our supplies though a local supplier, thinking we would be better off dealing locally. While I still believe this is true, the supplier still orders bee packages (bees that have just been put together and must be “Trained” to accept and work for an unknown Queen) and nuc’s ( 4 or 5 frames of bee’s with an established Queen) from a bee supplier in Georgia.
For those that live in or around Georgia, you already know what kind of weather you had late winter and spring 2013. Cold, Wet, and LONG! This kept package bee production to a minimum, with most shipments going out 1 to 2 months later than projected.
We were scheduled to get our bee package on April 13, 2013, but it did not arrive in our hands until late June. This put our colony behind about 2 months-thats two months less of quality brooding time needed to grow a strong colony to over-winter.
We inserted the package into a single hive body and begin liquid feeding immediately. We continued feeding 1-2 times a day until late august when the single hive body seemed to be pretty full with brood and honey. We then added the second hive body on top and reduced feeding to daily or every other day.
Other than removing the top lid to add feed, I left the hive alone, since the bee’s know more about what they need to do than I do. It was about late September, early October when I decided to actually go into the hive and see the progress the bee’s had made. At this point, I had hoped that the second box would be nearly full of stores for the bee’s to live through winter.
The above pictures are exactly what I pulled out of the hive on that day. Not a pretty picture or anything like what I was expecting.
Unfortunately, being that in our region nectar is pretty well done by Mid-October, I again began feeding feverishly. I thought that although the comb production was haphazard, maybe with enough feed, they could still fill the frames with enough stores for winter.
This did not happen. My thoughts about what the bee’s should do and what they were going to do were two different things. They did not eat, my feeder sat on top untouched. They did not grow their stores much, so I had to come to the realization that I would probably lose this hive before spring.
I checked again in November, then again in December: no real change but my bee’s were still in tact. Maybe they could pull through if we have an early spring.
Anyone that watches weather much, knows what this winter has been like in the Mid-Atlantic Region. Here it is March 24, 2014 and it is snowing like crazy outside. This is the winter that just won’t stop. So I guess there was little hope for my fledgling colony.
We have had a few sixty degree days,-just a spring teaser-so I was able to open the hive and see if there were any survivors. Of course, there were not. The hive was completely empty except for a few dead carcases on the bottom board.
I was very dis-heartened, but I am one that will stick with a plan once I start. I ordered two nuc’s for spring, which are scheduled for delivery on April 5, 2014. I am in hopes that using nuc’s this year will increase my odds of over-wintering the hives.
Well, my hives are cleaned and ready for the new arrivals. I have set them next to my over-sized rabbit hutch, which was originally built to house my chickens. And hopefully in the near future will be able to house chickens again.
But for now I am concentrating on getting my new bee’s when they arrive to adapt to their new environment. Hopefully since they are coming from Minnesota this year, they will quickly adapt to our weather and will over-winter well. My plan is to have 3 hives next year, so it would be nice to have two strong colonies to start with in Spring 2015-and maybe even some honey!