Happy Bees!

My two new hives of Buckfast bees had a rocky start.

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They hated the plastic foundation I was using and built comb almost everywhere else.  From the ceiling of the Hive cover mostly…

The bees are happy even if I'm not...

The bees are happy even if I’m not…

I replaced the plastic foundation with wax and they were a bit happier.  Not a pretty sight from the inside however.

Now Hive Number Two seems to have slipped a bit from its moorings. This will be fixed ASAP.

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The good news is that both hives are happy and healthy and prospering!  I couldn’t ask for anything more!!

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July In The Hive – More About Hive Splits

Example of Bee Hive Split (Not My Hives…)

Ordinarily, I would be giving you routine advice about maintaining your hives in July – do bi-weekly inspections, add honey supers as needed, be on the lookout for honey robbers, and harvest your honey when appropriate.  (Remember bees need at least 60 pounds of honey – two shallow supers – for their own consumption during the winter.)

But my July was anything but ordinary. I lost a hive of Italian bees and discovered I had a Buckfast hive that was overcrowded. As a result I did a hive split to make two hives out of one.

There are a number of reasons to do a hive split, the most common being 1.) to get more hives and 2.) to prevent swarms. I split my boiling Buckfast hive for both of those reasons.

When I first thought of doing a split, I wondered whether it was too late in the season. Typically, splits are done in May or early June after the original hive has had time to build up. I was nearing the middle of July.

Was it too late to do a split?

I checked The Practical Beekeeper by Michael Bush. According to Michael, you can do a split as late as August, provided you have a good honey flow into the fall.

So I went ahead and did the split on July 12. So far, so good!

I’m going to do an inspection today, and I’ll report back on the status of the new hive later.

Busy Bee Cleaners, Inc.

No one likes cleaning up after a sticky honey extraction except the bees!

I make sure the equipment is far from both hives (to prevent robbing) and then let them have at it!!

Boadicea – The First Queen Of England

The first woman to hold the title of Queen in England was Boadicea, Queen of the Iceni tribe in the first century A.D.

Boadicea (also spelled Boudicca or Boudica) was born into a royal family around 26 A.D. She married Prasutagus, king of the Iceni, a tribe located in what is now Norfolk, England. Prasutagus ruled under the auspices of the occupying Romans, who had probably put him on the throne in return for his assistance when they invaded England in 43 A. D.

Upon Prasutagus’s death around the year 59, the kingdom passed into the hands of the Romans. The king had hoped the Romans would allow his two teenage daughters to keep half of his property, but instead the Romans took over completely. When Boadicea complained, she was publicly flogged and forced to watch as her daughters were raped.

Infuriated, Queen Boadicea — described by one Roman historian as a tall, terrifying-looking woman with fierce eyes, a harsh voice, and very long red hair — became the leader of a violent uprising against Roman rule.

Leading a swarming army of angry tribes folk she swept into London, torched its buildings, and slaughtered in the region of 70,000 Romano-Londoners.

To this day, about 18 feet below the current street level there is a level of red ash, known to archaeologists as the Boadicea layer.

The Romans brutally put down the rebellion with their superior numbers and weapons  in a ferocious battle (the exact site of which is uncertain). According to one account, Boadicea then killed herself with poison so she would not fall into Roman hands. Boadicea’s name means “victorious,” or Victoria, and in Victorian times she came to be viewed as a heroic symbol of Britain.

Boadicea’s rebellion was a crucial moment in early British history. Her confederacy of Briton tribes had taken the placid Roman occupiers by surprise; they had assumed that the Celtic “barbarians” were far too disorganized to mount any insurrection. As a result, the Roman officials lessened some of the onerous demands of their colonial rule, including a fairer system of taxation.

Long live Queen Boadicea!

Queen Boadicea Has Ascended The Throne!

I know I was supposed to wait a week before checking on whether Queen Boadicea had escaped from the Queen cage, but I just couldn’t. The bees in the new hive were looking particularly orderly, so I had to take a peek.

Empty Queen Cage!

The Queen cage was empty.  The good thing about checking sooner rather than later is that the bees haven’t had a chance to make a lot of messy brace comb in the space where the cage was placed.

But was She alive?  I checked one or two frames before I found her, playing with her sisters!  She has apparently been accepted by the older girls, and will soon be Large And In Charge!!

What a good day!!

The Queen Is In Residence

Statue of Boadicea near Westminster in London

It was looking like it might rain, so I went ahead and installed the Queen in her new home.

To ensure that Boadicea‘s new subjects accept her, I am using an indirect method of release into the new hive.

There is a white plug of candy in one of the three circular holes in the Queen cage.

White Candy Plug

The Queen and her attendants will eat through the candy over the next few days and escape from the cage. This will give her subjects time to get acquainted with her and accept her as their monarch.

I am smearing wax and honey from the hive on the cage so that Boadicea will pick up the scent of the hive.

Smearing Wax And Honey On The Cage

I am also poking a hole in the candy plug to make it easier for the Queen and her attendants to escape. I’m careful not to stab any bees in the process!

Poking A Hole In The Candy Plug

Finally, I added two small nails to hold the cage in place between the brood frames.

Now I am ready to go!

It was great to hear the loud buzzing of the new colony as I removed the top super. The bees seemed interested in the new Queen and quickly surrounded the cage.

I was happy to see that the bees had already made progress in drawing out the empty frames. On one frame I saw the beginnings of a Queen Cell.

Now I will wait a week and check on the progress of the Queen.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed!

Tomorrow, the extraction of honey from the old hive!

Doing The Split

I have two hives, one in my front garden and one in my back garden.

My Front Garden Hive

I have Buckfast bees in my back garden, and it’s a very established hive.

It’s also a very tall hive. There are two deeps, a medium and two honey supers.

In the past, when the bees needed more room, I just slapped on another super or two. If I keep on going on the same way, pretty soon I’m going to need a ladder.

But the Buckies seem to love it! They haven’t shown any signs of swarming, and they’ve been very productive.

The hive at the White House is tall, so I figured it was okay.

White House Bees

In my front garden, I used to have Italian bees. This was their first year, and they didn’t make it. It was very sad.

So I decided to split the Buckfast hive. I’ve never done a split before. There’s something intimidating about the concept.

I also have a confession to make. My Buckfast bees are so healthy and happy, I leave them alone for the most part. I’m of the “if they’re okay, don’t mess with them” school of beekeeping.

But my empty hive was making me sad. So I took out my copy of  The Practical Beekeeper by Michael Bush and started reading up.

I decided to do what Michael calls “a walk away split.”  Basically, you do a split without giving the new hive a Queen. Then you walk away and let them sort things out. After four weeks you check to see if you have a laying Queen.

When I opened the Buckfast hive this morning, I realized it was a good thing I was doing a split. The hive was absolutely to the rafters with bees and honey!  They need fewer bees and honey and more room to expand.

Honey extraction was going to have to wait until tomorrow though. Today, I had to find at least ten frames of brood and honey to form the core of the new hive.

I found it in the medium super, which was perfect because the new hive has all medium boxes.

I carefully placed the 10 frames in the new hive boxes, and gave the bees six more empty frames to build on. Then I shut up the hive and crossed my fingers. Split accomplished!

But I still have the problem of not enough room in the original hive.

Tonight I’ll be building frames. LOTS of frames!

And tomorrow I’ll be removing at least half of the honey frames for extraction. I’ll replace them with empty frames, and the bees will have plenty of time to make more honey before fall.

If this works, I may never buy another package of bees again!!

Preventing “Bee On Bee” Crime – The Robbing Situation

I’ve been keeping bees for almost seven years now, and for the most part I’ve had good luck.  My two hives are strong and disease-free, and one has successfully requeened itself.

One Of My Healthy Hives

I’m sure my success is due to where I live and the quality of bees I’ve purchased rather than any particular skill on my part.  I’m the only beekeeper for miles, and my neighbors are avid gardeners.  I’ve ordered my bees from reliable suppliers with good reputations in the industry.

I have had one disaster though. I don’t like to think about it because it was totally my fault.  And I lost an entire colony in less than three days.

It happened in September of my second year of beekeeping.  My colony of Buckfast bees was healthy and strong, and had just produced a bumper crop of honey.

Being a novice, I felt guilty about taking their honey and decided to feed them some sugar syrup.  Since nectar was still flowing, the bees didn’t want any of it.  After a week or so, I removed the feeder and dumped the syrup next to the hive.

That was a huge mistake. You should never dispose of syrup near the hive, or even leave uncovered syrup or honey anywhere close to it.  Within hours, my hive was under major attack from every wasp, bee and honey-loving insect for miles.

A Robbery In Progress

It looked like something out of a science fiction movie.  I tried everything to stop it, including covering my hive with a wet sheet. It was too little, too late.

The Wet Sheet Method Of Stopping The Crime

I tried to save the remaining bees, but ultimately they were decimated.  The hive was even invaded by wax moths.  I destroyed the frames and let the supers freeze outside the next winter.  I felt guilty and depressed.

The next year I started fresh with a new package, and haven’t had a major disaster since. But I know the same thing could happen again if I’m not careful.

That incident convinced me that beekeepers underestimate the threat of robbing insects to the existence of their hives.

What can we do to reduce this threat?

First and foremost, NEVER leave uncovered syrup or honey near your hives, even for a minute.  Once a robbing situation begins, it’s very difficult to stop.

Second, protecting your bees from wasps, wax moths, and robber bees begins with a strong colony that can defend itself. Follow good beekeeping practices.

Third, be vigilant. If you see signs of wasps or other robbing insects at the entrance of your hives, use an entrance reducer at the smallest opening, particularly if the colony is small.  If a robbing frenzy has already started, close up the hive and/or use a wet sheet to discourage the intruders. Pray for it to stop!!

I hope this helps you prevent “bee on bee” crime in your neighborhood!!

Are Defensive Bees Healthier?

Warning!  This is a totally unscientific proposition!

I’m wondering whether defensive bees are healthier than gentler strains.

This is based on my own (limited) experience.

I have two hives:  One very established Buckfast hive and one new Italian hive.

The Buckfast bees are defensive.  No question about it.  I treat them with respect.

But they are incredibly healthy.  I’ve had the same hive for four years, and it is bigger and stronger than ever.  I’ve never seen any evidence of disease.

On the other hand, my Italian bees are sweethearts.  I don’t even bother to smoke them for inspections. But they seem frail somehow.

I’ve seen larvae dumped on their landing board, and the colony isn’t building up as quickly as I’d hoped.  I’ve seen evidence of Varroa mites.

I’m considering taking a frame of Buckfast brood and putting it in the Italian hive.  Maybe the Italian hive will become more defensive.  But maybe that’s what it needs to survive.

I’d be interested to hear what others think about this!!

Le Mie Nuove Api Sono Arrivati!

My new Italian bees have arrived! They are presently relaxing in my kitchen, waiting to be installed in their new home.
My Buckfast bees are fascinated by their new sisters. One of them insisted on coming inside with the package. She was very gentle and calm when I escorted her back outside via a paper towel. A big change from last week!
I am very happy with the white wicker table I found at Pier 1 to serve as a hive stand. It’s not only lovely, but it is made of woven plastic. I think the eau de nil colored hive will look wonderful on it. I’ll post pictures later this afternoon.
I’m waiting until my guys come to mow my grass before installation. I want my new girls to be as comfortable as possible in their new home, and I don’t think the sound of lawnmowers  and leaf blowers will assist in their transition!
My morning garden was beautiful!  I just had to take some pictures…