If you have been following the farm you know we seem to lose 50% of the bees we purchase to cold weather or swarming.Swarming occurs when the bees either lose their queen or the queen decides she doesn’t like her hive. They all follow her on a hunt for a better home. The swarming also seems to be related to the crazy weather. The weather here in unkind. The temperature commonly can start at 80 degrees in the morning and drop all the way down to freezing in the same day. Then there is the wind that seems to range between 10 and 30 mph routinely. Bees really need almost no wind and prefer 53 degrees before they leave the hive to collect their pollen and water. In reality they end up stuck in the hive many days.
Last year we purchased 4 hives and ended up with 2 surviving, continuing our 1/2 hive success rate. We also found that the bees were building comb in strange places and every time we needed to get in to help the bees with food, etc, we were having to break and remove comb. If you were the bees you would probably be frustrated too! We are getting 2 new packages of bees this year and want to try something new to hopefully keep them happy.
Rather than setting up the standard 2 hive boxes each with 8 pre waxed frames, we custom built only 7 longer foundationless frames that extend all the way down through both of the 2 hive boxes. The bees now have a larger space with fewer frames that are completely blank so they can choose to build their comb any way they want. The idea is to give them something that is more natural and let them build their home the way they want. We won’t be able to get into their hive as much but building custom windows on the outside of the hive will allow us to peak in and determine if the bees are still healthy. Since we extract the honey with a Flow Hive rather than tearing out their comb there should be no reason for us to need to enter the hive anyway. If you are not familiar with the Flow Hive look it up on our earlier posts or do a search online.
Ironically when the bees arrived for pick up we once again had 3 days of rain/snow mix we had to deal with. While we were worried they may die from exposure they really didn’t want to leave the hive once we got them in. They started to work on comb building immediately. This in itself is an improvement from previous starts. We are crossing our fingers.
We are starting to get used to the challenges of keeping bees in the volatile weather of the high plains. We purchased 4 new bee packages in the spring and two of them either swarmed or combined with another hive. We still call it a win. The two existing hives were doing so well we were able to get 7 jars of honey their first year! It was much lighter in color and taste but it was nice to see how productive they were.
Since this is the bees first winter we wanted to give them a little extra help. We found a recipe online for a fondant you can make for bees for over wintering them. Fondant is preferred over sugar water as it keeps the moisture level down inside the hive. Moisture mixed with cold weather equals frostbite. Fondant is made out of sugar, water and a little apple cider vinegar for probiotics. You cook it just as you would cook candy, pouring it onto trays of parchment paper once it reaches the correct temperature. Once hardened you lay the slabs on top of the frames inside the beehive.
You can watch us deliver the fondant on the farm’s YouTube Channel:
If you have been following us we have had some bad luck in keeping bees alive in our unpredictable climate. We started the first year with two hives. One died off and one thrived. The second year we purchased two more hives but a couple days later we had a late snow storm that took out one of the hives and the second one eventually died not being strong enough to overcome the damage from the storm. The thriving hive gave us lots of fantastic honey but then swarmed and left after an early snow storm. We put out swarm bait in clean new swarm traps but they never came back. So no bees left! The harsh environment makes keeping bees a challenge, but we aren’t going to give up.
This year we are stacking the odds in our favor by increasing the number of hives to four. Since we are buying so many bees this time we decided to forego the Nukes we’ve purchased in the past. Nukes are considered more established than just a box of bees because they have frames the bees already set up, but they are much more expensive. Not only did boxes save us money but since we haven’t had good luck with the bees we received in Nukes it couldn’t hurt to try something different.
Bees are only delivered once a year to retailers so we are told what day we are going to pick them up. Delivery day is interesting because everyone picks up their bees at the same time and everyone has a different level of experience. Some people arrive in protective gear and some just grab their bee boxes with bare hands. In the end, nobody got stung. Keep in mind that the boxes are a wire cloth so it’s not unusual for bees to get out. The good thing is they like to stay with their hive mates so they will hang close to the box. You always have a few bees flying freely in your car when you take them home. Some people wear their entire bee suit all the way home!
Now it may seem a little rough but the way to get bees out of a box and into their new hive is to pop the top off and shake them out! When you watch the video it looks a little mean but it’s really the way it’s done. And we are a little nicer by tapping the boxes on it’s edge or corner to keep from crushing bees. We try to save every last bee.
The queen is actually in it’s own tiny box that you uncork and replace with a marshmallow, letting the queen chew her way out. You want to give the queen and bees a little time to get to know each other before she gets out. The queen was just introduced when they boxed them up for sale. If they don’t accept the queen they could kill her. Just another risk you have when buying a box rather than a Nuke.
This year we decided to pick a different area to set up the hives it’s surrounded by trees and not as deep in the valley where the winds can get brutal. The installs went well and we are crossing our fingers! Let’s see how they do this year.
When I take videos of the bees I have to take off at least one glove. The bees are everywhere during the install and this time one landed in my hand and did not look very happy. I won’t spoil the surprise but it did scare me a little!
Watch the bee install on the farm’s YouTube Channel:
We finally made our trip to the bee keeping store! We had a wonderful fashion show trying on bee suits. Here is the final choice we made. Not a lot of zippers leaving almost no areas for bees to sneak in. There’s even Velcro around the ankles. Yes, we did get the gauntlet style gloves too. I just don’t have mine on yet. He had to go to the back to get a children’s size!
While we were there we got a smoker, some feeders, the frame inserts, brushes and multiple tools. A little pricey, but better to be prepared ahead of time than to be scrambling last minute!
The snow has melted and we see our first sign of actual spring! Although spring started a week ago, we’ve had more snow than we’ve had almost the whole winter! Let’s hope this is the start to warmer weather.
Bulbs are a great way to bring in the spring and is also great for pollen for the bees. The crocus come up first followed by the daffodils, hyacinths and tulips. All of these can be found in the yard. Although the tulips have already been eaten to the ground by the deer. Daffodils are poisonous and most wild animals know this, so if you want a good, early, sturdy flower that will survive, plant daffodils!