Sunday, August 30, 2009

Inspection 8-30-09

Saturday is the day I usually do inspections, but it rained cats and dogs yesterday. It was supposed to rain all day today, but it turned out to be very sunny and warm, so I thought I'd squeeze in a hive inspection mid afternoon. I looked out and saw a lot of activity, mostly orienting flights, probably due to being cooped up yesterday due to the rain.

Green Hive

Had a good inspection on the green hive - no problems with aggressive bees, and was even able to see the queen. Here are some pictures; you can see her in the upper right of the frame (look for the green dot):

Also notice how nice the brood pattern is on this frame - nice even cell capping, and you can see some larvae. I also saw eggs. So this hive looks to be doing well. There were about 4 frames on the top which they haven't touched, so plenty of room.

Brown Hive

Now on to the brown hive. I was excited to really get in there and find the queen, and maybe move around a few frames (to help get things ready for winter). But it was not to be. Things started out not so well after I removed the first frame in the top chamber (to make room), I started hearing the buzzing ratcheting up a notch. As I was going through the frames on top, there were a few bees (probably the guard bees) which were giving me a hard time; they were "dive bombing" me, butting into my veil and jacket, and harassing my hands. The only word I can think of to describe them is: grouchy!

I did manage to see eggs, and saw some good brood patterns, but then the bees had finally had enough. I got a sting on my right index finger (which I don't think was my fault this time - I was careful not to squish anyone); shortly thereafter I got stung on my right ankle (my bee pants hang down with folds, and one got me on my sock). I closed up the hive and went in. So I wasn't in a very good mood afterward (still am not). I have bee boots, but I usually don't wear them. But I will now.

But from what I saw the bees in the brown hive are doing well enough. They haven't done hardly anything in the honey super, but I decided to leave it on. When the end of September comes, if they haven't done anything I'll take it off then.

I ordered some pollen patties (pollen substitutes) to feed the hives; I don't know if they are hurting for pollen, since I saw lots of bees with pollen baskets full. But more will never hurt. And I continue to feed the green hive sugar syrup (I will eventually feed the brown hive as well).

And next time I'll pick a time to inspect during the late morning, when a lot of bees will be gone. And not right after a rainstorm like this weekend...

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Mite Check, and the Bee Inspector

On Saturday I sprayed down the white plastic corrugated boards with cooking spray (to make them sticky) and slid them under the beehives. On Sunday I took them out to see the results (they say you should leave them in for 3 days, but I was anxious). You can see the results in these pictures (click for large versions).

Brown Hive

There was a lot of pollen on the board (sometimes it falls off the bees legs and falls through the screen), but I did see a couple of what I thought could be mite bodies. It wasn't anything too severe, but I'll treat with a sugar shake anyway.

Green Hive

Wow! You can see a line of "junk" on the board - this is mostly garbage relating to the chalkbrood problem I was having. The pieces the bees removed from the comb fell through and made that mess. It looks to be centered on a single frame (which was horizontal with respect to the picture of the board) - that frame was one which came from the nuc. I talked with the beekeeper from whom I got the nuc, and she suggested I move that frame to the outside (nearest the edge of the hive) so the bees will use it for honey storage once the brood is born. I also have the option of removing the frame - I may do that.

Wednesday afternoon I got a urgent call at work from my wife: "The Bee Inspector is here!!" It turns out that Ken Warchol, the Worcester County Bee Inspector, was making his rounds and made it to my humble bee yard. I didn't need to be there, because there is probably nobody better at working with hives than Ken, so I told her to let him do his thing.

He guessed (correctly) that I had a swarm earlier in the year in the brown hive, since it wasn't as strong as it should be. He told me I should be feeding 2:1 syrup (a more concentrated form) to the green hive. He found some mites (like almost all hives have), but otherwise I passed with flying colors! He said I could call him in October and he'll come out and see if we need to combine both hives for strength (I hope not - it would kind of make the nuc I bought a waste of money). He also moved a couple frames from the brown to the green hive to strengthen the green one.

So this coming Saturday I'm going to do the sugar shake for mites.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Honey Bee Life Cycle Video

Here's a video I found showing some of the Honey Bee life cycle. It is along the lines of a Discovery channel video. I found it very interesting.

Inspection 8-22-09

Time for the regular weekly inspection, and boy was it a scorcher! The temperature was in the 80's, and it was very humid (a storm came through later in the afternoon). My hives are not in the sun (thank goodness!) but it was still very hot. I usually wear a headband to keep the sweat from dripping into my eyes, but I put it in the laundry to be washed, and didn't find it. I sure needed it! I ended up taking another shower right after I got done with the inspection!

Brown Hive

I decided to start on the brown hive first, since I felt it was going to take the most time. I was right. You'll recall last week that I added a honey super. When I popped the top, I didn't see a lot of bees in the super, and was prepared to be disappointed. But then I looked on a couple of frames and saw them drawing out comb! The picture at the top of the post is one of those frames. You can see the honey comb starting to be added bulging out in the center. When I was done and closing up the hive, I added a queen excluder to keep her majesty out of that new comb (perfect for egg-laying). I wanted the bees to start drawing out the comb before I added the excluder (they say the excluder inhibits the bees from starting to drawing out comb, but is OK after they start).

The hive was full of bees (a good thing). Here's a picture of the top of the top brood chamber, followed by a picture of the top chamber lifted up (showing the bottom of the top chamber, and the top of the bottom chamber). One good thing missing in the 2nd shot are swarm cells - that means they aren't inclined to swarm (but it's late for that anyway).

The top brood chamber (deep) had a lot of honey and pollen it - it was very heavy! So I think these bees are on their way to having enough for the winter. If they keep up the good work, they may make extra for me in the top honey super. But I am not holding my breath.

I had a little bit of a hard time inspecting this hive. It seemed there were so many bees that I had a hard time getting the frames in and out. I'd lift a frame, and a ton of bees would come spilling out. When I went to put in the last frame of the box, bees were "scraped" off of the sides of the frame. It made it real difficult.

I didn't see the queen (didn't look at each frame), and didn't see any eggs. But saw some good brood patterns and lots of honey and pollen. I noticed that the bottom chamber was almost empty of brood - lots of empty comb ready for laying, but no eggs. I'm going to ask the BeeSource forum to see if there is anything I need to do.

Here's one of the top box end frames showing the honey (capped, around the edge) and pollen (looks moist in the middle and has different colors):

Green Hive

Last week I added the second brood box, and have been feeding feeding feeding to get them strong enough to last the winter. I checked, and they had started drawing out comb in the upper box, maybe 1/2 a frame on each side of the frame I brought up from the bottom box. This is to be expected. I did see eggs in the frame, so I know the queen is doing her job.

I also noticed a lot less chalkbrood on the bottom board -almost none! That it a good thing - it means the are eliminating (have eliminated?) the problem. I'll continue to monitor the situation. Chalkbrood doesn't have any treatment, except to help the bees maintain the correct humidity in the hive. They seem to be doing that.

In the evenings the bees in the brown hive just kind of sit out on the bottom board chilling out. I took a little video of it - they are doing some cooling fanning as well.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

New Hive Tool

I got a new hive tool, and forgot to mention it in my last post.

This is the standard beekeeper's hive tool:

They are used to crack apart frames supers and pry them up. They are also for scraping excess propolis, pounding/pulling nails, etc. I actually have 2 of them (I am told they get lost/misplaced easily). But what it doesn't do well is lift up frames.

So I got this one next:

You use it to grip a frame (especially the first one) to lift it out. It works like a charm.

Then at one of the bee club gatherings, I saw someone using this tool:

That red hook on the end is sized such that you hook it under the edge of a frame, and use the adjacent frame as a pivot point to lift the frame. Since the other end of the tools is a scraper, etc. you only have to hang on to one tool. I used it for the first time today and it worked as advertised. I'll have to get a little more proficient at using the tool to lift one edge, and my fingers to lift the other edge. But that'll come with time.

Also, the scraper edges are a lot sharper than I am used to. I gouged the wood a little when I was scraping, and I'll have to be careful.

Inspection 8-15-09

I wasn't sure I was going to have time to do an inspection today, but I got home earlier than planned from the Boy Scout campout I was attending with my son. All week I've seen a large amount of activity in the hives, so was anxious to see what they looked like inside.

Green Hive

This is the Nuc I installed the beginning of August. I found they had drawn out 7 or 8 of the frames, so it was time to add a second brood chamber. I learned a trick to help the bees start using the box: bring up one of the frames with brood on it to the top box. I did that, and put one of the new frames on the bottom toward the edge on the bottom box. Here are a couple of pictures of that hive (the 2nd picture shows the frame I set aside to put on the top). I also removed the entrance reducer since the number of bees has grown enough that they can defend their hive better.

I've been noticing some small white chalky bodies at the entrance, just a few here and there. During this inspection, I removed the bottom brood chamber and looked at the screened bottom board. This is what I saw:

Except for the few bees in the middle of the picture, the rest of this stuff are those chalky bodies. I flipped this over to dump out the bodies.

There is a fungal disease of bees called chalkbrood which I believe this is. Chalkbrood is caused by too much moisture in the hive. I believe the hive or Nuc these bees came from had chalkbrood, but with my screened bottom boards, I expect it to go away. I'll keep monitoring the situation. It's worrisome, but not excessively so.

I didn't see the queen in this hive, but I saw some eggs, and I wasn't really looking, so all is well.

Brown Hive

This hive has had a lot of activity recently. When I inspected it, I saw that the bees had filled up the corners of the top frames with honey, so I decided to add a honey super (again... I had added it before and removed it based on swarming, etc.).

A couple of weeks ago I added some foundationless frames, and I was pleased to find this:

You can see along the left side (which is the top of the frame) the popsicle sticks that provided the guides for the comb; the bees had built it up perfectly. It was very pretty to see. I have to be careful handling this frame, as it doesn't have the inherent strength of the plastic (or wired wax) foundation. I also saw eggs in the comb, which is even better!

So I added the honey super, and buttoned things up for another week. The picture at the top of this post is the new taller hives (the green hive has the extra box simply covering the feeding jar - I'm still feeding that hive).

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Weather Bees

Seasoned beekeepers learn to pay attention to the activity of the bees as it relates directly to the weather.

Most evenings around 5:00PM the bees are still quite active, mostly coming in from a long day of foraging (or finishing up orienting flights). Last evening I checked the bees, and there were very few bees still out. Most had gone in already. And this morning, the bees weren't really coming out and starting their collecting activities like they had in days past.

Sure enough, the weather forecast is for some rain later today, and even I can tell it in the air. You also don't want to work the bees when the weather is bad - they get cranky!

Last night I filled up the jar with sugar syrup - the bees had consumed the syrup that was there. I just gave them a little smoke to do it - I didn't suit up or anything. The jar is just under the outer cover, so I don't have to disturb too many bees (just the dozen or so who were on the feeder and who came out to investigate what I was doing). I'll be feeding them right up until winter, in order to get them built up strong enough to survive the winter (that hive was started late in the season).

Speaking of eating, the bees also need water. I think my bees get theirs from my next door neighbor's Koi pond. I had put out a bucket for them early on, and they ignored it (bees prefer running water to standing water).

One of the 50 or so bee blogs I follow posted this picture of his bees drinking. I thought it was so cute!!

(picture is from this blog post)

Celebrate: 50 Posts!!

I just noticed that my last post was the 50th post for this blog. Yippee!

Certainly not the traffic of some of the large political blogs, but to think I had enough things to say for 50 posts, that's something.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Busy as a Bee!

I looked out at the hives this morning, and was very pleased to see some good bee activity. They are bringing in pollen from somewhere, bright orange (my wife said she saw lots of bees on her cone flowers). I was very glad to see this activity - the hives have struggled over the past few weeks / months. I hope things continue to improve.

Here's a short video of the same:

The green hive was started from a Nuc a little over a week ago, and is doing well. I've still got the entrance reducer on it a little. When I add the 2nd brood box I'll take off the reducer (they need to build up their numbers a little bit more). Eventually I'd like to see something like this much activity.

Note to self: I think I need to trim a tree branch which hangs out into the yard, and shades the green hive a little. I want the hive to get a good dose of sun early in the mornings...

Saturday, August 8, 2009

We have Queens!!

As I mentioned last week, I was very worried that I didn't see the queen or evidence of eggs in either of the hives. I did a quick mid-week check of the hives, and again didn't see anything. In fact, the brown hive had a definite 'roar' sound being made by the bees, which I am told is the sound a queenless hive makes. Plus the bees were very aggressive. Great.

I called Janina (my beekeeper friend who has had hives for over 23 years now) and talked to her about the situation. She said that sometimes the act of marking the queen (which I did on the brown hive's queen and she did for the nuc) can sometimes damage the queen, or otherwise make her 'unsuitable' in the eyes of the workers and they will kill her. Great.

So she agreed to stop by and help me look, and she did that this morning. Good news - we saw both queens! The queen in the green hive had a green dot on it (since Janina marked her). But interestingly enough, the queen in the brown hive was missing the paint dot altogether! This means either the bees somehow removed it (unlikely, since I waited a couple of minutes for the paint to dry), or they made another queen. This queen was very plump (like she should be, having been mated). I don't remember seeing any evidence of queen cells on my inspections, but that doesn't mean much since I obviously missed the queen cells on an inspection prior to my swarm. And I don't think the math works out for the hive having made a new queen. It has me confused, but in any case, both hives were nice and gentle and queenright, and that's what is important.

Here are pictures of Janina looking at the green hive (which was from a nuc I purchased from her):

You can see that the bees are clustered in the center frames, since those are the ones with wax and brood.

During today's inspection, we didn't see as many eggs as would be expected. Janina says that may be because of the lack of pollen or other conditions (like weather), and the queen slowed down the egg laying. That is not what I want. Janina had a pollen patty in her truck, and she gave it to me and we fed each hive half of a patty. I may look into buying some to supplement the natural pollen they collect. I did notice some very nice pollen collecting going on today, which I haven't seen for many weeks - good deal! So hopefully the queens will kick into high gear.

On the green hive, I continue to feed the sugar syrup, since that hive is very small. The bees had drawn out half of a frame on each side, so they are doing what they should. I will probably feed that hive the rest of the summer to get it up to strength for the winter.

So all appears to be well again. I am not going to do anything to the queen in the brown hive - she can remain unmarked! Last week I put in a couple of foundationless frames, and they had drawn one out very well. We left that one in the hive, but pulled out the second one (which is shown at the top of this post - I think that is so cute how they make it!) and replaced it with a regular plastic frame. Janina said that the bees don't have to work as hard pulling out comb on a foundation as they do when they have to do the whole thing. That makes sense, but right now I am not too keen on plastic foundation (due to the problems I've had with the bees stripping off the wax and never drawing comb on it afterward). I think from this point forward, I'm going to use wired wax foundation. It's a little more labor intensive, but I think it'll be worth it.

We did a little adjusting of the frames to help the bees draw out comb, but other than that we just closed things up.

I'm glad I don't have to shell out more money for queens, given I just bought this nuc; I was prepared to order a couple mail-order.

P.S. A funny story from last week. About Wednesday I was going to do a quick check. So I suited up, lit the smoker, and prepared to open up the green hive. As I was removing the rock from the green hive's top cover, I accidentally dropped it and it landed on the wooden stand in between the two hives. That shook up the brown hive and I heard a huge roar from the hive. Bees started boiling out of the entrance to see what was wrong, and were prepared to chase off any trespassers. Needless to say I just grabbed my stuff and slowly walked back to the porch, thinking "I'll check the hive maybe tomorrow..."

P.P.S. Today as I was turning over a frame of bees, I accidentally trapped one of the workers against the frame, and she expressed her displeasure via a sting to my left index finger. Ouch! My wife still wonders why I don't use gloves (I can't maneuver the frames as well with gloves).

Friday, August 7, 2009

7-year-old Beekeeper

The Utah County Beekeepers Association, in an effort to promote beekeeping in the younger generation, has concieved and implemented a program called "Bee a Beekeeper".

Here's a neat segment about a 7-year-old beekeeper.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Hive # 2 - Green

I got a call mid-week from Janina telling me that my Nuc was ready. She had created one and was letting it gain some strength. So last night my wife and I went to her house and picked it up (see picture above). The nuc has 5 frames in it, and the bees were very active, which is a good thing. I set the nuc on the hive stand last night, to be transferred to the new full-size hive this morning.

So I got all of the equipment for the new hive together this morning and did a frame transplant. I took the 5 frames out of the nuc, and put them in my 10-frame brood box. You can see from this frame how nicely the bees are doing, with capped brood:

I moved those frames to the 10-frame brood box, then I added 5 new (empty) frames. Here's what things looked like after the transfer:

You can see the new frames surrounding the 5 existing frames. While I was transferring the frames, I didn't see the queen, but when I got done, I didn't see any bees clustering in the old box, so I think she went with the frames. I closed it up, and put on a jar of sugar syrup to start feeding it.

Then I moved on to my current (brown) hive. While I was inspecting it, the bees seemed to be very aggressive and agitated. I got stung on the outside of my right hand (the fleshy part!), and I wasn't doing anything too bad. I think that the bees were robbing the green hive and were fighting a little (I hadn't put down the robbing screen yet).

The bees hadn't done anything (yet again) in the honey super, so I ended up taking it off. I had also added some new frames to the hive last week, and there wasn't any evidence of even a desire to build some comb. I'm not sure what I have to do to get the bees to build comb - it may be a little late in the season.

I also was a little worried because I didn't see the queen. I also didn't notice any eggs, but I could have missed them (because of the agitated bees). I don't know what could have happened to the queen, but I hope the hive isn't queenless again (being queenless also makes the bees more agitated). So I'll have to watch the hive and see next week if I see any eggs. If I don't, I'll probably go ahead and buy a queen, since I don't want to wait for the creation of a new one.

So, life goes on in the hive. I hope with 2 hives I can use one to help the other when needed.

Oh, here's what my bee yard looks like now. You can see the robber screen on the front of the hive (held there by a pink cord and a bungee cord).

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