All Hail Queen Victoria!

Earlier in the week, we did a quick inspection to see how the ziplock bags were working out for the sugar syrup. Unfortunately, they were still fermenting in the hot sun, as well as pooling resulting in more drowned bees. We, of course, did research…

We decided to make our own honey-b-healthy (HBH) using the following recipe:

5 cups water 
2 ½ pounds of sugar 
1/8 teaspoon lecithin granules (used as an emulsifier) 
15 drops spearmint oil 
15 drops lemongrass oil 
Bring the water to a boil and integrate the sugar until dissolved. Once the sugar is dissolved remove the mixture from the heat and quickly add the lecithin and the essential oils. Stir until everything is evenly distributed. This solution should have a strong scent and not be left open around bees. Cool before using.

This not only makes the sugar syrup super attractive to bees, but gives the bees added nutrients, encourages comb building, and stops the syrup from fermenting. What we only realized after we made double the quantity above that it is a concentrate – you add only 1 teaspoon per quart of sugar syrup. So we now have enough HBH to last quite some time…

Anyway, we made up some sugar syrup with HBH added to replace the ziplock bags, and went down to the hives to do an inspection. It was also time to install the beetle jails for those pesky hive beetles.

House of Tudor

We saw really good laying pattern in the House of Tudor, including eggs. Everything was going well. We didn’t see any hive beetles at large, but did see some trapped ones that the girls had propolized in place in their own version of a beetle jail.

The beautiful laying pattern in the House of Tudor, with capped honey around the edges of the frame and capped brood in the middle.

House of Hanover

As we were inspecting the frames in the House of Hanover, we again saw Queen Victoria! This time, we managed to take a Royal Portrait. How fitting for the week of Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee! But before we unveil the portrait, let us show you an awesome picture of some different stages of brood in the House of Hanover:

In the left and right, you see young developing larvae, with older and more developed larvae as you come towards the capped brood in the middle of the picture.

Now, here’s the contest section of the post. Can you spot Queen Victoria?

Can you spot Queen Victoria and her court?

And finally, here is the Royal Portrait:

Queen Victoria is marked with a yellow dot (because she was born in a year ending in 2). She is surrounded by her court, who see to her every need and feed her nothing but royal jelly.

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We’re getting rid of the bugs early…

…literally.

After our inspection last Saturday, we noticed that the top feeders we use were killing a lot of bees. You see, they have these wooden and plastic floats where the bees are meant to stand on to drink the sugar syrup. But far too many of our precious girls were falling in and drowning. Not to mention the fact that the sugar syrup was fermenting…

Pulling up the wood and plastic float to find lots of girls

We both felt so terrible that the configuration of something we provided had led to the death of some of our girls. We worked on replacing the liquid with syrup in ziplock bags with little slits in to let the syrup out gradually.

As we were cleaning out the sugar syrup, we noticed a few bugs and larvae in the syrup. Ew! And PANIC!

Small hive beetle larva

We managed to catch one of the bugs and identified it as a small hive beetle. We had just averted hive robbing and were working on reducing bee drowning and we have another threat to our hives!

Thankfully, we didn’t see any small hive beetles in the hives during the inspection. So, after getting the sugar syrup bags into the hives, we ordered some beetle jails, which attract the beetles with the smell of apple cider vinegar and trap them in mineral oil (which, of course, kills them too). In the meantime, we were left worrying about the girls and their new invaders!

Our Second Inspection – After a Nerve-racking Week!

Jo and I are brand new parents, so we’re kinda obsessed with our girls!

We uploaded a video to our new YouTube channel. The video shows three diligent worker bees in triangle formation on the landing deck of the House of Hanover fanning the entrance of the hive to maintain circulation on what was a ~90°F (~30°C) humid day here in Maryland. Their wings are beating too fast even if you play the video in slow motion, but I hope you enjoy watching it and see the other workers playing their part in keeping the hive healthy and productive.

Talking about keeping hives healthy and productive, we had a potentially disastrous situation at the House of Tudor earlier this week when robber bees – smaller, blacker, less furry feral bees no less – started to get past the guard bees and into the hive. The guard bees were on red alert, intercepting every possible intruder and often fighting to the death. We found this incredibly upsetting to say the least, as our girls willing gave their lives to protect the hive and its hard-earned resources. We began diligently researching what we could do to help and constructed a robber screen.

Our newly fashioned robber screen in position on the front of the House of Tudor.

The premise of the robber screen is to confuse the robber bees who seek out the hive based on sight rather than the smell of the pheromones of the colony. The colony residents eventually find their way up the screen and into a hole in the top of wooden frame, whereas the robber bees just keep hitting themselves on the front of the screen, become frustrated, but rarely find the top hole. Instead, they can be seen skittishly flying around the hive looking for alternate ways in and eventually fly away in defeat.

The screen has been on for almost a week now and the crisis is averted and the front of the hive now looks calm, with far fewer (if any) bees hanging out on the screen itself. Our inspection today necessitated by the robbing incident, as we needed to assess whether there was any damage. We are overjoyed to report that we couldn’t see any negative impact from those nasty feral thieves.

The inspection itself went wonderfully, though we are still apparently inept at making the smoker smoke at the correct time. The purpose of the smoke is to both trick the bees into thinking there’s a forest fire, so that they engorge themselves on honey in preparation for fleeing the hive, thus directing them deep into the frames to access the honey, and also to mask alarm and communication pheromones so that word doesn’t get around too easily that we’re invading their home.

Our technique makes wonderful smoke both before and after actually opening the hives themselves, but very little at the necessary time when we have cracked open the hives to inspect. In other words, once we have invaded our girls’  homes and actually have tens of thousands of bees staring at us from between the frames… We are at their mercy because our smoker doesn’t serve its purpose at the right time, but we have so far not had even one of our girls become aggressive and try to sting us. They are so peaceful and sweet.

House of Hanover

Newly built comb, now filled with eggs and some tiny larva.

It was on this frame that we saw Queen Victoria!!! You have no idea how EXCITING this was for us (unfortunately we didn’t get the camera quick enough to take a picture). She was huge, much bigger than we thought she would be, and very regal, surrounded by the ladies of her court. She was marked with a yellow dot, as promised!

Beautiful capped brood in one of the frames newly added when we first got the nuc two weeks ago. The non-capped cells are still at the earlier larva stage.

Taken from the underneath of a frame.

Frame filled with capped honey (the white band down both sides and across the top), capped brood (the yellow in the middle), un-capped brood (the dark cells).

In this picture, you can see two different types of capped brood. The flat topped is worker brood. The domed topped is drone brood – those boys are not useful to the productivity of the hive, but account for up to 15% of the population at any given time.

House of Tudor

Gorgeous, even brood in newly laid comb in one of the non-nuc frames, so we know there is a healthy, laying Queen Elizabeth I.

More brood! The other frames showed loads of nectar, pollen, and honey. Elizabeth sure knows how run a highly productive kingdom!

The frames inside the first Tudor super. The dark frames are the five that came with the nuc, the light ones are those we inserted and have yet to be covered with propolis (a hard substance bees use as cement and caulking and…well, it’s the duct tape of the bee world).

The Obligatory Picture of Your Apiarists

Fi looking dashing (and not so happy with the photographing…) in her bee getup. She’s holding the hive tools (and a lighter or two).

Jo and Fi after their second inspection. This time, Jo isn’t so happy about the photographing..