It’s been a few weeks since we’ve actually had an update on the bees, so guess what…
We’re going in!
Right away we could tell that the bees had started drawing out comb on all of the available frames. Things were starting to get a little tight in there…
We even found some queen cells. Whoops! Looks like they REALLY need some more room.
Hang on!! Help is on the way!
That’s right, it’s time to add another set of frames on top of the existing frames so that the bees have more space to add more honey!
Move’n on up! Our second hive was also looking to expand so we added another set of frames to the top of their box as well.
Some take aways from today:
We probably should have checked on the hives earlier in the week. The fact that the one hive had created queen cells means that they had reached their maximum and we’re getting ready to swarm (more on that in another post). Hopefully removing the queen cells and adding the additional frames will be enough to keep them around.
We spotted a varroa mite on one of our drones! Not good. We need to treat the bees so that the mites don’t destroy the hive. Unfortunately there isn’t a ton of information available about how to treat hives that are so young. We’re going to ask around and will share what we find.
In addition to feeding your bees a regular dose of sugar water, you’ll also want to supplement that with “bee vitamins” that’ll basically help them to stay healthy and get stronger.
We used a product called “Super DFM” which sounds more like an early 90’s rap group, but I digress.
I know what you’re thinking “but how do we make thousands of bees take a multi-vitamin?”. Good question. Having kids of our own I immediately thought of a tiny little oral syringe being used to force feed it to a massive line of waiting bees. Thankfully it was much easier than that.
The trick is to simply entice them to eat it themselves. And the best way to do that?
The idea is that you add the vitamins to some sugar and then leave it somewhere that the bees will be able to get at it. The bees will eat the sugar and in the process get their vitamins as well.
… + vitamins…
… = something that sort of a powdery fried egg.
Once you have the mixture together, the easiest way to get the bees to eat it is to sift the combination on top of the frames. We used a simple household sifter.
You’ll noticed that the mixture gets on some of the bees. While it’s recommended that you try to avoid that, the bees seemed to be ok. Not only did it encourage them to clean themselves off, it also had the added affect of sending what looked like white “ghost bees” flying around the hive.
It’s been a few weeks since we gave them their vitamins, and the tops of their frames are completely clean and the hives are doing well. Overall it was a pretty easy process.
One thing that many people don’t realize is that you need to spend the first few months of each season feeding honey bees to help them get established. Early in the spring there may not be enough nectar and pollen to keep the entire colony going.
So how do you feed honey bees? With sugar water!
The three things that we use to feed out bees:
and a Pail Feeder
You should be able to get a basic pail feeder wherever bee equipment is sold.
You want to feed the bees a mixture that is half water and half sugar. So start by filling your pail feeder half way with water.
Looks like sand on a foreign planet.
Stir stir stir, mix mix mix.
You’ll notice that the syrup will start to thicken, which is good.
Stop, hammer time.
Next you want to add the lid to the pail. The key is that it has to be REALLY tight, otherwise you run the risk of having your sugar water all spill out when you flip the pail upside down. For this, we simply take a hammer and tap the lid shut so that it creates a nice, tight seal.
Add the feeder to your hive. It’s best to flip the pail upside down AWAY from the hive, since some of the sugar water will spill out at first and you don’t want to soak the hive. After a second or two all of the sugar water will move to the top of the pail causing a vacuum that won’t allow any more air to get in and therefore no more sugar water to pour out.
And that’s it. The bees can smell the sugar water and know exactly what to do with it.
You need to keep an eye on the pail feeder since the bees can go through the sugar water more quickly than you’d think (a friend of ours had his bees empty the pail feeder within 3 days). So far we’ve been checking on our hives once a week and have been able to refill the feeder before it’s been completely emptied.
You may have noticed in some of our previous posts that we have 2 sets of hives in our yard, but we’ve only been showing pictures of bees in one of them. That’s because up until now, only one has been occupied.
But no longer…
Enter the Nuc!
What is a nuc? Good question. When ordering bees, there are primarily two different ways of transferring them: one is a “package” (which can you learn more about in our post from earlier this year), the other is a “nucleus” or “nuc” for short.
With a package, you basically get bees, and that’s it. With a nuc, you’re getting not just bees, bust also frames that the bees have already begun to establish. The idea is that since the bees already have been storing honey and laying eggs, they’ll have a better chance of survival.
We honestly wanted to try installing both a package and a nuc just to see which process we liked more. What’s the verdict? Keep reading to find out 🙂
We had a few bees that found there way out of the box. Not nearly as many as were hanging around our package when we brought it home though.
As you can see, the nuc is basically a cardboard box with some frames inside. Once you crack open the box, you can see that the bees have been busy…
One of the downsides of installing the nuc was that the bees are already so well established. So that means there’s tons of burr comb that’s on the inside of the box and holding some of the frames together that we needed to remove and pull apart. It’s a shame to be wasting their efforts like that…
The other downside is that we were installing the bees at night. The idea is that the bees may be calmer and easier to move. While this is true in theory, it also makes it more difficult to see exactly what they’ve been doing.
Most of the time when taking pictures my flash came on automatically, which unfortunately doesn’t give you the best pics. But we were able to capture some of the bees “eating” out of some of the burr comb on the inside of the box.
Check out their “tongues” going in and out of that comb! Pretty cool stuff.
Once we moved all of the frames into our boxes, we setup a feeder just like we did with our other hive, and closed it up for the night. There were still a TON of stray bees that were on the inside lid of the box and inside the box itself, so we left it sit overnight so the bees could find their way in to their new home.
So now that we’ve installed both a package and a nuc, which one did we think was easier?
Honestly, the package was easier. I know, we were surprised too. The original thought was “oh yea, just take some frames from here, move them over there, no problem.” and while it wasn’t difficult, it definitely felt more involved and seemed more stressful for the bees than the package was. Considering the packages cost less than nucs as well, we’ll likely be ordering them in the future should we need more bees.
Hard to believe it’s only been 2 weeks since we installed our first package of bees. It feels like they’ve been around forever, in a good way.
It’s important that we keep feeding them and that we check on them selectively. Every time you open the hive it shocks their system a bit, so the less you can do it, the better.
But at the same time, we need to check to make sure that the hive is progressing, so in we go…
The bees are doing a really good job of drawing out the frames. They’re even capping some of the cells…
What we need to look for is signs that the queen is doing her thang and laying eggs for the next generation of bees. If you look REALLY closely, you can see that not only has she been laying eggs, but they’ve been growing!
Larvae larvae everywhere! Before we know it, those baby bees will be full grown workers contributing to the colony.
Can you spot the tiny larvae in those cells?
It’s amazing how much work they’ve accomplished in only 2 weeks: filling their pouches with pollen and nectar, drawing out comb, and laying eggs. Guess it’s all in a hard days work…
As new beekeepers, we’re nervous about everything. Is the hive getting enough sunlight? Do they have enough food? Are they warm enough, especially with some of the cooler nights we’ve been having in the north east? Is a bear going to attack them?
Ok, maybe not the last one.
But if activity outside the hive is any indication, things are progressing nicely.
We’ve seen a number of workers flying in with packets of pollen on their legs, which is a good sign. Let’s open it up and see what’s inside.
So far so good. Looks like they’ve been busy as a… well, you know.
Uh-oh, they’ve been so busy, it looks like they built some burr comb on a few of the frames. What is burr comb? Let’s take a closer look.
See that raised portion of comb on the frame? That’s a bit of a problem since we won’t be able to fit the frames together as tightly as they should be, so unfortunately we’ll need to remove it. It likely happened because we didn’t have the frames as close together as they should be in the first place, lesson learned.
Once we removed the burr comb we made sure that all of the frames were as snug as they could be, but not before scoping out the rest of the frames.
And wait a second. Is that…? Hold on… I think it is! We think we spotted the queen!
Too hard to see with all of those other bees around? How about now?
You can typically differentiate the queen because she’s larger and longer than the other bees (which isn’t as clear in the pictures as it was in person).
But so far, so good. We refilled their feeder, which we’ll continue to do for a little while longer, and keep you updated on progress.