Readers may recall our niece, who provides the tenuous beekeeping connection to this post. In 2011 she worked on a dairy farm in Tanzania and made several good friends to whom she remains close. In her words:

My friend Theresia, her mother, and aunt sell beaded jewelry and crafts to tourists arriving in Tanzania each summer. Because of COVID-19, those tourists never came this year, leaving Theresia and her family without a source of income. I have a large supply of items created by Theresia and her family which I would like to sell on their behalf here in the U.S. 100% of profits are returned to these Maasai women. Thank you so much for your kind consideration.

The items may be found on etsy here. Thank you.

In the last post we went into detail about the difficulties of the panel wrapping and taping procedure to insulate our hives. This year was the worst ever. Not only did we have all the problems of which we wrote but the day after we took the glamour shot of the hives in their new winter finery the duct tape already started to release its grip. We taped down the tape in response but to little avail. We would always need to apply some extra tape on a few occasions throughout a winter but never so soon nor so much. Unsticking faster than any season before, a mere week later loose tape ends were flapping on slouching panels like a bad complexion on a sullen teen.

Except for nae-sa-wee Angharad. The tape seemed to cling quite well to the trash bag covering her as opposed to the tar paper on the other hives, a thicker paper than we had used before. So, once again taking advantage of a favorable break in the cold and rain, we removed the panels, stripped them of the tar paper, recovered them with black plastic sheeting, and retaped. We considered using black trash bags as we had for Angharad but the panels did not quite fit well within and we would need much more cutting and taping. Easiest to just begin with the sheeting we had once bought for smothering weeds.

Weeks later the tape is holding and the hives still look neat and tidy. Lesson learned. And someday soon we shall cover the rooves.

The gradual descent of daytime temperatures had a brief reversal this last weekend so we decided it was a good opportunity to check on Dorcas and winterize all the hives. She remains our smallest colony but seemed large enough to be viable with good stores of honey, bees still bringing in pollen, and with more brood than we expected this late. Even after the repeated fogging treatments Dorcas had a mite count of 4 per hundred bees. Very much improved but still not as low as we would have liked. We considered fogging again but, since we had her open anyway, we decided to quickly make a batch of the old, reliable oxalic syrup and dribble between the bars with a syringe, as we have before.

After treating Dorcas we still had a lot of our half liter of syrup left so we proceeded to just treat Beatrix and Clarissa as well without even bothering with a sugar roll. We were less concerned about these hives since they had not had disastrous counts thus far and had received the same fogging treatments as Dorcas. As we had come to expect, the bees did not mind having the syrup drizzled on them and were not bothered by our cracking all those propolized bars apart. But they became quite agitated, flying up in buzzing clouds, when we opened a gap into where the brood chamber was. Perhaps, they also were not quite done rearing brood. We worked briskly and the bees settled down.

The rest of the winterizing did not upset them. For each hive we taped a bit of window screen over the hole in the follower, filled the closet with loose wool after evicting the few loitering bees, and restored all the bars, eke, roof. Then it was time for the insulating panels, ever a source of annoyance.

We have described the general procedure before but perhaps never vented about the irritations. In theory, one cuts foam insulation panels to form a tidy, rectangular box around the hive, covers them with tar paper & duct tape, and uses more duct tape to hold them together. In practice, the tar paper is hard to fold neatly over the panels so they likewise do not fit together as neatly as desired, leaving vertical gaps between them. All of this gets addressed with duct tape so that the installation procedure is much fussier than envisioned and, of course, the duct tape seams do loosen over the winter requiring reapplication, which never seems to hold as well as the original, which was not that well, truth be told. And then a few years later the duct tape holding the tar paper gives way requiring rewrapping.

We are always trying to improve the process, to make it less fussy and more reliable. This year we tried using construction adhesive to hold the tar paper on the foam panels but without success. It may be a workable idea with leisure and space to press each covered panel between weights overnight but the stuff did not spread well and took too long to set or cure to fit in our timetable, leaving us with a few smeary messes before we abandoned the experiment for the familiar duct tape.

Perhaps not quite the familiar duct tape. We obtained some heavy-duty version in black. It stuck very well to itself as it twisted and folded when we tried to tear or cut off a piece. It also stuck readily to our fingers to aid in the twisting and folding process. It stuck less well to the tar paper but mostly adequately. We had a few rubber rollers this year to flatten anywhere it showed signs of separating from the paper.

Our innovation of the year was to cut tar paper to make hinges between the panels. Any vertical gapping between panels would be better covered by such a hinge than by strips of duct tape. We shall see how things last.

And so winterizing our full-sized hives was completed but for covering their shiny rooves with black, another slightly fussy operation, which we shall perform on another day. Since Frankie is unoccupied and so in no need of winterizing that left the tower of nae-sa-wee Angharad, our nucleus hive of the Langstroth persuasion. Three deep boxes tall, we covered the slot in her inner cover with a bit of screen, added another box above it, and filled the box with loose wool. We then cut a piece of foam insulation to fit inside the telescoping cover and topped the pile. Rather than prepare more panels we covered her with a jacket for insulating water heaters and then dropped and taped a black trash bag over the lot.

We dithered over providing an upper entrance, as seems to be the general practice here, but opted against. The aim is to avoid humidity condensing on the roof and dripping onto the bees. An upper entrance does this by venting the humid air, losing a bit of warmth along with the moisture. We prefer to trust in hygroscopic material to absorb the moisture and insulate the roof so condensation occurs down the walls of the hive.

The remaining argument for upper entrances is to allow the bees egress should snow or accumulated dead bees block the usual entrance. We have no particular solution for this but vigilance.

This has been quite a long stretch of blog silence but while we have been too distracted by other projects to write about our bees we have not been neglecting them, which is why alarming mite counts shocked us so. One week into August the hives were all below the three(3) mites per hundred bees threshold for treatment. One week into September, Beatrix and Clarissa were unsurprisingly just over with four(4) mites per hundred bees and ready for a treatment. Nae so wee Angharad was still well below threshold. But Dorcas was near ten(10) mites per hundred bees when we disheartenedly stopped counting. At this level she was a danger to the entire apiary.

We consoled ourselves with the knowledge that sudden high mite levels can happen to anyone at any time. The arrival of hitch-hiking mites is out of our control. And it is well known that mite counts rise rapidly in the fall. Bee population declines as brood rearing slows and drones are evicted but the damnable mites carry on. Interestingly this is the first time since we began monitoring mites that we have had one hive so very much more infested than its neighbors.

The evening of our unhappy discovery we applied an oxalic treatment with our Varomorus fogger. We dosed all the hives to be certain. A week later the mite count in Dorcas was half of what it had been. Effective as an oxalic fog is, it only affects the phoretic mites, the ones riding on the bees and not the ones reproducing in capped brood cells. We treated all the hives again and will do so at least twice more at weekly intervals.

We may yet save Dorcas and with more certainty will protect the rest.

Last Saturday our gardening was once again interrupted when we spotted a swarm, our second of the season, clustered on a branch at the edge of a thicket on the eastern border of our apiary. As we had done a little over a week before, we hastily dropped everything to suit up and grab our equipment to catch the swarm and hive it before it decided to fly off and take up residence away from us.
Take 1 Feeling like old hands at this swarm capture lark, we moved with confidence. Up the step ladder to shake the cluster into a cardboard box and back down the step ladder to pour the bees into the nucleus hive on the ground. Repeat as needed.

Unfortunately the bees we caught decided they would rather depart the nuc and recluster in their original location.

Take 2 Could we have missed getting the queen? It seemed unlikely since we had caught the main mass of the cluster. The bees were surely just taunting the beekeepers as bees will do. Undeterred we climbed the ladder, cut off the bee-laden branch, and carried it to the nuc. Shaking the cluster into the nuc, we disposed of the branch to deny them a familiar distraction from the home we were offering.

The bees summarily left the nuc and reclustered on another branch deeper in the thicket and higher up.

Take 3 Trading the nuc box for another that was a litte more propolyzed, we added a wee drop of lemony scented lure, just for good measure. Then hacking our way to their location, leaving a mess of twigs, branches, and entire saplings in the yard, we again set up the ladder to cut the branch on which they were clustered.

Actually we set up two ladders. They had clustered at the fork of a thick, long-dead branch. While one of us held the branch immobile the other trimmed off excess length and finally cut away the fork. Carefully carrying it to the nuc we once again shook the bees into the nuc on the ground.

This time we were rewarded with a few fanners at the entrance, bums in the air, wings spreading the homing scent of Nasonov. A small tide of bees walked into the nuc and we felt quite pleased until we noticed the growing tide leaving.

The bees left the nuc and reclustered on a sapling trunk yet deeper in the thicket and yet higher up, quite out of range of the step ladders we had.
Take 4 We paused in our relentless yet feckless chop-and-shake pursuit to have a little think albeit without the cuppa tea and came up with a cunning plan.

Instead of felling the tree, we partially cut through the trunk at a little more than ladder height and then carefully bent it down to be roughly parallel to the ground. We now moved the ladder under the cluster and placed the nuc on the ladder shelf so that the bees were directly above the open nuc. Now you will not be expecting the next bit but we shook the bees into the nuc one more time.

At last the bees seemed to become cooperative. The face of the nuc was covered with fanning bees and fliers were landing all over it to walk into the entrance. We were elated by our hard-won success but there would be one more brief shock.

As we complacently watched the bees entering the nuc, we remarked on the way our each attempt at capture had sent them ever deeper and ever higher into the thicket, whereupon we spied a cluster of bees impenetrably deeper in the thicket and impossibly higher. Our spirits fell for a few seconds until we noticed that the surface of the cluster seemed oddly boiling. Over the next several minutes it diminished as its bees joined the rest of the swarm in the nuc, abandoning this last bivouac. Elated once more, we went to the house for dinner and a rest, returning to collect the nuc at dusk when all the bees would be within.

And so the nuc, wee Angharad reborn, has joined the full hives in our apiary.