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New bees!

Last November our backyard beehive was raided and torn apart by a few hungry bears.

It’s been sad looking out at the corner of the yard where the hive had been.  I’ve missed those bees and their constant stream of activity that I used to watch from my kitchen window and deck.

This morning I headed north to Madison County to Wild Mountain Bees to pick up my new hive.  In beekeeper lingo, what I got is called a “nuc” —  a small, basic hive (including a queen) that you transfer into a larger bee box where they will produce brood and expand their population.

Nucs awaiting pick up at John Christie's Wild Mountain Bees

In preparation for the arrival of our new bees, I enlisted my brother’s help in getting an electric fence built around the hive site to keep hungry bears out.  Many of Asheville’s urban beekeepers lost hives last fall to bear raids,  and the only solution I’ve heard of is electric fencing.

Now, it’s not as pretty as when I had my simple cypress “cottage hive” without this web of shiny wires, black plastic control box, plastic orange gate latches, and green metal fencing posts — but practicality won over garden vanity here:

In an effort to keep things simple, we decided to use the more common size bee box to transfer them into (with 10 longer frames instead of 8 shorter as I’d had previously).

So I’m saving the old 8-frame boxes with the hopes of catching a swarm again this spring (I’ve put requests out on Facebook for anyone seeing a swarm to give us a call — and have since received one reply from a friend about a hive living in the wall of her in-laws’ house in Montford!  However I think that’s WAY above my beekeeping skill level.  Sounds like a rather surgical removal….)

To welcome the bees to their new home, my 3-year old boy donned his suit and helped hand supplies to us as we transferred the bees from the nuc box to their bigger, permanent box: 

My brother getting ready to transfer bees

My brother getting ready to transfer bees

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The bees were really mellow for having been closed up in the nuc box and ridden in the back of a pickup through the winding back roads of Madison County and at highway speeds back to Asheville for 30 minutes.  I’m thinking that was due to the low temperatures this morning.  But by the time we’d opened the nuc box it was almost 50 and sun was shining on the new box.  We found the queen quickly:

 

 

 

 

 

 

She’d been “marked” with a yellow dot on her back to make it easy to identify her when inspecting the hive.  I was able to find the queen in my old hive even though she wasn’t marked — the queen has a longer abdomen than all the other bees in the hive.

After we’d gotten the racks of bees transferred, we sat in the yard and were mesmerized watching them flying around the hive and getting their bearings.

Me and my helper! (Note massive headband -- nothing more annoying than having long hair get in your eyes and face when you've got bee suit hat on -- I learned the hard way so the headband is now a critical part of my bee suit ensemble!)

 

 

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Early Thanksgiving for bear — beehive is ravaged

Just two days ago I was marveling at the bees continuing to bring in pollen so late into November:

It’s been fairly warm the past few weeks so the bees have been out and about, gathering the end of the season’s pollen.

I suppose it’s also been warm enough for the local black bear population to continue storing up their reserves for the winter too.  I went downstairs to get some firewood this morning and saw this:

I’m still shocked.  That’s a very heavy stand made out of cedar lumber, and the hive boxes were strapped down to it with heavy-duty webbing.  Obviously it did nothing to stop the bear – or bears – last night from pushing it over and eating all the honey and brood from two of the boxes.  (I don’t know why the bear left that last box intact.  My brother thinks it just got too full.)

The bear chose a bad night to feast — not for the bear, but for the bees.  It was pouring rain and 45 degrees overnight, so they had no shelter and I found hundreds of dead, wet bees all over the ground near the hive.

There were a few signs of life, though.  I saw a few small clusters of bees trying to keep warm.  I also got stung on my back where my bee suit gaps between the top and pants.  They were definitely in protection mode and were agitated when I was trying to piece the remaining box and racks together that remained.  They are weak and slow from the cold and it made me sad to see them so disoriented and strewn everywhere.

 I’m doubtful the queen survived.  I started to look for her but figured it would be best to leave them alone and get them set back up as soon as possible because it was cold.  If she’s gone, along with the  thousands of other bees that didn’t make it, plus most of the brood and honey, I’m thinking there’s no way the remaining bees will make it through the winter.

But I went ahead and set the base back up, put the intact box on top of that, and salvaged what racks I could that the bear didn’t totally finish off.  I was able to put those racks into another box along with random pieces of comb that were strewn across the backyard.  I scooped up a few handfuls of bees sheltered under some leaves and shook them off into the top box.

It amazes me that we live a mile from downtown and have black bears roaming through our backyards. I suppose I shouldn’t be too surprised, though.  Their habitat is dwindling as developments have spread out and up the mountains.  And of course, bears do love honey, so an urban hive is fair game to a wandering, hungry bear.

A six-foot fence and heavy-duty tie-downs are no match for a bear.  I think it’s time for electric fence around it.

 
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Posted by on November 23, 2011 in bears and bees, Urban beekeeping

 

We’ve been robbed…and infested

Our beehive is having a rough time right now.  Not only have they been discovered by a band of marauding robber bees, they’ve also had some freeloading hive beetles and wax moths move in.

Beetle traps, sugar water, pollen patties (cider vinegar and oil to bait the traps)

To fight back, I called John Christie at Wild Mountain Bees up in Madison County and ordered some ammo:  mite strips and hive beetle traps.  And to help my bees re-stock their food supply to get them through the winter, I ordered some pollen patties.

Since we got this hive back in April, tending the bees has been fairly low-maintenance.  I fed them sugar water to get them established, and checked the hive every couple of weeks to make sure they were producing brood and building up a good supply of honey.

All was well till I started noticing the tiny black shiny hive beetles scurrying around in the racks, then I realized every time I’d go in the hive there were more of them.  Then we found some wax moth larvae (eww, vile grubby things) attached to the sides of one of the boxes.  But the most alarming thing was that where there had once been racks full of honey, there was nothing.  And it happened fast.

Robbed!

Unfortunately, there’s not a whole lot you can do to prevent robber bees from coming in.  Robber bees are just bees from another hive who’ve been tipped off by one of their own that there’s a good supply of food in another hive, and they make quick work of stealing it.

One thing we did was to put an entrance reducer on the front of the hive so that our bees would have less territory to defend.  It basically is a strip of wood with a small notch cut out so that only a couple of bees can come in or fly out at once. I also put some grass and leaves over that entrance after a Google search informed me that would confuse the robber bees and they’d eventually give up trying to invade and go back home.

This is not just happening in my urban beehive:  it is happening in all my friends’ hives around the 28801 and 28806 zip codes.  I sure would like to see the hives where the robbers are absconding with our honey.  They must be strong and gigantic.

Mite strips: 7-day treatment

When checking on the hives a few weeks ago we noticed that some of our bees had shriveled-up wings.  That’s a sign of mites.  Despite their flightlessness, the other bees don’t reject them.  (My brother was marveling at this, reminding me that bees will banish the drones from the hive at the end of the season when they don’t need them anymore, but they will “let” these hive-bound bees stay and work.)

These mite strips about knocked us over — they’ve got formic acid in them. I don’t know what formic acid is exactly, but it smelled like the vinegar on steroids.  I felt guilty putting them in the hive knowing the bees would be trapped in there with all those fumes, but I knew that unless we dealt with the mites we were at risk of losing the entire hive, especially since we’re headed into winter.

Pollen patties on top of racks

So my bees wouldn’t hate me forever after I subjected them to the formic acid treatment, after I took the mites strips out I immediately put in some pollen patties.  Pollen patties look and smell just like PowerBars (I swear I didn’t taste one!) The bees started eating them as soon as I put them on top of the racks.

Trapped hive beetles

The hive beetle traps are great.  They work by luring the beetles in through small holes in the top with apple cider vinegar, then they get stuck in the vegetable oil inside.  These little traps also sit on top of the racks.  One note if you try them:  be really really careful with the oil — don’t spill any inside the hive because any bee that touches it will get all gunked up and won’t be able to fly.

The only things that could mess with our bees now are the giant variety:  bears.  They are roaming all over the place.  They’ve been in our neighborhood the past few weeks.  There was a family about a half mile from downtown, not far from us, just recently:

Mama bear and 3 cubs in tree, courthouse and downtown in background

Bear-proofing

Hence:

To end on a happy note:

October 13th and still coming in with pollen

 
 
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