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Bee Journal

Howdy! I decided to put my beekeeping journal online. In this journal, I'll record our hive's progress, with notes about the dates for feeding and types of treatments used. 

January 26, 2024

Our bees survived the 9-degree temperatures we had a couple weeks ago. I believe it's due to the extra ventilation we made in the hives in the fall. We added an upper hive entrance (the entrance is a tiny slit toward the top of the hive that allows the bees to come and go). We did this because if the bees die, they tend to fall to the bottom and their little corpses pile up in front of the main hive entrance, sealing off the entrance and blocking the airflow. We also added a quilt box to the top of the hive with pine bedding in it and put a small hole in it with a screen across so that there would be a vent. We've learned that ventilation is necessary because of all the moisture that builds up inside the hive from the bees generating warmth. The moisture collects on the ceiling of the hive and then drips down on the bees. The bees then get cold and will freeze to death. With ventilation, there is not as much condensation buildup, so the bees tend to not get wet.

The weather has recently warmed up, getting into the low 50s during the day. A couple days ago, the sun came out, and hundreds of honey bees were flying around. Both hives had a decent amount of activity with bees coming and going. I felt jubilant, knowing that our bees survived the lowest temperatures we've had in this area for decades. 

January 7, 2023

I've been hesitant to admit this because it's a "no-no" in the world of beekeeping, but I added heat to the Warre hive. After losing two of our hives due to the cold (the poor bees froze to death), I figured we might try offering heat to the last remaining hive in case it actually helps. These are California bees used to warm weather year-round. They aren't bred to survive the cold, damp weather we have up here during the winter. So, I put a seedling heat mat up inside the quilt box (the top box that has pine shavings in it) in their hive. Then, I sealed everything up with duct tape, put the Reflectix wrap back around the hive, and gave it a week or so to see what happened.

On Wednesday (three days ago), the outside temperature reached 55 degrees, so I took the top off the hive and looked inside. Were the bees okay? They sure were. They are eating a bit more, but as long as I feed them regularly (once a week or once every other week), I think they should survive. I added more solid sugar to their feeder box, put some honey on a piece of paper in the feeder box, and closed it all up again. The seedling heat mat gets about 10 degrees F warmer than the room temperature. I was afraid it would be too warm, but it wasn't. It warmed things up just a little bit. Since it's inside the hive, the bees should still be able to sense the outside temperature, as the walls of the hive down lower are still going to be cold. The only heat is up at the top, where the bees often cluster. If they go to the bottom, where the entrance is located, they can tell that it's cold out.

The concerns that the beekeeping community has about heating hives during the winter are:
  • The bees won't "shut down," meaning the queen will continue laying eggs. The problem with this is that they have to keep the eggs warm, which means bees need to be distributed all around the hive where the eggs are located. Also, the larvae need to be fed, so the colony will go through their winter stores faster.
  • If power is lost, the larvae will die, and any bees dispersed around the hive to feed the larvae may not stay warm enough, so you risk losing the entire hive if this happens. Adult bees cannot survive temperatures lower than about 38-40 degrees. Larvae die if they're not continuously kept 90-98 degrees F.
  • If the bees go through their stores too quickly and you don't check often enough, they could starve to death.
  • If the bee colony is growing during the winter because the queen is laying eggs and the nurse bees are feeding the young larvae, they may grow beyond the size of their hive before winter is over.  This means we may have a swarm situation while it's still too cold. If the bees swarm and it gets too cold out, they won't be able to disperse from their swarm cluster and go into the new hive. So, the swarm could die from the cold. Although, if we see the swarm happening, we can try capturing them and putting them into the new hive. Or, if we see what's happening and set out the new hive early enough, they might go into it while it's still warm enough.
  • The bees don't know that it's actually cold outside. However, this issue occurs more often when people wrap heat tape around the exterior of the hive. In our case, we put the heat mat inside the quilt box at the top, so the heat is technically inside the hive. The bees generate their own heat inside the hive as well, so it seems to me that the heat mat is adding to their own interior heat; it's not acting as exterior heat. This is why I believe the bees will be able to tell that the outside temperature is too cold for going out, especially since their entrance/exit point is at the furthest point from the heat mat.
Anyway, I realize there are risks, but after losing two giant hives and just one hive left, we wanted to try this method to see if we could help the Warre hive overwinter successfully. If they do swarm, we won't have to buy more bees since we'll be back where we started with two hives of bees.

December 26, 2022

Hive #2 has died.😭 It was a very strong hive earlier in the year. I am pretty sure the bees died due to the cold. Their cluster grew too small. 

We spent the afternoon disassembling the hive, freezing some of the full frames of honey and extracting others. We also melted the beeswax from the frames that were extracted.

Based on the amount of honey in the hive, we got out of it at least as much as we put in, in terms of cost for bees and feed, versus value of honey. I am not counting equipment since the equipment can be used again for many more years.

December 23, 2022

The Warre hive is still going pretty well, but we're not sure whether Hive #2 has made it through the extreme cold. It's harder to observe Hive #2 because it has a robbing screen for its entrance, which blocks it more fully, and also, the hive is larger, so the bees could be higher up inside the hive where it's harder to hear or observe them. That said, I suspect the bees are still alive in Hive #2, based on the number of dead bees in the bottom each day (I scrape them out) and how there is moisture on the dead bees. I'm beginning to understand that lots of bees die of attrition over the winter (they get old or cold), and so dead bees every day is perhaps a normal thing to see. It would not be moist inside the hive if bees weren't alive. The moisture is there because bees are alive in the hive, trying to keep warm.

We weren't sure if the bees needed heat during the extreme cold; since it was going to get down to 11 degrees a couple nights ago, we thought we should put seedling heat mats up under the Reflectix insulation to help warm the hives. Then, I read online about all the drawbacks to providing heat, such as the bees thinking it's spring and the queen starting to lay eggs, and the bees becoming more active and eating their stored honey faster, all of which would devastate them this time of year. So, we took the heat mats off just a few hours after putting them on.

Then, I noticed bees coming out of the Warre hive today when it got sunny (even though it was only 36 degrees out) and flying about 10 feet away, falling to the ground and dying in the snow because it was too cold. So, I decided to block their entrance so they couldn't do that. We left for a couple hours, and when we returned, a bunch of bees had gathered at the entrance and were pushing the piece of wood away so they could get out. And they were very angry! They were buzzing loudly in an alarming way.  Bees then fell down into the snow. So, I removed the piece of wood so their entrance was no longer blocked, scooped up a few bees that had fallen to the snow and put them back near the entrance, and then I scattered a bunch of straw on the ground outside the hive entrance so that if bees flew out and fell, at least they wouldn't immediately freeze on the snow. What an ordeal! Those poor bees!

After all this failed effort, I guess it's best to just let them "bee," rather than trying to help since my efforts actually aren't helping them at all - I think my efforts are actually causing problems. The bees will live or die based on how strong the hive is, and we'll just hope for the best.

December 7, 2022

Hive #1 has died. It was sunny during part of the day, and the other two hives had bees coming and going. There was no activity at all with Hive #1, which we'd noticed this same situation on two other occasions recently when it was sunny out. So, I removed the robbing screen from the entrance to the hive and discovered that the hive entrance was completely packed with dead bees. I got a garden stake and scraped out the entrance area, removing many dead bees. With the entrance cleared, I still didn't see any evidence of living bees. So, I removed the Reflectix wrap from the entire hive and took the outer and inner covers off the top of the hive. There were a few dead bees in the sugar at the top of the hive. I removed all the sugar and began digging deeper and deeper into the hive. There were only a few bees here and there on the frames, all dead. The vast majority of the bees covered the bottom board of the hive, dead in a big wide pile. 

The hive was full of honey, all still good since we discovered this so early. I contacted Greg at our local beekeeper's association to get some help confirming the cause of the dead-out and ensuring that the honey left by the bees was safe for us to consume. Based on how they died and the fact that the inside of the hive was so clean (there was no evidence of mites, disease, bacteria, pests, or any other issues), it appears that the cause of the die-out was the cold. The population in the hive was probably not large enough to generate enough warmth so they could survive the 24-30 degree weather we've been having at night. Basically, they all froze to death, the ones on the outside of the cluster dying one night, then the next outer layer dying the next night, and so on, each layer falling to the bottom board. The hive was dry and well-sealed, and with the outside temps keeping the dead bees refrigerated or frozen, the honey and wax were in perfect condition. 

Hive #1 was the hive that had the swarm in late spring. It grew kind of weak after the swarm left, never thriving like the other two hives. Based on the number of dead bees, I think the hive had about 10,000 bees in late fall, and with attrition, that apparently wasn't enough to keep them going. It's also possible the young queen that emerged following the swarm didn't mate enough to be able to produce the number of eggs needed to grow the hive over the summer. 

We've been busy cleaning the hive parts for storage, extracting honey, and rendering wax. We saved 7 full frames of honey in the freezer for giving back to our remaining hives (assuming they survive) or to a new hive (if our other two hives die over the winter, we'll likely get more bees in the spring). Another bunch of frames had wax comb and stored pollen that we will also use in hives next spring, and these could just be put into a storage box and kept in a cold room of our house. Last, I extracted a few frames of honey. It amounted to three pint-sized jars. We are also in the process of rendering the wax from the honey frames we extracted (plus the burr comb I'd saved over the past 2 years). 

The entire task, from discovering the dead bees to getting all of it cleaned up and stored, has been exhausting since it had to be taken care of immediately. We were up late cleaning up the mess in the kitchen afterward (I can't believe we cleaned a dead hive inside our house, but that's what we had to do since it's so cold out). But I'm grateful we didn't lose everything. And I feel so bad about those dead bees. They were good bees. RIP, my little bee friends. 💔🐝😢

October 19, 2022

We insulated all three of our hives using Reflectix wrap. We still need to swap out the sugar syrup feeders with solid sugar, but we'll do that in a few more days while they empty the sugar water that is currently in the feeders. I read that once it gets down to 57 degrees F during the warmest part of the day on a regular basis, you can switch to solid sugar.

September 5, 2022

We extracted our first frame of honey today. I should have looked at the frame more closely before keeping that one, as about half of it was uncapped honey that had not been fermented long enough, so it was still clear and not usable for us. That part we left in the frame and put back outside for the bees to find and take. The rest I scraped into a mesh strainer set over a bowl, and we soon had the nicest, cleanest, sweetest honey! We filled four and a half jelly jars!

For later reference, I wanted to take note of the method we used for pulling the frame out of the hive and getting the bees off of it. The method was suggested by Mark at our local beekeeper's association. First, we used the smoker. Paul smoked all around me as I was working. I guess that should be obvious, but we often go into the hive without the smoker. The amount of disruption required using smoke as the bees came at me pretty angrily a number of times. Second, I sprayed 1:1 sugar water on the bees using a new/clean spray bottle. This caused the bees not to be able to come back at me in anger when I knocked them off the frame. Then, I gave the bottom edge of the frame a good hard thump against the bench that the hive sits on. The bees fell onto the bench and lay there because they had sugar water on their wings. 

Then, we put the frame that was now empty of bees into a big plastic bin and put the lid on. 

I wish we had taken one more frame because I'm pretty sure they would be okay without it. We might go into the hive again in a couple weeks and take one more frame.

It was late morning on a warm day, so the bees that had sugar water on their wings had plenty of time to clean themselves up and get back into the hive.

I had been afraid that wasps and other robbers would try to get into the hive, but this didn't really happen. We only saw one wasp, and I think the smoke made it fly away.

July 18, 2022

Today we treated all three hives for varroa mites. They got a thorough treatment, even in the new hive, which was harder to figure out how to burn the oxalic acid inside there because of the way a Warre hive is constructed. The entrance was too small to fit the burner wand inside, so we had to set the wand inside the top of the hive and then cover it with a board and a towel.

We have been feeding the new swarmed hive regularly with 1:1 syrup at the advice of the local beekeepers association. We've also attended another monthly meeting of the beekeepers. They are very helpful!

The other two hives we have not been feeding very much since there is so much available to forage. We went into the hives two weeks ago and there wasn't much there to collect.  So, we left the few frames of honey in there for the bees. Greg with the beekeepers association said that he waits until the first week of September to gather honey, if at all.

We're currently learning what to do for the bees over the winter. The bees are given either granulated sugar (in solid form) or fondant. You can simply put a piece of newspaper on top of the frames, put a big ol' pile of sugar on it, and then put the covers on the hives. For water in the winter, the bees drink the condensation that forms on the inside of the hive.

June 24-26, 2022

One of the hives swarmed, and we captured the swarm in an empty hive that we put adjacent to the house by the garage. See the articles from June 24 and June 26.

June 22, 2022

Fed both hives. They were both empty of 1:1 food. Hive #1 has slightly more bees than hive #2, but both hives are jam packed with bees.  Talked to a neighbor down the road who is new here and is keeping bees as well. They lost one hive but their other hive is doing okay. They think the hive that collapsed was because they had sprayed something that got too close to the hive. I didn't ask what they were spraying, but really, no one who has hives should spray anything since it can kill the hives. And it's not good to spray stuff like that anyway.

There are so many flowers on our property. The latest thing to come into full bloom is the sage. It's covered with all kinds of bees and yesterday afternoon I was standing there watering the peas that were growing next to the sage, and a giant monarch butterfly landed right next to me on the sage. It was ginormous and had yellow and black wings.  We have an abundance of pollinators on our property.

June 15, 2022

Fed the bees again. There are so many bees in the hives! Both boxes in each hive are full of bees. They are very active. There are bees everywhere in the garden and they sometimes land on me or crash into my head, which is unpleasant because then they get tangled up in my hair.

June 12, 2022

Attended our first local beekeepers association meeting. They had discontinued meetings during the pandemic.  They recommended feeding the bees still; we had slowed down due to warmer weather and an abundance of flowers. We noticed our bees are out a lot foraging. But, we went ahead and fed them today. Both hives are about 3/4 full. We should feed again in a few days.

June 7, 2022

Treated with oxalic acid for varroa mites.  We could hear the queen bee in each hive. The queens were making a periodic loud buzz/whine noise, called piping. The queen does this to inform the worker bees and any others nearby that she's in charge. Sometimes it means there's a second queen that emerged from a cell (she was laid intentionally because the other queen was declining) - and if that's the case, it can either mean that the two queens in the hive will fight to the death, or that the other queen already has died.

There were lots of bees in the hives. I'm a little bit afraid of them. They are more active and assertive than last year's bees.  We are still caring for them without using the smokers.  We're taking a minimal, hands-off approach, just feeding and treating them is all.  At some point, though, we'll want to consider harvesting some honey. I'm not sure how exactly we'll take the hives apart to do that.  We can rent equipment for extracting honey from our local beekeepers association.

May 31, 2022

Fed the bees. Both feeders are nearly full. Lots of bees in the super and they are building comb in several of its frames.

May 26, 2022

Fed the bees. Hive #1 is full but once again hive #2 is only part-way full. The bees eat a lot. Gave them more homemade pollen patties. They are very busy, lots of bees, and the super (upper boxes) have lots of bee activity.  Their populations seem to be growing.  Lots of activity at the entrance to the hives every day.  You have to watch out in the garden because there are thousands of bees flying around. Fortunately, so far, they seem happy to do their own thing. The main concern is that they don't crash into you when you're in the garden. 

May 22, 2022

Fed the bees at 3pm. Filled hive #1 with 1:1 syrup, but only had enough to fill hive #2 half-way.  We'll need to feed them more in a few days.  Also, we noticed they need more pollen patties - I'll make some tomorrow and put it in the top, since that's not a very disruptive task. I don't want to disturb them more than necessary.
Hive #1 had burr comb on the underside of the inner cover. I was successful in scraping it off without gettng stung.  Both hives had LOTS of bees, although they were not at all aggressive today. It was 58 degrees and overcast out.

May 19, 2022

Varroa mite treatment in p.m. for both hives.

May 15, 2022

Filled both hive feeders almost all the way to the top. Put the super on hive #2 and scraped off a big section of burr comb from the inner cover. Ran like crazy as the bees came flying off there.  I am wearing my husband's camouflage pants over the top of my jeans to protect me from the bees.  I just cinched the waist tight with a belt.  

There were lots of bees in both hives.  We need to do a varroa mite treatment, but it's been rainy this afternoon.  We will try to treat them tomorrow.

May 10, 2022

Fully filled both hive feeders and did the varroa mite treatment with oxalic acid.  We are late doing the treatment due to our misfortune of getting stung and not wanting to harass the bees for a few days.  I haven't seen any mites and the bees seem healthy.

May 6, 2022

Fed hive #1 and put the super on. Didn't have enough 1:1 syrup prepared to fully fill hive #2 and also I got stung (see the article about this!).

I wasn't able to add the queen excluder due to their aggressiveness and my cowardice.  So we will do without it this year and see what happens.

May 2, 2022

Since the second hive feeder was only half-full last time I fed the bees, I filled both hive feeders all the way to the top today.

The hives are really full of bees and they continue to build burr comb along the top of the frames.  I think I should put a super on the hive later this week sometime, probably when I feed them next.

May 1, 2022

We administered the first oxalic acid treatment using a vaporizer/fogger (it's a metal wand with a cup on the end; oxalic acid is powdered and you just put a 1/4 teaspoon in the cup and it heats up and vaporizes into the hive). Somehow we managed to administer the treatment without catching the hives on fire or burning ourselves, or hurting our lungs from breathing in the acid. The bees also survived, yay!

Normally you repeat the treatment every 5 days for a total of 4 times to get all the bees/mites in various stages of development.  Next treatments will be:
  • Friday, 5/6
  • Wednesday, 5/11
  • Monday, 5/16

April 30, 2022

Fed the bees: filled hive #1, but didn't make enough to quite fill hive #2. I'll have to add more tomorrow.  Removed the huge amount of burr comb from both hives (I left too much of a gap) and inserted the remaining frames to fill the hives.  In hive #2, two of the famed are sagging about a half-inch (they slid off the edge of the frame on one side), which will be a problem later, but it would disrupt the hive too much to fix it now. Removed the empty queen cages.

I spilled sugar and honey all over the ground around both hives. I think I'll water it deeply into the ground tonight to help prevent ants.

Lots of bees in both hives. They are very active inside. It's been slightly cold and they are only out when the sun is shining.  Hoping I didn't kill either queen during today's disruption to the hives. Since the honeycomb we removed only had honey in it, the queens were probably not hanging out in that area.

If they keep up production at this pace, I should be able to add another box to the hive soon, or a super.

April 26, 2022

Fed the bees during lunch at about 11:45 a.m. Very light rain and 51 degrees F.  They are mostly all in the hive bunched together holding hands to keep warm.  I slid the cover aside just enough to get to the interior feeder, and poured slightly warm sugar water (1:1 sugar and water) into the feeder. The feeders were nearly empty in both hives, so it was a good thing I fed them today!  They each went through almost a gallon of syrup in less than 3 days.  

To make enough sugar water for both hives, I boiled 16 cups of water, and then poured in 16 cups of sugar, stirring until it's all dissolved.  Some of the water evaporates when it boils so this comes to a stronger ratio than 1:1, but it's good enough. Next, I let the mixture cool to room temperature. Then, I poured it into two giant plastic juice containers with pour spouts on them, which makes it easy to dispense into the hive feeders.

Since the weather is cold still (in the 40s and 50s), I also poured white sugar on the inner cover (about a half-cup in each hive), so that they had something solid to eat.  Bees won't eat the sugar water if the liquid is too cold.

In hive #1, I noticed that the queen cage was empty. So, she successfully made her way out into the hive, yay! I couldn't see the queen cage in the second cage (too many bees in the way), so I'm not sure about the other queen, but everything looked okay otherwise.  There were lots of bees in both hives and they seemed lively and healthy just from a quick glance.

April 23, 2022 

Today we installed our two packages of Italian honeybees into their hives.  It was about 55 degrees and sunny outside; there was no rain today, and it's supposed to be sunny tomorrow. We used the 10-frame Langstroth hives that my father-in-law, Richard, built. I removed several frames so there would be room to dump all the bees, plus two frames were removed to put an interior feeder. The hive frames were already built up with wax and pollen from last year's bees.  Both packages arrived in good condition, and the queens were alive. I had intended to put in the remaining frames late this afternoon, but the bees were all holding hands and attached to the top inner cover, making it practically impossible. So it's probably best to leave them alone after they are installed, at least until the next day.  Otherwise, everything seemed to go okay.

They will need more sugar water on the day after tomorrow (Monday).