Honey Harvest 2021

An impressive 17.5kg is pretty good for a first year back in beesness. Sometimes it’s a bit of a gamble. You don’t want to take too much but all in excess can be taken. Below, I did a bit of research to figure out how much a hive needs to survive the winter.

Total Jars: 42
Total frames taken: 14
Total pounds (roughly): 17.5kg (38.5 lbs)


June 23: Took 2 frames from Big hive and 2 from Mom’s hive.

July 9: Took out 2 frames from Mom’s hive

July 18: Took out 4 frames from Mailbox hive and 2 from Big hive.

Aug. 24: Took out 4 frames from Mailbox hive and 2 from the Big hive.

*Some frames were fuller than others.

According to the Ministry of Agriculture Beekeeping calendar of B.C.,

  • “in some areas beekeepers begin extracting in July.”
  • “And in August, all supers containing honey in excess of what is required for wintering should be taken off and extracted the second half of the month.”
  • “A hive requires 50-80 pounds of honey and pollen (both sides)” to make it through the winter.
  • Start feeding early enough so bees can “invert the sugars, evaporate the moisture and properly store and cap the material.”

So obviously I did things my way but maybe next year I’ll follow the recommendations. There are generally lots of opinions when it comes to beekeeping and from what I’ve gathered in the Vancouver Island Facebook group, many like to keep one hive two supers high. That allows for enough storage space for honey and pollen but also keeps the hive small and cozy throughout the winter. Make sure that one of those supers is fully loaded with honey. Another thing to remember, is that all the honey should be capped going into colder periods of winter as uncapped honey draws in moisture. Therefore, we need to feed sugar water starting right after the blackberry harvest so they have material to cap it.

Stay tuned on an update about mites. I hate them!!!!

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Update #2!

We now have 5 hives, 5 queens of which 5 are laying. Dayum! That is true but two of the five hives are still very small. Still, I started with one small hive in the spring and now have three strong ones. We’ve been harvesting small amounts of honey throughout the season (next update) and all our hives that came from Mark’s queen have either no mites or maybe just very few. One of my three strong hives, the swarm that came from elsewhere, now has a big mite problem but I am gassing the crap out of them and a lot of mites are dropping. I’ve done as much downsizing as possible and this is where they’re at. Take a look:

Hive #1: the Original (and the biggest)

  • I’ve had this hive for 5 months now. Despite the absence of a queen for a solid month (end of May), it is still our biggest hive at 4 supers high.
  • Brown queen with two black spots. Her birth date is June 22, 2021
  • Top two supers are mostly honey, mostly still uncapped.
  • Very chill vibes
  • 1 or 2 mites

Hive #2: The Swarm that arrived from somewhere

  • This swarm arrived on May 16, 2021
  • Brown queen started laying the moment she moved in.
  • 3 supers high
  • Very chill vibes
  • As of Aug. 22, I’ve noticed it’s the only hive to have an alarmingly high mite count. I’ve been vaping them every second day.

Hive #3: Mark’s black queen

  • I’m just going to assume she’s in this one based on circumstantial evidence (until proven wrong). We received her on April 4 and I transferred her to a new home on May 18
  • Amazing work ethic. It’s the only hive that’s not chill. Got another bee sting through the glove.
  • The black queen is from 2020 most likely.
  • It is also 3 supers high and given their feisty nature, they might be the strongest.
  • No mites to date

Hive #4: On the Rocks (experiment of a split)

  • This was a split I made on May 25
  • The black queen was born June 1, 2021
  • Initially they had the multiple eggs in single cells problem but that has improved significantly. However, they have not had much expansion, if any. Their numbers might be higher but they were robbed of honey. I know this because I gave them two full frames that are empty again. Or did they eat it?
  • They are only about 5 frames big.
  • Pretty chill all things considered.
  • No mites to date

Hive #5: Mysterious Hive (aka the Figtree hive)

  • The hive that just appeared. Found on May 31
  • It has a laying black queen possibly originating from the original big hive.
  • Initially this crew also had multiple eggs in single cells and like the Hive on the Rocks, they too have had no expansion and have almost no honey storage. But the egg situation is looking normal now.
  • One or two mites to date.

Overall I’m very pleased with all my bee children. I couldn’t have asked for a better bee season. Now that the blackberry harvest is over, so is the bee summer. As of August 27, I’ve started supplementing again with sugar water (1:1) and I noticed they were quite hungry and some even desperate as they tried to steal it from other hives. I won’t be taking any more honey and I intend to insulate them at some point. I’m excited about next year. I’d expand more but I think I’m not allowed to have more. They’ll just have to grow vertically instead 🙂

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Hive “On the Rocks”

It’s been a really interesting year so far. I’ve never taken as much interest in my bees as this year. I check on them daily to make sure they have shade, water and things look normal. I observe them and take notes. And I take risks.

When we made splits on May 25, one of those was placed on bedrock. Its black queen emerged on June 1 (6 days later). I was stoked it had worked with just one queen cell.

But after that things got rocky.
June 3 – no black queen
June 7 – I see the black queen but no eggs
June 9 – no black queen
June 16 – EGGS!!!!! Unfortunately multiple eggs in single cells. At first I just see single eggs and sometimes two eggs in single cells. A newly mated queen may lay two eggs in a single cell as she gets better at it. But as the days go by, things start to look worse.

I decide this hive is doomed. There’s obviously a problem and a worker bee has decided to start laying eggs. This is really unfortunate because the hive has a brand new queen. At this point you can try requeening the hive or let it take its course. I decide on the latter. Worst case scenario, we can salvage the frames they’ve worked on and use them for our other hives.

We also decide to try another experiment. A few years ago we harvested some honey frames but life got in the way of extracting it. Later we found them but the honey had started smelling a bit sour. I know honey doesn’t go bad but at the same time, it just smelled off. And so we gave one of these old frames to this hive to see if they could clean it up.

On July 4, I am pleasantly surprised. It still looks goofy in there with multiple eggs in single cells but absolutely no drone brood! And despite a much slower pace, they’ve added pollen and things are looking fuller. The elusive queen, who doesn’t like sunlight, is still frantically pacing about. Worker bees aren’t attending to her. The two old honey frames I’d given them, have been cleaned and smell like fresh honey again! Check out their capped worker bee brood:

So how is this possible? They say that if you have multiple eggs in one cell, your hive is doomed! And now it looks that they are on the road to recovery. My theory is that they had a rocky start. There weren’t enough worker bees to clean the cells and so the queen had no place to lay eggs and one worker bee lost patience and decided to take matters into her own hands. We are still not 100% confident but I am optimistic this hive will make a full comeback. They’re my Come Back GRRRrrllllsss!

Happy Beekeeping and stay tuned for much more to come! 🙂

Posted in Bee cells, common problems, Queen, splits, Summer, Uncategorized, Worker bees | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Waiting for the Queen

Have you ever had to wait a really long time for the queen to emerge? and then wait even longer for her to reproduce? The waiting game is REAL. What takes her so long?

a few days = to mature her wings, glands, expand and dry
a few days = to fly and mate
a few days = to settle down and start laying eggs

TOTAL = 2 to 3 weeks!

Timeline for big/original hive

May 18 – I took out the black queen to make a split because I saw numerous queen cups and the hive was getting too big for one queen.

June 4 – At the point, the bees have created numerous queen cells. This is nature’s way of creating an insurance policy. The first virgin queen to emerge will kill the unhatched queen cells. If two virgin queens emerge at the same time, there will be a fight to the death or one may swarm. Today is the estimated time of arrival for a new queen.

June 7 – I see 5 hatched queen cells but still no queen and no eggs. Mind you, the hive is 4 supers high, so I may have missed the virgin queen.

June 16 – Still nothing. I decide to downsize because at this point the hive has been queenless since May 18. That’s 29 days! It is also broodless at this point. Yes, beesness carries on as usual and it’s remarkable. An organization without a boss yet with hundreds of workers that work around the clock to keep it running, is something humans haven’t quite figured out yet because there is always that one person with a tendency to laziness.

June 22 – I feel discouraged. It’s been 35 days and I have not seen a queen or eggs…until today!!!! Oh yea, I just won the jackpot! I almost gave up on this hive. As I start seeing eggs, I’m expecting to see multiple eggs in one cell but to my surprise there is none of that funny beesness. And then I see her. A beautiful brown queen, distinct with two black dots.

Checking cells for cleanliness
See the black dots?

Super stoked! Especially since this is our biggest hive and it would have been sad to lose it. In the coming weeks, their challenge will be a reduced number of worker bees as the current ones die off (they only live 6 weeks) so I will most likely refrain from checking too much to curb their stress.

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We now have 5 hives, 4 queens of which 3 are laying. Here’s a quick breakdown:

Hive #1: the Original (and the biggest)

  • This hive has been queenless since May 18, so 2 weeks. We anticipate a new queen any day now.
  • 4 supers high with one fully loaded super of uncapped honey. (Top super)
  • No eggs or brood at this time.
  • Lots of drones in the bottom super.
  • Lots of pollen in the bottom suppers.
  • Still too full to downsize.
  • Several capped queen cells
  • No mites to date

Hive #2: The Swarm that arrived from somewhere

  • The only brown queen on this property lives here since May 16
  • Everything looks great!
  • This hive belongs to my mom so she’s been checking regularily.
  • No mites to date

Hive #3: Mark’s black queen

  • I’m just going to assume she’s in this one based on circumstantial evidence (until proven wrong). We received her on April 4 and I transferred her to a new home on May 18
  • Amazing work ethic. Gaining strength in numbers and going about beesness quietly and highly effectively.
  • This one belongs to me, obviously.
  • No mites to date

Hive #4: On the Rocks (experiment of a split)

  • This was a split I made on May 25
  • “On the rocks” literally and possibly figuratively.
  • As of June 1, it has a black queen with a very small crew
  • First bee sting of the year, through the glove so not that bad.
  • No mites to date

Hive #5: Mysterious Hive (aka the Figtree hive)

  • The hive that just appeared. Found on May 31
  • It has a laying black queen and seems to be doing well.
  • No mites to date

Hive #6: Baby Grey (Failed)

  • The hive that didn’t make it. Too small. Dumb humans.

Overall a pretty decent collection of things going on. And there’s lots more to come! (I am playing catch up)

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Nature works in mysterious ways!

Oh. my. God. if things couldn’t get any crazier this year, they just did. The black queen (the original one), just decided to move into this forgotten old hive we’ve had sitting in our garden for a few years. When did this happen??? I was gone this weekend and my mom did not seem to notice anything either until Monday evening. She’s like, “come and look at this. We have new tenants!”

Sure enough, they’d taken possession in quite the furtive way. And they’d already started filling in the space with beautiful burrcomb filled with eggs.

Is it possible that the black queen just decided to beeline it to a close by new home without any fuss? No drama queen whatsover! We’re still grappling to come to terms with this unexpected yet awesome news! Another hive? YEAH! How frickin easy was that?!! Haha

Obviously we inspect the hive she came from to see what made her move out. And as we’re inspecting, we see another black queen. Wait, what? Which one is Mark’s black queen (friend who gave us the first queen of the year 2021). At this point, we’re so confused. My mom seems to think Mark’s queen moved out and the other queen is her offspring. I, on the other hand, think that Mark’s queen never moved out and that the mystery new hive originated from the big original hive. Anyone out there who can do DNA testing? They seem related because they’re both so black… lol. Oh gosh mind blown.

Stay tuned to see if we can figure out the mystery of the black queen that swarmed in such an unbeelike way. 🙂

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Desperation on display

Queen cups, queen cells and emergency cells EVERYWHERE! Check it out:

This is good! They know their mom is gone and they depend on her. This is a big strong hive but it now has very little brood in it. The bees aren’t as chill as usual. And it will still be some time until a new queen starts to lay eggs. So what do you do with all the queen cells??? According to some people (I won’t mention names), you squash them all except one (the biggest best looking one) but I am in charge and I get to make the decisions around here. In my opinion, leaving one queen cell, is like putting all your eggs in one basket. Yes, if it succeeds, it will be great. But I am putting my eggs in as many baskets as possible this time!

Are you ready? Just a little glimpse of a big showdown! I have big beekeeping plans. I basically want it all. And I’m going after it. There’s no stopping me.

I will make another baby nuc and a regular nuc. Each will get a closed queen cell which means it should take only about a week for a queen to emerge.

Here’s baby grey. Messy but doable. See the cut-out queen cells on the right? That should work eh?! Off to a mediocre start. I didn’t get quite as many worker bees in the box. It’s just not super conducive to transferring frames due to different frame size. And messy because as I cut that portion out, all this honey got everywhere! Ants came running, and everything was sticky. I’m optimistic though. The nuc is small and insulated and has a compartment of sugar water so it should be pretty cozy in there regardless of their numbers.

Experiment #2: Nuc version 2.0: Thicker, sexier walls, and warmer 🙂 I hope the bees thrive in there. The reason behind the insulation is because it is such a tiny colony, they need a little extra support. Condensation is major though! I had to increase the roof ventilation by quite a bit. Have you ever put your hand in front of the entrance of a medium to big hive? You will feel the warm airflow just as if you were entering a mall in the winter. They produce a lot of heat! Maybe bee architecture could be a thing of the future? Your walls to be heated by nesting bees! Bee passive, let the bees heat your home. Bee moderated. Bee bold and bee hot! Lol.

As to splitting, I think things went well. Fingers crossed! And as to the remaining bee cells in the big hive, I am just going to leave them and see what happens. Maybe it’ll result in a queen competition. Stay tuned to find out if these splits worked! 🙂

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Fly high little ones!

They are my babies afterall. I’ve been observing the new little nuc. I am still amazed it was as easy as just taking frames out of the old hive to create a new hive. The books say, they all end up flying back! But maybe not because their mother was with them? I do think at least 1/4 of the flew back and as I was following their flight, I noticed they all flew off in the same pattern! My theory is that they loop around their new location before taking off to orient themselves rather than making a beeline to their food source like the bees in the original hive.

To me this stuff is fascinating! It reminds me of the podcast “On Beeing” on 99% Invisible, where a minister, Lorenzo Langstroth, who suffered from SAD, was prescribed to spend more time outside. He became obsessed with bees and watched and took notes on them for days on end. Nowadays, we attribute the 3/8″ spacing between frames to Mr Langstroth. So all I have to do is look at something for a long long time. It bee cool to have something named after me 🙂

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Splitting up

According to Heinz, once they start building queen cups, it’s already too late. They are prepping to swarm. So when I saw the first open queen cell today, I decided to make a split on the spot.

Unlike previous attempts, we did not pack ’em up and drive ’em to a friend for summer camp. I just did it quickly without them even noticing. Basically, I set up a little nuc, turned the entrance away from their original home, found the black queen and added another cup of bees to the bunch.

I’m always amazed what they let me do with them. I shake them off the frame, I spray them with water sometimes and I split them up from the rest of their family. And they don’t even seem to mind.

Et Voila! The black queen is back in a nuc! As for the original, now queenless hive, a new queen should hatch in minimum 8 days as it was still uncapped.

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Swarm day!

Bee attractive…

…and you may just attract a swarm.

Catch bee if you can…

Today was interesting. Just as the oil tank guys showed up to replace the old one, they were forced to stop and watch a swarm fly by. It was actually pretty funny. When I walked right in the middle of it in shorts and tshirt, they began to relax a little.

It was wild. It was probably the most dramatic swarm of our beekeeping history. For a while they just hovered near the house just above our heads. They then attached themselves to the dogwood tree which was nice and low. I began clipping branches away to make the catch easier but they weren’t having it and took off to the hedge higher up. This attempt was hard. I got on the ladder with a huge cardboard box. I dangled a frame by a string for about 20 min until I had about 1/4. I cut the rest of the branch and brought the self absorbed bees to ground.

But again, one by one they flew away and into the hedge again! That’s when I decided to wait. They were still close enough to catch but they might play this catch and chase game all day with me.

And they did fly off again way up high but they were so indecisive. Finally after about half a day, they settled for a low hanging Garry oak branch. I left that hive underneath in the hopes that they would fly in on their own but that wasn’t the case.

Finally I got them in the cardboard box. This time with a few frames. And the next morning when I went to open it, it was like a present. The bees were all nicely attached to the frames.
So yea, the trick is to wait until dusk. Otherwise they have too much energy/will power.

But the story doesn’t end there because this is not your usual swarm. Usually you would vaporize them and then leave them bee but I decided to check for the black queen. And we find this:

She’s light brown, not black!!! On top of that, she’s already laying eggs!!!!

And this whole time we thought the black queen had taken off. But nope, she’s still in the old hive keeping up with queen duties.

So yea, we’re not even going to make sense of what just happened. Did the swarm come from someone else? Did we completely overlook queen cells? We’re not totally sure but if we had to make a bet, we’d say it came from elsewhere. And the reason for that is this:

Miss Beehavin'

It’s that forgotten corner of your garden stacked with items to clean on your “to do” list that you never get around to. For us that’s old frames and boxes mixed with remnants of crusty honey. Oh yea, it is the perfect spot to settle. I’d seen a few scout it out in days leading up but I never gave it any thought. But as I watched the swarm move around, I realized they were determined to settle on our property. I’m not sure why in the end they decided against this attractive corner but in the future, we are leaving our shit out and about intentionally! 🙂

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