Tuesday, September 11, 2012
Hives and Queens and Honey -- Oh My!
I've been keeping bees for two years and I am still such a novice. The perfect example? My Lotus hive.
This summer something wasn't quite right with the Lotus gals; they were crabby whereas previously they had been gentle and easy. A hive inspection revealed several supercedure cells. These cells are meant to replace a queen; either because something has happened to her or because she hasn't been performing up to expectations (i.e. you're fired!).
I put on a honey super thereby giving them more room and otherwise left the bees alone. My hope was that the hive would produce a new queen and continue on its merry way. In retrospect that was a bit naive. Live and learn.
Three weeks ago the bees swarmed. This is awful late in the season for a swarm. I tried to catch them but they absconded. Shortly thereafter I noticed a significant decrease in activity from the Lotus hive. Hmmm.
Today, with a little motivational nudge from Soulemama, I once again inspected the hive. NOT good. There were only two frames of bees with no eggs and no brood. They had a small amount of uncapped honey but not much. It appears they've been queenless for some time and I should have intervened much earlier. So much for hands off. I took down the top super bringing the hive down to a single box and decided to inspect the Dragonfly hive.
The Dragonfly gals were thriving. They'd filled two deep supers and were in need of more room. I pulled two frames of capped honey from this box and replaced them with two frames of uncapped honey from the Lotus hive. Then I put the cover back on.
Of course the capped frames were still swarming with bees. I shook the bees off the frames in front of the hive and brushed off any remaining bees. This maneuver was surprisingly successful and the bees didn't seem particularly upset. I placed the beeless frames in an empty cardboard nuc brought them inside for extracting.
I don't have an extractor and it looked like this was all the honey I was going to get. Therefore I decided to go with the crush and strain method of extraction. All the honey and wax was scraped down into a pan. Then it was strained through a standard kitchen strainer set over a large pyrex measuring cup (eight cup capacity). The strained honey was poured into the jars you see above; a mishmash of what I had available.
During the extraction process I saw a varroa mite which did not make me happy.
After extraction the better part of my afternoon was spent online researching mite infestations and queenlessness. As for the queenlessness my best bet appears to be to combine the two hives for the winter. Even with a new queen the weak hive likely won't be able to build enough stores to survive. Thus I'll combine them tomorrow using newspaper.
As for the mites? I need to control the mites but would like to be as natural as possible. I'm going with hops and essential oils. I ordered a set of hop guard strips and a Winter Bee Kind Candy Board which is infused with Honey B Healthy. We shall see how that goes.
Next spring I'll have to decide if I want to split the hives or simply order a new set of bees. Decisions, decisions.
Beekeeping has not been a profitable endeavor. However I enjoy keeping bees and feel like I'm doing something positive for the environment. The honey I've harvested makes me terribly proud (as if I had anything to do with its production).
Harvesting makes me want to put up several more hives. Unfortunately only two are allowed per suburban lot. I briefly thought about putting a couple of hives at my parent's place but they didn't seem to keen on the idea.
For now I'll keep on keeping and keep on learning. And perhaps in years to come I'll add more hives; maybe even on my own small farm.