Monday, August 19, 2013

A Week About Bees


My apiary is at the back of my house. I visit with my bees every day, rain or shine. They're just so fascinating to watch. Maybe this is a good thing, or a bad thing, having them so close at hand. I try my best not to disturb them (like when we mow the lawn, or I check the happenings in the garden) and just observe. I also take a lot of videos for my Dad. He seems to really enjoy seeing all of the activity.

I sent Dad a video of the bees being bees on Monday. I got up really close to include bees coming in with bright orange in their little pockets. Dad commented that their "doorstep" was dirty and they should really run a broom over the area (ha ha).

Where is all of this going? Well yesterday we had rain all day. It was cool and drippy when I was preparing to leave for work. I decided to take advantage of the weather and grabbed a paper towel with determination to wipe off the "doorstep". The bees, of course, were all indoors, waiting by their entryway. I did a quick swipe with the paper towel and avoided a cluster of bees waiting near the right corner of the entryway. I stood back to see how things looked and to my horror that cluster of bees had an invader cornered. I watched as the bees chased another bug out of the apiary.

My heart sank. My bees had pests! Once I was settled into work I started to do some serious research. It wasn't good. Everything pointed to the infamous Small Hive Beetle. The more I googled, the worse the news was. I saw pictures of hives completely destroyed. Everything I seemed to find was doom and gloom.

I quickly emailed my bee mentor and tried not to panic. I decided that even if it was still raining when I got home I was going to pull out the mite board in the bottom and see what may be on it. Those five hours at work were the longest five hours.

It was muggy when I got home from work. I had already texted Chase to have him meet me with a pair of pliers (so I could snag the mite board quickly) when I pulled in the driveway. Steve came out to watch us.

On the mite board, under the mesh that had come unstuck from the sticky paper, there were two hive beetles. Stuck to the point that they were cornered by bees that were on top, but not actually stuck to the sticky stuff itself. I cried. Steve told me to calm down and not be so emotional (he just doesn't get it). I saw these two mites as a major blow to my beekeeping. How bad was the infestation? Would we open up the apiary and see frame after frame of destroyed honey? What about the girls? Are they healthy? And Daisy? We hadn't seen the queen since my bee mentor came by to help me find her. Was she okay?

Once the bees had left the mite board and headed back indoors (it had started to rain again), I stomped all over the mite board (in case I missed any other beetles) and disposed of it quickly. Now was a time to work up a plan. Chase and I would definitely need a trip to the bee supply store. I decided we were going to supplement them again with sugar water and add a bit of Honey-B-Healthy for good measure. We also needed a beetle trap. Due to having to work on Friday, the soonest Chase and I could get out to the bee supply store would be Saturday. I emailed the local supplier to make sure they had what I needed in stock (they did), and that was that.


It's really cool out today. From what I have read beeks will see an increase in hive pests early in the spring and in fall when the temperatures are cooler. It has been unseasonably cool this week and that is supposed to continue next week, too. I heard back from my bee mentor and she has been very positive. She said that despite what the internet says, hive beetles are seen in every state now. She herself has had a couple of her hives winter with a few beetles and they are just fine in the spring. The key, she says, is to see how the girls are handling them. If they can keep them in check, they're doing just fine. It's when you open up the apiary and they're overrun with beetles you have a problem. She said from what it sounded like my girls were on top of things. She stressed that the beetles don't seek out "weak" hives like the articles say. They just have an easier time of causing problems in a hive that is new, or weak from other reasons.

If anyone asked me directly, I would say I had a strong hive. I suppose every beek wants to say that. The fact of the matter is Chase and I are new-bees (ha ha!) still and are learning every day. We open the hive, we check for brood, pollen, nectar, honey, pests, and yes, Daisy. We had just looked in the hive (granted not all three levels) a week ago and I didn't see any pests. I'm confident we just happened to stumble on to the beginning of an invasion.


I am once again disappointed with our local bee supply store. And let me tell you, when I say local, I mean it is only a 45 minute one-way drive compared to the 90 minute drive to Albion, MI where there is  Dadant location (I will ONLY EVER go there from now on).

The more local place gets most of their supplies from the bigger distributors, and is extremely limited as to what they have in stock. Right now their closet of a showroom is full of boxes of jars for honey collection.

They did have the Honey-B-Healthy, but the beetle trap I wanted that Dadant has, was not what they had in stock.

Despite not being what I wanted, I bought two of them. Call it the desperate act of a worried beek. I'm glad I bought two because they have a curved bottom and would never stand on their own in the apiary.

The idea is that if you have a beetle trap you put a bit of veggie oil in it so when the beetles go in, they get oily and can't get out. I also read that if you add a little apple cider vinegar it will entice them down to the trap and the bees can chase them (I love apple cider vinegar.. it is so useful in pest management!).

Chase and I came home and decided to wait until later in the evening or even in the morning (early) to put the new traps in. It's a gorgeous day and the bees are super busy today.


Those beetle traps? Totally worthless! They're too tall to easily slide into the apiary. It's 6:30 in the morning and I just attempted to install them when I took Koda out for her potty trip. I ended up spilling oil and vinegar on the ground instead. Oh well. The vinegar is good for weeds, and apparently hive beetle larvae have to make the journey from hive to ground before they can pupate. Stupid jerks.

On a side note, my neighbors must think I am looney tunes. I cry over my bees and I swear up a storm early in the morning. Oops.


Steve is working near Albion today! After his case he's going to Dadant to pick up the beetle trap that I need. I already called them to confirm they had them in stock (they do).

I also want to mention that the mite boards that are just sticky paper with the mesh on top are pretty worthless. Our board began to warp and the paper peel in layers after we had a week of hot and humid temps. They're inexpensive, and I think that is what is appealing to beeks, but from my point of view they have contributed to more issues than prevented. 


I have the beetle trap! However, I'm leaving for work by noon (in an hour) and it's only 57 degrees. Too cool to get in the apiary right now.


It was down to 49 overnight and slowly is warming up today. I have a smidge more time before work today, but I think we'll need to wait until tomorrow to install the trap. I don't want to rush through this. 

I've been working on a plan of "attack" all week for when Chase and I had the opportunity to enter the apiary.

I already decided we had to check each level and every frame for signs of beetles or any other problems. The last time I saw the bottom level there was eight frames of honey. I figure these would be the ones most likely to be damaged. Of course we'll check on pollen collection, brood count, etc. I'd also like to give them all a good dusting of powdered sugar to be on the safe side.

I think we'll light the smoker, too. I haven't had to smoke the bees at all, but not knowing their mindset due to the beetles, and the fact I will be taking apart their home completely, I'd rather have calm bees to work with.

Tomorrow.. tomorrow.. 


After Chase and I inspect the apiary, we like to sit down (and cool off!) and discuss what we saw and how successful we feel the inspection went.

I won't beat around the bush here, this inspection went extremely well! The biggest hassle through the whole thing was unsticking each level from the one below it. I was afraid of jarring the bees too much and upsetting them. They handled it all very well.

The apiary completely apart. 

I decided to leave the inner cover on the top box because history has told me that the queen and her brood frames are up there. I wanted them to stay as comfortable as possible as one could be while their house was being taken apart. Despite all three levels of the apiary being split, the bees were handling it well and I didn't need to smoke them again through the rest of the process.

I was quite pleased when we got to the bottom board only to see TWO hive beetles there, both being guarded by a group of bees. I did see in the shreddings of the original mite board about half a dozen beetle larvae. All non-bee insects were squished and Chase scrubbed the bottom board clean.

Hive beetle.

Hive beetle trap.
We installed the trap and I added veggie oil and a bit of the apple cider vinegar before putting the grate on top. We'll check it in about 14 days to see if there are any beetles in there.

The next part was to check the bottom box and see if there was any damage. NONE! There were still eight frames of honey, but two frames had brood. I confirmed these were bee brood and not beetle larvae (nope, bee brood), and made note of which frames they were for the future. All those present were dusted with powdered sugar.

We next put the second box back on top. This one has three empty frames (one of which they are working on drawing out the comb). A few honey frames, pollen of many colors, nectar, and more brood! The most fascinating part of the second box is that the brood we found was nearly complete. The bees we saw in there were albino and resembled huge-eyed aliens. Most of the brood was capped, but three were at a point where we could see them. I'm combing through the photos Chase took to see if he did get a picture or not. There was more powdered sugar sprinkled here.

At this point two of our boxes were clean and looking healthy so I was in high spirits to check the top box. There were two empty frames there, and a repeat of what we found in the other two boxes. A couple of frames of capped honey, pollen/nectar, and brood (4 frames of brood!). We were watching bees coming in with pollen loaded in their pockets deciding to hang out on the outside of the boxes and clean off those that were dusted with sugar. It was quite amusing to watch.

Not sugared, but heavy with pollen.

A month ago when Dale was over for my bee inspection I saw a lot of brood on frame 17. I moved it from the second box to the top along with three others. Two weeks ago when Chase and I checked the hive that particular frame had hatched its young and she was starting to lay in the frame again.  It just so happened that today when I pulled frame 17 there was Daisy working her way across the frame. Oh Daisy! I know it is nice to see that she is laying and everything is fine, but seeing her alive and well makes all that worrying worth while.

After seeing Daisy, I quickly looked over the last two frames and then dusted everyone with powdered sugar and closed up the apiary.

Next on the list is preventative upkeep around the apiary to prevent easy access to the bees. Koda is diligently working on eating the weeds (I swear that dog is part cow!), but we're going to surround the area with cedar shavings. When the apiary is closed for the season, we're going to brick out the area to help keep down the weeds and to give the earwigs less of a chance to hang out in the area waiting to get in (and of course, the beetles won't have an easy time either). I also need to do another sprinkling of cinnamon for the ants.

The feeder doesn't fit in the apiary with the beetle trap in there, plus it didn't look like they had touched the sugar water at all while it was out there, so I disposed of it.

It looks like Labor Day weekend is when we'll do our next check, and then we'll need to work out our plans for fall and wintering.

But for now.. all is back to being right in the bee world.

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