Tuesday, July 28, 2009

More on marking the Queen

I mentioned in my previous post that I marked the queen. Here's a video (not by me) of the exact thing that I did. Piece of cake, except I didn't have a firm grasp of her the first time, and she was running around my hands trying to get away!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

I saw the Queen!!

Well, today is Saturday, and that means that it is time for the weekly inspection. The last couple of inspections I have seen a good pattern of eggs and larvae, but didn't see the queen. I really wanted to catch a glimpse of her, just for that feel-good feeling. As I was inspecting the upper chamber, about half way in I saw her!

Since she is a self-grown queen, she isn't marked. I bought a paint pen with the goal in mind to mark her to make her easier to spot. I picked a bright orange color so that it wouldn't be mistaken for any of the yearly colors for marking queens. When I saw her on the frame, I first had to catch her! You have to be really careful when catching a queen, as her abdomen full of eggs is very fragile. You need to grab her by the wings, which I finally did with my right hand. Then I held her to my left index finger so she could grab on to it with her legs, and then I would hold down her legs and let go of her wings. Well, she happened to wiggle loose from my finger (for some strange reason, she didn't like being grabbed by big fingers!!). She was crawling all around my left hand as I was trying to gently recapture her, which I finally did.

I had my paint pen ready, and put an orange dot on her abdomen. I knew that if I released her immediately, the wet paint would be groomed off by the other bees. So I put her in a little plastic cup to chill out and dry a little. Then after a couple of minutes, I put her back. So, without further ado, I present her majesty, the queen!

I took out the good camera, so these are especially nice shots. Take a second to click on the picture and see a closeup. In the second picture she has her head in a cell (looks like it has nectar in it - she's getting a drink?) You can see how long her abdomen is compared to the bees around her. Like the nice orange dot on her? It's all the latest rage in Paris...

I was worried last week that I saw brood only in the top brood chamber. The bottom chamber was predominantly honey and pollen. Well today I did notice some capped brood in the lower chamber (in only one frame), so I know she's been down there. Hopefully the bees will readjust their house enough to make room for brood.

Last week I had put on a honey super (without a queen excluder). I checked, and once again they had done nothing with it - not built out any wax at all. One reason could be that I need some younger bees to create the wax. I am just now having some bees hatch from this new queen, so hopefully they will get their act together and make some wax. They are not hurting for space at all, so that could also be why they aren't using the attic. I also put a couple of broken popcicle sticks in between the brood chamber and the honey super. I heard that the small space gives the bees extra ventilation if they need it. Well, apparently my bees didn't need that ventilation, because they filled in the gap with propolis! Take a look at these pictures - yuck!

The propolis is the brown gooey stuff along the edge of the supers. I decided to leave it alone - the bees will clear it out to make room for air if they need it...

I had a couple of maintenance things to do with the hive as well.

I noticed in past inspections that a couple of my frames had very little comb built on them, and the bees had stripped off the wax (to use elsewhere I suspect). I decided that if they still weren't progressing, I was going to remove those frames, and put in a couple of "foundationless" frames. A foundationless frame is just an empty frame, with a popcicle stick glued in the groove at the top to let the bees know where they should build their own comb. Here's a picture:

Sure enough, I found about 3 of the stripped frames. I only made up 2 of the foundationless frames, so I swapped in those 2 and put in another regular wax-on-plastic foundation frame. I hope they do a good job of building up the wax foundations.

Speaking of foundationless, there are actually people who keep bees on foundationess frames. They figure (rightly so) that bees have been building their own foundation for more years than there have been beekeepers, so they know how to do it. The main reason for using foundation is to help control how the bees build the comb. But there's a whole segment of beekeepers who use Top Bar Hives (TBH), where the foundation is entirely bee-built. TBH's are great for developing countries, as they cost a lot less than the Langstroth hives I use.

There was one frame which on one side had the wax partially removed, but the bees built up the comb on the top part:

I left that frame in, and I hope the bees will continue to build wax to fill out the frame.

In my woodworking efforts, I also built a new hive stand. That's the piece which is directly on the bench (it has the sloped landing board, which is not necessary, but I think it's really neat!). I built this new one with a slot into which I can slip a white sticky board to do mite counts. So I swapped in that new hive stand as well.

Finally, I took the picture at the top of this posting because I thought it was cute. A bunch of bees were huddled around each other, sharing honey I think.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

I Am Not A Woodworker...

OK, I am usually not a proud person, but it is difficult for me to admit something: I am not a woodworker.

I went to college to be an engineer (electrical), so I a very detail-oriented person. I know how to use a tape measure, I can diagram things, but something gets in the way when I try to bring a woodworking project to completion. It's very frustrating. Things which take a woodworker seconds to do just escape me...

Being a beekeeper, you can spend a lot of money on wood items. These aren't high end finished, polished, varnished, etc. items - basically you slap a coat of paint on them and go (the bees don't care). You can save some money by building the things yourself - right up the alley for an amateur woodworker. But they have some difficult parts in them - most notably the dreaded box joint (also called finger joint). This is how all the supers are constructed, as it produces a very sturdy joint.

But it is not easy making one. The best was is with a box joint jig, a tool that helps you cut the box joint. But you have to get the measurements just right on the jig, or all of your joints will be off. I've tried twice, and haven't succeeded yet.

But I did succeed in making a couple of items for the hive.

This is a robber screen. It is used when you have a new hive in your yard (like I will), and you don't want a larger hive to rob the new hive of it's honey or sugar syrup. The screen fits over the entrance of the hive, and the bees which live in the hive exit the hive through the entrance at the lower right corner, come up inside the screen, and out the top left. Any robber bees try to go directly for the entrance from the outside (lower right corner) and are thwarted by the screen. I saw the idea on the web, and found a diagram and made one myself.

I also made another hive stand for my new hive. I love the view of a hive with a sloped board at the entrance, even though the bees could care less. This one I made with a groove for a white board to be slipped in, which is used to count the number of mites which fall from the hive. I actually cut enough wood for 2 stands (to replace the stand for the hive I already have), but I messed up and instead of cutting 2 left sides and 2 right sides of the stand, I cut 4 left sides. More proof I am not a woodworker...

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Inspection 7-18-09

After coming home from the bee club picnic, I had time to do an inspection of my little corner of the beekeeper world. I was interested in seeing more evidence of the laying queen, and I wasn't disappointed:

In the first picture, you see some eggs (the little white specks in the cells). The 2nd shows some eggs (bottom) and larvae (center). On the right picture you see some capped brood. According to bee math, things are progressing as they should based on the queen starting to lay eggs a week and a half ago.


I saw something which was a little concerning. Look in the 3rd picture above - that little peanut-shaped cell in the center of the frame is a queen supercedure cell. The workers make those when they believe that the queen they have isn't performing up to snuff. I found 3 of those, which I removed. I think they built those because they had been queenless for so long (a few weeks). I'm going to give this new queen a good chance to succeed, and she doesn't need some competition. I didn't see the actual queen this inspection (she must be shy). I'll keep looking!

I also noticed that the queen was laying exclusively in the top brood box. The bottom box had a lot of empty cells, plus cells with nectar and pollen. I decided to stop feeding, and put on a honey super to see if they would start drawing that comb out. I left off the queen excluder for this week - some people think that the excluder inhibits the workers from drawing out the comb. We'll see.

The frames I use are plastic foundation coated with beeswax. A month or so ago I noticed the bees had stripped off the beeswax from a couple of my frames (to use elsewhere). So far the bees aren't building comb on the bare plastic foundation. I'm going to give them another week, and if they still aren't interested, I'm going to put in an empty frame and see if they build comb from scratch (called foundationless frames).

Bee Club Picnic

The Worcester County Beekeeper Association tries to hold it's summer meetings outdoors, usually at the home of another beekeeper. Saturday was the annual summer cookout in Princeton, MA. There was the usual hamburger and hot dog fare, as well as lots of sides and deserts (beekeepers love to eat!).

In addition to the food, the summer picnic is the time for the annual Smoker contest. The contest goes like this:
  • The beekeeper has 7 minutes to prepare and light their smoker
  • The smokers have to sit for 45 minutes without anyone touching them
  • Then the beekeeper gets to squeeze the smoker bellows 5 times
The winner is the one with the smoker which produces the most smoke at the end of this time. Here are some pictures from the event:

Let me tell you, I have a hard time keeping my smoker lit for 10 minutes while I am inspecting my hive! It's not easy. Each person has their favorite smoker fuel. Some use dried pine needles (that's what I use); others use a cotton batting; still others use rotten wood. We are lucky that the last few state smoker champions (yes, they have the contest on a state level as well!) are from our club. The winner get bragging rights, plus a free ticket to the Thanksgiving banquet. No, I didn't participate.

The main purpose of the beekeeper club is to promote beekeeping and beekeeping education. So each meeting includes an opportunity to get into some hives and learn something more about keeping bees. This particular owner had on his property a single large hive (on the right in the picture at the top), plus he had 2 double-nuc's. Normally a nuc consists of a small box with 5 frames in it. But you can also get a regular sized box and put a divider in it, and then put 5 frames on each side. The entrances to each side are on different sides of the box, so the bees don't mix. This is what he had.

The person giving the demonstration was Dr. Dick Callahan, who is a very well known queen bee breeder. He breeds queens which are resistant to the Varroa Mite, and are called VSH (for Varroa Sensitive Hygene) queens. Anyway, Dr. Callahan did an excellent job pointing out aspects of these nucs. Here are some pictures from the hive examination:

The first picture is one of the double nucs (you can see an entrance on the front, as well as on the right side). That nuc had grown enough that it was actually ready to put into a full size hive (actually a little past due, looking at the number of bees hanging out on the front of the hive). We also got to see the birth of a worker bee (in the third picture; I circled it in red).

You can see in the 3rd picture that there was a lot of interest in hearing from Dr. Callahan.

Something occurred to me when I was looking at the 4th picture. Go ahead, click on it and zoom in. Notice those little golden spots all around the picture. Those are flying honeybees. Only Dr. Callahan and a couple of others had veils on - the rest of us were just standing around the hives, some in shorts and flip-flops, in the midst of hundreds of flying bees. Sure, they land on you, crawl around a little, and then take back off flying. If you would have asked me last year if I would be comfortable being around hundreds of stinging insects, I would have said you were crazy. Now I work a beehive myself with my bare hands - no gloves. I was in these hives taking closeup pictures with no veil, nothing. Amazing!

And finally, I leave you with a picture of a bee on clover, with full pollen baskets on her legs. I took this in the field in front of the hives. What are the odds of finding a bee there!?!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Didn't make it...

Well, some sad news - the little white nucleus that I made didn't make it.

I haven't seen any bees flying in and out for a couple of days. Each week I checked it, there were fewer and fewer bees; and last Saturday I didn't see a queen. No queen = certain death.

Yesterday I went out and opened it up, and all the bees were dead in the bottom of the nuc. Additionally, about 20 large black ants scattered like ... well, ants. I had seen the ants over the past couple of weeks, and knew that didn't forebode well. A healthy hive has no problems keeping out ants and other interlopers.

When I took the hive apart, I saw a few bees dead on the comb frame. A couple had their heads in the comb, a few were head-out (which meant they died trying to be born). There were a lot of drone cells which didn't "hatch" (probably didn't keep warm enough with no nurse bees around). When I pulled a couple of them open, I saw a couple of mites; so that tells me that I'm going to have to treat for mites. The frame which had honey/syrup on it was also bone dry - either the ants or other bees stole that. So I'm going to have to watch for ants and my other hive.

So now I have an empty spot on my hive stand; a newly painted hive in the garage (thanks to help from my boys); and no nuc to put into the hive. What to do, what to do... smile

I called up Janina (who helped me a couple of weeks ago) and told her I was in need of a nuc! She's going to make me one (actually the bees will do the making) and in a couple of weeks, I'll have new tenants! This is kind of late in the season, but if I feed feed feed, the hive will probably be strong enough to get through the winter.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Home Improvement

As indicated in previous posts, there's a chance I will end up with more than one beehive. If this is the case, I want to do something more than just sit them on cinder blocks - that's OK for one hive, but it's a little bit too white trash for my liking.

So I decided to do something more. I built a bee bench - a framework to hold the hive(s). Here it is:

It's made out of pressure-treated 2x4's, and is five feet wide and 17" deep. I chose those dimensions to be able to fit a couple of hives and 1 nuc on it, if need be. It sits up about 14 inches from the ground.

So here's the before shot:

and here's the after shot:

Much nicer!

I felt sorry for the bees a little. I spent 45 minutes poking around in their hive for the inspection. Then a couple of hours later, I mess with them more to move them on their new bench. In order to do that, I had to take apart the hive (layer by layer) and move it out into the yard. Then I placed the bench (I didn't have to do much to find a flat spot, good thing). Then I reassembled the hive layer by layer. Some of the bees were starting to get agitated, so I'll leave them be for a while!

As a side note, I wanted to clear out a mound of grass clippings that I had piled up to the right of the hives (this was before I had bees). So earlier this morning I put on my bee suit and started digging up the mess of weeds and grass clippings. I had the suit on just in case, but the bees had no desire to bother me (I wasn't too close to their hive, and I didn't have anything noisy and objectionable).

Inspection 7-11-09

It's Saturday and that means it's time to inspect the beehive!

I started with the full hive. We had a queen last week, and I was interested in finding her and/or seeing evidence of her activity. Since last week she would have had to go on a mating flight, so I wasn't sure if she were ready to start laying eggs yet.

As I inspected the hive, I saw lots of pollen and nectar/sugar syrup. I suspect it is the syrup since I have been feeding them. But when I put the most recent jar on, they haven't been taking much; bees will choose nectar over sugar syrup, so that means that there must be enough nectar.

I was looking at the top layer, and I didn't see any eggs. Oh well, maybe on the bottom. I got though about 1/2 of the bottom frames, and still nothing - I was getting worried. Then on one of the frames I saw a patch of newly laid eggs! Yippie - I have a queen! I never saw here, but new eggs are just as good as seeing here as far as proof goes.

Here's another shot of the bottom box from above. The bees were very clumpy in the lower corner; so much so I had to give 'em a dose of smoke to get them to break up so I could put the frame back in!

I also noticed that some of the new frames we had added weren't drawn out to comb yet. I am hoping that is because there wasn't a laying queen yet to need to fill them up. Maybe now that she is laying eggs, she'll kick into high gear and the bees will get, well... busy! I kept the jar of syrup on for them to finish up.

Then I moved on to the smaller Nuc (nucleus) hive. I noticed that they hive has been consuming the sugar syrup like gangbusters, almost too fast that I feared a leak. I was worried I was going to open the hive and see a lump of sugar syrup on the frames! Well, I opened it up, and it was dry as normal. But the bees weren't very active. Here's a shot:

The frames looked pretty empty (due to the brood which was there having been born) and I didn't see any new eggs or a queen. I saw the queen cells on the bottom still there, so there is hope that a new queen may be born. But it could be that this little hive may die out. I don't know if I want to buy a new queen and start a full hive or not. We'll see how mother nature works things out.

One thing I suspect happened is that there was robbing going on. There were some frames of stored honey/syrup in the nuc, but not enough to account for the 2 jars the bees appeared to have consumed. I think other bees (maybe from the hive next to it) came in and robbed the syrup. The house bees don't like it when this goes on, and it could have upset the virgin queen that was there and something happened to her.

In any case, I'm going to let things go for another week and see how things progress.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

A ways to go...

My bee yard:

Another's bee yard: *

Do you think I have a way to go?

At least I don't have the job of a commercial beekeeper. Look at the following video at what they have to deal with (these are people who take hives to fields specifically for pollination. Look at the flatbed truck full of hives in the background!)

* The guy in the second picture lives in Oklahoma and is a queen bee breeder. The tiny hives are queen nucs, which are used to hold a queen and a few bees so she can mate and start laying. Check out his pictures - pretty neat!

Honey Bee...

Thanks Jane!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Special Guest Inspection 7-4-09

One of the benefits of being a member of a beekeeping club is that I know people I can call. I met Jim and Anita Hickey at the last couple of bee meetings. They also live in Dudley. They have been keeping bees for about 3 years. Earlier this week I called them to see if they could come over on Saturday (today) to go through my hive and give me some advice and pointers. They said they'd contact their mentor, Janina Antos, who has had bees for 20 years or so (also in Dudley). They all came over today to go through my hive.

A side note: you can tell how long a person has been a beekeeper based on how much (or little) beekeeping protective gear they wear. I am fully covered; look at Janina (in the blue shirt above) - she only brought a veil, and she was wearing sandals! I actually got brave enough to go without my gloves for the first time. Janina said that if you get stung, it's usually because of something you did (moving too fast, dropping a frame, or squishing a bee, etc.) It was a little funny feeling the bees with my bare fingers!

Anyway, when we were going through my hive, I got a lot of compliments about how well my hive is being run. She said that I had things very much under control, which is great for a first year beekeeper.

One of the things we noticed in the hive was that yes indeed, there was a queen or two in there. So in order to let her have the best chance, we started pulling off the queen cells. Janina looked at each of them and pulled them apart; some of them had queens which were not developed (a little rotten, in fact). She said that the workers hadn't tended to those bees well. But we found some queens that were about to come out! As Janina was holding one of the frames, we saw a queen being born. Look at the following picture - I circled the queen, and she had just come from the queen cell pointed to by the arrow.

Talk about fascinating! As we were going through the frames, we removed the queen cells. Some of them were very close to hatching, and Janina had some queen cages and we put those queens in there. I was holding onto the cages, plus some of the queen cells. The next thing I knew, I felt a bee crawling in my hand - one of the queens had been born right in my hand! That was really a neat experience.

Janina said that with all these queens, I should start a nuc. Well, I just happened to have build a Nuc early in June, so I grabbed that and we put some frames of brood and honey in it (to get some nurse bees in there), and put one of the frames with queen cells in it. We also put the queen that was born in my hand in it, so there may be a battle later to see who comes out on top. So now I have a 2nd nucleus hive started. I'm not sure what I am going to do with it, but my wife is open to the possibility of having a 2nd hive back there. Or I could sell it to make some extra money. The queens I have are all virgins, so it'll take a week or so for them to start laying (after mating first). Here's the hive and the nuc:

I guess I now have a "bee yard!"

We also moved some frames around to encourage the bees to build up more comb. With the swarm(s) happening and all the rain, she suggested I keep feeding for about a week. The jar of sugar syrup I put on the hive yesterday was half gone, so they are definitely taking the syrup!

After removing queen cells and capturing queens, we ended up with a Nuc with 1 or 2 queens in it; 3 virgin queens captured in queen cages; and about 3 queen cells which weren't quite ready to hatch:

(you can really see the queen in the queen cage on the left) Janina took them to her place to use.

All in all it was a pretty fun time. I learned more about the hobby; we met some new friends (and had cookies and lemonade after working the hives - thanks Tracy); and I feel more confident about my (now 2) hives. I still don't know what I'm going to do with the second one.

Since Tracy took a bunch of pictures, I'll just post some below.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Inspection 7-3-09

Given the mini-swarm of yesterday, I decided to look in the hive today. I didn't see much change from last time, except that more brood had been born (look at the frame above - it has a lot of empty cells, indicitave of not having a laying queen). I counted 13 queen cells along the bottom edges of some of the frames (like above).

But then I saw something which caught my eye - I thought I saw a queen! Look at the picture below (click for a larger image). The top part is what I think is a queen (her longer body is somewhat obscured by the worker bees. Darn those bees - they don't hold still for pictures!). The bottom very fuzzy shows the queen, you can see her solid pale color (you see why I am not a wildlife photographer?). I also heard what sounded like a high pitched beeping. I think it was the queen "piping." It's how queen communicate to other queens.

So this is very confusing to me! But good news - tomorrow I have a couple of seasoned beekeepers scheduled to come out and we'll go through my hive.

I also put on a jar of sugar syrup to feed the bees (since I took off the honey super).

Stay tuned!

Mini Swarm? I'm Confused...

OK, it's official - I'm very confused.

This morning we finally had some good weather - it was actually sunny! Around 9:30AM I noticed a large fog of bees around the front of the hive. I thought it may have been another saved up orientation flight (since they couldn't do it in the rain). But about an hour later there were almost no bees in front of the hive.

I put on my boots (since the back yard has about 2 inches of water standing on it due to the recent rains) and as I walked toward the backyard, I heard back up in the trees the definite sound of a swarm of bees! It looks like my hive swarmed AGAIN! I couldn't see anything due to the leaves, and about an hour later the sound was gone (so they had either settled or moved on).

But this occurrence raises a lot of questions for me. Is it possible they swarmed again? By my calculation, they couldn't have had a queen born yet. But I could be wrong. What causes them to do this?

I'm going to go into the hive today (a day earlier than I planned) to check things out.


Thursday, July 2, 2009

Swarm Capture Video

Here's another neat video I found of someone capturing a swarm. If my swarm were so easily accessible, I would have done the same!

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