Our first year of active beekeeping is coming to an end. Our bees will go into what is called a winter cluster that lives off it's honey stores. We done everything we could to make sure they have honey, we didn't harvest this year. We went a few steps further, though, we also treated our bees for Varroa Mites and placed Small Hive Beetle traps in both hives, too. All bees have these pests and they lead to colony collapse and are the next most deadliest plague for Bees - the first is US and our wild use of herbicides/pesticides.
Our bees are lucky, we live way far back in the woods and down in a dell. We actually get very little wind down here at Windy Thistle and so we don't get as much 'drift' which is what it is called when your farmer neighbor sprays his crops while the wind blows and kills your bees by accident. Anyway, we do take care of our bees as we do our chickens and Henrietta the Turkey. Part of that is putting them to bed for the year under a quilt with a sugar block.
My darling Roger made a box to fit the top of the hives and divided the box into three sections. He put 1/2" hardware cloth across the center sections and regular window screening across the other two sections. I made a ten pound sugar block for each of the boxes in the center, leaving room for the bees to get up to sugar but not to get into the end sections. Then we stuffed the ends full of clean wood shavings. Roger had made a solid wood cover for the top of the quilt box and drilled a series of holes in the shavings side ends for ventilation.
We hauled them out to the hives to do our final inspection of the year. It was quite a struggle to get the top supers off both hives, the bees had glued them firmly together with honeycomb - called burr comb. We checked the small hive beetle traps and there was only one in the trap on Bluebell and none on Buttercup so that is good news.
After a futile effort to remove Bluebell's top super, we finally realized we'd have to remove each frame to break the burr comb so the top super could be lifted. The bees have filled the top box almost full of honey - it probably weighed between fifty and seventy pounds. That's not enough for them through the winter, I'd like it if their box was full so I'm glad we're putting the sugar blocks in the quilts.
We briefly checked the brood box. We just made sure we saw lots of bees and well, we did and they saw us. These bees were testy! Using a smoker makes the bees want to gorge on honey in case they have to leave. Bees full of honey don't sting as much. Don't believe that hype! Four bees found their way inside my suit and up to my rib cage.. ouch! All four stung me before I was able to get my suit off and get to where they were. Roger kept on working while I was gone. He placed an entrance reducer in the bottom and a mouse guard so that no vermin invade the hive while they are in winter cluster.
He also removed the bottom board on our weak hive - Buttercup. This blue hive has been weak all summer. It was the victim of a robbing attack in September. We put a feeder into this hive and they've recovered a little but it's still not as strong as Bluebell. The bottom board was a little better news. There were only eight mites and plenty of indications that new brood were emerging as new bees. There was only one hive beetle. So that was heartening.
Roger lifted off the top box so I could remove the mite strip. The brood box looked very healthy.. a lot of bees and they were also not thrilled with being invaded, look at the entrance in the photo, see all those bees?
Roger had already placed the quilt box on Bluebell while I was dealing with stings in the house. You can read this as me madly stripping off my clothing and trying to get to the little sisters before they landed any more stings on me. Yes, I did suit back up and go back out and help with Buttercup. He closed the yellow hive while I was gone. Now, he placed the quilt top on Buttercup. You can see the drilled ventilation holes that lead to the sections holding wood shavings.
Well, we were going to put the entrance reducer and mouse guard on Buttercup and we had no luck. Those bees had enough of us and boiled through the entrance just searching for a human to sting. You can barely see the entrance reducer in the photo .. We settled for pushing it up against the mouse guard and resolved to place it better after the bees went to bed.
Roger went up after dark and was only partially successful, he'll try again in a couple of days. The bees really don't want us bothering them at this time.
In any case, we're happy with this last hive inspection, the mite strips are working to get rid of Varroa Mites, the beetle traps are not finding a lot of beetles to trap. The bees are vigorous and there are a lot of them. They have honey stores but not enough so the sugar blocks will make all the difference, we hope. We've tightened up the hives and put in moisture controls and insulation with the quilt boxes. We'll build them a windbreak out of straw bales this coming weekend. And then, we've done as much as we can and it's up to our bees. Here's hoping they survive winter. We'll check them again once in early January.
Special thanks to Raven, our photographer who risked stings with the camera. She was behind a fence and not in the way, but no protection whatsoever. We're grateful for telephoto lens and her calm patience with the few little sisters who came to check her out! It was a successful bee inspection, even if I did end up with a few painful stings. No gain without pain, eh? lol I won't stop beekeeping because of a few stings. I'll just learn how to protect myself better in the future.
We still have openings in the third homestead class - Pies, Pies and All Things Pies - coming up on the 16th. We'll be making pumpkin pies from real pumpkins, and Sky High Apple Pies. We'll also be making our own rich flakey butter crusts. This is a kid friendly class, so mom's don't be afraid to bring your darlings. It's $25.00 for adults, no charge for kids so sign up now! As always, day trips to visit Windy Thistle are free and welcome. Just let us know you are coming out.