Late Spring Update from the Homestead, Part III, Beekeeping

The initial bee install took place the weekend of 5 April 2014, and I added a box to the hive the weekend of 12 April, as documented in the post, “Late Spring Update from the Homestead, Part I,” dated 23 May 2014.  I checked on the bees regularly, and there was plenty of activity, with bees coming and going, and the bees were carrying in loads of pollen from their foraging activities.  The hive appeared to be very healthy.  I knew that I should be adding more boxes to the hive, and as the weeks went by I became more and more anxious that the colony might swarm because there was insufficient space in the hive for the growing colony.  Finally, adding the boxes rose to the top of my work list, and coincidentally Nathan was available to help me in the process.

Nathan (L) and I suiting up, inactive hive box after step 1 just to my right in the background

Proving again that dogs in their late adolescence (i.e., me) can still learn new tricks, I broke out the bee suits.  Actually, this is not so much about not being stung, it is about being less anxious of being stung, allowing us to be calmer in the midst of the bees, and feeling less hurried as a result.  Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast.  Another change made to the process of hive maintenance, was to use a spray bottle of sugar-water, instead of the smoker, for calming the bees.  The smoker did not seem to have the desired effect at the bee install, and worse yet, we spent too much time keeping the smoker smoking rather than making progress in the hive.  The smoker is just one more thing to worry about.  In a sauce pan I mixed up the sugar (regular table sugar) and water in a 1:1 ratio, 1-1/2 C. of sugar and 1-1/2 C. of water.  Over medium heat the mixture was warmed while being stirred periodically, until the sugar was completely dissolved into the water.

  I then poured the sugar-water into a new spray bottle purchased for the purpose, and then put the bottle in the refrigerator to bring its contents back to approximately room temperature.  We also prepared two hive boxes, which involved applying beeswax to 16 top bars, 8 for each box, and placing the top bars in the boxes.  Other equipment we took to the apiary included a hive tool and a bee brush, the former for separating the existing boxes from the floor, and the latter for gently moving the bees about without agitating them.  With our preparations in order, and bee suits on, we made our way down to the hive.

At step 3, calming the bees with the sugar-water mist

At the hive, Nathan and I followed the step-by-step process below:

1) Remove roof, quilt and top bars from the inactive hive; we will use the hive box as a rest for the active hive boxes while placing the two new hive boxes on the floor of the active hive (unlike the Langstroth hive, new boxes are placed beneath existing boxes in a Warré hive)
2) Remove the roof from the active hive; this is no problem, because the quilt is still between us and the bees.  I simply remove it because it adds unnecessary weight to the lift that will need to be performed, and because it would make the assembly of two boxes (and the bees, comb, brood and honey within them), the quilt, and the roof, top-heavy and more difficult to handle.
3) Lightly spray sugar-water onto the bees at the entrance, emphasis on lightly.  Bees do not like to be wet.  They will be occupied by cleaning themselves of the sugar-water, or at least that’s the theory behind the method!
4) Carefully remove the two boxes (plus quilt), as an assembly, from the floor, and set aside on the exposed box of the inactive hive

Step 4, setting aside the active hive boxes and quilt; based on how far the bees had progressed in building comb, I would say these boxes were being added just-in-time

5) One at a time, place the two new boxes on the floor, using the bee brush and the sugar-water spray to calm the bees and move them out of the way as necessary
6) Reinstall the two active hive boxes and quilt on top of the two new hive boxes on the floor, again using the bee brush and the sugar-water spray to calm the bees and move them out of the way as necessary
7) Reinstall the roof on the hive; addition of hive boxes is then complete

The process of adding the boxes went more smoothly than I probably had any right to expect; it was executed without incident.

I had planned to buy another package of bees for the now-inactive hive, but the delivery date of the packages was delayed one week and that caused an unavoidable conflict for Geri and I.  Still, I will investigate to establish that we can still expect success if we install another package this late in the year.

Step 6, reinstalling the two active hive boxes

Thanks to our iPhoneographer, Susan, for making the raw photos that you see incorporated.  She noted pointedly that she was the only one of us without a bee suit!  Fortunately she maintained a safe distance, and was not injured in the making of this post.

Laying down cardboard for vegetation suppression

Informed by what I have read, it seems best to keep the vegetation down in the apiary.  A reason is that when the bees return to the hive fully loaded with pollen, and if they miss the landing board, it can be difficult or impossible for them to “take off” again if they are in deep vegetation.  So, Nathan and I also took on suppressing the vegetation by laying down cardboard and then covering it with wood chips.  (We are doing the same in the garden, and it is amazing how much cardboard can be “re-purposed” in the fashion.)  This is certainly not a permanent solution; it will require ongoing maintenance.  At some point before winter I will also be installing a fence/windbreak to protect the hives from the cold winter winds.

Thank you for reading and commenting on the blog.  Your comments and criticisms, your inputs and acknowledgements, are welcomed, and will help me to improve my posts.

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— John, 18 June 2014

Before and after weed suppression by cardboard sheet mulch and wood chips

2 replies
  1. Angels6
    Angels6 says:

    ok just one dumb question – are the boxes just stacked on top of each other
    how do they stay in place so the wind will not knock them over????????????

    • homestead
      homestead says:

      That's not a dumb question Mom, thanks for asking. The boxes are indeed simply stacked on top of one another. In our case the forest provides a fairly effective wind break, and as the bees build and fill the comb, each box will weigh-in at 30-40 lbs I would estimate, so I do not anticipate a problem. I have not heard or read of wind blowing hives over, though you make a good point, it is certainly possible. Animals pushing hives over does happen. Thanks for reading and commenting on the blog.

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