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Life With 8 Beehives

Just an FYI: if you are at CONvergence this weekend, Mr. Neil and I have donated some comb honey and a rusty chipped hive tool (which could be used as a terrifying weapon or shank if one runs in those circles) to the silent auction.  Both items have been autographed by Mr. Neil and our comb honey took the blue ribbon at the county fair last year.  And the autograph on the honey is actually on the clear plastic case and not on the honey itself.

Part of me was kind of freaking out at the idea that we would have 8 beehives this summer, but thanks to the combination of several people on the bee team and a bit more of a “hands off” approach to beekeeping, it’s going okay.  After our first summer when we took such heroic efforts to keep our two hives going and still had one fail miserably and then last summer leaving a hive I thought was about to fail to do what it will and have it come through the winter stronger than ever, I’m more and more inclined to leg go and let bee.

The biggest news to report is that my dear, sweet Non Birding Bill finally got stung–his first time in all the years we’ve been doing this.  As it was his first sting and they tend to be worst, I must say that he took it with much more grace than I did.  His ankle was a bit sore and he did have some musings that he was turning into half man/half bee but after I sang a few phrases of Billy the Half A Bee, he decided against it.

We are attempting the bees in a bell jar feat again.  Last summer, the bees removed the starter wax and the jar was full of condensation rather than a cool waxy looking sculpture.  Hans thought it might be a good idea to drill some holes in the bell jar to aid in ventilation.  We checked on the progress and found bees running around inside the jar.

The bell jar bees did what a sensible bee will do with a ventilation hole–they filled it with propolis.  After watching all of the activity in the jar, I’m still not certain if they were removing the foundation wax to use in other parts of the hive or seriously drawing it out.  Only time will tell, but this hive also has honey supers on it, so if they don’t do the bell jar, they will make us some honey.

We checked our four new hives and three were excellent.  One has had a total queen failure.  There’s no new brood and no eggs.  They have not drawn out comb and filled their box the way the other new hives have–only three frames are full and there appears to be far too many drones–I suspect egg laying workers.  Our four hives from the winter were all going strong and it looked like our red hive had recently gone through a swarm.  Mr. Neil noted that there were still a few unhatched queen cells in the red hive and suggested we add one to the failing new hive.  I was inclined not to but we really had nothing to lose by putting one in.  I felt that it would just delay the inevitable end of this new hive but on the other hand–not all of the queen cells would be able to survive in the swarm, so  maybe we could give a queen a chance in a new hive.

I did notice that when we took out the frame for a queen cell from the red hive that I wasn’t seeing much in the way of eggs or young larvae in that hive.  I do have a bit of concern for the red hive but that hive seems to know what it’s doing.  So we put a new queen cell in the failing hive, although without brood, I do not have high hopes it will work. But hey–if we only lose one hive–we still have 7 others going strong.

15 comments to Life With 8 Beehives

  • I love these beekeeping posts :)

  • Jess

    Beekeeping is really kinda nuts. But that’s what makes it awesome.

  • Gonzobrarian

    Agreed. Fascinating. May I have some more?

  • I recently dumpster dove a group of bee boxes, several of which had very old frames in them. My intention was to clean it up, melt out any usable wax, and just use the empty boxes decoratively in the back yard (we are not allowed to keep bees in town)… I have had them in the yard for a few weeks now and a couple days ago my husband excitedly called me out to the yard.

    There were hundreds of honey bees flying in and out of the frames. I feared a swarm had landed, but there did not quite seem to be enough. It was very exciting because it was only the second time in 13 years we had seen honey bees in our yard. I was also extremely concerned because this was not a viable spot for them to settle.

    My dad used to keep bees and I knew I needed to dismantle the frames as quickly as possible. We waited till it got cold and dark and I went back out to take everything apart. Thank goodness all the bees had departed on their own. Once I started pulling out the frames though I found that they had been filling the empty combs with honey. I was sad about the whole thing, but glad to know bees were still in the area.

    I think I need to find someone to take my boxes and frames though. I don’t want to frustrate any more bees. I like them way too much :)

    Thanks for your wonderful stories a amazing pictures. They are the highlight of my day.

  • Ansel of the bees and books

    You may wish to simply order a queen. It beats losing a whole hive. Ordered queens will come with attendants and generally do quite well in my experience.

  • We do not have good luck requeening–we’ve tried several times and have ordered queens. I’m more to the point now with a hive that if the queen fails or the bees ball her whatever else can go wrong–f*ck ‘em. I’m tired of the time and emotional investment of requeening and having it fail.

  • Lori,

    I think what you had were robber bees. We’ve seen bees raid the garage where we store old bee equipment and they remove all of the old honey. Honeybees would not take the time to deposit nectar and pollen in a hive they weren’t living in (also, it takes a few days for the nectar to form into honey).

    On another note, I do not recommend dumpster diving for beehives. Used equipment runs too high of a risk of having a disease transmittable to bees–there’s usually a reason beehives are in a dumpster. Start with fresh equipment, the risk of a disease getting your new bees or a neighbor’s hives who are robbing an old beehive is just too great a risk.

  • Birdchick… thanks I never had intended on using them for bees… just as a sort of memory of my childhood with bees in my back yard. The fact that some honeybees actually came and were active made made me rethink that whole thing. I know how horrible disease can spread through a hive and I worked quickly to remove any semblance of an invite to any other bees.

    These frames and boxes will be going into refuse as soon as possible.

    Oh and they definitely were depositing nectar. It seemed like very strange behavior to me. They had sealed off several sections of old comb which leaked basically thickened clear sticky stuff (I believe nectar).

    Long ago I thought I would again keep bees, but life has sort of taken a more urban turn.

  • Charlie Gassaway

    If the Belljar thing doesn’t work this time, maybe you should try a Top Bar Hive. It’s like their own man-made hollow log. I built mine with an observation window in one side and it’s fascinating to watch them do their thing without having been smoked or otherwise disturbed. They are also amazingly mellow, I work mine without smoke or veil

  • Margaret

    These beekeeping posts are very interesting. The bell jar thing sounds cool too. I was just thinking that it might work even without foundation. We took some frames out of our new hive to make room for the queen cage and didn’t put them back in soon enough. When we came to remove the queen cage, there were two huge wax structures in place of the missing frames.

  • Looking at the Belljar in the pictures, I realised he has twice as many foundations (12) as we do (6), which may be why they tend to clean ours off rather than build on it…

  • Ah–that is interesting!

  • Steve

    He loved him carnally. Semi-carnally