We finished just in time! Last night we got roughly 8 inches of snow! Last year we gave it a valiant effort but the winter was too cold and long for our bees to make it. This year we threw out everything we learned and took a different approach.
Starting at the end of September we treated for mites one last time. We also installed a robbing screen because we saw a lot of yellow jackets out side the hive. We also placed the heaters on the bottom board. We will only use them when it gets to subzero temps.
We were lucky to get some pretty neat photos this day as well. The different colors of pollen brought back to the hive were unreal this year.
In October we added the entrance reducer. Then added a feeding box with a round feeder full of pure sugar. The idea is any excess condensation will fall into the sugar making it edible for the bees.
Next we added a vent box on top filled with burlap. We got a kick out of it that the vent holes made the box look like a face. Burlap does a great job wicking moisture. If you followed us last year I went over the threat of excess condensation in a hive during the winter months being deadly. A piece of plywood to shelter the hive front from the snow and a cinder block to hold everything in place.
The next major change was ditching the tar paper and using a Plan Bee hive wrap. Kevin Coy the owner was great to work with. http://www.planbeefarm.com/winter-hive-wraps.html The initial cost was more expensive but it is reusable. Last year our bees died in a cluster most likely of starvation. If they broke cluster and moved over one frame they had food to eat. The idea of the Plan Bee hive wrap is it will allow the bees to break cluster, find food and keep that queen alive! Another plus is we won’t have to deal with pulling out the staples from the hive because this secures with Velcro.
The final change we made was a snow fence. We hope the wind barrier will help give the hive an extra fighting chance. Fingers crossed we have good news for Oprah WinBEE in 2020!🐝🐝
My last update on June 2nd we were baffled. We have good news, yay! We have one strong hive we are hoping to over winter! I also figured out how to take photos and still protect my allergic self from any stings. Wearing a disposable glove you would find in your drs office gives you traction on the touch screen to take a photo or video.
We inspected on June 7th and this time I took pictures. (Thank god!) The nectar and honey were dark, we couldn’t see anything with our naked eye. I sent this photo to a beekeeper friend and he must have laughed at us. He asked if we zoomed in on the photo. There are so many eggs in the cells! Yay! In the photo below; the blue square you can see all the eggs and the red circle is the queen cup our new queen hatched from.
At this point it is reasonable to assume our hive swarmed. I suspect Oprah’s hive didn’t had enough bee-space. (Meaning enough frames drawn out for everyone to live in. The number is empty frames are irrelevant if not drawn out.) Ellen’s hive died very quickly.l, most bees weren’t mated to a queen yet. I think a lot of bees jumped over to Oprah’s hive and with a laying queen there has to be some over crowding.
On June 23rd there was a new beekeeper in town. Eric has enjoyed learning the ropes but still a little nervous!
If you look closely in the frame above you will see the eggs from June 7th are now in the larvae stage.
July 14th we had tons of bees flying around the hive! Taking a closer look you will see bees around the hive with pollen bags on the sides of them.
We have treated for mites with oxalic acid a few times. A couple of of inspections I didn’t get any pictures. We hope the mite load is very low (non existent probably isn’t realistic) going into winter.
August 30th the bees are still happily flying. The Saskatraz bees are so gentle. Except when doing yard work. Poor Eric has been victim a few times while mowing and cleaning up the sugar bush. I have made it so far with one sting on my scalp while filming this video.
Friday September 6th Eric and I were getting ready to inspect the bees and heard an eerie sound by the trees to the left of the potting shed. Below is the little fella causing the noise. I still can’t believe I got that close to a black bear!
We were very happy with what we saw this inspection. Golden Rod is at an all time high here in Vermont. Allergies have been insane for us for the last three weeks. I the golden rod is why the bees wax is so yellow.
Today we started feeding the bees 2:1 sugar syrup. The bees may or may not take it. The goal is to back fill the hive with food stores to get though winter. We had one twin down and out today so Mama Bear did lots of research on winterizing. We are definitely taking a different approach this year. Stay tuned for the update!
We all know my track record for keeping bees hasn’t been awesome. But I’d like to take credit where it’s due. I can decorate a hive and paint it in a useful manner. 😂
This year we used The Real Milk Paint Co’s Milk Paint again. It has less fumes and off gassing, hypothetically translating to bees happier with their home. (A beekeeper in Elmore, VT gave me this tip.)
The next step has me question how can I put a design on my hives but make it functional as well? Arrows! You should always put the boxes facing the same way you removed them since the bees remember the location.
Bee package installation day! All went as planned. The bee packages were handed out randomly. I was told they were inspected for health. Last year we received certificate proof, this year verbal. Both queens seemed ok, they were put in their hives with the cork in their smaller screened box. This gives the bees time to accept her as their queen.
The Saskatraz bees came in plastic bee packages. They can snap together for ease of moving. I think this made it safer for their trek across the country. The bees were from California but, the queens were from Canada. This trip can be very stressful for all parties involved…even the beekeeper. This isn’t a cheap hobby but as you know any beekeeper doesn’t do this because of the cost.
This video was right after install. You will see lots of bees “setting their gps” oriented themselves to their new location.
The next afternoon we had to release the queens. When we got to the hives we noticed there was a good amount of dead and barely moving bees in the package that was installed on Ellen BEEgenerous’ (left) hive. My father in law and I found this odd but also thought they may have had a really rough trip. When we released Ellen instead of trying to go directly into the hive she went back into the box. I think if I was trapped in a small box for several days I’d be disoriented as well. We peeled back the screen and got her in. Oprah WinBees’ release was text book. We released her and she went into her hive to work. (So we think.)
My friend Carey in Morrisville worked with the same beekeeper as us. When she released her queen it appears she flew away. In hindsight we wish we both knew of an alternate method of releasing the Queen. On installation day we could have removed the corks and inserted a mini marshmallow. The worker-bees would slowly eat through it to release her. Thus having less human involvement in the beginning but also allowing time for the bees to get acquainted with the queen.
Here comes the bad news….
Did you notice anything in the above video?
No bees are flying around Ellen BEEgenerous’ hive. Upon inspection they were all dead at the bottom of the bee box. I contacted the beekeeper I work with and she said this just happens and in two weeks we can split the other hive. I have been researching splitting a hive quite a bit. There is a local beekeeper in town that runs a class specifically on doing this correctly. There are so many trains of thought on this. Do we try and maintain one strong hive we can get though this winter? Do we watch for signs or a swarm and only split them if that happens? Do we go ahead and split them because two is better than one? All great questions and I honestly don’t have an answer.
The hive that died was the same hive that was our weaker colony last year. The only difference between the two hives is the location (two feet) and the bottom boards. The left has a screened bottom board and the right has a solid one. The screened bottom board has a removable insert. Is is handy when checking for mites. See picture below. We are suspicious where our hives are placed perhaps a screened bottom board allows for too much airflow. Especially with the cooler temps we had this winter and the cool and rainy spring this year.
This video was taken Thursday May 30th. The bees look super happy and busy. We inspected the hive today June 1st. There are a ton of bees and they all seem very happy. My father in law and I were shocked to see no brood nest. No eggs, larvae…and no queen spotted. This is why we are baffled…A queen less hive that is happy? I suspect the queen was laying eggs at one point since there are so many bees. Also my father in law thought he saw brood when we inspected a week and a half ago. We did however spot two queen cups on one of the frames (example of a queen cup below). I took to the Internet after the inspection and learned I should have looked inside the queen cups for a growing queen. Since we have never run into this before I was clueless. The few blog posts I read said if the bees are happy and not agitated that means they could be re-queening. I certainly hope this is right!
Incase you are wondering why I haven’t gotten any close up photos or videos this year. This is a reminder of how allergic I am to bees…luckily my parents bought me a new bee-suit for Christmas. My gloves don’t allow for touch screen use. Hopefully I will figure out a solution soon!
Fingers crossed for a new laying queen when we check the hive next week or maybe the original Oprah WinBEE needed a break!🤷🏻♀️
Sorry I haven’t written in so long. Life has been busy in a good way for us! Winter clean up of the hives wasn’t pretty it was labor intensive.
I attended a hive autopsy class in March. Once again my mind was blown with all I leaned. The main reasons why bees die in the winter are: condensation, mites, robbing, cold & starvation.
We treat for mites using oxalic acid or mite away quick strips. They are approved for organic farms and are safe to use if honey is flowing. Do you recall my post last year when I told you a mite on a bee is equal to a human having a bunny on its back? They also come with some not so great diseases. We treated our hives for mites 3 times last year; I learned that’s not enough. When bees are foraging they run into other bees…if those bees haven’t been treated or are infected after treatment your bee brings mites to your hive. One sign of bee demise due to mite disease is your bee is dead with their head cocked and tongue out. I was able to get a picture of this at the winter class and witnessed this in our hive clean up.
A bee from BEEonce’s late hive with its tongue out.
Robbing in a beehive? What’s that? (I thought the same thing). Going into winter, other insects are hungry. Wasps, beetles, hornets, you name it. You know your hive was robbed if you see what looks like wood shavings on the bottom board. Robbers drill though the honey capping(s) and make a mess. Honeybees clean up after theirselves and use the capping for another purpose in the hive. When robbers come into a hive they enter through the bottom. This pushes the bees up the hive boxes, typically leaving behind hive stores needed for winter. Once they move up they do not move back down. This is a big reason why bees starve out over the winter.
We have some ideas on what to do differently next year. We definitely will add a wind break fence for the bee-yard. This is a huge learning curve and has been intriguing. We will get some honey…someday.
I was able to harvest two ounces of propolis from the hives. I have mixed 2 parts ground propolis (bee glue) with 9 parts 150 proof grain alcohol. (Grain alcohol is hard to find in Vermont!) Propolis can be used for many things and it’s antibiotic properties are known to be healing. You can make lotion, salve, ointments, throat spray you name it. (Another thing I’m learning).
I plan to update on the new bees we got in April after our second hive inspection this weekend. In short the news isn’t good for Ellen BEEgenerous but Oprah WinBEE is a rock star.
Everyone I need to sadly report that our maple season lasted 6 days. The long winter and the quick shift to 70 deg weather followed by no nights below freezing led us to shut down the sugarhouse. The sap we got this past week was bad, so we couldn’t use it for production.
Needless to say we have no syrup to sell. The wee bit of syrup we did produce was super dark, some of the darkest syrup I’ve ever seen.
Let’s hope Mother Nature is kinder to us next year so we can fully utilize the improvements we have made for the 2019 season.
Right now we are preparing the hives for more bee’s. The old hives are getting touched up with new paint & art and the electric fence was tested today.
Hi Everyone. I know it’s been a while since we have provided an update. Needless to say it’s been a long cold winter and the sap just started flowing this past week. Right now we are about 3.5 weeks behind last year and we just started boiling the sap this weekend.
To give you an idea of how much snow we had this winter as of this morning we still have 2’+ in the front yard and there is still some snow left on the sugar home roof. We spent most of the weekends this winter up at Smugglers Notch skiing and as of last check they received 371″+ of snow. Yes that is over 30 feet of snow this winter.
For 2019 we are attempting to be more efficient with at the addition of a reverse osmosis machine. This allows us to increase the sugar content of the sap before boiling. Thru this process we extract excess water from the sap and create more concentrated sap to boil. This saves us both time and wood for the evaporator.
We will be updating the site more often as boiling and production continues. Thanks for your patience. 😁
Today it warmed up to 36 degrees and we still have so much snow on the ground. We took today as an opportunity to open up the hives quickly and feed the bees.
The twins helped Mama assemble the sugar boards. First we braced the bottoms of the boards; then laid foundation paper across the bottom (the bees will clean this out). Each board got a pre-made pollen patty. Then we packed moist sugar into the boards. The mason jars were used to leave a hole left for ventilation.
Finally we went up to the bee yard and Eric shoveled it all out. Sadly we do not have good news to report. Both hives appear to have died.
The right hive was our stronger hive going into winter (Beeonce’s). The cedar shavings we added seemed dry and were doing their job with moisture. I popped off the inner cover and there were a lot of dead bees in a cluster; my best guess is they starved. There is a small chance there could be live bees because we did not take out any frames to find out of there was a smaller cluster. We could not hear any buzzing. To be hopeful we left the sugar board on. 🤞🏻
The left hive (Britney Beech) wasn’t a huge surprise. This was a weak hive with very little food stores. We did make sure we left enough extra food for them. It’s possible they died earlier in the winter. They did not touch the food we left them in the top super. Eric did notice it was wet inside; likely a condensation issue with this hive.
My Beekeeping mentor is having a workshop in the near future on autopsy die outs. We hope to learn more definitive information. There are so many lessons to be learned in beekeeping whether it goes in our favor or not.
We will definitely tweak our process for next year. We plan to add Saskatraz Bees. They are gentle (great for the bee allergy), super honey producers, known for their overwintering ability and resistance to mites and brood diseases. They will be here April 28th! We have lots of work to do to get ready for them.
But for new Sugaring season is almost here! Maple Syrup anyone?? 🍁