My recent posts have been about bee topics unrelated to our personal hives. This post summarizes what has been going on in our hives in the month of July and the first week of August. You may recall that we started this year with two nucs. You can refer to my previous post if you want details on the installation of the nucs. Alpha hive started strong and has been doing well ever since. Bravo hive was without a queen for a while, but we successfully navigated that challenge. You can read what we did in The Tale of the Queenless Hive. Alpha hive was going so strong that it swarmed on June 1 even though we had installed a second brood box to give the bees more space. We keep the hives on my parents’ property, and dad mentioned that while he was mowing he saw a tremendous amount of bees in the air. Thus, we knew the exact day and time the bees swarmed. As new beekeepers, we just didn’t see the signs that the bees were about to swarm. We know better now. The subsequent inspection of Alpha hive revealed queen cells. Alpha hive still had eggs, larva, and brood, so we opted to let nature run its course and not purchase a mated queen. This strategy worked, and Alpha and Bravo hives were both looking strong by the end of June.
By the end of June, Alpha hive was starting to look too full again, so we decided to perform a split. We took three frames of eggs, larva, and brood from Alpha hive to form a new hive. This new hive is a 10 frame Langstroth hive, but the material of construction is plastic and syrofoam rather than wood. The hive was a generous and very much appreciated gift from a relative who wanted to support our bee keeping endeavor! We were anxious to start a third hive and also curious to see how this hive body might differ from the wooden ones. We named this new hive Echo hive since it is our Experimental hive. (Our creativity knows no bounds!) A subsequent inspection of Echo hive revealed that emergency queen cells formed. We were hoping to make this a walk away split with Mother Nature providing our queen. The queen cells were capped on July 11 and were open on July 17. We added another frame of eggs, larva, and capped brood from Alpha hive to keep the population up in Echo hive. By July 23, there was no evidence of a mated queen in Echo hive. We didn’t see the queen on visual inspection, and we saw no eggs or larva. We wanted to give Echo hive a fighting chance to make it through the winter, so we broke down and purchased a mated queen from our local supplier. (We also didn’t want to keep stealing brood from Alpha hive.) By the end of July, our newly purchased queen of Echo hive was laying eggs, and we were feeling good about our new hive.
Throughout June and July we fed our bees a 1:1 (volume:volume) syrup solution made from cane sugar. We fed vigorously because our bees had to draw out comb on new foundation. Alpha and Bravo hives have top feeders, and we used jar feeders for Echo hive. We learned the hard way that if we didn’t keep the feeders full for our stronger hives, the bees would rob syrup from Echo hive’s jar feeders. We went through so much cane sugar in July that my husband asked one of our Facebook groups if this was normal and if we were going to have to start growing sugar cane. (On a funny side note, we stopped by our local bee supply shop to buy equipment. I asked the owner if they were feeding their bees yet. He said they were getting ready to and recently purchased a pallet of sugar. The clerk at Costco wanted to know if they were moonshiners!)
July was unusually hot and dry for Northern Kentucky. We don’t worry too much about water for our bees because there is a creek about 100 yards from our hives. Because the heat was extreme, I decided to make a watering station for the bees out of some old plastic containers. I never saw bees at the watering station, so maybe the bees were happier with their creek water even in the heat.
Going into July we were also fighting hive beetles. Our hives are in full sun for a good portion of the day but not for the entire day. We read that full sun is beneficial for preventing hive beetles, but I am also learning that it is difficult to find the perfect hive location on a given piece of property. You have to find the site that works for the bees and fits within the constraints of your property. To fight the hive beetles, we began using Swifter sheets placed on top of the frames. We took a standard Swifter sheet and cut it into quarters and placed a quarter in each corner of the top brood box. About a week later we performed a hive inspection and were surprised to find the Swifter sheets gone! That caused us to scratch our heads. As we continued on with the hive inspection, we found that the bees had carried each piece of Swifter sheet down 2 brood boxes until they were on the bottom board. Hive beetles were trapped on the sheets, but we didn’t want to dig all the way to the bottom board every time the sheets needed to be changed. We removed the used sheets and began to place a full Swifter sheet on the top of the frames in the top brood box. We continued to do this for about 3 more weeks. Each time we checked the hives, we found about a dozen beetles on the sheets, but we also were losing 3 to 4 bees on each sheet. We didn’t like those numbers especially given the fact that we could destroy a dozen or more hive beetles ourselves with a hive tool when we did hive inspections. We stopped using Swifter sheets and went to Beetle Blasters (BB). The instructions call for the BB to be ~1/2 filled with cooking oil. We slightly over filled one of the BB but didn’t think that would be a problem. We forgot to take into account the fact that we keep our hives on a slant, and the oil spilled some when we installed it. (We keep the hives on a slant to avoid rain or moisture from pooling in or on the hive.) The over filling of the BB caused a couple of bees to become coated with oil, so now we try to slightly under fill the BB. Again we see about a dozen hive beetles in each BB each week. We have yet to find something that kills more hive beetles than what we can kill ourselves with a hive tool during an inspection.
In the month of July we saw our first wax moths. We saw one in Echo hive, and we saw one in Bravo hive. Fortunately we have not seen any other wax moths since then.
We treated for varroa mite using Apivar strips on August 4. We debated about performing an alcohol test or a sugar roll test before treating. At the end of the day, we felt that the risk of mites was great, and we had no experience with either of the tests. Our fear was that we would perform the test incorrectly, not treat based on the test results, and lose our hives over the winter to mites.
As I write this post, the golden rods and asters are starting to bloom. We are seeing decreased syrup consumption. We keep talking to other beekeepers, reading blog posts, and crossing our fingers that we are doing what is best for our bees. We have been beekeepers for a little over 3 months and have grown quite attached to our bee buddies. We want to give them the best chance possible to make it through the winter.
We would love to hear your feedback. What are you seeing on your summer hive checks? Any advice to share?
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