Special Guest in the Beeyard

My mother-in-law is visiting for the weekend.

She got to visit the apiary and participate in a hive inspection.

I think she may have had some fun.

TeacherMode
Of course, having a guest in the bee yard gives me a chance to enter full-blown “teacher mode.” Look Ma, EGGS!
IMG_9540
And we do this, because this, and we do that, because blah blah blah … once I’m in “teacher-mode,” it can be hard to stop the lectures. She tolerated it well.
QueenExcluder
She set the queen excluder down nice and gentle, didn’t squish anybody. Good job, Mama!

 

Thyme had almost all of it's frames filled up with brood. Problem: no place to store honey. Solution: build extra comb all over in random places. (We added another box and eight new frames for them to build into.)

Bees Don’t Read Beekeeping Books

Beekeeping books all agree: Queenlessness is BAD. Terrible. Very very extra bad and problematic.

Beekeeping books also pretty much all say that if you have a hive that goes queenless, it:

  • will be an angry, temperamental hive.
  • will stop bringing in pollen because there are no babies to feed.
  • will almost certainly develop laying workers within a couple of weeks.

Well, all the way back on March 26 I split Rosemary hive and created Sage. I was pretty sure (yeah, oops. I know,) that I left plenty of eggs in Sage hive for them to make a new queen from.

Apparently I didn’t, because when I went in to inspect a week later, there was no eggs and no open brood. No biggie – even if they had made themselves a new queen as expected, no chance that she would have been hatched, mated, and laying eggs that fast.

But today I looked again. It’s been a month. Sage hive has:

  • the same calm, friendly, “if you don’t hurt us, we don’t care what you do” attitude they’ve always had.
  • workers with full pollen baskets coming and going as normal, and lots of stored up pollen and nectar.
  • absolutely NO BROOD at all. No eggs. No evidence of laying workers. Nothing at all but wax, nectar, honey, and pollen.

So much for how a queenless hive is “supposed” to act. Still, though, it is a problem. Without a queen the colony will be dead in a few weeks.

We went into Thyme hive, which we knew for a fact was queenright, took out a frame with brood and eggs in it, and gave it to Sage. Theoretically they will choose one of the eggs and make themselves a queen with that. If I can find a local queen for sale in the next few days, though, I will just introduce her and then I won’t have to worry so much about them developing laying workers. Or, y’know, just dying outright.

IMG_9282
Thyme had almost all of it’s frames filled up with brood. Problem: no place to store honey. Solution: build extra comb all over in random places. (We added another box and eight new frames for them to build into.)

 

IMG_9283
Queen Thyme is the first MARKED queen I’ve ever had. See her there, with her pretty blue dot on her thorax? She’s also the first Carniolan queen I’ve dealt with. I’m used to my queens being bright gold – Her Thymeness is almost solid black.

 

IMG_9285
The Hubs got a picture of Queen Thyme backing up into a cell to lay an egg. She is a busy, busy bee – she had brood all over the place.

 

IMG_9286
The blue dot means she was born in 2015.

For the benefit of beekeepers who replace their queens every year or every two years, there is an international color code to designate what year the queen was born. For years ending in the digit zero or five, that color is blue. (If I had a marked queen that was born this year, her mark would be white to indicate that she is from a year ending in one or six.)

 

IMG_9294
Another thing the books say is that, as long as the frames are all pushed together, bees won’t build extra comb in between frames because it messes up their bee space. Apparently, again, no one told them. This is Sage. They build where they want to.

 

They wasted NO thyme at all (groan: bad pun alert!) getting out to explore the new neighborhood.

It’s Thyme Again

Back in January, after Bee School, the instructor invited a local commercial beek named Jerry to come down and talk to the students about purchasing nucs1 from him. She told us beforehand that his bees come highly recommended from all of her highly knowledgeable contacts, and that everyone she knew who had bought from Jerry in the past had been highly satisfied. She was planning to order two nucs from him herself.

On that recommendation, I went ahead and ordered a nuc from him. I was not, at that point, sure whether I was going to be able to split Rosemary this year. I wanted some “insurance” to make sure I was going into the honey flow with at least two colonies up and running. Well, that turned out to be unnecessary, but three is also a nice number, right?

We went up to Jerry’s place in Farmville today to pick up the bees for the re-boot of Thyme hive. We took a complete hive (screened bottom board, eight frame hive body box, outer cover, three frames) up to Jerry’s place. He installed the five frames he had set aside for me right into my hive body. Then we wrapped a cargo strap around the whole colony, put in an entrance reducer, and covered it with duct tape. Yay! Duct tape! Works for everything!

It felt a little odd to have a live bee colony sitting in the boot of my MINI Cooper for the two-hour ride home, but I guess it was no stranger than when we brought the two original packages home last year.

We got back to the PeaceThyme yard, the Hubs carried the colony out for me, and I opened it up to put a feeder on for them. As soon as I pulled that outer cover off, hundreds of workers came out to see what was going on and where they heck they were! It took some time, but I got the feeder and cover back in place. The Hubs has promised to make me another robber screen as soon as he has a spare minute.

Three bee hives on a hive stand.
And then there were three. Left to right: Sage; Rosemary; Thyme. I wanted Thyme closer to the right (north) end of the stand but it wasn’t level there, and we didn’t have stuff handy to make up a shim on the spot. We’ll move it gradually later on, when we can make it more level.

 

Exploring
They wasted NO thyme at all (groan: bad pun alert!) getting out to explore the new neighborhood.

 

 

1) Nuc = nucleus hive. One of the ways in which bees can be purchased. Usually includes five fully drawn frames comprising stored honey/nectar, brood, nurse bees, eggs, and a laying queen. “Nucs” are usually housed in special hive boxes that are five frames wide, instead of the usual eight or ten.

I'm inspecting Sage hive. Tia is inspecting me. Various bees are simultaneously inspecting both of us. And the hubs is photographing it all. Oh, and for the record - Tia said I passed. Yay!

Apparently, I’m Certifiable

In case you weren’t sure.

The North Carolina State Beekeeper’s Association administers a comprehensive and robust Master Beekeeper Program, allowing interested beekeepers a chance to document steadily increasing levels of study, experience, and public service.

The first level of this progression is the “Certified Beekeeper” level. It requires four months of beekeeping experience, passing a 50-question written exam, and passing a practical exam which consists of a hive manipulation/inspection under the supervision of an already certified beekeeper.

I passed my written exam back at the Association’s Spring Meeting in February. Now that it is consistently warm enough for hive manipulations, I asked our local bee school teacher and Master Beekeeper, Tia, to come out and administer my practical. She agreed.

Lighting Smoker
The first task was lighting the smoker. Funny as it may sound, that is the part I was most worried about. I’m still not all that great at keeping the smoker lit. Getting better, but I still frequently rely on The Hubs to help. He is more pyro-savvy than I am. He did buy me a propane torch for Christmas. That helps!
Festooning
One of the first frames I pulled was one of the empties that I installed last weekend. Beautiful example of “festooning” here. Festooning is when the workers hook themselves together like trapeze artists or Barrel O’ Monkeys toys and hang down to begin forming new comb.
PrettyNewWax
Another formerly empty frame, now 60% drawn with beautiful new white wax.
Inspection
I’m inspecting Sage hive. Tia is inspecting me. Various bees are simultaneously inspecting both of us. And the hubs is photographing it all. Oh, and for the record – Tia said I passed. Yay!
So, rather unexpectedly, we are back to two colonies again. Yay!

The Sage Split

Next week, a Master Beekeeper and Bee School teacher from my local club is coming to administer my practical examination, so I can become a North Carolina Beekeepers Association Certified Beekeeper. Because of this, I had not planned on going in to the hives at all this weekend. But then I remembered – since I put in that green drone frame, I really need to be at least opening it up and looking every two weeks. If I wait three weeks, and they do have a bunch of capped drones, I’m pretty much inviting the varroa mite population to expand even faster. Not what we are trying to accomplish here, right?

So, that was the plan. Quick peek, pull the drone frame, see if there is capped brood to remove, close it back up, easy day.

The best laid plans, y’know.

Partially drawn comb on drone-sized green plastic foundation.
Well, they ARE building the frame out. Slowly. That’s most beekeepers’ biggest complaint about plastic foundation, that the bees are slow to draw it out. But they are working on it. Slow and steady wins the race, right? By the time they get this full, the timing should be pretty good to start really trapping mites as they begin to build their populations.

 

Bee larva being capped on drone comb frame
There was ONE almost-capped larva in the drone comb. Just the one. So far. There may have been eggs and uncapped larva in a few other cells – it was pretty cloudy today so I couldn’t see any. I have a hard time seeing eggs unless the sun is very bright.

 

Single empty swarm cell at bottom of drawn frame.
So after checking the green frame, I tipped up the boxes to take a “quick peek” at the bottoms of all the frames. Just to make sure their weren’t any swarm cells yet. But there were. We saw at least seven, maybe eight, swarm cells on the bottom of at least two frames. And the bees were crowded. Really, really crowded.

 

At this point the hubs set down his camera and started helping me, because it was just suddenly a really great time to have four hands!

We basically did what I think most beekeepers call a “walk-away split.”

We left:

  • all the queen cells
  • about half of the bees
  • some open brood, including very young brood
  • some closed brood
  • a few empty frames to grow into, and
  • about half the pollen and nectar

in the old location. I *hope* that I left them some eggs, too, but as noted above – I can’t see eggs on cloudy days. I am reasonably confident that I left them what they need to make a new queen.

This is now designated as “Sage” hive.

We looked and looked and we finally found Queen Rosemary. She was in the very top box. The almost-empty box that I put on two weeks ago. If they had not been so crowded, this box would have probably been all food storage. But since they were crowded, she had, in human terms, gone into the pantry to lay eggs because there was not enough room left in the nursery.

Then we moved:

  • Queen Rosemary,
  • lots of nurse bees
  • a lot of closed brood
  • a little bit of open brood
  • a few empty frames, and
  • a second box containing mostly nectar and pollen, with a lot of wax-making bees

to a new box on a new bottom board, then put a feeder on top of it to keep them going until some of the newly-moved nurse bees graduate to “forager” status. According to the experts, all of the “old” foragers should wind up staying with the original location, so the hive in the new spot may need some feeding support for a little bit until they are ready to go and fetch their own meals.

If this works the way the books and the experts say it should, in a day or two the colony in the original location will realize that they are queenless and then behave exactly as if they had swarmed, raise up a new queen, and proceed with other honey flow/springtime operations just as they planned. If I did it right, they won’t feel like they need to swarm because they should feel like they already did.

*Fingers crossed*

SageAndRose
So, rather unexpectedly, we are back to two colonies again. Yay!

 

On the one hand, this is a completely random bit of comb being drawn not only between frames, but also between boxes.

On the other hand, I really like this picture.

Fat Bottomed Boys

Went in this afternoon to see how Rosemary is doing. Turns out, she’s doing pretty great.

And the drones have started to drone around. Found some drone brood, but a LOT of hatched drones tromping about.

Drone
See the big, clumsy looking one at about the 8 o’clock position?  His abdomen is so big his little sister could almost completely hide underneath him. 

 

MamaNSon
The Queen Mother is almost dead center on this pic. See her? But just below and slightly left of Her Highness is one of her pudgy sons. This one is very dark in color.

 

We also saw all the usual things we like to look for this time of year: open brood, closed brood, eggs, room for expansion, new wax being drawn. Some of that new wax was drawn messy and out of place. Chalk it up to excess enthusiasm.

GoldGlow
On the one hand, this is a completely random bit of comb being drawn not only between frames, but also between boxes. On the other hand, I really like this picture.

 

Did I mention EGGS!

Eggs
Okay these are pretty hard to see, stay with me here. In the middle of almost every one of those open comb cells is a little itty bitty white line. In some cells it appears as more of a white dot. Bee eggs are often described as “like a tiny grain of rice.” Do you see them?

 

This hive is so strong I will probably be going in to inspect at least every two weeks, just to watch for any hint they might get crowded and want to swarm. So watch this space for updates!

I didn't pull all the frames - just enough to make sure that the colony has a laying queen and looked disease-free. But the very first frame I pulled out, from the middle of the upper box ... boom, there she was. So, I guess that answers that question!

Early Spring Inspection

We finished up the North Carolina State Beekeeper’s Association (NCSBA) spring meeting yesterday in New Bern. I learned more in those three days than I have any chance of ever remembering, but at least I took copious notes.

Nancy Ruppert, state inspector for the Sandhills region, led a workshop on “Late Winter/Early Spring Management” and reminded me that the most likely time for a colony to starve is right now. There is pollen available to them, but no nectar – and the queen is (or should be) laying eggs like a madwoman, beginning to build up colony strength for the spring honey flow. So the bees are flying, nursing, doing a ton of work, but they don’t have enough carbohydrates (nectar/honey) to do it with. Nancy’s specific simile was “they should be eating like teenage boys.” Wow. I’ve had teenage boys. That’s some serious stuff right there.

Okay, I’m convinced. I was going to wait until the end of March or beginning of April to start regular inspections – I mean, it could still freeze, or even snow, so it’s not like winter is “over” yet. But between Nancy and Master Beekeeper Tia, I was persuaded to go have a look now. Big agenda items – give them the food that they need to get through this buildup, and make sure they have enough room so they don’t feel pressured to swarm.

I also got to test out my new hive stand that the Hubs built for me last week.

0_NewHiveStand
This was taken before we put the new stand in place, but it is actually UNDER the hive now. 

 

1_Entrance
There was a LOT of activity at the entrance, including several foragers coming home with very full pollen baskets. 

 

IMG_9190
In some cases, VERY full. Blows me away that she could fly like that. It looks like a Cessna is carrying a tank meant to be loaded on a C-130.

 

2_QuiltBox
We had added cedar chips to the ventilation top back in the fall, to absorb moisture and keep condensation from dripping on the cluster. We went ahead and removed that today.

 

3_EatingCandy
We also removed the candy board that I put on in December. They hadn’t eaten much of it, but clearly they are now beginning to eat some of it. Honestly, I probably could have left that in place and they would be fine, but I wanted them to have the syrup instead. Many experienced beekeepers claim that thin syrup is the ticket to get them to draw wax – and I very much want them to draw wax right now! It’s their natural instinct to draw wax this time of year anyways, so Yay! Nature!  Also, I would like to have some frames of drawn comb to get Thyme back up and running later this spring, since I lost all of last year’s comb to wax moths. (Boo! Nature!)

 

IMG_9212
Under the candy board – bees. LOTS of bees.

 

5_Queen
I didn’t pull all the frames – just enough to make sure that the colony has a laying queen and looked disease-free. But the very first frame I pulled out, from the middle of the upper box … boom, there she was. So, I guess that answers that question!

 

6_OpenBrood
Lots and lots of open brood in a nice tight pattern. Do you see Her Highness in this one?

 

7_ClosedBrood
And a frame mostly full of closed brood. She still had some room to lay eggs, but not a whole lot. Nancy and Tia were right – now seems a great time to add another box. They wouldn’t have to get too much more crowded than this to think about swarming!

 

9_NewBox
So I added a third box. I found some empty but fully drawn comb in the bottom box, so I put a frame of that in here, along with a frame of “drone sized” plastic foundation. I painted melted wax on the green drone frame last night, I want to see if the girls will draw it out. I figure, right now is their optimal “wax building” time, so this is my best shot at getting a proper drone brood mite trapping operation started.

 

10_Feeder
This is one of my same old feeders from last year, but the Hubs modified it to more of a Miller style (less float, more hardware cloth.) I want to see if there is any less drowning with this modification than there was with the floats.

 

 

IMG_9222
After all the chaos I created, moving things around, I guess these girls were concerned that some of their baby sisters might have been displaced – so they threw on the homing beacon to help everyone find their way in.

 

Honeycomb with webs and moth frass

What Happens When You Store Your Comb Improperly?

ew.

Conventional wisdom (a.k.a. most beekeeping books and most experienced beekeepers) warn that it is dangerous to store drawn wax comb, because of wax moths.

Those sources are absolutely correct.

Backstory: Since the last time I posted, we lost Thyme hive. It’s a bit of a long, depressing story, but the end of it is that Thyme was weakened by the events documented here, and then they were robbed by yellow jackets, and then they absconded. “Absconded” is bee-speak for “We have had it, we are out of here!” When conditions in a hive become too difficult, they pack up everything they can carry and just – leave. We saw the robbing on Sunday evening, put an entrance reducer on it, and by the time Hubs got home from work on Monday afternoon, Thyme hive was gone. Nothing left but a few stray yellow jackets and some badly damaged comb. We closed up the entrance with duct tape so the yellow jackets couldn’t get out, and plopped the whole hive into the freezer to kill ’em.

After two days in the deep freeze, we pulled it out and assessed it. All the frames that were drawn out wide or not straight, I went ahead and cut the wax out right away and rendered it down. But I saved out ten frames that were nice and straight, so that I could intersperse them with empty frames next year and encourage the girls to draw their new wax nice and straight.

While I was inspecting them, I did see some weird white worms in one or two of the cells.

And right there, y’all, is where my judgment EPIC FAIL began. I thought that those weird little worms might be wax moth larvae. I mean, like I said, Thyme had been weakened already, and wax moths do attack weakened hives. But they were not moving. They looked dead. I pulled them out, and then didn’t worry about them any more. I assumed that the two days in the deep freeze had killed them.

I left a hive box full of frames sitting on my dining room table for almost a month and a half, because procrastination is my superpower. They looked fine. And then, in an attempt to make the dining room table available for stuff – like dining, perhaps – I put it into a lockable plastic storage tub and stored it in a little-used room of our home.

Pop quiz!
Q:  What are conditions like inside a storage tub?
A: Warm, dark, with little to no ventilation.

Q: What kind of conditions do wax moths like best?
A: Dark, warm, poorly ventilated spaces. ¹

All y’all see where this is going, right?

It took less than two weeks.

Honeycomb with webs and moth frass
They didn’t do too much damage to this one, probably because there was not much debris from brood in this one. Apparently their favorite food/protein source is the cast larval “skins” that stay in the comb after the bee hatches out.  Oh, and that black stuff? It’s called “frass.” Yep. Moth poop.

 

Web
A big, ugly cluster of slimy, comb-destroying maggots, all webbed up and waiting for their chance to hatch out into grownup moths and make more icky maggots.

 

MaggotHead
If you look down near the bottom of this hideous mess, to the right of the tip of my knife, you can see the head of a maggot poking out. If you ever see a face like that in your hive, I recommend addressing it with violence and extreme prejudice.

 

Maggots
Maybe I’m overreacting, but these are pretty close to the most revolting creatures I’ve ever seen. Nasty, squirmy, ugly … EW! Once you get over the “ick” factor, look at the frame bars in the lower right corner. Where these beasts tucked themselves in to weave their little cocoons – they hollowed out GOUGES for themselves. In the wood. Of the frames. Seriously, who does that?!

1. http://www.clemson.edu/extension/beekeepers/publications/wax_moth_ipm.html

Royalty and Regicide in Rosemary Hive

It’s been a busy few weeks here at PeaceThyme. We just got back from a week in Georgia – one of our adult sons just graduated from Army basic training at Ft. Benning, so we went down to see the ceremony and to visit. Bonus points, we got to see one of the Daughters-in-Law and our ludicrously cute grandson in the bargain.

Before we went, we did go in and check out the hives. I was a bit concerned about Rosemary. Back when the bee inspector was here, he pointed out a queen cell on one of the frames. So we wanted to see if they had superseded yet, and how that was going for them.

Well, at that time – two weeks ago – it seemed to be going okay. We saw a lot of open brood, but no capped brood. That means that the queen had been laying for about a week, but had NOT been laying before that. We also saw the queen. Or at least, we saw a queen.

And we saw several queen cells, all opened. So it looked to us as though she had hatched out, mated, and was just beginning to do her baby-laying job.

Queen cell viewed from bottom - you can see that it's opened and there is no larva inside it.
Queen cell viewed from bottom – you can see that it’s opened and there is no larva inside it.
Yet another. We saw a total of four on this inspection.
Yet another. We saw a total of four queen cups on this inspection.

So – that was two weeks ago. We also added another box to Rosemary hive. So today I wanted to go in and see if they were drawing into that third box yet.

They were. And they have lots of nectar and honey stored, which is great. Not much pollen. But a lot of queens. Seriously. A lot. More royalty than a British tabloid. Including a regicide-in-progress.

First, we took the top box off and saw this on the frames of the middle box:

We initially saw a much bigger pile o' bees than this, but the hubs blew on them and smoked them to clear out the traffic so we could see what was going on - and see that there was a queen in the middle of the pile.
We initially saw a much bigger pile o’ bees than this, but the hubs blew on them and smoked them to clear out the traffic so we could see what was going on – and see that there was a queen in the middle of the pile. So we didn’t get a picture of the huge pile of bees that this started with. I’d estimate at least 30 workers were in the dogpile at the beginning.

That is a queen being “balled.” It’s a form of execution used for invading wasps/hornets, old or poorly performing queens, or newly introduced stranger queens that the hive does not accept. A pile of bees huddles around the queen, so closely that she overheats and dies. The pictures don’t do it justice – it was much more dramatic than this. There was initially about four times as many worker bees piled around her, before we cleared some of them out to see her exiled Highness.

They've given up, for now, and left her be - but I'm betting they came back to finish the job just as soon as I closed up the hive and stopped messing with them.
They’ve given up, for now, and left her be – but I’m betting they came back to finish the job just as soon as I closed up the hive and stopped messing with them.

Then, I started pulling frames out of that same middle box, and on the second frame I pulled we saw her:

Walking over her now capped brood, looking for the spot to lay her next egg.
Walking over her now capped brood, looking for the spot to lay her next egg.

And then, we went to pull off the middle box – and the hubs spotted a queen on the outside of the hive. Just walking around on the box, alone. Now, this may well have been the one whose execution we interrupted. That’s my best guess. But who knows. The hubs didn’t get a picture of her, because his hands were full with catching her and putting her back into the hive.

Then, in the bottom box … yet another.

 See her?
See her?

The queen in the bottom box was on the opposite side of the broodnest from the one upstairs. I don’t fully understand what is happening in this hive, but here are the possibilities as I understand them:

  1. They could be preparing to swarm. One healthy, accepted queen could be just hanging out, waiting for some unknown-to-humans signal to fly away with half of the workers in the colony. This seems unlikely to me, for a few reasons:
    1. It would be really unusual, although not unheard of, for a newly installed package to be strong enough to swarm after only three months.
    2. This was by far the weakest hive starting off – this is the one where half the colony froze to death the first night, and they just recently started getting caught up to Thyme, population-wise.
    3. In a swarming situation, the old queen keeps laying eggs until the new one is ready to hatch, and leaves right before her replacement hatches. So, at least according to one of the Master beekeepers in my local club, in a swarm situation there would not be two (or more!) queens in the hive.
    4. They have plenty of room. There are at least ten frames, some in the middle and some on the top box, that are either empty or only about 1/4 drawn out. Swarming usually happens when they feel crowded.
  2. They tried to supersede the old queen, but the new queen was not well-mated or not laying well (by whatever criteria bees judge these things) so they raised up another queen to replace her.
  3. They created several supersedure cells, and all of the emerging queens got well mated – and now either the bees will choose the best/healthiest and kill off the others, or the new queens will find each other and fight. That’s not really supposed to happen – the way the books describe it, whichever queen emerged and mated first should have killed off the others before they got that far. But the bees don’t read those books.

So either way, aside from having way too many queens (which is almost certainly a temporary situation) the hives look healthy and productive.

If you’re interested, here is some more information from Walt Wright about how bee colonies replace their queens via supersedure and/or swarming.

Multi-Function Inner Cover

*** Disclaimer *** I have no idea if this brilliant idea will work out as planned or not. I read various things that various beekeepers recommend on various beekeeper forums and in various bee books, and I thought to myself, “Self, I wonder if a lot of those various things couldn’t be accomplished with just one piece of gear?” To which my self replied, “Hmmmm … ”

*** Disclaimer Part II *** I may very well have seen this exact design developed by someone else somewhere in the virtual world and flat-out stolen it. I am not 100% comfortable claiming that this design is fully original. In fact, if anyone has seen this tchotchke before, or knows where my subconscious may have picked it up from, tell me in the comments and I will make sure whoever deserves credit gets it!

After the big “robbing / virus / whatever that was” kerfuffle at Thyme Hive, we put entrance reducers on both of the colonies set to their very smallest entrance. The next day, the hubs made robber screens for them. When we installed the robber screens, the girls had a very hard time finding their way back in. Okay, granted, that is the point of robber screens – to make entry very very difficult. The idea is that the bees who actually live there will be persistent and eventually find their way in, but the strangers who are just there to steal won’t.

Well, the girls from my colonies had more trouble finding their way in than I was comfortable with. After two days, there was at least a pound of bees clustered underneath the bottom screened board on each hive. Just – hanging there. They were close to their cluster, but they couldn’t seem to get in. So I took the robber screens off and put the entrance reducers back in. But there were still a bunch of “lost” girls hanging off the bottom screen. I brushed them off a few times, and some went in the entrance – but some didn’t. They went right back onto the bottom of the screen board. Even terribly smart animals can get confused when humans come along and fiddle about with their environment.

It does seem that the entrance reducers helped. There are still quite a few dead bees out front of Thyme, but we haven’t seen any fights in several days. But with the smallest entrance installed, there was a lot of traffic backing up on the landing board, and it’s been in the 90s all week so there was also a lot of bearding in the hottest part of the day. (Bearding is what you call it when the hive gets so hot inside that a whole bunch of bees come out and just sit on the outside of the box. Like Southerners sitting on the front porch drinking sweet tea. A lot of Southerners.)

So I decided the time had come for this build, to increase ventilation – especially in case I need to close off the screened bottom board for a while. I sketched this design (hold your criticism, I never claimed to be a draftsman!) for the hubs, and he built me two of these things. Actually, I just made this “drawing” (such as it is) in Skitch for blog purposes. What I gave him was even rougher, done in ink with a fountain pen on the back of an old insurance billing document. But he got the idea, anyways. He has become accustomed to my unconventional ways of communicating ideas. Good man.

Line drawing of screened box.
Just a rectangle made of 1×3″ boards, with screen stapled to the bottom. Another frame of 1×1 to hold the screen in place, with a small entrance at the front. 1″ ventilation holes drilled near the top edge, with screen stapled over them to keep critters out. Because nobody wants mouses in their hives!

My intent (we’ll see) is for these doohickies to serve as a combination of:

  • Upper entrance
  • Extra ventilation source
  • Quilt box in winter
  • Spacer for winter feedings
  • Sifter for powdered sugar dusting

Upper Entrance: Some beekeepers swear by top entrances. It increases ventilation and allow excess heat and moisture to escape, and there is some speculation that honey and pollen storage is enhanced by making it easier for the foragers to get to the food storage area without having to fight traffic all through the brood frames.

Extra Ventilation: Air movement is always good. In the summer the reasons are obvious, but even in winter airflow is pretty important to bees. They have at least one thing in common with me – they can tolerate coldness, but they cannot tolerate damp coldness. Cold water condensing on the roof of the hive and then dripping down onto the bees while they are trying to stay warm is a very, very bad thing. The 1″ holes drilled through the box should keep air moving along and give both heat and moisture a nice easy way out.

Quilt Box:  A quilt box is commonly used on a Warré style hive, but there are some reasonable arguments for using them on a Langstroth as well. They absorb even more of the moisture in the wintertime, further reducing the aforementioned cold-water drippage, and they buffer extremes in temperature. So when winter comes along, I plan to fill up the top of this box with wood shavings.

Spacer for Winter Feedings: If the bees don’t have enough honey saved up by the time the cold weather hits to get them all the way through the winter, I will need to give them either fondant or sugar emergency feedings. Both of those feed solutions go right on top of the frames, so normally you have to put a shallow super on to make space for the food. A normal inner cover doesn’t leave enough room to put anything on the top frames. With that 1″ of space below the screen, there will be plenty of room for food without a whole super’s worth of extra dead air space to try and heat.

Sifter for Powdered Sugar Dusting: Some beekeepers dust their bees with powdered sugar to control varroa mites. So far, most (but not all) of the available data indicates that this doesn’t work well enough to rely on, at least not without taking other measures to go with it. However, Randy Oliver at Scientific Beekeeping does advocate what he calls “whole-colony mite drop accelerated by sugar dust” as an effective way to monitor mite levels. Well, that’s a mouthful!

In simple, un-sciency terms, whenever I need to know what my mite levels are, I can use the screened box to apply powdered sugar to the hive like Don Kuchenmeister, the “Fat Bee Man,” does in this short video. The sugar will cause many of the mites who are on adult bees to lose their footing and fall off, and even more to be groomed off as the bees work to clean the sugar off of each other. Then, after 24 hours, I can look at my bottom sticky board under the screen and count mites. I should get a clearer picture of the real mite situation this way than if I just count how many mites fell off naturally, without the sugar to “help” them down.

So, this is what the boxes looked like when we went live with them earlier today:

Yes, that front piece of wood on the bottom is just a spare entrance reducer that we had laying around.
Yes, that front piece of wood on the bottom is just a spare entrance reducer that we had laying around.
Wow, hubs' handiwork looks a lot better than my lame Skitch sketch, doesn't it?
Wow, hubs’ handiwork looks a lot better than my lame Skitch sketch, doesn’t it?
All installed and ready for action!
All installed and ready for action!
Even without honey supers, this hive is getting tall. I may be shopping for a stepladder soon.
Even without honey supers, this hive is getting tall. I may be shopping for a stepladder soon.