Last summer got away from me, so I’m just now writing what I should have recorded then. Beekeeping last summer was a bit emotional for me; starting out with having to treat the bees for European foulbrood. In June, it seemed like we had a swarm every week, usually on a Friday, a stressful day anyway. Jason caught and hived most of the swarms. Aleesha, Malachi and I caught one swarm and hived it. Suddenly, I had eight hives instead of my original five. I ran out of equipment for anymore swarms. I was praying there would be no more. (One or two swarms didn’t stay in the hive and another swarm was given to Jason.) I made sure there were a couple of supers on each hive. In July or late June, with Malachi’s assistance I pulled about four frames, heavy with honey, off a couple of hives. I replaced the frames with empty ones. I had four quarts of honey once it was done dripping (I gave one away and just used up the last of the remaining three this week).
I opened a couple of hives in July; there was a smell like rotting oranges. My heart sank. Small black beetles walked along the top of the frames. After closing the hives back up, I went in the house to look up in my bee book what I was seeing. Small hive beetles. I was quite put out. Larvae and adults prefer to eat honeybee eggs and brood but also eat honey and pollen. Larvae can destroy the brood nest by burrowing through the brood combs. A severe infestation can cause the colony to abscond, abandoning the hive. Defecation by the beetles ferments the honey; combs become slimy, smelling like rotten oranges. A strong colony is generally unaffected but weak colonies can really suffer. Part of the life cycle of the SHBs is spent in the soil, so I sprinkled diatomaceous earth around the hives on the ground.
Checking the hives a few weeks later, one hive seemed to have died. In addition to beetles, there were moths in that hive too. Silken webs across the comb and larvae burrowing in the wood of the frames themselves made such a mess. I was disheartened and a little embarrassed. Instead of attempting to clean those frames, I threw them away, and squished the moth larvae. Another hive must have absconded; there were no longer any bees in the hive. I cleaned those boxes up too. Late July or August, Jason and I put beetle baffles on my five remaining hives, metals strips that kept the beetles from climbing up into the hive boxes. There was another swarm in August but I had neither the time nor the equipment to catch it. Late August or early September, we removed the supers, leaving only two for winter, easier to heat without extra boxes. We were both stung in the process. Other than putting in the entrance reducers, we left the bees alone until November. Then I put cardboard wraps around the hives to help insulate them for winter. Then there was nothing to do but pray and hope at least a couple hives would survive the winter.
Late February, with a warm snap that melted all our snow, I ordered four more hives from the same beekeeper as last year. Reluctantly, I went out to check whether any bees made it through the winter, mentally prepared for the worst, knowing I’d still be sad about dead hives. I opened the one that had done the best last summer. With great excitement and happiness, I found the hive alive and seemingly well. Then I moved on to the next hive that looked well last year, it was also alive. I was so excited. Discovering the other three dead didn’t sadden me too much, I had two alive! Two out of five was forty percent which is average for overwintering in Minnesota. Surviving winter was great and all, but spring can be even harder on bees. To help my bees out and hopefully get them through to spring I mixed up a batch of sugar water for each hive, put the top feeders on and filled them at the beginning of March. Again, time slipped away on me, March disappeared and it was April. I had meant to give them more food by then, so I was a little nervous when I went to check on them. One feeder was completely empty but the bees were still alive. I was a little worried when the next feeder hadn’t been touched; I thought the bees were dead. I started to pull the feeder off; there were bees, alive and well! I was so thrilled. They still had enough food. I mixed up more sugar water for the other hive, and then let them be. Bees were buzzing around on every nice day in March and the beginning of April. They were scouting for flowers.
April 28, with some flowers in bloom, I took the feeders off. The bees were working creeping charlie, dandelions and the buckeye tree the week before. The first dandelion bloom had five bees on it. One day as I was walking through an open area of lawn dotted with dandelions, I could hear buzzing all around me and noticed the bees working over the dandelion blooms. When the apple trees were in bloom, they hummed with the sound of busy bees pollinating. Then I set to cleaning the dead hives, a disheartening task. I got two of the three of them done.
Note: Continue reading about the bees on Bethany’s blog at https://bethanybenike.wordpress.com/2016/05/22/more-on-honeybees/.