Thursday, January 17, 2013

January Hive Inspection

After the Big Snow, it got warm here.   Warm!   Last Saturday it was 60 degrees.  

Our horizontal hive had a lot of action as it got warmer - plenty of bees coming and going and hanging around outside.    From the back window, I could see that the cluster was not too far away from where they started in the fall.   I figured that meant they had plenty of stores left as they moved through the hive. 

The lang was almost silent, so I was a bit worried about them.   So, I put my ear against the hive and gave it a good knock, knock.   Instant hum.   There were bees in there - in the top box.    Since they started in the bottom box, that meant that they might be moving through their stores pretty fast. 

A note here:   An experienced beek can lift the hive and know by weight how much honey is left.   I am not an experienced beek.  For the record, I did lift, and they were heavy - because I'm a girl and I have no upper body strength.    I need to lift them in the fall to get used to how heavy they are full.  Eric lifted and said they did feel lighter. 

Since we have a couple more months before the maples start blooming here, I decided to open the hives to make sure they had enough stores.     I prepped some candy for the lang since I figured they'd need food for sure.  I figured the horizontal was just fine.

Oh, how wrong I was. 

The Lang
We started with the lang, in suits and with smoke.    We opened the top and found a few bees atop the frames.   They were calm.  

I pulled a few frames from the other side and they were completely empty.   The lang was on its last stores.  They would have probably starved within a very short time without intervention.

I piled the broken sugar bricks right on top of the frames. 


The bees went to them right away.  

We put an empty super to surround it, then laid some paper along the side and poured in some extra dry sugar, too.  

We left the screened bottom board open.  We put the inner cover on and put short pencils in the corners to keep the top lid up enough for air to circulate and dry up any condensation in the hive.

[Let me just insert here that short pencils are the bane of my existence.  Not that I'm exaggerating or anything.  I never exaggerate.   Short pencils hide in the pencil jar and are too short to reach, but make it hard to stuff other pencils in there.  Also, when all the real pencils are mysteriously gone from the jar, and I have to fish out and use one of the stubby ones, invariably they have No Eraser.  Or it's totally dried up and hard and leaves dark marks on the paper.   I hate that.    But now I have a reason to save short pencils.   They are perfect, perfect! for the corners of the hive in winter when I want to keep the top up just a bit.]

Then we put the telescoping lid back on and crossed our fingers that they'd last till late February when the maples bloom.    If we get a few more warm days between now and then [and we will] we can pop the top and add more sugar if we need to. 

The Horizontal Hive
When we opened the horizontal hive, we saw a tiny cluster and a lot of bee poop.   The tops of the frames were very messy and in stark contrast to how clean the lang had been.    

We have some sick bees in the horizontal hive. 

All that action I had been seeing was probably bees leaving for cleansing flights - running to the toilet, as it were.  

I pulled the end frames where I expected the cluster to head next and they were already empty.   The cluster was moving the opposite direction from where I thought they'd started.   Now they were moving back toward the brood frames they'd used last year.   

I pulled a couple of frames from that end and they all looked like this:  The dark brown is old brood space, empty.  Just above that is stored pollen [dark orange-red] and above that and across the top of the frame is capped honey.    If you click on the pic you might be able to get it big enough to see the pollen.

At any rate a few frames like that is not enough stores to get them through the winter.    

We replaced the inner covers and put supers on top.   This time I put a couple of layers of paper over the holes in the inner cover, then poured a lot of dry sugar on top.  I sprayed the paper and the sugar with water to help it clump together so the bees would know it was candy and not try to clean it out of their hives.   Not that these bees are going to do much house cleaning if they're sick.   

In this pic, the super to the left has empty frames in it.   The bees won't bother them and it was a handy place to store them for the winter. 

I put pencils in the corners and the telescoping lid right on top of the new supers. 

Then I posted this pic to the forum to see what the experts think and it looks like bad news for this hive.    If you can truly judge by the number of bees on top, then the cluster is too small and too sick to survive the winter.   

If I had known what I was doing that day, I should have put a divider in the hive to reduce the size of the chamber, thus reducing the size of the space they needed to heat.   It would have turned the hive body into a nuc sized hive.    That might have given them a better chance.   

When the temps rise again, we'll go inspect again and make sure that the lang has enough sugar and if the horizontal hive is still alive, I'll reduce the chamber size.  


  1. Your candy boards (bricks) looked like they turned out great! Mine sometimes are hard as rocks, othertimes a bit softer, And they often do break up into smaller chunks like your pictures.

    I'm hoping to sneak back into my hives this weeked to see if they need another brick. If they really need it (and are out of honey stores) they'll go through a lot of candy board in no time.

  2. How sad Robin, beekeeping seems very complicated to me. Not sure I want to set myself up for so much failure! I had thought about it but it seems way too hard! Good luck with the hives for the rest of the winter - I do hope they make it!

  3. The last picture was sad. One looks it is keeled over dead. :-( I hope it survives... keep us posted! Can you relocate the sick bees to the other hive?

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