Saturday, January 7, 2017

I lost both my hives :-(

empty hives IMG_6462

:-( The boxes of both my hives are now empty and stacked crosswise. I was sad to see so many bees die. I'm guessing they died from dripping condensation as I saw water droplets in the hive when I opened it.

I noticed bees begin to die in November, just after it got cold. They fell from the hive in huge numbers. Mostly they couldn't get cleaned out through the mouse guard, so they accumulated on the floor of the hive and I brushed them out. Both hives. I knew it wasn't good.

So, it could have been mites. I've never treated for them, or tested. I've only ever seen one on a dead bee. I know they're mostly in larvae, and they reduce hive numbers. Mites are thought to be a large contributor to colony collapse disorder (CCD), where adult bee populations effectively disappear suddenly, within a few weeks or days. My bees didn't disappear, they were right there - piles of dead ones.

I didn't see signs of any other diseases: foulbrood, nosema, wax moths, or hive beetles. I forgot to call the bee inspector, who probably would have a had a helpful opinion for me.

So I'm going to blame the moisture I saw in the hive. Bees can keep themselves warm but not if they're wet. They vibrate their wings and create heat for the cluster. They can't do this if they have water dripping on them. My hives are located 40-50 ft from a large pond, on pretty much the same level as the pond. We enjoy watching clouds of moisture rise from the pond on cold mornings. They are quite beautiful.

I've been reading about condensation in bee hives and elsewhere (e.g. our new garage ceiling...). If the top of the hive is cold, the inside is warmer, and the humidity is high, water will condense inside the top. Humidity is worse if there is poor air circulation.

I want to give it another try with my hives next year. I'd like to see if I can address condensation and get better winter survival. The only thing I did for it this year was to put insulation (standard ceiling panels) inside the top cover. I have two things I'd like to try next year:

- Move the hives to a higher site, further from the pond. This will be either in my new fruit tree "mini-orchard" on an open south slope 200 ft from the pond and about 30 feet elevation - or in my front yard, twice as far away and twice as high.

- Add a "quilt box". I'm still looking into how to built this. It's essentially a short hive box with a porous bottom filled with absorbent wood shavings and ventilation holes in the sides.


Wednesday, December 14, 2016

the economics of hobby beekeeping

Remember the book "The $64 tomato"? Well, I did some calculating to figure out how much a jar of honey was costing me to produce. The bottom line - it's an expensive bottle of honey.

I figure a pound of honey costs me $27.63 to produce. A little better than that expensive tomato, but still a pretty costly jar of honey.

Now, I'm a second year bee keeper, so I had a lot of set up costs and they won't be recurring. My set up cost $918. Recurring costs are $640. I added in my time at $30 hr. I've spent about 80 hours producing my honey valuing my time at $2310.

Another way of figuring my cost since it's a hobby is to omit my time, which of course is all fun, not work. Also, I can omit set up costs. Now it's much better: a pound of honey is $4.57.

I'm impressed that local bee keepers can sell their honey at $9 to $11 a pound. I sure they are much more efficient than me.

I'm selling my honey for $10 a one pound jar, and for $7 a half pound jar. I've sold nearly 100 lbs, so I've made over $1000. After 2 years, I've covered my set up costs. Going forward, I really should charge based on my recurring expenses and my time. That's $21.07 a pound - I don't think I'd sell anything at $20/lb. I need to forget my hours or get more efficient. I could probably go to $12 a pound. It's very special honey after all! It does taste very good.

Monday, December 12, 2016

winterizing my beehives

I'd like to do the best I can to keep my bees alive this winter so I've been reading and asking at my local bee club. As they say, ask two beekeepers the same question and you'll get three answers. On top of that, bees have a mind of their own and you can treat two hives the same way and they'll still be totally different.

So, here's what I've done for my hives.

- I modified my mouse guard so the bees can get in and out better. I had used 1/4 inch hardware cloth, but dead bees accumulated inside. Rather than going to 1/2 inch (which small mice can sometimes get through), I pointed the tips down into the baseboard and cut out sections in the 1/4 inch material. There's a photo below. I've read about installing mouse guards and other bee things, but it often makes no sense to me unless I see a picture.

- I strapped 1/2 inch R4 insulation to the north and west sides of the hives. These are the sides with the lowest sun exposure.

- I put a stone on top of the hives so any strong wind won't blow the cover off. There is a board under the stone so it doesn't freeze to the top, form ice, and slide off.

- I put a basic Home Depot ceiling tile inside the cover for top insulation. The tile is above the inner cover. I left the inner cover escape hole open for venting moisture and to allow access if snow blocks the lower entrance.

- I'll check honey stores during the winter by feeling how heavy the boxes are. If they get light, I have honey frames waiting for them. I'll lay them inside the hive at the top for them to empty into their stores.

- Finally, I am thinking positive thoughts and hoping my bees are happy and and well this winter.

bees IMG_6121
bees IMG_6123

Friday, April 15, 2016

hive boxes flipped

In addition to freeing my stuck queen, I also flipped the boxes on my older hive today. I did a full inspection of the hive. There are several frames of brood and capped brood and obviously more bees than last time. They are only using the top box and going in and out of the top hole. So, I reversed the top and bottom boxes. Probably no real need to have done this. I just thought they should be using the bottom board for entry and exit.

Switching boxes gave me a chance to check the amount of honey left. Both boxes weigh about 30 lbs, I'd guess. I have plenty more honey saved for them. I'll see what things look like in a week. I think I should be doing brief weekly checks now, to make sure they don't run out of food.

bees IMG_5739 bees IMG_5757

I'm amazed at all the different colors of pollen they are bringing in now. In the lower right corner of this picture, there are many shades of blue, orange, yellow and red. It looks like they are sorting it by color!

queen stuck in cage

I checked on my newly installed bees this morning. The queen was still in the cage!! There was no sign that the bees were eating the candy plug at all! I can't believe it. I was so pleased that I installed the package right this time and now the bees didn't do their part!

Unfortunately, it's been 4 days since I installed them. (I had a busy week.) I hope the queen is OK still. I let her out. She looked fine. Small. I think what happened is that the bees were all to busy eating all the honey and pollen I gave them and they weren't interested in the candy plug.

bees IMG_5744 bees IMG_5746 bees IMG_5749 bees IMG_5750

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

crazy weather - lost hives

This crazy weather has had bad consequences on many things, including bees.

It's halfway into April and our weather is still chilly - rainy, dark and cold. What an odd year. After our incredibly warm February, I thought spring was here early. But now March and April have been wintry. Our early flowers were hit by frost and are now brown mush. A friend of mine lost two hives recently and she said others have had the same problem. Their bees broke their clusters in February and didn't reform when the cold hit, so they died in March. I think this happens when the queen lays early brood, the bees spread out to keep the brood warm. When cold hits, the bees don't know they can't keep all the brood warm, and the whole hive dies. Too bad - crazy weather.

(BTW- This isn't what happened to my hive - it died in the middle of the winter.)

Monday, April 11, 2016

new package installed

installing bees  IMG_5716 installing bees IMG_5721

To prepare my new hive, I set up a deep box with four new frames (the ones with wood edges) in the middle and six drawn frames (the ones with black plastic edges). The two adjacent to the new frames were extracted, the other four were full of honey. I'm glad to be able to feed the new bees honey. (It's from my hive that died in the middle of the winter.) I think they'll like this better than sugar water.

installing bees  IMG_5726 installing bees IMG_5727

They were very nice bees. I dumped them all in the box. And I put the queen in correctly. I didn't break the metal hanger or remove the wrong plug like last year. I'll check in two days to make sure she got out.