Hive Check and Powdered Sugar Treatments

Maybe a week or two late but I have completed my first post-package installation hive check. Before I get suited up and open the hives I run through out loud what my plan is while I am working in the hive. This helps me make sure that I have the equipment I might need, plan the right sequence of work and minimize the time (hence, stress) the bees are exposed. I don’t use smoke this early in the year but later one, the more swiftly I can work the less smoke, which is better all the way around. The plan for this first check: 1) remove the queen cage (NOTE: this should have been done about a week after installing but alas, it was raining, and I got lazy) 2) inspect for queen or evidence of her (brood 3) assess food source 4) apply a powdered sugar treatment for mites 5) remove the frame feeders 6) clean up any rogue burr comb 7) say howdy doodee 8) expand the top bar so a little more room.

The Top Bar: NoBeeHi

Here is a great reason to not leave your queen cage in for too long. They managed to build lovely comb all around it. As luck would have it, this also looked like the prime brood spot. Lots of worker bee cells (as opposed to drones). I couldn’t in good conscious destroy, despite the fact this is going to be a bigger problem later this summer. The bees usually do a good job making nice straight and tidy comb but when they get creative, it makes for a mess come honey time and any time I need to move the bars to inspect. Que Sera….. I moved it to the back of the hive up against the false back frame after removing some new comb (see photo with jar) that is used to reduce the total hive space they inhabit. This is important in the spring when their numbers are still small and it can be cool and in the winter. You don’t want to have to heat the whole house up for a few people, especially if you must generate your own heat! The top bar looks healthy and actually stopped taking the sugar syrup on the boardman feeder.

In the photo below you can see a little bit of everything. Along the top where it looks white is sealed honey combs. This is probably from the syrup I had been feeding and not nectar, either way it is their food right now. The yellow things that look like pencil erasers are drone (male bee) cells and the flat yellow spots are female worker bee cells. The are some cells that are open and upon close inspections contain larvae, gender not yet determined. This frame seems a bit scattered (something to watch) but the others were much more organized and notably full of work bee cells not drones. Will watch this closely.

So, how do bees become queen? Every bee goes through four basic life stages: egg, larva, pupa and adult, usually progressing from egg to adult in 21 days. The difference is royal jelly – yes the stuff they sell in health food stores. This substance is secreted by worker bees and fed to all larvae, the difference is however that worker larvae are only feed royal jelly for the first three days after which they are feed a mix of pollen and honey. If the hive is raising a queen, she is feed royal jelly for the entire larvae period. Royal jelly is sold to humans for longevity and youthfulness, probably extrapolated in part from the fact that the queen can live for many years, whereas a worker bee will only live about 6 weeks in the summer peak and 4-9 months over winter.

Why do powdered sugar treatments? This is a non-toxic way to prevent mite infection in the hives. Mites can ruin a hive if out of control and it is easy to prevent than treat. The bees can also consume the powdered sugar as food, while they clean each other off. This is really easy and actually calms the bees down and makes it easier in my opinion to close up the hive. Bees are always walking around asking to get squished when you put the frames back or top on. I use a cheap adjustable window screen to place over the hive after I schooch the frames apart a bit, so sugar will fall in. The scoop about a cup of sugar onto the screen and brush through using a paint brush. My powdered sugar is a year or two old and kind of clumpy but worked just fine. Be sure to keep a lid on the sugar container as bees will get stuck in there. Once you brush it though, remove the screen and brush the sugar off the top of frames/bars into the hive, push the frames/bars back together and close up the hive.

The Langstroth Hives: Florence and Betty

Today the work is similar. I didn’t have these hives named, so for fun this year, I will go with Florence and Betty (runner up names from the Peepstakes!). My queen cages came out easily and didn’t have comb all around them, the feeders were empty and came out. I left them in the yard till the bees cleared themselves off and went home for the night. There was some burr come in both but Machine had some comb with quite a bit of larvae on it. I took a close look and it didn’t appear to be queen cells (thank goodness, no swarm please!) but more like drones and workers. I carefully scraped it off, although the collective hive got louder (aka agitated) when I did this. The key is just move slow and steady…. I did feel a bee or two head butt me but no stings this time around.

Other posts this season:

I leave you with a Bee Poem…

How Doth the Little Busy Bee by Isaac Watts

How doth the little busy bee
Improve each shining hour,
And gather honey all the day
From every opening flower!
How skilfully she builds her cell!
How neat she spreads the wax!
And labors hard to store it well
With the sweet food she makes.
In works of labor or of skill,
I would be busy too;
For Satan finds some mischief still
For idle hands to do.
In books, or work, or healthful play,
Let my first years be passed,
That I may give for every day
Some good account at last.

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