Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Parlor Tricks

All of the best action-adventure shows used to caution, "Don't try this at home."  Today's post falls into that category.  Unless you happen to be a mildly insane beekeeper, with a great supporting cast.
My observation hive is in the parlor of our old farmhouse style home.  A parlor is nice because doors can be closed to keep it clean for when guests arrive, or perhaps, to keep bees from infiltrating the entire house when the beekeeper chooses to tend the observation hive indoors on a 19 degree day, which is the beginning of the fun we had this weekend.
The story actually begins with a nice day last week, when the weather warmed into the high 50's and some beekeepers tended their hives.  One such beekeeper had difficulties, and accidentally killed her queen.  Not wanting to leave a queenless colony devouring the honey stores that she could otherwise save for new bees in the spring, she offered to give away her queenless bees.
Since the observation hive went into the fall with a very small cluster, the notion of boosting the population of potential brood-tending bees was enticing.  But if there was going to be brood, it would be nice to have more pollen cake than was stored in the hive.  I had frames from an outdoor hive that had been robbed, which were full of great pollen.  So in the morning, we closed those parlor doors, suited up, and opened the observation hive.  The bees were quite docile as we replaced empty frames with frames full of food.  Only a couple dozen bees were out of the hive, so we left the feeder hatch open for them to return.  Instead, the sun came out & suddenly the hive thought the room was summertime, and there were bees everywhere!  It wasn't until dusk that they migrated back, and even then some needed assistance finding their way. 
Meanwhile, we prepared a hive body with screened entrance to go accept the offered bees.  We drove to the lovely garden with the queenless hive, and there could not have been a prettier or sadder picture.  Picture perfect garden with picture perfect hive, stuffed full of healthy bees and honey.  Transferring the bees to our hive body was surprisingly like doing the same thing on a nice summer day, with fewer bees actually flying around.  We then bustled the bees into a box in the car & got them home to introduce them to the observation hive.
Our clever plan had been to pour the bees into the honey super, without frames in it, and set that on top of the hive, allowing the new bees to slowly move through the opening into the main hive.  But there were far more bees than would comfortably endure such a treatment.  So we used the same concept, but applied it to a large cardboard box with a hole in the bottom to line up with the opening in the top of the hive!  We transferred the frames from our hive, bees and all, and poured remaining bees, into that cardboard box. Then positioned it on the hive & sort of taped it in place.  The bees got the idea and overnight, there was a mass migration from the box down into the hive!  How glorious to see all of those bees in the observation hive!
Even more rewarding was when I saw my queen this morning, healthy & happy, surrounded by a full court, going along laying eggs. 

Once most of the bees were out of the cardboard box, we reverted to Plan A, and moved the remaining bees into the honey super, which is now back on the hive, allowing extra space for the nice bee population.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Things Get More Interesting

Fans of the Dark Queen have asked where she went, and what has become of her now that there's a pretty, plump golden queen in the hive.  My first answer was fairly vague.  But tonight when looking to get better pictures of the new golden queen, instead I found my old friend!  She was busily going about her business, with a full court.

 Meanwhile, on the other side of the hive, the new golden queen put in a brief appearance before scooting out of the bright light.  So for the moment, there are 2 queens in one small observation hive.  The pictures don't do justice to how distinct the ladies are.  The old queen is quite dark, with light stripes down the side of her abdomen.   The new one is strikingly golden, without dark bands.  And yes, we did see both of them at the exact  same moment.

Better pictures of the golden queen with her court (next morning.)

A New Golden Queen!

The bees know what the bees need.  While I was noticing the diminished size and productivity of the original dark queen, the bees were doing something about it.  Yesterday when we were looking for the queen, we found the court surrounding a large golden queen, who was busily going along laying eggs in one cell after another.  The queen mother (the mother of the dark queen) was golden, so her coloration is a fun surprise, but reasonable.
Maybe I will get better pictures, but here is your first glimpse of the new royalty!  Perhaps I should name her George?

The design of this observation hive has the area between 2 frames hidden from view, providing the bees a sheltered environment away from light, and with greater temperature control.  Unless I take the hive outside to tend it, they can keep some secrets in there.  In this case, the secret appears to have been a nice supercedure cell.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Summertime, and the Livin' is Easy

The observation hive is doing great.  The queen busily laid the frames full of beautiful brood as the initial brood hatched out, and in June, they filled & capped the top 2 frames with honey in a quick week.  Basswood honey.  We added the honey super, and although a couple of bees went up & checked it out, they have not gone up there to work yet.  They are using the middle 4 medium frames for brood, and the queen and her court are not bashful about going along laying eggs while we watch.  They have drawn comb in the lower deeps, and had those filled with nectar last week.  This week they have hit a dearth, and have eaten all that nectar!  While that does give the queen the opportunity to move down there and lay eggs, it also gives me an indication that the hives in the bee yard are hungry now too, and not producing.

The queen looks smaller.  I am wondering what that bodes for the future.  She is just over a year old, but was raised as an emergency replacement when I first loaded the bees and frames of brood last March, and barely had one day to go out for a mating flight.  It was snowing on the days around that one sunny one!  She has done a beautiful job, considering, and still has lovely brood.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Observation Hive Enters a New Season

The observation hive's 2012 season ended when the bees swarmed, hatched a replacement queen, but she failed to come back and begin laying new brood.  The contents of the observation hive were then united by the newspaper method with the swarm, which had been captured & was well established in an outdoor hive.  This provided ample food & bees for the hive to be in good shape heading into the winter.  They over-wintered well, as a traditional outdoor hive.. 
When inspecting brood this spring, it was a thrill to see the queen.  Oh wait, two queens!  The one on the left  is the dark one we have known, or appears to be, the queen who lived in the observation hive all last year.  We will assume the one on the right is a young queen hatched out of a queen cell in the hive.  Perhaps we interrupted swarm or supersedure plans.  We put the dark queen into a queen clip, and placed it in the observation hive with 4 frames of brood & honey from another hive.  We allowed several hours for acclimation, but needed to bring the hive indoors because the night was going to be cold.  So we gave everyone a squirt of sugar water, and released the queen into the hive.  Then we brought the hive indoors and connected the tubing to the outdoors.

Immediately there was a most delightful sound! It reoccurred several times, and while we had heard tales of queens piping, we had never previously heard the sound.  Our royalty was greeting her subjects.  They accepted her with no problem, and we have enjoyed the sight of her court her across the hive as she selects cells to lay her eggs into.  
(You can hear piping and tooting by rival queens in  piping is said to be G (aka A)and occurs for about one second followed by a string of quarter-second pulses.)

The indoor hive is doing wonderfully, with brood hatching & nectar coming in.  The outdoor 'swarm hive' from last year's observation hive is also doing great.  The abundant brood the 2 queens laid is a beautiful sight, and the hive is packed full of honey, pollen & nectar.  

Monday, October 15, 2012

Building an Observation Hive The Plans for an 8 frame hive

Building My Observation Hive

I published these plans a year ago, and my hive has been hugely rewarding and successful.  The plan post was old enugh that some browsers no longer show it.  For those of you who have asked, here is how I built it:
Building My Observation Hive
These hive plans are for an 8 frame observation beehive; 2-frames wide, with a pair of deep frames, and 3 pairs of mediums.  Both sides open and a drawer at the bottom can remove what falls through the screened bottom.  The feeder can be opened for cleaning when outdoors.  Bees enter & exit through a 1” ID pipe fitting on the opposite side from the feeder, with clear tubing leading outdoors.

The first difficulty I encountered was that lumber does not come in widths that work well with bee space.  I cut a strip off of a “1x6” (actually ¾”x 5.5”) to make a .75 x 4.75.  4.75” is the width (depth) of my finished hive.   Likewise, I cut a strip off of a “1x4 “ (.75X3.5) to make .75 X 3.  3” is the width the 2 frames require to sit on.  The Plexiglas touches the .75x3’s when the doors close..  The strips I cut off worked well for constructing the screened bottom for the hive.
Plexiglas was available in a 32”x44” sheet, which I had cut into two 32”x19”
#8 Hardware cloth was not available but gutter screen was 8 wires/inch, so I got that.  The wires are thin and can be pushed, so most places I doubled it.  Screen is used on the vent holes, the bottom and the feeder.
I tried to draw my plans (next page) and tried to figure my lengths.  But my woodworking skills result in lengths that vary easily by 1/8” or more when I am trying to make them identical.  The screen bottom I only counted on being ¾” thick, but once I put on the screen, I realized I needed wood strips to secure it.  This then moved the entrance & feeder holes further up the sides, and the result is that I did not have room for an inner top board, which would have allowed ventilation on top.  All measurements were double-checked, as I worked, for frames fitting.  That being said, the wood I cut was:
.75 x 4.75 -  2 @ 34.5”  (sides of hive) 1 ¼” Holes cut for entrance & feeder, and
                        ¾” holes for ventilation screen.  To do it over, add 1.5” for  space at top.
                      1 @ 21”  (top of hive)
.75 X 3 – 1 @  19.4”(drawer bottom)
                 2 @  9 1/8” for deep frames to rest on.  Holes cut for screen, align with sides.
                 6 @ 6 1/8” for medium frames to rest on.  Holes for screen, align w/sides.
.75x.75 and .75 x .5 – these were the strips cut off the long boards; cut each
2 @ 19.5”
2 @ 1.5”
.75x1.5 (“1x2”) 1 @ 19.5” for behind the drawer
                        1 @ 19.4” for the drawer front
            4 @ 32 11/16 for door uprights  --- I did not cut these in advance, but measured when
            4 @ 16 5/16” for door tops & bottoms.      the rest was assembled & ready for doors.
.75x7.5 (1x8) 1 @ 34”  for base
For the feeder:
.75x3.5 (1x4) – 2 @ 5 1/8”   one is the bottom, no hole; top gets 2 7/8 dia. hole
1.5x3.5 (2x4) – 1@ 5 1/8”  2 3/8” hole in middle, 1” wide opening to hive hole.

I needed also:  5 hinges, 3 knobs, 3 lock hasps, 1- 1” ID threaded adapter (pipe),
6’ length of clear 1” ID tubing,  1 clamp for the tubing, wood glue,  1 ¼” screws for securing corners, small flat headed screws for securing the Plexiglas to the inside of the door frames, staples to fasten the screen, and to fasten the door frames, which are glued and secured by the Plexiglas.  Drill, bits (holes & thru Plexiglas) and jig saw for feeder.

The diagram below is far from perfect.  Important factors are the width, the height of each frame support (9 1/8" for deep, 6 1/8" for medium) and the 1/2" space between them for the frames to slide in.  Also indicated are the entrance & feeder holes, the debris drawer, and vent holes.

I began by making my long cuts.   Then I prepared the bottom screen.

Next was the feeder, which was not attached to the rest of the hive until the doors were ready, but is shown here as it is when attached.  The large hole was cut with a hand held jig saw.  First a hole was drilled in the center, then rays cut out to the circle.  That way when cutting around the circle, pie wedges fell out and the blade didn't bind.  The base is glued and screwed to the body.

The feeder was attached by gluing the body & base to the hive, and inserting 3 drywall screws from the inside into the body & base.  The top is attached by the hinge & hasp only.

Next, the pieces were cut which support the frames, and a ¾” hole was cut in each for ventilation.  These were placed onto the side pieces, with the bottom screen and drawer pieces placed to verify the space each requires.  Wood & Plexiglas were held along each side to be sure the pieces were properly centered for the doors to fit later.  Holes were marked on the side pieces, and cut, both the large holes at the bottom and the ventilation holes. Screen was placed over the ¾” holes and the small pieces were aligned, glued & nailed into place, sandwiching the screen between. 
This shows my habit of keeping frames in the hive, to keep things correct size & square.

The drawer is a “1x2” fastened onto the edge of a .75x3.  Glued, and a small block at each edge allows a nail to help secure without it showing on the front.

Once all of the preliminary pieces were prepared, the hive assembled quickly.  Corners were glued and screwed.  Final measurements for the door panels were verified, and the doors were cut and assembled.    Below is the Plexiglas screwed to the inside of a door panel.

It is probably worth mentioning that I have only hand tools and designed these plans to avoid needing a router or table saw or any of that other fancy stuff.  If I can make this, you can too.

For many other ideas and plans, visit

Sunday, August 19, 2012

My Observation Hive - The Swarm! Bee Hives Reproduce by Swarming

My bees have outgrown their space!
This observation hive is an 8 frame hive, and with the addition of the honey super, it has 10 frames.  That is a nice space for a small hive of bees, but as the population grows, they would like about twice that much space.  The honey super drew the attention of some of the bees, who have worked it and added nectar.  It is not yet all matured into honey.

Over a week ago, I noticed that in addition to the obvious crowding in the hive, there were queen cells being built and tended, in the swarm cell position on the bottom of the frames.  I am keeping an eye on them.
When I looked at the hive on Monday, a beautiful sunny afternoon, I saw that its population was a fraction of what it had been the day before.  we went out looking for the swarm, and found it in a tree in the yard.  A couple of 5 gallon buckets, ladders & such were employed, and most of the bees were successfully transferred to a new hive.  (Details such as carelessly tied nets & stings on scalps aside.)  A little sugar water spray, a little brushing, and they settled in pretty well.  The remaining bees on the outside of the new hive moved to the interior in the morning.

The bees who were clinging most tightly to the branches and didn't get into the buckets to be transported to the new hive had no better option than to return to the observation hive, which they did, as one impressively large and loud group.  I am glad for their return, because the hive has had no pests, but immediately the next day both moths and hive beetles were attempting to enter.  It is surprising how the angry fighting noises of the bees call my attention to these events.  And it is also surprising how quickly the pests were aware of the weakened state of the hive.  The bees have fought off the pests and are busily filling the nicely drawn wax with nectar and pollen.  Much brood remains to hatch out, and some is not even capped yet.

The new outdoor hive resulting from the swarm is nicely established, and when we checked it today we found drawn comb and lots of festooning.  We gave them a proper bottom board and covers, and they are for the moment a healthy independent hive.  They will likely need to be partnered with another hive to be large enough to go through winter, but it is nice that the bees are still here.