Sunday, June 21, 2015

All Hives Check - 6-21-2015

Had a chance to check all the hives today.

Pink Hive

This hive is by far the "slower" of the two hives in my backyard. The queen isn't impressing me.

Here is the top of the hive - looks just fine:

Nice to see young larvae:

But I really don't like the pattern - kind of spotty and irregular:

Didn't see the queen, but saw enough young larvae to tell me she is there. Going to keep an eye on this hive.

Brown Hive

Now *this* is what a good pattern looks like:

Not a lot of gaps / missing cells (those bullet-looking ones are drone cells, another sign of a healthy thriving hive)

While I was inspecting the hives, I looked over and saw that I had a helper!

A few weeks ago we think she actually got stung by a bee, trying to eat it (the side of her face/lip was swollen for a few days!)


Recall that last week we discovered a queenless hive, and lots of queen cells. I made 2 nucs as a result, and wanted to check things out. It's too early to expect any new eggs, but a check wouldn't hurt.

Here is evidence of a born queen having torn out her rival's cells:

But then something surprised me: One of the nucs still had sealed queen cells!

Given all of the cells were about the same age, I wouldn't have expected that. According to bee math, the queen cells can be capped for 9 days, so technically it is possible...

So we'll wait and see another few weeks.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Mass Bee Day 2015

Today was the Mass Beekeeper's annual Field Day. It's an all-day activity held at the University of Massachusetts Agronomy Farm in South Deerfield, MA. This is my 3rd or 4th time going - they have a variety of sessions appropriate for anyone from the first year beginner to the veteran beekeeper.

The day is broken up into 4 time slots, and you choose from the sessions presented. Some sessions repeat (like Ken Warchol's bee hive inspection presentation); others are presented only once. So you have to pay attention to what is going on. You can see the agenda here. I'll mention a little about the sessions I attended. I took lots of pictures, so this post has a lot of photos!

First, the site of the field day is gorgeous. Every year I've gone the weather has been wonderful. The UMass Agronomy Farm is used in the farm teaching at the university. They have test fields for various crops, and they also have a few cows!

The sessions for the field day were set up literally in the field! The local bee club brings in some hives to be used for the various sessions, for the demos etc.

The field day brings in people from all around the region, multiple states and bee clubs. In addition to the session presenters, a few of the beekeeping supply companies bring in a trailer and set up to sell things (if you put in an order ahead of time, they will bring it to field day free, saving on shipping!). I ended up buying a Cloake board, something that is somewhat more complicated than I can make.

This is my 3rd or 4th year attending, so I finally know what to bring (including water and sunscreen!) I got there plenty early so I could claim a good spot for my chair, along the fence line!

Session 1
The first session I attended was Ken Warchol's demonstration on a hive inspection. Even though I've been a beekeeper for 7 years, I always enjoy listening to Ken show what to look for at this time of the year.

The bees were very gentle all day, and one of the nice things about field day, is that you get a chance to get up close and personal with the bees. Here is Ken showing a frame of bees to the audience members. They ended up passing it around like it was a book! No stings!

Some notes from Ken's presentation
  • Ken has been working with bees for 38 years!
  • Last year had many problems overwintering, with losses due to:
    • Starvation
    • Mites and associated diseases
  • If you see black heavy dots of gunk on your frames, you probably have Nosema problems
  • Clean your hive tool! Use a 6:1 mixter of water to Lysol, and a brillo pad
  • At this time of the year, a good hive will have 10-12 frames of brood from an overwintered hive. A hive will level off at this strength
  • Start treating in October for Nosema using Fumagillin
  • During inspection, look for abnormalities - sunken caps, pin holes / puncture marks
  • Make sure the bees have enough food. You may have to feed even in the summer.
  • Queen cups are OK - bees will just make them. But look for new white wax on the edge and/or egg in cells.
  • Bees can actually move an egg (I didn't know that!)
  • Alcohol wash for checking for mites - 300 bees, 5 mites or less is treatable. 11-12 you have a bad infestation.

Session 2
Dr. Richard Callahan gave a presentation on preventing swarms.

Again, like most of the sessions, there was a lot of hands-on activities. Dr. Callahan showed examples of queen cups and queen cells on frames that he had brought. Pass it around, folks! :-)

Some notes from Dr. Callahan's session:
  • Bees swarm because they are crowded - give them space to lay.
  • Queen cups with white wax means they are thinking about swarming.
  • You can relieve the pressure by removing some frames of capped brood to a nuc or another hive.
  • Once the queen cup is capped, "they are going to go"
  • You can disrupt the swarm instinct, but it is difficult - involves rearranging the hive.
Dr. Callahan has a PhD in Entomology, and is one of the directors of the WCBA. He adds a lot to our bee club, and we are lucky to have him.

Lunch etc...

There was a big break for lunch, and the annual smoker contest. I thought I was going to be good with my snacks, and I didn't pre-order the on-site lunch. But hunger got the best of me, so I went into town and ate at this cute little diner called Dove's Nest in Sunderland, MA. It was a stereotypical small town diner, with obvious "regulars" and high school kids as waitresses.I skipped the smoker contest - I tried a couple of years ago but didn't win.

Session 3
Session 3 was given by Daniel Berry from the Franklin County Beekeepers Association. He spoke on increasing your bee year - splits, etc.

I remember him from last year, because he has this neat split hive two-nuc setup (which takes the space of one 10-frame hive). I made one last year - that was what I tried to overwinter my nucs in (and failed).

Some notes from Daniel's presentation:
  • 2-nuc hive has a special bottom board with a raised divider
  • Daniel keeps Russian bees, which he buys from a certified Russian bee breeder. He likes them because:
    • Mite-resistant
    • Good behavior
    • But are swarmy
    • Thrifty food consumption - they eat less
  • He uses an empty grain bag as an inner cover
  • Uses thumbtacks on the hives to denote the condition of the hive, 2 tacks:
    • one to indicate age - uses queen rearing colors
    • one to indicate the family / lineage - arbitrary colors
  • Make nucs from capped brood, as they don't need to use resources to finish the bees
  • Usually from mid-July to mid-August there is a dearth
  • Aug-Sep - Joe Pie, Goldenrod is available
  • Always be thinking of the bees 3 weeks ahead
  • Daniel overwinters double-nucs abutted next to each other, with grain bag inner covers, 2" blue block foam insulation, then a top weight/board.
  • Start in mid-November to set up the nucs for the winter
  • Mid-September to mid-October - feed. Any later and there will be too much moisture in the honey.
  • Daniel leaves (internal frame) feeders on all winter
  • He can sell a Nuc for $175 come May

An interesting thing happened in the middle of Daniel's session, one of the other sessions set off a swarm of bees. We notice during the session that the number of bees flying around (there are always a few bees around since we have open hives) increased dramatically. I took a short video, but it's hard to video small fast moving insects:

The bees settled in one of the pine trees near our session, and the people from the next hive over came and "captured" the swarm in a bucket, and put it in nuc box.

Session 4
Session 4 was given by Dan Conlon from Warm Colors Apiary, and the subject was Queens for the Backyard Beekeeper.

This was a popular session, as can be seen by all the people in the crowd.

Some notes from Dan's presentation:
  • The Franklin County beekeepers have a QRI (Queen Rearing Initiative) - they raise 150 queen per week
  • With large-scale queen rearing you can be selective in picking only the best layers
  • Use of the Cloake board
  • Separate open brood from the capped brood during queen rearing
  • If you have swarm cells, pull out frames with the capped cells into a nuc, with the three best cells on the frame
  • Study: Let the new queen lay for 21 days for optimal longevity and productivity (the industry standard is only 14 days - insufficient)

Overall I really enjoyed the field day. I learn something new each time, and it kind of energizes me for the hobby. Maybe next year my wife and I can come together - it's quite an all-day affair, but my kids are old enough that they could spend a day by themselves.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Sutton Check 6-07-2015

I decided to run out to Sutton to check the hive there. It's been a couple of weeks. Since I needed to add a super on my backyard hive, I took over a super and 10 frames just in case (I live 25 minutes away, so I have to pre-plan what I need and take it with me. In this case, you'll see I didn't plan enough).

Took out the first frame, and they are doing great at collecting nectar/honey:

And there was a great brood pattern:

There is even some drone brood in some burr comb on the bottom. That means they have plenty of resources.

BUT... then I saw this!

Aack! There were 2 or 3 frames with multiple swarm cells on them, and they were capped!

I also saw a couple of frames with supercedure cells:

There were plenty of bees, so I didn't think the hive had swarmed. But try as I might, I couldn't find the queen. I looked 3 times - frame by frame, and nothing!

So here I am with an opportunity to do some splits, and no extra hardware with me! So I closed up the hive, and drove back home to pick up a couple of empty Nuc boxes, and then back to the hive. By this time it was close to 6:30PM, and I was worried that the bees would be a little angry. But they weren't.

I pulled out 2 of the frames with swarm cells on then, and put one in each Nuc hive. I checked for the queen again, and didn't find her. I also added a frame of honey/pollen, and shook a frame of extra bees in each Nuc.

I left the frames with supercedure cells in the main hive. So now I have 3 hives, and each appears to be queenless, but with queen cells in them.

I'll check in 2 or 3 weeks and see if there is a viable hive. According to bee math, from capped queen cell to eggs is about 20 days. So a 3-week check should be sufficient.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Hive Checks

I've been able to check the hives a few times in May.

On 5/2 I ran out to Sutton to check things out. The worker bees had released the queen, and things were looking fine. She's on this frame - can you spot her?

She's sporting a nice blue spot!

I am feeding with leftover honey (from the dead hives of last year), diluted with water (to better simulate nectar).

On 5/17 I checked out the backyard hives.

Pink Hive

Got some nice frames with nectar and pollen gathering:

There was also a nice brood patten going on, but only on a couple of frame:

BUT.... I saw the starts of a supercedure queen cup!

The queens in my backyard hives weren't released by the workers fully, and it was a week when I noticed it and released them manually. So they spent a few more days in the cages than normal. The queen in this hive moved a little slow, so maybe the bees think they need a new one (although the brood pattern looked fine).

Usually I just removed the queen cups, but I left this one alone to see what they would do. I marked the hive with the queen cup with a thumb tack so I'd know where to look next time:

Brown Hive

The brown hive is doing a little better than the pink hive. They are doing a good job collecting nectar:

Good brood pattern:

And even evidence of already hatched brood (the center is empty, with pollen and honey at the edges):

They have even capped some honey (some of this might have been left over from last year - I put in some honey frames).

I saw the queen as well! I marked her (she was unmarked in the package). Can you see her:

Interesting thing: I accidentally got some blue paint on her leg, so she has 2 marks! :-)

The next week on 5/27 I checked the backyard hives again.

Brown Hive

Lots of bees, which is a good thing! I like to check the activity level when I first open the top cover. You can see a good distribution of bees in between all frames:

Good brood patterns again:

Saw the queen again!

There was brood on most of the frames, which is a sign to add the second brood chamber. I take one frame of brood from the bottom and put it in the middle of the top box, to encourage the bees to move up (the nurse bees will follow the brood).

Pink Hive

I wanted to check if they had done anything with that supercedure cell I saw the last week. I checked the frame with the thumbtack, but saw no evidence of any queen cell - no open cell, nothing.

So they tore it down not needing it.

Then I went hunting for the queen. If she is the original queen, she'll have the blue dot on her (another benefit of marking queens - telling if it is a new queen or not). Found her!

But this hive is still not as populous as the brown hive. Still plenty of space to lay, so I am not adding the next super. Here's the hives as they are now:

Interesting observation: I spaced out the hives to plan on a 3rd hive on the left. But when I added the additional super on the brown hive, it added enough weight that the 4x4's started teetering up. So instead of spacing things around more, I added a cinder block on the left side to keep things stable :-)

One addendum: We had the LDS Sister Missionaries over to help my wife work on the garden the next Saturday. Prior to weeding, I suited them up and we went into the pink hive! It was a first for them, and they were a little nervous. But luckily the hive was super gentle, and Sister Gropp was a brave trooper, even holding a frame!

(Sister Rowley, her companion, took this picture) Both missionaries commented on how fun it was, and they learned a lot about bees in the process (I can't resist a teaching opportunity when it arises!)
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