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.

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