Third-quarter update from Michael Slivka

The third quarter of my first year of beekeeping saw the continuation of the feeding frenzy that had started the previous quarter.

I now had four gallon feeders on each hive but I was only filling them only half to three-quarters full to make them easier to handle when accessing the hive. To keep up with the bee's consumption, I had to make syrup almost daily. I was initially buying sugar in 4 and 10 pound bags and then weighing out 8.34 pounds (or so) per gallon of water (for the 1:1 by weight ratio). When I first started making syrup, I was limited by the size of the largest pot I had at the time which would only accommodate two gallons of water and 17 pounds of sugar; this would yield approximately three gallons of syrup. I was finally able to simplify this task by purchasing 25-pound bags of sugar from Walmart and preparing the syrup in a newly acquired eight-gallon stock pot (and a large plastic paddle for mixing). This had the advantage of being the most economical way to buy sugar that I had found as well as simplifying the syrup production which was now as easy as adding one 25-pound bag of sugar to 3 gallons of water. This method eliminated having to the weigh the sugar and yielded five gallons per batch.

In July, I also performed a first mite check. Back at our April Southeast Indiana Beekeepers Association (SIBA) club meeting, I had watched SIBA member Jason Morgan demonstrate how to check for mites using an alcohol wash. Then on July 10th, fellow SIBA member, Roger Rickabaugh, visited my apiary and we performed alcohol washes on the jump-start hive and a second hive that housed my first swarm. After locating the queen, we selected a frame of nurse bees for the test. Washing approximately 300 of those bees (1/2 cup), we found one mite in the jump-start hive and zero in the swarm-hive. While I was pleased the counts were not higher, I was a little concerned that wash cups we used were not as spacious as the wash-cups sold by our club. With the bees held more tightly in the smaller cup, I wondered if all mites present would be free to fall to the bottom of the cup. The next time I do a mite check, I will use the cups sold by SIBA.

Figure 1 - Drawn out deeps

With all the feeding, the bees soon had their second deep drawn out over 70 percent. In mid-July, I added a honey super to the two hives I had just mite checked. In the coming weeks, it was interesting to see that while the syrup consumption of these two hives was quite similar, the rate at which they drew out the comb in the supers was quite different. When the swarm hive super was nearing 70 percent, the jump-start hive was still only at twenty or thirty percent. It took a few more weeks for that hive to catch up.

In mid-August, I decided to try performing mite checks on my own. On Saturday, August 17th, I setup my wash equipment and set about finding the queen to insure I didn't accidentally throw her in the alcohol. However, while all three hives I checked showed healthy signs of brood production, I could not physically locate the queen in any of them. Frustrated, I packed up the wash equipment and headed home. The following weekend, I gave it another shot and had much more success. After locating the queen, I set her aside and selected an appropriate frame for the test. When I had done the mite checks in July, I had been able to see the mites with reading glasses. So I expected readers were all I would need to count the mites. But this time, I found that it was more difficult to differentiate what I thought was a mite from other bits of wing, wax and pollen debris. On the first (jump-start) hive, I counted one mite. On the next two, I counted zero mites. These numbers seemed almost too good to be true and I worried that my vision was preventing me from seeing the mites clearly. This left me doubting the results of the counts and that I would have to repeat the wash when I had better magnification or a second set of eyes. One of these hives is much smaller and the prospect of sacrificing more bees was not a happy one.

Figure 2 - Locating the queen.

On Friday August 30th, I spent the day with fellow SIBA member, Jim Orem, as he drove over hill and dale checking his swarm traps. I had not had much success with my swarm traps and I was hoping to get a better idea of placement from someone who has had much success. In fact, even though swarm season had waned somewhat, we found a swarm had taken up residence in one of his traps! I am looking forward to employing what I learned next spring.

During September, syrup consumption started to drop off dropped off. By the end of the month, the hives started to smell of feet, a sure sign the bees had been bringing in goldenrod. Both supers are full now and I need to decide what to do with them; it seems my options are freeze them for later bee feeding, set them out for common bee feeding, or harvest the honey for home consumption.

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