Bill's Bees Blog

Apis Mellifera

Background:

An article I happened upon quite a long time ago, about beekeeping, was the stimulus that put me on the path of learning about the honeybee, Apis mellifera (or mellifica as some say). Not to be confused with any other bee or wasp, of which there are many. To indicate I knew very little about bees, of any sort, would be an inadequate description of my ignorance at the time, however, I was determined to begin learning and so I found a local club and began the process. I subscribed to magazines, read books, viewed videos, and watched how those experienced in the field did it and after a while began my own investigating and research (through trial and error). I started a commercial enterprise, kept many hives on many properties, bought and sold honey, traded in pollen, propolis and wax, made and sold candles, did some husbandry too, gave many talks and also dedicated a couple years doing apitherapy. I had done just about everything. And then I went into a completely different field. Once keeping bees gets in your blood, though, it remains. This "blog", with photos, is about my beekeeping in these difficult times. Shown is a photo of a typical beehive. The white section that is between the honey supers above and the brood boxes below is a queen excluder. It helps to ensure egg laying remains below and separate from where surplus honey is. I define "surplus" honey as that which is in excess of what adequately supplies the bees needs.

A Typical Beehive atop bottom board and hive stand w/2 each of brood and honey supers. Weight on top outer cover.

P ractice:

In the spring of 2010 I purchased 1 package with queen, from down south, and installed it alongside a friends new hive at an out of county location. I introduced the package into an old brood box with new frames and comb and added an entrance excluder. It is my practice to limit opening hives, so as not to disrupt the bees, and opened this hive about 1 time per month. During my first inspection I noticed a few small hive beetles, Aethina tumida, a parasite of the honeybee. The beetles were on the top of the hive inner cover and upon further inspection I noticed a few on the comb as well. The comb had been drawn out by these bees. I've no way of telling if the beetles came with the bees or not, however, I suspect they did. I killed, by hand, every SHB I was able to. The other hive on this property, belonging to my friend, also had small hive beetles which I atteded to. During the course of the season I had observed my bees harassing any intruders and noticed fewer and then no hive beetles within the hive. However, the adjacent hive had them still, which I continued to eliminate. I kept my hive to a single brood box the entire season. The queen seemed to be doing an adequate job of laying and the workers had accumulated what I deemed to be sufficient storage of honey and I overwintered them as they were.

I make a practice of not using chemicals on, in, or around my bees, nor do I use plastic, and aside from some sugar water I provide them in late winter/early spring, I don't usually feed them. I expect sugar water entices early spring egg laying as it mimics a nectar flow. Honeybees today are having a difficult time surviving as it is, due to pesticides, herbicides, parasites, virus's, molds, and predators, etc. and I've a strong suspicion that treating them with chemicals only helps to push them over the edge. There is an organic public garden on the same property where these bees are kept as well.

In the spring of this year, 2011, I had purchased another package, with queen, and introduced them to a new brood box with comb. The original hive survived the winter handily and the bees were out and about but upon opening it for inspection I found queen cells within and I'm happy to report no hive beetles. I had noticed a small swarm high up in a nearby tree, however, and I suspect they came from my friends hive as my hive was still nicely populated. I then decided to split the hive taking the queen and leaving a couple queen cells behind. After the split I added a 2nd. brood box with comb to the original hive for the purpose of creating additional space and I used the split to populate another hive at a different location.

Now 3 hives in addition to my friends and it is early summer. The original hive seems strong and has already filled much of the topmost brood box with nectar and honey, and they are working on honey supers above, that I've recently added. My new hive at this location seems to be doing nicely too but I've observed a couple small hive beetles on the top of the inner cover which I killed.

On 7/25 I visited the hive and found the bees have converted most of the nectar in the upper brood box of the original hive to honey and are continuing to draw out comb and fill the honey super with nectar.

10/24 What follows is a synopsis of events from this blogs last installment. I've been sticking to a regimen regarding the bees but have had little time to catch up on this blog.

Since my last entry I've visited the "girls" twice a month and during each visit I have seen small hive beetles in all hives. They inhabit nooks and crannies the bees, because of their size, don't have access to. Each time I open a hive I inspect for the shb (small hive beetle) and destroy any I see. This beetle is a nuisance, however, as yet they don't appear to have any severe impact on the hives and I haven't noticed any debris, such as fecal matter, left behind by then. Housekeeping bees are active as all hives are clean. Also, I've yet to see evidence of the beetles accessing capped honey. I've noticed the bees habitually harass the beetles, chasing them about, but the beetles move rapidly across the comb and, when being chased, will take refuge deep in a cell or other space where the bees are unable to extract them. It is also apparent that the bees involved in other chores ignore beetle presence. I cannot report whether the shb has had any impact on brood as I've not fully inspected the lower brood boxes. Reason being that these hives are in a public area and I avoid disturbing them any more than absolutely necessary. The numbers of active bees are high and I've seen nothing to alert me of a problem. I have noticed a few dead shb's within the hives and have also seen a couple sealed in propolis.

From these notes you might assume an abundance of beetles which isn't correct as I'm reporting results from three hives where shb are present but in small numbers. And again, each time I open a hive I'll inspect for and kill any seen.

The original hive has the upper brood super completely filled w/stores (mostly honey with some pollen) and one honey super half filled with honey, which I'll remove during my final inspection. The second hive consists of two brood supers with the upper super having most frames honey filled. And the third hive consists of one brood super mostly filled with honey as well with no evidence of extraordinary, if I can use that word, beetle activity.

At this period of the hives development all appears ready for the winter and I will make a final inspection this week, however, my main concern is about the shb increasing in numbers while the bees are clustered. The result of which might be devastating.

Update. Well I had determined the season over, however, the weather didn't cooperate and it was off and on again warm into December. Today is the 27th and the temp. reached 56 or so by the hives. I had checked the further away hives in late November and both were loaded with over wintering stores, bees flying about and collecting. And upon lifting both the upper and inner covers and peering in I was grateful not to notice any shb's. I left them and am hoping for the best. The third hive which was from a split I made earlier in the season was opened, for the last time, a week ago. The girls are overwintering on one super heavy with supplies and their numbers are strong. However, I had noticed a few shb's and did away with them. Everything is closed up and, again, I'm hoping for the best. I've obtained information from a local beekeeper who reported the loss of bees to the shb and we shall see what fate has for us come late winter/early spring.

Thus we've come to the end of the apiary's second season.

A work in progress.

 

Notes:

  • A hive body or box often contains 10 "frames" that are installed by the beekeeper. The larger boxes are called "brood supers" or "brood boxes" that will contain honeybee brood along with some nectar/honey and pollen. Within these boxes each of the 10 frames will be equipped, initially, by the beekeeper with flat wax sheets attached to them (I don't use plastic as it's my experience the bees avoid using it). Each wax sheet has hexogonal shapes embossed upon the flat surface upon which the worker bees will draw out the comb into 3 dimensional shapes known as. Within these honeycomb cells is where the queen lays her eggs into individual cells, where the eggs hatch and where the larvae then metamorphose into adult bees. It is also where the bees store their food supply. The worker bees, all female, store nectar, pollen, and water within these cells. They will feed the larvae from these stores, change the nectar into honey and cap honey and brood cells with wax. The stored honey and pollen are what the bees will use for protein and carbohydrates during winter months. When the larvae have metamorphosed into adults they will then chew through the capped cells they occupied during metamorphosis and begin work within the hive.
  • Hive boxes smaller than the brood boxes also will contain frames such as described as above but of shorter size the purpose of which is to store excess honey made by the worker bees. These boxes are called honey supers.

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