Tuesday, July 30, 2013

More native bees

More Native Bees in Minnesota (07-28-13)

On Sunday, we had the joy of sharing a wonderful meal with our good friends in their garden. During the course of our conversation, our friend mentioned she hadn't seen many bees (bumble bees and honey bees) and was worried whether or not her garden was being pollinated properly. Well, it was! With a little bit of observation we noted at least five different species of native bees buzzing around her garden. The first was the common bumble bee we see flying around MN. I'm not sure what the species is exactly, but those of you who live here will know which one I'm talking about. It's fat (nearly round!), and has vivid yellow and black stripes. Unfortunately, I only saw one and wasn't quick enough to snap a picture.

Bee #1
Another bee was saw, I'm fairly certain was another bumble bee species. It was smaller and not so fat. Probably in between the size of a honey bee and the "regular" bumble bee we're used to. It also wasn't striped, but had a distinct yellow section and black section. Here's a couple pictures.

 Bee #2
Another bee we saw was pure black and about the size of a honey bee. It was pretty fun to watch them get covered in bright yellow pollen from the squash plants!

Bee #3
This next one I thought, at first was the same as the andrenid bees I saw in my garden. It was very small, only about 1/2" long and had humungous pollen baskets on its legs. After inspecting it a little more carefully, however, it's obvious it's not the same bee. This one has very distinct stripes with little to no hair on its back half, while the andrenid bees had no stripes and more hair.

Bee #4
Finally, we saw this beautiful bee. A little larger than the andrenid bees and the bees pictured above. Probably about 1/2" long or just over. It was bright metallic green on the front half and striped on the back half.

I haven't had time to look up exactly what these all are yet, so if any of you have any ideas, let me know!

- Here's a diagram of a variety of Minnesota Bumble Bees. What do you think about bee #1? I'm thinking maybe the Common Eastern Bumble Bee or Bombus impatiens. On a similar note, the big, fat, striped bumble bee that we are all familiar with in Minnesota (that I didn't get a picture of unfortunately), I'm thinking that one is the Black and Gold Bumble Bee or Bombus auricomus.
- Bee #4 looks like some sort of Metallic Green Bee, such as identified as Agapostemon virescens over at Oak Hill Apiary.

What does everyone think? Any help on bees #2 and #3?

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Removing a swarm from our bait hive.


Here's the videos we took when we moved the swarm from our bait hive into a standard Warre box. We'll join up that Warre box with the new hive we built at some point in this next week.

Please be aware that we're totally new to beekeeping. These videos are not intended to instruct you on the correct way to do things. We're totally learning as we go. We expect that you'll learn just as much from our mistakes as we do from our successes. Also know that not all the information given in the videos may be technically accurate. Please verify anything you hear on this blog with reputable sources before taking it for gospel truth. Finally, we are doing this as a project with my two boys (ages 8 and 6 when we started this spring), so I apologize for the shaky videos, etc, but it is what it is.

All that said, enjoy the videos!

Friday, July 26, 2013

How to move a beehive.

If you've been paying attention, you know our original hive swarmed, that we caught said swarm in one of our bait traps, and that we now need to move that hive out of the bait trap and into a real bee hive.

Well, today (Friday, July 26th), we built our new hive. Unfortunately, it's not sealed (waterproofed) yet so we can't move our bees directly into their new hive. Instead, we took down our other bait hive which happened to be a standard Warre box with a floor board, lid, and some holes drilled in the side for an entrance. We then used bungees to attach it to the top of an 8 foot ladder right next to the tree where the old bait hive was. The idea is that the hive has moved less than 3 feet (more on that in a minute) so all the returning bees should be able to find their new home. Now that it's in a standard Warre box, however, when we decide on the new location, we can simply take the floor and roof off this box, plug up the side holes, and put it directly into our new Warre hive, complete will floor board, multiple boxes, quilt, and roof.

So what's with the three feet? Conventional wisdom says that when you move a beehive, it needs to be LESS THAN three feet or MORE THAN three miles. This is because when bees leave their hive, their pretty much on auto-pilot, they don't really pay attention. Why would they need to? They know where they live. They just go, do their thing, collect nectar and what not, and then head for home. The problem is when the head home they're on auto-pilot too. Just like you when you drive you, you don't really pay attention to what streets you're turning on. You know where you live. You know how to get home. You do it every day. Imagine, however, if you drive home (or where you thought home was) and your home wasn't there! This is what happens if you move a beehive, say a 100 yards. They come back to where the hive originally was and basically get lost and need to start looking/smelling for their new home. Which they may or may not find.

So what to do? You need to disorient the bees so they go, "Hey! Wait a minute. This is different. Where am I?" and really take a good look around before flying off for the day. One way to do this is to move them more than 3 miles. Another way to do this is to keep them cooped up inside the hive for at least 3 days (don't you love all the 3's?). Another way, described in the following link and video, is to cause disorientation by creating an obstacle (grass, leaves, et cetera) that the bees must navigate around as they leave their hive. When they get around the obstacle, they'll go "Wow. That wasn't normal," and take that good look around that we talked about before flying off.

Here's the link: How to move a hive.

And here's the video: How to move a hive any distance.

I think this third method will likely be what I do. I'm not going to move our bees 3 miles. I'm also not sure they really have enough stores built up (actually I'm pretty sure they don't) to last them 3 days. I think what I'll do is give them 2 days in their current Warre box. During that time I'll water proof the hive we built and have my dad pick out a location in the yard for our new hive. I'll come back after two days, and we'll set up the hive at it's new location, except we'll have the entrance blocked off so the bees can't get in and out. In the evening, when the bees are all home for the night. We'll staple a piece of 1/8" hardware cloth over the holes I drilled for a makeshift entrance. That way all the bees will be trapped inside the box. We'll move them over to the new hive we set up and leave them there over night. In the morning I'll have my dad unblock the main entrance to the new hive, put some branches in front of it, and we'll all pray the bees take their reorientation flights and make it home safely at the end of the day. Think it's a good plan? I sure hope so!

We took a few videos of this whole process. They're rather long (about 30 minutes total) so they're taking a while to render and upload. I'll try to get them up on the blog tomorrow.

The bad, the good, and the ugly. Aka- the bees have swarmed.


Well, if you've been paying attention to the blog, you know that a little over two weeks ago our bees were bearding and seemed to be getting ready to swarm. It appeared as though they had moved into the second box, and we decided to add a third box to give them more space. The ultimate goal being to have at least two full boxes of honey comb on which the bees could over winter. Well, on Tuesday of this week, I headed out to my parents' house to check on our bees. Hoping and pretty much expecting to see our bees filling out the second box and settling in with the third box we added. This, unfortunately, was NOT the case as you can see in the video below.

So, quick recap of the news:
- Bad news, the bees have swarmed.
- Good news, our bait hive worked and we caught the bees.
- Ugly news, the bait hive, which started out level, no longer is and we will probably have to deal with cross combing or at the very least crooked combs as we move them to their new home.

What's the plan now?

In the video I mentioned recombining the hive back into one. I had thought this would be the best idea, as we're shooting for two full Warre boxes to overwinter our bees. I find it unlikely at this point that the bees, if kept separate, will make it to two full boxes. However, I wanted another opinion. I decided to contact Sam from Bee Crazy and ask his advice. If you've read my posts or watched my videos, you've probably heard me mention this excellent resource. Sam was gracious enough to answer my questions and offer some advice. You can see our conversation at his site here.

Bottom line. I'm going to head out to my parents' later today. I've got two extra Warre boxes, I'll build a couple more along with another base, roof, and quilt, and then we'll move the bees from the bait hive to their new home. I'll the two hives (our original and our new swarm hive) grow and develop separately and see how their doing come this fall. If it appears they might be strong enough to winter on their own, we'll leave them apart. If, on the other hand, they seem weak, we'll attempt at that point to combine them.

Thanks also to Sam for answering my question about the white stuff on the plexiglass. It is, apparently, just wax. That's what my hunch was, it just wasn't there initially, and I was worried it might be some sort of mold or something. Sam's explanation of WHY they were starting to put was on the hive walls was helpful, however. He mentioned that it often starts appearing as the hive gets ready to swarm. Basically, the colony thinks they're out of room (even though they weren't) and the wax producing bees start putting wax on the walls of the hive instead of being productive and building usable comb in the empty space they do have available. I'll try to keep an eye out for this in the future as the white specks started appearing a few weeks before the bees were bearding, before (I thought) they had moved down into the second box.

I'll let you know how it goes and hopefully post some video later tonight or tomorrow!

Monday, July 15, 2013

Warre hive inspection post ant problem / third box addition


It's been about two weeks since we removed the ants from our hive (quilt) for the second time and about five days since we added the third box. We stopped out at my parents' to check on the bees and the two bait hives. I'm pleased to report no ants in any of our hives and the bees have also actually started building comb in the third box too!! Crazy bees. Doing things on their time and not mine!

When we took one of the two boxes from our bait hive to place on our main hive, we took all the top bars from the bait hive as well (I only had 9 top bars in it to begin with). So that bait hive has been "top bar-less" for about two weeks. We brought some new top bars out to put in it, but they didn't have beeswax strips on them yet. Here are the boys and their friend putting some melted beeswax on the top bars.

After painting our top bars with beeswax and installing them in our bait hive, we checked on the main hive as well. You can see that video at the end of the post. I do have a question for all of you out there in the internet world, does anyone know what all those little white dots on the plexi-glass in box are (see video)?? I have NO idea. I'm going to try to look it up online, but if anyone out there knows and wants to share their valuable knowledge, I'm all ears! Enjoy the video:

Adding a third box to our Warre Hive


Bees are interesting creatures. It has been said that bees are not domesticated, just that they allow us to live with and interact with them. I have found this summer that is very much the case. When we first installed our (small!) package of bees, they took off like wild fire. They filled the first box in  what seemed to me like record time. So, at that point we moved a small bit of comb down to the second box to try to entice them to continue building comb downward. But when we did that, it seemed like they just stopped. No following the will of their beekeeper. No nothing. For weeks. The top box was completely full, but every time we looked into the second box, just nothing. Then, after about a month of nothing, which was a little less than two weeks go now, they finally started building in the second box. And when they finally started building it was like wild fire again. They've got the second box probably half full right now, and my dad called me to let me know the bees were covering the outside of the hive and flying around the entrance "like a cloud."  I knew from my reading that many times on hot days, bees in Warre hives will beard around the entrance (come outside the hive and just sit on the outside of the hive). Unfortunately, they also do this when they're preparing to swarm. Because the last few days have actually been COOLER and LESS humid that last week, I was terrified they had swarmed. Thankfully, when we got out there the following day, it appeared there were just as many bees coming and going and there was still some bearding going on. So I don't think they've swarmed. Anyway, with the second box half full and the bees bearding, we decided it was definitely time to add a third box.

I went out to grab one of the extra boxes we had used as a bait hive (one of the two boxes stacked together, you can see that in this post). When we got out the bait hive, we found more ants. I guess we need cinnamon out here too!
Long story short, we cleared out the ants from the bait hive, took one of the two boxes to use as the third box on our hive, and left the other out as a bait hive (thoroughly doused in cinnamon). Here's the video:

Ants and wasps and and broken screws, oh my!


It's been a while! I'm sorry I've been so busy; there's a lot we need to catch up on! As you can see in the video at the end of this post, we've got good news and bad news. The good news is that the bees have finally moved down into the second box. I was getting worried there for a little bit.

The bad news is that ants have invaded the quilt. As far as I could tell by peeling back a bit of the top cloth, they're not in the hive itself, just the quilt. This is still annoying, however, as they're nasty little buggers that bite when they get on you (you can see in the video, I thought I had my first bee sting, but it was just an ant that crawled up my back). They're also pulling out all the quilt material (sawdust) and dumping it all over the ground. This is not good cause we need that there to insulate the hive and help pull the moisture out.

After some research online, I found out that ants HATE cinnamon, but the bees don't mind it. We've decided to use cinnamon around the base of the hive, mix a bit with petroleum jelly to create another barrier around the bottom box, and finally added some cinnamon directly to the quilt material as well.

Another bit of bad news is the fact that there are paper wasps that decided the roof made a convenient home. You can't see it in the video, but our assistant beekeeper (my dad) used a yard stick to smash the wasps nest. She hasn't been back since!

The final bit of bad news was the fact that two of the screws holding the roof and mouse board together actually broke. So we need to take that apart and put new screws on. Thankfully my dad had a box of these screws lying around, which we used to fix it all up. These short deck screws are actually what I was looking for in the first place when we built the hive. I just never found them. If you decide to take it upon yourself to build a hive at some point DEFINITELY use these short deck screws and not the generic zinc plated wood screws.

Thanks for reading! After much beating around the bush, here's the video...


So, I was back out at my parents' house the day after we cleaned all the ants out. Guess what? More ants!! Figured out we didn't put the petroleum jelly/cinnamon mixture on the straps holding our hive together and that's where the ants were crawling in and out. Here's another short video explaining everything.