First Honey Harvest This Year

My youngest son, Gerrit, and I went to Sugarland (part of greater Houston, Texas) on Saturday and did a bee removal from the wall of a garage. It was quite extensive. We cut out brood comb and honey and pollen and mounted them in empty frames with rubber bands. We used a bee vacuum to capture the bees and put them in buckets with screened lids.

According to the owners, the hive had been there since 2008, so it was very large. We got close to 4 gallons of honey from the wall. After returning home, we used my homemade honey extractor to press the

honey from the comb through a screen into a clean food grade plastic bucket. The honey is very high quality and tastes great. The honey press is made with a car jack. A mesh bag is hung between two plates which are pressed together using the jack, and a large glass casserole dish is placed underneath to catch the honey as it drips down. It is then poured through the screen to filter out wax and extraneous material. The screen has graduated mesh and the honey drips through.

I installed a honey gate at the bottom of the bucket so as the honey sits and clarifies it can be bottled from the bottom using the honey gate to dispense it into bottles. If needed, later the honey can be fed back to the bees to help them.

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This son may be hitting the “pause” button

(Richardson, TX) Several things have conspired together to lead me to my current state of mind: to stop keeping bees. Due to my bees drinkings habits (like humans that way, you know?) I can’t keep hives at my house. That’s made things much less convenient for me. Then I had the disastrous hive failures that had never occurred before (I blame the West Nile virus-inspired aerial mosquito spraying). And finally, I’m more motivated to see my father and younger brother succeed in their bee enterprise in College Station, TX. That’s why I’ve given them all my captured swarms. So I am contemplating giving them my very last hive that is sitting at my friend Paul’s house in East Dallas. It’s a strong hive (5 medium supers tall). We pulled 2 medium supers last weekend, extracted 17 medium frames of light amber honey. It could be the last honey I extract from my own bees for some time.

I can report that my father and brother now have ~24 hives. They will harvest very little honey this year. The intention is to strengthen these hives in preparation for expanding to an even greater number of hives next year. The goal is to reach sideliner status with dreams of commercial status. Using natural organic beekeeping methods. No chemicals/pesticides. No plastic frames. No artificial feeds. The path from where they are at to where they want to be is daunting. Costs and logistics. And the risk of catastrophic losses looming every year. But the gamble is that the natural way of keeping bees will lead to less losses.

I can’t imagine that I will stay out of beekeeping forever. I mean, my wife would kill me for buying that Maxant motor-powered extractor if I never used it again. I do plan on expanding my efforts to bait swarms next year to help my family beekeeping operation.

Here’s a video I took today showing neighborhood bees “robbing” my wet supers in my bait hive. Plus a cameo from a (not so) friendly chameleon.

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A new swarm arrives

(Richardson, TX) I was moving stuff from my garage to my truck. Bee equipment actually. Made a trip to the truck (which was just 30 feet away), and returned and suddenly there was a cloud of bees. So I turned on my phone camera and this is what happened next.

I’ve seen swarms form from my own hives, I’ve also seen swarms leave for a new home (destination unknown). But this is the first time I’ve seen a swarm arrive at a new home. Pretty cool.

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Busy and Tired

Yesterday and today I cut plywood boards and 2×4′s to make beehive tops and bottom boards but I have not put them together yet. I also got materials together to make inner covers.

Today I went through many of the beehives in my back yard. I removed frame feeders and replaced them with frames of foundation. I also added a super of empty frames of foundation to a one-story hive and moved two frames of brood up into the top super, replacing them in the bottom box with frames of foundation so the bees below can make space for the queen to lay in and she can also move up and down between the two boxes. I put a frame of foundation between two fully drawn frames of brood so they can draw the wax out and build a straight brood comb. I think this will help the colony grow faster. They look like they are doing very well.

Other hives seem to not be doing as well. I took a frame of open brood from one hive and placed it into another hive that had no brood so the bees can raise a new queen if they don’t have one. After looking through almost all of the hives, it was a little discouraging because so many of the hives were not doing as well as I had thought they were doing (in my imagination) before I looked at them. It’s not always easy to get the bees to be successful. I do the things that I think will help them be successful, but they then have to do their part too in order for my work to help them. It is a cooperative venture between me and the bees.

I didn’t see any mites, but I did see some hive beetles. I killed the ones that I saw. I only got stung once. The bees in one of the hives were particularly unhappy that I was bothering their hive, but I was well-protected, so did not have much trouble outside of getting hot and sweaty.

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Another Swarm

My youngest son and I drove down to Katy, Texas, and picked up a nice big swarm this morning. The homeowner got them to go into a cardboard box and set it at the side of their house, so all we had to do/could do was just pick up the box and bring it back to College Station. They had cut a little entrance hole in the box and the early morning bees were starting to orient, so we had to leave a few behind, but it was a nice heavy swarm. We put it on honey super cell (HSC) that we had smeared honey into the center frames, a queen excluder underneath to keep the queen from leaving, and they seem to be doing fine. So in one month and one week, that’s one cut-out from a tree and two swarms since returning to central Texas. It’s an hour drive to Katy, but we need the bees. Going to Austin to pick up 5 nucs this weekend and do a removal in Brenham too.

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Busy after my move back to Texas from Japan

Since returning to Texas from Japan, my youngest son and I have split two hives, melted beeswax and dipped foundation sheets, milled about 50 4.9 small cell foundation sheets from our own wax using our own foundation mill, trimmed and mounted them into frames and installed some of them in hives. Yesterday we got a swarm call and successfully collected the bees and installed them on honey super cell frames with a queen excluder on the bottom.

We have made tops and bottoms and put together precut boxes that were purchased previously. It’s hard work, but my son is a hard worker so things are going well. Today we went out and cut out a feral colony from a dead tree. My son got stung around 20 times (he was running the chainsaw), but it was a successful removal and we saved brood comb, using rubber bands to hold them into the frames. We also used a plastic bucket bee vac in the removal. At first the bees were very defensive, but as we progressed, they became less and less defensive and more demoralized as we took apart their nest and reconfigured it in a hive box.

We are now seriously implementing the things learned from this list and Dee, working hard, and busy as bees.

Layne Westover
South Central, Texas (formerly of Fukuoka, Japan)

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Queen in Observation Hive

Today I was able to get a pretty good photograph of the queen bee in the observation hive surrounded by her attendants. This hive is in my office and is comprised of one frame. They seem to be doing well.

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Nucleus Hive

Here is a short update on the nucleus hive I put together: it has been raining quite a bit the last several days, so today was the first day I was able to open up the nucleus hive of western honey bees on the roof of the building to check on it.

I opened it to look for the queen and see how everything is going. When I opened it, I could not find the/a queen and the bees seemed irritated and were moving around a lot. On the comb furthest from the comb on which the old queen should have been, though, I found many capped queen cells. I did not count them, but it looked to me like there could have been a dozen or more. I was kind of shocked to see so many queen cells. Either they killed the old queen or I accidentally did not get her into the hive or killed her without knowing it, or they decided to replace her, or something else I haven’t thought of triggered the decision to make a new queen. Actually, I am disappointed, but that’s the way it goes. I’ll just have to accept what the bees decided to do and go with the flow.

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Converting from Observation Hive to Nucleus Hive

The western honey bee colony in my observation beehive built quite a bit of burr (cross-/brace-) comb attached to both the face of the brood comb and the glass/plastic of the beehive since there was quite a bit of space between the face of the comb and the glass, so I decided I should remove the comb (attached only to a top bar–not a full frame) and put it into a nucleus hive box (smaller than a full sized hive box) to make a nucleus colony out of it. I felt that if I did not do it pretty soon that it might become impossible to remove it later because of all the brace comb being built.

When I put the comb of bees into the observation hive in the first place, there was no queen. They raised 4 queen cells, had a queen successfully emerge, and apparently she also successfully mated and returned to the hive since she laid a large amount of eggs that became worker brood (capped now and starting to emerge as adults). That means that it became a full-fledged colony with a mated queen and it was starting to grow.

Since I had made this decision to convert it to a nucleus colony that could possibly grow into a full size colony although it had started from only one frame, I decided to start the process last night and complete it this morning. I was invited to a party last night here on campus, so that worked out ideally since I needed to “wait until dark” (good movie, starring Audrey Hepburn as a blind lady) for all the bees to come home before closing the hive entrance. I did that and removed the plastic tube connection through the window after it got dark.

Here is how I configured the nucleus hive: I first put in an empty frame with foundation on one side of the box. I next took the top bar and comb with bees out of the observation hive and put it next to the empty frame. I tried to make sure I did not “roll the queen” and kill her against the side of the observation hive, but I did not see the queen. I assumed that she was on the comb when I put it in. I next took a frame of emerging brood with nurse bees on it from each of the other two hives of bees and put them next to the first comb of bees (with “bee space” in between each frame/comb). That means that I had three frames/combs of bees and brood from three different hives (and progeny from 3 different queens) all together in the same hive box. You might wonder if the bees would fight and the bees from the different hives might ball the queen of the observation hive and kill her. That does not usually happen because the bees of her own hive will protect her from the bees that were introduced from the “foreign hives”. I will be checking in a few days to a week to see if the queen is still there and everything is going well.

Nurse bees normally have not flown outside the hive yet or become foragers, and they adjust to being mixed like that much easier and all become part of the same group, picking up the new queen’s pheromones and being “happy”. I left the new hive box nearby in the bee yard so older bees could fly back to their original colonies if they wanted to. This will become the new home to the younger bees who have never left their hive before. I had not done this particular manipulation before, but since I learned that it can be done this way, I decided to try it and see how it works out. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. This will make my “book learning” become practical experience. I plan to relocate this nucleus hive to the roof of my building this evening after it becomes dark. And the experiment goes on…..

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“Free-standing colony” of Japanese Honey Bees

Yesterday I got a call about a colony of Japanese honey bees (Apis cerana japonica) that had been built under the eave of a house in Nishi Urube, Fukuoka, Kyushu, Japan. We did not know until we got there to look at them what the exact situation was, but after arriving we determined that, yes, they were definitely Japanese honey bees and not western honey bees, and that rather than a swarm of bees hanging under the eave of the house, they were an established colony of bees with wax comb full of brood and honey.

A swarm would have been easy to deal with, but instead we had to cut out the colony comb by comb and put them in the box. We did not see the queen so do not know whether we got her or not–hopefully she was among the bees on the comb that we put in the box, but if not, well…not much can be done about it at this point.

There was not very much honey in the colony because it had not been established very long, but the comb was full of capped brood. We gave what little honey there was to the homeowner, a Shimizu-san. She gave us each a bag of onions from her garden to take home.

Her home was situated right up close to the nearby mountains, so that was one hint that we would probably be dealing with Japanese honey bees. We expected to get stung, but the bees were very gentle and no one got stung. It did not take very long to remove the colony.

After returning to my friend’s house, I put the combs into a hive box side by side with a couple of sticks between each comb to keep them separated from one another. I tried this method and it was successful once before, so I thought I would try it again. If we are lucky, the queen is in there among the worker bees and they will quickly get organized and start building up the colony. If not, then there is a possibility that they might raise a new queen from a young larva. If unlucky, then the colony will abscond and leave the brood in the box to die. At least we did a good deed and removed the bees from this lady’s house for her, and we had a positive experience. “An education is what you get when you don’t get what you wanted.”

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