As you know, we are honey enthusiasts here at Shelterrific. Even though our own adventures in bee keeping have ended in disappointment this year, that is not going to stop us from supporting the beekeeping community. We love seeking out small-label honey, and have gathered a collection of from our travels. (The most recent? Honey from the Grand Wailea in Maui!) How to serve and present this sweet golden syrup is always a dilemma. Jars get sticky fast, and it’s always a challenge to get the last bits out of the bottom. That is why we are swooning over this Hive Honey Jar from Biodidactic via Etsy. The jar is beautifully hand crafted to allow for maximum dipping, and the dipper is made from Maplewood. It’s a splurge at $98, but something to treasure. Make the gift even more meaningful — adopt a honey bee hive and gift it to your loved one! One of our favorite upstate bee emporium’s, Bee & Hive in Rhinebeck, is offering “hive adoptions” on its website, Bare Honey. Currently taking orders for the 2014 season, this is a great program for anyone who wants to learn about honey farming, but can’t have a hive of their own. You’ll learn about the hive, have the opportunity to visit, and get a few jars of honey to savor and share each year. $95 at barehoney.com.
It’s with a heavy heart that I write this post, dear friends. A bee-apolocypse has hit our our beehive; it has collapsed, disappeared, extinguished. All that remained were a few die-hard stragglers, a pile of bee corpses, and a nearly empty hive with nothing but yellow jackets and wasps slurping up the little sweet stuff that remained.
As you may recall, not long ago we decided to collapse our two hives into one. One hive was just not producing enough filled honeycomb to survive a winter, while the other seemed to be thriving. That appeared to be a success, and when we last checked on them a few weeks ago, two levels were jam-packed with bees and there was a lot of honey. Not much of it was capped off though, so we were a little concerned that they only had a few weeks left to make some more supplies and food for the winter. To help them along, we added a shallow pool of sugar water on top. There was a screen inside of it, which is supposed to prevent the bees from falling in and drowning. To make it a little easier for them reach the water, we propped open the top of the hive with a little stone, so they could easily exit from the top and the bottom.
When we arrived to check on them the other Saturday, three weeks had passed and we could tell immediately something was wrong. It was a bright and sunny day but from the distance there didn’t see to be much activity coming in and out of the hive’s front door. As soon as we got closer, we immediately noticed that all the buzzing things weren’t honey bees at all, but rather yellow jackets. The shallow pool was empty of sugar water now, but there as a thick layer of dead bees inside. Either they drowned or engaged in a battle. But the hundred or so bee bodies in the pool didn’t represent the thousands that should have been remained in the hive. As we cracked open the top level, we knew immediately. The bees were gone. File after file was was dry of all honey and pollen. A scattering of yellow jackets swarmed greedily around.
We’re not sure what went wrong, but we have a few hypothesis.
1. Leaving the top of the hive open allowed predators to move in. Still, a yellow jacket is usually no match for a honey bee hive.
2. Too many drowned in the pool, leaving the hive week. They fled because of that.
3. It’s a bad place to put a hive. Perhaps our tiny 1/3 of an acre plot is just not conducive for honey bee hives. It’s on the edge of the woods, and maybe the feral critters and flying things are just to many. Who knows.
4. We don’t tend to the bees closely enough. Two, sometimes three, weeks pass between our visits to the hives. Perhaps that is leaving them alone and unattended too long. If we were there monitoring things more closely, perhaps we could have changed its course.
5. Or, is this a classic case of hive collapse that we have been reading about with worry?
Needless to say, losing the hive is devastating. Not only did we invest a lot of money and effort into the endeavor (about $500 or so total), but we loved the way having a hive enriches our lives. Isadora and her friends are eager pupils. We were fantasizing about what we could label our honey in the springtime. All for naught.
Of course we’ll continue to study and support local beekeeping efforts, but I don’t know if we’ll make the attempt to house our own again. Perhaps we can find someone with a farm or just a robust garden that would welcome us planting a hive on their property.
Please let us know if you know of anyone in Columbia or Green counties who might be game to try this adventure with us next year.
Forgive the dramatic headline — I couldn’t resist! You might recall that when we last left our two humble hives, we had decided that the weak one needed to be merged with the strong one. It’s not a light decision, because essentially you are creating a war between the hives. The weak hive’s queen gets eliminated, and chances are a few of her drones go down with her.
Well, two weeks later, it seems that our attempt to create one, thriving hive has worked. Before placing one hive on top of the other, we covered the bottom one with a thin layer of newspaper with holes poked through it. This is so the hives could gradually get used to each others scent, and the war wouldn’t be as bloody. We think it worked, because – look! — the paper is gone! The bees ate right through it. It seems like the two have joined together nicely; we can see new bee activity throughout. On the very top level, we had placed a container of sugar water. The water is all gone and there were a ton of dead bees piled in there. We’re not sure if they drowned, or if that is where they “buried” the dead when they were cleaning house. Either way, it wasn’t as bad as we had expected.
The upshot of the combination is that we now hopefully have one really strong hive that will have a better chance of surviving the winter. The downside is it means we won’t be pulling any honey this season — they still need to do a lot of food creating to so they have a stock through the cold season.
Click here to see previous Adventures in Beekeeping posts!
This past weekend we had to admit a sad fact: One of our beehives was just not producing enough bees or bee supplies (i.e. honey) to survive a winter. We installed our two separate hives about 10 weeks ago. The “blue” hive is cranking. They have filled one bottom layer of files and more than half of a second. The “pink hive” has barely filled half of their starter layer. We don’t know what they are doing, but it ain’t much. To help ensure the success of at least one of our two hives, we decided to combine them – which basically means sacrificing the pokey queen for the strong one. It also means that we intentionally created a bee war in our backyard. Why do I keep hearing the Game of Throne’s theme playing in my head? Here’s how it works.
1. Condense the two hives that are to be joined.
In our case that meant simply taking off the top layers (that we just put in a rash of hopefulness). They were mostly empty anyway, though of course there were probably a couple of hundred of bees in each of them.
2. Use smoke to get the “strong” hive to burrow in while you place a layer of newspaper on top.
When bees smell smoke, they think there is a fire, so they run home and eat. (Sensible reaction, don’t you think?). The paper layer is to help the two hives get used to each other. You place the layer over the one five, make some bee-sized holes.
3. Place the second hive on top of the first hive.
The bees will be forced to find their way through the paper. In time, they will chew through it and become one. The paper will serve as slight barrier that will allow the bees to get used to the smell of the other bee so the inevitable “war” isn’t as deadly.
4. Give them some extra food.
We placed a layer of sugar water on top to help them through the moral crisis.
5. Sit back and wait for the bees to learn to cohabitate.
Eventually the weaker hive will submit and become a part of the stronger hive. The weaker queen bee will be history, so to speak.
We’ll report back in a couple of weeks and let you know how it is going. Wish us luck!
It’s been about six weeks since we installed our new hives at our house upstate by the Hudson and we decided it was a good time to see how they were doing. (Though we had peeked in after the first two weeks, just to make sure that the queens had safely gotten out of their little boxes and were busy laying eggs.) From the moment the two boxes of bees arrived, one of them seemed to be a bit more lively than the other, and that still holds true a month and half later. The “pink” hive has not progressed nearly as much as the “blue” hive. Rather than branching out and filling all the files, the pink hive has concentrated their efforts in the middle, between two frames that had a bit more space between then than the rest. We didn’t even pull it out to look at it because it would have broken its structure. The blue hive is totally cranking. They have nearly filled the entire base box and we gave them a second tier so they could expand. The base hive is where the queen remains, any tiers that get filled above it is where you can draw honey from.
In this photo, above, you can see how some of the cells are getting capped off. When all the frames are completely full and capped off, the bees will move to the next level. Because the queen will stay on the first level, there will be no eggs or baby bees on the second level. It’s all honey, honey, honey.
To help give our little honey bees a little boost, we filled a large dog water dispenser with sugar water (2lbs of sugar). We placed sponges in the base container so they wouldn’t drown. They really seem to be enjoying it, swarming around it all day.
We do have two stings to report: Chad got one behind his ear when he was mowing the lawn (that really makes them mad) and poor Cupcake got one on his left thigh. Maybe they thought he was a brown bear coming at them. Perhaps we should get him one of these: A dog beekeeper suit!
Want to know more? See photos and videos of the installation of the hive, here.