top bar hive

Second swarm

I am finally getting around to posting these photos…first posted them on Facebook.

Recall a previous post on 6/29? Well, my top bar hive swarmed again. No, I still haven’t entered it. The farm’s to-do list is mighty…but enough on that…here is the capture of the second swarm into our neighbor’s empty hive box:

second swarm

second swarm

The swarm was tightly clustered due to yet another damp, drizzly day. Fortunately, they went to the same tree only on a lower branch just a foot or less above my head.

close up

close up

Branch cut and hive loaded

Branch cut and hive loaded

The branch the swarm was on was rather tiny in diameter as you can see…unlike the first swarm that was at the end of a thicker branch. For this second swarm, we were able to trim this branch easily without disturbing the cluster of bees (the previous swarm…the branch we were lightly pulling on in order to get to a good cutting spot just snapped, fortunately over the hive, but the clusters was dumped rather haphazardly until this capture). My neighbor is barehanded. With swarms, the bees are usually very calm. They cluster around their queen. They have gorged themselves on honey before leaving. Plus, with the drizzle, they are trying to keep warm and dry. These bees were not the least bit concerned with us.

captured!

captured!

My neighbor stuffed the branch and all into the void. There is a queen excluder on the front at the opening. That keeps the queen inside the hive while allowing all workers and other bees access in and out (queen is much larger in size). My neighbor positioned the hive so the opening was somewhat downhill so no water would pool inside the hive body. The hive sat in place for a few days to make sure the bees remained with it. Under the cover of night, the whole hive will be relocated (bees are moved at night because they all tend to be finished with foraging for the day and are all inside).

The amazing thing? I still have very active bees in MY hive. One of these days…I will see what is going on in there! Stay tuned…

 

The Swarm

As mentioned in an earlier post, this year marks my third try at keeping bees in our top bar hive…and I am pretty terrible at it.

Here is my confession…I have not entered my bee hive since end of April / early May.

Once the flow started…as in nectar flow…I quit feeding the bees. I have yet to even remove my feeder that is located within the hive. No doubt that sucker is completely encased in honeycomb by now.

I’ve taken “natural beekeeping” to the extreme with my hands off approach. My path paved with good intentions has gotten me nowhere close to knowing what is going on inside that wooden box. If anyone in the New River Valley Bee Keepers Association read this post, they would be hyperventilating with disbelief. Everyday, a note circulates on their listserve about folks findings within their hives…how many frames are full of this that and the other, how many supers they’ve installed, the volume of honey they’ve extracted…so on and so on. My report? Um…

So. Hands off. Bees active. It’s all good right? Not likely, else the bees wouldn’t have swarmed last Tuesday. CRAP.

The SWARM

The SWARM

A bee swarm is both good and bad…swarming is a natural process of colony reproduction. It is a split. From one comes two. That is in the case of a STRONG hive. In my case, the swarm event was likely bad. I mean, I’ve only had these bees since mid-April. Some reading revealed commons causes of hives swarming:

  • overcrowding – possible, but I don’t know cuz I’ve not entered the hive
  • honey or pollen clogging the works (may be a good problem to have?)
  • over-heated – very likely as temps have been unusually high. This point also confuses me because keepers advised against opening bottom/screened vents
  • no place to cluster – not sure how this one is different from overcrowding
  • as mentioned, a reproductive swarm

So…was my swarm due to poor management or due to hive success? What is happening to the bees that remained? What happened to the swarm? Will I ever actually keep a bee hive through a season? So many questions…

I’ve only one answer at the moment. Though I am sad to know I lost a good many bees, I feel fortunate to have witnessed such an amazing event. The sky was full of the flying wonders! And as luck would have it on that day and at that time, I was able to reach out to a neighbor who I knew had two empty hive bodies. The swarm clustered in a nearby tree and was easily captured.

Clustering nearby

Clustering nearby

Closer view of the clump

Closer view of the clump

I am happy that the bees will be nearby, though I wish that I could’ve kept them for myself. Regardless, what a sight to have seen!

The swarm captured in an empty hive body

The swarm captured in an empty hive body

I’ve reached out to the NRVBK association with a plea for a mentor and am awaiting a response. It would be nice to enter the hive with someone who can advise me of what the heck is going on at the time….let’s see what happens with that….stay tuned.

Any beekeepers out there with some comments? Good, bad or ugly?

 

Honeybees, take three

Hopefully, the third time is the charm. This bee package is the third I’ve purchased in as many years, the second try for this top bar hive my dad built last year.

Installing bees

Installing bees

Last year, things seemed to be going so well…then boom. Done. I thought maybe the hive got robbed. After talking to some of the experienced bee keepers at the pickup site (of the bee package), it was suggested that my last hive died of either pesticides or starvation. Huh. Not happy with those possibilities. Not at all.

At any rate…at least this honeybee package will have a little advantage over last year’s bees…pre-built comb.

Comb

Comb

Some (um all) of it is crooked. I learned during the off season that the hive needed to be level (fixed that). I learned about cross comb (comb that goes from one top bar and crosses over to another), and that cross comb needed to be straightened as soon as it is noticed. Will do for sure this year. Some comb is cracked and some needs cleaning, but it is all usable.

Hopefully, the comb will allow the new bees to focus energy on the blooms that are opening up all around and build up lots of honey and pollen stores for the long haul.

Coming Saturday, my first hive check and more syrup.

Demise of a hive

And now for some bad news.

After a second try at our top bar bee hive, another failure. Yes, I am disappointed and saddened by this outcome.

Here is what I think happened…

The hive truly seemed to be doing very well during the peak garden season…July. Lots of activity. Our top bar has 3 openings. At the time, only one opening was unobstructed. I decided to “help the bees out” by allowing access to another opening. I think that this decision was my biggest mistake. My second big mistake was that I had stopped feeding them.

Understand, I am new at all of this business. With the bees, I don’t want to be always in their business (i.e. constantly entering their hive). Perhaps not the wisest plan.

So…what happened? Well, the hive got quiet. Bees were still going in and out, but the numbers seemed much less than usual. Eventually, no activity was going on.

Opening up the hive revealed:

  • no honey
  • no brood
  • no bees

Did they swarm? One of the combs had what looked to be a queen cell/swarm cell…I need to read more on the difference.

Were they robbed? This thought is what I am leaning towards. Why? All the bodies. When I removed all of the top bars, this view is what I saw:

Bodies in the bottom

Bodies in the bottom

Bodies were also present outside the hive (hard to see because I had mulched with straw around the hive).

My suspicion is that when I opened the other access hole into the hive, my new, weaker hive was unable to defend both openings fully. My neighbor has two established hives just down the hill from us. I bet his bees found my hive and helped themselves.

Thinking I was helping my hive, I think I caused its demise simply by removing a cork.

Combs

Combs

See that funny looking “growth” on the comb…top of the photo, sorta orange in color? Queen cell? Swarm cell? I don’t know. Did the swarm? Were they robbed?

Any thoughts?

Well, I’ll be trying again in the spring. At least I have some beautiful comb on the top bars that will give my next bees a head start. I’ll have a different management plan for next time, too:

  1. Keep only one access hole open
  2. Check the hive at least once a week
  3. Provide supplemental feed for the whole season
  4. Consider relocating hive to a different spot in the garden