It had been too long since I last checked the hives in Racine, MN. I had intended to check them when we were down to butcher chickens, a few weeks ago in August. But, I forgot the varroa mite treatment in St. Paul. Besides, the butchering, albeit much faster than prior butcherings, took a chunk of the day. I did not want to consume more time, post-butchering, to check hives — and run the chance that I’d get stung and have a reaction; we had chickens to quarter and get into the freezer!
The drive, like the many, many times we have driven before, was uneventful. Hastings, Cannon Falls, Zumbrota, Pine Island, Oronoco – the river-towns of southeastern Minnesota – their signs clip by as we head south. It was somewhat early, and there was very light traffic. When I notice the speed limit had dropped to 60 miles per hour, I know that we are at Rochester. Past the Apache Mall; when the South Broadway Avenue exit sign can be seen, it’s time to change lanes to the right and take the exit. The Rochester International Airport, followed by Stewartville. The speed limit drops to 30 miles per hour within Stewartville, and picks up again upon exiting south of the city. I always chuckle to myself as we exit Stewartville, there is a 30 mile per hour marker, and less than 75 feet past it, there is a 55 mile per hour marker. I find the nearness of the two signs to be funny, I don’t know why. A few minutes down highway 63, Racine can be found.
Melissa commented, as we were entering the turn lane for Main Street, that her friend in Racine, said the fatal accident the day before resulted the intersection being closed for much of the morning. The heavy rain during the night had erased many of the signs of the accident from the road. Tire marks and a bit of spray paint on the pavement could be seen but even with the temporal proximity to the accident being just the previous day, the intersection felt normal. This was the second fatal accident at this intersection, this year. A left turn onto Main Street; a left a few avenues down and then a right into the driveway of the farm. Wingnut, one of the farm dogs, greets us. Her face is covered in mud, but she’s happy to see us. Mel and Buster, the two house bassets, soon can be heard barking at us through the kitchen door.
It rained off and on, on the drive down to the farm. As we pulled into the farm, it was now on, again; it was raining. Might as well take care of the business I needed to take care. Melissa grabbed her things from the car; she needed to say hello to her horse, Victor, and then walk puppies from the kennel. The puppies are not so puppy-ish anymore; they’re closer to being just very rubbery full sized creatures.
The other business to attended to was to return nuc boxes from the bees purchased in June from Cresco, Iowa. I could keep the nucs for $20 each, or return them. It’s only a 45 minute drive from Racine to Cresco, and it’s the edge of the driftless area of Minnesota and Iowa – the scenery is pleasant with rolling hills, rivers and creeks.
If your mental image of farm country is that of neatly divided squares of 160 acre pieces of land with road on all four side, this is not that. The roads are more a series of swooping curves and short straight-aways than a grid-like system. The drive is a familiar path – this is the fourth trip to Linda and Manley’s, twice to pickup bees in early summers and, now, twice to return empty nuc boxes in late summer and early fall.
It was raining when I pulled into their driveway; house on the right, a neatly kept garden on the left, trees. The house was dark; no one appeared to be home. I pulled up to Manley’s pole building. It was raining hard. The nuc boxes are fairly light, being made of corrugated plastic, if the wind picked up, they would likely get scattered about. Next to the pole building, perpendicular and to the right, was a shed with a car parked in front it. The car and shed might work as a windbreak. I left the nucs tucked behind and to the left of the car, and near the shed’s door.
The rain stopped just north of Linda and Manley’s; dark clouds and lightning could be seen further to the northeast.
After lunch, I set to work on checking the hives. We are down to just two hives in Racine; we started with four hives several years ago, the count peaked at six, and with winter kill and uncertain future plans for the continuation of hives on the hive, we arrived at two. One of the two hives has been mediocre at producing honey but has been stellar at overwintering, having successfully made it thru four winters.
The first hive to tackle is one that contains bees purchased from Linda and Manley the previous year. Three honey boxes sit atop two brood boxes. The bottom brood box appeared to have been knocked off the hive base — likely by a lawn mower. The half-inch gap between the bottom box and the base makes for a nice exit and entrance for the bees; it also might be wide enough for a field mouse to squeeze in.
As I waited for the smoker’s wood chips to catch fire, I got my protective jacket on. Even though there are only two hives, the late-season smell of golden rod nectar being turned into honey drifted across the wind. It’s a sweet, musky scent. I have heard the smell described as being like a gym locker. Maybe without adequate ventilation, a locker might smell a musty, but the scent of golden rod nectar turning into honey is nothing that I kind of like; it means that fall is on its way.
I pulled the outer cover off, and gave the inner cover’s center opening a few puffs from the smoker. A quick pry with the hive tool, and the inner cover came off. A heavier stream of bees came out of the bottom gap; a few puffs of the smoker seemed to do the trick; calming and confusing them.
The top honey box came loose from the one below with a bit of hive tool prying. The box was loaded with honey – all ten frames. I set it on cross-ways on the upside-down outer cover on the ground.
The second honey box had ten nice frames of honey; it was stuck something-fierce to the box below it. A bit of prying and minimal movement, and the box came loose. I set it on top of the other honey box I had just removed.
The third honey box was similarly cemented to the top brood box with propolis. The top brood box looked great. No burr comb, and without tearing heavily into it, no queen cells. Anecdotally, strong bee numbers. More smoke was puffed across the top brood box before I pried it off and set it onto of the reverse-ordered honey boxes.
With the weight of a 100 or so pounds of honey, and the top brood box off of the bottom box, I was able to square it up on the hive bottom. The bees seemed to be getting a bit hot. Guard bees repeatedly flew into my face screen. More smoke across the top of the brood box on the hive base.
I fiddled around getting the package of Hopguard II open. This particular product works best at the end of the season, after most of the larvae have emerged. Early September is likely a bit early, but I figured I would apply a treatment of it anyway. Four strips of Hopguard II to each brood box. The first strip went well.
As I pulled the second strip out, the box resting on the hive base turned into a bee-volcano. Bees flew up and got tangled in the cuff of my jacket; I began to get stung through the cloth. Many puffs of the smoker, and I remaining calm, and I had four strips of Hopguard II in the one box. I moved a bit quicker with more purpose.
I lifted the brood box that I had moved off, back onto the one that I had straightened on the base. More smoke. I rotated puffs of smoke and inserting Hopguard II strips. More smoke. Lots of smoke to clear out of the layer of bees so I could return the honey boxes atop.
My wrist felt like it was on fire. With the hive of Manley’s Spicy Russian Bees reassembled, I moved onto the other hive. This turned out to be almost a non-event for the bees in this hive. A little smoke, moved the honey boxes and the top brood box away, inserted the Hopguard II strips, and reassembled the hive without incident.
If you are curious about the efficacy of Hopguard II, there was an interesting study done that more or less concluded what I have anecdotally observed. The study is here.