Monday, May 31, 2010

Inspection 5-31-2010

First of all, Happy Memorial Day to everyone. We owe a lot to those in the military who paid the ultimate price to give us the freedoms we have.

I took the opportunity today to inspect the home hives.

Brown Hive

It's been about a week since I installed the new queen into the Brown Hive. I was interested in seeing what she had done thus far. I wasn't disappointed:

EGGS! Yep, that's right, she's layin' eggs like she should. There were a couple of frames which had eggs in them, and I am very happy. In about 3 weeks the population should get a big jump as the bees emerge from the capped cells. Unfortunately, it'll be about another 3 weeks after that before those bees become foragers, which will be after the main nectar flow. But I will be happy if this hive makes it strong into the fall and winter.

Green Hive

Good ol' green hive is doing well. Here are some frames of larvae and capped brood in this hive:

The bees have done very little with the honey super I put on the top. I found out that they are filling up a couple of the deep frames in the top box and using that for honey storage instead. So I may be spinning out a deep frame or two. Remember that after I made the split, I put some empty frames up in the upper deep.

The main flow hasn't really started I think, so there is still time for them to kick into gear.

The Nucs

It's early to see any eggs from any new queens in the nucs, but I did a check to make sure they weren't running out of food. I see lots of foraging going on, but wanted to make sure. Well, I didn't have anything to worry about. They still have the frame of nectar and pollen almost full, and are filling up the (formerly filled with) brood frame, which is now empty after the bees were born. Plus, there were plenty of bees in the hive - almost every frame had a good number of bees on it.

I put in an empty frame with no foundation in each nuc when I created the nucs, to see what the bees would do. Well, they are going to town making wax for that frame; take a look at a frame from the brown nuc:

The one in the gray nuc looks similar. Hopefully they will leave this comb for the queen to lay, assuming she is there. I haven't seen a queen in either nuc, but I didn't look real close. It's a tad early to expect eggs.

But I did see something strange in the gray nuc:

Toward the bottom you see two supercedure queen cells. I made this nuc back on May 16th when I pulled over a frame with a swarm cell. If there happened to be a brand new egg on that frame, it is conceivable that there could be a queen cell here (and about ready to hatch), but I don't know why they would make them if there was already a swarm cell in the nuc. Since the purpose of me making these nucs is to get new queen, I'm going to leave these alone to see what happens. Now that I know that the nucs have plenty of food, I'm going to leave them alone for a few weeks (famous last words!).

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Jumpy jumpy...

Today I made a trip to Sutton to see the Sutton Hives. I asked my bee-friend Michele, who lives not-too-far-away, to go with me for a second set of eyes (and hands).

Sutton Hive 2

My goal here was to again look for the queen, or at lease find more recent evidence of her. Last time I saw lots of capped brood, but no young larvae or eggs.

Today when I opened up the hive, I could tell right away that something wasn't right. The bees were extra jumpy, or "twitchy" as some say. They were more aggressive than usual, and the guard bees were head-butting me earlier and harder than usual. Michele said she was butted a bunch and she was standing off to the side. Michele has a history of aggressive bees - she had a hive last year with the most aggressive bees the county bee inspector has seen - and he's seen a lot of hives. When I picked her up this afternoon, I walked over to her hives, and while I was about 10 feet away, one of her bees came and gave me the business - I had to retreat to a pine tree to make her leave me alone (but in fairness, that hive was recently queenless).

Inside the hive we saw some older capped brood, and a few cells (mostly drone cells) of uncapped brood. According to bee math, that means the queen was around about 9 days or so ago. But given the lack of eggs and the twitchiness of the bees, we suspect this hive is queenless. Who knows what happened to the queen - I may have inadvertently damaged her in a previous inspection.

We took a frame of eggs and young larvae from Hive 1 (the new hive) and transferred it to this hive. If they are indeed queenless, they should start to make a new queen. I'll monitor the situation next week to see if I see evidence of a new supercedure cell.

It also looks like I am going to get some honey off of this hive. We found frames full of nectar, and they had just begun the process of capping it off. There are 2 shallow supers plus the one medium super (with undrawn foundation) that I added. We switched the medium super to the bottom of the super stack, so they will be forced to cross it and maybe fill it more.

I still have the super boxes offset which gives the bees an upper entrance. They seem to like it - lots of bees using it. Michele was concerned about rain getting in, but so far I haven't heard any complaints! :-)

Sutton Hive 1

This hive continues to do well. They had drawn out about 5 or 6 frames. Michele convinced me to give them a leg-up by putting in some already-drawn frames so that the queen will have somewhere immediately to lay. So I did for 3 frames (since we did rob them of one frame of eggs for Hive 2). I also added more sugar syrup (they had consumed almost all of the 2 jars I put on there before).

Sorry no pictures for this entry - we were too busy talking during the inspection to take pictures. But I did have a chance to demonstrate to Michele how to mark a queen (by using an unsuspecting drone).

It was also interesting comparing beekeeping styles. Michele commented that I am more forceful in smoking the hive, and she tends to be less so. But she also gave me some advice on packing my smoker to have it stay lit longer.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Queen is Loose! (and I am not talking about her morals...)

Last Saturday I installed the new queen into the Brown Hive. This week has been so busy, I haven't had a chance to make sure they released her.

This evening I did a quick check of the hive, and sure enough, the queen cage was empty. I removed it and put back in the missing frame (which was removed to leave space for the queen cage).

While I was there, I checked on the top honey super of the Green Hive. There were 2 frames which had foundation already drawn out, and the other 8 frames were just foundation. Well, the bees have filled up one of the 2 drawn-out frames with nectar (not yet capped), and have drawn out maybe 1/2 of one of the other frames. Not much activity in my opinion. But maybe we need a better nectar flow (which I am told will be coming in early June). I am keeping my fingers crossed.

I also put on the honey super on the Brown Hive. Hey, it can't hurt, right? Here's how things look today:

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Sutton Inspection 5-23-2010

I finally got a chance to visit the Sutton hives. It's been over a week since I've been out there, and I know the new hive's sugar syrup feeders are empty. I am taking a couple more jars of sugar syrup to feed them, and I promise to stop by more often, if to do nothing else but put more syrup on the hive. I want them to build up nice and quick and feeding 1:1 syrup stimulates feeding.

Sutton Hive 2

Here's a frame from that hive - you can see the good larvae in the cells:

One of the frames has some goofy comb built on it. Take a look:

What you see is a piece of comb hanging down in front of the plastic foundation, instead of attached to it. I think what happened is that the plastic didn't have enough wax on it, so the bees didn't know / want to attach the comb to it.

The only problem with this arrangement is that is interferes with the adjacent frame's comb. But they sort of left a "gap" in that frame to account for the extra thickness. As long as I keep these two frames together in the same order, the bees are fine. It's only humans who want to see comb built nice and straight - the bees don't care!

In this next picture you can see the queen:

The blue dot on her back is washed out in the photo - in real live it's a nice vibrant bright blue, easy to spot.

Sutton Hive 1

This hive is doing very well, population-wise. I performed the inspection, and could see lots of capped brood:

In the honey supers they are already putting away lots of nectar - I think this hive may do great with the honey. I also saw lots of nectar in the brood chamber, which concerns me. There are frames with intermixed nectar and capped brood. If a hive becomes "honey bound" there isn't enough room for the queen to lay.

Speaking of the queen, I have yet to see the queen in this hive. There are so many bees that finding the (unmarked) queen is a real challenge. Also, I haven't seen any eggs and/or larvae in a while. I don't know if there is a problem with places for the queen to lay or what. There are no queen cups or queen cells, so they don't appear to be inclined to swarm any time soon.

Here's the bottom box of the hive - see all the bees! They make it hard to manipulate the frames (especially putting back in the last frame):

Here you can see the 3 honey supers (up on end) and the top brood box. Again, lots of bees. This is good!

I'll come out next week and see if I need to free up some space in the brood chamber for the queen to lay.

Finally, here is what the outside of the hive looked like after I was done with my inspection:

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Bohemian Rhapsody

Did a full inspection of all of the hives and nucs today.

Green Hive

The green hive is still doing well. After I made the splits last week, I put undrawn foundation in the top brood box. Later I had some second thoughts at that, as I wanted to give the queen someplace to lay without having to have her workers draw out all of the comb. So today I put some fully drawn comb in between the frames of just foundation (like this: FFCFCFCFCF where F is a foundation frame, and C is a comb [drawn out] frame). That way she can have immediate places to lay eggs.

You can see how populous the bottom brood chamber is (as viewed from above):

I also checked the honey super. They had started drawing out some of the foundation, so I am still hopeful this year. I would say this hive is doing just fine!


I took a quick peek into each of the nucs. They are also doing fine as far as I can tell. The bees in both nucs are eating the pollen patties I put in there. I also checked to make sure the queen cells had hatched - they had. Here's a picture of the brown nuc's queen cell - sorry it is out of focus, the camera wouldn't focus on the cell. But you can see the opening where the queen hatched:

The gray nuc also had a hatched queen cell. So according to bee math, the mated queen should start laying in a little over 2 weeks. I'll leave them alone until June 12th (3 weeks) and then re-check. They will appreciate not being messed with...

Brown Hive

Ah, the brown hive... This weekend was make-or-break for the (as yet non-existent) queen. There was plenty of time to see eggs, based on the appearance of the queen cell a while ago. I didn't have a lot of faith in seeing any, as 1) this hive has not done well making a queen in the past, and 2) the queen cell looked small. Here's the amount of bees in the bottom brood box (compare with the picture from the green hive above):

After a frame-by-frame inspection, I have concluded that definitely there is no queen there. The hive itself also told me this, as the overall "buzz" of the beehive is different (sounding a little more annoyed) which is characteristic of a queenless hive.

So I called up a fellow beekeeper from the Bee Club who raises queens. He lives 1 1/2 hours away, and had a new queen available for me. So after a half a tank of gas and $25 later, I have a new queen (a very expensive bug, no?). I could have ordered one mail-order, but 1) it would cost more than $25 (with shipping), and 2) this queen is a northern bred queen, not one from Georgia, and 3) I would have to wait more time. Here she is in her queen cage (you can see the blue dot on her back in this shot):

It was still early evening so I installed her in the hive directly, by attaching a piece of cardboard with a thumbtack and thumbtacking it to an adjacent frame:

The queen cage is a little slanted because of the fact that the walls of the cage are thin, and I couldn't push a thumbtack through the walls into the chamber - I had to do it toward the end. The bees don't mind the tilted cage. Also, I left out a frame to leave room for the bees to feed the queen.

I'll check back in a few days to make sure they have released her.

So the brown hive now has a queen (oh, by the way, the title of this post is a reference to a song by Queen - get it?)

Friday, May 21, 2010

Observation 5-20-2010

Today was a great day to be a bee. The previous 2 days were wet and rainy, and a little chilly. While there were a few brave souls out and about, most of the bees just stayed inside. Well today, they were making up for it!

Over the weekend I had created a couple of nucs. I actually saw some foragers coming and going from the gray nuc - I understood that if there were any foragers included when you make a nuc, those will really return to the parent hive (due to their imprinting of location). But either some of the foragers reoriented, or there were some new foragers ready to fly. In any case, there is activity in both nucs which is good to see. Even the brown hive had quite a few bees flying around.

Here's a quick video I took of the activity. This was later in the afternoon, so double the number of bees you see coming and going, and you can understand how it was earlier in the day. Most of the bees in the video are coming in - it's the foragers returning with their goods.

I also took a couple of close-up shots of the nucs:

You can actually see a couple of bees outside the gray nuc if you zoom in.

Note that the cinder blocks started tilting when it rained (I guess the ground softened). So I used a couple of wedges to make sure the nuc sits up level. This weekend I'll re-set the cinder blocks to be level.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

It's a swarm-y kind of day...

A natural tendency, when a beehive is doing really well, is to swarm. In this way whole beehives reproduce (think of it like budding of a branch). If it weren't for swarming, feral hives would die out (since swarming increases the numbers of hives, and not all hives survive winters).

But what is good for bees is not good for beekeepers. A hive which swarms takes about 1/2 of the workers away, and a lot of the honey. Plus, the bees need to make a new queen, which sets back bee production by a little over a month. If you are interested in collecting honey, you want to minimize swarms. Besides, the hives really don't need to reproduce since they are being managed by the beekeepers.

Last year in June my hive swarmed unexpectedly. I wasn't too aware of what to look for, but this year I was prepared. I've been reading about performing a walk-away split with the swarm cells as part of swarm prevention. When you do that, you have the option of putting the current queen with the new split, or leaving her with the existing hive. This queen was the queen from Janina that she made up for me last year. Even though that hive started in August, it came through the winter very well. The queen has been laying well also, so I might as well keep her in the main hive.

So when I looked into the green hive yesterday and saw two frames with swarm cells on them, I knew what to do. I also noticed that a lot of the brood nest area was being filled up with nectar, which is how the bees slow down the queen laying in preparation for swarming. You can see here that there are a lot of bees in this hive (this is the view of the top box):

So here's what happened today. I have a couple of nuc boxes already ready to use. I first found the frame with the queen on it and set it aside (so as to not accidentally include her in the nucs). Then I pulled out the two frames with swarm cells on them, and put one into each of the nuc boxes. I found another frame of capped and uncapped brood, as well as a frame of honey and pollen, and put them over in the boxes. I then shook some extra (nurse) bees into the nuc, to make sure there are plenty of bees to tend the larvae. Last year I made a nuc and it failed - I think it was because I didn't have enough nurse bees and enough food.

Here's what the nucs looked like:

To the three frames I took from the hive I added two new frames (one wired wax foundation, the other one foundationless) to let the bees have something to do while the queen cell matures and hatches. The brown things are pollen patties I added to the nuc just for some extra insurance.

The remaining frames (including the frame with the queen) I redistributed in the lower hive body, in the typical order of frames (brood toward the center; nectar and pollen toward the ends). I added some wired wax and plastic foundation primarily to the top box.

By doing this, the intent is to "open up" the brood area, and make the hive think that there has been a swarm. They should kick into wax-building mode and draw out the foundation, and the queen should start laying again.

I buttoned up the nuc boxes and moved them a little way away from the main hive. I know any foragers which were in the nucs will probably return to the parent green hive, but that's OK - that's why I shook extra bees into the nucs. At first I didn't see any activity in front of the nucs, but after about an hour, I did see a few bees flying around the front of them.

I'm running out of places to put beehives!!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Fill 'er up, Joe!

I made a quick trip to the Sutton hives this afternoon after work. It was around 5:30PM, the weather was cool, so I didn't do much manipulation. I needed to refill the sugar syrup feeders on Sutton Hive 2 (the new hive created with a package). Sure enough, they had consumed all of the syrup in the jars there. Earlier today I asked my wife to make up a batch of 1:1 this afternoon, so it was ready for me to grab and go this evening.

I looked in the hive and saw that they had drawn out about 4 frames of wax. I saw some goofy comb on one of the frames, and I think it may cause me some problems (burr comb), but I left it alone this evening.

I also checked Sutton Hive 1, the established hive. I saw that the upper supers (above the queen excluder) were almost empty of brood, with just a few bullet-shaped drone cells yet to hatch. This is great news - it means that the queen was below the queen excluder like I needed her to be.

I saw lots of drones in the upper supers (where they had been born). I have the super offset a little in the stack, to give room for the drones to be able to leave (since they can't fit through the queen excluder). Someone on the BeeSource forum suggested shaking off the bees from above the excluder to below, so I don't have to leave the entrance for the drones. That looks like a lot of work, frame by frame, and would result in lots of angry bees. So I won't bother. I may install a 3/4" shim with an entrance instead of the offset boxes.

I also noticed that some of the frames above the excluder had nectar in the cells - great news! That means I may get some honey from that hive.

I didn't take any pictures today - I wanted to get in and out quickly since it wasn't the nicest weather.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Wax or Plastic

This is a continuation of a previous rant about plastic. In my inspection last week I found a really goofy frame. Take a look:

This is one of the plastic frames I have in the hive. You can see the bees added some comb in a goofy way, a little perpendicular to the foundation. I believe this is a frame where they had stripped off the wax earlier, and now they are hesitant to draw out foundation. This is the result.

I've discussed this on the BeeSource forums and there isn't a consensus. People are passionate each way. But I have my beliefs. Plastic works great once it's drawn out. But it is a nightmare if the bees strip off the wax.

I re-waxed some plastic frames earlier (and did it to this frame as well), and plan on reintroducing the frames to the hive. I also got some wired wax foundation and made up some frames as well:

Wired wax frames are a lot more labor intensive than the plastic foundations. You have to put the foundation in the frame, and nail a piece of wood along the top holding the vertical wires in place. Then you need to do something about the horizontal stability of the wax foundation. The traditional way is to use horizontal wires (there are a set of 4 holes in the side pieces of the frame specifically for the wire), but it's kind of a hassle, because you have to embed the wire into the wax (either using electricity to heat up the wire and let it melt into the wax, or using a star wheel device to push it into the wax). You also need to use some kind of grommets in the wood to keep the wire from slicing into the wood.

But then I found this video from "FatBeeMan" on YouTube:

He advocates using fishing line in an X-shape, and use a couple of bobby pins to secure things. I did that with the 5 frames I put together, and it wasn't too bad.

An alternative to all of these foundation types is to use no foundation whatsoever - it's called foundationless. Here are some such frames:

You can see that there is no foundation whatsoever. There is a groove in the top of the underside of the frame where you normally put foundation. With foundationless frames you glue some kind of guide stick (in my case some wide Popsicle sticks) to give the bees a guide. I also painted a little beeswax along the guides to further help them know what to do.

The downside of foundationless is that there is no wire or other support, so the wax tends to be more fragile. You need to be careful to not tilt the frame and let the wax break off (usually the bees will attach the comb to all 4 sides of the frame, so it's a little better than just one contact point). Obviously you can't put this type of frame into an extractor, but since the frames I am talking about are in the deep brood chamber, and no extraction is intended. I mark the top of the frame with the type of foundation it has, so I don't get them confused if I need to know later.

So I'm going to put some of the wired wax and the re-waxed plastic back into the hive, and see which one the bees like best. Based on my observations, the wax coated plastic is best for new packages, where the bees are gung-ho to build up comb.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Inspection 5-06-10

It was a decent weather day today. There was a little rain in the morning - spotty. Then it warmed up, but there was a little wind. Certainly a good day for doing an inspection.

Green Hive

The green hive continues to do well. Here's an example of a frame with good brood on it:

There were a few frames like this, and all appears to be going well. I saw the queen too (that green dot sure helps!).

Last time I saw a swarm cell (which I removed). This time I saw a few bottom bar queen cups, but they were empty of both larvae and royal jelly. So they aren't (yet) serious about swarming. I did move around a few frames to free up some laying room. I'll definitely keep an eye on things.

But... I did see a very weird frame. Take a look:

The bees decided to do a little sideways building on this frame. I'll have more to say about this in my next post.

Also, the bees haven't done anything in the top honey super yet...

Brown Hive

Remember this hive doesn't have a queen. They were working on a couple of queen cells last time I checked, so I was specifically looking for those. Here's what I found for the two queen cells:

Notice the first one; the opening is nice and round, looking like a queen was born. Now notice the second one - jagged and torn open, almost like it was attacked by the queen from the first cell. At least that's what I'm claiming.

I looked around and didn't see a queen, but at this point she would be the same size as the workers (since she is unmated) and very hard to find. I didn't want to disturb things by doing too much of a search, so I put things back together. Previously I had added a frame of eggs and larvae, and those cells are nice and capped now. So I think there will continue to be enough bees to support the new queen.

According to bee math, I should see some eggs around 12 days from now (at the latest). I'll probably leave things alone in that hive until then. There is lots of space for the (new) queen to lay in that hive! If this doesn't work, I'll buy a queen...

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Bee Presentation

My wife volunteers at my 2nd grader's school, mostly in the library, and talks to Jacob's teacher quite often. The teacher mentioned last week that they had just gotten done learning about bees, and "Jacob seems to be very knowledgeable about bees." Then my wife told her it was because his dad is a beekeeper. Tracy then proceeded to "volunteer" me to give a presentation on bees that Friday (the 30th of April) since she knew I was taking a vacation day.

So, I spent the week gathering my thoughts and some pictures of bees to present to a class of 2nd graders. I heard that the Bee Club has a traveling mini-hive that shows people the different parts (since a full-size hive is difficult to carry around), so I arranged to borrow that. I wondered how I could bring in some live bees, but I don't have an observation hive and didn't want to just bring in a jar of bees, for fear someone would let them loose (it would probably be my son to do that...)

So, I gave my presentation to the 2nd grade class. I showed a bunch of pictures of bees, hives, how they live, the different types of bees (workers, drones, and queen), and even showed a piece of the PBS Nature show on honey bees. It took about 1/2 hour, and based on the hands going up and questions asked, it was a success. There were about 25 children, and the principal herself stopped in for part of my presentation.

One of the goals of my Bee Club is to promote bee education; I was pleased to be a part of this. Maybe there is a future beekeeper among them! Here are some pictures from the event. My wife took lots of pictures, but I didn't feel right about posting pictures of other peoples' children. So I am posting only those of me and my son, and backs of heads. Take my word for it - there was lots of audience participation!

My son the helper!

Recent Inspections

It's been a while since I've updated the blog, and there have been a few inspections to note.

Last Saturday, the 24th, I did a check of the Brown hive. A week earlier I had moved over a frame of eggs and larvae from the Green hive. I wanted to see if they'd make an emergency queen. I found the starts of a couple of queen cells, which is a good sign. See if you can spot them in these two pictures:

Last week, April 27th, I went out to the Sutton hives for a quick check on the new hive (Sutton Hive 2). The Saturday before I had installed a new package, and I wanted to check in the queen had been released. If she had, I need to get the queen cage out of the hive and put in the 10th frame. When you install a package you only put 9 frames in, to leave space for the queen cage (which was rubber-banded to one of the center frames). The bees will build burr comb in the space, and I didn't want that to happen more than it needed to.

When I got there, I checked, and the queen had been released. I also saw this burr comb attached to the inner cover:

You can see that all that beautiful comb is wasted, as I need to remove it to put in the extra frame.

The weather was really cool, windy, and a little rainy that day, so I didn't open up the hive any more than I needed to. I also put on some more sugar syrup, as they had consumed most of the syrup I left there on Saturday.

On Friday April 30th I took a day of vacation (to get some stuff done around the house, plus to get ready for a Boy Scout Campout that evening). I decided to go to the Sutton hives to give them a good looking over. I inspected Hive 2 and was pleased to see some good wax build out, as well as lots of eggs. The queen is doing what she is supposed to do! I also spotted the queen (since there aren't that many bees yet), and was able to capture her and mark her with a blue paint dot (for 2010). When I got the package, I couldn't specify that I wanted the queen marked, so she was unmarked.

The larger hive, Hive 1, was again teeming with bees. It has the queen excluder, and I am still not sure if I trapped the queen in the bottom part (like I want) or if she's in the top part. I haven't seen any new eggs, and it looks like the amount of capped brood in the top supers is going down (now pretty much just drone comb), so that's a good sign. I also haven't seen any signs of swarm cells, so they think everything is proceeding nicely.

I also have yet to find that queen in that hive - she is very good at hiding, and it is very frustrating! I want to find her to mark her so that she'll be easier to spot later. I am hoping to make a split off of her at some time. Part of the reason I haven't found her is that by the time I get 3/4 of the frames inspected, the bees are really angry and I just close it up.

Today I did a quick check of my own hives. The Green hive is doing great - I am seeing lots of brood and lots of eggs. But, I also saw what I though was the start of a single swarm cell on one of the frame. I moved around a few empty frames to give the queen more room and we'll see how she uses that space. If I see lots of swarm cells, I will pull those frames off into a split and see what happens.

On the Brown hive I found the 2 queen cells were capped. They didn't look as large and "good" as other queen cells I have seen, so things may not work out. But I am hoping for the best. By Michael Bush's math, the queen may emerge sometime mid this week. By next weekend I should see some empty queen cells. It'll take a couple more weeks for her to mate and start laying. Eggs should appear by May 18th if all goes well.

I moved over another frame of capped and uncapped brood from the Green hive (with nurse bees) to give the Brown hive some more population.
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