Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Observations of a Bee Hive

The pedigree of honey Does not concern the bee; A clover, any time, to him Is aristocracy.
~ Emily Dickinson

I've had so much going on around here lately between work, which has been very stressful and getting the basics done around here that finding time to post has been difficult.  Not to mention I have also contracted a serious case of writer's block.  I'm going to attribute that to just being tuckered out.  Every time I sit down to write, I just can't get the words to flow.  Everything I write seems stilted and boring.  In any case, the best way to get over a hump is just to push yourself over it.  So, I'm going to start with our latest hive inspection and just start typing.  I hope you don't mind.

While we've been experiencing a cold snap the past week or so, we had the luxury of some spring-like weather a few weeks ago.  Sunny, in the 60s and little to no wind make for perfect condition to do an early spring check on our bee hive.  Deborah, who is my mentor, and I approached the hive and just observed the activity for a minute or two.  The bees were busy bringing in pollen, but Deborah also noted a dead larvae at the entrance.  Her first impression was mites, so we knew we had to pay close attention once in the hive.  Upon opening the hive, we noticed good activity in the top super.  I was extremely excited to note that several frames were filled top to bottom with capped honey, picture perfect I might add.  While I am itching to harvest my first honey, it's still too early in the season to start taking as we always get another cold snap around the first of April.  I want them to have good stores to eat between now and then.  The second box down was our first hive body.  It was full of capped and uncapped brood as well as capped honey and plentiful pollen.  The different colors of the pollen collected created a quilt effect, red, yellow, orange, white.  It was lovely.  The bottom hive body was not as full of brood, either capped or uncapped, and since bees travel upward, it was apparent the queen was spending most of her time in the top hive body.  We don't want them to feel crowding and start thinking about swarming, so we flipped the top and bottom hive bodies and put the full one on the bottom.  Now the queen can still stay in the top hive body and feel like she has plenty of space to lay eggs.  Since we have a partially full super of honey, we also added another super on the top.  Now the bees can continue storing honey upward.  We also did not find any swarm cells.  Members of my bee club are already dealing with swarms, so diligence is key right now. 

Okay, that was the good stuff.  Now for the bad stuff.  We have mites and a virus associated with mites called deformed wing virus.  We spotted one bee with deformed wing virus, which means the wings are shriveled up.  To treat the mites, we dusted all of the frames and bees with powdered sugar.  This is supposed to be a non-chemical, very effective treatment.  The bees start grooming themselves to get the sugar off, and in doing so, dislodge the mites.  The mites fall to the ground and die.  I imagine it's basically the same principle as a chicken taking a dust bath.  The hive beetles persist, but that is to be expected in almost any hive.  The way we handle hive beetles is based on a strategy given to us by a beekeeping with many years of beekeeping under his belt.  Instead of using an inner cover, he places a sheet of plastic over the top of the super and then places the outer cover.  The bees glue down the plastic with propolis (bee glue made from plant resins to seal cavities and keep out invaders).  They actually create little tunnels with the propolis and trap the hive beetles in the tunnel.  Once you take the outer cover off and expose the plastic, you can squash the hive beetles that are trapped at the top.  Once a hive beetles is dead, it is dragged down into the hive by a housekeeping bee and discarded.  It is so interesting to watch the bees pull the dead hive beetle away.  Of course, there are other methods to deal with hive beetles, but that's the one we have adopted. 

Another inspection is due, so hopefully the powdered sugar will have done some good.

Happy beekeeping,



  1. Hi, a new sub here.
    I just opened my hive up to find approx 50 dead bees & a small amt/ tabls of honey. My 1st bees which were bought last Spring. Totally inexperienced, so i hv no idea what happened?
    We lv n MO. & hv had a mild winter. :-/

    1. Do you have a local beekeeping group in your area you can join? I find my local group invaluable. Plus someone can guide you better based on your geography. We are already in Spring season here, so my approach at this time of year may not be suited to your area. With that said, I don't think 50 dead bees in the winter is too bad. You are going to lose some to the cold weather. But it sounds like you don't have enough honey stores to keep your hive alive until spring. You should probably feed them some sugar water and get it as close to the cluster as possible. Using a top feeder may be a good option for you. Of course, please do some research on this because I am no expert on beekeeping. I'm a novice.

  2. What an interesting way to get rid of the mites!