It’s hot out. So hot that I’ve been afraid to go into the hive. The last thing I need is to pass out face first in a pile of bees.
This morning, before the sun got too high, I went down to the hive to do some much-needed maintenance. Since I have the body of a weak and feeble woman, I brought along my boyfriend Ben to do the heavy lifting.
It was his first time going into the hive, and he was a little nervous.
Our first order of business was to replace the honey super. Last week we’d put a triangle board under the honey super to clear the bees out. The triangle board gives them an easy way out of the super, but an almost impossible way back in. It’s really effective if you want a bee-free honey super, but I was worried that if we left it too long they might get crowded and be in danger of swarming.
They did look tightly packed through the screen of the triangle board, but it may just have been early enough in the morning that the foragers hadn’t left for the day yet.
We removed the honey super and set it a few hundred feet away so the bees wouldn’t steal it right back from us. Then I removed the triangle board.
I removed most of it, anyway. The bees sealed it tightly to the frames below with propolis and wax, and a whole side of the triangle pulled free of its nails when I lifted it off. This is coming out of their wages.
I was determined to do a successful sugar shake mite check this time, since my last attempt… left something to be desired. I shuffled through the top hive body frames for one full of brood. It took me four frames, because the first three were solid capped honey! It’s a good thing we didn’t leave the triangle board any longer – it seems like they’ve really been stocking up.
When I finally found a brood frame, I gave it a good shake over a pot. The bees dropped in, and I knocked them all into one corner and scooped ’em up in my measuring cup. I got a slightly shy half cup, which I dumped into a mason jar and set aside for later.
Today we went for the slightly unorthodox method of treating for mites before testing to see if we needed to do it. Is this responsible beekeeping? Nope. But the day was getting hot and the bees were getting ornery, and it was a lot easier to test the bees in the shade after closing up the hive. For philosophical musings on why this probably is okay, hold out til the end of this post.
We dug deeper and lifted off the top hive body, because the mite treatment has to be applied to both. A while ago we put a shim between the two, hoping for some cool burr comb. The bees have been playing along, making this very cool structure that’s about the width of the frames but almost perpendicular to them.
I cleared away the burr comb and applied the Hop Guard. What it is is a pack of foot-long cardboard strips soaked in something with the consistency and messiness of hot molasses. This stuff oozed everywhere. The packaging is covered in warnings about getting on your skin, but by the end of the day I had it all over my hands and legs. (That being said, I washed it right off and seem to be fine. I don’t condone eating a spoonful of the stuff, but the danger may be over-hyped).
The instructions said to apply two strips per 10 frame hive body, draped 4 inches apart over two central frames. There they are!
We replaced the second hive body and draped two more strips in that one. Then we topped it off with the queen excluder and a fresh honey super to catch the fall honey flow. We closed up the hive and beat it out of there. All that was left was to give those bees in the jar a good shake.
The round piece of screen I was given at bee school fit perfectly into a wide mouthed canning jar. The mesh in the screen is just the right size to let mites out and keep bees in.
Even if the bees really want to get out.
We dumped a few tablespoons of powdered sugar through the screen and shook the jar up for a couple minutes. It was a like a grotesque snow globe.
Once the bees were good and coated, we turned the jar on its end and shook it hard over a white piece of paper.
Between the white paper and the white sugar, the dark mites stand out pretty well.
Reasonably well, at least. Can you spot the one in this picture? Zoomed in this much, he’s actually hard to distinguish from the tiny sugar clumps’ shadows. He’s in the horizontal middle, just south of the vertical middle. If you look very closely you can see his little legs in the air.
In case you were worried, no bees were killed in the testing of these mites. They were a little dazed, to be sure, but they came out of it okay.
I dumped them out right next to the hive. Once they got their bearings, they should have flown right back into the hive. They’ll have a wild story to tell their friends as they get licked clean. This day will pass into bee lore, and the powdered sugar will probably be turned into honey.
So how many mites did we find? 4. From a sample of 300 bees, that’s an infestation rate of 1.33%. For this time of year, that’s actually remarkably low. In all honesty, we probably could have held off a while on treating. Given the way it went, though, I’m glad we did.
The thing is, all hives have mites, and the reasons to delay treatment hold a little less sway over us than usual. A lot of treatments are toxic to humans, meaning it’s a good idea to continually test mite levels while collecting honey, then harvest the honey and treat only when the mites get out of hand. Hop Guard, on the other hand, doesn’t contaminate the honey, so there’s no need for strategic timing.
Another reason to wait is that mite treatment can be pretty hard on bees. If by some chance your mite levels never get high enough to have to treat, it’s better not to treat. Supposedly Hop Guard is gentler than other products, though, so it should be okay.
We got burned by mites last year, so we want to go in guns blazing this time. Our number one priority is getting these bees through the winter, and hopefully this knocks their mite levels low enough that they stand a fighting chance.
It was a good and productive day. It was only a little sweltering, and Ben survived his first bee excursion. He says he even had fun.
I’ve also posted this on my personal site. Go have a look!
I promised we’d be back with the bees soon, and here we are!
When we last left our heroes, we’d given them a honey super and some more time to build burr comb in the shim between the hive bodies.
They’ve been hard at work since. About seven of the ten honey super frames have been filled up – this one is mostly capped. The honey starts out very moist, and the bees leave it open to evaporation until it’s distilled down to about 18% water. At this point they cap it with wax to stop the evaporation. We don’t want to harvest honey that’s mostly uncapped, since it’s likely to ferment. This frame’s probably alright, though.
Setting the honey super aside, we tackled the top hive body. Our plan was to cut out some of the burr comb and put it in a jar to display for educational purposes. Unfortunately most of it was full of brood, but in the name of educational purposes you can let your scruples slip a little bit. We lifted a few of the frames, one at a time, and cut away the burr comb from the bottom.
Incidentally, the capped cells all have the larger, bumpier look of drone brood. Varroa mites tend to prefer latching onto drone brood, as their development in the cells takes a few days longer. One very low-impact means of varroa treatment is to give the bees special frames designed for drone brood, wait until it’s all capped, and then destroy it. So we may have inadvertently done a little mite treatment of our own.
Speaking of mite treatment, I was anxious to try out the sugar shake method for myself. I’d brought a half cup measurer, and I was somehow under the impression that enough bees had fallen into our tub with the burr comb that I’d be able to scoop them in easily.
I was wrong. They were too spread out, and the comb kept getting in the way. I got more bees on me than in my little measuring cup, and they were getting angrier by the minute. I could understand why – I felt like some kind of deranged god shoving them around in their own honey.
Next time I’ll do it right and knock a whole frame into the tub. Turns out bees in small numbers don’t move as a liquid.
As we were moving through the top hive body we spotted the queen. It was very good to know we hadn’t knocked her off with the burr comb.
At the end of the day it was a messier hive dive than we usually have. A little bit of honey spilled on the deck got cleaned up immediately.
Likewise, a bee who didn’t survive the manhandling got cleaned up immediately by a passing wasp. Wasps can be carnivorous, and this was an easy meal.
I found another wasp on the outside of the hive. I was worried that the honey spilled while collecting the burr comb might attract invaders. But at the time of writing this, almost a week later, the bees seem fine.
Even if robbers are about, our colony seems pretty tough and capable of defending itself. Here are two little guys shaking their butts outside the hive to mark their territory with pheromones. They, unlike the happy bee on our sign, mean business.
We’ll be going back in again soon. I’d like to do a sugar shake that isn’t an embarrassment and, assuming it’s going to show that we have too many mites, we want to get treating. I’ve just ordered a shipment of Hop Guard, a relatively new mite treatment regimen that’s derived from hops. It’s only just legal in Rhode Island this year, but I’ve heard good things from beekeepers just over the Massachusetts line where it’s been available longer. It’s supposed to be gentler on the bees than some other options, but still effective. And it doesn’t contaminate your honey, which is a big plus.
I’m not advertising for Hop Guard. In fact I’ve already read complaints that its instructions are unclear and it dries out so quickly that you have to apply it three weeks in a row for it to work. But I’m excited to try. If all goes well, maybe this will turn into and advertisement – both for Hop Guard and for its necessary workarounds.
I’ve also posted this on my own website – go check it out!
- Thursday, September 29, 6-9
- Band (KC Moaners) is booked.
- Location (Portuguese-American Social Club) is booked >> 32 Sheldon St
- Community Raffle / Community Potluck +
- If you have a business in the neighborhood, would you like to donate something?
- Do you have a business in the neighborhood that you like enough to ask for a donation?
- Goods or services, or garden-related arts, crafts, projects, from the community as a whole are welcomed.
- Weird or Ugly Fruit/ Vegetable Contest
- Guess the Weight
- Chicken Dance Contest
Mark your calendars! It’s eatin’ time!