Friday, September 4, 2015

Making Honey

My neighbor across the street has honey bees, too, so there is a delightful time every morning when I walk my kids to the bus stop and I pass through a corridor between my yard and his. The air is just perfumed with the scent of honey. Mmmmmm! Heavenly!

I said I was going to feed Buttercup and Elsa, but I haven't all week. I've had quite a lot on my mind and so have been very lazy regarding my bees lately. However, observations of the entrance show an influx of pollen and honey. You can tell a lot from watching and smelling the entrance. Actually, as my experience has progressed, I've begun to rely on external observations more and more, especially after the summer solstice.

All the hives have busy foragers, but today, there was a skirmish outside one of the nucs. I haven't had much of a problem with robbing, but Buttercup's guards were ganging up on an intruder.

In the past, I've always felt a bit of incredulity watching nature documentaries. How can the people making them just stand there filming a baby animal being eaten? Yeah, yeah, even wolves have to eat. But how do they just roll the cameras when the babies simply need a little help, like a penguin stuck in a crack? How do they not intervene? Are they made of stone? Well, look at me now. I'm one of them.

Regarding the two package hives, Persephone & Hippolyte, I can't even remember the last time I opened them. It's probably been more than a month ago already. Doubtless, things will be quite interesting when I finally do take a peek inside. My fault, but I just can't -- at least not until we're into fall and I'll be only too happy to wear impenetrable armor from head to toe. Besides, I figure we're well past the time of active comb-building, so my hope is that any cross comb will be minimal and near the divider board.

Persephone gets a lot of shade, and her bees are coming and going, but she's never built a lot of comb and doesn't smell of honey at all really. Hippolyte has loads of activity and just oozes a sweet, sticky scent.

The only hive I opened today was Austeja because she's the one that I pretty much expect to take some honey from. Near the divider, the last couple of combs have only a tiny bit of honey, but they have some, which is a good sign. I only looked at two of the combs in the nest, but they are being backfilled very nicely, indeed! Also, there are two partial combs on their way to being capped as well as an additional full comb that is quite full of nectar. In all, she has about 20+ combs that all have some amount of honey. While 20 combs doesn't seem like much, but she also gave me 4 nucs this summer, so I'm quite pleased with her.

Drone comb being backfilled with honey

Austeja is normally the gentlest colony you could desire, but this time of year seems to give bees PWS -- Pre-Winter Syndrome. Even the sweetest of bees get really cranky and sting-happy. Bearing that in mind, my usual tank top was swapped for long sleeves today, and I'm so glad made the change! After about 3 bars in, they began buzzing like mad. Another bar in and they were pouring out of the hive and whirring around me. PWS couldn't completely warp their normally polite nature, though, since they didn't even head-bump me once. 

One thing that surprised me about Austeja is that she was building out the partial honeycombs. Normally, without constant feeding, it's very hard to get them to build anything after the spring flow ends, so I'm thinking this must be an ok flow right now. I'm going to try leaving them alone for the next week, but I'll check again just in case. I definitely don't want to get caught with my pants down and have a late-season swarm occur.

How are your bees? What's your flow like?


  1. How many bars do you leave for the winter? Les Crowder says 12 bars are enough, I try to leave 14-15. But last year, BnB2 only built out 11 full combs so I added a couple of honey combs from BnB1 and they made it fine. Are you going to take any honey this year for yourself?

    It's definitely robbing season. I had to put a screen over the front of one of my weak hives because it was so bad. I also added an entrance reducer to help them as well. Also, I notice that the brood production has dropped way off - pretty soon it'll be time to kick out the boys!

    1. That's a bummer about the robbers. Have you tried a wet sheet over the hive? I had a robbing problem last year, and a combination of wet sheet & reduced entrance (down to 1/2 a wine cork) sorted them out quickly.

      I'm still trying to figure winter out, though! LOL!

      Crowder (New Mexico) says 12, and Christy Hemenway (Maine) says 15. Since Christy's weather is more like mine, I've been sticking more closely to her guideline. However, do you read Dusko frequently mentions a Scandinavian beek who has overwintered on 2-3 combs.

      I don't know what the deal was last winter. I don't know if it was because it was so cold, because my clusters were small going into winter, or both. However, the bees only went through 3, maybe 4 combs of honey.

      Right now, I'll take anything over 15 bars from the main hives. The nucs won't have any honey pulled, but they won't get any supplemental stores, either. The plan is to overwinter them just like other people overwinter 5-frame nucs. I figure my all of splits have way more reserves than a 5-frame nuc, so fingers crossed, they'll be ok.

  2. The screen effectively stops the robbers and is very easy to install. It's fun to watch the robbers try to get through the screen while the hive bees merrily go in and out the sides. For animals that are so smart in some ways, this seems pretty dumb.

    I also notice that they don't go through nearly as much honey as I would expect. I'm thinking that if BnB1 doesn't build up as much as I would like, that I would just bring the follower board in really close and treat it like a 5 frame nuc. I hope all your hives do better this winter!


Thank you for your comment! I can't wait to hear what you think!