I know how frustrating and sad it is to lose bees. The feeling you get when you open the lid and they are all dead, or just simply gone is one of despair. The first thing you want to do is understand why. Hopefully after you read this blog, you will have understanding and hope to try again.
Here are the top 4 reasons people always assume their bees died:
Unless you did not listen to the guidance of every beekeeper out there about leaving them 60 pounds of honey, your bees did not starve to death. Bees move in herds. They don’t just send a few up or around the 2 deeps looking for food. They feed in herds. And, in the middle of that herd is the queen. They must get her to move with them, or they will not move at all. This is where a big cluster comes in real handy. The bigger your cluster inside the hive, the more opportunity they have to herd onto a spot of honey.
Many times, beeks will call me and say they starved to death, but they had a ton of honey. As confusing as this is, they did starve to death, but also, they didn’t. They simply didn’t have a big enough cluster to get to the honey.
I want you to read this out loud and repeat it, “Wax moths can’t kill a healthy hive”. Repeat! Wax moths are a clean up crew. If you see wax moth trails in your comb, your hive is already weakened to the point of not being able to defend itself.
Again, read this out loud and repeat it, “Hive beetles can’t kill a healthy hive”. There is absolutely nothing you can do about hive beetles, except keep their population down. They are going to be in your hive no matter what. A strong, healthy hive will keep their numbers at bay. There are some tricks you can implement to help the bees keep the hive beetle numbers down and they are inexpensive. I haven’t used anything in 2 years.
They froze to death:
A beek will call me and say, “my bees froze to death because they still had a lot of honey…therefore, they couldn’t have starved to death.” Refer to the starved to death paragraph above. Bees are good at keeping themselves warm. In fact, they are so good at it, they will simply stay in their cluster and not move an inch to get food, therefore letting themselves starve to death. Why? Because they aren’t thinking about their lives, they are thinking about the life of the queen who is in the center of their cluster.
So, what killed my bees? Your beekeeping methods throughout the year. Am I saying this to make you feel bad, NO! I’m saying…losses are lessons! Don’t beat yourself up. You are new to this hobby and you are learning as you go.
The cluster in fall is the survival of winter. The cluster in fall is a direct correlation of how you cared for them all spring/summer.
Here are my tips:
Feed if and when the bees need it! If the honey supers aren’t on, and they aren’t building up 60 pounds, feed them. Add essential oils for their guts.
TREAT FOR MITES!
I blog about how I treat. I am aggressive with it. And you know what, I lost 1 hive this year. And, that was to robbing. I know that a lot of you don’t want to put chemicals in your hive, and I understand that philosophy. But, I’m going to tell you that sometimes we have to fight fire with fire. Chemicals are everywhere now.
So, take your frames from your dead hive and throw them in the freezer. This kills any kind of larva living in the comb. Remove them after 24 hours and store them in your garage with some paramoth or wax crystals. Freeze 1-2 frames at a time if your freezer space is small.
Finally, start over. Buy a NUC, or a full hive and try again. Don’t just give up after 1 year. It takes time to learn something new.
If at first you don’t succeed, try try again.
Congratulations, you made it to Fall!!
Your brood should be picking up substantially, as the queen is laying her winter babies. Winter babies are the bees that are going through winter with her, keeping her nice and warm in the center of their cluster. You should start to see drones being killed. They are just extra mouths to feed, so they are not allowed to winter with the hive. Sad, but it’s nature.
Your honey should be plentiful. We had an amazing honey production year! I do want to caution you that amazing honey years don’t happen every year. So, please don’t go into next Spring with unrealistic expectations of what you’ll be able to give away to all of your friends and family.
Remember you need 60 pounds of honey for the bees to eat throughout winter. How do you know if you have 60 pounds? First, you can do a lift test.
Lift your hive from the back…not all the way, just tilt it up. Does it feel super heavy? Brood has weight too, so it should feel like it well exceeds 60 pounds.
Next, get inside and take a look. The honey frames are typically your outer frames. If that isn’t the case in your hive, rearrange your frames. Brood in the center, honey outside. Some empty cells are needed as the queen is still very much laying eggs (remember, winter babies).
In my first year of beekeeping, I lost 2 hives to mites – in the fall. The 2 hives absconded, leaving behind all their honey. I decided that instead of freezing these frames, I’d just jam pack my remaining hives that were still around with all this “extra” honey. Seems harmless right?
I came out a couple weeks later to inspect and every single remaining hive had absconded. Apparently, since I didn’t leave any drawn comb, or open cells for the queen to lay eggs in, the became honey bound and left. If you’ve ever heard me speak, you know that I am the beekeeper who has done everything wrong at least once, sometimes twice.
So, back to formation. Honey on the outer frames, brood in the center. Why? Well, first you want all your brood together as it gets colder, so they can cluster around it and keep it 92 degrees.
Second, you want all the honey together, so when they do move in cluster formation throughout winter, they can keep that formation and not break cluster. Make sense? Good. 😊
Let’s go back to 60 pounds of honey. What if you don’t have it? You need to start feeding, and right away. Try a 3:1 ratio. 3-parts sugar, 1-part water. If they don’t eat it, try 2:1. They should be gobbling up 3:1 if they are light on stores though.
Lastly, your hive should be in 2 deeps right now. The supers don't stay on for winter. You should also have your entrance reducer on your fall setting. Example below!
If you have a super on for additional feed, that's ok! But, if you are not at 60 pounds of honey by now, you will want to feed on top of leaving that super. The bees get to a point in the season where they stop backfilling your deeps with honey.
I’ll be blogging about winter feeding soon, as that is a whole other way to feed. Right now, we are still feeding liquid syrup.
Keep your texts, emails and phone calls with questions and updates coming! Love to hear from all of you!!
The definition of dearth is “a scarcity or lack of something”. When beekeepers use this term, we are referring to a lack of floral sources for the bees.
We use the word dearth as a reference of time. Meaning, right now we are in dearth in Kansas and Missouri. The bees have stopped bringing in nectar to store for consumption. That means, they will start eating their previously stored honey. As they eat their stored honey, it will open cells for the queen to lay eggs in. This is especially beneficial going into fall/winter.
Dearth is a normal part of beekeeping but can bring about mood changes in your bees. I often hear, “my bees were sweet all year and now they’re just mean”. The girls are very aware that they have honey to protect. So, they are defensive. Imagine working all summer to store honey and having a giant being opening your storage area and touching all your hard work.
What do you do now as new beekeepers? Just keep on doing your weekly inspections – looking for eggs. If you have empty supers on, remove them. We are done with the flow for now. We may have a fall flow but wait until there is one before you put your supers on. Why? Because all that empty space is where the adult hive beetles like to congregate.
It’s time to start planning your mite treatment. Strips aren’t beneficial right now because there isn’t a whole heck of a lot of capped brood yet. I’ll be doing my OA treatment in the next couple weeks. Refer to my previous blog about mite treatments to get the details on what I do. Remember, these are your bees though, so you do what you feel is best for them. All I can do is tell you what I do.
In closing, I want to say that this has been a rough summer for yours truly, but I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason.
My back injury led me to a new primary care doctor. This primary care doctor ran blood work which came back irregular. Basically, my thyroid was not working. Further tests were ran, including a sonogram of my thyroid. Four large tumors were discovered. I recently had my thyroid removed and one of the tumors came back positive for cancer. It is a blessing that my thyroid and all the tumors are now gone.
I’m sharing this because I haven’t been as available by phone, text, email, etc this summer as I normally am. Sometimes you have to take a break from everything and focus on your health. Several of you have sent me wonderful messages. You’ll never know how much that has meant to me. I love all of you and I hope your bees are doing well.
I’m back doing consultations now, so call me if you need me to come out and look at your hive and give you some pointers. Sometimes I simply provide peace of mind that your hive is doing well. 816-739-0726.
I charge $100 to come out, if you are within 30 minutes of Belton, Missouri. Thanks!
Honey Bound Hives
What is a honey bound hive? It’s a hive that has too much honey stored in the deeps and therefore it is bound with honey. When this happens there is no space for queenie to lay, and there’s a chance the hive will abscond. Abscond is when the whole hive leaves, not just ½ in a swarm.
Why do they abscond and not just swarm when this happens? Because if there’s no room for the queen to lay eggs, they can’t make several replacement queens, so they just simply leave.
Everything in a hive is about balance. Enough honey, enough pollen, enough eggs, enough capped brood and enough room.
Sounds complicated right? I think the bees know what they are doing, but sometimes a little help from us isn’t a bad thing.
What we love to see as beekeepers is honey on the outside frames, with capped brood in the center. 4 frames of capped brood in each deep is wonderful. Does that always happen? Heck no, haha!
If your top deep is all honey, that is not surprising at all. I’ve seen that several times. As long as you have capped brood in the bottom deep, you are looking good. But, the pain is you have to lift off the top deep to inspect.
Here’s what I do if I see all honey in my top deep. I remove a couple of the frames in the center and give them empty frames. I then leave those honey frames out and let them clean them up. Hopefully they will use this honey to build comb on the new frames you’ve just given them, and the queen will use those to lay eggs in.
I will say that this year has been a phenomenal honey year. I haven’t seen this kind of honey production since I started beekeeping. The white dutch clover has come back at least 5 times where I’m at. Normally it comes back twice. What that means is, if you mow white dutch clover, it’ll bloom again.
So, if you aren’t seeing full capped brood frames, don’t worry. The bees are bringing in honey so fast this year, they are just storing it in cells faster than the queen can lay eggs in them. The flow is coming to an end and this will take a wild turn soon. They’ll start eating or backfilling some of the honey they’ve brought in, giving her space to lay.
Remember, it takes 6-8 pounds of honey to make 1 pound of wax and they need all that wax to cap that wet honey.
This year, we needed a ladder to look at our supers! I’ll post how many pounds we got once we extract it all.
The main reason that we encourage people to start with 2 hives instead of 1 is so that you have extra resources. I use the phrase, “rob peter to pay paul” quite often. That means if one hive has an abundance of honey, you can shake the bees off and give it to another that may be lacking. In fact, come late Summer or “dearth”, you will want to try and make your hives even. This helps with robbing.
A secondary reason to have 2 hives is to compare how different hives can be. I know that a lot of you want to see the same exact progress in all your hives, but unfortunately that isn’t going to happen.
You will have one hive that just looks amazing. There will be lots of eggs, capped brood, larva, honey and pollen. And there will be one that struggles along, building slow. I’ve seen this every year.
I’ve also seen an amazing hive slow down later in the season and the weaker one start to blow up. And, by the time late fall is here they are pretty much even in progress.
I know you want to monitor their progress and you get concerned when you don’t see immediate growth. Just bee patient.
Comparing a wild hive or swarm to a nuc or hive from me is not going to be a good comparison. Swarms are eager to build comb, so they will grow super fast. Trust me when I say, they slow down eventually.
In closing, I want to say that right now my bees are seriously bringing in the honey. They aren’t a bit interested in my sugar water. So, if your bees are the same, don’t worry. Let them bring in their honey and the minute the honey flow stops, try feeding them again.
Keep looking for eggs once a week. If you can’t see them, take a picture and enlarge it when you are inside. Take 100 pictures if you have to.
Remember, the first year is all about learning!
Sometimes queens die. Sometimes it happens in transportation, sometimes she dies in an inspection, sometimes she rolls off a frame. I've had all 3 of these things happen.
Knowing how long things take helps you predict where things are going or where things have been.
If you find eggs, but you can't find her, you know there was a queen 3 days ago. She’s probably still there, you just simply missed her.
If you find a queen cell and it's uncapped, it is less than 8 days old, as the queen cell caps at 8 days. The cell stays capped from 8 days, all the way up to 16 days. After 16 days, the queen will be born and within 8 more days, you should see eggs.
If you killed or lost a queen, how long before you'll have a laying queen again? Approximately 24 days.
If you find a capped queen cell, how long before it should emerge? 8-9 days.
If a queen is killed and the bees raise a new one how much brood will be left in the hive just before the new queen starts to lay? None. It will take 24 days for the new queen to start laying and in 21 days all the workers will have emerged.
If the queen starts laying today, how long before that brood will be foraging for honey? 42 days. Remember the bees get promoted and collecting nectar is the last stage of their lives.
It's unfortunate when your queen dies, but the good news is, they can requeen themselves if there are eggs in your hive!
Another option is to find a mated queen and requeen that way. Sometimes it's hard to find one just at the moment you need her, but if you can, you are definitely speeding up this process!
You have your new hive home! It is in one deep or what we call the brood chamber. It also has a feeder in it. What you’ll need to do is remove that feeder and add in a couple empty frames from your second deep you received from me. You will then place that feeder in your second deep and go ahead and put that on your first deep. You are now sitting 2 deeps tall and are ready to feed your hive.
1:1 – Take an old milk jug and rinse it out. Fill it ½ the way with sugar. (You will need a funnel of some kind to get the sugar in this jug.) It’s easier if you find something with a wider mouth to get the sugar into it. The rest of the gallon jug will be filled with warm water and you will shake it vigorously. Basically until you see no sugar crystals as they have all dissolved into the warm water. This is your feed.
If the bees don’t eat it, try sweetening it up a with a 2:1 ratio. This would be ¾ full of sugar and ¼ of water. You can also do a 2:1 ratio with water being the 2. Meaning 1/4th sugar and 3/4th water.
Why are you feeding bees? Because they have to draw out all those empty frames by covering them in beeswax. It takes 6-8 pounds of honey (sugar water) for them to create 1 pound of wax.
You are NOT ready for any other boxes at this time, just the 2 deeps. If your second deep fills up by mid-June, you can then place your queen excluder and your first super.
I talked briefly in class about running 9 frames in my honey supers. You can do that, or run all 10. That’s totally up to you.
Why don’t you just give them all 4 boxes? Because that’s too much empty space for bees to defend against hive beetles or other pests like ants, spiders, etc..
Your hives have all been treated. We discussed briefly about mite treatment methods. It’s important for you to find one that works for you. I blogged about my methods in the previous blog.
Hive beetles – haven’t seen a lot myself yet this year. I have big strong colonies right now and that definitely helps.
Keep your mite counts low, keep them fed and make sure you see those eggs once a week to two times a month and you’ll have more fun this year with your new bees!!
Finally, I want to say it really upset me that I couldn’t finish the second class yesterday and I had to cancel the 3rd class. I really wanted to give you all this information before you left.
We are looking at 06/07 at 9am for the makeup class. This is for those of you that arrived at 11 on 05/30 and we basically just loaded you up. Please contact me for confirmation that you are coming, and I’m going to be emailing all of you as well.
I’m going to tell you what I do to treat for mites.
My method was developed over a couple years of being a complete failure at it. I’m not one of those beekeepers who acts like I know everything about everything. I’m the beekeeper who will tell you that I’ve pretty much made every mistake you can imagine in keeping bees. Maybe that’s just how I learn?
Year one, I decided I wasn’t going to treat for mites at all. It was overwhelming thinking of putting chemicals into my hives. I lost every one of my hives. They all absconded. Absconded is when the whole hive leaves, not ½ the hive in a swarm. Hives absconding is also called the dreaded colony collapse disorder. At least that’s what I think CCD is!
The next year, I decided to just hang Apivar strips one time for 42 days and just one treatment for the whole year. I was able to keep a good 1/4th alive with this method.
I never did the sugar roll or the alcohol wash. I figured the mites are there, what’s the point?
This year I decided I was really going to step up my mite treatment big time! I ordered mite away quick strips (MAQ) and an oxalic acid vaporizer.
The MAQ strips never showed up. I kept getting told they were on back order. By the time my supplier said they could ship them, it was too late. If you hang these strips in your hive and the temperature exceeds 85, it can kill your entire hive.
I did an OA blast early in Spring, but only one treatment. So, what now?
I have supers on a couple of my hives. I’m going to wait for the flow to be over, remove all supers and do an oxalic acid treatment once a week for 3 weeks. I’ll do a mite count before and after the 3 treatments.
In order to get the most effective mite count, I will do the alcohol wash. I know it'll kill some bees, but killing some for the sake of the whole colony is something I can live with.
I will not provide instructions on how to use the vapor gun in this blog. Please do some research on this. It’s important you learn how to apply this treatment safely. After that, I’ll hang apivar strips for 42 days.
I want to kill all the mites present on the bees bodies, (OA does this) and the mites sucking the juice out of the pupea inside the capped brood cell, (Strips do this) The strips hang for 42 days, which will cover 2 life cycles of a bee being born.
If you decide to be treatment free, I’m not going to judge you. Your bees are yours and you can do whatever you feel is right by them. I know a few beekeepers who are treatment free and do very well at it.
If you join a bee club you will find beekeepers that do things very different than me and each other. It's important to figure out what works best for you and your bees.
This has been a crazy year for swarms! I’ve had close to 100 calls about “swarms.” I want to talk about why I put that word in quotation marks.
When you see a cluster - or ball of bees - hanging in a tree, on a fence, or any other place where you can clearly see the bees are not living inside of something, that is a swarm. That is an easy pickup for any beekeeper, and most will come pickup the bees for free. If the beekeeper wants to charge you for an easy swarm capture, call someone else. And, please don’t ask the beekeeper for money for the swarm. We don’t pay you, unless it’s a bottle of honey for the call.
When you have bees living inside the wall of your home, that is no longer a swarm situation. That is what we call a cut-out. This requires a professional, licensed contractor to remove this hive. If someone offers to do it for free, that's between y'all. I don't want the liability myself, but to each their own! :)
I’ve heard so many times over the years, “well, I sprayed the ones I saw” or “I plugged up their entrance/exit.” Let’s talk about why those are bad and/or ineffective methods.
If you spray the ones you saw, that only kills the ones you saw. There are thousands more potentially living inside your wall. Bees build hives, and they aren’t typically tiny. Think about the length of a tree, their natural habitat. I’ve seen a hive built in about ¾ the length of a tree before.
If you block their entrance and exit, they’ll just find another one. Or, they’ll die and leave behind a mess that will have negative side effects like honey dripping through your wall, or vermin or other insects damaging your home, not to mention a foul odor.
Please call a professional. Midwest Bee Removal is my recommendation. 816-217-4214. I’ve actually added his information to my voicemail because I’m getting so many “swarm” calls.
Finally, let me say this, for the record. If the bees are living inside a tree, leave them alone. Let them bee! Unless you are worried because you are allergic, let them do their thing. We need to share this planet with all living creatures.
Several years ago, my husband and I decided to get a saltwater tank. We started doing a lot of research after we purchased a used aquarium at a garage sale. We found 2 places within 30 minutes of our house that sold saltwater fish. We visited these places often and spent a lot of money.
We’d ask a couple questions each time we visited, but all questions accompanied a purchase. In the 2 years we had the saltwater tank, we never once called them at the store to ask a question. It’s a lot of work keeping an entire store of small animals clean and safe, so we understood they were very busy.
Every fish was researched before we purchased it. Every coral or anemone was researched before we purchased it. We even built a refugium to help cycle the water.
Basically, we did our due diligence in caring for this amazing saltwater tank.
In the process of visiting one of these stores more than the other, we got to know the owner’s names and vice versa. While we had friendly comradery, we knew the expectation was that we would make our purchase and come back when there was another purchase to be made.
Why am I rambling on and on about this experience?
Because this bee business doesn't seem to have realistic expectations or boundaries. This is 100% my fault. I’ve been under this impression that in order to be a successful small business owner, you need to be available every single minute of your life. This is not true.
I love that people want to start beekeeping. I think it is a very important and rewarding hobby. But, it’s your hobby, not “our hobby”. The bees belong to you once you leave my driveway.
This doesn’t mean I won’t answer a couple questions here and there. But the expectation that I am going to be available to you for the whole summer and fall is unrealistic.
Your purchase of a nuc, hive or kit, doesn’t come with an unlimited amount of my time. Just like when I bought a $100 new fish, I didn’t expect the saltwater store owners to answer questions about that fish for months.
I offer paid consultations, if you are within 30 minutes of Belton, MO. If you have several questions, we need to set one of these consultations up. If you live outside the 30-minute parameter, we can set up a facetime consultation. $25 for a ½ hour on the phone.
It’s time to do a reset for The Kansas Bee Company and set up some realistic expectations and boundaries.
Thank you for your understanding!
Christine's Bee Blog!