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Saturday, September 17, 2016

They Broke Me

I hadn't planned on inspecting the bees until the end of September, but a local friend (roughly a 40 min drive west of me) reported on FaceBook that despite the fall flow, his bees had zero honey. Then responses started coming in from multiple parts of the state that nobody had honey. Even though the goldenrod is flowering, the lack of rain means no nectar.

Seeing pollen coming into the hives, I'd assumed nectar was also, but was it??? Concerned by my friend's comment, I popped the hives open just to see what was going on. None of the nucs, except for Celestia, had any honey to speak of. Of the full-sized hives:

  • Elsa is in good shape with about 12 bars of nectar and maybe 10-12 bars of bees. Not sure for certain since she has quite a few bars of pollen near the entrance. 
  • Austeja has about 4 bars of honey. 
  • Hippolyte has very little honey, maybe a bar or two. 
  • Persephone -- I have no clue what this hive is up to. Despite the fact that she had very little honey -- maybe 3 bars -- she was festooning on all the bars at the back of the hive (6 bars). It was a huge surprise to open the hive and pull out an enormous ball of bees building comb. At first, I thought maybe another colony had taken up residence near the back, but no queen. Then I remembered something I heard at a bee meeting last summer. One of the hypotheses for what causes fall swarms is that the environmental cues during autumn are very similar to spring -- similar temperatures and day lengths, and there is a heavy flow. Their building behavior did strike me as very "spring-like," so I wonder if that's what's going on in that one.
On the other hand, all of the hives seem to have lots of brood. My guess is that they're using incoming nectar to raise brood instead of storing it away.

Although I'd planned to wait until the fall flow was over to feed, they've broken me. Most likely, I won't feed Elsa, Celestia, Austeja, or Persephone. The first three in that bunch are storing honey, so I'll see how far they get. 

Persephone has very little honey, but since she seems to have her calendar backward, I don't want to inadvertently trigger a swarm by feeding this time of year. Also, she's a truly unpleasant ankle-biter. During inspections, I put a smoker by my feet because she goes after my legs and ankles non-stop otherwise. Today, was even worse. All the other hives were perfectly sweet and delightful. Even through a cloud of smoke, she attacked me on every surface imaginable.  What is it with that hive? It's some kind of monster-maker, a full moon for bees. Every colony I put in it becomes unbearable.

Although I tried to move quickly through the hives today (an average of maybe 10-15 mins/hive), it wasn't fast enough. Opening the hives set off a ridiculous amount of robbing within minutes. I wish I'd taken a camera today. It was quite impressive to see Elsa with all her bars closed, but covered in bees trying to get through the cracks. I couldn't help think of the quote:

“Truly, truly, I tell you, whoever does not enter the sheepfold by the gate, but climbs in some other way, is a thief and a robber." John 10:1

Except in this case, it's "whoever does not enter the hive by the entrance, but flies or crawls in some other way, is a thief and a robber, and the beekeeper is going to shut them down."

Will probably try to feed during the evening when the bees on their way home. This should let the bees suck down their syrup in peace without having to fight off a bunch of moochers. We'll see how this pans out. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

A Sweet Surprise

I'm not going to lie. Yesterday was brutal. A bunch of work in the morning was followed by an afternoon of shifting bricks. Then there were the car trips all over town for the kids' activities. By the end of the day, I was knackered. 

But then I checked the post, and instead of the usual junk mail, a wonderful surprise was waiting for me -- a package. What could it be???

Honey!!! From Buddha and the Bees

Don from Buddha and the Bees took pity on my sad state of affairs (i.e., my lack of honey this year) and generously shared some of his beautiful bounty with me! One jar was from his hive B&B1, and the other was a mix of honey from different hives. He also knows how jelly I am of his gorgeous honey combs, so he even mailed some cut comb to me. What a treasure! Thank you so much, Don!

Having absolutely no self-control, I had to try them right away. Exquisite! If you are looking to buy honey, Don is your guy. Each honey was more delicious than the next. My 6-year old tried some comb and said, "He must have really good flowers. When are our bees going to make honey like this?"

A little bedtime snack
Thanks again for the sweet surprise, Don. You made my day!

Monday, September 5, 2016

Last Inspection Until Fall Flow is Over (Maybe)

Apologies for the lack of bee photos. Ever since my kids discovered Pokemon Go, I never seem to have a charged battery.

During my last few checks, I've been skipping a few hives each time. So yesterday, I actually checked them all to make sure they were configured for fall. Although, I've been in the process of reconfiguration ever since late-July/early August, there were still a few hives that needed empty bars/partial combs moved to the back. I have enough comb that nobody needs to waste resources drawing some. Instead, I want all their resources going toward honey production.

Want to plant more garlic chives next year. They bloom in the fall & bees love them.
Autumn job starting to bloom

About 10 days ago, I spotted what I thought were a few capped supersedure cells in Elsa. What I discovered yesterday was 1) a big fat queen 2) the queen cells were still in the hive and capped. Sometimes, I find that bees make queens, but then they never emerge for some reason and they dry up in their cells. I don't know why, but if someone has the answer, I'd love to hear it.

Otherwise, the goldenrod and Japanese knotweed are in full bloom. Starting to see asters, too. While none of the hives has enough honey yet to weather our winter (excepting Elsa maybe who was left well provisioned before her sisters swarmed), the bees are beginning to store nectar and backfill.
Japanese knotweed

I don't know what kind of goldenrod this is, but it's on its way out.

Happily, this goldenrod is in full bloom.

By the way, that's the thing that stinks about beekeeping -- you sort of have to be a fortune teller. It's not really enough to look at how the bees are doing today; you have to predict what things will look like in a month, 2 months, 3 months down the road. In spring, you're planning for fall & winter. In winter, you're planning for spring. If I could have one superpower, I'd pick the ability to travel through space and time -- or mind control because that's pretty flipping fantastic too.

Rose of Sharon still blooming

Buddleia is another great plant to fill the July-August gap

I've been debating whether to feed or not. On the one hand, I don't have enough honey to feed, and I hate feeding syrup -- it's messy, it attracts robbers & pests, and it shortens the bees' lifespans, which is exactly what I don't want going into winter. On the other hand, it's been a poor year overall, and I worry they won't collect enough nectar to make it through winter. After a night of tossing and turning, I've settled on a course of reckless optimism and will wait to see how things shake out. The bees are storing nectar now, so maybe they'll surprise me. However, if they're still light at the end of our fall flow, October & November should still be warm enough to top them up or give them some sugar.
A pretty garden passed during this morning's walk

As a side note, I found 3 small hive beetles in Peach. They were all the way at the back of the hive in some dank old comb that the bees weren't patrolling. Fortunately, I did not see any SHB larvae. Since the comb was mostly empty anyway, it got yanked to eliminate their hiding place. In a week or so, I'll need to remember to donate some comb from another hive. I didn't do it yesterday because I was still considering supplementing with syrup and wanted the space for feeders.

Random bunny in my yard, but it's so gosh darn cute!
While fall honey does not appear to be part of my future, at least the bees look like they're starting to provision themselves for winter. I'm going to stop pestering them for the next month (except for moving some comb) so they can get to work. Carry on, ladies. Carry on.