It's been a tough year on T's Bees. They gave us honey, a little more than last year, but at a high price. Here's the catchup update:
The beetles wiped me down from 8 queen-right hives to 1. I made the same mistake over and over again, giving too little bees too much space to patrol. I realized I must do many things to break their vicious cycle and put my bees back on top. I put down a hard surface underneath the hives (plastic sheeting and shingles I had on hand) to break the reproduction cycle (they pupate in the soil), and reduced my one hive down from 20 frames to 8 frames, as many frames that were full of bees and food. No empty combs allowed. I then bought and installed as many Beetle Jails on the top bars as possible, which went to work immediately. They work, plain and simple, if you have enough of them. The traps filled up with beetles in a week. My bees went from an angry loud roar every time I opened them up to calm within a week as they chased hundreds and hundreds of those beetles into the oil traps and their deaths. I finally broke the beetle cycle and my bees began happily bouncing back.
I then bought 2 queens, and risked weakening my one hive even further to make the starts, hoping I'd have 3 hives to take through winter. I expect a 30% failure rate over winter. Prepare for a bad result and rejoice at a good one due to diligent stewardship is my method. Both one-frame nucs accepted their new queens and I successfully introduced them ... I installed them after sundown, which was an adventure in itself. Not something I planned on, but I had to get those queens in there.
One of the one-frame nucs was robbed out by the mother hive sitting beside it. The other hung in there. The difference? I put a reduced entrance at the opposite direction of the donor hive nearby on the one. The other I put a side entrance on in a different direction also, but I allowed a front-facing entrance I didn't see on a spacer shim at the top (to allow room for the food I gave them) and the mother bees next door immediately smelled the food in the tiny nuc and robbed it out during the dearth of summer. What few bees remained after the battle left. I began instantly feeding the mother hive and my one remaining nuc 1:1 simple syrup to get their bellies full and the queens to start laying again.
This year I determined one new philosophy for myself: take out and cull as much comb as possible, and let the bees draw out fresh comb at a pace that they deem appropriate and can patrol. That way you never allow too much space for the beetles to infiltrate and begin their destruction. Also, fresh comb is disease-free, keeping nosema out of the hive and my bees healthy. Healthy bees are happy bees, which means honey on a treatment-free and organic method of beekeeping, which is how I roll.
A beautiful frame shown here Oct. 5, from my one-frame nuc that's become a 3.5-frame nuc.They're building and the queen is laying. This is filled with goldenrod pollen turned into bee bread, and honey from nectar and the syrup I'm feeding, which they're still taking.
Don't do like I did and pull off the inner cover quickly and unbalanced. The bees had heavily propolized the beetle trap to the cover. When I pulled it off, the oil spilled. Fortunately very little hit a few bees and a tiny bit of comb in the chambers below. Noteice the bees immediately giving chase to pursue and harass the beetles into propolis jails. Whenever you open a hive, propolis pulls apart and beetles escape. Also, they run away from sunlight.
Also note the big wads of beetles the jail had caught. Still, be CAREFUL when removing the cover and hive bodies. Assume the jails have been propolized to the cover or bodies above them and gently move them side-to-side and pull straight up. I did this going further into this hive, and it worked, keeping the traps in the bottom chamber from pulling up with the top hive body, and preventing me from accidentally killing my queen by slicking her with oil.
Another trap, filled with beetles. Also, the bees will propolize around it. The beetles, drawn to the traps, will hang out underneath the lip of the trap. I think the propolis keeps them in place. I see beetles scurry about as I gently pull the traps out (gently and KEEP THEM LEVEL!), because the propolis jail walls have been removed. Leave the bees all their sticky propolis. It serves many purposes, and it's a weapon against these nasty beetles.
Remember I said the beetles run from sunlight? Well, they hid in empty cells, impossible to get out, and nooks and crannies on the frames. I took one frame that had a lot of beetles on it, and gently put one end on the ground and in direct sun. Beetles instantly started running away to the shady side of the frame. As they crossed over the top bar toward me, I squashed them with my hive tool. I flipped the frame. The bees were thankful. I got about 70 or so beetles. Then I did the same to the inner cover.
Another beautiful food frame, this one of pollen and bee bread. The pollen is the little spots of yellow in the bottom of the cells near the frame's center. It looks like one bee is actually offloading pollen off its legs into a cell near the center of the photo but I'm not sure. The bees combine the pollen with enzymes their pharyngeal glands produce (it's in their heads) and turn the pollen into bee bread, their protein source that's they also fed to larvae so they grow into strong bees.
I make simple, quick and cheap feeders. Take a mason jar and fill it with syrup. Screw on the lid and tack tiny holes into a spare center cap. If you mess up and make the holes too big, just start over with another lid (they're cheap) and screw on with the jar ring which will never go bad. I love this homemade method of feeding. I store my syrup in a plastic gallon jug and put that in the freezer. Let it thaw overnight when you know you need to feed, pour into some jars and put those in the fridge so that you have them when you need them that week. If you don't need to feed, leave the syrup in the freezer. That way your syrup doesn't mold and mildew if you forget to put the feed on or are just too lazy to. Also keeping it in the fridge in case you forget to feed that week keeps your syrup in fine shape. Sugar syrup will turn on you, even in the fridge eventually (but quite fast at room temperature). Always have a jar of syrup or two ready to go in the fridge so you can do an easy swap out quick and easy when you're feeding.
Put on a solid inner cover and invert the jar over the opening. The inverted jar holds a vacuum and keeps the syrup from seeping out (I test this in the kitchen with water first ... the syrup is thicker, so if it works with water or comes close it'll work with the syrup; I then fill with syrup and give that a little test, too). As the bees suck on the syrup out of the holes, they are fed and the jar depletes. Swap out with another jar filled with syrup and another quick and easy lid you've made and you're done. You don't have to go into the bees to feed them. Just gently pull on the jar, which will be propolized a little to the inner cover, and pull side to side to get any few bees off the lid. TIP: if you leave an empty jar on, they'll propolize the holes up and you'll have to re-nail that lid open again. Keep an eye on the jar feeders every now and then and rotate out until you see them stop taking the syrup.
No Boardman feeders to buy and fool with at the hive entrance, which encourages robbing since outside bees can smell the food at the hive entrance, and super easy to monitor. Put on an empty hive body atop this and put the lid on. Throughout the week take a peek and replace with full jars as needed. Cheap, simple and easy. Another way I love to roll.
I got stung once on the fingertip putting a beetle trap back on the larger hive, which helps keep me humble and reminds me that every time you visit them you've gotta be gentle with each movement ... and not overstay your welcome. I did linger a bit too long, but I killed off a lot of beetles for them and buttoned them back up. I've learned tough lessons this year. But am bouncing back, as are my beautiful bees.
Tom Davidson is the owner and beekeeper at T's Bees.
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