Tuesday, March 30, 2010

OK, I lied...

Yesterday I added the finishing touches to the new nuc, and tonight I painted it. I said I was going to paint it white, but as I was looking through my paint cans, I didn't see much white left. But I had lots of brown, the color I painted my original hive. So this nuc is now brown too!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

To Catch a Bee...

The weather has been cold recently, so nothing much has been happening with the bees. When the temperature is high enough, a few come out, but it isn't anything major.

If a person wants to become a beekeeper, he/she usually starts a hive by purchasing a package (like I did). There are commercial beekeepers (usually in the south) who build up bee hives in order to produce packages for other. But packages are a relatively modern convenience. In the "olden days" beekeepers took advantage of the natural reproductive tendencies of bees - a swarm. I learned last year about that first hand. Beekeepers would put out enclosures which are attractive to the scout bees looking for a new home. These days you can also add a swarm "lure" which makes the enclosure even more enticing.

You can purchase a swarm trap, which is basically a round pressed paper hive, and bait it with swarm lure. Or you can use what most beekeepers have - a nuc (or nucleus hive). I made a nuc last year, but it had some extra bells and whistles on it (like a screened bottom) that I don't need. Plus, I had some extra wood just begging to be used. So tonight I went to the garage and put together a simple nuc. Here it is:

While making the nuc, I once again reaffirmed my good career decision that I did not undertake a job in woodworking or cabinet making. My edges are not as nice as from someone who works with wood for a living. But the bees don't care! I haven't painted it yet (white, of course) and I am waiting for the nuc disc entrance to be delivered.

Once the weather starts warming up, I'm going to put it in my back yard, up high, just like bees like. Swarm season is in May/June. Who knows - maybe some new neighbors will move in!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Uh Oh!

I was looking over the pictures I took yesterday, and examined this frame from the brown hive:

I was looking at some of the cells, and it looks like there are more than one egg in some / most of the cells. This is not good - it is the sign of a laying worker. A laying worker occurs when a hive becomes queenless, and one of the workers (which are female, but not sexually mature) all of a sudden decides to start laying eggs. Since the layer has never mated, the eggs will hatch to become drones, and the hive is doomed.

It is difficult to re-introduce a queen to a laying worker hive, since the hive thinks they have a queen, and will reject the new queen. There are some techniques to employ to try to recover a laying worker hive, but they are difficult.

I'll have to do some research to see if I can save this hive.

This also may explain why I didn't see the queen, as the laying worker is visually identical to all the other non-laying workers...

Sunday, March 21, 2010

First Spring Inspection

The weather has continued to be nice and warm. I decided to do the first spring inspection today. Yesterday would have been better (warmer, less wind), but today wasn't bad - in the 60's, just a light breeze. Since this is my first year coming out of winter, I am not sure what to expect. So this blog post has a lot of pictures in it. As always, click on the picture to see a larger version.

It took me a while to gather all my beekeeping stuff together - I hadn't had to use it over the winter. I also brought up some extra frames with plastic foundation to replace any which may be damaged in the hive.

I started with the green hive. Smoked it a little, and took off the top covers. The bees were generally well behaved (it was true for both hives), and didn't cause me any problems.

Here was what was left of the emergency feeding:

I noticed that the green hive consumed much more of the emergency sugar than the brown hive.

It took me a bit to clean off the remains of the sugar - the granules of sugar got everywhere. Then I started going through the top box.

Take a look what I found on an outside frame (look closely in the upper center part of the picture):

What you see are dead bees head-first in some cells. This is an indication that there was some starvation (the poor little bees die trying to get more food out of the cells). This hive was started from a nuc back in August last year, so it is no wonder that they ran out of food (they didn't have much of the summer to collect nectar for honey). But it wasn't widespread - I probably saw only about 50 bees dead like this.

But good news this year - they had collected a good amount of pollen and honey already:

I also saw frames which had lots of bees on them, and lots of open and capped brood:

I even saw her majesty, The Queen (look for the green dot, meaning she was born in 2009):

This winter was my first winter dealing with the Mountain Camp method of emergency feeding - using granulated sugar. It will also be my last. Look at the mess I found on the screened bottom board!

Most of the sugar had fallen down through the frames of the hive, and made a big clumpy mess on the bottom board. The clump even extended up and got sugar on some of the center frames. Under that lump of sugar were lots of dead bees and trash. I had to scrape quite a bit to get it off of the bottom board. Next year I am definitely making up some bee candy, or make a bee candy board!

I finished the inspection, replaced a couple of frames that weren't drawn out, but looked like they had the beeswax stripped off of them.

Moving on to the brown hive now: opening up the top, I didn't find as much of the sugar consumed, as compared to the green hive:

(the brown thing is a pollen patty I put in over the winter) After scraping off the sugar, I started digging into the hive. I found out why a lot of the sugar wasn't consumed: the bees had plenty of honey and pollen to last over the winter!

There were about 4 frames which were heavy with honey. This frame had capped honey, probably from last year; then a patch of pollen; then some open cells with nectar, probably from this year:

I didn't see the queen in this hive (this queen is not marked, so she is a lot harder to find). But I did see some new eggs laid (look closely at the next picture, in the middle of the black cells):

Seeing eggs is just as good as seeing the queen!

Neither of the hives had any brood in the lower box - it was all up top. So I was able to swap the upper and lower hive bodies of both hives, to give the queen lots of room to expand. One of the problems last year with the brown hive was that the bees had built out the comb past the edge of the frame. I found those frames (now empty), and was able to scrape the comb off a little to reduce the height. Hopefully the bees will just fix the comb and use it.

Then I closed up the hives, and put on a couple of jars of medicated 1:1 syrup to encourage them to build comb and make babies.

One of the frames damaged last year in the brown hive was full of honey. So I put it in the upper chamber to let the bees reclaim it:

So things are set for a while. I'll probably do another inspection in a couple of weeks (I'll check the feed level and refill the jars as needed).

One thing I noticed was that I still had quite a few frames with no comb on them. These are the frames with black plastic foundation, coated with beeswax. I suspect the bees had removed the wax, and they really don't want to build on bare plastic. I think I'll probably have to buy some bees wax and recoat the foundation to get the bees to draw it out. My goal this year is to get all frames drawn out, as well as get some honey!

Here's how things look now:

Friday, March 19, 2010

A Good Day For Bees

The past few days have been fabulous - weather in the 60's, and no snow or freezing temperatures. Earlier this week I heard from some of my fellow bee keepers in MA, and they report that pollen is already being brought in. I hadn't seen an yet, plus I didn't see anything blooming.

Well the past day or two my eyes have started itching, telling me that the pollen may be starting. Today I decided to really watch the bees to see if I could see some pollen. I saw what I thought was pollen, but the bees were very fast. So I got out the camera and set it on multiple shots, and just held down the shutter button. Here's what I saw (click on any picture to enlarge):

Obviously there is something around which is blooming. In my yard I see the starts of some new plants (from some bulbs), but the trees are still bare.

Both hives were active, but I didn't open up the hives today. I'll probably do that this weekend - I need to inspect every frame, and swap out some frames that I know are damaged. Then I can better evaluate how things look, and what I may need to plan for this year. Also, I need to whip up a batch of 1:1 sugar water to put in some medication to keep down the Nosema.

In looking at the pictures, I also saw something that that tickled me. During the winter, I put some sugar on the hives for emergency feeding. After they ate a bunch of the sugar, I put down a paper towel and added more sugar. Today I saw a bee dragging out a piece of paper towel, and take off flying to dump it:

She dragged it out, and took off flying!

Also, the bees weren't the only ones who enjoyed the nice weather outside today:

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Waxing Philosophical...

My wife called me and told me that the temperature was 45°F outside. With the sun shining, that made it warm enough that the bees were flying. That's a good thing - they need a potty break once in a while. The picture above is of the green hive, showing a couple of bees returning. It's hard to see the few live bees because of the dead ones on the front porch. During the cold weather, bees naturally die. So when it warms up, certain bees (called "undertaker bees") have the job of removing their dead sisters. Sometimes they take them all the way out, but other times (like this) they just dump them on the front porch.

This next picture is the brown hive, showing the bees coming and going through a top entrance (it's a notch in the inner cover, which provides an escape for the moist air; but also for bees if they so choose).

I share my beekeeping experience with a couple of guys at work (one of which reads this blog and gives me comments). My next-cubicle-neighbor is a very healthy eater (unlike me - *cough*BurgerKing*cough*) and we discuss food and related issues all the time. What does this have to do with waxing philosophical, you ask? Well I got to thinking about the whole concept of keeping bees. It's not like I can order them around and they faithfully do my bidding. It's more like me struggling to figure out how to maximize the hive's successes and minimize mistakes (one co-worker always chides me - "bees have been doing this themselves for thousands of years; your meddling is probably making it worse"). I am far from a tree-hugger environmentalist, but there is something about beekeeping which connects one with nature in a satisfying way.

I really am getting excited for Spring to come around, just to see if my bees have successfully negotiated their first New England winter. Things are looking good right now, assuming the queen(s) have survived. I guess it's sort of like how avid gardeners feel when they see the first buds blooming or plants coming up (I never showed much interest in gardening).

So here's hoping for a successful beekeeping year!!

Now for a couple more pictures (since my wife took them anyway). As always, you can click on any of my pictures for a close-up look:

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