Why We Started With Two Hives

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Two hives are better than one...right?

That's what we were told at least, by multiple people in the beekeeping community when we were first getting started. 

At first, we thought - no way. Two sounds like a lot more work than just starting out with one. We didn't even know what we were doing yet! But the more we asked around and researched, the more we realized that they were on to something.

The top reasons people recommended us to start with two hives were comparison and utilization.

Having two hives to compare progress has become a very handy tool in our beekeeping. The hives that we have currently had for about 3 months have grown at very different speeds. Our one hive with "Queen Lizzz" is also known as our little hive since it has developed a considerable amount slower than the other. The second hive, home of "Queen Beeatrice" has been booming in comparison and growing much more rapidly.

Comparing them both also gives us a much better idea of what looks "normal" and what seems a bit weird. One of which we really have started to notice is temperament/excitement.

Having two hives to compare gives us a great look into how they are both doing and when to help if one looks like it's lagging behind.

The second reason why we doubled up was that we could utilize the hives to benefit each other.

We haven't resorted to using resources from one hive to help the other quite yet but we did look into it when our little hive seemed to develop at a much slower pace. Taking a full frame of healthy brood from the stronger hive and swapping it into the weaker one can create a jumpstart for the struggling queen and the colony back on their feet.

We are still dabbling with this idea since one hive is thriving at a considerably faster rate, while the other is lagging behind. 

What's holding us back from making that call is that the weaker hive is still growing and doing well, just at a much slower pace. Do we mess with their progress by trying to boost them or let them grow organically on their own?

Our plan, for now, is just to monitor both hives development, separately and by comparison and make a more educated decision in about a month or so. 

So there you have it, both reasons why we decide to kickstart off our journey with two new hives instead of just one.

When you started beekeeping how many hives did you start out with? Let us know in the comments below!

 

The First Sugar Shake Attempt

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First off, what's a sugar shake?

A sugar shake is a simple and "easy" test beekeepers use to monitor the number of Varroa mites your colony has.

Varroa mites are parasites that live on, feed off and weaken adult honey bees as well as larvae. Small numbers are manageable for hives but going unmonitored the number of mites can grow and become detrimental.

They are very common throughout the world and the only country heard to not have any mites is Australia.

For the rest of us, the question isn't "Do I have mites?" but "How many mites do I have?".

There are many ways to get an idea of how many mites are in your hive. Some tests are lengthy and some result in killing the honey bees selected to test. One of the more humane ways that we read was the easiest is the sugar shake.

The sugar shake test essentially consists of scooping up about a 1/2 cup of bees, placing them in a jar with powdered sugar in it and cap with a mesh lid. You then roll the jar to make sure the bees are coated and leave the jar for a few minutes. Leaving the jar lets the bees heat up which makes the mites fall off and the sugar prevents them from climbing back on.

You then vigorously shake all the sugar (along with the mites) out of the mesh top into a container with the bees still in the jar. Then the bees go back into the hive where their sisters will clean off all the sugar and they are good as new! With the sugar/mite bucket, water is added to dissolve the sugar and then you can easily identify how many mites are there. The mite count involves some math to determine an estimated amount of mites in your hive.

The equation is: Every 3 mites within the 1/2 cup (or 100) bees tested equals 1% of the hive infested.

That means if you saw 9 mites you would have a 3% infestation and so on. The red flag starts to go up around the 5% and higher infestation level and would be time to look at treatments.

After researching this method, we got to work and planned our own tests.

The idea is simple and videos proved it to look easy and straightforward, but once we got in there we found it to be a bit trickier.

Now I don't know if any of you have ever tried to collect bees in a jar, but it is much easier said than done. We didn't want to squish or kill anyone so it took quite a while and a few different methods to get those girls in there. Once the bees were in we waited and shook out the sugar/mites easy peasy and got those ladies back home a little worse for wear.

The troubling part we had, and how we think we messed up somehow, was that the tests for both hives had no mites at all. Even though that would normally be exciting, we are skeptical of our skills and probably did something to compromise our testing. A theory we have is that we might have used too small of mesh and the mites couldn't get through, or maybe too much sugar.

Either way, we have decided to try a different method next week and see how those results compare. Who knows, maybe we will be the special case and have no mites in sight! (very unlikely)

 

We Thought We Killed Our Bees

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This past week has been a complete rollercoaster of emotions.

One minute, everything was fine, and the next we witnessed bees fighting for their lives outside of the hive! When we saw piles of little bee corpses in front of our hives, we were positive that we were the worst bee-moms ever and that we ruined our colonies in about a month.

It looked as though the bees were tousling outside with each other, and tossing one another to the ground.

We inspected our hives and found them both to be weak. They definitely looked much different than our last inspections with no new eggs and no new larvae. Just like that, the colonies seemed to be collapsing. We were in shock that things could turn so quickly, within a week!

The only curious thing was that we saw both of our queens when we had assumed the cause of the mayhem was that our hives had become queen-less.

Amazingly, amidst all this craziness, we witnessed something truly rare! Queen bees very rarely emit a "piping" or "quacking" sound. We had just recently learned about this and to our surprise, we heard it coming from on of our hives!  

After a momentary freak out we collected all the information we could and emailed our local, and very knowledgeable, beekeeping resource: Mark. Right away he calmed our worries and explained that our issues most likely were a compilation of a few minor problems, rather than a huge catastrophe. 

Phew! As soon as we read that we all let out a little sigh of relief.

The email read on to say that there was probably a lack of nectar (or a "dearth" - a word we just learned) and that our girls were getting hungry! Robbing could have been a factor as well hence the fighting and dead bees present. 

A pile of dead bees we found right in front of on of our hives!

A pile of dead bees we found right in front of on of our hives!

His advice for us was that the bees most likely will figure everything out on there own and it is best to help them along by simply feeding them and checking on them.

Feeding we can do! I went straight to Buckerfield's and picked up some feeders for the bees. Upon my return, I realized that I didn't stop to research what kind of feeders, and the ones I picked up (entrance feeders) were not the best to use as it can promote robbing.

We knew these girls couldn't possibly take any more stress, so we researched the best methods of feeding and landed on the "baggie method".

This consisted of us filling up large ziplock bags with simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water) and laying the bag right over the hive body frames for each hive. We then took a sharp object (an Exacto-knife in our case) and made slits in the bag so the bees can feed. After that, we put an empty shallow super box over top to allow room for the bag and left the bees to eat for a day.

Putting the baggie feeder on, trying not to squish any girls, and cutting a few holes for them to eat!

Putting the baggie feeder on, trying not to squish any girls, and cutting a few holes for them to eat!

Check out this hungry chica!

Check out this hungry chica!

Two days later - the bag is still over half full but the ladies are building comb all around the bag and into the empty super box.

Two days later - the bag is still over half full but the ladies are building comb all around the bag and into the empty super box.

The results from out baggie feeding were very interesting! We opened up the hives and noticed much better vibes from both our colonies. Busier for sure which made us very happy but we expected the bags to be dry and they were still quite full. 

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We began with the weaker hive and made much bigger slits in the bags so they could really get in there. The hive seemed to be doing better regardless so we left it be to see what it would look like in a few days.

The busier hive had started building comb all around the bag!

We were amazed at how fast they got to work. Since the brood looked much better and they were already starting on the last of their frames in the hive body, we decided they were ready for a honey super!

To make sure they were still getting enough food, we decided to experiment and use an entrance feeder on this hive and compare which method worked out best for us. We checked back in one day and already had to fill up the feeder! Hungry gals!

This week we will be anticipating the health of our hives and look forward to our next inspection to see how our feeding experiment goes!